This article is based on conversations with people of Azerbaijani origin as well as current citizens of Azerbaijan.
While Azerbaijan – if we look at its macroeconomic performance – is a relatively developed country, the real internal social-economic situation, as well as that around the world in general, is deteriorating. This situation is further complicated by cronyism in the government as well as a disproportion in personal income and ownership of property inside the country. The speed of the reactive processes increased 3-4 years ago.
The Azerbaijani capital of Baku bursts with elite restaurants and hotels. Corporations involved in the country’s oil and gas industry are controlled by just a few families. At the same time, ordinary citizens suffer from unemployment and the inability to find a job with a competitive salary (100-150 USD in Azerbaijan). Furthermore, there are no means of social mobility for ordinary citizens.
Law enforcement is designed to defend the interests of the elite, 100-200 people, who are real stakeholders, and their inner circle. The fundamental rule of equal protection under the law does not work. The ruling elite and their friends and relatives live by their own rules while the life of the rest of the population (95%) is regulated by other norms.
Another factor is that Azerbaijan is an Islamic state incorporating both Sunni and Shia followers, including their radical components. However, both sects have something in common. They both oppose the Western-style conspicuous consumption and Western values. Social inequity is actively fueling the hate aimed at representatives of the Azerbaijani elites and some members of the upper-middle class. One of the Azerbaijani citizens contacted by SouthFront said that the upper class sees its nation as slaves.
All this created conditions for the further growth of social tensions and the spread of radical ideas. Analyzing the recent developments in the city of Ganja, it’s possible to agree with the official attitude of the Azerbaijani authorities that some radical organizations or foreign powers used the situation and created the July 10 incident. However, this does not lift responsibility for the complicated situation in the region from the Azerbaijani government.
There are a few indicators that the July 10 incident was highly likely to have been inspired by a radical power.
The demonstration outside the local administration headquarters in Ganja involved just a small number of people: 200-300 demonstrators in the city with a population of over 750,000. The demonstrators demanded an independent investigation of the recent murder attempt on the mayor of Ganja, Elmar Valiyev.
Unus Safarov injured Valiyev and his bodyguard on July 3. The Azerji government says that the attack was inspired by some foreign power. Local sources say that the attack was a result of a complicated social and economic situation in the area amid a very low popularity of the mayor. Safarov was detained following the attack.
Understanding the roots of the situation, two officers went to negotiate with the demonstrators. They were likely aiming to convince them that some effort will be made to investigate the Safarov case properly.
The officers were surrounded by a small group of radicalized people who confronted them and stabbed the officers to death. There are two possible explanations for this:
- The killing of the officers was a pre-planned provocation by some radical group (most likely a terrorist group) or other;
- This group of people was volatile because of their personal experience of interaction with authorities (government officials, law enforcement etc.) and because of the recent impulse caused by the Safarov case and its media coverage. In this case, the situation have escalated by itself for objective reasons.
In any case, the authorities, as in any state, are the main side responsible for this situation.
For example, in neighboring Kazakhstan, another country with an “authoritarian government”, the social economic situation is better and tensions are much lower. The last notable riots took place in Kazakhstan in 2011 when radical groups exploited the then complicated social and economic situation. After the riots were suppressed, the Kazakh government took active measures to find and eliminate the roots of the social tension to prevent any such situation in the future.
The recent incident in Ganja shows that the situation in Azerbaijan may develop further in a reactive manner. This may destabilize the situation in the entire region.
The current situation in Azerbaijan is also a wake-up signal for Russia, which could be considered at least partly comparable to Azerbaijan. If the Russian government ignores social and economic problems in its country, it may face problems similar to those now experienced by Baku.