After the demise of the USSR, Azerbaijan has been relegated to the category of a third world nation. The short-lived euphoria of independence has been replaced by the somber realization that the so-called “transition period” from communism to capitalism could extend well beyond most people’s lifetimes. The principal outcome of the first decade of Azeri independence is that the country has moved backward rather than forward since the beginning of “free market” reforms. In their studies and analyses of contemporary Azerbaijan, Western scholars and foreign policy establishment tend to neglect the forces of social discontent. Azerbaijan is a country of brutal and potentially explosive social divisions. For any visitor spending a few weeks in Baku, it is this contrast in lifestyles between the Aliev’s elite and ordinary Azeris that seems to be the major characteristic of Azerbaijan, contrary to the prevalent comments in Western media about the alleged Caspian oil wealth and export pipelines. The US government assumes that the abstract Azerbaijan in its energy assessments and strategic designs has reached a certain level of stability, democracy and economic sufficiency. But the process of introducing democracy into Azerbaijan may turn out to be more formidable than mere free elections. If Washington would pressure the post-Aliev government for change in the “new age of democracy”, it might run into certain intrinsic oddities, which could freeze the effort.

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