An updated – but still rough – draft of my master’s thesis


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UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA

DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE

M.A. Dissertation

Danny Krikorian

Political Development & Ethnic Conflict:
Comparing Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan

I. Introduction

II. Data

III. Shared Histories in the Caspian Region

IV. Inclusion & Harmony – Kazakhstan vs. Exclusion & Conflict – Azerbaijan

V. Conclusion

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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.

Data

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.

Shared Histories

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.

Talysh:

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.

Lezgins:

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.

Conclusion

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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[Watch] Bashar al-Assad interview with NBC – “America enabled ISIS”


 

In reference to Donald Trump’s discrimination against Muslims in the US, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad claimed that nobody should indulge such discrimination.

With regards to contradictory rhetoric from opposing candidates of the presidential election, Assad said he is not concerned with rhetoric but action and that this rhetoric is often temporal; fleeting.

Furthermore, Assad lambasted US presidents as inexperienced.

Finally Assad claims that the US enabled the emergence of ISIS and that Russia’s interventionism made this clear.

Could it be that radical Islamists are working with global powers to delegitimize Islam and to manufacture consent for security initiatives in the Middle East? Since neither stability, democracy or development appear to be the honest objectives of world powers involved in the region, namely the US, such a corroboration isn’t unlikely. It could be that these radicals are mere products of US interventionism in the region to begin with, a sort of religious but also nationalistic retaliation. What is certain is that these forces are unstable, and their origins lies in the realm of foreign occupation.

The World to Come – Volume I: An International Theory of Politics


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Cultural relativism and constructivism are two theories, one sociological the other political, that help us understand international politics from a different perspective.

We challenge the idea of absolutes but we also accept the traditions which develop over time as part of human social culture, or constructs.

There are elements of all philosophy, from realism and liberalism, which are embraced. But ideas such as the universalism of capitalism and democracy are challenged. Furthermore, I seek to explain all global injustice as a result of the exploitation of human insecurities by global political elites. There are remote, isolated incidents of craziness, but the trend suggests that, most human suffering is caused by the decisions of political elites to disregard the cultural distinctions and sovereignty between states.

Imperial overreach is practiced by many states. But the argument here is that the culture of capitalism embraced in the West, particularly in America, in the post-20th century especially, enables the likelihood for international agendas of domination.

While hegemony and power are innate, domination and violations of sovereignty are not. While America struggles to establish its identity as leader of the free world, individuals within America wish to export this freedom to countries where religious sensitivities are prioritized over democratic values and individual rights.

Regions of the world with rich indigenous histories and religious sensitivities, like Latin America, Central & South Asia, and the Middle East, are not conducive to democracy.

In the twentieth century, communism and nazism were viewed as threats to democracy – but had neither the English nor the Americans been aggressively imperialistic, democracy itself would not have been threatened. Imperialism, the desire to expand beyond one’s natural borders, is the cause of ideological fanaticism and political instability, plain and simple.

The frequency of violence and radicalization cannot be viewed as a cause – but rather the effect of another cause – violation of sovereignty. The moral indignation, humiliation and socio-economic depravity resulting from foreign occupation causes political instability and violence to ensue.

The result is terrorism and vulnerability.

That is precisely why Islamic radicalism has become a “thing”. While it is mostly due to the media’s biased coverage, the main reason why Muslims are vulnerable to radicalization is the social and economic inequalities in the regions in which they live. These inequalities are assumed to be the direct cause of governmental shortcomings, but upon closer examination, the complicity of foreign powers, namely the US and Europe, in destabilizing the region, becomes far too apparent.

That is why petty, underdeveloped initiatives are toppling leaders are viewed with such skepticism and distrust, especially in the Middle East. These initiatives have ulterior motives, driven more by agendas of destabilization and maintaining control than by the moral motives of human rights. Such is evidenced by double-dealing from world powers like the US, Russia and Europe in the Middle East and Central Asia, funding radicals on one hand, and putting puppets into power on the other.

It becomes that much more difficult to believe that democracy will solve the problem of instability in the aforementioned regions of the world.

And attempts at spreading democracy in these regions are as mischievous as the USSR’s campaign for spreading communism. This neoconservatism is not very different.

Power is perhaps an innate feature of mankind, but war & instability is not, contrary to conventional theory in politics.

If countries are forced to contain their imperial potential, stability will ensue. But this entails tackling illusions of our history. This entails confronting the assumptions we have about international relations today.

We must learn to appreciate the West’s liberty – but the West must learn to appreciate the East’s cultural heritage.

Only through such self-reevaluation can stability be possible.

How Should America Respond to Terror?


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The invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 produced a new dilemma for Iraq – a vacuum of power. For almost 4 decades, the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein centralized power, and despite its brutality, stabilized the country politically. But many critics of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East blamed the vacuum of power on the brutality of the dictator himself. The rise of ISIS, and other terrorist organizations, are the products of the stubborn grasp on power held by dictators like Saddam. In Syria, the situation proved to be more difficult. What was initially a similar plan as Iraq broke down into an international competition for spheres of influence, particularly between Russia and America. The crises in the Arab world, spread like a domino effect. It seems that, since the 2003 invasion, toppling leaders was the agenda, but instead of resulting in progressive governance, it has produced a security disaster with an unprecedented rise in terrorism. Libya looks a lot like Iraq, but perhaps worse. It is in shambles – which is a hotbed for terrorists. Since Islamic radicalism appears to be the global menace to security, figuring out how to address these crises are crucial to America’s interests. How should the US respond? Well, the US has already chosen a trajectory of intervention. Based on the literature, I will argue that a reversal of US tradition of interventionism will reduce terror and the threat of insecurity caused by it (Kleveman 2006).

Terrorism rose sharply after 2003. This is supported by the global terrorism database. I argue this directly correlates with the highest period of foreign interventionism in the Middle East, from which terrorism is exported. Central Asia too is equally important as it exports much of the Islamic radicalism we see today (Rashid 2006). In Central Asia, terrorism rose sharply after 2004 – around the same time that the US administration began coordinating cooperative efforts with Central Asia’s most authoritarian dictator, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, in efforts to suppress Islamic movements, radical and non (Olcott 2007).

Complete disengagement from the internal political affairs of sovereign states both in the Middle East and Central Asia will allow the natural course of events to unfold – whether that means conflict or not is uncertain. Citizens may choose to overthrow or support their leaders. But involvement by the US has complicated and enflamed tensions. It has blindsided progression in many of these underdeveloped parts of the world, resulting in higher terror recruitment, which ultimately affects the US.

Contrarily, it could be argued that the US ought to engage with rebel groups fighting against both extremists and authoritarians who together, are thwarting any progress and thus further inciting terrorism. In the case of Syria, it appears to be more complex, with the government cooperating against terrorism, unlike for example, the Mubarak, Gaddafi or Hussein regimes. Perhaps, a transitional process in phases could emerge here in which disenfranchised Sunnis can be reintegrated into the political process. But the intransigence of the leadership could prove to be detrimental to this cause. Perhaps this is precisely why the US has been unresolved in its Syrian-policy.

The Political Stability of Kazakhstan: The Gift & the Curse


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The Political Stability of Kazakhstan:

The Gift & The Curse

by Danny Krikorian

Florida Political Science Association

Fall 2016

Florida Political Chronicle

Abstract

 

Kazakhstan resides in one of the most volatile regions in the world, Central Asia. Various characteristics of the region make this a reality. Some of these characteristics, which I call variables, help to explain the unconventional history of development in Kazakhstan, and perhaps explains why the country has lagged in terms of democratic reform. The purpose of this research is to dissect the political stability of the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. In this paper, I argue that eight independent variables determine the political stability of Kazakhstan, four of which serve as the primary influences. In this case, the political stability of Kazakhstan is the dependent variable. I furthermore suggest that of these eight variables, six share a negative relationship with political stability, while the remaining two share a positive relationship with political stability, and demonstrate how this reality has largely shaped the modern state of Kazakhstan today. In other words, the majority of these variables make Kazakhstan less politically stable. To analyze these variables, I have organized the body of this paper into three sections: First I begin with a brief introduction with some background information about Kazakhstan. Secondly I discuss the literature on the subject of stability in Kazakhstan within the framework of the eight variables. Finally I demonstrate, based on the research, why it can be argued that foreign policy is in fact the most significant variable in determining the political stability of Kazakhstan. I will argue that threats to Kazakhstan’s stability can only be mitigated by proper foreign policy measures that reduce attempts at exploiting the country’s sovereignty. This foreign tug-o-war, or the New Great Game rather, whose main external players are the U.S., Russia & China, has evolved over the years, depending on the international political landscape. Today, foreign pressures come in numerous and diverse forms. Finally, I will provide a conclusion in which I discuss the future of Kazakhstan and why these findings are important and what they mean in today’s world, in theory and in policy.

 

 

  1. Introduction & Background Information

 

Most literature in the Western scholarly tradition presumes that democracy is universal. Perhaps this is why the majority of the focus is on issues such as corruption, institutional underdevelopment, resource curse and rentier-states. However more and more scholars are beginning to address other forces contributing to instability outside the realm of political reform, such as geopolitics, colonialism and cultural relativism. With regards to Kazakhstan, most scholars have echoed the former tactic, often ignoring the complexities of the country and region’s nature. This research attempts to demonstrate how an unconventional combination of variables such as different forms of leadership as well as collective cultural decisions often dictate the stability of a nation as much as the political or economic compositions of that state. It shows how, variables such as foreign relations, security conditions, socio-cultural fabric, and the resource-curse often outweigh the significance of the internal politics of a nation. This is not to suggest that political reform is futile or unnecessary, but rather, that too much focus on this element is intellectually irresponsible. The purpose of this research is to isolate the main cause of instability in Kazakhstan. While I present four primary, and four minor variables, I argue that in fact, foreign policy is the greatest challenge to the region’s security and stability, especially in Kazakhstan, and that proper manipulation of its foreign relations is in direct correlation with its ability to maintain stability.

By nature of this analysis, it challenges previous literature by suggesting that the tradition of analyzing non-western countries has been largely dominated by a culturally relative perspective that essentially misunderstands the complexity of regions like Central Asia (39). It challenges the notion that democratic reform is the only recipe for stability, that is, outside of the Western world. That western democracies have often sided with and funded the most authoritarian regimes in the region and in the rest of the world, as well as, perhaps indirectly, allowing for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, makes the prospects for democracy in the region more dim. Perhaps one of the greatest tools in this situation has been pragmatic leadership, which has been exhibited most by Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev himself.

What this means for the universalism of democracy has broad implications as it could suggest that, much like the USSR’s communism, the West’s neoconservative crusade for democracy in the post-Soviet world has in fact threatened international security and has destabilized societies. Perhaps what we are witnessing in the modern world is what will become the “containment” of Western neoconservatism.Whether or not democracy is compatible with Central Asia remains questionable, but what is less vague, is that foreign powers are little concerned with the genuine interests the region.

In the coming section, the heart of this research study, I list each of the eight independent variables influencing the political stability of Kazakhstan. I explain that the majority of these variables share a negative relationship with political stability — in other words, they make Kazakhstan more unstable. The others, despite being the minority, serve as resilient forces for stability. Nonetheless, I argue that the overall nature of Kazakhstan is of instability — it has been unstable since its earliest history.

However Kazakhstan’s recent history leaves a window for opportunity, given its cunning leadership, resilient economy, its relatively healthy population and strong centralized state, and the comparatively lower threat of terrorism. I further argue that the greatest threat, even historically, has emanated from the foreign relations dimension of Kazakhstan’s politics, with special regards to the so called, New Great Game. In totality, the aim of this research is to explain why Kazakhstan is relatively unstable; it seeks to isolate the primary force of instability; and finally, it resolves to suggest prospects for its future amidst an array of chaos.

 

  1. Literature Review of Eight Variables

 

  1. Political Development

 

The political stability of Kazakhstan cannot be understood without analysis of its political structure and process. In this section I argue that the internal politics of Kazakhstan, while negatively affecting its stability, due to corruption, fraudulent elections and opposition suppression, is also a source of stability with regards to the strength of the state and its overall legislative structure. Of the eight variables, only political development and economic conditions pose a challenge in analysis. In a sense, both the endurance of the state, and the vast endowment of oil, which I discuss in the economic section, are a “gift and a curse”. While the political development of Kazakhstan shares a negative relationship with its political stability, it arguably serves as a window of hope for its future, noting its resilience in the face of radicalism and foreign pressure.

Kazakhstan is a unitary republic, with its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the head of state. Legislative powers reside in a bicameral legislature, with includes the Majlis, the upper house and the senate, the lower house (16). Political parties are allowed to compete, but the authenticity of the election process is challenged by internal and external sources (42). Some parties however are deemed illegal, wholly banned and actively suppressed (16). Neither of the opposition parties possesses enough support or power to pose a significant threat in the election process. Furthermore, private media is largely suppressed, with the majority of publications being in support of the current administration (42). This is telling of the credibility and reputation of the constitution of Kazakhstan, which nominally protects private media — nominally.

Kazakhstan’s leadership. under President Nazarbayev has been remarkably effective in stabilizing the country (38). It has endured less attacks, and Nazarbayev has done well to smear his opponents as “gangsters and criminals” (36). He has displayed his effectiveness in maintaining a steady economy, while appeasing both his Russia, American, and Chinese counterparts, in what has been deemed a “multivector foreign policy” (28).

Kazakhstan has made many strides with regards to political reform, but it has also been guilty of backpedaling (23). Nonetheless, with careful consideration of the diverse forces forming the political fabric of Kazakhstan, there is reason to believe that its successes are equally worthy of attention as its shortcomings (43). Key points must be considered in order to clearly understand why the country’s progress towards democracy has lagged and been the subject of criticism. Kazakhstan has been independent for barely 30 years. To compare the status of its political institutions to those of the West, where independence and democracy have hailed for centuries, would be premature (40).

In context, compared to its neighbors, especially Uzbekistan, it has undoubtedly surpassed them in terms of stability and progress (27). Research indicates unprecedented civic activism and voter turn-out rates in Kazakhstan’s presidential elections (43). That being said, opposition parties are largely disenfranchised and discouraged from participating in the political process, often echoing accusations of fraudulent elections (7). In this regard, Kazakhstan’s leadership has been able to deploy the rentier mechanism by which political reform is substituted with public services funded by oil-wealth. The immense importance of the role played by oil in shaping the political dynamic of Kazakhstan can thus not be ignored, for they have been the pretense for tension between the various domestic and foreign political forces influencing Kazakhstan’s political stability (45). These tensions, whether they are between members of the political elite, or between the political elite and the mass, have often been the subject of exploitation by global powers, using the fragility of the region to their own advantage. This leads us directly to the next variable.

 

  1. Foreign Policy & Relations

 

In the realm of foreign politics, Kazakhstan is a key player in “The New Great Game” (24). Russia is arguably the greatest threat to Kazakhstan’s political stability. Managing the longest contiguous border in the world, Kazakhstan’s leadership is constantly having to fend itself against the threat of Russian imposition (3). However the US has also played an influential role in this regard. As global hegemonies play tug-o-war over the region, it becomes more apparent that its foreign relations share a negative relationship with Kazakhstan’s political stability.

Statements made by Vladimir Putin at the Selinger Youth Camp in 2014 revealed that Kazakhstan’s vulnerability to Russian domination, especially with a significant Russian population living in mainly Northern Kazakhstan. The Georgian and Ukrainian crises, and Russia’s post-soviet neo-imperialism tradition, have done nothing to mitigate Kazakh fears of Russian influence. (22). The threat of Russian separatism emanates from the Northern Kazakhstan Province, (4). For this reason, Nazarbayev moved the capital of Kazakhstan from Almaty to Astana, which is along the Northern border, closer to Russia (24). An act of defiance against Russian hegemony, Nazarbayev further proved himself a prolific player in the great game. On the other end of the foreign political dynamic rests Kazakhstan’s intimate economic relationship with the US. Nonetheless, by associating demands for democracy with neocolonialism, Nazarbayev has legitimized his ideology. By balancing the priorities autonomy, growth and stability, he has solidified what has been coined as his “multi-vector-foreign policy” (4). That he has maintained Kazakhstan’s independence, autonomy, and economic progress, has further legitimized his position. But Russian hegemony is nothing new to the Cental Asian giant; as the stains of Imperial Russia surely remain engrained in the memories of Kazakhs (13). But the demise of the USSR has essentially opened a vacuum of power it could be argued. The world, having transitioned from a bipolar to a unipolar political dynamic, with the US essentially having grip on global power, has essentially allowed the US to reign in on the region’s vulnerability and economic appeal.

Like its eastern counterparts, the West, namely the US, has simultaneously played an inconsistent role in the region; often indirectly propping up extremists, neglecting delayed reforms, and dipping their hands in scandalous oil politics (24). Despite pro-democratic rhetoric, it seems neither hegemony, Russia, China or the US are genuinely committed to the “democratic process” in Kazakhstan (34). This factor is perhaps the most overlooked in current literature on political stability in Central Asia.

With regards to its regional and local allies, Kazakhstan has maintained a positive relationship for the most part, with perhaps Saudi Arabia being the only exception. The greatest threat to its stability comes from its relationship with the global powers of Russia, China, the US and the EU, who have engaged in double-dealings, policy inconsistency and moral negligence. Kazakhstan has maintained a positive reputation among international organizations, especially the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, of which it was a founding member (9). Nonetheless, it faces continued scrutiny over the process of its elections and accounts of corruption various international organizations, despite being an active member of the U.N (35).

This segment of the research is of particular importance as, I argue later in the paper, it is the most crucial variable in the relationship with political stability.

 

  1. Security/Military Condition

 

The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is perhaps the greatest security issue for Kazakhstan. The threat of Russian separatism, though very real, especially following the Georgian and Ukrainian crises, has been thus far contained. In this section I demonstrate how the security and military condition of Kazakhstan has made it less stable.

National security poses a very unique challenge for Kazakhstan. However Kazakhstan has been essentially able to mitigate the threat relative to its neighbors. The threat is both foreign and domestic, with large swaths of ideological fanaticism being imported from abroad, mainly from Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, in the form of Wahhabism (34). Kazakhstan has remained stable despite the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. Repressive retaliation by Central Asian governments have only aggravated the situation (10). Various influential terrorist and extremist networks operate in the region, such as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, Soldiers of the Caliphate, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (5). There also exists a threat from Uyghur separatist groups within Kazakhstan as well as a threat from external sources of radicalization emanating primarily from the Middle East (4). These forces altogether represent obstacles to Kazakhstan’s national security, which is evidently a significant factor of consideration in the political stability of Kazakhstan. They suggest another reason why democratic reform has lagged. Furthermore, they focus attention on the authoritarian nature of the regime, and the relationship of that authoritarianism with the rise of dissenting groups of radical Islamic persuasion. On the other hand, the existence of these extremist networks is perhaps another reason why Nazarbayev has been able to maintain power—by portraying himself as a champion of the cause against terrorism, he has garnered immense support from the U.S. and has replaced Uzbekistan as Central Asia’s primary force force against Islamic fundamentalism (41). These forces also underscore the immense responsibility bestowed on the government of Kazakhstan in balancing the agendas of all power players and potential threats to Kazakh stability and autonomy. Since the inception of the post 9/11 era, and the ensuing “War on Terror” as led by the US, there has been little success in mitigating the overall threat of terrorism in the region, further underscoring the need for reconsidering policy measures (2).

It becomes uniquely difficult to isolate the security threat from the other variables. There have been instances in which groups like the IMU have engaged with global hegemonies directly and indirectly (24). If this is true, it could be argued that religious radicalism is exploited by foreign powers as means of destabilization.

In sum, the there is a negative relationship between the security conditions of Kazakhstan and its overall political stability. Despite its leader’s attempts to mitigate the threat compared to his neighbors, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the threat remains. Since 2011, there has yet to be an attack (19). Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s military has been relatively dormant in terms of full-fledged combat. This is a signal of its relative stability compared to its Central Asian neighbors.

 

  1. Economic Conditions

 

It is impossible to understand the complexity of Kazakhstan’s politics without considering the implications of its enormous oil wealth. For this reason, I have reserved this section for an analysis of the negative relationship between Kazakhstan’s economy and its political stability, focusing primarily on the country’s rich oil fields in the Caspian Sea.

The economy of Kazakhstan is complex and rich. This reality has complicated its political atmosphere, often fueling tensions between various entities; elites, the general public, political activists and insurgent movements (44). In this segment of the article I will argue that Kazakhstan’s economy has negatively impacted its political stability by making it the focal point of global hegemonies competing for control. Nonetheless, the vast wealth resulting from oil has allowed Kazakhstan to continue as a so-called “rentier-state”, keeping its citizens at least minimally satisfied without actually initiating reforms that might threaten the political elite’s grip on the economy, and subsequently, power.

Kazakhstan possesses the eleventh largest oil-reserves in the world. (15). This serves as a tremendous asset in Kazakhstan’s politics, often wielded as a political weapon to gain concessions from or secure relations with foreign actors. Kazakhstan’s economy is largely dependent on its oil exports (6). While this has allowed for economic growth, it has certainly underscored the country’s political volatility, serving as somewhat of a double-edged sword; a gift and a curse rather. In political science, this phenomenon is referred to as the “resource-curse”, in which natural resource endowment serves as a substitute for tax and political reform through rents (6). But it has also allowed for a degree of self-sustainable autonomy for Kazakhstan. Still, the country remains dependent on foreign investment and technology for the maintenance and development of oil pipelines in the Tengiz & Kashagan oil fields. The existence of these oil fields had essentially deemed Kazakhstan a central focus of “the great game”. Kazakhstan’s overall economic performance has been positive and has improved significantly over the years. With a GINI index score of 39, Kazakhstan boasts a relatively low income disparity (31). These are further indicators of Kazakhstan’s potential to prosper. Only 8.5% of the population is living on less than $2 a day, compared to 27.2% in Kyrgyzstan, the second lowest, and a disturbing 77.5% in Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan also boasts an unemployment rate of 8%, compared to 18% in Kyrgyzstan and 60% in Turkmenistan (31). All of these economic indicators suggest why Kazakhstan has maintained a politically stable climate, compared to its neighbors, where Islamic repression is severe, insurgency is rampant and economies are stagnant.

In many parts of the world where oil wealth is vast, democratic reform is scarce. There could be a strong correlation, but nonetheless, it is a question of theory. Oil has impacted Kazakhstan immensely. It has increased competition between elites, spurred corruption, bribery and greed, all of which have fueled dissent, fanatical and non. Still, Nazarbayev has managed the politics and economics relatively well compared to his neighbors. Thus, Kazakhstan has enjoyed lower rates of unemployment, higher GDP per capita, less income disparity and more political freedom than all other Central Asian states (38).

The history of economic development of Central Asia is not much different from most regions endowed with natural resource wealth and geopolitical significance. These two attributes have served as a double edged sword to the region’s economy, resulting in major booms or, on the contrary, incidents of upheaval and economic uncertainty.

The “multifaceted institutional weaknesses” of regions like Central Asia symbolize the complexity of the relationship between illegality, crime, and human security. Nonetheless, the authors here echo the sentiments of many in the Western tradition. This begs the question: is the western academic tradition of analysis largely negligent of its own perhaps indirect complicity in enabling the socio-economic dynamic that is described in Central Asia, and more specifically in this case, in Kazakhstan? In these contexts, names such as Edward Said, and his philosophy of “Orientalism”, are of significance, because it helps to illuminate the biases inherent in the study of indigenous populations by non-indigenous sources.

The most recent terrorist attack in Kazakhstan in which the President blamed organized crime instead of radical militants, which could be true; could very well be a political tactic to undermine the opposition. Nonetheless, that Kazakhstan is the least vulnerable to attacks, and that it has enjoyed a relatively secure atmosphere complemented by a robust economy, altogether could perhaps challenge the legitimacy of insurgent movements.

The presence of oil, terrorist threats, radical Islam, organized crime, the drug trade – the overall illicit economy – combined with the geopolitical reality of the region, underscore the volatility of the region. This has a tremendous impact on the economy of the Central Asian region. Not only are markets often held hostage to the political dynamic, either through competitive limits or foreign exploitation; they are completely vulnerable to violent disruption, a common characteristic of countries with vast natural resource wealth. Perhaps it is this dynamic which produces overbearing political systems that run contrary to the conventional “democratic” models of the West (12).

The majority of Central Asian economies exhibit the predictable characteristics of non-democratic nations, with regards to economic performance. High income disparages between the elite and the poor; relatively low GDP per capita income; and high restrictions on competition, with national governments controlling much of the economies. The exception to this dynamic is Kazakhstan. The cunning of President Nazarbayev has secured the country politically, allowing noticeable economic mobility and competition. It is no surprise that his country enjoys the lowest income disparity between the rich and poor, with a GINI index of 28 (14). That Kazakhstan does possess the vastest oil deposits in the region, among the top 15 in the entire world, should not be overlooked (45).

Overall, the literature suggests a prevalence of two major perspectives; externalist and internalist, in terms of trying to adequately attribute the blame for instability in the region, be it in the form of organized crime or violent insurgency. Unfortunately, this dichotomous tradition excludes the possibility of a third (or fourth, fifth, etc) perspective. While in some cases, it seems national governments are more responsible for violence and general discontent, other cases suggest otherwise, that foreign elements are playing a huge hand in destabilizing the region. That the dynamic is so complex, perhaps means that the oversimplification of the matter plays right into the hands of foreign powers seeking to exploit the region’s resources. In this explanation, concepts such as “choice” and “ideology” play a bigger role in determining the overall dynamic of each country; that is, the leader’s choices in managing the situation at hand; and the prevailing ideologies of the region, imported, such as Wahhabism on one end or “Westernization” on the other, and exported, such as the Hannafi demographic. This reality calls into the question the motives of western democracies, as much as it challenges the abuse of power of particular autocrats in the region, blaming both, but acquitting neither (42). It further underscores the complexity of the political dynamic, as emphasized by Williams.

 

  1. Historical Evolution

 

The history of Kazakhstan is rather unique. Its interactions with the outside world have historically influenced the political dynamic of the region. In this portion of the research paper, I will demonstrate why history is a crucial variable in the political stability of Kazakhstan. Firstly I will begin with Kazakhstan’s early history. This will be followed by the arrival of Islam, a period of autonomy. The final historical segment will cover the period from Tsarist Russian Imperialism, USSR integration, and the eventual collapse of the USSR leading to the modern independent Kazakh republic. The purpose of this segment is to demonstrate how these historical incidents reflect in Kazakhstan’s anomalistically diverse nature.

The history of Kazakhs as a nomadic, tribal people with clan-based hierarchies greatly reflects in its political structure. There is an immense respect for the “way of the elders” which suggests that Kazakhs are willing to making certain, though perhaps temporary compromises in the realm of political competitiveness for the sake of long term stability, and sovereignty. This tradition is symbolic of Kazakh culture. The word Kazakh itself means “free spirit; nomad”, perhaps an allusion to Kazakhs’ longing for independence, autonomy and stability; a struggle balanced and juggled pragmatically by President Nazarbayev.

Nomadism has played a huge role in the history of Kazakhstan. In modern times, this is expressed through informal social institutions such as nepotism and patronage. That Kazakh culture embraces informality arguably induces corruption. Nonetheless, since its early history, Kazakhstan never thoroughly experienced autonomy, that is, until the 15th century, when the first Turkic-Kazakh Khanate was established It endured until the 19th century, when Kazakhstan fell to the Russian Empire. The period of the Kazakh Khanate is generally accepted as the ethnogenesis of Kazakh statehood and national identity. It would be interrupted nonetheless, by a series of new empires mimicking its past of domineering hordes and conquerors.

Despite a rugged, mountain terrain that almost isolates the region, Kazakhstan was always vulnerable to domination by various conquerors and civilizations. With these empires came new cultures, religions, customs and languages that have shaped Kazakhstan’s national identity, all of which are still visible today. The country boasts of its ethnic diversity, with claims of an existing 120 different ethnic groups in the country. 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, Kazakhstan exhibited a diverse religious demography, including the mystical Shamanism, Tengrianism & Buddhism (11). This legacy has impacted Kazakhstan in forming its national identity in modern times as it struggles to balance the tenets of Islam with its rich religious history. Furthermore, extremists have often used religion to ostracize or vilify unconventional religious customs. This has only further polarized conservative Islamic movements, thereby contributing to the regions instability. Simultaneously, the leadership has used its ethno-religious diversity as a mechanism for unity among the moderate social groups. For this reason, among many others, Nazarbayev has maintained control, by associating himself and his administration with Kazakh’s diverse national identity, stoking paranoias of Islamic radicalism.

Kazakhstan’s integration into the USSR only reinforced the tradition of authoritarian statism and the centralization of power. They have carried on even into the post-soviet era—Nazarbayev was former First Secretary of the Kazakh SSR. Thus, without a history of liberalism, the political condition of Kazakhstan becomes more comprehensible (40).

The disintegration of the USSR produced the exact opposite result, opening a vacuum of power. This vacuum was either to be filled by extremists or a continued legacy of authoritarianism. Kazakhstan, like the rest of the Central Asian states, chose the latter. The Politburo was replaced with Nazarbayev’s state. Similar security measures were adopted nonetheless, a continued legacy of Soviet-inspired statism which Nazarbayev carried with him after transitioning from his post as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan to its President. The only difference was that Moscow had essentially less control over the fate of the nation it once easily swallowed up.

Kazakhstan has been independent for barely 30 years (40). Perhaps this helps to explain why democracy has lagged, and the relatively unstable and vulnerable nature of the region. Still struggling to form a national identity amidst a barrage of violations of national sovereignty and autonomy, Kazakhstan has become prey to the global hegemonies at play in the great game.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Geographic Setting

 

Kazakhstan’s geography is a crucial variable to its political stability. Below is both the support for the assertion that geography plays a central role in determining the overall political stability of Kazakhstan. The section will be divided into two categories. First will be the topographic aspect of Kazakhstan’s geography. Second will be the demography.

 

  1. Topography

 

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country by area and the ninth largest country in the world. It is larger than Western Europe. It borders Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well as a significantly large portion of the Caspian Sea. The terrain includes flatlands, steppe, taiga, rock, canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains as well as deserts. This suggests immense topographical variation within the country’s borders. While Kazakhstan’s topographical variation may have provided a natural form of security through isolation and rugged terrain, its proximity to Russia seems to have overshadowed this sense of security. Perhaps then Kazakhstan’s most crucial geographic feature is its border with Russia, the longest and most contiguous border in the world (44). That this border-relationship with Russia has adversely contributed to the political stability of Kazakhstan, is without question. It would then be safe to suggest that Kazakhstan’s geographic dynamic has a negative relationship with political stability. Perhaps it was this reality which inspired President Nazarbayev to relocate the capital city from Almaty to Astana, which is much further north, closer to Russia and inhabited largely by Russians.

 

 

  1. Demography

 

This brings us to the second aspect of Kazakhstan’s geographic dynamic; its demographics. The total population of Kazakhstan is approximately 17.5 million. Kazakhstan boasts an unprecedented variety of ethnic groups (about 120), often celebrated as one of its most dignifying characteristics (29). Nonetheless, the country is generally homogenous, with the majority of ethnic Kazakh background making up 74% of the population The second most significant ethnic group is made up of Russians, accounting for 13% of the population. Other ethnic groups include Uzbeks, Tatars, Uygurs, Chechens, Koreans, Turks, Azerbaijanis & Germans (30). 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 (20). This reflects in Kazakhstan’s ongoing struggle for national sovereignty in the face of foreign and internal threats to power. This dynamic serves as a major political dilemma for President Nazarbayev and future leaders who struggle with balancing the pressures of major powers, namely Russia. The conflict in Ukraine – especially Moscow’s assertion of its self-proclaimed right to intervene in foreign countries on behalf of Russian speakers – has focused Astana’s attention on interethnic relations.

Kazakhstan has avoided major ethnic clashes, although occasional incidents reveal boiling tensions. Azamat, a Kazakh born in Bostandyk, is quoted saying: “We’ve always lived in peace with the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians,” (25). 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 (24). 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 (29).

Another key component of demography in Kazakhstan that should be of note is that more than a fourth of Kazakhstan’s population is under the age of 30. This creates a volatile situation and an unpredictable future as it is likely more youth will grow intolerant of the corrupt practices of their government. Foreign elements as well as extremist groups do nothing but exacerbate the situation by exploiting the otherwise legitimate grievances of the population — especially the youth (46). That President Nazarbayev has established a Youth Policy Program to address the growing needs of his young constituency, six million of which were born during independence, underscores the important role youth development plays in securing the stability of Kazakhstan (46). Kazakhstan enjoys a better system of education than its neighbors despite a shortage of educational facilities. It has an impressively high literacy rate of 98% and a Human Development Index score of 73 out of 177 (8). All these points are indicators of Kazakhstan’s relatively successful performance, especially when put into context as a newly emerging post-soviet, autonomous state.

In the religious dimension, almost half the Kazakh population is Sunni Muslim (47 percent), while Russian Orthodox makes up the second majority of 44 percent, which isn’t very much less. This is an important dynamic. Despite the fact that, like many other countries in Central Asia, Kazakhstan exhibits a moderate religious tradition (8).

These points are important to note as there could be a correlation between countries exhibiting bipolar religious heterogeneity and authoritarianism, as well as the rise of fundamentalist movements and separatism in the region, often incited by actors on both angles of the global spectrum, the US & Russia.

Together, the complex topographic nature of Kazakhstan, coupled with its unique demographic dynamic make it easier to comprehend the political condition of the country, as well as the government’s behavior. It further challenges universal understanding of political philosophy, through cultural relativism and geopolitical anomalies. Its positioning on the map has exposed Kazakhstan vulnerability as another victim of an age long tug-o-war match between Eastern & Western political giants, deeming this variable negatively related to its overall political stability (17).

While the overall geographic characteristics of Kazakhstan offer mechanisms for stability, especially in the realm of its demographics, its proximity to Russia takes precedence as the greatest influence, and therein renders the relationship to be negative.

 

  1. Quality of Life

 

One of the more difficult to measure, the quality of life in Kazakhstan helps paint a vivid picture of the reality at hand, going beyond the mundaneness of statistical and empirical analysis. Overall, it appears the quality of life in Kazakhstan has served a force of stability, showing a sense of loyalty and unity among the citizenry (39).

Compared to the rest of Central Asia, the quality of life in Kazakhstan is rather positive. The literacy rate in Kazakhstan is quite high. With the majority of its population educated, it gives hope for a more stable future. The average Kazakh has managed to enjoy a relatively high income compared to his neighbors (30). This is likely due to the country’s vast oil wealth, as well as Nazarbayev’s multi-vector policies. In terms of freedom, Kazakhstan’s rather liberal social fabric allows for relative freedom of expression. However this freedom becomes more limited when intertwined with political expression, as many opposition groups and parties are either banned, suppressed or discouraged.

Generally, the quality of life has improved in Kazakhstan, allowing for levels of modernization that surpass its neighbors. Increased urbanization in Kazakhstan is also evident, implying its ability to integrate into today’s international political economy (25). This suggests that the quality of life is among the few variables that provide stability in Kazakhstan.

 

  1. Socio-Cultural Setting

 

Kazakhstan’s social fabric is intricately woven. As mentioned in the history section, Kazakhstan’s location along the Silk Route made it vulnerable to various conquerors, who often brought with them their religions and cultures (26). This includes but is not limited to Shamanism, Tengrianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Communism & Islam (1). Sufism is claimed to have its origins in this region, which underscores the rather liberal tradition of religion in Kazakhstan. The socio-cultural setting is one of the two variables bringing stability to Kazakhstan.

Most of Kazakhstan adheres to the Hanafi branch of Islam, which is of the Sunni sect, and is known to be the more liberal of the bunch (11). This strange amalgam of ideas, cultures and religions has likely contributed to the unconventional development of Kazakhstan over the ages. The country’s roots in tribalism, nomadism and mystical religion perhaps helps to explain its resistance to full-fledged westernization, modernization and democratic reform (11). In a sense, this rich cultural history, which enables Kazakhstan to boast some 120 ethnic groups within its borders, makes Kazakhstan’s interactions with various political actors, both internally and externally, rather complex. Perhaps this also explains why Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region at large finds more solace in its neighbors in the East, like China & Russia, who have been most significant in countering western expansionism. The less the outside world is willing to acknowledge the significance of Kazakhstan’s cultural distinctiveness, the more likely that tensions will rise between Western nation’s seeking to secure economic interests and Kazakhstan’s leadership. Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s cultural dynamic shows how ostracized, disenfranchised and “foreign” Islamic fundamentalism, as an ideology, really is to the Kazakh people (19). It is not surprising that most fundamentalist movements receive their support from outside of the region, namely from Saudi Arabia, where fundamentalism is rampant.

The status of women in Kazakhstan is generally regarded positively, considering the liberal Islamic tradition which permeates the country (32). Unlike some other Islamic countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Kazakhstan exhibits no constraints on women’s rights. This could be said generally of the Central Asian region broadly. The greatest threat perhaps to women’s rights as well as children’s safety is Islamic fundamentalism, which, perhaps arbitrarily, refutes women’s rights (37). Nonetheless, it could be said that Kazakhstan secures the rights of women. An example of this is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which essentially forbids all forms of institutional discrimination on the basis of gender (18).

Kazakhstan boasts 120 ethnic nationalities within its borders. This is symbolic of its rich history of interaction with external societies, whose cultures and religions they often imported.

One of the most important notions in Kazakhstan is the struggle for national autonomy. Culturally, this struggle is deeply rooted, as Kazakhs have scarcely endured autonomy. Perhaps this is why in their modern setting, Kazakhs are willing to compromise their urge for democratic reform for the sake of preserving national autonomy, given the presence of endless threats to Kazakhstan’s stability, internal and external.

 

  1. Implications and Conclusion

 

The overall analysis, including previous literature and the data gathered on my own, suggests many implications for Kazakhstan. Since the beginning of its history, much before it even existed in the form of state, Kazakhstan has faced the challenge of balancing the variables that seem to directly affect its political stability. Kazakhstan, like the rest of Central Asia, is an anomaly, in a sense. Like many regions of the world where indigenous populations struggle to sustain their national identity while simultaneously trying to embrace modernization, tensions are prevalent, and often produce political systems foreign to the traditional mode of governance in the West. A tradition of tribalism, a history of colonialism, and its complex geography, including the vast amount of oil it possesses, make it the target of aggressive political actors, both domestic, in the form of opposition, dissent and extremism, and foreign, in the form of competing interests between global powers, namely the US, Russia & China, as mentioned earlier in the paper. That Kazakhstan has outdone most of its neighbors politically and economically could be attributed to both its immense oil wealth as well as the cunning leadership of President Nazarbayev, compared to his peer from Uzbekistan for example, Islam Karimov, who has been “less pragmatic” to put it mildly. Kazakhstan has managed to acquiesce any mass-dissent more than any of its neighbors, a reality often overlooked in the literature. The low levels of democracy is often the reason for this oversight. While it cannot be argued that authoritarianism has fueled violence and instability in Kazakhstan, so to has pressure from foreign powers and their ideologies, be they democratic, communist or colonial in nature. The insistence for democracy has often produced disastrous results in regions like Central Asia, for example, in the Middle East. Whether or not democracy is universal, due to variables such as the four mentioned here, comes into question here. This could be described as cultural relativism, the idea that there may be no universal standard for societies globally. It could also suggest something less extreme, that democracy could unfold, but with perhaps less intervention from foreign powers seeking their own interests. Western actions in Central Asia and abroad have been contrary to democratic principles. It is furthermore without question that the West, namely the US, has turned a blind eye to authoritarianism in the region.

For Kazakhstan, the road ahead is paved with uncertainty. Balancing its internal politics, the threat of militants, foreign hegemonies, as well as its intricate geography, will not be easy for future leaders by any means. Perhaps that is why Nazarbayev has stayed in power for so long – there is a succession crisis. With various candidates offered as potential incumbents, his daughter being one of them, the question of how future leaders will play the “great game” will surely determine the country’s fate. Based on the research, I believe the future of Kazakhstan’s political stability rests mainly on the leaderships ability to balance the threats of Russia & the US, and the internal forces of opposition, from political elites, parties and the average constituent, to insurgent groups. A steady transition to political reform could help mitigate the threats posed by these variables to instability, but whether that means full fledged democracy, a hybrid-democracy, or neither, is of question – but is mainly up to Kazakhs to decide for themselves. The idea that western democracies promote this sort of reform or solution in Kazakhstan is premature, based on the US & Europe’s history of negligence and double-dealings. Furthermore, Russia’s more recent expansiveness poses a threat to the possibility of reform in Kazakhstan. That is why it becomes difficult to associate reform with democracy, because the “bad neighborhood” theory – in a landscape of competing hegemonies and security threats, could a fragile democracy survive – would it better serve the people of Kazakhstan? For now, Kazakhstan enjoys the most stable political atmosphere in Central Asia. Aside from its geography, history, and economy, this research suggests the greatest threats to stability in Kazakhstan to be “political” in nature. The more power the indigenous populations of Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world are able to wield using the natural resources and geopolitical positioning as leverage, the better chance the country has at mitigating foreign exploitation. This would in turn provide greater political stability to Kazakhstan, and could essentially induce a more prosperous future. It could possibly usher more accountability in governance that could more appropriately address all aspects of Kazakh livelihood; whatever “form” that mechanism for accountability may take. But besides all the analysis which seems to often blind us from the more tangible realities that reflect the cultural sensitivities of Kazakh society, it is important to note that among the greatest grievances of the population is the immense frustration towards Western hypocrisy in simultaneously promoting democracy while destabilizing the region. This has given credence to extremist movements and has further blurred the lines between nationalists and foreign forces. The stubbornness of the West has furthermore strengthened the resolve of authoritarian governments, and has furthermore increased public support for the incumbents, deeming western initiatives of promoting peace or democracy suspicious. All these realities have certainly been considered and managed by the current leadership. Critics would certainly dismiss the possibility that Kazakhstan has maintained its stability by the machiavellian pragmatism of the leadership. But this possibility cannot be overlooked, especially when trying to predict the future of Kazakhstan. That the current model of politics in Kazakhstan has performed relatively well compared to its neighbors gives analysts reasons to believe that the future leadership will be not much different from the incumbent, that is, if the stability of Kazakhstan is to be maintained.

The common thread in the literature is rather imbalanced, and often ignores the double-standards of the West. Seeing that the Western world is dominant in the world today, it is unsurprising that the scholarly conversation is biased in its favor (from bipolar to unipolar), usually promoting democracy and ignoring the differences in culture and politics between nations. Also, many democracies exhibit the same injustices as authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, democracies have often engaged with authoritarian regimes, making them complicit in crimes against humanity, a reality that is often shoved beneath the roundtable. We criticize non-democratic countries as though we are infallible, despite out own democratic shortcomings. The political hubris of foreign powers is manifesting in nationalist movements as well as radical insurgent movements. But historically, empires that have grown too proud have collapsed. Internationally security is also at stake. Stability and prosperity are only possible if foreign hegemonies contain their own exploitations and expansive-hunger. But if the trend continues as is, it is unlikely that the US, Europe, China, Russia or the regional powers of Iran & Turkey, will stay out of the sovereign affairs of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, prompting more authoritarianism, heightened security threats, and greater instability for the region, and the international community at large. Whether democracy can unfold or whether or not it is even in the best interests of the Kazakh people is a matter of theory. It is also up to the Kazakh people to decide. Foreign hegemonies are quick to speak for the Kazakhs. Nonetheless, what is likely, is that the light of justice will become more dim if foreign powers continue meddling in the affairs of Kazakhstan, making both prosperity or reform very unlikely.

The quality of life in Kazakhstan as well as the socio-cultural setting, the two perhaps most difficult variables to measure, are the only variables that share a positive relationship with Kazakhstan. This is an interesting dynamic because these two variables are non-empirical in nature — what I mean is that, such variables are determined by collective choices, which are not necessarily based on cost-benefit analysis, like the other variables of political development and economic conditions. In the West, democracy is presumed as the rational form of government — the product of a series of failures of non-populist government forms which led to the enlightenment, and the french revolution. While democracy has prevailed in the West — it hasn’t in other regions, like Central Asia. Kazakhstan is great example of it, where democratic reform continues to lag. It could be too early to dim the lights on democracy for Kazakhstan entirely, but as the research indicates, the country’s historical development is significantly distinct from those countries which are in today’s world described as “western democracies”. The greatest hope for Kazakhstan, and the region at large, is that foreign hegemonies will learn to contain their ambitions for the sake of international security and genuine political reform, whatever direction it takes. Meanwhile, if Central Asian states could learn to settle their differences, this could serve as the greatest threat to exploitative global hegemonies. Perhaps what it feared is a united, sovereign and self-reliant Central Asia. Perhaps it is this possibility which has driven global powers like the US and Russia to be negligent of the threat of radical forces in the region, while simultaneously working actively against the more moderate forces of Central Asian society. If the United States continues to follow the trend of the current administration, there is reason to believe that the ineffectiveness of the “war on terror” as well as previous traditions of meddling in the sovereign affairs of Central Asian states will be further realized. Given the contentious tone of ongoing political conversation in the US, the most influential power in the world, as well as Russia’s interventions in Georgia and the Ukraine, a future of further instability is equally possible (4). It is a question of whether or not Central Asian states like Kazakhstan will manage to fend themselves, or surrender to a relationship of dependency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  45. Yeager, Matthew G. “The CIA made me do it: understanding the political economy of corruption in Kazakhstan.” Crime, law and social change 57, no. 4 (2012): 441-457.
  46. Zhansulu, Makazhanova. “YOUTH POLICY OF THE REPUBLIC OF KAZAKHSTAN.” European Scientific Journal 9, no. 19 (2013).

Book Review – Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & The Great Games by Eric Walberg


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Walberg, Eric. Postmodern imperialism: geopolitics and the great games. SCB Distributors, 2011.

Recent history has introduced a period of heightened military conflicts, uprisings and contentions. This has resulted in many shifts in global patterns. Competitiveness between empires has intensified and further complicated the quest for understanding the global political dynamic. In his book, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & the Great Games, author Eric Wahlberg seeks to clear the air. The author’s main premise is to illustrate the shift from a bi-polar global dynamic, once dominated by the US on one end and the Soviet Union on the other, to a unipolar world, where the US is largely uncontested in its position as the global hegemony. Proxy wars, insurgent movements and radical militants have filled this void, which, as the author argues, has pinned the US and its main ally against anti colonial movements, Israel, against a loosely defined cooperative of movements and states, as well as a ambiguous enemy – the terrorist.

The author presents a historical backdrop from which he draws his assertions. This stretches from the earliest expression of the Great Games to their modern manifestations, as the Wars on Terror, and the neoconservative crusade for democracy. The consequence is increased exploitation of resources and the rise of untraceable insurgent networks that target their national governments as much as western societies. The double-dealings and inconsistencies of the West are evident here, which taints the reputation of western civilization. This is underscored by the author’s sympathies with the anti-capitalistic Soviet philosophical foundation.

The book is divided into five segments, organized chronologically, in which the author elaborates on the historical backdrop of the Great Game dynamic which has led to the current landscape. Wahlberg begins with the 19th century onset of the great games as played out between the British and Russian empires, followed by the communist revolution, WWII, the Cold War and the post 9/11 era. The author focuses on the British tactic of pinning forces against each other, a strategy which has been arguably adopted by the US in modern times, evidenced by its double-dealings with authoritarians and the radical insurgent movements threatening to depose them.

The three major sections in the book are categorized as GG I, II and III. GG stands for Great Games, and each numeric represents a period in time, in respective chronological order, beginning with the games as they panned out in the early 19th century, onto the WWII period, and finally, to GGIII, the post-cold war era. GGI refers to imperialism that took place during the nineteenth century until WWII. GGII covers the Cold War in which the two global superpowers, the USA and the USSR, competed for global influence.  GGIII is focused on the post-Cold War era beginning in 1989 to the present. Imperialism cannot be discussed without dissecting the role of the British Empire, a main focus of the author throughout the book. The British assumed hegemonic power by constructing a global economic network which would serve the interests of the core to the misfortune of the periphery, and where diplomacy failed, the use of military power was utilized.  The key focus of the book is the Middle East and Central Asia, “the heart of Eurasia”. It has been argued that the Eurasian heartland is a key geographic location; in other words, he who that controls the heartland controls the world.

The author suggests that in modern times, Islamic movements have replaced communism as the new anti-imperial force. The two primary agents of imperialism, argues Wahlberg, is an alliance between the US and Israel. The war on Iraq, and subsequent interventions in Libya and Egypt, are expressions of this new imperialism, and perhaps fall right into the hands of the main players in the global Great Games. The author suggests increasing tensions and growing insurgencies as a direct result of a stubborn imperial alliance between the US & Israel. Rising tensions in the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia are indicators of this reality. The US’ inconsistent foreign policy will only further retaliatory measures. The players of the great game must decide once and for all what is of greater priority; playing a fair game, or winning.