The demise of the Soviet Union resulted in the emergence of 15 "independent" republics that, in tum, entered a soul-searching period to survive and prosper. At stake were the identities of nation-states whose political and cultural legacies were buried by 70 years of communist rule. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania fared better than Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Ukraine and Belarus suffered both politically and economically. Tajikistan was mired in civil war that preoccupied its supranationalist leadership. The smallest three republics in the Caucasus-Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia-fared far worse, in part because severe dormant ethnic tensions were revived. Moreover, civil wars in Georgia (Abkhazia and Ossetia), as well as a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagomo-Karabagh enclave, meant war. The situation in the territories of the former Soviet Union soured after Boris Yeltsin came to power in Russia aiming to restore whatever was salvageable from the defunct Soviet Empire. Towards that end, Moscow championed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), ostensibly to coordinate economic affairs but, in reality, to exercise its influence as it strove to restore its lost "superpower" status.
Moscow extended a helping hand but most CIS states took flight. Still, and although difficult to determine with certainty, Moscow's successes in rekindling its diminished influences within the territories of the former Soviet Union may be more successful than many anticipate. To be sure, the task requires gargantuan efforts but, Bonn and Washington willing, remains feasible. With modest Western financial assistance, and "Russia First" policies, Moscow has now embarked on an eclectic "near-abroad" objective that uses a variety of institutions, including the CIS, to resurrect its weakened hegemony. Save for the Baltic republics, where pure economic considerations dominated, Russia has focused on Central Asia and the Caucasus to test its renewed policy. Nowhere is the test more problematic than in Azerbaijan where Gaidar Aliev ruled with impunity.
Equally important is Baku's own preference to turn south toward Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. To gain independence from Moscow, successive Azeri leaders voiced their support for closer ties with fellow Muslim states, courted selectively Ankara, Tehran and Riyadh and, not surprisingly, placed pragmatism over ideological objectives. Baku concluded that its economic welfare necessitated an infusion of financial aid that could propel the nascent republic to new heights. It soon realized, however, that the country's festering ethnic and clan disputes prevented Azeri leaders from achieving these objectives with ease.
ALIEV'S ACTIONS: STAMINA VS. EXPEDIENCY
Developments in Azerbaijan have not followed the typical pattern observed elsewhere in the Caucasus. Of the three popularly elected heads of state, only Levon Ter-Petrossian of Armenia was still in office in mid-1995.1 Semi-democratic movements, based on ethnic and clan affiliations, allowed Aliev to assume power in Baku in mid-1993.2 Earlier, the proliferation of ethnic/clan groupings created an antagonistic situation, leading to a decline in the republic's economic health.
To his credit, the Azeri leader recognized the potential power that lay within the country, and its ability to give Baku regional economic clout. In his presidential inauguration address, Aliev raised the importance that abundant natural resources gave Azerbaijan by declaring: "State independence creates all the conditions for the efficient use of this property in the name of the future development of Azerbaijan. This is our main task." 3
Aliev's stamina was strengthened by the popular trust he enjoyed because many Azeris expected him to stabilize the economy (whether through CIS mechanisms or as a fully independent state), and to solve the Karabagh conflict. To his credit, Aliev propelled Azerbaijan into the CIS; restored and strengthened Baku's ties with Russia; initiated contacts with Iran, France, China and Saudi Arabia; signed NATO's Partnership for Peace Agreement (PfP); stopped the Talysh separatist movement on the Iranian border and stabilized the sociopolitical situation by cracking down on clans that rejected the new order. On the other hand, Aliev faced a stinging defeat against Armenian forces in Karabagh and the capture of six rayons (regions) by Karabagh military units within Azerbaijan proper. An estimated 20 percent of the country's territory remained occupied by Russian-supported Karabagh forces in early 1995.4 The five-year-old war displaced close to a million Azeris from their homes, further straining the nascent republic's human resources. For Aliev, the contrasts were sharp, and few of his successful policies earned him the support he so desperately needed.
ALIEV'S DILEMMA: ETHNIC AND CLAN POLITICS
Because Azerbaijan is a highly diverse country, with an estimated 115 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups seeking various levels of autonomy, independence and statehood have always been a difficult quest. Armenians, Azeris, Kurds, Lezgins, Russians, Talysh and Udins who live within Azerbaijan's boundaries strive to influence political trends both locally and in Baku. Although Azeris themselves dominate the country through a numerical superiority (roughly 78 percent of total population), other nationalities periodically voice their grievances through demonstrations for greater autonomy. Significantly, all of these groups have succeeded in preserving their languages and traditions because they typically marry within their own clans and raise families according to local customs and laws.5 In the eyes of many Azeris, this diversity was almost always appreciated, and the astute Aliev voiced his support for the Azeri "way of life" when he declared:
When we speak of Azerbaijan, we mean its riches, its beautiful nature, and we thank God that he created such a lovely region for us. But along with this, one of the republic's greatest treasures, perhaps the greatest, is the people of different nationalities and beliefs who have inhabited this land since ancient times 6
The rich amalgam of Azerbaijan's ethnic communities notwithstanding, family, clan and regional ties have dominated the political landscape in Baku. In fact, these family associations have dominated Azeri political discussions throughout the ages even if most of the debate was stifled by Soviet rule during the past 75 years. With glasnost, however, the relationships among various families and clans resurfaced. The prominent Azeri writer Chingiz Abdullaev explained how clans behaved in the 1970s at the local level:
Under the conditions of our republic, local favoritism...acquired a particularly open and mocking nature. At the end of the 1970s, the government dachas in Zagulba were administered by several related clans, inasmuch as almost all members of the government and senior officials of the Central Committee were related to one another....A dreadful [condition evolved in Azerbaijan that gripped] the nation, [with questions like] "where are you from?"7
Significantly, Azeri families and clans chose geographical locations to launch their various platforms independent of, and sometimes counter to, each other. One such camp was established in Nakhichevan by Gaidar Aliev himself; another, linked to the Azeri intellectual community, was led by former Azeri president Aiaz Mutalibov in Baku. The former democratically elected president, Abulfez Elchibey, was also involved in the clan equation. Elchibey based his political support on sub-clan ties from Ordubad in Nakhichevan near the Iranian border. It was this affiliation that propelled him to claim a "democratic" banner even if his nationalistic aspirations were the key motivating factors in his bid for power. As an indication of the admiration and loyalty he enjoyed in the area, local clansmen welcomed Elchibey to the rayon, where armored carriers and dozens of loyal soldiers protected him from potential attacks after his demise from power in June 1993.8
Noticeably, Aliev has been in a constant battle with Mutalibov since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two years after his successful September 6, 1991, coup, when he returned as head of the Milli Majlis (Supreme Soviet), Aliev forged an alliance with Gyandza clan leaders against Elchibey.9 In June 1993, Aliev was confidently declaring that the introduction of Soviet forces on January 20, 1990, into the republic would have been impossible if the Mutalibov leadership had not allowed them in. To further discredit his rivals, Aliev launched a vicious anti-Azerbaijan Popular Front (APF) campaign throughout the republic.10 When the regime's critics voiced their displeasure with the harsh methods, the Azeri president argued that criminal investigations should be launched to fully discredit Mutalibov and his cohorts.11 In response, Mutalibov sought to expose Aliev's use of clan elements when he declared:
[A] power struggle is going on. And some people will stop at nothing in this struggle.... No measures will be of any help so long as the Karabagh map is a bargaining chip in the political game being played by the Azerbaijani clans, groupings, and individuals waging a bitter power struggle.12
Thus, what occurred in the summer of 1993 and again in October 1994 was a power struggle between two of the largest ruling families on the Azeri political scene. A repeat clash occurred in March 1995 when former Deputy Interior Minister Rovshan Javadov attempted a coup.13 Aliev charged that Javadov was backed by three former Azerbaijani leaders living in Moscow and had been planning to seize the presidential palace, the parliament building and television and police headquarters. The Azeri president was blunt in how he categorized Javadov, maintaining that the latter was "reputed to be an organized crime 'Godfather' [who] had fallen victim to his own dirty deeds."14 Following these uprisings, Aliev's Nakhichevan clan purged ethnic minority groups from government positions and lived up to its notoriety in the wake of repeated violent activities. Those who did not belong to the "president's" political clique were left out in the cold. The forced resignation of Azeri Prime Minister Suret Guseinov, and his subsequent departure to Moscow, demonstrated the power of the Aliev clan. Subsequently, many important national posts were entrusted to Aliev clansmen from Nakhichevan. It is equally obvious that such nepotism was unacceptable to the Balm clan. Thus, the probability that a clash between these two clans will occur in the future, perhaps leading to civil war, cannot be ruled out.15
Besides the centrifugal forces of the clans, sub-nationalities threatened Baku's stability, possibly creating a ripple effect into Turkey and Iran. The Talysh minority, for example, remained fiercely independent, desiring to rekindle ties with Iranian Talysh, to establish an open dialogue across international borders. In fact, the June 1993 revolt in Lenkoran illustrated Talysh attempts to gain independence as the two Nakhichevan clans (Aliev vs. Elchibey) struggled over which group would control Baku. Not surprisingly, Aliev reacted very strongly to this perceived Talysh threat, pontificating that:
This Talysh-Mugan Republic is a concoction. This is a pretext in the hands of those forces that want to dismember Azerbaijan. It is an effort from without to create a Talysh, Lezgin, or Kurdish problem. All these are intrigues against Azerbaijan, or plans aimed at dismembering Azerbaijan.16
To be sure, the Talysh have not been the only ethnic minority to express their desires for greater autonomy or independence. In July 1994, for example, Avars demanded the separation of their northwestern enclaves (Belokan, Zakatal, and Kakhi) to Daghestan in the Russian Federation.17 In short, what this slew of ethnic and clan activities illustrated were the dilemmas that Aliev faced. The Azeri leader has witnessed his leadership questioned by many ethnic and clan groups that held him politically hostage. His prowess in juggling different interests insured early successes, but it is very difficult to see how Aliev may be able to sustain such efforts over the long run, especially as Balm struggles over the war in Karabagh.
ALIEV'S NEMESIS: THE NAGORNO-KARABAGH WAR
Despite a population twice as large as Armenia, Azerbaijan has lost an estimated 20 percent of its territory in the Nagomo Karabagh conflict.18 Poorly equipped and trained, the Azeri army seems unable to settle on a unified strategy that could reverse these losses. Furthermore, Azeri youths have not flocked in large numbers to join the army because, not surprisingly, ethnic and clan considerations dominated their behaviors. Expectations for reforms aside, popular allegiance is not ingrained, and no recent Azeri leader has succeeded in inculcating such motivations among the citizenry. In fact, Azeri soldiers often flee with refugees, leaving weapons intact to advancing Armenian forces. In 1992, Aliev argued that the Elchibey government had neither a concrete nor a clear-cut concept of solving the Nagorno-Karabagh war, nor the requisite military-political strategy to deal with the country's neighbors. Although it was this debate that forced his hand during the June 1993 coup against Elchibey, and much like his predecessor, Aliev has failed to deliver on this critical front, too, despite an ongoing cease-fire between the belligerents.
Since his accession to power, and instead of reaching a settlement to the conflict, Aliev has used the Nagorno-Karabagh issue as a tool to expose illegal clan activity. In referring to the situation in Fizulinskii and Dzhebrailski rayons in the southwestern comer of the country, for example, Aliev declared:
[T]he Mafioso groups and their men in power in those rayons...are selling out these lands. They and people related to them, even people serving in the army, are frightening the people and making them flee without any attack from the Armenian attachments. 19
Later, Aliev added:
Regrettably, the Nagomo-Karabagh problem was exploited through this period by many groups struggling for power. For the sake of attaining power, various groups, political groups, and individuals exploited this tragic situation in Azerbaijan to suppress and replace one another. Forgetting the problems of the Azerbaijani people, these groups tried to use this attention to attain power. Even those who came to power in 1992 did so by exploiting the Karabagh problem.20
In the chaos of Baku, such statements lost both precision and relevance. To be sure, Aliev has sought changes in Azerbaijan's attempts to mediate, as well as fight the Nagomo-Karabagh conflict. First, there has been a perceptible shift in emphasis from Turkey to Iran. Aliev has consistently downplayed the achievements and potential of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations, appealing to Iran instead to increase its mediating efforts. Iran gladly stepped into this larger role because of its deep fear that Turkish influence-propagating Turkic solidarity--could encourage secessionist sentiments amongst Iranian Azeris (who make up approximately 25 percent of Iran's own population). Aliev recognized these Iranian fears and sought to capitalize on them, and Tehran responded with vigor.
Second, Aliev has also sought direct military support from Afghanistan, the United States, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to fight the war against Armenians in Karabagh.21 Gurat Guseynov, who took part in recruiting Russian mercenaries before the October 1994 uprising, cited secret agreements between Azerbaijan and Russia on providing at least 100 men to fight against Armenians in December 1993.22 Reportedly, Baku "hired" a force of more than 1,000 Afghan Mujaheddin fighters from the Iranian-backed Hezb-i-Wahdat, to support the Azeri National Army in August 1993. This recruitment followed the visit by Roshan Jivadov, the deputy interior minister, to Afghanistan in July 1993. By agreeing to such arrangements, Aliev endangered Azerbaijan's emerging tics with Central Asian republics, which were involved in their own struggles against Mujaheddin volunteers fighting in Tajikistan. 23 Allegations of Turkish (and through Ankara, of Western) military assistance abounded, as did open contacts between Baku and Saudi Arabia for financial aid.
The sum total of these activities amounted to a sustained foreign-assistance package to Azerbaijan that, ironically, failed to make a dent on the battlefield. Not only was the aid "limited" and, more important, Azeris were not really "fighting" for their land, but Aliev and Azerbaijan were the victims of Russia's military and economic spigot. Moscow controlled the pace of developments on the battlefield, assisting the Nagorno-Karabagh forces when Baku was winning battles, reversing its aid when Armenian forces achieved new victories. Russia strove for a stalemate, and both Armenia and Azerbaijan were its victims.24 Still, and irrespective of what Moscow intended to do in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan's shortcomings on the battlefield were largely an indigenous problem. They stretched over the gamut, from the political to the economic.
ALIEV'S WOES: THE ECONOMIC RECORD
Aliev inherited a confused economic policy from his predecessor. Adverse weather conditions, along with a war-tom and collapsing infrastructure, led to a decline in Azeri productivity. While industrial production grew during the late 1980s when the USSR ruled, by I 990, the Azeri economy slowed to a crawl as the Soviet empire started its collapse. In 1992, output declined by 50 percent in the petrochemical and machine-building industries, with less dramatic declines in light industry and food. Baku's dependence on neighboring former Soviet states for raw materials was also a factor in this slowdown. Defense spending, on the other hand, shot up as the war in Karabagh intensified, accounting for 70 percent of the national budget in 1993.25 Moreover, a decline in the agricultural sector, which accounted for 26 percent of GDP and a third of the country's employment in 1992, also affected state revenues.
To correct this fiscal plight, Aliev embarked on a policy designed to diversify economic ties and, besides joining the CIS and restoring closer ties with Moscow, the Azeri president reversed many of the agreements signed between the Elchibey government and Turkey. In a move that may have been intended to prevent illicit business arrangements, Aliev ordered Turkish nationals to obey visa requirements when entering Azerbaijan. Astonishingly, Western journalists reported that Turkish citizens without visas were being rounded up and deported.26 Simultaneously, Aliev dismissed over 1,600 Turkish military experts and volunteers who were serving m Azerbaijan. 27
Alternatively, Aliev sought closer economic ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia in 1994, chiefly to strengthen his own position as well as that of his clan. He correctly concluded that Iran could play a unique role in Azerbaijan's economic recovery-by providing technical knowledge and allowing Azeri freight to pass through its territory on the way to the Persian Gulf-while Saudi Arabia's financial aid and expertise in petroleum extraction and production was invaluable to a crumbling oil industry. Once he concluded that these two countries were indispensable to restoring the Azeri economy, Aliev initiated pragmatic policies towards Iran and Saudi Arabia, embarking on several whirlwind tours, ingratiating himself with regional leaders, and courting Iranian and Saudi businessmen.
ALIEV'S PRAGMATISM: TIES WITH IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA
From late 1993 to early 1995, President Aliev has pursued a more "southerly" foreign policy to strengthen Azeri-Middle Eastern relations. This strategy sought to return Azerbaijan to the Islamic world through its multinational and multiracial Muslim community. Moreover, Aliev also sought closer economic ties with both countries to strengthen the power of his clan in Balm. Indeed, and over a very short period of time, the Azeri-Iranian trade accounted for 47.5 percent of total trade with the CIS.28 Moreover, Aliev's visits to Iran in 1993 and 1994 signaled an increasing interest in Tehran as an economic and political ally, as a mediator between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and even as a go-between with Russia. Clearly, for Aliev, the strengthening of the political relationship was paramount since Azerbaijan could not guarantee the safety of potential Iranian workers until the Nagorno-Karabagh war ended.29 It needed Iran to achieve certain political and economic objectives.
Although not as pronounced, the Saudi aid package to Azerbaijan amounted to $100 million, in the form of a loan from the Islamic Development Bank in 1994.30 In this instance, Aliev triumphed where his predecessor had failed since he successfully courted the oil-rich kingdom to assist Azerbaijan's desolate economic plight. In addition, the July 1994 trip to the kingdom also served religious purposes. In many ways, Aliev sought to use Islamic values as a unifying force among the warring clans in the republic; in tum, Saudi officials recognized the Azeri president's dilemma. Nevertheless, political objectives were also on the agenda. When the Azeri president visited Medina [Madinah] , for example, Saudi methods of "unifying clans" served as a model for modern day Azerbaijan:
The visit to Madinah...is symbolic [due to] the political situation in Azerbaijan. It is well known that in this city the Prophet Muhammad accomplished a multitude of tasks concerning regulation for the spiritual and personal life of Muslims. One of the main problems that he had to tackle was that of the Makkah [Mecca] refugees. The Prophet proposed that each wealthy family in Madinah come together with a family of Makkah refugees. Both families were to work together, share their income and live in unity and concord. Another problem that disturbed the Prophet was that of the peace and security of the homeland. The Prophet had come to Madinah when a dangerous political vacuum had arisen there: Quarreling families recognized no one's supreme authority and no forms of state. By energetic efforts, Muhammad established a powerful "community" and concluded a number of defensive alliances with neighboring tribes.31
The analogy between Saudi Arabia, especially its colorful tribal history, and Azerbaijan was unmistakable: both countries had experienced clan influence.
ALIEV'S STRENGTH: PETROLEUM RESOURCES
Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia share another important attribute: both are well endowed in petroleum resources even if Azeri reserves pale in comparison. Azerbaijan is one of the oldest oil-producing countries in the world but, like most of the former Soviet Union, Baku's oil industry has suffered from outdated technology and poor planning.32 Underproduction and waste have become trademarks of the industry. Still, President Aliev has stated that "oil [is] the national wealth of Azerbaijan, which [is] needed not only for this generation, but 100 or 200 years from now, too."33 There is little doubt that Gaidar Aliev aimed to make Azerbaijan a major regional oil exporter. Moreover, he also hoped to use this oil wealth to gain military and political support from abroad. Clearly, the example of rapid prosperity in the Gulf inspires whatever hopes this Azeri leader may have of the future.
After Aliev came to power, a major agreement was signed by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) with several foreign companies. At first, SOCAR signed a contract with Botas, the Turkish state pipeline company. The agreement, for an unusual oil pipeline to the Mediterranean, bypassing both the Bosphorus and Azerbaijan's neighbor, Armenia, raised several international concerns. Because the proposed agreement between SOCAR and Batas was to connect the Azeri oil fields near Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, and avoid Armenia altogether, both Iran and Russia sought to alter its planned course. Baku and Ankara favored the 663-mile pipeline to cross into Iran and back into Nakhichevan before emerging in Turkey to link with the Dortyol Line.34
Russia and Iran opposed this course, with Moscow preferring a route through the northern Caucasus to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, and Iran wishing to have the Azeri pipeline transit to a Persian Gulf outlet. Given this opposition, it was not surprising that the Baku-Ankara agreement would remain in limbo. The controversy notwithstanding, Aliev's lack of resolve in this instance reminded many observers of his earlier actions against Western oil companies when he suspended all contracts signed with his predecessor, President Elchibey, immediately after coming to power. Discussing his hasty actions, Aliev clarified his position by arguing that this was not a scandal after all:
Yes. I did instruct the Cabinet of Ministers to suspend this process, all the more so because in this instance everything is still at the stage of a declaration; work within the government and the parliament lies ahead anyway. This has to do with the fact that I am not new to such problems. When I was the leader of Azerbaijan, I had a quite profound grasp of these problems. In this case, a lot seemed suspect to me right away. Judge for yourself. On June 6  Panakh Guseynov resigned as prime minister, but on June 11, he signed a government decree authorizing the signing of the declaration. On June 12, Member of the People's Front Sabit Bashirov, who headed the state oil company, signed the declaration. However, as soon as I became the chairman of the Supreme Soviet a few days later, they came to me from the Cabinet of Ministers and informed me that something was fishy about these contracts. That was when I gave instructions to suspend this enterprise.35
At least two issues were raised by this decision to suspend agreements signed by President Elchibey. The Azeri president intended first to ensure that his clan received part of the financial bonanza and, second, that Azerbaijan reached a better economic arrangement with foreign petroleum companies. Of course, Aliev strove to achieve these two objectives while appeasing Moscow; that was the critical decision he reached in late 1993. He believed that by making some economic concessions Azerbaijan would be rewarded with the military assistance that Baku desperately needed to tum the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict around. Towards that end, it was announced that one of the oil fields would be developed by Lukoil, after a long bargaining process that allocated 20 percent of the consortium to Russia, 20 percent to Azerbaijan and 60 percent to British Petroleum.36 It was an important concession that recognized Moscow as a pivotal player in all petroleum-related contracts in the CIS. In early 1995, Aliev was eagerly awaiting the results of his largesse towards Russia.
To be sure, Aliev has brought Azerbaijan to a critical juncture: Should the petroleum rich state work within the confines of the CIS to reverse its political and economic troubles, or should Baku seek assistance from other neighbors, thereby creating rifts in its relationship with Moscow?
The Aliev answer to this question was clarified when Iran was distanced from the oil agreement, especially after Baku reached an accord with Lukoil and several Western oil companies (Amoco, British Petroleum, McDermott International, Inc., Pennzoil, Ramco Energy Corporation, Statoil, Turkish Petroleum Corporation, Unocal and Delta Nimir Khazar) in September 1994.37 An $8 billion "Deal of the Century" accord was formally signed, calling for the extraction and shipment of crude from Eastern Azerbaijan, including fields on the Caspian Sea shelf. Aliev faced tremendous pressure from Moscow over the "Deal of the Century." In fact, Russia attempted to ignite hostile feelings in other Caspian Sea states towards Baku, notably from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.38 Under the circumstances, the contradictions became amply apparent, and the rhetoric suggested that Russia would not be appeased even if Azerbaijan's oil affairs were its own. Aliev was categorical when he declared:
We signed a 30-year agreement with U.S., British, Norwegian and Turkish oil firms and we expect to produce 500 million tons of oil from the Caspian Sea. Russia will also participate in this, because the Russian oil company Lukoil has 10 percent of the deal. Azerbaijan thinks that it has not offended Russia, but after signing the agreement, there were voices saying that Moscow does not recognize the contract. So be it! This is unimportant to us. This part of the Caspian Sea belongs to us.39
The buoyancy in Balm aside, the "Deal of the Century" disturbed Tehran. As discussed above, Iran did not hide its disappointment in being excluded and immediately sought to become an active participant in the contract. In November J 994, Azerbaijan agreed to transfer a 5 percent share in the consortium to Iran, which promised to contribute $1.5 billion to the project. By January 1995, however, Baku had to decide between choosing the United States (i.e., as a representative of the West) or Iran as its future partner in the international petroleum consortium. Washington asserted that U.S. companies would quit the project unless Azerbaijan revised its decision to allow Iranian participation. While Iran issued a tough statement critical of the U.S. position, Aliev abstained from immediate declarations.40 It was an apt illustration of his many dilemmas.
ALIEV'S BURDEN: RUSSIAN INFLUENCE
As discussed above, Azerbaijan's multiethnic/clan affiliations made it vulnerable to Russian influence. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has stood as the best evidence of how Russia manipulated both sides for its own narrow interests. Moscow, or at least elements in the Russian military, have assisted Armenians against Azeris and vice versa. Still, and because Azerbaijan had limited options, it constantly sought protection under the Russian security and economic umbrella. Clarifying the republic's policies, Foreign Minister Gassan Gasanov emphasized the basis of Azeri-Russian relations in the following terms:
Relations with Russia are a priority area of our policy. First, it is a member of the U.N. Security Council and our closest neighbor, which naturally has great clout in world politics, and we simply do not have the right not to take this into account. Second, for centuries we have been united by common interests, and it would be an unforgivable mistake to abandon them now.41
Similar statements by other high-ranking Azeri officials have underlined that Russia remained the strongest power in the Caucasus and used its military, political and economic strengths to pressure Baku, Yerevan and Tbilisi at will. Moreover, Azerbaijan was an important part of the buffer zone separating Russia, Turkey and Iran. This "reality" legitimized the Russian military presence in the republic-and control over the strategic Gabala anti-defense radar complex--one of Moscow's main political objectives in the Caucasus.
Among the points of discord between Moscow and Baku was the status of the Caspian Sea. Russia has threatened to use its political and economic clout to enforce the 12-mile coast zone in the Caspian according to international law. In tum, this enforcement would weaken Azeri claims to offshore petroleum reserves. Naturally, Aliev strongly opposed Russia's claims but was forced to maneuver delicately. In June 1994, the Azeri president revealed that Russia had sent a note to the British Embassy in Moscow warning London that it should use caution in developing Azerbaijan's off-shore oil industry. The note raised the undetermined status of the Caspian. Aliev added:
[T]he discovery and exploitation of the oil fields in the Caspian Sea have a great history, and all this was linked to the Azerbaijani oil men and scientists. Therefore, no one, no force, no country can deprive us, the Azerbaijani Republic and people, from our right.42
It was too early to determine the effectiveness of Aliev's rhetorical statements, but the record was not encouraging. Russia has exerted political and economic pressure on Azerbaijan as well as pushed for a legal redefinition of Caspian Sea resources. It called for a new international agreement that would define the right of each Caspian Sea littoral state to exploit its resources. Indeed, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuri Shafranik proposed the formation of an international coordinating committee to oversee the development of future Caspian Sea projects.43 In October 1994, representatives of the five Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran) met in Moscow to establish a regional cooperation organization to regulate the use and development of Caspian Sea resources. Participants drafted an agreement "to bring the preexisting legal framework in line with the current reality and to lay foundations for mutually beneficial cooperation of the Caspian region's five states."44 Despite U.S. pressure to isolate Iran, Moscow hoped to enlist Tehran's support for its position in the oil accord to counterbalance the greater Western and Turkish influences the contract may bring into the area.
Moreover, Russia indicated that it would recognize Azerbaijani claims to the Caspian Sea if Baku agreed to build a pipeline on Russian territory. This project, if brought to fruition, would bring substantial profits to Russia by way of transit fees and make the consortium dependent on Russia to get oil to refineries and markets. Under this pipeline proposal, oil would be routed through Novorossiysk and, through the Russian Federation, via tankers through the Bosphorus Straits. Not surprisingly, Turkey has opposed this scheme, citing ecological dangers of additional oil shipments through the Bosphorus.
Under both Elchibey and Aliev, Azerbaijan has been heading away from the CIS despite Baku's recent admission into the organization. The Azeri government perceived its membership within the Moscow-led institution as a short-term effort to reverse its current economic slide and, in doing so, to gain Russian support to win the war over Nagomo-Karabagh. In addition, Azerbaijan was keenly aware of the need to infuse its economic sector with modem machinery (for a complete restructuring of its oil industry), which could only be achieved through close cooperation with Russia.45 Were CIS states to provide all of these necessities to Baku, then there can be little doubt that a political price would accompany this generosity. Consequently, Aliev has attempted to distance Azerbaijan from the CIS and recently asserted that he did not consider the CIS to be a working organization after all:
But as for the Commonwealth's practical activity, I would not say the organization has really become established or is functioning properly as yet. It seems somehow that during the meetings of heads of state, which last a day and a half or two days, the CIS exists, but in the interval, between meetings it does not. 46
When asked what the CIS needed to function properly, Aliev saw no need to rush into any quick corrections. He replied: "I do not consider that expedient. That implies the resurrection of a unified state, the possibility of impinging on national interests."47
In the short-term, President Aliev had limited objectives as he strove to stabilize the current Azerbaijani economic crisis. He sought new alliances while hoping to retain his vital CIS links. Neither set of objectives implied a desire, nor the feasibility, for Baku's full integration into the CIS. Moreover, and despite a series of foreign policy fluctuations since mid-1993, Aliev has seen his overall position weaken in the country vis-a-vis his relationship and cooperation with other clans. A sustained Moscow-instigated anti-Aliev campaign aimed to cut the powerful "khan" into a manageable size including probable support for the creation of the civic union led by Mutalibov and former Azeri Defense Minister Ragim Kaziev.48 Allegations of wrong-doing abounded, often involving revelations that Aliev family members were on the take, at the expense of the Azerbaijani people.49 Given this framework, it is indeed difficult to see how Aliev can successfully emerge from his dilemma. In turn, his inability to come to terms with Russia, illustrates how mired in catastrophe Baku has become.
Because Aliev has been successful in neutralizing his opponents, strengthening his limited ties with Russia, initiating contacts with Iran, France, China and Saudi Arabia, and signing NATO's Partnership for Peace, his failure to win the war in Nagorno-Karabagh was peculiar. To be sure, Baku had certain advantages (including size and resources), but its leaders have distinguished themselves by adopting unpredictable policies. Although some of these appeared to be favorable to Western countries-for example membership within NATO's PfP-the record illustrated how Aliev flip-flopped on key economic and security issues. In September 1993, he turned a cold shoulder to Turkey, only to court Ankara a year later. A similar treatment was reserved for British oil firms that grew despondent over his negotiating demands.
Aliev has demonstrated time and again that he needs a will to power, absolute authority for his clan at whatever price. Indeed, after every attempted coup, Aliev has launched a crackdown on opposition groups and the press. Although these crackdowns have strengthened his hand in the short-term, they also unified his political opposition, raising the specter of protracted political struggles. In tum, such struggles have jeopardized whatever democratic reforms Aliev introduced and, equally important, negatively affected emerging economic ties between Azerbaijan and Western countries. An isolated Aliev wavered and, in the end, his flip-flopping could only be interpreted as an interest based phenomenon in which family members benefited from lucrative political and economic contacts. Such behavior cannot produce the political stability so necessary for essential reforms. Quite the contrary, Azerbaijan's clan problems erected obstacles to potential political and economic integration and, in turn, posed a crisis for the entire region.
Thus, if Aliev's primary objectives were to ensure his clan's will to power, then support from Russia or the CIS or Turkey or even Iran becomes a secondary concern. In fact, his earlier arrangements with rival clans-to neutralize the opposition-entered a new chapter in early 1994 as fewer and fewer Azeris supported Gaidar Aliev. To preserve his power base, Aliev started to exploit economic differences between neighboring countries, hoping to gain some political and economic windfalls in the process. These manipulative attempts did not go unnoticed, however. Baku has been accused of "exploiting the disagreements between Russia and Turkey regarding control over the Black Sea Straits by calling on Ankara to provide economic and military assistance."50 They were noticed.
Overall, Aliev's relative successes have been the result of his limited ability to swing the Azeri pendulum between Russia and Turkey. As long as he remained successful in controlling these arcs, the Azeri president was likely to remain in power. Even his losses in the Nagomo-Karabagh war could be explained away by his knack for playing Russia and Turkey as well as Azeri clans off against each other. What cannot be expended, however, is the popular/clan support that any Azeri leader must have to exercise political control. When Aliev loses this support, his rule will surely end, only to be replaced by that of yet another clan leader.
1 In addition to Aliev, who ousted Abulfez Elchibey in mid-1993, a military council took control of Georgia from Zviad Gamsakhurdia in January 1992. The Council turned to the former Soviet foreign minister, and current leader in Tbilisi, Eduard Shevardnadze. Although both Aliev and Shevardnadze have "orchestrated" parliamentary elections to legitimize their rule, only Ter-Petrossian seems to be fulfilling his popular mandate. In late 1994, Ter-Petrossian confronted a major opposition group, the Dashnak party, whose criticisms of recent government actions touched a raw nerve in Yerevan. See Beth Knobel, "Armenian Crackdown Worries U.S.," The Los Angeles limes, January 29. 1995, p. A6. Ter-Petrossian won a new term in office in July 1995 amid controversial elections.
2 Since the late 1960s, Azeris considered Gaidar Aliev to be the "khan" of Azerbaijan, who rose to power in the Brezhnev era and produced the economic results Moscow wanted while keeping his khanate under control. Under Andropov, Aliev was transferred to Moscow where he served as a Politburo candidate member and deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers. He continued to supervise Azeri affairs while serving in these national positions. Under Gorbachev, Aliev's national responsibilities diminished because Azerbaijan failed to follow perestroika and glasnost policies. In 1987, Aliev "retired" from the USSR Council of Ministers, and subsequently fell from grace. Significantly, influential Armenians in the Gorbachev entourage, including Abel Aganbegyan and Georgi Shakhnazarov, pushed the Soviet leader to force out Aliev who, nevertheless, continued to live in Moscow. On a visit to Nakhichevan in July 1990, large crowds celebrated Aliev's return in traditional style-by slaughtering a lamb at his feet. A highly experienced politician, popular with a majority of Azeri citizens, and a competent administrator with incredible resilience in a complex political environment, Aliev has earned the respect of foes and friends alike.
3 "Inauguration Speech of G.A. Aliev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan," Bakinskii rabochii, October 12, 1993, p. 1 in "Aliev Inauguration Speech," Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Eurasia, 93-153 [Hereafter FBIS-USR], December 4, 1993, p. 11.
4 Irregular Armenian troops from the Republic of Armenia were also assisting the Karabagh forces although Yerevan rejected any direct involvement in the war. See Levon Ter-Petrossian and Babken Ararktsian, 'The State of the Republic of Armenia," Special Report on Armenia, Number 2, Washington, DC: Armenian Assembly of America, 1994, pp. 5-l l; sec also Steven Greenhouse, "Armenia Says it Would Welcome Russian Peacekeeping Offer," The New York Times, August I 2, 1994, p. A3.
5 Theodore Karasik, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and Future Persian Gulf Security, Santa Monica: RAND, N-3579 AF/A, 1993, pp. 3-4.
6 "Gaidar Aliev Says We Have All Merged Into One People," Bakinskii rabochii, October 5, 1993, p. 1; in "Aliev Addresses National Minorities, Ethnic Groups," FBIS-USR-93-150, November 25, 1993, p. 1.
7 Dimitrii Furman, "Return to the Third World: The Sorry Tale of Azerbaijani Democracy," Svobodnaia mysl, No. 11, July 1993, p. 18.
8 In the aftermath of the Soviet disintegration, the Azerbaijan People's Front (APF) ascended to power in Baku through national elections against a communist incumbent, followed by a universal exchange of communist and Soviet slogans for national and democratic emblems. Led by Abulfez Elchibey, a pseudo-democratic leader from a subclan from Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan rejected the CIS as an integrative political mechanism. Baku's disappointment with Ankara, however, as well as Turkey's inability to firmly assist Azerbaijan, subsequently led to disenchantment with the APF and its efforts to reverse the nascent republic's economic decline. War losses with Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabagh worsened matters. Other powerful clans from Nakhichevan and Gyandza, in particular, launched efforts to oust the Elchibey government from power. See Valerii Vyzhutovich, "To the Last Drop of Power," Izvestiia, January 14, 1994, p. 13.
9 "President Elchibey: Democracy Cannot Be An Internal Affair," Moskovskie novosti, No. 31, August 8, 1993, p. 12.
10 In May 1994, Azeri police culminated their anti-opposition campaign with the arrest of various ethnic and clan leaders as well as former government officials from various groups. See Baku TURAN, May 26, 1994, in "Former Commandant of Internal Forces Arrested," Foreign Broadcast Information Service Soviet Union [Hereafter FBIS-SOV]-94-03, May 27,1994, p. 54 and Baku TURAN, May 26, 1994; in "National Liberation Party Leader Reported Arrested May 24," FBIS-SOV-94-03, May 27, 1994. p. 54. Starting on January 1, 1995, FBIS-Central Eurasia and Soviet Union merged into FBIS Central Eurasia, under the FBIS-SOV label.
11 Interfax, January 18, 1994. By the end of the March 1994, the Milli Majlis had condemned Mutalibov's role in the January 1990 Soviet "actions" in Baku. See Interfax, March 30, 1994. It must.be noted here that Moscow's military intervention in Azerbaijan was prompted by the 1989-90 Azeri-instigated pogroms against Armenians in Sumgait.
12 Vyzhutovich, op. cit., p. l 3.
13 Sonni Efron, "Azerbaijan Coup Attempt Crushed," The Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1995, p. A12.
15 Mutalibov pointed out that Aliev's clan received special treatment during the October 1994 uprising. He asserted that "only people with IDs showing a Nakhichevan residence permit were admitted to a demonstration in Baku in support of Aliev." See "Azerbaijan on the Eve of Changes?" Argumenty i fakty, No. 5, February 1995, p. 7.
16 Baku TURAN, August 16, 1993, in "Aliev Summons Parliament Session to View Events in South," FB/S-SOV-93-157, August 17, 1993, p. 36.
17 Baku TURAN, July 13, 1994; in "Police Clash With Armed Group in Belokanskii Region," FBIS-SOV- 94-35, July 14, 1994, p. 36.
18 In 1992, the population of Azerbaijan stood around 7.2 million and that of Armenia at 3.5 million. See Theodore W. Karasik, Russia and Eurasia: Facts and Figures 1994, Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1994, pp. 252, 282.
19 "Gaidar Aliev's Address to the Supreme Soviet," Azerbaijan Radio and Television Network, August 24, 1993, in "Aliev Address to Supreme Soviet on Gumbatov," FBIS-SOV-93-63, August 25, 1993, p.
20 '"Address to Nation by President Gaidar Aliev in Baku," Baku Azerbaijan Television Network, November 2, 1993; in "President Gaidar Aliev Addresses Nation," FBIS-SOV-93-11, November 3, 1993, p. 72.
21 Steve LeVince, "Afghan Fighters Aiding Azerbaijan in Civil War," The Washington Post, November 8, 1993, p. 14.
22 Moscow Russian Television Network, December 23, 1993; in "More Mercenaries Recruited for Azerbaijan," FB/S-SOV-93-46, December 27, 1993, p. 33.
23 "Rebels Kill 7 in Tajik Border Attack on Russian Soldiers," The Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1994, p. A16.
24 One could also argue that Moscow needed a stalemate between Armenia and Azerbaijan, followed by a lull in their battles, to launch both covert and overt military strikes against Chechnya in late 1994.
25 Whereas defense spending hovered at 40 percent in 1992. See "Azerbaijan in December 1992," Asian Newsletter, Moscow: Postfactum News Agency, No. 3, I 993, p. 10.
26 Reuters, July 2, 1993.
27 Istanbul Aydinlik, September 5, 1993, p. 11; in "1,640 Turkish Military Personnel Dismissed," FB/S-SOV-93-72, September 8, 1993, p. 91.
28 Tehran /RNA, December 15, 1993, in "Iran Considered Biggest Trade Partner," FBIS-SOV-93- 40, December 16, 1993, p. 81.
29 "Ibragim Shukurov, "Return to the South," Bakinskii rabochii, July 21, 1994, pp. 1-2; in "Aliev's Southern Foreign Policy Viewed," FBIS-USR-94- 093, August 25, 1994, p. 85.
30 Baku TURAN, July 9, 1994, in "Aliev Departs for Saudi Arabia July 9 for Talks," FBIS-SOV-94-33, July 12, 1994, p. 48; see also "Official Visit of Gaidar Aliev. President of Azerbaijan, to Saudi Arabia," Bakinskii rabochii, July 15, 1994, p. I; in "Aliev's Saudi Arabia Visit Detailed," FBIS-SOV- 94-139, July 20, 1994, pp. 54-55. In mid-1994, Sheikh Ali Bin Muhammad al-Naydani, a representative of the "Saudi Finance" group, announced that the "group" may grant SOCAR (State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic) a $2 billion credit line. See "Saudi Arabia to Grant $2 Billion Credit," FBIS-SOV-94-142, July 25, 1994, pp. 69-70.
31 Ibragim Shukurov, op cit., p. 87.
32 Azerbaijan is sitting on a large deposit of oil, estimated at 3.5 to 6 billion barrels with the main oil fields consisting of the Guneshli, Chirag and Azeri fields. Among other fields worth noting, were the Neftyange Kamni and Shak Deniz. Neftyange Kamni held an estimated 1.5 billion barrels of oil, of which 45 percent has been recovered while Shak Deniz is a very large reserve that has yet to be tapped. Oil production stood at 250,000 bpd for onshore fields and at 190,000 for offshore fields in 1993. Two major refineries, Bakinskii and Novobakinskii, have a combined refining capacity of 20 million tons per year which will double the country's domestic production if brought on line at optimal levels. For comparison purposes, it is worth noting that Saudi proven reserves stood at an estimated 260 billion barrels in 1994.
33 "Aliev Against Aliev," op. cit., p. 5.
34 "The Power of a Pipeline," Foreign Report, June 9, 1994, pp. 5-7.
35 Izvestiia, op. cit., August 4, 1993, p. 5.
36 Established by presidential decree in April 1993, the Russian Lukoil Company marketed as much as 25 percent of western Siberia's crude oil production, or 15 percent of total Russian output, during its first year of operations. In 1993, Lukoil produced 48.8 million metric tons of crude. This was down from 57.1 million metric tons in 1992, but said its decline was less than the 16.4 percent slump for Tyumen region as a whole. Lukoil operates two refineries, at Perm and Volgograd. In 1993, it produced 18.8 million metric tons of refined products, or 7.4 percent of Russia's total output. In 1994, Lukoil expected to produce as much as 20.5 million metric tons of products, or 9.8 percent of Russia's total output. See Oil & Gas Journal, June 20, 1994, p. 24.
37 "Prices Steady, Azeris Sign Landmark Oil Deal," Middle East Economic Digest, 38:39, September 30, 1994, p. 7.
38 See, for example, "Big-Time Oil-A Big-Time Game," Kazakhstanskaia pravda, November 5, 1994, p. 3; in "Journals Comment on Caspian Sea Deal," FB/S-USR-94-127, pp. 85-91.
39 "Interview with Geidar Aliev," Magyar Nemzet, November 10, 1994, p. 4; in "Aliev on Prospects for Peace With Armenia," FBIS-SOV-94-240, December 14, 1994, p. 51.
40 Kommersant-Daily, January 31, 1995.
41 "Baku Considers Everyone its Friend Except Armenia," Izvestiia, July 16, 1994, p. 3. The reference to Russia's neighborly situation must be contrasted with similar references towards Iran. Gasanov, at least in this statement, was clear: Russia must be appeased because it remained a threat to Azerbaijan.
42 Baku, Azerbaijan Radio Television Network, June 7, 1994; in "Aliev on Contacts with Western Oil Companies," FBIS-SOV-94-/0, June 8, 1994, p. 67.
43 Kommersant-Daily, September 28, 1994.
44 ITAR-TASS, October 13, 1994.
45 Baku could conceivably acquire this technology from Turkey or the West but will have to (I) purchase it, and (2) train its "Soviet educated" manpower to apply it. Although plausible, the switch may prove far costlier, both financially as well as socially, than generally assumed.
46 "Gaidar Aliev: We Only Want One Thing-For The Truth to be Known," Rossiiskaia gazeta, June 15, 1994, p. 2.
48 On September 21, 1994, Kaziev, former Deputy Defense Minister Baba Nezerli, former Regiment Commander Arif Pashaev and Talysh Republic leader Alikram Gumbatov escaped from the Azeri National Security Ministry prison. This act precipitated the October 1994 crisis. See Segodnia, January 19, 1995, p. 5.
49 Aliev's son-in-law, Mahmoud Mamedkuliyev - ambassador to London - has been accused of handling Baku's "contact with the Western [oil] consortium." Others, including R. Kuliyev, chairman of the Supreme Council; G. Gasanov, the foreign minister; R. Rizayev, the ambassador to Russia, have all been accused of "providing [for themselves) a comfortable existence" by maintaining large bank accounts in Europe. For a flavor of this Russian-led campaign, see Vissarion Petrov, "The CJS Is Our Newspaper's Country: Don't Drink From The Wells, or You Will Become President," Komsomolskaia Pravda, July 26, 1994, p. 5; in "Fall of Corrupt Regime Seen 'Under Way'," FBIS-SOV-94-147, August 1, 1994.
50 Ibid., p. 56.