New Order in Soviet Azerbaijan Looks Much like the Old One Critics of President Mutalibov Say He Will Preserve One-Party Rule

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 1991 | Go to article overview

New Order in Soviet Azerbaijan Looks Much like the Old One Critics of President Mutalibov Say He Will Preserve One-Party Rule


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


MANY Soviet republics are on the path to democratization, but Azerbaijan may remain in the grip of a locally ruled dictatorship, according to opposition critics here.

They say Ayaz Mutalibov, Azerbaijan's president, intends to maintain his own one-party rule in this oil-rich Muslim republic of 7 million people. (Islam in Azerbaijan, Page 3.)

Bordered by Iran and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan was just a few weeks ago one of the Kremlin's most faithful allies. Now Mr. Mutalibov, the former Communist Party chief, claims he wants to turn the old order on its head.

Mutalibov has joined the leaders of other republics in making politically pragmatic changes in the aftermath of last month's failed hard-line coup. He authorized the removal of the statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin from its prominent waterfront location and has made sure the blue, red, and green Azerbaijani flag flies over all government buildings. He also engineered the republic's declaration of independence and ordered the confiscation of all Communist Party property. He insists he was a closet liberal the entire time he was party boss.

"I was a Communist by compulsion, but by conviction I was a democrat," Mutalibov says.

But despite his recent pronouncements, he ran unopposed in Sunday's presidential election, which was denounced as undemocratic and boycotted by the Azerbaijani Popular Front, the main opposition group. Indeed many in Baku, a city of 2 million, doubt that Mutalibov has converted from communism to democracy. Popular Front officials insist he has always been a puppet of the Kremlin and is incapable of acting in a democratic fashion.

"He wants to preserve the totalitarian system in Azerbaijan but use a different name - that of democracy, not communism," says Tamerlan Hamidov, a leader of the Popular Front.

"After his election victory, he'll clamp down even tighter," Mr. Hamidov says. "Mutalibov is much more repressive than (Chilean leader Augusto) Pinochet was."

There are indications that Mutalibov hasn't completely broken with the past. In the conference room outside his office, for example, the 55-volume complete works of Lenin, translated into Azerbaijani, remain in the bookcase, as does a biography of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first chief of the Cheka, the KGB's forerunner.

His economic blueprint is far from radical, envisioning the privatization of 10 percent of industry each year over the next decade. Popular Front officials, on the other hand, want to make the transition in under a year.

Mutalibov seeks to keep Azerbaijan in a loose Soviet confederation, in spite of the independence declaration. …

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