Why did the Arab Spring effect states differently? What accounts for these differences in outcome? This article seeks to address that very question.
Globally, no state is a “perfect democracy” but some are obviously closer and more exemplary than others. Democracy is multi-dimensional meaning that there are components therein, all of which are necessary for its sustenance.
Regionally, this is also true – that some states are more or less democratic than others. Of all the MENA states only Tunisia is considered a “successful” democracy. Both Tunisia & Egypt enjoy more developed institutions than Libya & Syria, for example. One might attribute development to geography & history, given Egypt has been more autonomous than other Arab counterparts, but this doesn’t apply across the board, given Tunisia was part of the Ottoman Empire while Egypt was not.
Why did revolution fail to break-out in Saudi Arabia?
Libya is also an oil-rich state, but it was left ravaged. Oil was not a stabilizing force in Libya.
Saudi Arabia has a notoriously strong security apparatus, one that is tied directly to the ruling family, the House of Saud. The same is true in Syria, where an Alawite-dominated military has direct links with the ruling Assad “clan”. However the major difference is that Saudi Arabia is supported by America, unlike Syria.
States which experienced military invasions endured the worst outcome of the Arab Spring, versus countries that maintained autonomy. Compare the violence in Yemen, Syria & Libya to Saudi, Egypt & Tunisia, and the claim carries weight.
This can be extended to Iraq & Afghanistan, invaded by the US.
But why then has America stood by Saudi Arabia & flip-flopped on Syria?
The US switched from mildly opposing the Syrian regime under Obama to supporting it tacitly under Trump. This underscores that US policy is not monolithic, and there are two forces contending, with one seeking further democratization & the other benefitting from authoritarian neoliberal (neocolonial) constructs such as the Saudi or Syrian state.
Perhaps the extent of political development and institutionalization in Arab states like Egypt prevented foreign countries from being able to influence the trajectory of the demonstrations, whereas thoroughly guarded states like Saudi Arabia & Syria with almost no degree of democratic institution were able to suppress without much attention. Not only does Egypt have a sizable minority, it has institutional provisions & a political infrastructure which make it less vulnerable to chaos. Clearly Egypt is no democracy, and has in fact continued as an authoritarian state, but it also experienced peaceful revolutions, ousted two leaders. A mere change in the face of executive leadership is reassuring to the people about at least some sense of accountability and connect. This is arguably the result of the political infrastructure of the state which has democratic features such as separation of powers & independent judiciary.
Ultimately than it can be argued that while culturally Saudi Arabia and Syria are different, they are politically underdeveloped to a comparable degree, with few to no provisions in place meant to separate powers of the state or establish a mild sense of accountability among officials.
Thus the failure of the Arab Spring to overwhelm Saudi Arabia can be traced to the US decision to stand by the government, despite its authoritarian character.
If the neoliberal face of the Middle East is to be defeated, it must also be defeated in the US, meaning Trump must be replaced with a Democrat who is not at all inclined towards authoritarian governments.
Perhaps this why there was such a coordinated effort by various authoritarian governments across the world to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, who is more or less sympathetic to authoritarianism than his Democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton. Autocrats have no consistent agenda but self-preservation at any expense, so coordinating on this delicate issue even with “enemies” occurred.
Globalization has rendered the world inextricably linked no matter how much anti globalist nationalists tout otherwise. Since America is the world’s most powerful state, it is only sensible that changes in its domestic politics would have ripple effects, especially in the Middle East where it has been involved so long & the politics are so volatile.
Is it safe to conclude then that the chapter of revolution has not yet ended in the region?
Perhaps it will be easier to tell in 2020, unless of course Trump doesn’t make it that far.
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Political Development & Ethnic Conflict:
Comparing Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan
III. Shared Histories in the Caspian Region
IV. Inclusion & Harmony – Kazakhstan vs. Exclusion & Conflict – Azerbaijan
In this research my aim is to demonstrate a relationship between the extent of political development, indicated by the degree of ethnic inclusion, and the extent of ethnic conflict, defined in the upcoming sections, exhibited in these two oil-rich post-Soviet, predominantly Muslim, Caspian & Turkic states. Beyond their security relevance, Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan serve as prime examples of states with variance in ethnic conflict and institutional development, despite the presence of oil in both states, and a common history. I argue that more politically developed states are more likely to form institutions that protect, preserve and encourage ethnic inclusion. As a result, they exhibit less ethnic conflict. My independent variable is political development. The proxy for the extent of political development is the degree of ethnic exclusion or inclusion. My dependent variable is the degree of ethnic conflict or harmony. I employ both a comparative case study method for generalizability & regional context as well as a logit regression measuring this relationship through 150 cases of ethnic conflict. The research is organized into the following sections respectively: introduction of theory & key concepts therein; summary of shared histories of both cases, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan; review of data results from logit regression; and finally a conclusion. The comparative case study supplemented by the EPR logit regression results support my hypothesis that there is a positive relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict.
This research is an attempt to answer the question of why ethnic conflict occurs is some states and not others. In order to properly address the question, I’ve chosen a multi-method approach, including a logit regression as well as a comparative case study. I’ve chosen two Caspian states, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan, rich with oil. The Caspian Sea region, or Central Asia rather, has become of growing importance, particularly since the dissolution of the USSR, but even more so perhaps, following the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. This has resulted in coordination between western and Caspian states like Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan in security measures in attempt to prevent instability.
More importantly for this research, instability has also taken the form of ethnic conflict, such as in the Caucasus, but also in CA states like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan & Kirgizstan. Out of the CA states, only Kazakhstan has oil abundance, and is thus vulnerable to the resource curse argument. That is Kazakhstan has averted any major conflict or crises altogether through a rentier system (Franke et al 2009). To counter this argument, and in order demonstrate that a lack of ethnic conflict (ethnic harmony) is not caused by oil wealth but rather by institutional accommodation I compare Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan.
In this research my aim is to demonstrate a relationship between the extent of political development, indicated by the degree of ethnic inclusion, and the extent of ethnic conflict, defined in the upcoming sections, exhibited in these two oil-rich post-Soviet, predominantly Muslim, Caspian & Turkic states. Beyond their security relevance, Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan serve as prime examples of states with variance in ethnic conflict and institutional development, despite the presence of oil in both states. I argue that more politically developed states are more likely to form institutions that protect, preserve and encourage ethnic inclusion. As a result, they exhibit less ethnic conflict. My independent variable is political development. The proxy for the extent of political development is the degree of ethnic exclusion or inclusion. My dependent variable is the degree of ethnic conflict or harmony. The research is organized into the following sections respectively: introduction of theory & key concepts therein; summary of shared histories of both cases, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan; review of data results from logit regression; and finally a conclusion.
Theory & Key Concepts
Before analyzing this relationship, it is important to define four major concepts in this research: Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, Ethnic Exclusion (discrimination) or Ethnic Inclusion.
Ethnicity is defined as “subjective experienced sense of commnality based on belief in a common ancestry and shared culture. Indicators of common ancestry and culture include common language, phenotypical features, and belonging to same faith (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009).
Ethnic conflict is described as mass violence between two communities that each belongs to a distinct cultural group with common heritage and other subjective commonalities. In order to be classified as an ethnic conflict, armed organizations must seek to achieve “ethnonationalist aims, motivations & interests and recruit fighters and forge alliances on the basis of ethnic affiliations” (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009). Ethnic conflicts are distinct in their “armed organization, recruitment and alliance structures. In other words, ethnic conflicts are typically fought over ethnonational self-determination, ethnic balance of power in government, ethnoregional autonomy, ethnic and racial discrimination, and language and other cultural rights” (Sambanis 2009).
In many cases, antagonist ethnic groups will not be able to agree on new constitutional arrangements or a peaceful separation. These kind of ethnic disputes consequently become violent, some escalate into all-out inter-ethnic war. This is the situation in Angola, Kashmir, Shi Lanka, Bosnia, and Caucasus. Some scholars explain reasons of ethnic conflicts with collapse of the authoritarian rule. As an example, the main reason why ethnic conflicts have sprung up in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere, because the authoritarian rule has collapsed and made such conflicts possible. This is the conventional wisdom. This argument offers an inadequate explanation of the causes of ethnic conflicts. Scholars generally fail to explain why conflicts have broken out in some places, but not others, and why some ethnic conflicts are more violent than others (Ismayilov 2008). To elaborate further, ethnic conflicts can be defined as conflicts between ethnic groups within a multi-ethnic state, which have been going on some time, which may appear to be unsolvable to the parties caught up in them. An ethnic conflict is a dispute about important political, economic, cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities (Brown 1993). The most distinct feature of ethnic conflict is the explicit targeting of a group on the basis of a shared culture (Weber 1978). It is a long lasting tension between two groups that wish to advance their interests (Ismayilov 2008). In non-ethnic conflict, members of the same ethnic group might be in conflict, whereas ethnic conflict is distinctly between two separate groups on the basis of their subjective cultural differences and the political implications therein. As the literature indicates, as with many abstract political concepts, there is little consensus on the definition of ethnicity. The use of ‘subjective’ is to indicate the ‘ambiguity’ of the definition. In Lebanon for example the political system is known as confessionalism, in which religion is deeply tied to ideology and ethnicity, thus making it difficult to really distinguish any ethnic group.
It is also important to define ethnic exclusion, or discrimination rather, so as to demonstrate how this exclusion is being gauged. Members of an ethnic group that are excluded from government or discriminated against are subject to intentional, targeted disenfranchisement. Discrimination entails limiting access to government positions to citizens who speak a certain language, exhibit phenotypical features or members of a particular faith. Discrimination can be informal too, that is – it can exist without legal enforcement, if a society actively prevents a particular ethnic group from mobilizing in that society (Tezcur & Gurses 2017). An example of ethnic exclusion or discrimination includes African-Americans until the civil rights movement. Some might argue that informal discrimination persists today (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009).
On the other hand, inclusion can be described as institutional accommodation, beyond nominal laws, intended to help raise social status and political representation levels of ethnic minorities. The Civil Rights Act of 1995 & Affirmative Action are two examples of such accommodations in the US (Porter 2003).
Inclusion is a key concept in this article, particularly because I focus on Kazakhstan’s unique institutional infrastructure, the APK, which reduces the risk of ethnic conflict. The theoretical basis of my argument on the positive relationship between ethnic inclusion and ethnic conflict draws from Remmer’s model of Natural Cultural Autonomy. Remmer’s model suggests that ethnic inclusion does reduce the chances of ethnic conflict, but that this inclusion must go beyond mere laws. In other words, institutions and policies must be in practice that wholly address and accommodate the needs of ethnic minorities based on their experiences in given states (Porter 2003).
Ethnic conflicts occur in a multi-ethnic state, have been going on some time, and appear to be difficult to resolve. An ethnic conflict is a disagreement about political, economic, cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities (Brown 1993).
The most distinct feature of ethnic conflict is the explicit targeting of a group on the basis of a shared culture (Weber 1978). It is a long lasting tension between two groups that wish to advance their interests (Ismayilov 2008). In non-ethnic conflict, members of the same ethnic group might be in conflict, whereas ethnic conflict is distinctly between two separate groups on the basis of their subjective cultural differences and the political implications therein. As the literature indicates, as with many abstract political concepts, there is little consensus on the definition of ethnicity. The use of ‘subjective’ is to indicate the ‘ambiguity’ of the definition. In Lebanon for example the political system is known as confessionalism, in which religion is deeply tied to ideology and ethnicity, thus making it difficult to really distinguish any ethnic group.
The literature is vast on ethnic conflict, but there is almost no focus on the relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict (Fearon 2003). Instead most researchers focus on secessionist movements or insurgencies, but not on mere violent clashes, pogroms, and massacres. Furthermore, the literature suggests that most ethnic conflict is the result of collapsing authoritarian regimes, but this does not account for the occurrence of ethnic conflict in one region, and not the other (Ismayilov 2008).
The emergence of ethnic nationalism, such as in Azerbaijan, makes ethnic conflict much more likely. The rise of ethnic nationalism in one group can be seen as threatening by others. But even Kazakhstan, and most other post-soviet states exhibited high rates of nationalism for the sake of nation building. The mere disintegration of the authoritarian, cross-national empire of the USSR left a vacuum of power and the need for new states to emerge and address collective political needs. Not all states exhibited the same degree of nationalism. There is a distinction between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in this regard. Neither country is democratic by any means, but Kazakhstan has clear institutional differences in terms of ethnic minority inclusion. So what is this difference? A degree of political development, or institutionalized representation and inclusion has the potential to help mitigate ethnic tension by allowing for the establishment of an inclusive means of governance to address the needs of all ethnic groups in the state. This inclusiveness goes beyond just mere protection of minorities but accommodates and addresses grievances (Porter 2003). Now that we understand these important concepts and their definitions, of ethnicity and ethnic conflict, and the various sources of dispute, and expression of grievances, we can apply this reasoning to the two cases. I’ll begin first with Kazakhstan followed by an assessment of its ethnic harmony and the presence of robust institutions that enable it, followed by a section on ethnic exclusion, discrimination & ethnic conflict.
I use Ethnic Power Relations 3.0 to help demonstrate the relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict. The dataset identifies 150 politically relevant ethnic groups and their access to state power between 1946-2010. The dataset includes 157 countries and 758 ethnic groups, and measures the degree of exclusion from government ranging from total representation to over discrimination.
The database produces various tables, but I’ve chosen three main ones that capture the gist of the findings, Table 1, 2 & 3 as they are listed below & in the appendix.
Table 1 displays effects of changes in independent variables. By increasing the excluded population from 6% to 32% (Wimmer, Cederman, & Min 2009), it results in a 25% increase in the likelihood of ethnic conflict. Imperial rule between 1816 and independence increases the chance of armed conflict by 13% only. As a whole, the data demonstrates that changes in exclusion of ethnic groups produces the greatest increase in the risk of ethnic conflict.
The regression results in Table 2 & 3 (attached as PDFs due to size & clarity) indicate that variables such imperial past did not have an effect as statistically significant on ethnic conflict as the variable of ethnic exclusion. In other words, the USSR’s legacy of imperialism in the Caspian is not as statistically significant to overall ethnic conflict as one might expect. The same logic applies to oil. The data indicates that oil is nowhere near as significant as ethnic exclusion in its relationship to conflict.
The history of the Caspian is rather unique, rich with a prevalence of tribalism, nomadism, and clan relations. This was further enriched by the arrival of Islam, and the legacy of imperial dominance by Russia & Iran. The USSR would eventually encompass the entire region. It’s eventual collapse lead to the modern independent Kazakh & Azerbaijani republics. The purpose of this segment is to demonstrate how these historical similarities, while sharing some resemblance, do not ensure a shared degree of political stability and ethnic harmony.
The history of the Caspian region as populated with nomadic, tribal people with clan-based hierarchies greatly reflects in the political structures of the states therein. Nomadism has played a huge role in the histories of both Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan. In modern times, this is expressed through informal social institutions such as nepotism and patronage. That these societies embrace informality arguably induces corruption. Neither Kazakhstan nor Azerbaijan experienced autonomy until after the dissolution of the USSR. Before the USSR, Kazakhstan was mainly under the auspices of Russia, and Azerbaijan was ruled by Iran.
Traditionally, the influx of ideas, religions and cultures came along what is now called the Silk Route, connecting the east and west through trade networks and other forms of cultural interaction. Prior to the introduction of Islam by Arab warriors into the region in the 8th century, the Caspian region exhibited a diverse religious demography, including the mystical Shamanism, Tengrianism & Buddhism (Edelbay 2011).
USSR & Independence
Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan’s integration into the USSR only reinforced the tradition of authoritarianism and the centralization of power. They have carried on even into the post-soviet era (Tokaev 2004).
The disintegration of the USSR produced a vacuum of power. This vacuum was either to be filled by extremists or a continued legacy of authoritarianism. Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan, like most Caspian states, chose the latter. Similar security measures to the USSR were adopted, continuing the legacy of Soviet-inspired police-state. The only difference was that Moscow had essentially less control over the region it once easily swallowed up.
Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan also share linguistic roots. Both languages are Turkic in origin. This renders them an even more ideal comparison. Perhaps most importantly of all commonalities – both states are among the top twenty-five oil-exporters in the world.
Ethnic Inclusion & Harmony in Kazakhstan
In Kazakhstan, this accommodation exists via the establishment and continued involvement and development of the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan or APK.
Prominent ethnic groups include Uzbeks, Tatars, Uighurs, Chechens, Koreans, Turks, Azerbaijanis & Germans (Nyussupova 2011). It is important to note that the population of Russians is the second largest. Before independence, Kazakhstan’s own national ethnic group, the Kazakhs, comprised less than 40% of the total population. During this time Russian was more widely spoken. Following independence however, Kazakh was nationalized as the official language. Furthermore, quite recently, Kazakh’s became the official ethnic majority within their own national boundaries for the first time in their history (Karin 2002).
To highlight the significance of demography, the presence of Uzbeks in southern Kazakhstan provide insight into the assertion that modern Central Asia is an artificial creation traced back to the initial “cutting up” of the region by USSR leaders. It is likely that the environment and conditions created by these “partitions” created much of the imbalance and instability in the region today. Despite being Uzbek by ethnicity, Kazakh Uzbeks are loyal to the soil in which they have inhabited for centuries. That ethnic irredentism really highlights the role of the New Great Game in determining the overall demographic structure and dynamic of Kazakhstan, and Central Asia altogether (Oka 2009).
Relative to his Central Asian neighbors, President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has witnessed under his rule a relatively stable and harmonious interethnic relationship in his country. This is most likely attributed to Kazakhstan’s overall moderate approach to policy, which sees a balancing of foreign, domestic, and minority interests, contrary to Ilham Aliyev’s cult-like rule in Azerbaijan.
Nazarbayev rules with more pragmatism. Kazakhstan has witnessed no significant episodes of violent deteriorations of society.
More importantly perhaps, is how Nazarbayev’s vision of stability and harmony expressed itself domestically. Through the establishment of the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan in 1995, ethnic minorities are represented in this legislative body, which is intended to protect, preserve and celebrate their rights as well as the ethnic pluralism, which defines Kazakhstan. The APK (Assembly of People of Kazakhstan) consists of 384 representatives of all ethnic groups in the state (Jones 2010). The APK elects nine members to the Majlis; Kazakhstan’s lower-chamber of Parliament. Finally, all laws passed by the legislature must meet a certain criteria ensuring ethnic harmony, a significant check on executive power protecting ethnic minorities.
Kazakhstan has successfully employed national efforts to promote cultural tolerance and cohesiveness through its making of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan. National efforts to promote cultural/ethnic tolerance include: insuring each ethnic group has a voice within the government through policies, organizations, assemblies etc., granting all minorities equal rights and representation within the country, not using ethnicity as a tool for political mobilization but instead creating a “national identity” for everyone to be apart of equally (one that does not have to do with ethnic background at all but rather being a citizen of the said country), creating equal opportunities in the business realm for all ethnic groups, instilling strict laws against ethnic discrimination even down to ethnic slurs, as well as promoting peace through cultural events, parades, and the alike. The APK exemplifies directly national efforts in promoting cultural/ethnic tolerance and cohesiveness.
It has become evident that Kazakhstan’s politicians are aware of the need for inter-ethnic accord, in order to maintain political stability. Institutionally, Kazakhstan’s laws prevented the formation of political parties along ethnic lines; instead, in 1995 – by order of executive decree, President Nursultan Nazarbayev established the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in March 1995, a legislative and presidential consultative body, largely touted by Kazakh officials as a representation of the nation’s progressive policies.
Ultimately though, the APK has served mainly as a means for controlling ethnic minorities and securing a national Kazakh identity. This was underscored by the APK’s name-change, which was meant to signify its purpose as a unifying project. In other words, while the mission is to encourage harmony between ethnicities; the more underlying purpose is the stabilization of society under a unifying Kazakh identity.
The main objectives of the APK include the preservation of inter-ethnic harmony and political stability, developing new mechanisms for fostering healthy relations between various ethnicities and nationalities within the state; to promote spiritual and cultural enrichment; development and equality. Despite its ambiguity, and its close ties to the executive branch, considering it was the APK, which proposed extending Nazarbayev’s term, the APK enjoys a level of autonomy and influence on legislative matters, but a new decree centralizing the aim of the APK around Kazakhstani identity might raise some eyebrows (Jones 2010). The APK’s overarching goal is to essentially supervise ethnic groups and their leaders so as to make sure inter-ethnic harmony preserves Kazakhstan’s stability. The APK has been generally used to portray Kazakhstan’s image as an inter-ethnic paradise.
The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan has generated many benefits for both Kazakh society as well as its political infrastructure. Since its creation over two decades ago, The APK has enabled minority ethnic groups the ability for representation, protection and preservation, a guarantee that does not exists not only in developing states, but in even some of the most developed states in the world experiencing minority and ethnic tensions today.
While many have criticized and simplified the APK has an extension of President Nazarbayev’s arm into political affairs, seeing as he is the official Chairman of the institution, these criticisms are premature and lack a clear objective understanding of the regional landscape and history. This isn’t to suggest that Kazakhstan is a democratic paradise, on the contrary. Kazakhstan exhibits significant shortcomings in press freedom, political opposition, and economic competition. Furthermore, its tremendous oil wealth, dubbed the resource curse, has often paralyzed the process of modernization. Still, the extent of ethnic inclusion, representation and national unity are unprecedentedly higher in Kazakhstan than any other Central Asian state (Oka 2004). As demonstrated in the research, ethnic conflict was rampant in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. A lack of representation and guaranteed protection for minorities, as well as a robust mechanism for preserving ethnic traditions, was accompanied by violent episodes between ethnic groups. In Azerbaijan, ethnic minorities are suppressed and institutions like the APK in Kazakhstan are absent. There are no constitutional provisions that protect minorities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, Ukrainians, Russians, Germans, Kurds, Armenians, etc.
The mere fact that the APK has legislative authority, representation and leverage as well as the presence of explicit constitutional provisions that protect ethnic minorities both underscore the distinct degree of internal political development in Kazakhstan (Jones 2010) This cannot be easily dismissed as a product of its resource abundance relative to its neighbors, considering, even other post-Soviet states endowed with oil, like Azerbaijan, are substantially more discriminatory towards ethnic minorities. Oil itself has neither stifled nor promoted political development to coincide with economic development. Rather, it has existed as a mere backdrop feature, while ethnic minorities’ fates remain largely in the political landscape and culture of the host nation. That is why in Kazakhstan, cultural and religious tolerance together have resulted in a less contentious atmosphere, the necessary precondition for ethnic inclusion and institutional development in that regard.
The most important element of this research is the consideration of the regional implications as well as the theoretical implications. This research does not suggest that Kazakhstan is in any way an advanced democratic state, but rather, that it has made significant and commendable strides to protect its ethnic minorities which have in most other cases suffered tremendous discrimination, violence and destitution. Ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan contrarily, have access to social, political and economic capital to advance their ethnic groups in society, protecting their heritage’s past and future (Oka 2010).
Furthermore other research on the region vindicates these assertions as Kazakhstan has exhibited political stability and interethnic harmony since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. This has not been the case for other Central Asian & Post-Soviet States, where ethnic conflict and exclusion are simultaneously prevalent. Even where there is abundant oil, or the lack there of – when there are ongoing wars, or the lack thereof – ethnic conflict exists wherever there is an absence of political institutions designed to accommodate and advance their needs.
Even in the US and in most European countries like Germany, Northern Ireland and Denmark, there are various institutions and accommodations designed to integrate minorities into society and politics. The EPR data indicates that in situations where such accommodations are made, ethnic conflict is less likely to occur. Contrarily, the absence of institutional provisions meant to protect and integrate ethnic minorities beyond mere cultural tolerance will result in conflict.
Equally said is the need for more improvement for political development and minority protection in Kazakhstan, given that most provisions are often nominal, at the discretion of the Chairman & President, Nazarbayev. Furthermore, the low level of democracy in Kazakhstan renders even the most genuine of efforts to accommodate minority groups as politicized interests. The APK itself is limited in that it can likely be abolished or ignored at the discretion of Nazarbayev given the two branches clash (Tussupova 2010). As with most cases in Kazakhstan, the executive branch tends to overpower the others. Kazakhstan boasts of a many ethnic minorities, but it appears that granting the APK only 9 seats in parliament or the Majlis, is disproportionate to their population. Such improvements could further legitimize the APK as an institution of minority protection and ethnic harmony. Furthermore, Kazakhstan must work to integrate ethnic minorities into all facets of Kazakh society, include the economy. Limits on free press and political opposition also stifle the representative potential of the APK (Jones 2010).
Still it is worth noting that its mere existence is a stride towards democracy. As demonstrated, in places around the world where ethnic groups are excluded and underrepresented, there is higher chance that conflict might spur (Jones 2010).
Ethnic Exclusion & Conflict in Azerbaijan
In stark contrast, on the other side of the Caspian Sea, is the case of Azerbaijan. There are four major cases of ethnic conflict in Azerbaijan, including tensions with Armenians, Kurds, Lezgins & Talysh. The situation with Armenia is likely the worst, and involves a ‘secessionist’ movement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefor the NK conflict can be seen as a product of three ambitions, ethnic power balance in Azerbaijani politics as well as self-determination & territorial secession. The history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be traced to the dissolution of the USSR. The decentralization of power, and the vacuum of power left by the absence of an authoritarian central authority, led to the emergence of nationalist movements. In many cases, arbitrary boundaries and geographic heritages were even further confused. Following the establishment of post-soviet republics such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, conflict ensued between Azerbaijan and its Armenian population. Nagorno-Karabakh is 80% Armenian in population, but remains within the boundaries of Azerbaijan. An utter suppression and discrimination of Armenian culture, language and freedom is part of policy in Azerbaijan. Various pogroms and massacres of Armenians prompted a mass exodus to Armenia and NK from the Azerbaijani mainland. This mass exodus numbers up to 350,000 Armenians (Country Report 2015). Prior to the onset of the conflict, which began in the 80s, inter-ethnic tensions were brewing. A series of pogroms, such as the Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad or Maraga targeted Armenian minorities in Azerbaijan. In essence, “Armenophobia is institutionalized and engrained into Azerbaijani statehood & Karabakh is at the center of this “policy”.
Some of the approximately 20,000 to 30,000 citizens of Armenian descent living in the country reported discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of social services. Ethnic Armenians often concealed their ethnicity by legally changing the ethnic designation in their passports. There were no reports of violence against Armenians during the year. Some groups reported sporadic incidents of discrimination, restrictions on their ability to teach in their native languages, and harassment by local authorities. These groups included Talysh in the south, Lezgins in the north, and Meskhetians and Kurds (Country Reports on Human Rights 2015).
Destruction of cemeteries so as to erase Armenian history and heritage, the targeting of religious infrastructure, denying entry, linguistic suppression are all policy practices of the Azerbaijani state, which explicitly target and discriminate against Armenians.
The Lezgins exhibit a different condition. They are now considered the most vocal minority claiming discrimination in Azerbaijan (Fayos 2014). They make up the second-largest group in Azerbaijan. Lezgins often disguise themselves as Azeris to avoid losing job opportunities or discrimination in education. As a result, current official statistics in Azerbaijan have arbitrarily reduced the population.
In 1989, another ethnic minority, the Talysh gained the right to register as a distinct ethnic group. The accurate number of Talysh in Azerbaijan may be much higher than census results, which is due to the suppression of their identity, language and culture, “leading to internalized self-repression”. Azerbaijan lacks any robust, comprehensive legislation regarding ethnic minorities. The presidential decree of 1992 is insufficient in this sense. It lacks a “national framework for minority rights protection” and limits the focus to arts and crafts. Azerbaijan also lacks legislation to tackle anti-discriminations issues (Fayos 2014).
Institutionally level there is no specific body to deal with minority issues, unlike the APK in Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan does have the “Office of the Ombudsman”, which aims to compensate for this void. The focus of the state is less on minority inclusion and more on preventing secessionist movements. Such is symbolic of the paranoia, which dictates the Azerbaijani regime, compared to Kazakhstan’s harmonious and unifying approach.
There are few institutions as mentioned before which aim to support ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan, but none of them, neither the Forum of Religious Communities of Azerbaijan nor the Coordination Council of the Cultural Centers of National Minorities are involved in policy-making . They serve merely as consultative bodies and nominal entities. This is in sharp contrast to the APK in Kazakhstan, which not only protects and preserves ethnic minority culture – it grants them representation in the national legislature and the ability to propose laws.
Furthermore indicative of Azerbaijan’s ethnic exclusion is the fact that it has still not ratified the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The fact that Azerbaijan actively promotes the usage of the Azeri language underscores the need for some type of institutional protection for ethnic minority groups. Unlike Kazakhstan where the populace relatively respects laws and institutions, the “Law on State Language” in Azerbaijan, undermines any of the constitutional provisions, which guarantee minority ethnic groups linguistic rights. There is, however, a lack of national legislation for preserving and promoting the use of minority languages (Fayos 2014).
The downside of being accepted into greater Azerbaijani society is that minorities risk losing their languages. Indeed, while some minorities appear to be maintaining their level of linguistic other ethnic groups appear to be losing ground to linguistic assimilation; many members of the largest groups (e.g. the Talysh and the Lezgins) have expressed displeasure at this outcome, requesting greater government attention (Marquardt 2011).
Some researchers claim that Azerbaijani policy of appeasing minorities without giving them real rights is in fact comparable to Kazakhstan’s ‘multiculturalism’. I challenge this notion because in Kazakhstan ethnic minorities have legislative representatives that can actually vote on national policy (Marquardt 2011).
To the Azerbaijani state, ethnic identity is associated with the events in Nagorno-Karabakh; the Talysh state which was briefly declared in 1993 and the Lezgins independence movement, which began in the early 1990s. Likewise, these groups are seen as easily manipulated by outside forces that wish to harm Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. The Azeri government sees all ethnic identity movements as imperial schemes by Russia to instigate separatism, whether it is among the Legniz or the Armenians (Marquardt 2011).
Kazakhstan is more politically developed as a result mainly of its political culture and history as a diverse state.
The comparison of these two post-Soviet states is to demonstrate that the imperial soviet legacies were not as significant as expected in determining future stability. In Kazakhstan, the establishment of an institution that promotes ethnic diversity and tolerance, the APK reflects the pluralistic ideology of Kazakhstan, contrary to what has become the ethno-nationalistic character of the Azerbaijani state.
Unlike Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan has a cognitive national preference & political culture inclined towards ethno-nationalism/centrism. This ideology is wrapped around Aliyev’s cult of personality, and therein shields the authoritarian structure of Azerbaijan’s state. The system is designed to suppress any attempt at decentralizing power for the sake of minority representation and indigenous ethnic rights such as linguistic education for Talysh & Lezgin minorities.
The Talysh peoples are an ethnic group with a distinct language and culture seeking greater autonomy within Azerbaijan. They have their own language, Talyshi, which is suppressed by law enforcement. The largest concentration of Talysh people is in southern Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran with major population center in the city of Lenkoran.
Azerbaijan’s Turkic linguistic nationalist policy discourages the Talysh minority from practicing and preserving its own language.
Talysh press & literature enjoyed free distribution until Stalin came to power. This era saw Talysh being sent to gulags & closures of local media. Talysh were encouraged to assimilate into Azerbaijani SSR culture. Ironically, being part of the USSR also prevented them from being entirely vulnerable to Azerbaijani nationalism, and thus enabled the Talysh heritage to carry on until today. While the Talysh were never fully realized by any of their more powerful neighbors like Russia or Iran, it wasn’t until the birth of the Azeri state that ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism became a major threat to their persistence and survival.
There is no formal education in the Talysh language and Talysh people are encouraged to speak in Azeri or Persian. According to UNESCO, the number of young people being educated in Talysh is dropping significantly.
One of the key aims of the NTM is greater linguistic freedom.
In 1993, violence overslept the Caucasus. The Talysh seized this opportunity and established Talyshstan, an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan. The Azeri coup, which ushered in the Aliyev family rule, ended this brief autonomy abruptly. This might underscore the association between the significance of Aliyev’s distinct authoritarian and nationalist policy agenda versus his predecessors as the primary cause of minority suppression and ethnic conflict with Armenians.
Official census figures place Talysh population at 500,000 but they claim the number is much higher, closer to 1 million, another tactic perhaps to suppress minority rights movements.
Important to note there are 43 known unrepresented indigenous peoples across the globe. Of them, 2 are in #Azerbaijan. That is telling.
The Lezgin are the second minority group in Azerbaijan. The population of Lezgins in Azerbaijan is between 650,000-8000,000. They have their own language. They are predominantly Sunni Muslims, unlike their Talysh Shia counterparts. Since both groups are discriminated against regardless of their sect, this suggests religion plays little role in determining ethnic policies of the state.
The national cultural autonomy model suggests that exclusion results to conflict. In Azerbaijan, a stubborn centralized ethnonationalist government that is authoritarian towards its subjects and dictatorial towards minorities shapes the political culture. This is a cognitive, conscious choice; a reflection of political culture in Azerbaijan, whereas in Kazakhstan, the culture is more bent towards tolerance and harmony and thus sees a less authoritarian involvement in the suppression of minority languages and politics.
The Lezghins upset over underrepresentation in the Azerbaijani Parliament (Milli Meclis) after a change in political structure, a shift away from proportional representation in the parliamentary elections of November 2005. The Lezghins previously had two representatives in parliament but now numbers only one.
It is important to note that, much like many ethnic dilemmas, particularly in the post-Soviet regions, irredentism is a common case, with ethnic groups divided along “artificial” national borders. For example, the state border between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan divides a single, compact area of settlement of the Lezghins. This is comparable to the Kurdish problem in the Middle East.
Lezgistan is essentially Russian Dagestan & Northern Azerbaijan. Before the Russian Revolution, “Lezgin” was a term used to describe all ethnic groups living in present-day Russian Republic of Dagestan.
The Lezgins have a rich ancient history, and one of statehood that went recognized both by Russian & Ottoman Empires. In the early 18th century, the State of Shirvan inhabited by the Lezghins under the leadership of Haji Dawood Myushkyursky existed for some time, and was recognized by the Russian Empire and the Porte (the Ottoman Empire).
Lezgins & Talysh suffer similar condition of Kurdish irredentism, split among many country borders, usually as a result of neocolonial legacies, but perpetuated by their post-colonial authoritarian reincarnations.
SADVAL was created to unite Dagestan & Azerbaijani’s Lezgin nations, considered a terrorist organization by Azerbaijan, it has the main aims of advancing the status of Lezgins in the region. In 1994, a terrorist attack in Baku was attributed to SADVAL & the Lezgin movement. This might be in response to suppression of linguistic disbursement and absence of legislative representation.
The purpose of this research is to demonstrate that ethnic inclusion leads to ethnic harmony and less conflict. This is because institutional representation of ethnic minorities addresses their grievances. As exhibited in Kazakhstan, proper measures to address ethnic minority rights can mitigate the possibility of conflict altogether. In sharp contrast, Azerbaijan has restricted minority rights, which has coincided with inter-ethnic war with Armenia, pogroms targeting Armenians, desecration of cemeteries, linguistic discrimination, deportation of Kurds, and the suppression of Legniz & Talysh national movements. The presence of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan ensures harmony and representation between ethnic groups. Furthermore, it protects, promotes and encourages minority languages, enabling them to be taught in schools and used openly without discrimination. The APK in Kazakhstan serves as a model for other developing countries struggling with ethnic conflict. Better policies aimed at ethnic inclusion and accommodation will lead to more harmony. The research & data indicates that even powerful forces like the resource curse – that is, the abundance of oil, does not ensure a decrease in the risk of ethnic conflict.
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Dear all, I am honored to announce the release of my first ever line of merchandise in collaboration with my Armenian comrades Ara the Rat. It is quite an honor indeed. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your continued support throughout these years. It is truly a blessing and an honor to have you all part of this journey. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. You have been a part of my special universe. For such a long time. And for that I cherish you.
I know you will be happy to sport these premium quality shirts as you have been avid supporters from early on in my journey.
Visit this link below to make your purchase! (You can also click the images above).
If you are in the Orlando area, please contact me via e-mail or social media to request yours in person or at an upcoming boutique pop-up/show.
Thank you all so much!
In collaboration with Ara the Rat, I’m honored to announce the upcoming release of my first line of merchandise!
Watch the music video for the single Lavash below or by navigating the menu above. You can also hear the full album The World to Come via Spotify:
Since the “victory” of Donald J. Trump, white nationalism has removed its own veil.
Layers and layers.
It has always existed. In fact, it is the original sin of America.
Even when I arrived here in 1995, I felt it.
It was all around me. I could smell it. I could taste it.
I hated it; and I knew what it was responsible for.
My fellow minorities. My own people. Me.
I didn’t learn I was “undocumented” until I turned 16.
My mother turned to me and said “Danny you aren’t like the other kids. You don’t have … papers… you can’t work.”
I was quite emotional. I didn’t take it well. How could anyone? The strange thing is, I kind of knew the implications. I always knew something was off about our stay here in America. Something was always wrong.
Even in the Middle East, we lived in Riyadh, and for a Syrian mother and Syrian-Armenian father, nothing could be further out of place for us.
It was as though America was always our destination. Our salvation.
But even upon our coming here – the struggle persisted.
20 years later, 2017 it continues.
2008 was our 1960. President Obama was elected. For the bitter colonial minded minorities it was “nothing to be proud about”. They’d returned to the slave mentality. For white nationalists, it was spelling the beginning of their doom.
His middle name was Hussein. And for a brown (olive) kid like me, it warmed my heart a little.
Then he passed DACA.
For a decade, I had lived as a ghost in a country that rejected me.
I worked under the table jobs.
But I cherish those moments. Some of the best moments of my life.
It was my version of the American Dream, the only difference is, my story would never be told. It would never be embraced. Because the majority of America is white, and doesn’t sympathize with the minority struggle.
That is precisely why the current president is a white supremacist.
I remember working with hispanics, moroccans, Jews, Tunisians & Libyans. We come from the Middle East (West Asia) where taboos prevent women from working and such. But America was much different. My mother could barely speak english. In less than 5 years, she became the manager of a jewelry store, financed my entire education and my sister’s education, cooked and cleaned for us, while my father worked tirelessly. All this and could barely make ends meet. I remember countless arguments over debts and money shortages. It was traumatic as a kid. I think I still have anxiety as a result of it. But the love was there. And so was our faith. We could never be separated. Not then, not now, not ever!
Things were different back then. Before 9/11 – people could find work opportunities and even go to school if their papers weren’t exactly “straight”. After 9/11 everything changed.
When I found out I could not attend university after high school I was devastated. All the work I put in meant nothing.
In my younger days my parents worked so much and my older sister was so occupied with school I spent most of days with friends, most of whom were ethnic of the lower stratum of the American socio-economic sphere.
That’s when I started diving into my creative side, inspired by my grandfather. Yervant Krikorian was the first Armenian-Syrian to ever attend MIT. Yes, you read that right. MIT, the famed technological institute in Boston. The problem was he didn’t stay long enough in the US for us to earn citizenship through him. He returned to Syria due to family circumstances and financial shortcomings. He earned his PhD; but his dreams were never realized.
I was meant to live out that dream.
My father would always tell me tales of our “fabled” Armenian royal ancestry and the magnificent wonder of my grandfather; the elegance of my great grandmother, a Cypriot-Armenian. I appreciated this all so much, but tragically it didn’t match up to the reality I faced as an immigrant at the bottom of the barrel.
Fast forward to 2017.
Currently I am a graduate student of political science at the University of Central Florida. It was Obama’s legislation that made this possible. Before DACA, I was even denied entry to a community college. It was literally through the miraculous help of a sympathetic hispanic lady that I managed to register at a local community college. But when Obama passed DACA, I was finally able to attend university. Even though I had the grades, I couldn’t before. I was in AP classes in high school. But it didn’t matter. Anyway, I was finally in at UCF – although at first, they too almost denied me for bureaucratic reasons. They literally didn’t even know what DACA was at the registration office it seemed. When I handed them my “Employment Authorization ID” they were dumbfounded. It was amazing that I could finally attend a major university. But because I was denied all forms of scholarships or federal financial aid which I overwhelmingly qualified for, I had to work during my college career, and my academic performance suffered. It did not stop me however. I was totally broken when I was denied entry to UCF’s MA program initially. After 3 years of just waiting I decided to reapply and was admitted. Now, I am in my final semesters in the program, and without any form of financial aid let me tell you it has been the most difficult journey. My family lives just near the poverty line…they can barely afford to help; themselves at best.
Trump’s government is “reassuring” ‘Dreamers’ all will be well but none of this was necessary to begin with. I’ve experienced and educated myself on racism far too long to be blind to the agendas of the current regime & its voter base.
A close friend introduced me to Hip-Hop when I was in my teenage years. Perhaps they saw my interest in poetry and music and thought to mold it into something more tangible and culturally relevant. I was learning to speak the Hip-Hop language.
It wasn’t until my dreams of educating myself and being a political leader were dashed that I retreated to Hip-Hop.
It was my outlet of expression. My solidarity. My refuge.
Just recently I released a song that captures much of what I am trying to say here. But I still felt the need to write this.
I am an Armenian-Syrian and I am a descendant of genocides, exiles & exoduses. I have seen my people subject to occupation and indignation, and I have experienced alienation literally in a country that denied my humanity for so long. Even after alleviating our pain and suffering and granting us some sense of normalcy, Obama’s legacy is being insulted and reversed by this white nationalist megalomania. Furthermore, American and global indifference towards the plight of those around the world engaged in similar struggles for liberation has delegitimized the image of this nation and & the value of liberty itself.
We must look in the mirror and ask ourselves about our own complicity in manufacturing these global crises which have devastated lives.
There is no time.
Please support me by listening & sharing my new song which reflects on the plight of all DREAMers seeking to protect DACA. The link is below. A special thanks to all community leaders, members of faith, friends, family, legislators & business executives for expressing solidarity, compassion & resistance in the face of this human atrocity. I pray for our deliverance and trust in the Almighty that it will be achieved. And for those who utter the Lord’s name hypocritically, for their own narrow agenda, are among the gravest of sinners. Amen.