Azerbaijan, Leaping for the Future without Reconciling the Past

Two recent articles on Azerbaijan have popped up that give a fresh perspective on the country. As reported earlier, the anger from Aylisli’s recent book that focuses on Azerbaijani continues. The President stripped him of his honorary title of “People’s Writer,” protesters have burned his books and there is even a €10,000 bounty on his ear. [Addition: Human Rights Watch has called on the government of Azerbaijan to end its “hostile campaign of intimidation” against Aylisli.] The one concrete positive result is his action has sparked popular debates on the subject. It’s too early to say whether anything will come of these debates, but they do allow moderates to criticize hardliners that espouse hate speech.

Unfortunately, but understandably, even those in favor of Aylisi are not willing to come far enough to even begin talking about reconciliation. His supporters still generally reiterate the line that “both sides” should be represented. While I personally agree that in any historical analysis, all reasonable viewpoints should be examined and included, but this is not a historical analysis. Aylisi wrote a story, a story that is meant to recognize and atone for the atrocities committed by Azerbaijanis. To include the other side would be like someone confessing a sin but only in comparison to someone else’s sin. The question remains whether an Armenian artist or activist will similarly rise up to the challenge of pointing a spotlight at the brutal acts Armenians committed during wartime.

Veering away from human rights, New York Times has a great article on Azerbaijan’s rapid planned growth. The most interesting part of the story to me is mentioned only at the end when the author questions Ibrahimov, a very powerful oligarch, about President’s Aliyev’s regime. Ibrahimov simply responds with “I don’t know anything about politics,” when everyone knows Ibrahimov can do whatever he wants in part because he’s well connected to the President.

Many post-soviet countries have economies dictated by oligarchs, Azerbaijan included. The question is what happens next. Do the oligarchs block trade to keep a monopoly like in Armenia?  Or, do they invite foreign investors to build grand constructs that represent their dreams and goals and not the dreams and goals of the people like in Azerbaijan? More importantly, what does the government do to (unfortunately) support the oligarchs and suppress the people? Arrest protestors or sue newspapers out of existence? An oligarch-led economy is not sustainable, as the level of corruption and waste will constantly drag against the country until something breaks. The question is what can the people do to fight against the oligarchs, and—the scariest possibility—what should the people do when the government defends the oligarchs against the people?

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