27 Oct

Hashtag Shenanigans Again – Karabakh Edition, #azesaboteurs and #saveazehostages

It has been awhile since there has been hashtag shenanigans in the Caucasus. Some of the major hashtag shenanigans players fell out of favor. But this week things heated up again. I started seeing random odd tweets from accounts and upon clicking through it seemed like they were likely fake accounts – brand new, stock photos for the profile picture, few followers. These were usually in response to any criticism of Azerbaijan, but often with regard to Nagorno Karabakh.

This week the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan are meeting with French president François Hollande and last week the German Foreign Minister visited both countries. (John Kerry met with with last month, Putin in late summer, etc. etc.)

But perhaps of greater interest is that this week the authorities in Nagorno Karabakh put two Azerbaijani citizens on trial after they were caught crossing the border (a third was killed). The men say that they were going to visit relatives’ graves. The NK authorities say that the men killed a military officer. Azerbaijani authorities also note that NK has no right to hold a trial because it isn’t a recognized state.  RFERL story ArmeniaNow story Armenian RFERL

The other day I noticed a Twitter hashtag and Facebook group (with 8000+ “attending”) being promoted by the Azerbaijani ruling party’s youth wing. These sort of rallying around the flag issues are always interesting to me and I was a little surprised to see a lot of my oppositionally-minded Facebook and Twitter friends following this hashtag: #SaveAzeHostages. There was even a photo hashtag meme thing happening.


Meanwhile, Armenians created their own hashtag: #AzeSaboteurs.

This quickly turned into a hashtag battle.

It appears as if there are some fake accounts of some sort. For example, look at all these duplicate tweets (red/pink = duplicate).


Users zuma885, oqtay88, raminka10, and maxelmira, for example, have a lot of repeated tweets. And let us look at when these four joined Twitter! (Plus they use stock photos.)

These users showed up in both #SaveAzeHostages and #AzeSaboteurs.


Here’s the network analysis for #Azesaboteurs. It seems like Azerbaijanis may have “taken it over” but not to the extent that we saw in previous hashtags like #armvote13.


But look at #saveazehostages – what an interesting network analysis!


That center is the official Twitter account of the ruling party’s youth wing. Another power player is msabina34 who seems to be most interesting in One Direction. She tweeted on this hashtag over 100 times in one hour! There are also a number of other fake accounts on this hashtag.

It isn’t too hard to buy fake twitter accounts, but I wonder if this is a worthwhile investment? It is so obvious. I guess that the person in charge of this (likely someone at that youth wing) wants to show that s/he is a really dedicated member?

As a side note:

But this went beyond hashtag shenanigans and turned into a DDoS war. Here’s a report on what Azerbaijani websites Armenians took down. I don’t have any reports from Azerbaijanis.

08 Oct

Caucasian attitudes toward joining international organizations

There is so much discussion about Armenia’s possible membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. Today I was in the 2013 Caucasus Barometer for other reasons and noticed that the EEU came up in a question. I’ve also posted the results for EU and NATO.




I’m a little annoyed that EEU wasn’t asked about in Azerbaijan. This is sort of a proxy question for attitude toward Russia.

04 Oct

Do Sanctions Work Against Authoritarian Regimes?

Recently former Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich and Freedom House head David J. Kramer published an article calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan. And while I agree that more drastic and creative measures must be taken, I am not sure that experience shows that sanctions are an effective tool against an authoritarian regime.

Now, you may wonder if I have a better idea. I don’t. But I do know that “annoying” the regime in Azerbaijan does not seem to “help” any citizens. And I know how to review literature. So here it is. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but in my review of the literature, this is what I’ve found. If you don’t have access to these articles and want it, please let me know.

This is a great summary of the work on targeted sanctions, by the way.


“Because personalist regimes and monarchies are more sensitive to the loss of external sources of revenue (such as foreign aid and taxes on trade) to fund patronage, rulers in these regimes are more likely to be destabilized by [economic] sanctions than leaders in other types of regimes. In contrast, when dominant single-party and military regimes are subject to sanctions, they increase their tax revenues and reallocate their expenditures to increase their levels of cooptation and repression.” [Article]

I’d probably argue that Azerbaijan is more personalist (with an emphasis on patronage) than single-party/military, so there’s a point in favor of sanctions.

I couldn’t find any other articles that said that sanctions work.


““With very few exceptions and under highly unusual sets of circumstances, economic sanctions have historically proven to be an ineffective means to achieve foreign-policy objectives.” [Article]

Oh. Crap.

“Single-party regimes, when targeted by sanctions, increase spending on subsidies and transfers which largely benefit their key constituencies. Likewise, military regimes increase their expenditures on goods and services, which include military equipment and soldiers’ and officers’ wages. Conversely, personalist regimes targeted by sanctions reduce spending in all categories and thus increase repression more than other autocracies.” [Article]

Increase repression? Oh no! This isn’t looking good.

“We argue that economic sanctions worsen the level of democracy because the economic hardship caused by sanctions can be used as a strategic tool by the targeted regime to consolidate authoritarian rule and weaken the opposition.” [Article]

This is possible in Azerbaijan.

“Most significantly, sanctions strengthen nondemocratic rule if the regime manages to incorporate their existence into its legitimation strategy. Such a rally-round-the-flag effect occurs most often in cases where comprehensive sanctions targeting the entire population are imposed on regimes that enjoy strong claims to legitimacy and have only limited linkages to the sanction sender.” [Article] [Article]

Damn – more evidence that sanctions strengthen authoritarian rule. This isn’t looking good.

“Leaders targeted with economic sanctions or the threat thereof face systematically lower risks of losing office through a mechanism indicative of failure than do those who have not been “punished” by another state or the international community.” [Article]

So sanctions may help a leader stay in power?

“Autocratic regimes lower the supply of public goods to reduce private-sector productivity and hence the resources of potential challengers. As a result, sanctions-induced challenges become less likely and the sanctions episode may end in failure.” [Article]

The leader will just make sure that people don’t feel the hit from sanctions – this is entirely doable in Azerbaijan. They have a lot of money.

“While agreeing that authoritarians are indeed more robust to sanctions at most times, this article argues that there exist “windows of opportunity,” created by domestic instability, which make dictatorships particularly vulnerable to sanctions pressures.” [Article]

Sanctions only work in windows of domestic instability – and Azerbaijan rarely sees that. So this doesn’t bode well for sanctions.

“Sanctions can have a devastating impact on both the target country’s economic and political stability, and women often suffer significantly from the effects of such external shocks due to their vulnerable socioeconomic and political status. We thus argue that foreign economic pressures will reduce the level of respect for women’s rights in the targeted countries.” [Article]

Uh oh – economic sanctions can hurt women. Azerbaijani women are already doing pretty poorly. But in this model, economic and political stability must be impacted first, so because of the lack of a direct effect, maybe we shouldn’t be too worried about this.

I really enjoyed the original article and I am happy to hear some creative ideas about Azerbaijan, but the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that sanctions, even targeted ones, don’t make a big difference in the lives of everyday citizens and may even hurt people more.