Soldier's Death Protests in Azerbaijan, Baku in 2013. Credit: azadliq.org

Curse of a Closed System in Azerbaijan: Waiting for Serendipitous Change

August 7, 2018
7 mins read
This article highlights that in closed systems, like Azerbaijan, change doesn't evolve slowly through organized opposition but erupts unexpectedly. These systems are vulnerable to the "big bang" effect where minor incidents can cause significant shifts. Amidst palpable tension, the exact trigger is elusive, resulting in a paranoia-filled atmosphere.
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There exists a dilemma: liberalization in closed systems rarely originates from within. Furthermore, due to the lack of strong opposition, even tepid attempts to challenge the regime from the inside can inadvertently reinforce it. The power disparity between the opposition and those in charge is so vast that wielding such power becomes more appealing than seeking alternative paths to democratic governance. The tragedy of the closed system is that most social occurrences or political activities seem to entrench it further. In the face of inaction against this system, its grip only tightens, and everyone bears the brunt of its effects.

In Azerbaijan, the significant protests of 2003-2005 gave way to a phase of political stagnation, briefly interrupted by demonstrations from 2011-13. The uprisings, while notable, weren’t powerful enough to transform the regime. These protests were swiftly suppressed, resulting in the system shutting its doors even more firmly. The reaction extended beyond typical state violence; legislative changes were implemented, steering the country away from its democratic ideals. Public spaces, essential for cultivating the public sphere and societal consciousness, were closed, and their sustenance sources were depleted. A sweeping control was established over political protests, leading to the “authorized demonstration” concept defined by the closed system.

Protest against a closed system in Azerbaijan

The research on protests in China shows that the number of participants increased gradually, from 10 thousand in 1994 to 80 thousand in 2008 to 180 thousand people in 2010. Despite the capability of the regime to wipe out the protests easily and immediately, it preferred not to do so. It is argued that a well-established closed system enhances stability by creating conditions for small-scale demonstrations. Thus, it can identify and study the internal dynamics of dissatisfied groups and their power sources, thereby taking control of their driving forces. As a result, disgruntled groups are isolated before they become a revolutionary party; necessary actions are taken to spot a potential movement for the future. These kinds of small-scale activities are part of the regulatory mechanism of a closed system, which ensures its stability.

In Azerbaijan, the measures implemented against authorized demonstrations suggest that those protests have a considerable cost for their organizers. The regime can use them as its control mechanism. That is why the long-time organizers of such meetings, so-called traditional opposition, including the Popular Front Party, Musavat Party, and the National Council, are often criticized by other, younger opposition groups in the formation. The question is, why does the opposition continue to organize these meetings?

Meetings are not only for anti-system protests. It is also crucial for the internal dynamics of the organizing party or movement. In a closed political environment, sustaining and intensifying their activities by recruiting new members is challenging and dangerous. This issue requires a deep determination and idealism on behalf of members and the organization of an appropriate environment from the organization. And here, those meetings, detentions, and other forms of state violence logically resulting from them establish the climate of idealism and combat.

In a closed system, stagnation is suicidal for an oppositional organization. That is why those authorized demonstrations are one of the means for these organizations to self-sustain. In this way, they create a protest discourse through which they attract new members, feed their member’s idealism and integrity, ensure the organization’s stability, and simultaneously provide opportunities for control of the system. This “struggle-repression loop” is the first curse among opposition organizations in closed systems.

The end of a closed system: as a sign of the “big bang.

In a closed system, protests are not expressed often or loudly in public spaces. But it is everywhere, and everyone is aware of that; each person plays a role at every level of the widespread social injustice and corruption that form the basis of such systems. They both benefit from and fall victim to this system. Therefore, from one point, people support the plan, at least according to their place in the hierarchy, and from another aspect, in their inner world (conscience) or safe areas (friends and family environment), stand against the system and again according to their role in it. So if tomorrow there is a danger to the system’s existence, they know that if they are not with those who oppose it, at least they know that they would not do anything to prevent the end of it!

Unlike democratic, hybrid, or half-authoritarian regimes, in a closed system, an organized opposition group is not an agent or a driving force of change because they have neither the power nor the potential to make it happen. Change in such regimes does not occur gradually but abruptly due to the system’s harsh nature, and the source of political change is not planning, not strategy, or organization. Everything happens by chance and is bound to coincidence. It could be some careless political action, a negligent word out of some official’s mouth, or something that no one would ever guess could be the first spark for the explosion. No one knows. In such systems, there is that “big bang”: consciousness being formed loudly and publicly from that which everyone had only spoken about before in whispers. Although no one knows when it will happen, discussions around how it may happen are going on; in every closed system, as it gets more robust, the political injustice it is based on deepens, thus casting small cracks in the system that result from random incidents. Based on those cracks, one can suggest preliminary opinions about how the big bang could look.

In Azerbaijan, Guba(2012) and Ismayilli (2013) incidents are the most significant cracks on the system. Both resulted from an accident. In Guba, the video with the chief executive offending local people was leaked on YouTube. In Ismayilli, again the local chief executive’s relative got into a car accident, during which residents were offended. As a result, in both cases, the chief executive’s estate was burned down. Perhaps that is what the big bang will look like.

If you listen to locals commenting on the protests, you can see that almost all of them speak confidently, as if they anticipated it beforehand. This is a product of the collective mind created by the “big bang” idea. No one mentions the event that led to the protests but instead dismisses it and does not see it as the main reason; instead, everyone focuses on more general problems.

This ordinary collective mind is also present in the system’s governors and all its members. Therefore, in a closed system, starting from a certain level of the ladder to the highest political administration group, everyone is subjected to that collective mind, developing a deep paranoia. That is why such regimes are usually skeptical, vengeful, and generally harsh. In this sense, one can call a closed system a system administered by paranoiacs. And this is, in turn, their curse!

Are people not considered in Azerbaijan?

There is an assumption about closed systems that, when making decisions, rulers do not consider their people. It may be correct about people’s well-being, but it is never true when their anger is concerned. Local culture, traditions, mentality, and other sensitive topics are always considered; otherwise, longstanding governances would not have been possible.

This rhetoric of “they don’t care about us” is usually used by critical groups to evoke grievances within the masses against the government. The system is compelling, and opposition groups are aware of that. They know well that they can’t change the system independently, even by mobilizing large numbers of members or using political strategy or diplomacy. Therefore, the target is to educate and inform people politically, call them to protests, and address and stress essential and sensitive topics for the majority. Perhaps these actions will result in cracks in the system, out of which that long-awaited accident will bear the “big bang”…

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Soldier’s Death Protests in Azerbaijan, Baku in 2013. Credit: azadliq.org

In this regard, the system limits the means and spaces through which opposition groups might communicate and address issues to people. The regime finds it necessary to produce counter-arguments and events against those groups and publicly promote them. Since the 2011-2013 protests, all opposition rallies have been isolated in the remote and easily controlled stadium, which is one example of this behavior.

Off-limit events include, but are indeed not limited to, any demonstration outside of the controlled area; an appearance of opposition groups in public and their possible appeal to the people any strong image of an opposition leader or group; or any collective event that is not authorized by the government, even a non-political one. In short, anything that could spark the “big bang” is strictly out of bounds.

In this sense, the “Republican race” was conducted in a way that was against the inherent nature of the closed system: out of the defined boundaries, a charismatic political leader who can attract people to his cause, the opportunity to contact the people directly; and encouraging rhetoric that might create collective action, even a very small one… Unacceptable! Although oppositional groups presented this event as the government’s envy, the opposition is interested in propagating and deepening this discourse since it wants to develop a counter-ideological base. Regardless of the political elites’ opinion about the Republican leaders, they do not wish to create negative publicity on these most sensitive days. It is the nature of a closed system that eliminates and prevents any possible spark, even if its actions could harm the image.

The biggest fear of a closed system is the emergence of oppositional groups in places and at a time when it is most vulnerable. This may lead to its cracks’ widening and uncontrolled growth, so such actions cannot be forgiven. In this regard, Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the Republican Alternative Movement (now a political party), who visited Ismayilli during the riots, faced the government’s harsh reaction.

Based on these observations, it can be assumed that in a closed system, almost all measures connected with domestic policy are taken to keep people under control. There are traces of paranoia in all its mechanisms of control.

Any systematic or random step that can trigger the majority is immediately prevented regardless of who takes it. Harsh measures that, from time to time, are taken against reckless officials are one of the example of this stance. In this respect, the rhetoric of “they don’t care about us” should be understood in the context of welfare and other issues and not concerning political power.

In Conclusion

When a closed system is most vulnerable, it is also most potent. Opportunities and chances for the Big Bang grow as it becomes increasingly rigid. And this situation is harmful both to governors and their oppressed critics. Making healthy decisions in such a toxic and paranoid environment is impossible. Political will lose its function. There is only a closed system, and it’s impossible to have giant wheels that function. Everyone living in such a climate awaits that accidental change.

Khayyam Namazov

I am a committed researcher with expertise in social movements and power and knowledge technologies. My passion lies in helping people enhance their knowledge and skills on diverse subjects, as well as encouraging their personal growth and development.

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I am a committed researcher with expertise in social movements and power and knowledge technologies. My passion lies in helping people enhance their knowledge and skills on diverse subjects, as well as encouraging their personal growth and development.

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