When it comes to democratization, the Caucasus and Central Asia are headed in different directions. Countries and territories in the Caucasus received better grades on political and civil rights over the past year, while Central Asia reinforced its reputation as one of the more repressive places in the world, according to an annual survey compiled by the watchdog group Freedom House.
To many in Azerbaijan, winning Europe's ultimate pop-music contest produced a surge of national pride. But as the cheering over the Eurovision victory subsides, a tricky debate is just starting to unfold: what image of itself should Azerbaijan project to the outside world next year?
To the Editor: Joshua Kucera’s May 13 dispatch, “Kazakhstan: Washington Experts Go on Spin Cycle,” is misleading and unfair. The whole idea of organizing a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., was to allow serious people to examine Kazakhstan in a serious way.
Like the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia also suffers from poverty, corruption, heavy-handed governments, widespread unemployment, and scant opportunities for the young. All too aware of the similarities, governments there are already taking measures to prevent public upheaval of the kind that has shaken the Arab world.
Facebook-inspired protests in Azerbaijan are evolving into a game of cat-and-mouse designed to invigorate protesters while straining law-enforcement authorities by keeping them on a constant state of alert.
An increasing number of protests in Azerbaijan in recent months has Baku viewing Iran as a possible instigator of unrest. Although Iran has some levers in Azerbaijan, such as a large Shiite population, several factors — including Russia’s potential involvement — will lead Tehran to proceed with caution in its attempts to destabilize the Azerbaijani government.
Police in Azerbaijan arrested dozens of civic activists in Baku and Sheki on March 11 in an attempt to snuff-out a Facebook appeal for nationwide, peaceful protests against corruption, civil rights restrictions and alleged government mismanagement. Despite the crackdown, organizers are vowing to press on with their protest movement.
Even with no specifics yet available for Azerbaijan’s “day of rage,” the government is persisting with a crackdown on youth group activists and Facebook users in the run-up to unsanctioned youth demonstrations expected for March 11.