Vol. 4, No. 12 (June 15, 2011)

Azerbaijan has realized its national idea

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

In the June 9 Bakinsky Rabochiy, Ramiz Mehdiyev, the head of the Presidential Administration, argues that contemporary Azerbaijan reflects the successful realization of the country’s national idea, an achievement that sets it apart not only from other post-Soviet states, but also from many other countries around the world and one that means Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani people have been able and will continue to be able to avoid many of the problems that countries blessed with enormous energy resources or cursed with still unresolved problems cannot. [1] 

The creation of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1918, Mehdiyev writes, became “the objective completion of the process of the self-consciousness of the Azerbaijani people.”  The Azerbaijani national idea and “Azerbaijaniness” as a consolidating ideology had “acquired more or less complete content” for the times, and both played a key role not only in developing the national spirit, but also saving the Azerbaijani people from being pushed out of its historical territory.  

Because Azerbaijanis viewed what they were doing at that time as the logical continuation of the process of national formation, the presidential advisor says, they had a very different view of what 1918 meant that did many of the other peoples of Eurasia, a pattern that was to be repeated in 1991 and even more recently.  Other nations, including the Russians, “could not liberate themselves from the idea” that 1917-1918 represented a “break of historical tradition” and thus could not see the kind of continuities that Azerbaijanis have been able to feel.

In the case of both 1917 and then 1991, many other peoples feel compelled either to view the past as “cursed” from which there is nothing worth taking or as an “ideal” that their countries should work to restore.  According to Mehdiyev, “contemporary Azerbaijan became practically the only country on the space of the former USSR in which people were able to avoid ‘the complexes’ both of the first and the second type and, thanks to the appearance of the responsible leadership first of Heydar Aliyev and then of Ilham Aliyev to establish in the consciousness of the ruling elite and the population an adequate balance between continuity and renewal, between respect for historical national traditions and a striving for the future and not to the past.”

 “The Azerbaijani national idea has passed a long path of defining priorities in the course of which at the initial state appeared a religious component, which in the future gradually was transformed into a cultural-historical paradigm of national self-consciousness or Turkism.”  As a result, he writes, “the evolution of social thought in Azerbaijan in the 19th and 20th centuries” followed the pattern of “Turkization, Islamization, and Europeanization,” a course that is reflected and retained in the three colors of the Azerbaijani flag.

This sense of continuity among Azerbaijanis, along with a focus on the future, sets the country apart from Russia even with regard to more recent events.  “In Russia, it is now acceptable simply to denounce ‘the accursed 1990s,’ and to erect ‘an iron curtain’ between them and the contemporary period.”  However, according to a Russian analyst Oleg Tziganov, this approach means that Russians are not in a position to learn from their own mistakes, something that Azerbaijan’s very different attitude toward the past has allowed it to take advantage of.

The present leadership of Azerbaijan, Mehdiyev writes, fully recognizes the pluses and the minuses that “the first years of the restoration of independence” after 1991 brought Azerbaijan.  After a series of problems that threatened the existence of the country, Heydar Aliyev returned to power, to the great good fortune of Azerbaijan.  “The course of negative social-political processes clearly dictated that only a person of truly historic scale” would be capable of rescuing the country and doing so by incorporating its national idea.

What Heydar Aliyev did, Tziganov says, can be clearly seen if one draws the comparison between him and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.  “Comparing him and Heydar Aliyev, one can conclude that this is a comparison between a technocrat, effective, active, energetic and popular, and the leader of a nation who was able to arm himself with a national idea.  Putin,” Tziganov argues, “was able to restore statehood, build a power vertical, and struggle with selfish oligarchs [but] Heydar Aliyev rose to the heights not only of political but also of spiritual leadership.”

The national idea that Heydar Aliyev made use of and advanced was “an inspired integrative conception of national self-consciousness which expressed the fate of the people, its calling, and mobilized national energy for the realization of fateful tasks.”  Clearly, “in a multi-national state, the national idea, in order to preserve territorial integrity must consider the interests of the entire population of the country independent of language, ethnic or confessional differences.”

 “In this sense, one must recognize the following,” Tziganov continues. “If the Russian multi-national people under the leadership of Putin still could not recognize itself and acquire a national idea [that would conform to its idea of itself, its past and its future], the Azerbaijani people during the period of the rule of Heydar Aliyev already acquired its national idea.”  That has allowed Azerbaijan to escape many of the problems that Russia continues to face.

But Mehdiyev notes that “the political development of the last 20 years has shown that Azerbaijani society would not have been able to get by with a national idea alone, that the country needed a new and contemporary political ideology based on national interests.  Namely for this reason the definition of the ideological construction of contemporary Azerbaijan is extremely important.”  That definition of course is about “Azerbaijaniness,” and one can say that unlike Russia, Azerbaijan has over the last 18 years defined that in a way that satisfies the people of Azerbaijan. 
At the same time, Tziganov points out, Russia has not been able “to overcome the psychology” of a raw materials supplier even as Azerbaijan “guided by the ideology of Azerbaijaniness has proceeded along the path of integration of its unique land into a number of information-cognitive civilizations, that is, of societies which are based on knowledge.”  The leadership of the country first under Heydar Aliyev and now under Ilham Aliyev, Mehdiyev says, have recognized and resolved “the problem of the mobilization of the socially active strata of society” and spread these ideas to the entire population.  These ideas are reflected in the 1995 Constitution and accepted by the Azerbaijani people as their own.

Mehdiyev concludes that “the main constituent elements of the Azerbaijan national idea in the 21st century” are the following: ”the preservation of the state, territorial integrity and independence, the all-around development of the economy, the well-being of citizens, contemporary standards of education, spiritual development, democracy and security” with all the ramifications of each.  Because there is agreement on these and because they are seen as part of a continuum rather than of a fragmented history, Azerbaijanis, the presidential advisor suggests, can look to the future with confidence.


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/272168.html, accessed 14 June 2011.