WHITHER THE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION?
Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 191
The American-brokered peace negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are being answered by the Azerbaijani opposition with cries of treason against President Haidar Aliev and calls for a military solution to the Karabakh conflict. Last month, the former president of the country, Abulfaz Elchibey, urged national mobilization for “civil war” against the government and “liberation war” against Armenia. Some other opposition leaders and groups echoed such sentiments (see the Monitor, September 15).
On October 9–two days ahead of Aliev’s meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian in Nakhichevan (see the Monitor, October 14)–the opposition parties’ alliance known as Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections held a rally in Baku to publicize its own stand. The coalition’s main components are Elchibey’s Popular Front, the Musavat Party of former parliamentary chairman Isa Gambar, and the National Independence Party of Etibar Mamedov (the runner-up to Aliev in last year’s presidential election). The three are presidential aspirants, rivals to Aliev and to each other. All three addressed the 50,000-strong crowd–according to the organizers, the largest ever at an opposition rally. Speeches and slogans at the rally included calls to armed struggle, denunciations of the government as “defeatist” and warnings of punishment to those who would grant Karabakh de facto sovereignty under cover of de jure documents. The resolution, presented by the leaders and approved by the rally, included the following salient points:
–Karabakh’s eventual status to be limited to that of “cultural autonomy” for the Armenian population (official Baku offers the “highest level” of political autonomy while Karabakh and Yerevan demand de facto sovereignty for Karabakh);
–exclusion of Karabakh from the current negotiations;
–unconditional return of Shusha under Azerbaijani control (this would imply a partition of Karabakh in view of the fact that Shusha is situated in its middle);
–conferral of autonomy on the Azeri population in Armenia proper, once that population has returned there as part of a general repatriation of refugees;
–criminal prosecution of Armenian-Karabakh “war criminals” and official condemnation of Armenia as an “aggressor state.”
The opposition leaders are presumably aware of the fact that such terms are nonstarters, that their adoption by any Azerbaijani government would guarantee a continuous state of war with Armenia and that Baku would lose Western support as well as all prospects of economic development if it took that stance. The opposition leaders’ position seems designed primarily to mobilize the nationalist segments of the electorate–the main power base of these leaders when they governed in 1992-93–and, in the absence of mass support today, to cement the loyalty of a militant core of adherents.
The United States and other Western governments are encouraging Armenia and Azerbaijan to work out a mutually acceptable framework document on Karabakh, ahead of the year-end summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Azerbaijani opposition for its part is set to launch public protests in the hope of thwarting Baku’s negotiations with Yerevan–and perhaps also in the expectation that the authorities might use force in suppressing unlawful forms of protest. The top opposition leaders have announced plans for demonstrations, pickets and other actions, to be coordinated by a National Resistance Movement which the leaders are now setting up. The opposition parties’ newspapers accuse the United States of pressuring or indeed blackmailing official Baku into one-sided concessions to Armenia.
This situation helps highlight three oft-neglected facts about the Azerbaijani opposition. First, that it is more nationalist than democratic. Second, that its claims that it supports Western policy–and indeed that it supports Aliev’s Western orientation–are highly questionable claims. Third, that the younger, sophisticated and westernized figures in the Popular Front leadership–two of which figures are now on a visit to Washington–do not set the tone in the Front and are being eclipsed by the radical elements around Elchibey (Turan, October 9, 11, 12, 13; Azadlyg, October 7, 9, 12; Assa-Irada, October 9, 14; Azerbaijan Bulletin, October 14; AzerHabar, October 13-19).
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