SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Panel - PhD Panel I: Securing Alliances, Projecting Strength in the Middle East and Central Asia

20211512-POL-Making Problems, Policies and National Constitutions: Decolonising United Nations Constitutional Assistance (UNCA) 186 240 56
Speaker 1: Mesrob Kassemdjian (SOAS); Speaker 2: Dr. Mehdi Beyad (SOAS); Speaker 3: Dr. Magsud Mammadov; Discussants: Dr. Avinash Paliwal (SOAS); Dr. Karabekir Akkoyunlu (SOAS)

Date: 26 January 2022Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 26 January 2022Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Room B103 (Brunei Gallery Building)

Type of Event: Presentation

Speaker 1: Mesrob Kassemdjian

Talk Title: Understanding the cooperation between Hamas and Hizbulla

Hamas and Hizbullah are strategic allies which cooperate on basis of mutual pan-Islamic identification, a common policy on Palestine and shared commitment to armed resistance. Islamism provides the groups with an intersubjective bridge that can facilitate greater inter-organisational understanding and foster transnational societal solidarity, however, it is insufficient for long-term cooperation. Put another way, cooperation is not simply a function of identity politics. The liberation of Palestine provides Hamas and Hizbullah with a common cause at the centre of their foreign policy. Their shared policy on Palestine means that the organisations are situationally interdependent, as developments in the material capability of one automatically improves the position of the other in relation to their common asymmetric opponent. Resistance is viewed as the only form of praxis capable of achieving their political goals. Taken together, political Islam, a commitment to the Palestinian Cause and a belief in armed resistance form the common denominator around which Hamas and Hizbullah share a strategic vision of the region.

Mesrob Kassemdjian is a doctoral researcher in the Politics and International Studies department at SOAS, University of London. His thesis is on Understanding the Cooperation between Hamas and Hizbullah.  He works as the Graduate Teaching Assistant for International Relations of the Middle East (IRME) at SOAS since 2019. Fluent in English and Armenian, as well as, learning Arabic.

Speaker 2: Dr. Mehdi Beyad

Talk Title: Visions of the Gulf: The Discourse of Arab-Iranian Rivalry and the Geopolitical Imaginations of Ba’thist Iraq and Pahlavi Iran

This paper explores the ways in which the Iranian and Iraqi states articulated and represented Gulf regional politics from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, a period which saw Gulf politics become localised due to a number of major shifts which empowered local states with greater regional roles and responsibilities.

With the departure of the British, the decision of the US not to directly replace them and the decline of the Egypt-Syria axis in the aftermath of the 1967 War, the hub of West Asian power moved to the Gulf. Amidst this opening, Iran and Iraq, as two key states with strong claims to regional leadership, represented the Gulf’s geopolitics with reference to notions of Arab-Iranian difference and rivalry.

This paper shows that bound up with the geopolitical imaginaries of the two states were notions of belonging, legitimacy, security, ownership and leadership, strongly tied up with domestic politics and considerations.

Beyad Mehdi completed his PhD in International Politics from SOAS in 2020, where he is currently a Senior Teaching Fellow. His thesis, on which this paper is based, looked at Persian Gulf geopolitics and regional transformation from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. He also currently works as a freelance political risk consultant. His current research interests include food sovereignty in international politics, the political economy of the climate crisis, the politics of development, and South-South relations, and he is currently co-organising a research group on global histories of race.

Speaker 3: Dr. Magsud Mammadov

Talk Title: The State Selfie in International Politics: Ontological Insecurity and Nation Branding in Azerbaijan, 2008-2018

In this talk I examine why and how small states use image-making and reputation management as part of their foreign policy. In early 1990s, marketing and communications scholars first introduced nation branding as a tool to enhance countries’ competitiveness in a globalizing world. Shortly after, political science and international relations scholars studied how countries used nation branding for political purposes. I challenge these views by arguing that nation branding can also serve non-material objectives.

I adopt a novel interdisciplinary approach by combining concepts from marketing and communication studies (nation branding), IR (role theory), and social psychology (social identity theory). Through qualitative research, I study the case of Azerbaijan, a small post-Soviet country, to demonstrate how a state engages in nation branding to overcome negative images, stereotypes, and mis(recognition) internationally. The literature often describes the state in anthropomorphic terms, but I identify the agents – government representatives abroad – and examine how they initiated and carried out branding to address their social identity threats.

By studying Azerbaijan’s branding at home and abroad (Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, and the US) between 2008 and 2018, I also examine under-researched aspects of nation branding, i.e. the process of social interaction and how key strategies emerge as a result of such interaction. I use role theory to show the importance of social interaction in the branding process. Moreover, I suggest that through nation branding a state can creatively engage in role-making and alter-casting towards its international counterparts.

I argue that through nation branding small states also have the potential to address their non-material needs, along with material and security interests. By adopting a constructivist approach, I expand on the literature on nation branding and soft power and also contribute to the literature on Azerbaijani studies.

Magsud Mammadov holds a Bachelor’s degree of Arts in Political Science from Texas State University (USA) and a Master’s degree in International Energy Policy/Conflict Resolution from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University (Italy/USA). He has successfully defended his PhD thesis in September 2021 at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (United Kingdom). Mr. Mammadov’s research topics cover nation branding in the post-Soviet Space, ontological security, collective narcissism, identity politics, and small state foreign policy.

Mr. Mammadov’s professional portfolio also includes a variety of positions held at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington DC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, the United Nations Development Program, the US House of Representatives, and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) offices in Baku, Dubai, and Ankara. Currently, Magsud Mammadov is the Director of Business Development and External Relations at the SOCAR Turkey Research and Development and Innovation Co., in Istanbul, Turkey.

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