Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Victim of a "War of Ideologies": Azerbaijan after the Russia-Georgia War

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Victim of a "War of Ideologies": Azerbaijan after the Russia-Georgia War

Article excerpt

Abstract: The August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia affected many of the Commonwealth of Independent States' domestic politics, including Azerbaijan's. The war significantly changed Azerbaijanis' perceptions of the democratic West and negatively impacted their perceptions of the United States and the European Union. Meanwhile, the war forced Azerbaijan to strengthen its security measures, for fear political instability. More important, the crisis was portrayed as a "war of ideologies" between the Moscowbacked sovereign democracy and the U.S.-backed unmanaged democracy in Azerbaijan. Georgia's defeat and the subsequent political turmoil demonstrated the viability and stability of the sovereign democracy and made the Russian model of governance more attractive to the people of Azerbaijan.

Keywords: Abu-Bakr mosque, Azerbaijan, Five-Day War, Karabakh conflict, military doctrine, public perception


The five-day war between Russia and Georgia dramatically changed the political situation in the South Caucasus. Although Azerbaijan was not directly involved in the conflict, the war nevertheless forced Baku to reevaluate its foreign and domestic policies. Moscow's successful military intervention in Georgia forced Azerbaijan to distance itself from the United States to avoid antagonizing a belligerent Russia. Meanwhile, the inability of the Western countries--the United States in particular--to adequately respond to Russia led to large-scale public disappointment among Azerbaijanis. The crisis also "generated new sources of instability for the entire post-Soviet space, not only because it highlighted a new form of Russian revisionism but also because it brought to the fore the limits of Western policies in what Kremlin views as its sphere of influence." (1) Moscow clearly showed its claims over the South Caucasus and demonstrated its readiness to embark on military confrontation to achieve its goals. The postwar situation indicated that Azerbaijan could become the next site where U.S.-Russian rivalry will arise. The Russian government's decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia has led Azerbaijan to fear that Moscow would try to give similar support to the ethnic Armenian population in the region of Karabakh if Azerbaijan aligns itself too closely to the West.

Much has been written about the Russia-Georgia War's impact on foreign policy, energy projects, and the clash of geopolitical interests. However, scholars and researchers have generally overlooked the influence of the war on domestic policy, political development, and changes in public perception. One of the assumptions of realist theory, which shapes the paradigm that underlies much of the theoretical understanding of political science, is that "states are unitary actors and that domestic politics can be separated from foreign policy." (2) Unfortunately, the complexity of the problem in Azerbaijan has made it difficult to distinguish between domestic and foreign politics. The absence of any visible developments in domestic politics, the silence of political scientists and public figures, and an inactive and docile public have coalesced to limit research on the problem.

In this article, I aim to analyze the domestic development in Azerbaijan and establish causality between certain events and the Russia-Georgia crisis. I look at the Azerbaijani public's changes in perception to see whether any changes occurred because of the conflict. I then examine the domestic security issues facing Azerbaijan and the government's reaction to these events. Finally, I examine political development in Azerbaijan after the war.

Public Opinions, Changing Perceptions, and Expectations

The war put Baku in a very delicate position. Refusing to support an important ally would have negatively affected Azerbaijan's image both abroad and in the eyes of a public that was clearly on the side of neighboring Georgia. …

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