Alexander Grigorian

Some political researchers in the post-Soviet area are convinced that the next victim of the “velvet revolution” among the CIS countries will be Azerbaijan. These suppositions are based on the predictions that the oppositional forces, just like in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, will be able to turn the parliamentary elections, to be held this autumn in Azerbaijan, against President Ilham Aliyev, demanding his resignation. The Azerbaijani opposition, which has already started to get prepared to the change of power in the country, is obviously of the same opinion.

Undoubtedly, the authorities feel the scales of the danger, hanging over them. The regular 3rd convention of the ruling party “Yeni Azerbaijan (“New Azerbaijan” party was founded by Heydar Aliyev), which took place on March 26, proved that circumstance. The question “How does the present power, i.e. Ilham Aliyev and his clan intend to prolong its existence?,” was answered by the President himself. In his speech at the mentioned forum, he particularly declared that at present there is allegedly no any opposition in Azerbaijan.

Following the logic of the head of Azerbaijan, it should be expected that all those leaders who after the parliamentary elections would lead the people to streets and squares of Baku and other towns of the country, will be treated as “hooligan elements, violating law and order” with all consequences, very well-predictable for the opposition. By the way, the President himself did not hide it, saying that if anybody, inspired by the “colored” revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, tries to break stability in the country, then he will get a deserved repulse from the authorities, like it was after the presidential elections in October 2003.

So the Aliyev regime has chosen denial of the existence of opposition as an ideological basis for the ways of struggle to preserve its power, i.e. the denial of the very problem. “The Party “Yeni Azerbaijan” must and will get prepared to the elections, although we do not see any political rivals for us. I regret it and I think that it is abnormal situation for society,” – said Ilham Aliyev at the party convention.

However, Azerbaijan had been the only one among the six Muslim republics of the former USSR, where only four months later after the disintegration of the Soviet Union the oppositional forces, the Popular Front (PFA), radical nationalist movement, came to power (in May 1992), which a year later were overthrown by Heydar Aliyev.

And just many political leaders and activists of the former PFA later became leaders of the influential oppositional parties, now posing a serious threat to the Aliyev regime. Among the oppositional organizations the most outstanding are such political “aces” as the Party of Popular Front (PPFA- the Reformers), “Musavat” (New Equality Party), the Democratic Party (DPA), and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP), capable to lead thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people, representing the protest electorate, to the streets.

High-ranking officials of the leading Western countries quite readily communicate with the leaders of the above-mentioned organizations – Ali Kerimli (PPFA – the Reformers), Isa Gambar (“Musavat”), Rasul Guliyev (DPA) and Etibar Mamedov, who should be considered as the basic figure of PNIA, though resigned from the position of its leader. During his February 2005 visits to some Western countries, Ali Kerimli had meetings with Director of the Continental Europe Department of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jean-Francois Terral, the U.S. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, as well as with Special Envoy of the U.S. President on Caspian and U.S. Co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno Karabakh Steven Mann, and with influential parliamentarians of the mentioned countries. It is clear that such high-ranking officials would not have spoken to Ali Kerimli about forthcoming parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan as a serious exam for the leadership of the country on the democratic maturity.

What does the denial of availability of opposition in the country give to the Azerbaijani authorities? We think that using this principle in the struggle for keeping their power, the Aliyev regime is going to attribute actual and legal basis to:
-the suppression of the protest actions of the opposition after the voting and summing up the results of the forthcoming parliamentary elections by force;
-possible attempts of pre-election isolation of the most influential oppositional figures;
-ignoring the demands of the international structures to hold free, fair and transparent elections and introduce appropriate changes into the Electoral Code.

On the other hand, it just these intentions of the authorities come to prove that in Azerbaijan there are some influential oppositional forces, which in case of consolidating their efforts may pose a real danger to the Aliyev regime.

The denial principle is used by Azerbaijani authorities in the foreign policy as well, in particular, in the peace process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For example, the Azerbaijani authorities have stubbornly denied the very existence of the problem of self-determination of the Nagorno-Karabakh people since 1988, insisting that it is a question of the alleged territorial claims of Armenia to Azerbaijan. Such approach aims at the following:
-presenting Armenia in the eyes of the international community as an alleged aggressor country;
-provoking the international community to exert military, political and economic pressure on Armenia;
-ruling out participation of the Nagorno-Karabakh representatives in the peace process as an equal party to the conflict;
-avoiding concessions on the part of Azerbaijan in the peace process via maximal hardening of its position at the negotiations;

-guaranteeing of international justification of probable military actions of Azerbaijan against the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the future with the aim of solving the problem by force;
-keeping the image of authorities as “genuine patriots of the country,” whereby preventing the use of the “Karabakh playing card” by the opposition in the struggle for power.

In other words, the denial principle, used by the Baku authorities in the Karabakh problem, means reaching the maximum – not only the complete return of Nagorno Karabakh to the Azerbaijani constitutional area, but also deportation of the Armenian population from Nagorno Karabakh. Naturally, such approach not only narrows, but also actually reduces to nothing the possibilities for maneuvering in the peace process, which will lose any sense any sense, because a mutually acceptable compromise is not envisaged by it. As a result, the operation of the denial principle inevitably brings escalation of the situation in the conflict zone, up to full-scale military actions.

Just like in 1992, when the Popular Front came to power in Azerbaijan, they also used the denial principle and unleashed war against Nagorno Karabakh, and initially the course of war was in favor of Azerbaijan, when it succeeded in occupying almost half of Nagorno Karabakh. It is worth mentioning here the 1992 statement of the Chairman of the Minsk Group Nagorno Karabakh, Italian diplomat Mario Raffaelli, addressed to the then CSCE Chairman-in-Office Jozef Moravcik: “How can the Minsk Group indifferently continue the negotiations, meanwhile their object (Nagorno Karabakh – A.G.) is gradually fading… If Nagorno Karabakh again falls under the control one of the countries (i.e. Azerbaijan – A.G.) as a result of the offensive, what will remain of the subject of negotiations?”

As we can see, the present opposition – members of the former Movement of the Popular Front – also applied to the denial principle in their time, when they were in power in 1992-1993. This allows us to state that loyalty to the denial principle is a direct consequence of the political thinking, typical to both –the authorities and the oppositional forces of Azerbaijan.

Then the principle of denial of the problem in the Karabakh issue showed up in the shape of Heydar Aliyev’s disavowal of the Key West verbal arrangements of 2001 (Florida, USA) and his successor Ilham Aliyev’s proposal to start the negotiating process from zero. So the basis for the new escalation of the situation in the conflict zone and possible failure of the talks aimed at its settlement has been laid. Now we are witnessing how difficult it is to hold a dialog within the Prague process. Ilham Aliyev at the above-mentioned 3rd convention of the party “Yeni Azerbaijan” declared straight that if the current stage of the talks (i.e. the Prague process) fails (i.e. if it does not lead to the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the controlled territories of Azerbaijan), there will be no need waiting for the new stage, because it will allegedly be absolutely senseless.

However, let’s once again turn to the political situation in Azerbaijan. Following the logic of the political thinking in that country, the opposition will activate the denial principle in the pre- and post-election periods, as well. No doubt that even if the victory of pro-governmental forces in fair elections, the opposition will not accept the results of voting in any case. So we may not rule out a possible civil confrontation in Azerbaijan this autumn with unpredictable effects for that country, because the Aliyev regime will not give up its power to the opposition voluntarily.

So the overall adherence to the denial principle in the political activity of the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition will always pose a real danger for the regional stability, bringing the solution of problems, so important for that Caspian country to the outcomes not desirable for preservation of peace and quiet.

April 5, 2005