Autocratic legalism is the weaponization and instrumentalization of the law and the legal system to advance, strengthen, and reinforce authoritarianism and the interests of autocratic leaders and institutions. In this context, autocrats utilize constitutionalism and legal precepts to articulate and justify behavior that egregiously violate basic civil rights, human rights, and due process of the law. It is the “use, abuse, and non-use” of the law in service of the autocratic regime. Autocratic legalism has become the underlying and primary instrument of the Aliyev regime and the institutions of the Azerbaijani state in their justification for their egregious violation of the basic civil and human rights of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Fusing the concept of territorial integrity with the weaponization of autocratic legalism, Baku has sought to qualify the legal and constitutional basis of its state as a blanket rationalization for starving an entire society, thus paving the grounds for a process of genocide. Baku’s rationalization is straightforward: by virtue of having jurisdiction within its internationally recognized territory, it claims it reserves the legal right, per its constitution, to coercively impose its will upon the Armenian population. In essence, the Aliyev regime is weaponizing territorial integrity, as a legal precept, to achieve its autocratic objective: the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s approach is not only a perversion of the concept of territorial integrity, it also makes a mockery of legalism and constitutionalism, in what is known as “constitutional malice.” By utilizing constitutional malice, the Aliyev regime hijacks the law and uses it extra-legally to violate civil, civic and human rights. Conceptually, and empirically, the Aliyev regime’s autocratic legalism is not only specific to the Armenian population, but it has also been used extensively against the Azerbaijani people as well. The clear distinction, of course, is that it is being used against the Armenian people in a genocidal fashion.
Baku’s argument in using autocratic legalism has been three-fold: 1) Nagorno-Karabakh falls within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, and as such, Azerbaijan reserves the right to coercively impose its legal system upon the Armenian population; 2) the laws of the country equally apply to all that fall within the internationally-recognized territory of Azerbaijan, and as such, the Armenian people cannot receive preferential treatment; and 3) any attempts to address the starvation and persecution of the Armenian population, whether by the international community or the Republic of Armenia, qualifies as a violation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. In this context, Azerbaijan puts forth “legal” arguments in its demand for the “integration” of the Armenian population, but when confronted with the autocratic characteristics of its political system, Baku resorts to accusations that its territorial integrity is being violated. Baku’s weaponization of autocratic legalism and territorial integrity is the equivalent of a rapist, while in the act of committing a rape, accusing the police of violating their right to privacy.
By identifying Baku’s policy of autocratic legalism and understanding how it syllogistically connects that to the concept of territorial integrity, the Aliyev regime’s argumentative fallacy becomes exposed. The rapist can no longer claim that their right to privacy supersedes the egregious crime that it is committing: territorial integrity, and the legal abuse of this concept, cannot justify the collective persecution and starvation of an entire people. Understood within this context, Azerbaijan’s legalistic and constitutional claims on demanding the “integration” of the Nagorno-Karabakh population reeks of constitutional malice. It is not only a legally dubious claim, it is also unequivocally self-negating.
Thus, a set of important questions arise that neither the Aliyev regime, nor the blind proponents of the concept of territorial integrity, are able to answer, for they become trapped in the cycle of autocratic legalism and constitutional malice. These questions are not simply rhetorical, but are inherently substantive, based on the established facts and findings of credible international organizations:
- How can a country where civil rights, human rights and due process of the law are nonexistent, and a system where protection of the law is reserved only for the autocratic elite, claim that an ethnic minority, which has been demonized and dehumanized by the said autocratic regime, will be protected?
- When a regime brutalizes its own citizenry, as evidenced by Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, do we not insult our collective intelligence by suggesting that a vulnerable people, and one that’s been systemically vilified by this regime, will not be subjected to even worse brutalization?
- When the Report on Human Rights, by America’s own State Department, states that “Azerbaijani forces engaged in unlawful killings, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of Armenian forces,” and more so, that the Aliyev regime has subjected the Azerbaijani people to “unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals outside the country” and “serious restrictions on free expression and the media, including violence against journalists,” how can there be any honest discussion that the rights and protections of ethnic Armenians will be protected by such a regime?
- How can one of the most despotic regimes in the world, whose human freedom, democracy, regime quality, and corruption rankings are one of the worst in the world, be expected to behave in any other way than the way it has as the preeminent predatory state in the region?
- When the average Azerbaijani citizen does not have minimal civil liberties and constitutional rights, are we not embracing the absurd, and extolling autocratic legalism, when suggesting that the Aliyev regime will give Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh the same rights and privileges that he has given to the Azerbaijani people?
The literature on authoritarianism speaks of a concept qualified as “the Hitler scenario,” where a leader, very much like Ilham Aliyev, instrumentalizing autocratic legalism, rules through faux ideology and suppression, decimating its domestic opposition, engaging in the most extreme violation of rights, and mobilizing the domestic population for a war that “provides cover for genocide and other massive violations of human rights,” the very “reason why the authoritarian wanted power in the first place.” As Aliyev proudly boasted, “the war was the mission of my life, of my political life.” It was, indeed, the very reason why he wanted power in the first place. But this inherited power needed substantiation, so, subscribing to the “Hitler scenario,” he turned to autocratic legalism, through which “the concentration of power is brutal, complete, and completely obvious,” where such “authoritarian leaders reduce those around them to puppets, brook no dissent, and leave no opposition standing,” for the “authoritarian’s signature is the violation of human rights on a mass scale.” This is the Azerbaijan of Ilham Aliyev, sculpted with the suffering of the Azerbaijani people, polished with the blood of Armenians, and built with the tools of autocratic legalism. Why would the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh want to “integrate” into this?
The relationship between absurdity and incoherence is quite intimate — where one suffers from meaning, the other denies meaning. Between the meaningless and the unintelligible, we are introduced to Azerbaijan’s arguments on legality, territorial integrity, and its policy of “integration.” Territorial integrity becomes meaningless when it is enslaved by unintelligible legalism, for it only desires to subjugate and tyrannize. Thomas Jefferson famously stated, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.” The autocratic legalism of the Aliyev regime has reduced the entirety of Azerbaijan into a collection of timid people who suffer the calm of his despotism. The people of Artsakh, however, may be many things, but they are not timid, and if their rights and liberties are not protected, a tempestuous sea awaits the region.
 Hungary, Turkey, and Russia, in the broader scholarship, are qualified as primary examples of regimes that utilize autocratic legalism. Azerbaijan both meets and exceeds the criteria that qualifies these regimes as practitioners of autocratic legalism.
Confronted with concerns over the humanitarian situation in Artsakh at a UN Security Council session, Azerbaijan’s representative held up printouts of Instagram posts to prove Armenians are lying about being methodically starved.Read more
On July 29, Azerbaijani border services kidnapped and detained an elderly man who was being transferred from Artsakh to Armenia by the ICRC for medical treatment. Baku may now target and detain every male in Nagorno-Karabakh, writes Sossi Tatikyan.Read more