Azerbaijan’s marginalized peoples battle against discrimination

Avars, Tsakhurs, and Lezgins express concern over marginalization of non-Azeri communities · Azeri Government accused of restricting freedom of expression and pursuing policies of ‘Azericization’ and ethnic cleansing · Council of Europe warns that Azerbaijan’s human rights record is getting worse.

Azerbaijan has recently received a great deal of criticism, both from within and outside the country. On multiple occasions, international organizations, such as the Council of Europe, have publicly stated their concerns about the Caucasian state, focussing particularly on the lack of electoral transparency and the lack of freedom of expression for journalists and opposition groups.

But it is now from within the country itself that concerns are being raised. Avars, Tsakhurs, and Lezgins, just some of Azerbaijan's marginalized communities, have all criticized Baku in the last week, not only for restricting power to the country's Azeri majority, but for pursuing policies of assimilation or "Azericization". The Avars have gone a step further, asking the Government of Dagestan, where the Avars represent the largest minority, to protect them from "the threat of genocide".

The accusations of ethnic cleansing from these groups date from the armed conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, during which Avars, Tsakhurs and Lezgins were allegedly forcibly sent to the front. Azerbaijan denies these accusations and instead claims that Russia, its main adversary in the region alongside Armenia, was behind the forced relocations.

Azerbaijan bears witness to the wealth of different ethnic groups, peoples and languages in the Caucasus. According to Minority Group, the population of Azerbaijan includes Lezgins (2.2%), Russians (1.8%), Armenians (1.5%) and Talysh (1%) as well as Avars, Tsakhurs, Turks, Tatars, Kurds, Ukrainians, Georgians, Jews and Udins (all with under 1%).

Principally as a result of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory with a majority Armenian population within Azerbaijan, Baku has always regarded calls for greater autonomy from non-Azeri communities with suspicion. These communities have also suffered discrimination in terms of language, culture and political representation.

Images: Ethno-linguistic map of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus (from Wikipedia).

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