Interview with Ozgur Tufekci — Founder and Director-General of Centre for Strategic Research & Analysis (CESRAN)
— How would you rate the presidential elections in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan has experienced tough times after the collapse of the Soviet Union along with the other post-Soviet states. Like human beings, states are also born, grown-up, get aged and die. According to this example, Azerbaijan is a newly-established state and it needs time. However, it is fair to say that compared to other post-Soviet states, Azerbaijan has achieved a lot regarding, the establishment of stability, balancing the relations with neighboring countries, getting rid of economic problems, and etc.When it comes to the elections, I believe that Azerbaijan conducted a fair election process despite some problematic issues, which, I am sure, will be cleared away over time.
— There is an opinion in Yerevan that the reelection of Ilham Aliyev as president of Azerbaijan could be beneficial for Armenia. What do you think of this and why?
There is a saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu «If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win numerous battles without jeopardy.» I can only explain Sarkisian’s statement by this saying. Besides, there are ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and it is obvious that if someone else became the President of Azerbaijan, that would damaged the process.
— How could Armenia potentially joining the Customs Union influence the situation in the South Caucasus? What economic and political consequences would this have for Armenia and the region?
Regarding the regional dynamics, Armenia had to choose its side. At the end of the day its choice became the Customs Union. That is absolutely normal as Armenia is heavily economically dependent upon Russia and Moscow is Yerevan’s largest trading partner and Russia is the biggest foreign investor in Armenia. As for the political and economic consequences, there is nothing to change but Armenia’s move may become a drive for Georgia and Azerbaijan in order to declare their sides.
— The election of Hassan Rouhani, who in contrast to the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is considered to be a reformer, as president of Iran, and the appearance of the possibility of a normalisation in relations with the West — what kind of influence would this have on the relationship between Tehran and the South Caucasus countries, Azerbaijan in particular?
Continuity is essential for every state in the world. As for Iran, it is also valid. I do not think that Rouhani is in contrast to Ahmadinejad. At the end of the day, he had also been approved by Ali Hoseini-Khamenei before the election. IT shows that he is not a real reformer. Like every states, the national interests are decisive for Iran’s foreign affairs. It is unequivocal that Iran needs normalization in its relations with the West as this status quo is not sustainable. So far, Rouhani has not done much to bring this normalization. And we do not know what the coming days will bring. What we know that Iran has a potential to become a regional power and ambition. In this sense, we should not expect to experience a huge change in Iran’s foreign policy understanding and approaches.
— What can the countries of the South Caucasus expect from the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius?
As I mentioned before, the states in the South Caucasus need to choose their sides. EaP is another platform to do so. By and large Armenia has made its decision. For Georgia, it is the only way to exit especially after the war in 2008 with Russia. When it comes to Azerbaijan, things are not clear. Azerbaijan tries to balance power relationships instead of engaging in a power struggle.
— Many people accuse Ilham Aliyev of being authoritarian. Do you think that his domestic policy will change during his third term in office?
This question needs to be asked those accusers. In his first term Ilham Aliyev received 75% (over 1.5 million) of the votes and at the beginning of his third term he received 85% (over 3 million). The numbers do not reveal any dissatisfaction of the people of Azerbaijan.
— As to Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, how could its basic course change after the elections?
I do not expect any significant shift in Azerbaijani foreign policy. As usual, the main challenge will be the restoration of territorial integrity. Another new issue is also Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union. As I mentioned before, this decision will put pressure on Azerbaijan to decide «join or not to join».
— What do you predict the actions of the opposition will be? Will it manage to unite?
As we all know that Jamil Hasanli was the candidate of the united opposition. However, he could not manage to make any impact to become a genuine rival of Aliyev. Frankly speaking, Aliyev is the only one who can decide the future of New Azerbaijan Party not the opposition. As long as the struggle against corruption, the reform of the education system, and economic stability are conducted successfully by the incumbent Government, we can see Aliyev’s forth term in 2018.
Fuad Shahbazov, for newcaucasus.com