ISLAM AS A POLITICAL FACTOR IN POST-SOVIET AZERBAIJAN
Rufat Sattarov, Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Turkology of the Freie Universität Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
Religious revival in Azerbaijan as a research subject is too vast to be discussed within the scope of one article, therefore I shall limit myself to its individual aspects. In particular, I shall show how Islam acquired a greater political role after 20 January, 1990 and how its political clout largely depends on the situation in the republic and on its political leaders.
1. Emergence of Religious Identity and the “Islamic Renaissance” of the Late Soviet Period
Religious renaissance as a phenomenon typical of many post-Soviet transit societies is commonly regarded as a process that either predates or postdates a new national identity. I think that religious revival in Azerbaijan in the late Soviet period postdated the new national identity of the titular ethnos. So far, there is no agreement in the academic community about the factors leading up to the creation of the new national identity. Brenda Shaffer, for example, has written that this process was deeply rooted in the pre-perestroika period, when the Azerbaijani intelligentsia, highly impressed by historical writings and literary works, developed ideas of a new collective identity. Mark Saroyan in turn believes that it was the events of the 1980s around Nagorny Karabakh that contributed to the process of forming the Azerbaijanis’ new national awareness. Russian and Azerbaijani academics mostly believe that although reflected in what small dissident and quasi-dissident groups were doing under Soviet power (the political activities of the future president, Abulfaz Elchibey, can be cited as an example), the new national identity stems from the Karabakh conflict and what is called the “Armenian catalyst.”
In any case this conflict can be regarded as a boost to the Azerbaijanian national movement and an indirect cause behind the slow growth of the titular ethnos’ religious awareness. Ali Abasov has written: “Even if society was mainly deprived of its religion, the failure of the communist ideology and the new upsurge in the national-liberation movement that happened when Soviet power had nearly reached its end inevitably pushed Azerbaijani society toward Islam.” The Azerbaijanis were driven by cultural considerations rather than a……………..