[ARM]     [RUS]     [ENG]

FALSE ALARM IN AZERBAIJAN

Vahram ATANESYAN

 Several years ago the authorities of Dagestan Autonomous Republic carried out large-scale law enforcement actions in the town of Derbent, in Derbent district and in the Tabasaran district. It was perceived in Baku as an act of "discrimination" and "betrayal" against local ethnic Azeris, but in Dagestan they were not subjected to this provocation. Dozens of ethnic Azeris have been dismissed, who for decades have turned the southern region of the autonomous republic under Russia into their own homeland and engaged in corrupt dealings with Azerbaijan's ruling circles.

In general, the issue of Derbent and the surrounding areas has long been a complicated one. It also existed in the Soviet era. The Azerbaijani ambitions for the south of Dagestan started in 1918. Some sources suggest that the problem was resolved only after the Bolsheviks had threatened Baku's Revolutionary Committee Chairman Narimanov to withdraw Baku and the entire Apsheron Peninsula from Azerbaijan and make part of Russia. In later years, however, Moscow's attitude towards Dagestan has changed significantly. So that in the years of Mir-Jafar Baghirov's rule in Azerbaijan, Dagestan had almost become a protectorate, where people of the "international environment of Baku" were appointed to important state posts.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s maternal grandfather Aziz Aliyev, for example, headed the Dagestan Communist Party for a decade and a half. The southern regions of Dagestan, which has declared independence, along with the town of Derbent, are considered to be "Ancient Turkish lands". Apparently, the situation has changed after the appointment of former Russian Interior Minister Vasilev as head of autonomy in Dagestan. Moscow is clearly showing that it does not accept the Azerbaijani side's ambitions. Vasilev is establishing order with a strong hand, which is in the interests of the Azerbaijani mafia groups in southern Dagestan. That is why they have circulated in the Azeri media, certainly not without official Baku's knowledge, the theme of "offensive national identity and limitation of their rights" by ethnic Azeris in Derbent and surrounding areas.

It only proves one thing. Azerbaijan understands that the plan to cause ethnic problems in the south of Dagestan and thus occupy certain territories has failed, and Russia can take counter measures by sponsoring a Lezghian national liberation movement in the north of Azerbaijan. For Azerbaijan, it would be a perfect disaster. Apparently, some fermentation is taking place in the Lezghian regions of Azerbaijan. And Baku is in a hurry to accuse the Dagestan authorities of discriminatory policy towards ethnic Azeris in order to have a dialogue with Moscow.

Some experts are alarmed that Ilham Aliyev has become a hostage to a pro-Western position in the interests of the West by serving the interests of the West and believe that these projects have not produced any material benefit, but have instead instilled distrust in Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Judging by the tone of the Azerbaijani press's publications on this subject, it can be assumed that Aliyev himself is alarmed and does not decide what further steps Russia can take.

One commenter has even drawn a parallel between Ukraine and Azerbaijan, apparently hinting that Moscow could use a harsh ultimatum language if dictated by geopolitical necessity. And there is such a possibility. Russian experts and commentators are still advising Baku to agree to a Russian military presence in Azerbaijan. In some cases it sounds like an "imperative to restore Russia's historical borders across the Arax River." The situation in the south of Dagestan can turn into open confrontation at any time. In that case, Moscow will be forced to use force to restrain Azerbaijani separatism. Admittedly, this would be followed by equivalent actions already in the northern regions of Azerbaijan.

Thus, the Aliyev government has managed to create territorial problems not only with Georgia and Iran but also with Russia. Oil euphoria has remained in the past, Azerbaijan's economy is unable to cope with stagnation. By 2020, GDP is projected to grow at only 1.2 percent. In this situation, the possibility of serving any foreign policy objective is clearly zero. And, on the contrary, there is a growing likelihood of a moment of retribution when Iran and Russia can demand an account for "naughtiness."

Apparently, they have felt such a "smell" in Baku. Otherwise they would not raise their voices on the matter of “persecution" of ethnic Azeris. How will Russia respond? Dagestan's head of autonomy Vasilev is scheduled to visit Baku in the middle of the year. This is the level on which Moscow will "dispel" Aliyev's concerns.