I’d like to start with an addendum to the story alleging that the Azerbaijani government has ordered the closure of the local NDI (National Democratic Institute) office. As reported on this site yesterday, NDI had issued a denial that they had been told to cease operations. I didn’t weigh in on the matter, and will talk to NDI on Monday when their New York office opens after the weekend.
However, there are three factors to consider when evaluating the version of events propounded by NDI.
One is the curious wording of the release:
NDI is looking into this issue in consultation with the U.S. Embassy and representatives of the government of Azerbaijan and hopes for a prompt resolution.
What “issue”? “Prompt resolution” of what? Perhaps NDI will shed light on this on Monday.
Secondly, the original story from RFE/RL claims that on 7 March, “the head of NDI’s Azerbaijan agency Alex Grigoriev was called to the Ministry of Justice and given a letter of notice about the office being shut down.” This article has since been pulled from the RFE site and replaced with the denial from NDI. An English translation of the original piece by Khadija Ismayilova can be found here.
Finally, on 10 March, three days after the letter was given to NDI by the Azerbaijani Justice Ministry, the same thing happened to Human Rights House, a Norwegian NGO. They have stated quite unequivocally that the Ministry has ordered Humans Rights House to shut down their operations:
On 10 March 2011, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan ordered the Human Rights House Azerbaijan, partner of the international Human Rights House Network, to cease all activities immediately. According to the Ministry of Justice, in the future the Human Rights House Azerbaijan will be allowed to carry out activities only upon prior agreement with the State. The Human Rights House Network believes this measure is part of the escalated repression of the civil society in the last few weeks, in connection with the calls for pro-democracy demonstrations in March 2011.
Go here for HRH’s analysis of the situation.
In other news, Azerbaijan’s Musavat Party staged a protest rally today in downtown Baku. Hundreds of participants gathered for the unsanctioned demonstration, and according to Musavat, some 40 protesters were arrested. An admirably detailed account can be found here at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The Musavat rally was the second event in two days, but this is not to suggest that the “opposition” actually has a coordinated, coherent plan, a conclusion that is supported by commentary from a number of observers as well as Popular Front leader Ali Kerimli here a few days ago. What appears to be happening in the last year or so is that the formal opposition parties, especially the Popular Front and Musavat, are losing momentum and relevance as a result of concerted actions against them by the government as well as bickering within the two parties and a lack of direction.
Thus, the 11 March Great People’s Day was for some a refreshing grass-roots effort, organized on facebook and leapfrogging the opposition party hierarchies. But I don’t see much momentum from the 11 March organizers either, and the putative similarities between Azerbaijan and Libya, for example, are difficult to see despite the now-famous “Revolting Index” created by Alen Mattich for the Wall Street Journal.
Using three criteria—social unfairness; propensity to revolt; and the cost of food relative to income—Mattich comes up with a list of countries with a greater or lesser propensity for civil unrest. Into the mix are measures such as the Gini index, Transparency International’s corruption ranking, and median age.
The results are impressive but with some surprising anomalies. And even Mattich would admit, I think, that the tool is somewhat crude. (But so is the “youth bulge = social unrest” rule that I use in my international relations classes.)
At any rate, here are the ten world hot spots (with the ranking on a 100-scale of potential unrest) according to the Revolting Index:
Azerbaijan is number 10. But Libya isn’t on the top ten. Also missing are Egypt and Tunisia. (Libya is #13, with Egypt #16. Tunisia is #21, behind Georgia, coming in at #18.)
Reuters Editor-at-Large Chrystia Freeland and her colleague Peter Rudegeair came up with a similar index. See Freeland’s piece at Reuters here or the identical article at the New York Times here. They used four factors: “political freedom (on the grounds that democracies don’t usually require popular rebellions to achieve regime change), corruption, vulnerability to food price shocks and Internet penetration.” The article is a fun read, and Freeland discusses a number of theories and other variables that might have gone into the mix.
Freeland and Rudegeair’s ten most vulnerable countries are:
So Egypt and Libya made her top ten, but Azerbaijan is number 3, right after Sudan and Nigeria.
More in the next week on the increasingly tense situation in Armenia and the news from Georgia…