Expert opinion: referendum could reinstate feudalism in Azerbaijan

The referendum on amendments to the Azerbaijani constitution that will take place on September 26th will change not only the country’s power structure, but other aspects of daily life that may have severe consequences for ordinary citizens.

Agricultural expert Vahid Maharramov thinks that certain provisions on private property in the proposed changes to the constitution will create serious

Vahid Maharramov

problems for Azerbaijani agricultural workers in particular.

Vahid Maharramov claims that in the president’s proposal, there are two major provisions which could prove problematic:

First off, the new provisions claim that private property has


obligations. Though the wording is unclear to lawyers, I think the message is clear: the government will be able to claim that lands allotted to villagers by the State still


to the state and have a social designation. And by extension of that logic, the crops produced on that land are also owned by the State and have a social designation.

In the past, villagers have offered their produce to supply organizations established by the State at a fixed price range defined by the State as well. If villagers object to the prices offered for their crops, the government will be able to accuse villagers of violating ‘social justice.’ Villagers will come under enormous legal pressure.

Moreover, the government will now be able to forcibly raise the level of productivity of agricultural workers. Villagers producing one ton of grain per hectare of land will be told that another villager in another region is producing 5 tons of grain per hectare, and that he or she is not using the land effectively.

And thus, villagers will not be able to disagree with the state – established price tags for their produce, because the government will always be able to respond that someone else, in some other region, has been producing more and using his or her land more effectively, and has thus been able to turn a profit. Those that disagree with this system will be fined or deprived of their land, for a new line in the proposed amendments recommends that agricultural workers that “violate social justice shall be deprived of property rights.”

According to Maharramov, this vicious cycle will result in, at least in legal terms, the transfer of villagers’ lands into the hands of a select few, most likely oligarchs and civil servants: “The government is unable to follow the laws of a market economy, and cannot build a new production system. In this situation, they want to put pressure on villagers and get what they want at any price. This way, the property rights and freedoms of entrepreneurs and villagers will be entirely restricted by the government.”

Maharramov stated that the proposed amendments would result in the reinstatement of feudalism in the country: “Villagers will not be entrepreneurs anymore; they will work as laborers on government officers’ lands. Villagers will be deprived of their small plots, and they will work as ordinary laborers on the lands of oligarchs for small salaries. In this way, 870 thousand families are expected to be deprived of their allotted lands.”

According to the FAO

, more than 1.3 million hectares of land were privatized and distributed to more than 817,000 families across Azerbaijan in 2001 by the State Commission on Agrarian Reform.

The national referendum on the proposed amendments to the constitution will take place on September 26th of 2016.

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