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The Republic of Azerbaijan: Country Report
Current Political Situation
Current President: Ilham Aliyev
Current Prime Minister: Artur Rasizade
Current Majority Party: New Azerbaijan Party
Presidential: October 2013
Parliamentary: 7 November 2015
Presidential: October 2018
Parliamentary: November 2020
For a majority of Azerbaijan’s modern history, the country was subsumed within the Soviet Union; two years after its founding in 1918, Azerbaijan was incorporated into the USSR. Thus, although the country has developed many of the institutions of democratic government since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991, the system overall and the judicial branch especially possess institutional vestiges of Soviet-era rule. Notably, Azerbaijan’s political system has retained its secular character despite an apparent upward trend in religiosity in the country.
International observers regularly criticize Azerbaijan’s legislative and presidential elections, examples of which can be seen in the following sections. Despite this criticism and its apparent repression of dissident parties (which, it should be noted, is at a far smaller and less violent scale than comparable countries), the government appears to be well-insulated against the political instability currently gripping surrounding countries; a 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising calling for an outright coup has since splintered into a series of small, locally-focused protests.
Azerbaijan’s government is structured as a dominant-party unitary presidential system. The executive branch is comprised of the president, for which elections take place every five years and, following a 2009 referendum, has no limit on the number of terms for which an individual may serve; the Cabinet, formed by the president and comprised of the Prime Minister, Vice Premier and other heads of central executive bodies, the full list of which can be seen here; and the Security Council, which according to the office of the president of Azerbaijan’s English-language website, “provides the conditions for the realization of the constitutional authorities of the President on the protection of people rights and freedoms, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” and is comprised of the president, the prime minister, and the heads of various internal and external state security bodies, the full list of which can be seen here.
The executive office has been controlled by President Ilham Aliyev since 2003; his father, Heydar Aliyev, was his direct predecessor and served from 1993-2003. Both men have prevented Islam from exercising influence over the executive office or legislature. Though elections do take place at the constitutionally prescribed time intervals, international election monitors, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe prominent among them, view the presidential electoral process skeptically; media bias and voting irregularities contribute to a media environment classified by Freedom House as “not free,” an indicator reflective of the general political process in the country.
Azerbaijan’s legislative branch is comprised of two assemblies, the 125-seat unicameral National Assembly (Milli Məclis t), which governs territorial Azerbaijan, and the 45-seat Supreme Assembly of the Nakhcivany Autonomous Republic, an exclave that lies within territorial and on the Southwest border of territorial Armenia. The National Assembly is controlled by President Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party, members of whom hold 72 of the assembly’s 125 seats. The Party’s dominance is viewed by international monitors as the result of an electoral system that is manipulated both internally and externally, the former through patronage and intimidation and the latter through a biased media and stifled freedom of expression.
Azerbaijan’s judicial branch is comprised of the 9-person Constitutional Court, the 23-person Supreme Court and the 11-person Economic Court, the judges of which are nominated by the president. The courts’ independence generally, and the Supreme Court’s independence specifically is questionable. In 1993, for example, President Aliyev ousted the Supreme Court’s chief justice in move widely seen as politically motivated.
As mentioned above, Azerbaijan’s justice system retains several Soviet-era features, most notably the Collegium of Advocates, that constrain the system’s independence and constitute a significant obstacle to the country’s full integration into the European community.
Notable Foreign Relationships
Turkey - Since gaining independence, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s closest ally, with whom it also shares centuries cultural heritage. The countries’ history of political and economic cooperation stretches back to 1991; recent notable examples include a military pact signed in 2011 and an energy agreement reached in 2013. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recently issued a joint statement reaffirming the countries’ “fraternal bonds.”
Armenia - Armenia and Azerbaijan have had periodic clashes since independence, the most significant of which was a medium-intensity war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that lasted from 1988 to 1994. Since then, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group has attempted to mediate disputes between the two countries. Still, the two countries remain nominally at war, and skirmishes have broken out in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Most recently the conflicted reignited in the spring of 2016 leaving hundreds killed. A fragile peace has been underway since April 5th when a delegation from Russia negotiated a ceasefire. With elections looming in Azerbaijan, the prospect of an all-out war breaking is growing, according to some commentators; Azeri government officials also periodically threaten to resume violence with Armenia, though the veracity of their statements is often hard to judge.
Israel - Ties between Azerbaijan and Israel have grown significantly in recent years. Economically the countries cooperate in a number of fields, significant among them telecommunication--two of the countries’ biggest companies have been in partnership since 1994--and energy--in 2010, Azerbaijan’s net exports (mostly oil) to Israel were $1.7 billion. The countries also appear to be cooperating against Iran; in 2012 agreed to provide $1.6 billion in sophisticated weaponry to Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan may allow Israel to use its airbases if the Jewish state strikes Iran.
Iran - Not coincidentally, Azerbaijan’s increased cooperation with Israel owes to, and has exacerbated a growing chasm between the Azerbaijan and Iran. Despite their dominance of Shiite Islam in both states, and the strong ethnic Azeri presence in Iran, tension is high between the countries over energy, military and religious issues. Azerbaijan has accused Iran of attempting to undermine the secular state, notably by backing the anti-regime Islamic Party of Azerbaijan. In 2012 relations with Iran reached a nadir, with Azerbaijan increasingly aligning with Israel on strategic posture vis-a-vis Iran.
Social Factors in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijanis: 91.6; Lenzigs: 2.0; Russians: 1.3; Armenians: 1.3; Talyshs: 1.3; Other: 2.5.
Azerbaijani society is generally homogeneous in both ethnic and religious dimensions. This societal uniformity has largely insulated it from the country from the sectarian tensions that are currently roiling the politics of countries bordering and close to it. Still, minorities constitute 9 percent of the population, the Lezgins and Armenians significant among them. The vast majority of Armenians living in territorial Azerbaijan reside in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic enclave within territorial Azerbaijan that, despite lacking formal international recognition, is de facto controlled by an Armenian government.
Overall, Azerbaijan's population is dominated by ethnic Azerbaijanis, on whom centuries of Turkic influence has resulted in a collective social identity and culture that is predominantly Turkic.This shared identity has been a lubricant for the countries’ economic and political cooperation.
Trends in Azerbaijan’s demography point to a rise in the country’s total population. But though the country currently has a high proportion of youth relative to surrounding countries, waning fertility rates coupled with rising age expectancy portend an aging in the general population. This trend is likely to encumber the country in terms of production, as its working-age population will shrink and eventually decrease; and financially, as its poverty-reduction, pension and healthcare systems will come under increasing strain from a burgeoning elderly population.
987,000 barrels a day
Projected GDP Growth
Propped up by significant oil reserves (its 2011 proved reserves were ranked 19 out of 209) Azerbaijan saw strong economic growth through 2006. The 2007 global economic crisis dampened economic growth in the country: after growing at 34.6% in 2006, the highest rate in the world, Azerbaijan’s GDP growth rate was 2.2% in 2012 and was projected to be 4.1% and 5.8% for 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Azerbaijan’s economic base remains largely dependent on its energy reserves--one essay estimated that 75% of state revenue derives from the export of petroleum, a troubling indicator; this trend is compounded by heavy foreign investment in the energy sector, which may entrench corporate interests there and hinder private or public sector-driven attempts to diversify the economy. Azerbaijan’s government does seem to be making some progress in diversifying its economy as part of a long-term development strategy: in 2012, the IMF noted that oil output was in decline while non-oil sectors of the economy were growing at 9.6%. Still, the continuation of this trend is, somewhat ironically, reliant on continued petroleum revenues to power an infrastructural pivot to the agricultural, tourist and high-tech industries. Though current oil prices are propitious to Azerbaijan and offer it a chance to cement long-term economic reform, several factors, among them shrinking reserves and a projected steep, lasting decline in oil prices from 2014 on mean the country’s window of opportunity to reify reform is closing fast.
Though Azerbaijan was listed by the World Bank as the world’s top economic reformer for 2008, international observers remain skeptical of its long-term policies regarding economic policy, regulation and freedom; its. Most concerning, The Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom rated Azerbaijan’s protection of private property a 25 out of 100.
As part of its effort to integrate into the world eco-political system, Azerbaijan is in the midst of a bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Concerns over the long-term competitiveness of its economy and the protection offered to individual investors, details of which can be seen above, have so far prevented the country’s ascension into the WTO, a goal it has been trying to achieve since 2004. Despite these obstacles, as of April 2013, Azerbaijan was due to enter the 10th of around 13 rounds of negotiations with WTO members, and should thus be no more than a few years away from joining the organization. WTO member status would bring the country further into the Western fold, though it is too early to tell whether ascension would set the stage for bids to join other multilateral organizations like NATO. In July of 2016 representatives from Azerbaijan stated they are committed to “intensifying” ascension talks.
Azerbaijan’s discovery of and exploitation of its significant oil reserves at the turn of the 19th century remains perhaps the most significant sculptor of its political, economic and, of course, environmental destinies. Like many countries rich in resources, it has often struggled to balance environmental protection with economic expediency. Its time as part of the Soviet Union compounded any environmental problems it may already have had; the USSR turned Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, into one of its main industrial centers, and, powered largely by Azeri oil, soon expanded production across the country.
The country is still recovering both from the physical effects of Soviet-entrenched industry--in 2007, Sumgayit had some of the world’s highest rates of birth defects and cancer in its population--and from its legacy--industry and petroleum production remain major facets of the country’s economy. As mentioned above, though, the country is taking strides away from oil dependency, which would in turn weaken the predominance of industry there, reducing air pollution. Even if Azerbaijan is successful in reducing air-polluting producers, high levels of soil and water pollution are likely to remain big challenges in the near future.
Azerbaijan must also confront illegal fishing, especially in the Caspian Sea. High rates of unlicensed fishing threaten the country’s caviar industry, an especially profitable industry and the destruction of which could hamper its efforts to diversify economically.
*note: where multiple articles are used, name and organization and link to homepage only; links to articles appear in text above
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE):
-Kotecha, Hema, “Islamic and Ethnic Identities in Azerbaijan: Emerging Trends and Tensions.” OSCE, July 2006. <http://www.osce.org/baku/23809>
-“Republic of Azerbaijan Parliamentary Elections 7 November 2010: Election Observation Mission Final Report.” OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 25 January 2011. <http://www.osce.org/odihr/75073>
“Report on the Situation of the Lawyers in Azerbaijan.” OSCE, March 2005. <http://www.osce.org/baku/20432>
“Statement of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.” OSCE, 17 March 2007.
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
-”Country Profile: Republic of Azerbaijan.” IFES. <http://www.electionguide.org/election.php?ID=1692>
Azerbaijan Government Websites, Various
-“The Composition of the Cabinet of Ministers.” Cabinet of Ministers, Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2013. <http://www.cabmin.gov.az/?/az/content/127/>
President of Azerbaijan, Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2013.
“Composition of the National Assembly.” National Assembly of Azerbaijan. <http://www.meclis.gov.az/?/az/content/11>
“Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan.” Republic of Azerbaijan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs. <http://dmfa.nakhchivan.az/page.php?lang=eng&page=000101>
“The Economic Court of Azerbaijan.” Republic of the Government of Azerbaijan. <http://www.azerbaijans.com/content_570_en.html>
“Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan.” Republic of the Government of Azerbaijan. <http://www.azerbaijan.az/_StatePower/_JudicialPower/_judicialPower_e.html>
“Population by Ethnic Group 1979-2009.” State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
-Karlekar, Karin Deutsch and Jennifer Dunham, “Freedom of the Press 2013” Freedom House, 2013.
Library of Congress
-“Azerbaijan: The Court System.” Library of Congress, 1994. <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+az0063)>
“Country Studies: Azerbaijan.”
European Council on Foreign Relations
-Bechev, Dimitar, “And the Winner...Azerbaijan.” European Council on Foreign Relations Blog, 22 May 2013.
Voice of America
-Brooke, James, “Conflict with Armenia Could Be Reignited During Azeri Election.” Voice of America, 13 June 2013. <http://www.voanews.com/content/during-azeri-election-conflict-with-armenia-could-reignite/1680942.html>
-“Israel and Azerbaijan: Odd but Useful Allies.” The Economist, 21 January 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21543201>
-Perry, Mark, “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground.” Foreign Policy Magazine, 28 March 2012. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground?page=full>
-APA TV <http://az.apa.az/news/285093>
Central Intelligence Agency
-CIA World Factbook: Azerbaijan <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/aj.html>
CIA Oil: Proved Reserves
-World Bank Report No. 63155-AZ, “Azerbaijan Demographic Change: Implications for Social Policy and Poverty,” 3-17.
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
-International Monetary Fund,
Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC)
-Mammadova, Nurana, “How Can Azerbaijan Diversify Its Economy Away from Petroleum Dependence to More Sustainable Economic Development?” CRRC, June 2012. <http://www.crrccenters.org/store/downloads/news/Nurana%20Mammadova_How%20Can%20Azerbaijan%20Diversify%20Its%20Economy%20Away%20From%20Petroleum%20Dependence.pdf>
Embassy of the United States, Baku, Azerbaijan
-“Economic Data and Reports.” Embassy of the United States, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Conerly, Bill, “Oil Price Forecast for 2013-2014: Falling Prices.” Forbes Magazine 1 May 2013.
The Heritage Foundation
“Index of Economic Freedom.” The Heritage Foundation, 2013. <http://www.heritage.org/index/country/azerbaijan>
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
“NATO’s relations with Azerbaijan.” NATO
Los Angeles Times
L.A Times “Here’s why a ‘frozen’ conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has gotten hot”,http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-nagorno-karabakh-20160419-story.html
World Trade Organization
Azerbaijan, “22 July 2016: Azerbaijan committed to “intensifying” WTO accession talks”
Research and Data Development Provided by: Ezra Shapiro, updated by Jared Martin, Research Assistants, under the supervision and coordination of: Dr. Gerard Janco, President, Eurasia Center/EBC