By Grigor Hakobyan
Constant violations of ceasefire along the Line of Contact culminated in a failed Azerbajiani military aggression against the Republic of Artsakh on April 2nd of 2016. The incident came to be known as the Four Day War in Armenia which ended on April 6, 2016 at the behest of Aliyev’s regime in light of a powerful and devastating Armenian military response in conjunction with immense pressure by the international community demanding from Azerbaijan to end the war as soon as possible. The war resulted in more than one hundred deaths on Armenian side and several times more on Azerbaijani side which managed to take over a couple of Armenian military positions in the north and south of Artsakh.
Additionally, Azerbajiani special forces in conjunction with Turkish special operators engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of villages Talish and Madaghis where several people were shot and mutilated while another one was decapitated alive. Moreover, the bodies of more than a dozen Armenian servicemen who either fell during the initial Azerbaijani assault or were captured while wounded on the battlefield came back dismembered and mutilated. The true face of Aliyev’s regime became known to the world; however, nothing was done to end the evil regime in Baku.
In 1993 after losing region after region in the Artsakh Liberation War of 1988-1994, a military mutiny under the leadership of high ranking Azerbaijani officer, colonel Suret Huseynov erupted. The insurgent forces left their positions in the battlefield, occupied Azerbaijan’s second largest city Gandzak (Ganja) and began their march toward Baku. In panic, the Azerbaijani president Abulfaz Elchibey fled Baku seeking refuge in his native village of Keleki in Nakhichevan while former Soviet KGB general Heydar Aliyev took power in October of 1993 and became the third president of Azerbaijan. After the death of eldest Aliyev, his son Ilham Aliyev took power and became the fourth president of Azerbaijan since 2003 until present. Thus, began the first instance of family succession of power in post-Soviet space.
Since then Ilham Aliyev launched a war of attrition against the Armenian forces along the Line of Contact in Artsakh while doing the same on a relatively smaller scale in border areas of Armenian Republic and Azerbaijan. Despite the fact that Armenian forces have repelled all attempts of border infiltration by Azerbaijani special forces the situation remains tense. Continuous war rhetoric from the top of Azerbaijani leadership and rapid weapons acquisition by Azerbaijani military have made the likelihood of another war erupting in the region ever more likely.
The perpetuation of Aliyev’s regime in Baku can be explained by several factors at play domestically, regionally and internationally. Domestically Aliyev’s regime is violently suppressing any instance of free speech and the public’s right to assembly. Journalist who dare to question the legitimacy of Aliyev’s regime and shed light on backstage dealings of Aliyev’s clan with regional and international actors such as oil and gas companies, offshore banks and weapons manufacturers are persecuted, tortured and put in prison. Any reference or inquiry into widespread theft of public resources and near monopoly of Aliyev’s regime over Azerbaijan’s economy gets suppressed by the regime. Even those who manage to flee the country are hunted down, kidnapped across the border and forcefully brought back to Baku to face prison sentences on trump up charges of treason or some other offense that carries lengthy prison sentence.
In the meantime, Aliyev’s regime is running out of options as it tries to balance its foreign policy objectives between the East and the West, as well as between Sunni led and Shia led political blocks dominating the Middle East. Both Sunni and Shia preachers sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Iran are making their way through Azerbaijan garnering die-hard followers. As a result, thousands of Azerbaijanis have joined ISIS in the Middle East in pursuit of establishing a theocratic government in the region with hopes of making Azerbaijan a part of that vision. Considering that the days for ISIS are numbered both in Syria and Iraq, thousands of them are coming back to Azerbaijan to heel their wounds of defeat.
Now these former fighters have become a ticking time bomb waiting to explode once they feel that the time is right for them to rise and overthrow a corrupt dictatorship based on ethnic chauvinism that they have sown themselves for the last twenty-four years. Already various ethnic and religious minorities in Azerbaijan are being persecuted in the country for their beliefs and identity. One can only imagine what will happen to them once religious zealots take over to pursue their apocalyptic visions of end of times and messianic return.
As recent examples in the Middle East have shown, significant poverty coupled with corrupt dictatorships terrorizing their own people create a fertile ground for religious lunatics to take over. Azerbaijan being one of the most corrupt governments in the world with a third of tge population living below poverty will not be able to stop the tide of religious extremism from taking over. Large amounts of weapons and ammunitions that the regime has accumulated for the past decades to use in the conflict against the Armenian forces will be enough to fight a very protracted civil war for everyone involved.
It is time for the international community and centers of power to imagine an Azerbaijan without Aliyev. The country can become another Syria with dozens of competing factions fighting over territory, transportation routes and its oil/gas wealth. Anticipating a Russian invasion from the north, Iranian invasion from the south, and Turkish invasion of Nakhichevan from the west under the pretext of stabilizing the country as they have done in Syria are no longer a farfetched scenario to consider. A clash of regional titans over Azerbaijani will leave no other option for the people of Azerbaijan but to flee their country in search of refuge not only in Georgia but in Armenia as well.
Perhaps it will be prudent for regional and global players to force a preemptive regime change in Azerbaijan to avert such a scenario before it becomes too late. It is on the international community to make sure that those with truly democratic credentials rise to take the helm of Azerbaijan. It will be upon a democratically elected Azerbaijani leadership to make an honest effort to serve their people by establishing democratic institutions, bring transparency to their governance and work toward normalization of relations with Armenia for a lasting peace in the region. After all, it is not the people of Azerbaijan that Armenian forces have fought against, but rather the chauvinistic, kleptocratic regime in Azerbaijan that has stolen billions from their own people, while their propaganda machine conditions them to believe that it was all Armenians’ fault that they are suffering.