Every February, Azerbaijan’s political entities and the respective diplomatic representations commence working out a strategy of ‘preventing the Armenians’ pressure’ as the latter declare about the massacres of Armenians in the Azerbaijani town Sumgait in 1988 and analogies with the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, Lucas Koussikian, a journalist specialised in topics related to the Caucasus and Middle East, writes in an article titled ‘Is Aliyev’s dynasty nearing its end?’ The article is published on the website of Argentinian online portal Infobae.
Koussikian writes that despite a constant denial of the Sumgait massacres, Baku has found itself in a more complicated situation this year, which the government of the country is not able to take under control because of a dramatic decline of oil prices. During two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan’s economy was growing in line with the rise of oil prices. However, dependant on hydrocarbon prices, the economy of the country is suffering from the so-called ‘Dutch disease,’ that is, from the impact of the increased crude-based export on the economy of the country, which for its part, tells negatively on other sectors of the economy.
In the current circumstances, two scenarios can be observed. The first is characterised by a discontent of the population, which has to face a very difficult economic situation because of the devaluation of the national currency. The situation drove the people to take up the streets for protests, to which the government responded by arresting more than 50 citizens. This once again resulted in a violation of freedom of speech and human rights. The question is what was the reason of the decline of the Azerbaijani economy? No doubt, this phenomenon was the result of the drop of oil prices, which brought about a reduction of foreign investments in the country, causing a cut of currency reserves of the Central Bank of the country, Koussikian explains.
The second scenario is associated with the consequences of Baku’s dependence on hydrocarbon prices. On the one hand, there is an uncertain situation because of the country’s structural dependence on export of hydrocarbons, which is the fundamental pillar of the stability of the regime of the president Ilham Aliyev, including in the international arena. On the other hand, there is the domestic situation, a purportedly democratic government, which remains in power for 25 years with the help of forged elections and repressions against the opponents of the regime. This is why the government may oppress the citizens’ increasing protest against the economic situation, lack of freedoms, rights and guarantees even stronger in the new political reality, the author points out.
In this situation, Azerbaijan, like other oil-extracting post-Soviet countries, is characterised by an ‘iron-fist’ political control. It has not been concerned in smoothing out the inequality in the country despite the enormous petrodollar incomes, Koussikian highlights.
“No doubt, Azerbaijan uses ‘caviar diplomacy’ – as described by specialists – which supposes investing enormous sums in political lobby in various countries, mainly western, in order to conceal the true face of the Azerbaijani regime and thus to promote a favourable image of the country,” Koussikian writes. He illustrates this practice with the example of Baku’s cooperation with an MP from Valencia, who represents the European People’s Party in the Council of Europe. According to the European Stability Initiative, an investigative centre, he received bribes to present Azerbaijan in a favourable light keeping silent over the rights abuses taking place in the country.
Koussikian finds it quite possible that, in the current economic situation, the new financial and economic reality in the country tell significantly on the government, which had calculated the price of an oil barrel 90 USD, while it now costs around 31 USD. This results in a reduction of resources for funding political campaigns with ‘caviar diplomacy’ and for concealing the real face of the regime.