Elman Fattah, deputy chairman of main opposition political party Müsavat (Equality), is a dynamic figure in a new generation of Azerbaijani politicians.
Brief background information: born in 1974 in the village of Bash Goynuk in Sheki District, Fattah studied international relations in university. A veteran of the Karabakh war, he served in the army from 1992 to 2000, and fought in Aghdara, Aghdam, Nakhchivan, and Fuzuli. On February 5, 1993, he was wounded on the Aghdara front. He refused all decoration for his participation in the war and also any rise in military rank. After the war, he worked as a lawyer in various firms and as a private entrepreneur. A member of the Musavat party since 2000, in 2014 he became the party’s deputy chair on political questions. The politician’s professional ‘portrait’ is characterized by an exclusive commitment to liberal values, and he is the de-facto leader of the ‘liberal wing’ of the party.
— Elman, after the 2014 events in Ukraine when the Crimea was torn away from Ukraine, you asserted that the ‘traditional system of security has collapsed”, that is to say, in practice, any sort of legal basis for a world security system – the balance of world power which was established after 1945 – has been pulled out from beneath our feet. If this is the case, then what’s to be done, how do we move forward?
— Yes, the traditional security system has effectively been toppled. The world is in a stage of transition from a bipolar to a new, chaotic order – the ‘epoch of mystery’. We are now in the midst of an ‘accelerated transformation’. For this reason, not only world leaders, but even prestigious think tanks cannot outline a clear strategy. I apologize in advance, but the answer to this issue needs to be expanded upon a little bit.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and particularly in this decade, we were able to observe the blistering pace of the process of European integration. The Integration of the continent and expansion in an eastward direction was moving forward in a very streamlined manner. This despite the fact that the topic of the expansion of the EU was not always perceived of so unambiguously.
In 2004, when the EU immediately took on ten members, the Sunday edition (Welt am Sonntag) of the German newspaper Die Welt published an analytical article with the title “Römisches Reich, zweiter Versuch” (“A second attempt at the Roman Empire”).
The article spoke of the EU becoming the most powerful economic block in the world, and of the number of members growing from 15 to 25, as well as of the problems which arose as a result of sudden expansion. There was a key quotation from Joschka Fischer, at that time the German minister of foreign affairs – “Greater than the Roman Empire” (“Größer als das Römische Reich“).
But looking down from the heights of the present day, it becomes clear that this expanding Europe couldn’t achieve its desired goals. On the contrary, Europe was wrapped up in problems of internal integration.
The reality of Brexit showed a clear representation of what happened in this case. The phenomenon of the EU without the UK will affect not only modern Europe, but also the entire, world-wide, chaotic order of the ‘epoch of mystery’. And so long the problem of internal integration remains a priority for the EU, the ‘Old World’ is unlikely to be able to help societies struggling with authoritarianism.
In other words, if the problems of integration are not resolved, eastward expansion will fall from the ‘strategic’ stage to the ‘level of theory’. And this will constrict the possibilities for the old, liberal world order of the EU under conditions of present-day globalization.
All this has a very straightforward relation to Azerbaijan.
Of course, all this might seem pessimistic. However, neither strategic nor academic circles are disposed towards optimistic prognoses. For example, in his new book How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance, Parag Khanna, an expert from the New America Foundation, writes, as if backing up George Orwell, that “in the future, the positions of the three, primary world powers (in convulsions between the search for unity and competition) will change often, and it will become impossible to speak of peace.”
Of course, we are speaking here of the USA, EU and China. In the foreword to Khanna’s book, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that this is a “panoramic sweep that boldly addresses the dilemmas of the world that our next president will have to stand against.”
The most important detail here for us is will the USA and EU sacrifice their modern values for the sake of diplomacy? In other words, will the concepts of ‘national interests’, ‘state interests’ and ‘sovereignty’ dominate international relations from here on, rolling over universal human rights?
But it’s also become clear now that neither a powerful army, nor a developed bureaucratic system, nor great financial possibilities can serve as a guarantee of a state’s stable development. It’s become clear that the main guarantee of strong states is universal values and human rights. In a truly strong state, dignity shows itself via the barometer of community values.
In other words, whether we are barreling onwards towards a better or a worse world will be decided by the degree to which we manage to hoist human rights to a level of ‘supranational law’.
— Tell us, please, as a “westernizer”, is there still interest in Azerbaijan joining NATO? After all, after the elections in the USA and the theatrical military putsch in Turkey, is the result that this is a bloc where the most powerful army is led by Trump, and the second-largest army in the bloc is led by Erdogan? How can they be better than Putin and his Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)?
— Brexit, the Turkish attempted coup, Trump — all these things are ramifications of the new ‘epoch of mystery’. Today more than ever, it is essential that Azerbaijan join NATO. For states that gained their independence in the epoch of the traditional security system, there was a serious international guarantee on the level of membership in the UN. But the UN Security Council already lost its legitimacy, as well as its effectiveness, long ago.
We can take the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia as an example proving the collapse of that system. And this when just a few years ago we witnessed Russia being compelled to retreat from Georgia, when just 50 km remained to Tbilisi. Now the system has collapsed, and there is no sort of international guarantee for states’ sovereignty.
Azerbaijan’s sovereignty is threatened from the south and north. Indeed, a realistic threat of annexation is advancing, which must be taken into account and averted using a security pact. This might be, for example, a mutual defense pact with Turkey. Nevertheless, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of independence, such a guarantee does not yet exist. It’s interesting that for us the realistic threat comes from Putin’s Russia, which, on the international stage has a reputation as Turkey’s ally (even if only a temporary one). In this case, the only realistic guarantee of protection might be the USA or under the NATO umbrella.
We believe that Azerbaijan needs this in any case. If we want to develop, all our resources, and especially finances, should be invested in developing the economy. In order to achieve this goal, we need a clear and reliable guarantee of security. And nobody but NATO can offer such a guarantee.
Regarding the CIS or the CSTO, it’s clear to everyone that they can only guarantee Azerbaijan one thing – to become the 22nd ‘republic’ of the Russian Federation, like Kadyrov’s emirates.
Our main task is to continue the glorious tradition of our founding fathers, who, led by Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh and under the leadership of the Müsavat party, built a state from almost nothing that was in no way autocratic or absolutist.
Our main and goal, to which there is no alternative, are those democratic ideals that were laid out in the foundation of our republic. These include equal rights and equal opportunity for all citizens, basic human rights and freedoms, in a word, all those Western values that were laid out in the foundational philosophy of our republic. The traditions of Eastern monarchism, so cherished by our current regime, are for us absolutely unacceptable.
In this sense, yes, we can be called ‘westernizers’, since it is precisely this direction which forms the foundational principles of Müsavatism and, in our opinion, is the only strategic choice for Azerbaijan.
— What would you say regarding the ‘total return’ of ultra-right forces throughout the world, which hasn’t been seen since 1945? In addition to Russia, Turkey and the USA, which we’ve already mentioned, this is taking place in Europe as well. Are these sorts of forces already ‘breathing down their necks’ in the foremost countries there – in Germany, theAlternative für Deutschland party, in France, Madame Le Pen with the Front National party?
— Yes, unfortunately the situation is difficult. But Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey never positioned themselves as representatives of the progressive world. What’s more, everyone was sure that Europe had received a well-deserved lesson from the two world wars. But now we’re faced with facts that are seriously disquieting.
We spoke about this above. The main catch-word of Brexit was sovereignty. Ultra-right ideology has come so far that Brexiters are presenting exit from the EU as a return to the time of the Empire on which the sun never set.
Only a little thing is needed to destroy democracy in any society: the silence of good people. I tell you this: Russian propaganda worked quite well for this. But Europe is alive and people are not staying quiet – they understand that silence is dangerous. I hope that very soon we will see the next wave of true democracy and a revival of liberal values. A vaccine against Putinism will be found.
— Regarding the situation in the Middle East. For five years now, as a result of disharmony in society, a true hell has burst into being not far from Azerbaijan. It’s interesting the Syria was run by the regime of the Assad family, which is incredibly similar to our own Aliyevs.
And there, in the beginning the father, a member of the security community (he was an army general, in contrast to our KGB general), grabbed the country in an ‘iron grip’, strengthened his ideology of ‘resisting the foreign enemy’ and pseudo-enlightened rule, also planned to return the country’s territories, occupied because of his own political short-sightedness. Later, his son continued his work after taking the throne – all this is exactly the same as with us, and we are witnesses of what this led to. Do you think that these frightening parallels might be continued, taking into account our present crisis, and if so, is there a way to avert this tragedy?
— Your comparison of the two dynasties is so precise, there’s nothing to add. But despite this, they are not, of course, identical.
The Ba’ath regime, both in Iraq and in Syria, was a product of the KGB. And events have shown how precise the KGB’s calculations were – in both cases this was a slow-burning bomb named Ba’ath.
But in Azerbaijan the situation is a little different. I would like to emphasize this in capital letters:
1. AZERBAIJAN IS NOT A TYPICAL EASTERN COUNTRY.
2. AZERBAIJAN IS NOT A TYPICAL MUSLIM COUNTRY.
This is a very important detail. Unfortunately, we can often hear Western political analysts ranting on about Azerbaijan as a traditional, Eastern, Muslim country, which I personally find outrageous.
For us, the government of the Aliyevs represents some sort of current of Islam. And the opposition, which comes out against the regime, doesn’t belong to some religious tendency. Azerbaijanis as a nation are closer to Europeans than the religious societies of the East.
Our opposition, especially the Müsavat party, the structures of which span the entire country, is an enlightened political party, supported by clear political concepts and following a democratic tradition. We, as before, are principled and committed to peaceful means of struggle.
In a situation where the methods of the Aliyev regime are outliving themselves, there are still internal preconditions for peaceful transformation and a change of power – the geopolitical preconditions for this are a topic for another conversation. I hope that the fate of the post-Aliyev period of Azerbaijan can compare with Georgia’s transition or that of the Eastern-European countries from authoritarianism to democracy, rather than with the fate of Syria.
— The present socio-political and administrative crises in Azerbaijan are plain to see, but the government seems not to want to see anything, even at point-blank range. But it seems to have become clear for everyone that this state of affairs cannot continue. What do you think, how might all this end, and do you, do the liberal forces of the country, have a plan to keep the situation in check?
— The situation in the country really is extremely difficult. The government recently raised gas and electricity fees. Over the course of the past three years, the country’s budget has shrunk 2.5 times over. Whereas back in 2013 the country’s budget was equal to 24 billion USD, during this past year it sank to 9 billion. And the government isn’t in a condition to do anything about it. As a result of the government’s inadequate actions, the crisis is deepening and we, with long strides, are drawing closer to collapse.
If up to this point the regime, while not offering ways out of this deadlock, has nevertheless demonstrated an ability to control the situation, it will soon lose this resources as well. In front of our eyes, a situation is being created wherein events are dictating conditions to the government.
In the very near future, we will witness the disappearance of the myth and atmosphere of terror, and a complete drying-up of financial flows, which form the spine of the repressive machine of the present regime, the system will be conclusively dismantled. Unfortunately, with all these processes the country and its citizens will also encounter difficult material and other sorts of problems.
We are following the processes closely. It is plain that the ongoing financial and economic crisis will very soon transform into a political crisis.
We are very concerned regarding the country’s fate. The foremost task is to get a hold on the process of government change, which has taken on an irreversible character, in peaceful terms, under unfavorable geopolitical conditions. Can we achieve this as a nation? I’m sure this will be within our power.