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Azerbaijan: Former Presidential Adviser Discusses Regionalism In Politics

Eldar Namazov (file photo) (RFE/RL) April 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition politician Eldar Namazov, who resigned in October 1999 as an adviser to Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, published a three-part article in February-March 2007 in successive issues of the opposition weekly "Realny Azerbaijan" focusing on the relative strength of regional political groupings in Azerbaijan and the role they have played in national politics both before and since independence.

Rizvan Talybov, the leader of one such group uniting Azeris expelled from the Armenian SSR in the 1950s or late 1980s, was arrested last week, days before a planned mass protest in support of former Health Minister Ali Insanov, also a member of that grouping.

Namazov began by affirming that both ruling elite and opposition were established largely on regional lines and by questioning the widely observed taboo on any public discussions of regionalism. He argued that there is nothing shameful in identifying with the geographical region from which one's family originates, but at the same time he conceded that some people seek to capitalize on their origin to further their personal ends.

Grouping The Groupings

Namazov divided the various regional groupings into three categories, of which the first and largest comprises those Azerbaijanis who resettled in the present-day Azerbaijan Republic from what is now Armenia.

He estimated in the first installment of his three-part article that they account for some 40 percent of Azerbaijan's present population of 8.4 million, but in the second installment quoted feedback he received suggesting the true figure could be either higher -- up to 50 percent -- or lower -- between 25-30 percent.

In second place, each accounting for 8-10 percent of the population, are four groups: those from Baku-Shirvan, Karabakh, Gyanja, and Lenkoran (in the far south, bordering on Iran). Two groups representing ethnic minorities, the Kurds on the one hand and the Avars and Lezgins on the other, each account for less than 5 percent, as do the natives of Quba/Khachmas and Sheki.

Finally, the third and numerically smallest groups are the Azeris from Borchalo (southeastern Georgia) and from the Naxicevan Autonomous Republic. The latter two groups, according to Namazov, exercise disproportionate influence. He characterizes the Borchalo group as being particularly mobilized and active and as controlling media outlets that portray it in a sympathetic light. The Naxicevan "clan" has been at the forefront of Azerbaijani politics for almost three decades by virtue of the key role played by its most illustrious scion, former Communist Party of Azerbaijan first secretary and later President Heydar Aliyev.

Interaction Key

In the second section of his analysis, Namazov focuses on the interaction between the various groups enumerated above. He argues that the widely held perception that Aliyev's regime rested on a coalition between the "Armenian" and Naxicevan groups, to which a parallel alliance between the Baku-Shirvan group and the Karabakh group served as a counterweight, with the other, smaller groups occupying a more or less neutral position, is an oversimplification. Aliyev, who succeeded Veli Akhundov, a representative of the Baku group, as Azerbaijan CP first secretary in 1969, was constrained to seek the backing of the more numerous "Armenian" group, Namazov suggested.

On his return to power as head of an independent state in June 1993, Aliyev presided over a division of leading posts that reserved for his own Naxicevan group the plum posts of president, prime minister and presidential apparatus, giving the Armenian group the post of parliament speaker, together with control over the economic and security ministries, and several other ministerial portfolios. Namazov attributed the "disproportionately large share of the pie" granted to the Naxicevan group to Aliyev's capacity for identifying and neutralizing potential threats to his power. When the "Armenian" group created a formal organization -- Agrydag -- in the mid-1990s, Aliyev did all in his power to undermine and neutralize it.

Rising Influence

The "Armenian" grouping appears to have seized on Aliyev's death in 2003 as an opportunity to revise the status quo and strengthen its political influence -- even though the Naxicevan clan retained its virtual monopoly on power thanks to the election as president in October 2003 of Heydar Aliyev's son Ilham, who retained fellow Naxicevani Ramiz Meehtyev as head of the presidential administration. In May 2005, the "Armenian" grouping founded a new, quasi-irredentist group, Return to Western Azerbaijan (meaning those regions of present day Armenia that during the 18th-19th century were part of the Erivan khanate). As of October 2006, the organization still had not been formally registered with the Justice Ministry, but despite its ambiguous legal status its leader, Rizvan Talybov, announced that it would lobby for the creation of an autonomous republic on Armenian territory, according to on October 31. In January, 2007, Talybov announced plans for the creation of a government in exile, reported on January 17.

But the "Armenian" grouping was seriously weakened by the arrest in October 2005 on charges of corruption and of plotting a coup d'etat of two of its most prominent members, Health Minister Insanov and presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev. Both have men since been tried and sentenced, and their property confiscated. And the authorities have already moved to co-opt, or at least spilt, the "Armenian" grouping: on April 7, the online daily reported the creation two months earlier of a new movement to represent the interests of that group.

Named Public Union of Compatriots Deported from Western Azerbaijan, that organization has formally pledged its support for the current Azerbaijani leadership and its policies. And in an appeal adopted in early April, it called on the authorities and law enforcement bodies to take all appropriate measures to curtail the "provocative" activities of such "destructive" organizations as Talybov's.

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