Hikmet Hadjy-zadeh Discusses Azerbaijan’s 20 Years of Independence
February 13, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On February 13, 2012, the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted Hikmet Hadjy-zadeh (President and Co-Founder, Far Centre for Economic and Political Research, Baku, Azerbaijan), currently a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, to discuss the development of Azerbaijan since independence. Hadjy-zadeh is currently a political and economic analyst, and is a former opposition party leader and Ambassador to Russia.
Hadjy-zadeh began his lecture by situating Azerbaijan in the Eurasian context by summarizing its strategic importance and relations with neighboring countries. Regarding Azerbaijan’s economy, he stated that 40 percent of the government’s revenue comes from the oil industry, but that 2011 saw a decline in output that is likely to continue in 2012.
Hadjy-zadeh also spent several minutes discussing Azerbaijan’s demographics, culture and religious diversity. Ninety percent of Azerbaijanis are ethnic Azeris and 93 percent of the population is Muslim. Sixty-five percent of Muslims are Shi’a and 35 percent are Sunni, but there is virtually no antagonism between the groups. He attributed this to Soviet practices that clamped down on religious observance, which obscured the differences between groups. Most of the populous identifies as Muslim in more of a cultural sense than a religious one. However, since independence, three different types of Islamic missionaries have begun working in Azerbaijan. The Iranians have attempted to spread a Khomeini-style of extremist Shi’a Islam while Gulf Arabs have been preaching Wahhabism. The Turks have been exporting Nursist Islam, which unlike the previously mentioned types of extremist Islam, does not call for an immediate radical change in government to impose shari’a law. In the last several years, the government has arrested some 240 religious extremists in an effort to prevent the radicalization trendfrom getting out of hand.
Hadjy-zadeh lamented that despite 20 years of independence, Azerbaijan is still not a democracy. Freedom House gave it a rating of “Not Free” in the 2012 Freedom in the World Report and noted that there was a backsliding trend in freedom in the country last year. Hadjy-zadeh has observed the government acting increasingly repressive since the beginning of the Arab Spring, which initially unnerved the central government. The government reacted by rejecting comparisons to the Tunisian regime and promised to fight corruption while the pro-democracy community attempted to arrange for large demonstrations. In March of 2011, some medium sized demonstrations resulted in about 100 demonstrators being arrested and 16 being sentenced to several years in prison.
Despite such repression, Hadjy-zadeh stated that he is still allowed to operate his think-tank in Baku, publish a limited number of papers, and host speakers with an understanding that his work should not reach thousands of people. Although Azerbaijan is still far from becoming a liberal democracy, the country is in better shape that it was under Soviet rule.
For previous news on Azerbaijan, please see:
Unrest In Azerbaijan Prompts Swift Government Suppression
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars - Azerbaijan: 20 Years of Independence
Freedom House - Azerbaijan