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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 7,124 6,090 5,600 102
GNI per capita
 US $ 810 710 650 146
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Azerbaijan


Update No: 354 - (25/06/10)

Azerbaijan is betwixt and between. It is indubitably a former Soviet republic - and is deeply marred by the experience. It is also part of the Middle East, or at least of its extensive Moslem diaspora.

Events to the south in Iran are of prime importance. Last year fake elections took place in Iran. The Islamist incumbents of course won.

The two Azerbaijans
The key to the situation for Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and his clan is that Mr Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition leader, was clearly cheated of victory in the Iranian presidential elections in mid-June, last year. He is an ethnic Azeri, coming from Iran's northernmost province of Azerbaijan, which has a population of 13 million, more than that of the former Soviet republic of the same name over the border, which has nine million.

In Soviet times there was no communication between the two, especially in Khomeini's time, but something extraordinary happened when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Khomeini, a successful revolutionary, could see that Gorbachev was striving to be one too, albeit of the top-down rather than his own bottom-up variety. He wrote the Soviet reformer a long letter, advising him that, in the light of the manifest bankruptcy of communism, he should replace Marxism as the state ideology of the USSR with Islam. Given the affinities between the two Azerbaijans, the Soviet Union, suitably renamed the Muslim Union, would become the natural centre of the entire Muslim world.

A glittering vision indeed. Not quite realistic, however.

Yet relations became more relaxed. Visitors from Iran, naturally mostly Azeri ones, began to come to town, namely Baku, especially after the downfall of Gorbachev in 1991. They were hand-picked by the clerical regime in Tehran and aspired to give substance to Khomeini's dream by returning their ethnic brethren to their original Islamic roots. After edifying homilies to the same putative effect, the former Soviet Azeris were yawning and suggested that they all repair to the banquet halls, where there would be plenty of vodka and dancing girls. For post-Soviet Azeris 'wine, women and song' were more alluring than austerities of fundamentalist Islam. The horrified clerics fled back to their homeland.

The unfolding drama in Iran is certain to have a profound impact on its neighbour to the north for all that. President Ilham Aliyev must be utterly transfixed by it. What are the lessons to be learnt?

First, do not let in the Western media when you are staging a fake election. Let the event be covered by your own media only.

Second, make sure that your fake adversaries are completely tame. Moussavi might have seemed to be that, a former prime minister after all, backed by former president Rafsanjani, but he has moved on since those days and is his own man.

Third, always keep open the essential option of calling the whole thing off – in view of a great emergency of course, such as another revolution in Iran!

The Aliyev dominance
Actually, the Aliyev clan that dominates Azerbaijan have little to fear.

They have no Moussavis or Rafsanjanis in their opposition, former people of clout. They have not let in the Western media. They are ruling over a much less well-educated and Westernised population, who do not know English, unlike virtually all middle-class Persians, conversant with the internet.

And they have their own third way, their fall-back plan which is: call the whole thing off if necessary.

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