Azerbaijan International

Winter 2003 (11.4)
Page 69

Concerns of Youth
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 (late 1991).

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".

Post-election Thoughts
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 be forgotten.

Sober Optimism
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.

Kenan Najafov, 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 Kenan:

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