Baku. Photo: flickr/Mohammad sadegh mo
Baku. Photo: flickr/Mohammad sadegh mo

Azerbaijan

In recent years the Caucasian republic of Azerbaijan, independent since 1991, has experienced rapid economic change. With oil and gas revenues skyrocketing, its capital Baku is in the grips of a feverish construction boom. For educated young Azerbaijanis the recent boom created many opportunities. Born in a communist empire that has since ceased to exist, having come of age during a tumultuous transition, they are now able to take advantage of new possibilities to study abroad and to reap the rewards – jobs at international organisations, multinational companies or Azerbaijani institutions – after returning home.

Instead of closing their eyes to the inequities of Azerbaijan's new gilded age they started to worry about the democratic gap between their country and the Western world. As Emin Mili, a young Azerbaijani activist, put it in a presentation at Columbia University in 2009, while corruption was permeating all spheres of public life Azerbaijan was facing the consolidation of an authoritarian regime: "The regime expands and strengthens its repressive apparatus to intimidate opposition forces and to prevent the formation of independent social groups."

So far European governments, the US and international organisations – particularly the Council of Europe, Europe's oldest intergovernmental club of democracies – have failed to address the increasing repression in Azerbaijan, which had joined the Council of Europe one decade ago.

Observing the events in Egypt, Tunisia, and the Middle East as a whole suggests that the hold on power of the Azerbaijani elite might also not be as firm as they like to believe. Beneath the glossy exterior that they have created lives a generation that has learned to expect more from its leaders than handouts at the expense of rights and stability at the expense of democracy. It is a generation that has not given up on the promise of Azerbaijan turning, one day in the near future, into a genuine European democracy. In their endeavours they deserve support, particularly from organisations such as the Council of Europe, whose whole raison d'etre is to preserve democratic standards among its members. In the end it would also be in the interest of Azerbaijan's rulers to respect the rules to which they have themselves committed their country.

     
 
Dramatic debates: How PACE lost its soul
Caviar diplomacy. Photo: flickr/Cavin
Caviar Diplomacy. Photo: flickr/Cavin
 
Council of Europe. Photo: Alban Bodineau / Council of Europe
Council of Europe. Photo: Alban Bodineau / Council of Europe
 
 
Dissidents and donkeys
Generation Facebook. Photo: OL!
Generation Facebook. Photo: OL!
 
"Eşşekle (Esel Heinz) müsahibe" – Donkey satire in Azerbaijan. Photo: OL!
"Eşşekle (Esel Heinz) müsahibe" – Donkey satire in Azerbaijan. Photo: OL!
 

The Russian perspective

 

The country the Aliyevs built

 

Recommended reading

 

Media reactions

The South Caucasus as seen from Moscow   The country the Aliyevs built   Recommended reading   Media reactions
       
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