It’s Azerbaijan’s turn (Farhad Husseinov, 9/28/05, International Herald Tribune )

A country of 8.5 million people – roughly half of whom live in poverty – on the Western shores of the energy-rich Caspian Sea, [Azerbaijan] is preparing for parliamentary elections in early November. Baku, the capital, is the next obvious candidate for a democratic revolution of the kind witnessed in Georgia and Ukraine. At stake are the multibillion-dollar investments of oil giants like BP and Chevron.

The incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev, is a Soviet-educated autocrat who inherited power from his late father, Geidar Aliyev, in late 2003 as a result of rigged elections followed by a ruthless police crackdown. […]

The greatest hope is invested in the newly forged Freedom Bloc, with the pro-Western Musavat Party as its driving force, which succeeded in holding a series of rallies across the country that the government was compelled to allow because of domestic and international pressure. The last such demonstration was organized in Baku on Sept. 10 and drew about 50,000 people, many of them wearing orange shirts and waving orange flags in an echo of the pro-democracy rallies in Ukraine last year.

In today’s globalized world, democracy requires support from without. The Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” is a praiseworthy step in this regard. It should, however, also be extended to illiberal countries that possess oil or host a NATO military base. Democratic turnover in the post-Soviet states is not Western imperialism by another name, as some would like us to believe. What they represent, rather, is a shift toward the rule of law, democracy and national reconciliation.

Azerbaijan presents the next opportunity for Western leaders to prove their commitment to the founding principles of their own nation-states. With time, this moral choice will prove to be a smart strategic choice as well.

In Freedom’s Century, no regime is legitimate unless consensual.

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