By Sofya Omarova
This blog was previously published by Esquire, and it is available here
Every year, the interest of Kazakhstanis to travel to neighbouring countries increases . According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan , about 30 thousand of our compatriots annually visit Baku . Perhaps this is not such an impressive figure in comparison with 7.5 million foreigners vacationing in neighbouring Georgia , a significant proportion of whom are also Kazakhs .
Despite the increased interest in Azerbaijan , what is actually known about this country , in addition to rich oil fields and the Nagorno – Karabakh conflict ?
Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a tendency among the CIS countries to create a foreign policy image of democracy as the only acceptable model of the state system .
Despite the sophisticated interpretation of democratic governance mechanisms , national leaders are trying to find serious reasons for forming a myth about the creation of their independent state .
This myth is cultivated to determine the country’s importance in world history , its fundamental characteristics ( national traits ) and the establishment of the inviolability of the power of the current regime and its head .
Like the leading role of the party ” United Russia” in the consolidation of Putin’s power, Heydar Aliyev , the third president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in 1992, creating the party ” Yeni Azerbaijan” . The official position of the “New Azerbaijan” states : “The party was created as an initiative of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia in difficult historical conditions , being the result of the national movements of 1988 and the logical conclusion of the social and political changes of that time . ” The public appeal more than 90 representatives of the intelligentsia to Heydar Aliyev prompted him to become the head of a new political party . The reason for this choice was Aliev’s excellent reputation as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Azerbaijan SSR (1969-1982) and the chairmanship in the parliament from the Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic (1991-1993). Ten-year reign of Heydar Aliyev as president from 1993 to 2003 (the year of death ) is marked by orderly stability , the beginning of major investments in oil projects , including the construction of the Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan oil pipeline ,and an increase in the role of the state in the life of society .
Legends about Heydar
The modern interpretation of the myth about the creation of an independent Republic of Azerbaijan is twofold and not ordinary . On the one hand , the arrangement of statehood refers to the heritage of Heydar Aliyev , practically deifying him and his contribution to the formation of sovereign Azerbaijan . According to the classification of sociologist Max Weber , it is possible to define such type of power as ” charismatic domination” , the complexity of which lies in the individual charisma of the leader , the status of maintaining authority is lost with his departure . However, in the scenario of Azerbaijan the son of the national leader – Ilham Aliyev – becomes the successor establishing his power partly on the positive reputation of his father . “We do not have strong political institutions , only the ubiquitous state power . The policy of the ruling party and its leader is sacred” ( from an interview with a local expert , July 2016).
Inauguration of Heydar Aliyev , photo- akka in the cultural center of Heydar Aliyev ( Baku , June 2017)
The myth of the former democracy
There is an alternative myth about the creation of Azerbaijan . Historian Aydin Balayev argues that formed at the beginning of XX century Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was the first national – democratic state in the Muslim world . The enlightened ideals of the Azerbaijani nation formed the basis of the modern constitution of Azerbaijan , as well as its national symbols : flag and anthem . Traditionally, the tricolour of the flag was associated with the blue as belonging to the Turkish nation , red as a symbol of democracy , green as a manifestation of secular Islam . Today, two aspects prevail in the official political space : pan – Turkism and secular Islam , leaving the political ideology of the regime aside .
The absence of a firm ideological basis in the process of legitimising the power of modern Azerbaijan reflects the international trend of frustration in political designs . In the long term , such an ideological vacuum can be filled with radical currents and the rise of nationalistic sentiments .
The Omnipresent Eye of Power
House – Museum of Leopold and Mstislav Rostropovich
In conclusion , I want to describe a comic situation , connected with a visit to the house – Rostropovich’s museum in Baku . Mstislav Rostropovich was born in the famous house of talented musicians . The collection of the museum presents numerous international cellist awards , as well as its children’s note books and decor elements of Baku flats of the early XX century . The last exposition was full of joint photos of Heydar Aliyev and Mstislav Rostropovich , telling about their strong friendship and correspondence . The hospitable guide offered to leave a comment in the guest book . My husband – Englishman – wrote : “Nice museum, however, please remove all irrelevant references to Aliyev’s family.” (” A good museum , however, please get rid of inappropriate references to the Aliyev family” ).
This story reminds of a mirror similarity with Kazakhstan’s realities , where the cult of personality has penetrated deeply into public consciousness and space . Today, the generation of independence is difficult to imagine the streets of the city without the propaganda billboards , sow ” reasonable , good , eternal “ , the national museums without reminders of the head of state and the greatness of the authorities, the existence of politically unaffiliated Olympic champions and artists .
Perhaps we started using the term ” post – Soviet regime” early , and it’s time to talk about the prevalence of ” neo – Soviet” practices and governance mechanisms . Power becomes ubiquitous , when the political regime retains its influence more than a generation .
The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CASPIAN or the universities affiliated to the project.