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Azerbaijan - GOVERNMENT

Azerbaijan - Government and Politics

In the late 1980s, the advent of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in Moscow encouraged vocal opposition to the ruling Azerbaijani Communist Party (ACP). In 1989 the central opposition role went to the Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF), which was able to capture the presidency in the 1992 election. But failure to resolve the disastrous conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to destabilize Azerbaijani regimes throughout the early 1990s. Growing masses of disaffected refugees pressed vociferously for military victory and quickly shifted their support from one leader to another when losses occurred, negating efforts to establish solid political institutions at home or to make concessions that might provide a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 1993 the APF leadership was overthrown, and former communist official Heydar Aliyev was installed as president.

<>The Appearance of Opposition Parties
The Azerbaijani Popular Front
Party Configuration after 1991

<>Legislative Politics
<>The Presidential Election of 1992
<>The Coup of June 1993
<>Aliyev and the Presidential Election of October 1993
<>The Constitution
<>The Court System
<>Human Rights and the Media

Azerbaijan - The Appearance of Opposition Parties

The political and social groups that sprang up in Azerbaijan in the late 1980s were initially termed "informal organizations" because they were not yet recognized as legal under Soviet practice. By the end of 1988, about forty such organizations had emerged, many of them focused on nationalism or anti-Armenian issues. The ACP was increasingly regarded as illegitimate by the population, especially after the Soviet army intervened to protect the communist regime in January 1990. The Azerbaijani Popular Front

Widespread discontent with ACP rule led to the formation of the APF in March 1989 by intellectuals, including journalists and researchers belonging to the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences. The APF's founding congress in July 1989 elected Abdulfaz Elchibey party chairman. The APF characterized itself as an umbrella organization composed of smaller parties and groups and likeminded individuals. A central plank of its program was rejection of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh and defense of Azerbaijani territorial integrity. In its initial policy statements, the APF advocated decentralization of economic and political power from Moscow to Baku rather than Azerbaijani independence from the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the ACP refused to recognize the APF.

Within months of its foundation, the APF had hardened its position, launching a series of industrial strikes and rail service disruptions calculated to force recognition by the ACP. By the fall of 1989, the APF was at the forefront of Azerbaijani public opinion on the issue of national sovereignty for NagornoKarabakh , and the ACP recognized the APF as an opposition party. The APF used its influence on the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet, the republic's parliament, in advocating the Law on Sovereignty that was passed in October 1989. In January 1990, APF-led demonstrations against the ACP brought Soviet military intervention. In early 1992, the APF played an important role in organizing demonstrations against then-president Ayaz Mutalibov.

Party Configuration after 1991

Two small parties, the Independent Democratic Party (IDP) and the National Independence Party (NIP), were formed by former members of the APF in early 1992. The IDP was led by Leyla Yunosova, a prominent intellectual who had helped form the APF, and the NIP was led by Etibar Mamedov, a frequent critic of Elchibey's rule and APF domination of the electoral process. Azerbaijani military defeats in March 1993 led Mamedov to call for Elchibey's resignation. Mamedov initially approved Elchibey's ouster by Aliyev and the subsequent referendum on his rule.

The ACP formally disbanded in September 1991 during a wave of popular revulsion against the role it played in supporting the Moscow coup attempted against Gorbachev the previous month. Nevertheless, former leaders and members of the ACP continue to play a role in the family- and patronage-based political system, and Aliyev's faction regained its preeminent position. The ACP was revived formally in December 1993 at a "restorative" congress, after which it reported having 3,000 members. When Aliyev ran for president in 1993, he combined former communists and other minor groups into the New Azerbaijan Party, which became the governing party when Aliyev was elected.

Under election legislation passed since Aliyev's accession, a party must have at least 1,000 members to be legally registered by the Ministry of Justice. Party membership is forbidden to government officials in agencies of the judiciary, law enforcement, security, border defense, customs, taxation, finance, and the state-run media. The president and members of the clergy are likewise enjoined. Parties are not allowed to accept foreign funding or to establish cells in government agencies. The government has banned parties that reject Azerbaijan's territorial integrity or inflame racial, national, or religious enmity.

Azerbaijan - Legislative Politics

Parliamentary elections were held in September 1990, under a state of martial law. The opposition coalition led by the APF gained only about forty seats in the 350-seat Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet. Communists received the balance of seats in what the APF and others described as fraudulent elections. Most would-be international observers had been expelled from the republic by September. Bowing to massive popular demonstrations calling for the dissolution of the communist-dominated Supreme Soviet and concerted pressure by the APF and other oppositionists, in November 1991 the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet voted to establish a fifty-deputy National Council, or Melli-Majlis. This council, a "mini-legislature" that met in continuous session, was divided equally between former communists and the opposition. Because of the Supreme Soviet's complicity in the effort to bring Mutalibov back to power in May 1992, the APF forced the Supreme Soviet to convene, elect APF official Isa Gambarov as acting president, dissolve itself, and cede its power to the Melli-Majlis pending new parliamentary elections.

Having repeatedly postponed the elections, the Melli-Majlis remained the sole legislative authority within Azerbaijan in early 1994. The Melli-Majlis proved generally amenable to Elchibey's policies, but in 1993 the worsening military situation in Nagorno-Karabakh brought increasing criticism. In his first six months as president, Aliyev gained support from the MelliMajlis for most of his proposals.

Azerbaijan - The Presidential Election of 1992

The presidential election of June 1992 was the first in more than seventy years not held under communist control. Five candidates were on the ballot, seeking election to a five-year term. The election featured the unprecedented use of television, posters, and other media by multiple candidates to communicate platforms and solicit votes. The candidates included APF leader Elchibey, former parliament speaker Yakub Mamedov, Movement for Democratic Reforms leader and Minister of Justice Ilias Ismailov, National Democratic Group leader Rafik Abdullayev, and Union of Democratic Intelligentsia candidate Nizami Suleimanov. Two other candidates, from the NIP and the APF, withdrew from the race during the campaign. To register, each candidate had to collect at least 20,000 signatures and present them to the Central Electoral Commission. Aliyev was unable to run because of a constitutional provision barring candidates over sixty-five years of age. The government agreed to allow international observers to monitor the election. Etibar Mamedov, Elchibey's main rival in the polls, dropped out of the race a few days before the election, calling for rule by a coalition government and the postponement of balloting until Azerbaijan's state of war with Armenia ended.

Elchibey's election as president signaled a break in communist party dominance of Azerbaijani politics. He received 59.4 percent of more than 3.3 million votes cast. The runner-up, Suleimanov, made a surprise showing of 33 percent of the vote by promising Azerbaijanis instant wealth and victory in NagornoKarabakh . No other candidate garnered as much as 5 percent of the vote.

Elchibey had been a student of Arabic philology, a translator, and a college instructor. In 1975 the KGB imprisoned him for two years for anti-Soviet activities. In a postelection address to the nation, he announced a stabilization phase based on the transfer of power to his democratic faction. When that phase ended in 1993, constitutional, economic, and cultural reforms would be implemented, according to this plan. His top domestic policy priorities--creation of a national army and a national currency backed by gold reserves--were seen as necessary elements for national sovereignty. Despite the new president's intentions, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh dominated politics, and Elchibey and his party steadily lost influence and popular appeal because of continual military losses, a worsening economy, political stalemate, and government corruption.

Azerbaijan - The Coup of June 1993

In June 1993, an unsuccessful government attempt to disarm mutinous paramilitary forces precipitated the fall of Azerbaijan's fourth government since independence and provided the opportunity for Aliyev's return to power. The erstwhile communist's reappearance was part of a trend in which members of the former elites in various parts of the old Soviet sphere reclaimed authority. Suret Huseynov, a one-time troop commander in Nagorno-Karabakh dismissed by Elchibey, led the paramilitary forces that triggered the president's removal. In support of one of Elchibey's rivals, Huseynov had amassed troops and weaponry (largely obtained from the departing Russian military) in his home territory. He then easily defeated army forces sent to defeat him and precipitated a government crisis by marching toward Baku with several thousand troops.

Huseynov's exploits thoroughly discredited the Elchibey APF government in the minds of most Azerbaijanis. After several top government officials were fired or resigned and massed demonstrators demanded a change in government, Elchibey endorsed Aliyev's election as chairman of the Melli-Majlis. After a brief attempt to retain the presidency, Elchibey fled Baku in mid-June as Huseynov's forces approached.

Aliyev announced his immediate assumption of power as acting head of state, and within a week a bare quorum of Melli-Majlis legislators, mostly former communist deputies, formally transferred Elchibey's powers to Aliyev until a new president could be elected. Aliyev then replaced Elchibey's ministers and other officials with his own appointees. Huseynov received the post of prime minister. The legislature also granted Huseynov control over the "power" ministries of defense, internal affairs, and security.

In late July 1993, Aliyev convinced the legislature to hold a popular vote of confidence on Elchibey's moribund presidency and an extension of a state of emergency that had existed since April 1993 because of military setbacks. Although the APF boycotted the referendum, more than 90 percent of the electorate reportedly turned out to cast a 97 percent vote of no-confidence in Elchibey's rule. This outcome buttressed Aliyev's position and opened the way for new presidential elections.

In early September 1993, the Melli-Majlis scheduled new presidential elections for October 3, 1993. Removal of the maximum age requirement in the election law allowed Aliyev to run. Aliyev's position was strengthened further in August when paramilitary forces defeated a rebel warlord who had seized several areas of southern Azerbaijan and declared an autonomous republic of Talysh-Mugan.

Early in his tenure as acting president, Aliyev stated that his political goals were to prevent civil war, regain territory lost to Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and ensure the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Aliyev claimed that freedom of speech and human rights would be respected in Azerbaijan, although he also called for continuing a state of emergency that would ban political rallies. Huseynov had stated in June that the Azerbaijani government would pursue a negotiated settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh, but, if that failed, a military victory was the goal. He added that the government focus would be on improving the Azerbaijani armed forces, stabilizing the economy, and securing food for the population.

Azerbaijan - Aliyev and the Presidential Election of October 1993

Aliyev and two minor party candidates ran in presidential elections held in October 1993. Voter turnout was about 90 percent, of which almost 99 percent voted for Aliyev. Many international observers declared the elections biased because no major opposition candidates ran, and reporting by the mass media favored Aliyev and failed to report views of the other candidates or of the APF. Aliyev was sworn in as Azerbaijan's president on October 10.

Aliyev was born in 1923 in Nakhichevan of blue-collar Azerbaijani parents. He crowned a career in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence services by reaching the post of chairman of the Azerbaijani branch of the KGB in 1967. Appointed first secretary of the ACP Central Committee beginning in 1969, Aliyev purged Azerbaijani nationalists and directed Russification and state economic development activities with notable success through the 1970s. His support of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 brought recognition in Moscow and the Order of Lenin from First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, and in 1982 Aliyev became a full member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. From 1982 to 1987, he was also first deputy chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers.

In 1987 Gorbachev ousted Aliyev from the Politburo and relieved him as party leader in Azerbaijan. Soon after returning to Nakhichevan in 1990, Aliyev was elected overwhelmingly to the Supreme Soviet of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic on a nationalist platform. The next year, he resigned his communist party membership. After the failed August 1991 coup in Moscow, he called for total independence for Azerbaijan and denounced Mutalibov, who was then aspiring to the presidency, for supporting the coup. In late 1991, Aliyev built a power base as chairman of the Nakhichevan Supreme Soviet, from which he asserted Nachichevan's near-total independence from Baku.

Azerbaijan - The Constitution

The preparation of a new constitution to replace the 1978 document (which had been based on the 1977 Soviet constitution) began in 1992, but adoption has been repeatedly delayed by civil and political turmoil. Pending the adoption of a new constitution, the fundamental document in the early 1990s was the October 18, 1991, Act of Independence, which government authorities have described as the basis for a new constitution. Meanwhile, the provisions of the 1978 constitution are valid if they do not violate or contradict the Act of Independence. The act declares that Azerbaijan is a secular, democratic, and unitary state, with equality of all citizens before the law. Freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents are upheld, and the right to form political parties is stipulated. The Act of Independence also proclaims Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and its sovereignty over all its territory. In October 1993, the Melli-Majlis revised the existing constitution of 1978, anticipating its retention for the time being. Finally deleted were the document's many references to "Soviet" and "communist" institutions and philosophy.

Azerbaijan - The Court System

The legal system of Azerbaijan has changed little from the system of the Soviet period. The national Supreme Court serves as a court of appeals; below it are two levels of judicial jurisdiction, the district and municipal courts. These courts, supposedly independent, are not immune to political manipulation, as evidenced by Aliyev's ouster of the chief justice of the Supreme Court in July 1993 because of the judge's support for Elchibey and the APF.

Trials are generally public, and defendants have the right to choose their own attorney, be present at their own trials, confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal the verdict. In cases involving national security or sex offenses, a judge may decide to hold a closed trial. Despite the other stipulated rights of the defendant, the presumption of innocence has not been incorporated specifically into the criminal code. Thus the decision of the state prosecutor to bring a case to trial has considerable bearing on the final verdict.

Azerbaijan - Human Rights and the Media

Ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis has resulted in widespread human rights violations by vigilante groups and local authorities. During the Elchibey period, the minister of internal affairs was replaced after admitting to numerous human rights abuses. Lezgins in Azerbaijan have complained of human rights abuses such as restrictions on educational opportunities in their native language. In the early 1990s, Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch cited numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and torture, including incidents since Aliyev assumed power in 1993. These organizations and several governments protested against the arrest and beating of hundreds of APF and other political and government officials and raids on APF offices, all after the change of government in mid-1993. At one point, Isa Kamber, a former speaker of the Melli-Majlis, was seized in the legislative chamber and held for two months. In late 1993, other APF officials were reportedly arrested for antigovernment activity, and Aliyev asserted that APF members were plotting an armed uprising against him.

Based on these and other incidents, in late 1993 the international human rights monitoring group Freedom House downgraded Azerbaijan to the rank of world states adjudged "not free." Nevertheless, Aliyev has proclaimed Azerbaijani adherence to international human rights standards, and in December 1993 he signed the CSCE Paris Accords on democracy and human rights.

News media censorship and other constraints on human rights, tightened after Aliyev came to power, were eased somewhat in September 1993 with the lifting of the national state of emergency. In the face of a growing political crisis in late 1993 caused by heavy military losses, however, many in the Azerbaijani government urged Aliyev to declare another period of emergency rule. Instead, he announced several measures to "tighten public discipline," including curfews and the creation of military tribunals to judge military deserters and draft evaders.

In late November 1993, the legislature refused to pass an Aliyev-backed press bill restricting news media freedom in the name of ensuring national unity. Nevertheless, efforts to restrict the media continued, and passage of a law on military censorship in December 1993 raised concerns among journalists that new restrictions would be imposed on a broad scale. At the end of 1993, the only newspaper publishing house, Azerbaijan, was under government control. The state was able to curtail the supply of printing materials to independent publishers because most of those items came from Russia. Meanwhile, rising prices cut newspaper and magazine subscriptions by over 50 percent in early 1994. Television, the preferred information source for most Azerbaijanis, was controlled by the government, which operated the only national television channel.

Azerbaijan - Foreign Relations

Azerbaijan carried out some diplomatic activities during its troubled first independence period between 1918 and 1920. In September 1920, newly formed Soviet Azerbaijan signed a treaty with Russia unifying the military forces, the economy, and foreign trade of the two countries, although the fiction of Azerbaijani autonomy in conducting foreign affairs was maintained. At that time, Azerbaijan established diplomatic relations with six countries, sending diplomatic representatives to Germany and Finland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow initially used Azerbaijani diplomats to increase Soviet influence in the Middle East through missions in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, but most transborder contacts by Azerbaijanis had been eliminated by the 1930s. In the post-World War II period, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs could issue limited visas for travel to Iran only. Iran also maintained a consulate in Baku.

The Foreign Policy Establishment

After regaining its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan faced reorganization of its minuscule foreign policy establishment. This process involved creating or upgrading various functional and geographical departments within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recruiting and training diplomats, and establishing and staffing embassies abroad. Because of the complexity of these tasks, few embassies were established during the first months of independence. Full diplomatic relations, including mutual exchanges of missions, were first established with Turkey, the United States, and Iran. Post-Soviet Diplomacy

Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijani diplomatic establishment had become more active, primarily with the goal of countering a worldwide Armenian information campaign on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Initiatives in this policy included establishing contacts with Azerbaijani �migr�s living in the United States and reinforcing diplomatic connections with Turkey, Iran, and Israel.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, most nations moved quickly to recognize Azerbaijan's independence, and several established full diplomatic relations within the first year. The first to do so was Turkey in January 1992. During his presidency, Elchibey stressed close relations with Turkey, which he saw as the best hope for arbitrating an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He also endorsed unification of the Azerbaijani populations of his country and northern Iran and, to that end, autonomy for the Iranian Azerbaijanis--a stand that alienated the Iranian government.

During the June 1993 coup, Turkey expressed support for Elchibey, but Aliyev and Turkish authorities subsequently expressed willingness to continue cordial relations. Relations did cool somewhat in the second half of 1993 as Aliyev sought to improve relations with Iran and Russia, which had flagged under Elchibey.

Meanwhile, the failure of arbitration efforts by the Minsk Group, which included Russia, Turkey, and the United States, had frustrated both Armenia and Azerbaijan by mid-1993. The Minsk Group was sponsored by the CSCE, which in the early 1990s undertook arbitration in several Caucasus conflicts under the organization's broad mandate for peacekeeping in Europe. Aliyev's alternative strategies included requesting personal involvement by Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin, who began six months of shuttle diplomacy among the capitals involved, and initiation of direct talks with Armenian leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh, a step that Elchibey had avoided. Throughout the last half of 1993, the new contacts ran concurrently with formal meetings convened by the Minsk Group to arrange a cease-fire.

To broaden its relations with nations both East and West, Azerbaijan joined a number of international and regional organizations, including the UN, the CSCE, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. Azerbaijan has observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

In the early 1990s, the primary criterion governing Azerbaijan's relations with foreign states and organizations was their stance on Azerbaijani sovereignty in Nagorno-Karabakh. Most governments and international organizations formally support the concept of territorial integrity, so this criterion has not restricted most of Azerbaijan's diplomatic efforts. Relations with some states have been affected, however. For example, in 1992 the United States Congress placed restrictions on United States aid to Azerbaijan pending the lifting of the Azerbaijani economic blockade on Armenia and cessation of offensive military actions against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

In messages and interviews early in his administration, Aliyev asserted that his new government would not alter Azerbaijan's domestic and foreign policies, and that his country would seek good relations with all countries, especially its neighbors, including Russia. He criticized the uneven relations that existed between Azerbaijan and Russia during the Elchibey regime. At the same time, Aliyev stressed that he viewed Azerbaijan as an independent state that should never again be "someone's vassal or colony." In the summer of 1993, Aliyev issued a blanket plea to the United States, Turkey, Russia, the UN, and the CSCE to work more resolutely toward settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Later that year, he sought repeal of the Azerbaijan clause of the United States Freedom Support Act, which had been amended in 1992 to prohibit United States government assistance to Azerbaijan.

Relations with Former Soviet Republics

Although Elchibey stressed Azerbaijani independence from Moscow, he signed a friendship treaty with Russia on October 12, 1992, calling for mutual assistance in the case of aggression directed at either party and pledging mutual protection of the rights of the other's resident citizens. Between that time and the coup of 1993, however, Elchibey accused Russia of aiding Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia accused Elchibey of mistreating the Russian minority in Azerbaijan. Relations improved with the return to power of Aliyev, who pledged to uphold and strengthen Azerbaijan's ties to Russia. Russia's official position on Nagorno-Karabakh was strict nonintervention barring an invitation to mediate from both sides; in the Russian view, Azerbaijani territory seized by Armenia was to be returned, however. In early 1994, seizure of property from Russian citizens in Azerbaijan (mostly to house refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh) remained a source of irritation.

Azerbaijan's role in the CIS changed drastically in the early 1990s. After Azerbaijan signed the Alma-Ata Declaration as a founding member of the CIS in December 1991, the legislature voted in October 1992 against ratifying this membership. However, Azerbaijan retained observer status, and its representatives attended some CIS functions. Aliyev's announcement in September 1993 that Azerbaijan would rejoin the CIS brought a heated debate in the legislature, which finally approved membership. Aliyev then signed the CIS charter, its Treaty on Collective Security, and an agreement on economic cooperation. Relations with former Soviet republics in Central Asia also were uneven after independence. Elchibey's advocacy of the overthrow of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan caused particular diplomatic problems with that country. In keeping with the policy of rapprochement with the CIS, Aliyev began improving ties with Central Asian leaders in the second half of 1993.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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