Monday, April 20, 2009

PhD thesis: What are the Motives for Islamic Activism in Azerbaijan?

The perception that the global rise of Islamic activism is nurtured by a phenomenon depicted as “Global Jihad” is contested in a recent PhD dissertation titled "Islamic Activism in Azerbaijan: Repression and Mobilization in a Post-Soviet Context". Dr. Sofie Bedford focused upon the growing Juma (Shiite) and the Abu Bakr (Sunni) mosque communions in Baku and argues in her thesis that they are, by and large, being nurtured by politics on a national level. The mobilization of Islamic activism in Azerbaijan can be understood as a result of:

(a) The younger generations wish to break ties with Soviet institutional structures, in particular those that are characterized by authoritative measures towards individual choice
(b) Discontent with societal development after Azerbaijan’s independence

Azerbaijan, considered as one of the least religious nations in the world, has since the end of the 1990’s experienced repressive state measures towards domestic Islamic movements. The pretext for state sanctioned clampdowns against the growing national opposition with distinguishable Islamic features required, according to decision makers, unorthodox countermeasures.

By re-imposing strict state control over the religious practitioners and the religious organizations, the leadership in the independent republic hoped, just as their Soviet predecessors, to neutralize the oppositional potential in religion in order to avoid a development as in neighboring Iran. Some Moslem groups that questioned the religious structures got classified as oppositional and were actively opposed by the state”. Sofie Bedford

Friday prayers at the Abu Bakr mosque in Baku, Azerbaijan

Bedford argues that a crucial component of the state repression that strengthened Islamists consisted of official negative propaganda on the Abu Bakr mosque as a “nest for violent wahabis” and the Juma communion as “radical Shiites planning an Islamic revolution”. Instead of ending the mobilization of the mosque attendees, the state’s counterstrategy back clashed and strengthened the affinity of the targeted groups as discontent with corrupt state policies thrived.

Amongst the visitors, and many others, Juma and Abu Bakr came to symbolize an unafraid, creative and free Islam which gave renewed popularity and, consequently, increasing numbers of attendees. It is important to stress that even if there were many similarities between the mobilization processes in the Juma and Abu Bakr communions, the study shows interesting differences, in particular in their interaction with the state in the later stages of the mobilization processes”.

In order to access the full PhD dissertation, please follow this link. In addition to the dissertation, we would also like to recommend this shorter article titled “Islamic Revival in Azerbaijan” for our readers out there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Public Opinion in Azerbaijan and the Islamic World

A colleague of ours recently went to Washington D.C for a presentation by, an international network of research centers studying public opinion. Here is what she reported:

I attended an event on the release of a new study on public opinion in the Islamic world on terrorism, al Qaeda, and US policies. Although the research includes Azerbaijan, the study’s focus is the region in immediate proximity to Israel and Afghanistan. Most of the results of the poll are quite predictable. In general terms, the perception of US goals and policies are that they are driven by economic interests, a desire to spread Western values, democracy and Christianity.

For those that find it useful, these are some of the findings in Azerbaijan:

- 81% disapprove of attacks on civilians in US and 75% disapprove of attacks on US civilians working in Islamic countries

- 66% think that the US having naval forces based in the Persian Gulf is a bad idea

- 77% think that the majority of the people in the Middle East disapprove of the US having naval forces based in the Persian Gulf

- 65% think that the US seeks to weaken and divide the Islamic world

- 60% think that its goal is to spread Christianity

- 90% believe that it is a US goal to maintain control over the oil resources of the Middle East

- 78% think that the US tries to promote international laws for other countries, but is hypocritical because it often does not follow these rules itself

- 47% think that the US is often disrespectful to the Islamic world, but out of ignorance and insensitivity

- 37% think that the US purposely tries to humiliate the Islamic world

- On Islamist participation in politics: 75% think all people should have the right to organize themselves into political parties and run candidates, including Islamist groups
As you can see, the findings are aimed at formulating policy implications for the new US administration.

Interested in further information? Here is where you can access the full report and the questionnaire for the survey.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Banking and Financial Services in the Caucasus | CRRC Data

Have banking and financial services penetrated most households in the South Caucasus? Due to the topicality of finance news, an investigation on the usage of banking and financial services in the Caucasus seems justified. As banks fall, get nationalized and panic is spreading, our DI data on the usage of banking/financial services can be useful to understand the 2007 baseline. For instance: How many households in the South Caucasus have saving accounts that could, theoretically, be frozen if the financial situation further deteriorates?

As one can see in the graph above, banking/financial services are not used by the majority of the DI’s respondents. 66% in Georgia have not used banking/financial services compared to 57% in Armenia and 53% in Azerbaijan. Not many households are at risk of having their savings eaten up since only 1% of households in the region have savings accounts. It is remarkable that loans have been taken by so many Armenians (18%), but note that these people may not be owing money right now. For a look at household exposure, check our older post.

Now, let’s have a look at the usage of banking cards, which ought not to be confused with savings accounts. Although that few households have used banking/financial services in the South Caucasus, the numbers on usage of banking card is relatively high in the region, with Armenia being the exception that confirms the rule. 5% in rural Armenia and 23% in the capital are bearers of banking cards. Comparing this with 30% in rural Azerbaijan and 58% in its capital, one can see that the penetration of banking cards in Armenian households is relatively small. However, the largest regional differences are to be found in Georgia. Only 9% of households in rural Georgia have banking cards compared to 55% in its capital.

We also have data on public trust towards banks. But here one important limitation of the data above is that it is from 2007, so that it may not be sufficiently up to date. However, the DI 2008 will soon be available online (and yes, if the data show large inconsistencies, there will be a blog post on it). For the data above, check the CRRC Data Initiative (DI) 2007.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Life in Transition Results | Region Comparison

The EBRD Life in Transition Survey, as we at the CRRC blog previously mentioned, is available for download. The survey, measuring attitudes and values amongst 28 transitional countries divided in to three sub-regions, is one of the most extensive and impressive survey efforts conducted and encompasses all the post-socialist countries (plus Turkey). The three sub-regions are as following:

- Central Eastern Europe and the Baltic States (CEB)

- South-Eastern Europe (SEE)

- The Commonwealth of Independent States and Mongolia (CIS, which includes the South Caucasus)

The CRRC blog has often presented cross-comparisons of the Caucasian countries on a wide variety of subjects based on data from our own Data Initiative (DI). The EBRD report, sharing some of the variables from our DI, allows for a broader comparison of the attitudes, values and material standards between the former socialist countries. While the survey was conducted in 2006/2007, much of the data remains relevant.

Some noteworthy comparative data:

-The general agreement between the three sub-regions is that the level of trust between people has declined after the fall of communism. The CIS region had, according to 72 % of its respondents, societies where people could be trusted before 1989. Today, only 34 % shares this assertion. But, in comparison to CEB (31%) and SEE (25 %), the CIS sticks out as the region where people's trust in other individuals is the highest.

- 40 % in the CIS and CEB agree that the economic situation is better today than before 1989. The SEE, on the other hand, is showing a severely pessimistic stance in this regard since only 20 % of its respondents agreed to this assertion.

- According to the survey, corruption has thrived with the transition. Only 19 % in the CIS thinks that corruption has been reduced in their country since 1989. For CEB only 12 %, and in SEE only 9 % believe that corruption has reduced since 1989.

- Also the view on the political situation is rather gloomy in all three regions. As little as 25 % believe that the political situation is better today than before 1989 in the SEE region. The CIS proves more optimistic with 40 % of its respondents agreeing to this assertion.

- However, despite the negative responses on contemporary trust in society, corruption, politics and economics, the three sub-regions show a marked preference for democracy and market economy. This could be partly explained by the high optimism that the respondents in the three sub-regions hold about the future. The CIS, holding the most optimistic respondents, had 60 % of its respondents agreeing to the claim that children who are born today will have a better life than their own generation. (Or is maybe an issue that people are less hesitant to complain in CEB and SEE?)

Preferences for political and economic systems

This is just a small pick from the report Life in Transition – A Survey of People’s Experiences and Attitudes from the EBRD. The full report includes data on topics, such as, Material Well-Being, Views on Transition, Values/Priorities and Corruption/Trust, separately for each of the transitional countries. A fantastic resource for researchers!

Follow this link to access the EBRD report, its questionnaires and data.