Books on Azerbaijan
Update No: 354 -
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
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
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
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
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
And they have their own third way, their
fall-back plan which is: call the whole
thing off if necessary.