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Uzbekistan: Azerbaijani President Receiving Warm Welcome

  • Sergei Danilochkin

http://gdb.rferl.org/6325CD66-D984-48BA-B77F-F233D039A730_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/6325CD66-D984-48BA-B77F-F233D039A730_mw800_mh600.jpg Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev arrived today in Uzbekistan for a two-day state visit. He is meeting with President Islam Karimov and other top Uzbek officials and participating in many ceremonies, including the inauguration of an Azerbaijani cultural center. What explains Aliyev's warm welcome in Uzbekistan?

Prague, 23 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Uzbekistan includes high-level talks on political and economic cooperation between Baku and Tashkent, as well security issues in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Aliyev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov today signed a number of agreements, including a declaration on strengthening their strategic partnership and an accord on scientific and technical cooperation. They also signed amendments furthering free trade.

Experts say the two leaders face similar challenges and share common interests, and recognize the necessity of greater bilateral economic and political contacts.

"He feels more comfortable [psychologically] because these countries are also predisposed to the neomonarchic way of power transition."
Zafar Guliyev is a political analyst with Azerbaijan's Turan news agency. He says potential exists for greater economic cooperation between the two countries.

"Uzbekistan is one of the major suppliers of natural gas," he said. "Azerbaijan is experiencing certain shortages of supplies and has to buy gas from Russia. It is clear that having an alternative partner in this sphere will be good. Besides, there is a cotton industry in Uzbekistan that can supply Azerbaijan. And, very importantly, Azerbaijan can export its own products to Uzbekistan. Azerbaijan can also play a role in goods transit through its territory."

Both countries also seem to need each other politically.

One of the reasons, Guliyev says, is because of the awkward position in which Azerbaijan's leadership now finds itself. Ilham Aliyev, the son of the late President Heidar Aliyev, became head of state in October in an election the opposition and many in the West criticized as fraudulent. Several hundred people were arrested in postelection unrest.

Guliyev says Aliyev feels more comfortable dealing with the leaders of CIS countries.

"In these countries, he feels more comfortable [psychologically] because these countries are also predisposed to the neomonarchic way of power transition. There is the same kind of political atmosphere, the same model of power, the same neo-Soviet style of government. So it is easier for him to communicate with the leaders of these countries and to find a common language [with them]."

Uzbek political analysts seem to agree that the two leaders need each other.

Anvar Nazirov is an independent political analyst in Tashkent. He says setbacks caused by their poor human-rights records are leading them to form alliances with countries in similar situations: "I think that both Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan -- as in some other CIS countries -- have always been looking for partners within the community they can always rely upon and who see them as permanent allies. [Along with Azerbaijan], Georgia and Ukraine were playing this role for Uzbekistan."

Nazirov says Aliyev is also meeting with regional leaders in an effort to strengthen his own position as a legitimate leader.

"[Aliyev] is trying to strengthen his image as a [legitimate leader], entrench himself as a politician and promote himself against a background of leaders from other countries" he said. "And for that reason, you remember, he went on visits to Moscow to meet [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and now to Central Asian countries."

And Aliyev's hosts in Tashkent are offering him a number of golden opportunities. They include ceremonies to commemorate the career of Aliyev's father, whose political longevity is cause for respect among regional political elites.

Analysts consider these ceremonies as an extension of the Soviet-style political tradition.

Nazirov said: "After the fall of the Soviet Union, the [Soviet-style] bureaucracy principally survived with its structure, relations, and traditions. And these administrative traditions still exist. The emergence of a new leader or a new important figure in the post-Soviet space causes that old-style reaction and [focus on] relationships and, as a consequence, the same rituals that existed during Soviet times."
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