Oops, here comes Johnny! As Turkey goes, so goes Azerbaijan, which still is a complex issue on its own.
(Bloomberg) -- President Ilham Aliyev said Azerbaijan won’t seek closer integration with Europe, which he accused of discriminating against Muslims and undermining his country’s traditional values. “Where shall we integrate?” Aliyev said in a rare public criticism of the West in a speech to university students and teachers in the capital, Baku, on Tuesday. “Shall we integrate with those who are saying ‘Stop Islam’? Shall we integrate to a place where there’s no difference being made between men and women? We definitely shall not.” Aliyev’s remarks mark a departure from the national security strategy he approved in 2007, which said energy-rich Azerbaijan targets membership in European and Euro-Atlantic alliances. The majority Muslim but secular nation of 10 million people sandwiched between Iran and Russia forged close political and economic ties with the U.S. and the European Union after declaring independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The president’s speech “was his acknowledgment of the failure of secularism and western values in Azerbaijan,” prominent Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayil wrote on Facebook. Ismayil, who’s known for investigative reports into Aliyev’s undeclared family businesses, was sentenced to prison in 2015 and freed the following year after international criticism of her detention and trial.
First, let's start with debunking the point about "failure of secularism". Oh, please! Ilham Aliyev had absolutely different thing in mind. For starters, even in Soviet times it was a normal occurrence for some deceased Party bureaucrat to be buried in Muslim tradition, with Mullah present and all that. Azerbaijan was always a Muslim country but initially Russia imperial and, later, Soviet rule provided an extremely serious boost to Azerbaijan's development which fused with a rather rich and colorful Azerbaijani culture. Among all former Soviet Caucasus republics, now independent states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan in 20th century was most genuinely multi-cultural place, with the capital of Baku being an extraordinarily cosmopolitan city with very large, almost equal in size, Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian diasporas populating it, with yet another smaller diasporas of Jews, Germans and heirs of Russian Molokans constituting the rest. That gave the rise to a unique recognizable identity and even lingo of Bakunians (Bakintsy) who were Bakunians first, and Azerbaijani, Russians or Armenians second. In other words, Azerbaijan has a vast and, with the exception of tragedies of connected to the collapse of the USSR, positive experience of true integration. Enough to mention that even today a huge share of Azerbaijani public schools teaches students in Russian language, despite Russian diaspora in Azerbaijan dwindling to few tens of thousands after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Just to demonstrate. Here is 2018 graduation ceremony in Baku's school # 145 (my wife graduated it)--it is still school with in depth physics-mathematics curriculum. Pay attention--all of it is in Russian, and in fact repeats to the smallest detail almost Soviet, and, in general, modern Russian graduation traditions.
Same goes for higher education and with many Azerbaijani youth doing their higher ed. in Russian. So, Aliyev's speech is not about "secularism" or its "failure"--quite opposite. Ilham, who himself is a graduate of famous MGIMO and a son of possibly the only one man in Politburo who could stop the collapse of the USSR, Geidar Aliyev, knows where the actual Islamization stops. Here is Ilham's wife and mover and shaker of Aliyev's business, Mehriban Aliyeva, with Putin four days ago during inter-regional forum in Moscow.
I dare to say, that Azerbaijan's moves are precisely against talibanization and recognizing the fact that, especially after Turkey's moves, it will be a traditional, and dear to many good honest hard working Azerbaijanis, Moscow (and Russia in general) with who the fates of their country lie. I deliberately omit here the issue of Nagorny Karabakh--it is a separate and a very complex topic on its own--but the number of Azerbaijanis living and doing business in Russia is large and yes, by far not all of them are selling vegetables and fruits at the markets, nor are involved in the ethnic organized crime--an inevitable "benefit" of multi-ethnic state. Many are excellent doctors, engineers, people of art and culture and, in general, well-educated and highly socially adaptable people. In the end, it is all about geopolitics. For Azerbaijan, the West is far, Russia, on the other hand, is a few hours of drive north from Baku to Dagestan, same goes for Iran to the South. Plus, Baku commands serious reserves of oil and gas, plus, so called modern Western "values" are equally rejected in Moscow and Baku.
But even more importantly, Azerbaijan is a pivot state of the region and, speaking in a very simple language, she gets it one way or another if the "reputable" (/sarc) United States decide to commit suicide and go for Iran's jugular. There are 20+ million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Northern Iran, including in the province symptomatically called Azerbaijan. Boy, talk about the complexity of the region. Of course delusional "opposition" people in any nation sound all the same and read from the same script written either by Soros or CIA and they do sound stupid:
The president is “quite sincere” in his opposition to European integration because “Europe means democracy, free elections, rule of law, universal human rights and social welfare,” Altay Goyushov, an opposition politician who heads the Baku Research Institute, a think tank in the city, wrote on Facebook. “Aliyev wants to see a medieval monarchy in Azerbaijan,” he said.
That's the definition of being delusional. Especially when one talks about "democracy" in Europe which is run by corrupt homicidal EU bureaucracy and is dominated by political parties whose agendas are anything but "human rights" driven and have very little to do with "free" elections. In general, it all comes down to who will have better economic prospects with all that follows politically in the mid to long term future. It is Eurasia--pretty much no-brainer. As for Azerbaijani Armed Forces, guess who is in charge and what institutions many of them graduated from? Well, including my naval academy. Those people are not stupid, they can count and plan. They also can assess geopolitical situation and deduct power balance. I am sure they do it professionally and do identify trends well. Talk, especially about "human rights" and "democracy" (not to mention "rule of law") is cheap. The only things that matter are actions and things that work. Europe doesn't. So, it is not about Islam, or, rather, not about it primarily. It is about pure national interest and elites seeing future for themselves. Prosperity usually produces stable political situation, especially when one has to consider what neighborhood he (she) resides in. And, frankly, I would (and probably will, inshallah;)) rather visit Baku than Paris or Madrid. Beaches are good and the food is out of this world--I know, I was born there. In a sense that I have a slight idea about how it works.
Here are some additional views of modern day Baku. A warning, do not try to compare it with glitzy and tawdry Arab Gulfie newbie playgrounds such as Qatar or UAE.