Azerbaijan in the 1990’s

By | June 6, 2022

The fate of the Republic of the Azerbaijan, independent since 1991, remained tied to the outcome of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabah, autonomous region of the Azerbaijan with an Armenian majority, which from the second half of the 1980s had catalysed the opposing Armenian and Azerbaijani nationalisms. The consequent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia jeopardized not only the construction of an economically integrated Caucasian regional area, but also the construction of new democratic states from the dissolution of the Soviet republics. The protraction of the war, in fact, ended up relegating the implementation of a rule of law in Azerbaijan to the background, the launch of economic reforms, the elaboration of an autonomous foreign policy not conditioned by military necessities,

According to Homosociety, the military reverses suffered by the Azerbaijani army in the two-year period 1992 – 93 and the conquest by the Armenian forces of Nagorno-Karabah of a fifth of the national territory (with consequent massive immigration of Azeris to the other regions of the country) resulted in the dismissal of two presidents of the Republic, the communist Azerbaijan Mutalibov, in May 1992, and the leader of the Popular Front, Azerbaijan Elcibej, in June 1993. In Elcibej, one of the rare politically active dissident figures in Azerbaijan Soviet, was succeeded by the strong man of the old communist establishment, H. Aliev, confirmed in power by a plebiscite election in October 1993 and again in October 1998.

The entry into force, in July 1994, of a ceasefire following negotiations conducted under the auspices of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabah, provoked a wave of protests and riots violently repressed by government forces. The inability to resolve the Nagorno-Karabah issue with a military victory (despite the use of mercenary troops of Mujahideen) and forced adjustment to a situation neither of war nor of peace with serious economic and social consequences for the civilian population, risked delegitimizing the new president exactly as the defeats on the ground had delegitimized his predecessors. However, Aliev, unlike the latter, managed to quell the attempts at insurrection and to maintain power, giving the regime a strongly authoritarian character. The rebellion, in September 1994, of a special corps loyal to the interior minister R. Djavadov offered Aliev the opportunity to declare a state of emergency, while the mutiny of sectors of the army close to Prime Minister S. Gusseinov caused the latter’s removal with the accusation of having fomented the unrest to prevent, for the benefit of Russia, the ratification of an agreement between the Azerbaijan and a consortium of American and European companies for the exploitation of Azerbaijani oil. New subversive attempts, made in March 1995 with the support of Djavadov, were suffocated in blood and allowed Aliev, citing the involvement of former president Yelcibej, to ban the Popular Front and other opposition movements, to limit the freedom of print and expression.

Under these conditions, on November 12, 1995 the Azerbaijan went to the polls for the first legislative elections of the post-Soviet era. Of the 31 officially registered parties, only eight could actually take part, two of which were opposition parties (one was the revived Popular Front). The outcome of the vote, characterized by numerous irregularities reported by international observers, awarded the victory to the Party of New Azerbaijan led by Aliev (numerous seats remained vacant and further elections took place in the following months). At the same time, a new Constitution was approved by referendum (replacing the Soviet one of 1978), which affirmed the secular and democratic character of the state. Under it, the president, elected by universal suffrage for five years, holds executive power together with the presidentially appointed council of ministers, while legislative power is exercised by a single-chamber parliament made up of 125 deputies.

Negotiations continued with the Armenian government for a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabah question after 1995, always with the support of the OSCE and with the mediation of the Minsk group (which includes nine OSCE countries) and of Russia in particular. However, the definition of the status to be accorded to Nagorno-Karabah, and the complete demobilization of the Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory, continued to be pending. The negotiation process suffered further slowdowns due to the legislative and presidential elections that took place in Nagorno-Karabah in April and November 1996 despite the veto opposed by the government of Baku, of the appointment of the president of Nagorno-Karabah, R. Kocharian, to head of the Armenian government in March 1997 and, therefore, of the elections of the latter to the presidency of the Armenian republic in May 1998.

During the Armenian advance of 1992 – 93 and during the presidency of the pro-Turkish Elcibej, the to. approached Turkey which strengthened the energy blockade imposed by the Azerbaijani government against Armenia by closing its trade routes and airspace. The Baku-Ankara axis was opposed by a Yerevan-Tehran axis, motivated, among other things, by the presence of an important Azerbaijani community in Iran of which the Iranian government feared possible nationalistic uprisings. In the following years, however, Armenian President L. Ter-Petrossian obtained from Turkey the reopening of the airspace towards Armenia, while the Minsk group, led by Russia, progressively distanced itself from Baku by adopting a policy of tightening neutrality. Moscow was essentially interested in 1994, were part of a political strategy aimed at Azerbaijani recognition of Moscow’s interests in that area. Nor did the weak international position allow the Azerbaijan to escape the influence of Russia, despite attempts to claim their own identity and independence in opposition to it, for example. opposing the installation of Russian military bases on Azerbaijani territory.

Azerbaijan in the 1990's