The objective of this study is to identify factors determining the performance of natural resource management by local users in a post-Soviet context, using the case of irrigation in Azerbaijan. By examining the activity of six water user associations (WUAs) and assessing the role played by the local environment in their success or failure, this study aims to contribute to a better understanding of constraints on modern irrigation management in a post-Soviet context. The study explores external variables for WUA performance in post-Soviet Azerbaijan. The research draws on theoretical insight from both collective action theory and historical institutionalism. In a first step, I ask the question of “How do water user associations in Azerbaijan perform? Are we looking at a 'story of success' or at a 'story of failure?” In a second step, the main research question - “How do external factors influence the performance of water user associations in Azerbaijan?” - is answered by applying a methodological framework to qualitative interview data generated in expert interviews. The results confirm the findings of previous studies that the post-Soviet context presents particular challenges to participatory irrigation management. Whereas the broader legal and policy environment seems to be favorable for WUA establishment, both formal and informal Soviet legacies can be identified as impeding factors. Old powers still prove to be in place, old paths still seem to play a role, and the emergence of farmer participation is slow and challenged by a number of constraints.