Winter 2003 (11.4)
by Kenan Najafov
When I compare the youth
of my country with those of America or Britain where I have also
lived, I think Azerbaijanis are the most interested in getting
involved with politics. Perhaps, there are many reasons, ranging
from historic to socio-economic. However, I suspect it has a
lot to do with our enthusiasm about gaining our independence
On a more general note, whether or not young Azerbaijanis like
politics, many are genuinely interested in it. We spend a lot
of time talking about politics - at home, at the office, at the
"chaykhana" (tea house) and elsewhere with friends.
Yet my deepest concern is about our attitude towards politics
and our control of the future of Azerbaijan. I detect a broad
spectrum of thought among my peers.
Some youth are extremely cynical about politics. Perhaps, they've
been influenced by their parents' attitudes or have arrived at
this conclusion themselves, having witnessed some politicians
rise and fall, betray the nation, or be betrayed by allies. This
group tends to say, "Dunya
bele gelib, bele de gedejek" ["The world will never change"
Literally: The world came like this and will go like this.] and
they don't see any possibility of serious improvement in Azerbaijan.
Their cynicism harms Azerbaijan as it rationalizes and nourishes
corruption, hinders the development of our democratic institutions
and civil activities.
Other youth have a very naïve approach, either by nature
of their personality or because of unique circumstances, such
as having studied abroad. They refuse to recognize the serious
realities of Azerbaijan (corruption, weakness of democratic institutions).
However, once they come face to face with the truth, they become
disillusioned and may eventually join the youth who are cynical.
Finally, there's a third group made up of rather balanced young
people, who are realistic, yet determined and able to make a
positive difference, despite all the difficulties and disappointments.
They demonstrate what I call "a sober optimism", and
this is the attitude I advocate. The future of Azerbaijan will
be in hands of such people.
Now, what is the political vision of young Azerbaijanis? Take
international politics, for example. Again, it is more diverse
than you may think. However, I detect that today there is narrower
range in our geopolitical orientations compared to ideas held
by earlier generations. There are still strong patterns of pro-U.S.,
pro-Turkey, pro-Russia, and other positions. Fortunately, more
and more of us understand that we must depend upon ourselves
and support an independent and balanced pro-Azerbaijani position.
Despite our interest in discussing politics, the reality is that
the current level of political involvement by our youth is not
very strong yet. There are some quasi-political youth organizations
operating in Azerbaijan, yet they seem to be disconnected from
the critical mass of young Azerbaijani intellectuals. A number
of them have already entered politics, some aligning themselves
with the government; and others, with the opposition. But note
that most of us are still in a "waiting" mode, looking
for a better time to make our contribution. The crucial question
will be whether the most talented among us will actually step
up "when the time comes".
How does all of this relate to the present political reality
in Azerbaijan? Most young people that I know have mixed feelings
about the recent Presidential elections. Even those who are pleased
with the results are concerned about the flawed election process.
Having said that, our new President seems to be closer to our
youth than most other political figures in Azerbaijan - both
in age and worldview. I do hope that the President's modern outlook,
education and experience will serve him well against all these
difficulties. In order to succeed, he will have to strengthen
his team with people who are progressive, professional, and known
for their integrity.
Azerbaijan is waiting for reforms. We have come a long way since
the early 1990s when we first gained our independence, but we
still have major issues to tackle and we have no excuse to become
complacent. We must address the series of complex political,
economic, social, military, educational and environmental problems.
Our country's problems also present a great opportunity for young
people's energy and skills to be used more widely, both in public
and private sectors. This must be done in ways that do not cause
us to become disillusioned or corrupt.
Azerbaijani people expect concrete actions from our new President.
They're ready to help if given a chance. It's really a two-way
street. The trust and support that the President will enjoy from
the electorate, including the youth, will be in direct proportion
to the progressive steps that his government takes. Every President
has a historic choice to make: whether to serve the nation and
be remembered forever, or to bring us all to failure and soon
In my opinion, the best way for all of us to proceed is with
sober optimism. Having recognized the problems, we must solve
them together - with faith in our country's future. Whatever
we do, we should approach our difficulties in the spirit of learning
and with integrity. We need to further develop our leadership
and professional skills and our ability to work together as a
team. Whether we join politics or not, we should all strive to
strengthen our country - some by joining politics, while others
working hard to support the best candidateswith sober optimism.
28, born and raised in Azerbaijan, is currently working in the
energy sector in London after a few years of practicing law and
working on Azerbaijan's economic development and reforms. Kenan
holds a Diploma in International Law from Baku State University,
an LL.M. (Master of Laws) from American University (Washington,
D.C.) and an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Wharton
School, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA). Contact
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