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America is Azerbaijan! — the Caucasus reacts to electoral violence in Washington

8 January 2021

The Caucasus is no stranger to the storming of government buildings. So when supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Building in Washington DC, many had fun at America’s expense. 

In June 2019, anti-government and anti-Russia protesters attempted to enter the Georgian parliament. Unlike in Washington, however, the police pushed back protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

Other recent stormings have been more successful. In January, protesters in Abkhazia stormed the Presidential Administration demanding the results of presidential elections be recognised as unlawful. The supreme court ordered new elections the following day.

In July, Azerbaijani protesters broke into parliament calling for military action against Armenia. 

Protesters in Armenia ransacked parliament in November after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh came to an end.

Armenia: doing Democracy right?

Many in Armenia were quick to compare events in the US to what happened in the Armenian parliament less than two months prior, when protesters angry at the terms of the trilateral agreement that brought an end to the war in Nagorno-Karabakh stormed parliament.

They were not alone in making the connection, Agence France-Presse led with the headline ‘US joins Guatemala, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan in “chaos” club’, while the Washington Post also compared events in Armenia and the US. 

‘Well, for once, Armenia is doing Democracy right’, one user wrote on Twitter, sharing similar photos from Armenian parliament and US Congress. 

Armenian-based Canadian journalist Neil Hauer shared a selfie from the storming of the Armenian parliament, quipping that ‘Once again, America trails behind Armenia (protesters breaking into parliament/congress)’.

Shortly after, the image appeared in an Armenian Telegram channel with around 20,000 followers with the caption ‘the situation in the White House now.’ 

Armenians also recalled US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement in the middle of the war, rephrasing it: ‘We hope Americans will be able to defend themselves against what Americans are doing.’

Armenian–American analyst Richard Giragosian described the attack on the Capitol as a ‘steep and sharp decline of the US’. 

Azerbaijan: will the US fall apart?

In Azerbaijan, social media users also created memes connecting the events in Washington with the war in Nagorno‐Karabakh. 

Russian blogger Semyon Pegov, known as Wargonzo, shared an image he said was made by Azerbaijanis in which he was photoshopped in front of the Capitol. Wargonzo became widely known in the region after posting selfies near the frontline during the war.

One user posted a photo with President Ilham Aliyev edited into the Capitol building proclaiming ‘America is Azerbaijan!’.

On the same theme, another created a fake tweet from Aliyev saying ‘Today, the Azerbaijani army liberated the cities of Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and several villages. Glory to the Azerbaijani army! America is Azerbaijan!’ During the war, Aliyev frequently announced territorial gains on Twitter.

The Azerbaijani media took a more serious tone, with an anchor on the pro-government AzTV reporting that another country was falling apart because they had protests. 

‘America is falling apart.’

Igbal Aghazada, a former MP and chair of the Umid Party, criticised those laughing at events in Washington. 

‘Those who laugh at what is happening in America are those who want to cover up their actions, those who do not want democratic elections, a democratic society, those who oppose democracy. Let’s say that democracy stumbles in America. Why are you happy? It is to the detriment of humanity’, he said in an interview.

Several commentators compared the decline in democracy in the US to the situation in Azerbaijan.

Anar Mammadli, chair of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, labelled the storming of congress a threat to electoral democracy. He blamed polarisation within American society for what happened, something he said President Trump had tried to take advantage of.

‘In fact, Donald Trump’s authoritarian thinking is no different from that of the leaders of Russia, China, Turkey, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan over the years. Only the “checks and balance” system in the United States allows someone like Trump to stay in power for a maximum of 4 years’, he remarked on Facebook.

Opposition politician Azar Gasimli said that the events in America would have a negative impact both on the US and the world. He said that Trump had helped world authoritarianism like no one had done before. 

‘For the world, for us, there must be a lesson that a person can shake a democratic system that has been around for 10 or 100 years. Because democracy is not an ideal system and it must constantly improve itself and be able to reform in time’, Gasimli wrote on Facebook.

The wrong Georgia?

Georgia got a mention early on in proceedings with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen contrasted President Trump’s refusal to concede with the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili just prior to the storming of the building. 

Shaheen recalled travelling with fellow senator Jim Risch to Georgia in 2012 to watch closely the October parliamentary elections she said were ‘free and fair’. 

Senator Jeanne Shaheen speaking on the floor of the Senate. Image via C-Span.

Shaheen recalled the emerging fears that Saakashvili would ‘refuse to give up power’, potentially leading to civil unrest.

‘The president listened to us and he did leave office peacefully’, Shaheen noted.

Shaheen’s reopened the debate in Georgia over the use of force by police in a similar situation in June 2019 to disperse crowds outside Parliament in Tbilisi. 

UNM member Giorgi Baramidze hailed the police restraint in the US while supporters of the government claimed that universal condemnation over events in DC had finally discredited the idea of storming government buildings in Georgia. 

As images from the chaotic scenes started to emerge, many on Twitter shared photos of the mob breaching the Capitol with a visible Georgian national flag waved around. 

‘This guy really just typed “Georgia flag” into Amazon and clicked on the top result’, one Twitter user speculated.

While the reason behind the presence of Georgian flags outside the Capitol remains unclear, the simultaneous runoffs in the US state of Georgia deciding a control over the Senate were also marked by angry protests of Trump supporters.

Confusion between the two Georgias is nothing new, a point one Twitter user capitalised on earlier in the election cycle.

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