A preliminary draft of my master’s thesis


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Conflict in the Caspian: A Comparative Study of Ethnic Inclusion & Conflict in Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan 

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Bibliography

Wimmer, Cederman, and Min. 2009. “Ethnic Politics & Armed Conflict. A Configurational Analysis of a New Global Dataset”. American Sociological Review. 74(2).

Sambanis, Nicholas. N.D. “What is an Ethnic War? Organization and Interests in Insurgencies.” Yale: Department of Political Science.

Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war.” American Political Science Review. 97:1-16.

Brown, Michael 1993. Ethnic Conflict and International Security.

Weber, Max. 1978. Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. University of California Press.

Ismayilov, Gursel G. 2008. “Ethnic Conflicts and Their Causes.” Khazar Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 3.4: 50-63.

Porter, Kirsten. 2003. Macquarie Law Journal. The Realization of National Minority Rights. 51(3).

Jones, Nathan Paul. 2010. “Assembling a Civic Nation in Kazakhstan: the Nation-Building Role of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan.” Caucasian Review of International Affairs 4.2. 159.

Oka, Natsuko. 2009. “Ethnicity and Elections Under Authoritarianism: The Case of Kazakhstan.”

Oka, Natsuko. 2004. “The ‘Triadic Nexus’ in Kazakhstan: A Comparative Study of Russians, Uighurs, and Koreans.” Slavic Studies. 51: 158.

Tussupova, Dinara. 2010. “Mass Media and Ethnic Relations in Kazakhstan.” Problems of Post-Communism 57.6. 32-45.

Karin, Erlan, and Andrei Chebotarev. 2002. “The Policy of Kazakhization in State and Government Institutions in Kazakhstan.”

Nyussupova, Gulnara, and Irina Rodionova. 2011. “Demographic situation and the level of human development of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Regional Aspects.” Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series 16: 78-87.

Tokaev, Kassymzhomart. 2004. “Kazakhstan: from renouncing nuclear weapons to building democracy.” American Foreign Policy Interests. 26.2: 93-98.

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United States Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor.

Tezcür, Güneş Murat, and Mehmet Gurses. 2017. “Ethnic Exclusion and Mobilization: The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey.” Comparative Politics 49.2: 213-234.

Fayos. 2014. Minorities in the South Caucasus: New visibility amid old frustrations. European Parliament Policy Department. European Union.

Marquardt, Kyle L. 2011. “Framing language policy in post-Soviet Azerbaijan: political symbolism and interethnic harmony.” Central Asian Survey 30.2: 181-196.

Franke, Anja, Andrea Gawrich, & Gurban Alakbarov. 2009. “Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan as Post-Soviet Rentier States: Resource Incomes and Autocracy as a Double ‘Curse’ in Post-Soviet Regimes.” Europe-Asia Studies 61.1: 109-140.

The Final Debate & Why Putin Might Actually Prefer Clinton


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The rise of Donald Trump is reminiscent in a lot of ways of Adolf Hitler.

This correlation has been perhaps run dry and overplayed by the media, but there is a deeper ring to it than just the hateful rhetoric and outright evil policy ambitions these two have in common.

Besides Hitler’s ideological madness, beneath it all, was a political man seeking his own ends. Hitler was not just a Nazi – he was a politician. This often meant betraying his own, fellow “Nazis”.

Hitler also betrayed the Soviets once he realized he could. But its important to remember that he was also their ally for some time – the “communists” – the alleged Jewish arch-enemies of Nazism – until that is, he found no more need for such an alliance.

This erratic behavior is consistent with Donald Trump who – perhaps now finds it convenient to rally his followers behind an anti-globalist and pro-fascist tirades  – but soon this might shift as trends do. In other words, Trump is fickle to his own agenda. He doesn’t have one. It is – whatever keeps him in power – in front of the cameras – and his party and entourage behind him. He exercises this privilege because the US is the world’s superpower. It can afford such lunacy. Most other countries that entertain such blatant flamboyant theatrics in politics are third world tyrannies…(North Korea).

The third world dictatorial hitlerian like conspiratorial narrative echoed by Trump and his followers resonates with them because for every troubled soul – blaming society or others is the remedy – and it appears now there are many troubled…white protestant male souls. Sure – there are many injustices in the world – but there is no need to reduce them to YouTube like conspiracy theories – we can address them coherently without diluting them with unscientific conjecture.

Trump’s weakest point in the debate came at two moments – first was his rejection of American norm of democracy. Second was his inability to more tacitly answer questions about his foreign relations with Russia. Whether true or not, his display of incompetence almost made him look guilty. His rejection of the election results not only drew gasps from the crowd – it echoed across the living rooms of Americans nationwide. How could he insult us this way? How could the Republican Party enable him? This is outright betrayal and to be frank – I am fully emphatic of Hillary Clinton when she displays her complete intolerance and outrage at Trump’s complete and utter disrespect of America, and for everything which it stands.

Ultimately the Russians are looking for someone who is willing to fight terrorism and stay out of their sphere of influence. While rhetoric seems contrary, Hillary is much less likely to flirt with the idea of WWIII with Russia then perhaps Donald Trump if the latter determines that he or his cohorts may have interests in such a war – get my drift? I believe much of what Hillary (and all Democrats) are forced to exhibit is a sense of ultranationalism so as to counter the right-wing paranoia encouraged by the GOP and emblazoned across the mainstream media. But in reality, Democrats (and Clinton would follow suit) are less hawkish, relative to the GOP. Compare Obama to Bush, Clinton (Bill) to Bush Sr., JFK to Nixon…The Democratic creed is one of tolerance, diversity, equality, democracy, freedom, opportunity and justice – even when such may be less profitable for the individual. On the contrary, the GOP’s ideal often compromises the collective good for the sake of an individual profit. This is not capitalism – this is abuse of power. The Democrats are a force for freedom and dignity in America; and for unity globally. What needs to be acknowledged however among Democrats is that neither democracy nor justice nor political development can be achieved in foreign countries through interventionism – perhaps Bernie Sanders can rub off on the rest of them.

Democrats are more inclined towards cooperation with foreign countries. For this reason, despite the theatrics displayed in the election, it might be arguable that the Russians might prefer a President Clinton over Trump. Trump is exploiting Russia’s uneasy relations with the US for his own gain – something which might (and most likely will) change sporadically. Clinton is consistent – and also values reconciliation as evidenced by the Nuclear Deal with Iran which she basically initiated and oversaw. Clinton’s experience, and her humility, is likely to characterize her as more suitable for the position of President of the world’s sole superpower – a position which affects not just Americans, but citizens of the world.

Who Really is ‘Presidential’? Thoughts Ahead of Tonight’s Debate – #Election2016


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Bernie Sanders was not presidential [sadly to say – despite many of his ideals being great – if not the best compared to his counterparts].

That is something the American people are struggling to grasp – especially the youth.

What is – ‘presidential’?

Donald Trump – is not presidential. But for reasons different than Bernie. Bernie is, well, simply put, without any character, really. Despite all the slogans and witty catch phrases, Bernie is just another product of social trends. He isn’t Justin Trudeau. He isn’t Obama. He just doesn’t have any flair. Americans like intellect – but they equally value humor; athleticism; suaveness – or “swagger” in today’s terminology. None of these are characteristic of Sanders.

The same could be said of Donald Trump but for different reasons. He is too uneducated, vulgar, impolite, erratic & irresponsible for such leadership – if not to hold any post. He can barely manage his own funds – or his father’s, rather.

That isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton is ‘presidential’.

Back in ’08, I hadn’t heard of a guy named Barack Obama, but as the campaign progressed, I realized – I had just witnessed the rise of an extraordinary individual. This man is beyond brilliant – something that few people truly appreciate. I can say that the world appreciates Obama more than America – which is quite telling. That isn’t necessarily true – a lot of Americans love our current president. But the ‘other side’ is equally if not more bent on voicing their hatred – to put it ‘mildly’.

Ahead of tonight’s momentous occasion, the first live debate between Clinton & Trump – I share the following sentiment. People often expect too much. This is a sign of…a lack of experience maybe. But other forces play a role too. The world is suffering and yet, the average American struggles to understand the nooks and crannies of his or her own political system and culture.

As an Armenian-Syrian immigrant living in America – I must say that my perspective should be heeded. There are many causes which are directly connected to me that have yet to be addressed or have been horribly managed, by the US wholly but also precisely by US president Barack Obama, whom I continue to support. Why? Because I am not a perfectionist in the political sense – and expect some compromise – not always – but in times of necessity and urgency. There is much change, and much work to be done in the stride towards justice – but it is just that – a stride – a path. We cannot be held back by radical expectations which in themselves seek to paralyze our sense of progress. That being said it is clear to me there is only one candidate worthy of a vote in this election and that reasoning is from contrived a moral and practical logic – that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

So while she isn’t necessarily the perfect candidate – relative to America’s choices – she is definitely presidential.

The US president is a person of immense wisdom and discipline; responsibility and sacrifice; public service and family value. Which of the two candidates possesses these qualities? And if you have to think twice – think again.

What gets me is that Americans want to change parts of their system that are less relevant to domestic and global wellbeing while ignoring the more pressing issues. And then when a tragedy or crisis occurs, Americans are left wondering how or why. Instead of a Wall Street revolution there should be a minority rights and immigration reform revolution. Instead of a focus on spreading democracy abroad we should be seeking to reduce our arbitrary and partial political influence overseas. Issues like these are costing us – but instead Americans wish to focus on ideological ambiguities and polarized politics.

That is why the candidates have dwindled down to the current options available – one representing the so-called establishment while the other represents the ugliest part of the establishment disguised as anti-establishment.

It is undoubtable that America and the world must implement comprehensive political reform – but this is likely an impossible feat under the auspices of a hypothetical President Trump. On the contrary, Hillary, like Obama (but perhaps to a lesser degree since she is more hawkish) – will pave the road for future generations to at least further the cause of progressivism in its purest form.

Perhaps future generations will reflect a more balanced perspective on US politics – representing minorities; women; LGBTQ; etc. But this cannot be associated with any particular ideological strand or populist trend as it has been in this election. American individualism and personal responsibility, contrary to the ‘8th grader youtube conspiracy video viewer mentality’ – is not preserved or protected by the far left or right – but rather, by a careful, tolerant moderate centrist. So when I say that Hillary Clinton is in fact presidential – that is precisely why. She isn’t just the echo of our grievances – but also of our reason.

[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 Rebalancing of Powers: From ‘Brexit’ to Babel?


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There is a disconnect between national policy and international relations.

The decision to leave the EU by the UK, or “Brexit”, is a symbol of that disconnect.

But in order to understand the origins of this decision, it is important to highlight the UK’s tradition of reluctance and hesitation towards the EU since its inception.

By nature, the UK, like America, prefers to play a conservative role in international affairs, dabbling in just enough to get the benefit, but not enough to bear the burden.

But the armed crises in the Middle East have created a storm in UK & EU politics, with the migration crisis being the crux of the problem.

Evidently, the UK prefers to leave such matters in the hands of its European counterparts, which is ironic because the UK is America’s closest ally in Europe – both countries are directly responsible for destabilizing the Middle East in the first place, under the premise of liberalization. This is where the disconnect begins.

At least half of the UK truly feels undermined by the concentration of power, underrepresented and almost collectivized by being part of the EU.

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But is the decision to leave the EU a right-wing populist scheme exploiting frustrations of the ordinary Brit? In South America, both right and left wing populism have failed to their more centered opponents. The US is still determining its fate.

Has this decision created a more or less secure world? Is this decision likely to produce positive or negative results in the UK’s social, economic and political fabric? How will this impact the rest of Europe? What will happen to the migrants?

It is in fact the people who have decided, through referendum, to leave the EU. Despite a targeted and well-developed “leave” campaign, the decision is also inspired by  general discontent towards the EU in Britain. But the facts and rhetoric surrounding the campaign reveals “Brexit” is more about xenophobia & Islamophobia than it is about sovereignty.

The majority of those who voted to leave the EU were above the age of 40. The vast majority of those who voted against were in their 20s ad 30s.

Given that London just elected its first Muslim mayor, there is reason to believe that unfounded, prejudiced paranoias about migrants and Muslims have stoked fears and insecurities in society, just enough to feed into the allure of right-wing populism and fear.

UK MP Nigel Farage proclaimed victory, ushering the 23rd as the UK’s modern independence day. He went on to claim that such a victory was achieved without any blood spilled. But only last week, British MP Jo Cox was violently murdered by a right-wing extremist who shouted “Britain First” as he committed the murder. Has this been understated by the media? Compared to reporting on terrorism linked to one or more Muslims, it is difficult to say that the media is not biased.

Notable international relations theorist John Mearsheimer predicted the disintegration of the EU as a result of the current international political dynamic which has seen America as the world’s sole superpower since the dissolution of the USSR. That dissolution has almost removed the security incentive for unity, or balancing that brought the EU together in the first place. There appears to be a growing rift among NATO members, particularly between European states and the US on how to manage international affairs. The differences stem from foreign policy on the Middle East primarily. Is the UK’s decision to leave the EU an inching towards or away from subservience to US leadership? That depends on the direction US democracy goes. If the American people also give in to fear, Donald Trump might be the next US president. This suggests that the two of the world’s most influential powers, the UK and America, are juggling between the past and the future – traditions of colonialism, racism & global mischief – and the equally traditional struggle against those forces, political enfranchisement, and socio-economic equality.

Europe is drifting towards a center-left progressive “utopia” – something despised by the British traditional-mentality. The same could be said of the US. This is vindicated by the statistics surrounding the ‘Brexit’ vote which saw the majority of the “leave” supporters being over the age of 40.

Without delving deeply into history books, the average person might not know that much of the US’ post-WWI behavior was determined by the British, by prompting fear and insecurity about illusory global threats. In 1952, it was the British who convinced the US that movements for sovereignty in the Middle East were a threat. Initially the US had actually empathized with the struggles for independence in the Middle East. The UK convinced the US to overthrow a democratically elected leader in Iran, and the US agreed because of the paranoias injected by the UK about the so-called “communist menace”.

To some it may be surprising that racism, Islamophobia and fascism are creeping into US and UK politics. To others, perhaps more victimized by these forces, it is more dangerous than surprising. If the US decides to follow suit and elects Donald Trump, there is reason to believe that global tensions might intensify. Remember that European history is bloody. Wars between France, England, Germany were commonplace. The UK’s exit from the EU might disturb this legacy of peace and harmony in Europe which has endured since WWII. Furthermore, it might reintroduce fascism into the West – long thought gone and dead.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen if the US did in fact follow suit. Two blocs would eventually form in the global order – a rebalancing of powers if you will. The UK and the US would be together on one side; Russia, China & Iran on the other. India would likely play an indirect role, but ultimately throwing most of its support behind the latter bloc. The contrary would apply to the Gulf states in the Middle East, Israel and Pakistan, who would likely remain under the auspices of the UK & the US. Altogether this can be described as the modern world order. In this scenario, the EU disintegrates completely. The fault line will likely split between France & Germany – to no surprise, with much of eastern Europe balancing against the UK & the US. The war between fascism and collectivism ensues. The ideologies of capitalism and culture are at war – they are mutually exclusive. In reality, capitalism fully realized is fascist, and collectivism fully realized is communist – both authoritarian to some extent. But the latter is conditional and retaliatory. In a perfect world, neither would exist, and universal democracy could flourish without capitalism and communism. Till then, we must pick sides and lesser evils or resort to anarchism.

There is still hope for the world and America. Clinton is not our salvation – but in politics there are no angels; only lesser devils – or so it seems.

Should We Police the World? America & Security in the 21st Century


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Throughout history, various states have requested the assistance of the US to help suppress insurgency. Often these insurgencies are supported and funded by external powers. A prime modern example of this is the current conflict in Syria. Initially perceived as a part of the Arab Spring, the US stood with so-called “rebel forces” in their struggle to liberate Syria from the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. This quickly changed, with a shift in the US administration’s Syrian policy focusing more on mitigating the influence of radicalism, which seems to have overshadowed the rebel forces and the original political objective with a new, radicalized ideological objective.

Originally it was expected that radicalism was a response to the authoritarian tendencies of dictators like Assad, but once it became clear that the movement to topple the leader was actually dangerous to international security itself, the US administration became more skeptical.

However many of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia, have been arguably complicit in enabling and funding the rise of these radical groups. The American people and the international community made it clear that it was not anxious to see another US military invasion, particularly after the disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The same is true is Bahrain and Yemen.

Should the US intervene to help the state? Should the US help the insurgency? Should the US be involved?

Historically the Middle East was viewed as the backyard of Europe. For this reason, it fell under Europe’s sphere of influence. Perhaps this is precisely why Russia felt more than obligated to intervene in Syria’s conflict on the side of the regime to counter the Islamist initiative. Now it seems, the US has warmed up to this position and is even considering coordinated initiatives against Daesh, or ISIS.

The US has been heavily involved in the ME since WWII. The nature of this involvement has taken a new form, particularly during the Obama Administration.

The recent military escapades of the US in the Middle East have been consequential. Since 2003, there has been an unprecedented rise in terror in the Middle East (START). Some scholar argue that the US’ involvement in the region has only exacerbated the conflicts between state and citizen. Since the US and most major powers have often flip-flopped between supporting radical revolutionaries and their authoritarian nemeses, and considering the dire political consequences of these inconsistent policies, standing on either side of the conflict in Syria will be detrimental to both US and international security.

This is likely because the US is perceived to support authoritarian governments in the Middle East. But in other cases, like for example Iraq, the US was prepared to overthrow an authoritarian figure – whereas in Syria, the US sees greater benefit from supporting president Bashar al-Assad. In this scenario, it might actually be beneficial for the US to go after those funding groups like Daesh/ISIS, but this means going after some of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia. It is often presumed that cultures in all parts of the world are fighting for democratic rights, when in reality most of these societies are resisting violations of their sovereignty, be it democratic or not.

Perhaps then it is in some cases in the US’ interest to support states in their fight against violent insurgencies, such as in Syria, where a legacy of religious tolerance and national secularism are prevalent, while in other cases, such as Libya, it may seem more prudent to get involved because the socio-political fabric is completely underdeveloped and almost primitive.

It is unclear ultimately whether democratic principles are applicable in the Middle East. But the premise of this article is to point at US interventionism as the destabilizing and paralyzing force in the Middle East. This policy has also prompted a re-balancing of powers in Europe and China. If the US stops interfering in the sovereign affairs of other nation-states, the world will be more secure, and the conditions for even the most basic democratic principles will be more ripe than ever. It is the orientalist and post-colonial perceptions of regions like the Middle East which perpetuate US and Western imperialism in the region; resulting in political instability, a decrease in human security and stagnation in political developmental process.

Evaluating the ‘Party of God’: Hezbollah, Conflict & Justice


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To determine Hezbollah’s overall success, the rather limited literature on the subject focuses on the organizations political achievements as well as their military achievements in the region (Norton 2007).

This is primarily because Hezbollah functions both as a political party in the Lebanese government, as well as an armed militia, a status that has not only complicated its position in Lebanese society, but has likely ostracized them from full representation in Lebanese politics (Norton 2007). Nevertheless, Hezbollah has utilized both tactics, political participation and competitiveness, as well as militaristic strategies, which have historically included terrorist attacks, particularly against Israeli society.

The premise for much of Hezbollah’s motives rests on political disenfranchisement, which they see as an extension of Western imperialism as well as a violation of popular consent (Norton 2007). Sectarianism, in this perspective, is a product of foreign interventionism. But over the years, Hezbollah has shifted from utilizing violent tactics, to political mobilization, particularly since the 80s, but especially in the last decade. This is a result of the aftermath of the civil war, which finally gave Hezbollah seats in parliament (Zein & Abusalem 2016).

Hezbollah has positioned itself as an authentic political force in Lebanese society, fighting against foreign aggression. For this reason, in times of conflict such as the war with Israel in 2006, disproportionate reprisals by Israeli governments enabled Hezbollah to not only garner support from the Shia community, but also from Palestinians, pro-Syrians and Christian-Lebanese (Kattan 2006). It has managed to increase its influence, despite its limited integration into Lebanese society. An established economic and public sector as well as a sophisticated media presence is a sign of the organization’s successes overtime in achieving its objectives (Zein & Abusalem 2016). The organization’s primary objectives are political in orientation, emphasizing the need for sovereignty, social justice and representation, which contrasts other groups like al Qaeda, whose motives are more ideological, and religiously driven (Zein & Abusalem 2016). Hezbollah’s leader has suggested himself that an Islamic Lebanon is likely impossible due to popular consent, which is against this (Norton 2007).

Hezbollah’s emphasis on unity and solidarity with all Lebanese challenges the conventional grouping, usually by western scholars, of this organization with other terrorist organizations (Norton 2007). The political dynamics of Lebanon complicate the matter, making it difficult to discern Hezbollah as a state or non-state actor. The complications surrounding the definition of terrorism also does not make it easy to analyze these groups and their successes (Sirriyeh 2012). Furthermore, its activity in electoral politics distinguishes it from terror groups that reject all pluralistic, un-Islamic forms of government, such as Fatah-al-Islam, al Qaeda & Daesh.

From a political angle, the literature reveals that Hezbollah has made steady gains, though it faces a steep, upward climb. This is due both to its military, social and electoral initiatives. In 1983, Hezbollah’s “alleged” attack against a US marine barracks, prompting an immediate US withdrawal from Lebanon (Sirriyeh 2012). Till today, Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hairiri. Nonetheless, a history of involvement in terror attacks & hostage crises has tarnished the organization’s image and credibility as a viable political party. This however has not halted its increased integration into the Lebanese political atmosphere. Its resilience against Israeli forces in 2006 as well as its continued activity in the Lebanese government are reasons to believe that, while controversial, its determination and diligence has proved to be politically rewarding. While proportional representation, sovereignty and the cause of the Palestinians are three objectives, which are far from achieved, Hezbollah’s political position over the past few decades has undoubtedly improved (Norton 2007).

Since the 80s, Hezbollah has distanced itself from suicide attacks and international bombing campaigns, which underscores its focus on national politics and its armed conflict with Israel. Perhaps it might be argued that Hezbollah’s deeper integration into Lebanese politics has reduced the incentive for terrorism, particularly within Lebanon. Now more than ever, the focus seems to be on reducing foreign influence and occupation. In this regard, they have proven to be successful, by defending Lebanon against Israeli forces in 2006 (Erlanger et al 2006). It is still to early to deem their overall objectives successful, but they surely have improved their position ultimately in the Middle East.

Hezbollah would not be a militant organization and Lebanon would not be politically sectarian or unstable if the conditions of the Middle East was sovereign.

Let us say that Hezbollah is in fact guilty of terrorism. Still, it cannot be compared to other groups like al Qaeda because it is nationalist in ideology, and respects Lebanese pluralism and diversity. If the West was not directly involved in the political structure of Lebanese society, by engraining a system of confessionalism along sectarian lines and disenfranchising a majority of Lebanese society, there would be no incentive for instability or radicalism. Sovereignty and pluralism are necessary – but neither is possible with foreign meddling. Foreign nations cannot dictate the sovereign and domestic affairs of another country. Political development and social justice are impossible therein.

 

El Zein, H, & Abusalem, A. 2016. “Mobilization in Hezbollah’s Military Arm Media Discourse: Creating and maintaining a Public Sphere in Lebanon.” Professional Communication & Transition Studies. 997-104.

Erlanger, S., & Oppel, R. 2006. “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel with its Training, Tactics and Weapons”. The New York Times.

Kattan, V. 2006. “Israel, Hezbollah and the Conflict in Lebanon: An Act of Aggression or Self-Defense?” Human Rights Brief.

Norton, Augustus Richard. 2007. “The Role of Hezbollah in Lebanese Domestic Politics.” The International Spectator. 42. 475-491.

Sirriyeh, H. (2012). The US, Hezbollah and the Idea of Sub-state Terrorism. Israel Affairs. 18. 652-662.