Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

State-Building in Azerbaijan: The Search for Consolidation

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

State-Building in Azerbaijan: The Search for Consolidation

Article excerpt

The process of political consolidation in Azerbaijan has occurred largely under the auspices of an emerging system best described as "presidential monarchy. " This has taken place following years of political turmoil and the eventual, though gradual, re-establishment of such institutions of the state as the parliament, the bureaucracy, and the presidency. Both constitutionally and practically, the presidency has emerged as the real fount of power in Azerbaijani politics, and, in the process, President Heidar Aliyev has made himself indispensable to the political system. Significant accomplishments in the fields of foreign policy and economics, as well as the elimination of actual and potential rivals in the armed forces and elsewhere, have greatly enhanced Aliyev's powers. State-building and political consolidation have reached such levels that the emergent system is likely to outlive the aging president, whose son is already being groomed as the country's next chief executive.

Nearly a decade after its independence in 1991, the internal politics of Azerbaijan remain woefully understudied. So far, in fact, there have been no studies devoted entirely to the process of Azerbaijani state-building, with most observers of the region turning their attention not to the Caucasus but to Central Asia.1 The few recent studies that concentrate on Azerbaijan mostly examine the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict2 or questions such as national identity,3 the position of women,4 or the importance of oil.5 To my knowledge, only Kechichian and Karasik,6 Ochs,7 and very briefly Hiro,8 have examined Azerbaijan's domestic politics. More of necessity than through any fault of the authors themselves, however, the focus of most of these recent publications has been more broad than specific.

This article is intended to fill part of this vacuum by focusing on the processes of state-building and political consolidation currently underway in Azerbaijan. State-building and political consolidation are two mutually reinforcing processes. State-building is the process whereby the various institutions of the state are actually created and made operational. These include everything from the "commanding heights" of power, where the top executive leadership stands at the pinnacle, all the way to "the trenches," comprised of such officials as tax collectors, police officers, teachers, and other foot soldiers of the state.9

Political consolidation takes state-building one step further and occurs in relation to society: it is the process through which state institutions make themselves operational in relation to the different layers and groups within society. Different states have different agendas and capabilities. Thus political consolidation may mean different things for different states, or for the same state at different times. Some regimes simply want to stay in power, others may have strong developmental agendas, while still others may have their capabilities enhanced or reduced over time and thus change their agendas accordingly.

The Azerbaijani state has been able to reconstruct and consolidate itself within the context of a largely depoliticized and demoralized society that is still suffering from the effects of war with Armenia and rapidly declining standards of living. Fragile, indeed fluid, state institutions initially paved the way for the rise of powerful political personalities, one of whom, Heidar Aliyev, assumed the presidency and in turn gave shape to the emerging institutional arrangements of the state. A "presidential monarchy" of sorts has thus emerged, resting on a social contract according to which society's political acquiescence is guaranteed by a cease-fire with Armenia, the establishment of law and order in Baku and elsewhere, and promises of vast riches through future oil exports. Although the state is far from governing with total impunity, the difficult economic predicaments within which the Azeri people find themselves give state leaders more leeway than otherwise would have been possible. …

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