In case you puzzled why Trump happened — why the country just voted for a populist leader who campaigned on targeting “the corporate lobbyists and elite,” basing a large amount of his platform on “ridding Washington of corruption,” here is an interesting story for you to consider:
Early last week, top U.S. peace negotiator in Caucasus, whose mandate includes working with local leaders to seek a long term peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, announced on his Twitter account that he will “step down on December 31,” to become… “a partner in Russia’s largest and most prestigious law firm.”
No, you didn’t hear me wrong.
Ambassador James Warlick, a career U.S. diplomat with more than three decades of experience, who has spent his last three years representing the U.S. as a peacemaker in the Caucasus, will join a leading Russian law firm thought to be associated with the main troublemaker — Vladimir Putin.
BAKU. November 28, 2016 (RFE/RL): :Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has arrived in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, for a two-day visit.
Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Yaqub Eyyubov and Deputy Foreign Minister Xalaf Xalafov met Lukashenka at the Baku airport on November 28.
Lukashenka's press service said earlier that the Belarusian president will hold talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, and Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade focusing on bilateral economic and trade ties.
According to the press service, several agreements were expected to be signed at the end of Lukashenka's visit. -0-
WASHINGTON. November 22, 2016 (RFE/RL): U.S Ambassador James Warlick says he will step down on December 31 as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group mediating talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
"I will be a partner in Russia's largest and most prestigious law firm," Warlick said on Twitter on November 21.
Warlick has worked for the U.S. State Department for more than 30 years.
Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners said he will join the company's team in Washington in January.
"He will be responsible for working with U.S. and international clients, development of strategic client relationships, legislation, and public policy," a statement said.
STRASBOURG. November 21, 2016 (Enpi-info.eu): The EU has called for Azerbaijan to release opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, saying that it must uphold its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and to meet its commitments taken under the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU stated that the negative ruling by the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on an appeal from Mammadov runs counter to the 2014 judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on his case.
“The European Union has been following Mr. Mammadov's case closely and was present for yesterday's court proceedings, together with other international observers. The EU has raised this case at every opportunity, such as during the visit of the High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini, to Baku on 29 February and as part of recent positive discussions with Azerbaijan on Justice, Freedom, Security, Human Rights and Democracy, which resumed on 12-13 October 2016”, the EU statement said. -0-
WASHINGTON. November 7, 2016: A lobbyist connection between Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Azerbaijan could create the appearance of a conflict of interest, if the democratic nominee wins the US general election on November 8.
For the past seven years, the Podesta Group, a high-powered Washington lobbying firm, has handled networking and image-building for Azerbaijan’s embassy in the United States. Azerbaijan ranks alongside Tajikistan as the third worst rights abuser in the former Soviet Union, behind Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to the watchdog group Freedom House.
The Podesta Group’s chief executive officer is 73-year-old Tony Podesta, who has acted as a major fundraiser for the Clinton campaign. In addition, Podesta’s 67-year-old brother, John, serves as Clinton’s campaign chairman, and previously served as former president Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.
John Podesta co-founded the firm, but has not been directly involved in the Podesta Group since 1993. As Clinton’s campaign chairman and, potentially, a future official or adviser in a Clinton administration, he could potentially be of help in enabling Azerbaijani officials, via the Podesta Group, to gain access to White House officials, some human rights activists worry.
November 2, 2016: Below is the final speech of the imprisoned Azerbaijani pro-democracy activist Giyas Ibrahimov which he gave during his trial on October 25, 2016. Giyas Ibrahimov was arrested on trumped-up drug possession charges after he painted anti-regime graffiti on the statue of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan and the father of the incumbent president of Azerbaijan. Despite the insistence of the judge of the local Azerbaijani court, Giyas Ibrahimov refused to defend himself against the fabricated drug charges and delivered a political speech instead. The prosecutor demanded a nine-year sentence for Giyas Ibrahimov. Anvar Seyidov, presiding judge, made it a ten-year sentence to show his extra loyalty to the Aliyev regime. Below is the translation of the full text of Giyas Ibrahimov's final speech at his trial:
Translated from Azeri by Khadija Ismayil
I prepared a speech, but my written documents were confiscated.
I am not going to defend myself with regard to the charges brought against me. The crime I committed is as white as the graffiti spray I used. The real reason why I am here is that I as a young student dared to protest against lies of political system and nihilist mind existing in this state, the country that I belong to.
I didn’t break any written law. In written laws, my deeds are not described as a crime. What I broke is the non-written rules of the system.
Both Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov have been identified through the CCTV cameras near the monument but arrested on trumped-up narcotics possession charges. Bayram Mammadov’s trial is still going on, while the local court already announced the verdict on Giyas Ibrahimov.
The local observers noted that the prosecutor actually demanded a nine-year sentence for Ibrahimov, whereas the presiding judge Anvar Seyidov, obviously trying to show his loyalty to the president Ilham Aliyev, added one more year to Giyas Ibrahimov’s sentence given that the youth activist’s “crime” was insulting the president’s father’s statue. Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev inherited power from his father Heydar in 2003. This year President Ilham Aliyev initiated a referendum and changed the country’s constitution, lifting the age limit to become a president, as many local observers have pointed out, so that his son Heydar junior could one day replace him as the president of Azerbaijan.
After the prison sentence was announced Giyas Ibrahimov’s mother Shura Ibrahimova said: “I am not going to cry!” She also said “Ilham Aliyev stole 10 years from my son’s life in order to make his son the president,” referring to the constitutional referendum Ilham Aliyev had initiated.
NEW YORK. October 26, 2016: Today, an Azerbaijani court handed down a ten-year prison sentence to a 22-year-old activist, who is part of a pro-democracy youth group. Giyas Ibrahimov was detained for spraying graffiti on a statue of a former president. However, he was convicted on serious drugs charges. He had confessed to those charges after police had tortured him to do so – just another example of how Azerbaijan fabricates charges against youth activists to intimidate them and deter others.
Police detained Ibrahimov together with 21-year-old Bayram Mammadov last May. They had both been identified on CCTV footage as having painted graffiti on a statue of former president Heydar Aliyev, father of the current president. The graffiti said: “Happy Slave Day” in Azeri, a play on words for “Happy Flower Day.” Azerbaijan has celebrated Flower Day, also Heydar Aliyev’s birthday, since 2009. Both men are students and members of NIDA, Azeri for exclamation mark, a youth opposition movement active on social media that is highly critical of the government.
WASHINGTON. October 22, 2016 (Turan): Top U.S. and European analysts on global kleptocracy and money laundering challenges debate over how to stop Azerbaijan's dirty cash entering the western capitals and threatening their political, economic interests.
"Do we think it is okay when the kleptocratic states like Azerbaijan, access our political institutions and lobby here in a same way as our allies can?" asked British journalist Ben Judah, the author of a new report called "The Kleptocracy Curse: Rethinking Containment," at a panel organized by Hudson Institute in Washington. D.C.
The report explains how kleptocracy became a pervasive global threat to democracies and their national securities.
"We think globalization has been working in the West's favor. In fact, it has been hijacked by kleptocratic regimes," Judah told TURAN's Washington correspondent. "Unless we contain kleptocracy, our democratic institutions will be taken over - look at Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe [CoE]."
According to the report, Azerbaijan was admitted to the CoE in 2000 in the hope that membership could transform its political culture - instead, it has transformed the Council of Europe in its very image.
"A kleptocratic takeover has not paralyzed the Council’s ability to criticize Azerbaijan but manipulated this venerable institutions’ official bodies into denying the existence of political prisoners, systematic ballot fraud, and entrenched autocracy in the country."
BERLIN. October 20, 2016 (HRW.org): The Azerbaijani government has renewed its vicious crackdown on critics and independent groups, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The European Union and international financial institutions have a rare opportunity to insist on human rights reforms, as Azerbaijan actively seeks financial and other partnerships to offset a recent economic downturn.
The 75-page report, “Harassed, Imprisoned, Exiled: Azerbaijan’s Continuing Crackdown on Government Critics, Lawyers, and Civil Society,” documents the government’s concerted efforts to undermine civil society. Human Rights Watch found that in 2016, the authorities used false, politically motivated criminal and administrative charges to prosecute political activists, journalists, and others. The government has built a restrictive legal and policy framework to paralyze the work of independent groups. Lawyers willing to defend critics have faced retaliation and disbarment. Although the authorities released several human rights defenders and others in early 2016, many others remain in prison or fled into exile.
“With the release of some wrongfully imprisoned activists earlier this year, there were high hopes that Azerbaijan was turning a corner,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “But optimism is fading fast as the government relentlessly pursues critics and tries to shut down independent groups.”
BAKU. October 17, 2016 (Turan): Working Group of Civil Society of Azerbaijan released a new single list of political prisoners including 94 people. Among them, 6 journalists and bloggers, two publicists, a human rights activist, 5 youth activists, members of political parties 5, practicing religious followers 61 and three life convicts.
In general, the list of 139 persons concerned; 45 of them are identified as potential political prisoners and are included in "being monitored".
The Working Party stresses that in fact the number of political prisoners is significantly more.
"However, the reaction media in the country causes many to refrain from publicizing their cases. Another problem is not legal awareness, lack of lawyers. The situation is especially bad in regions, where there are no mechanisms to protect human rights," stated in the report of the Working Group.
BAKU. October 4, 2016 (RFE/RL): Pope Francis has led a Mass in Azerbaijan's capital and held talks with the country's leader, as he continues a swing through the Caucasus preaching tolerance and peace.
Upon his arrival at Baku's airport on October 2, Francis celebrated Mass in the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"You are a little flock that is so precious in God's eyes," Francis told the more than 800 people who followed the Mass inside the church and outside in the courtyard.
Azerbaijan has fewer than 300 Catholics in its predominantly Shi'ite Muslim population.
The pontiff later met with longtime President Ilham Aliyev, who called the visit "historic."
"Your visit to Azerbaijan is very important for relations between Azerbaijan and the Vatican, including the dialogue between civilizations," Aliyev said.
"People of all religions live in Azerbaijan in an atmosphere of friendship, as one family," he added.
BAKU. September 28, 2016: The Azerbaijani opposition National Council of Democratic Forces issued a statement refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the recent constitutional referendum increasing the powers of the incumbent Azeri president Ilham Ailyev. Below is the statement of the National Council:
A referendum vote on proposed constitutional amendments took place on September 26. In spite of the National Election Commission’s declaration that the turnout was close to 70%, objective observations demonstrate clearly that the Azerbaijani citizens effectively boycotted this referendum. The information obtained by the National Council from various polling centers show that the turnout was extremely low. Less than 10 % of voters took part at referendum. Even the always prevalent carousel method, whereby the special groups of people funded by budgetary organizations, move from one polling center to another voting several times at different locations, could not increase the turnout. Across all polling centers, ballot boxes were stuffed with bundles of vote bulletins.
BAKU. September 28, 2016: Opposition Musavat party has released a preliminary report about the recent constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan increasing the incumbent president's powers. The report details the law violations which undermine the legitimacy of the referendum. Below is the full text of the report:
Musavat Party Central Election Headquarters considers that, the 26 September 2016 referendum was held in the atmosphere of absence of explanation of essence, necessity of suggested amendments and changes by the initiators of the draft without presenting it to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for its opinion, lack of free political competition, equal campaigning and observation opportunities, absence of legislation meeting international standards.
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe stated its preliminary opinion with regards to proposal of the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a referendum and in connection with the issues raised at the referendum.
The preliminary opinion underlines the demonstrations of the Azerbaijani opposition against anti-democratic amendments and its position on reactionary amendments and changes proposed to the referendum.
STRASBOURG. September 21, 2016 (Venice.coe.int): Constitutional modifications proposed for vote in a referendum in Azerbaijan next Sunday 26 September 2016 are assessed negatively and “at odds with European constitutional heritage” by the Venice Commission in its Preliminary Opinion made public today (Click here for the full report).
The draft modifications concern 29 provisions of the Constitution and concern:
• a number of human rights provisions;
• additional powers of the President, his term of office and introduction of the figure of (appointed) Vice-President.
The opinion criticises the procedure of adoption of the reform, in particular the lack of clarity of the rules set in the Constitution for passing such modifications, the facts that the Parliament was not formally involved in the process, and that the time for public discussions about the reform was insufficient.
As to the modifications of human rights provisions, some of them are generally positive. In particular, the constitutionalisation of the principle of proportionality is welcome, although the proportionality should be checked against the state’s legitimate aims and not expected results. That being said, the proposed limitation clauses raise concerns as regards the freedoms of assembly, association and speech – all limitations in this sphere should be interpreted in the light of the principles derived from the ECtHR case-law.
Shahin Aliyev, the head of the legal department in Azerbaijan's presidential administration, said the negative opinions by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission were "hasty" and "unfounded."
The Venice Commission said on September 21 that many draft proposals by Baku's government would severely upset the balance of power and give "unprecedented" control to the president.
For example, the extension of the presidential mandate from five to seven years "cannot be justified" given the already very strong position of the president, the commission said.
Aliyev said in a briefing in Baku on September 21 that "we view that hasty conclusion [by the Venice Commission], which has many flaws, as politically driven. They speak to us in a language of ultimatums."
BAKU. September 19, 2016 (RFE/RL): Yesterday, September 18, hundreds of supporters of an Azerbaijani opposition party rallied in the capital, demonstrating against a referendum later this month that seeks to strengthen President Ilham Aliyev’s authority.
Baku city police reported no major problems with the September 18 rally by the Musavat party, which ended after about two hours.
"Azerbaijan now finds itself in a crisis situation due to the incorrect policies of the Aliyev regime. We urgently need reforms in the country," Arif Gadzhili, a top party leader, told the crowd holding Azerbaijani flags and photographs of people believed to be political prisoners.
"However, the Aliyev regime, which has concentrated power in one hand, is conducting policies that are aimed at putting yet more power in that hand," he added.
The rally had been authorized by government officials.
The September 26 referendum has generated sharp criticism from Azerbaijan's beleaguered opposition, as well as civil society activists, journalists, and others.
BAKU. September 16, 2016: Some call it the Paris of the Caspian; others purr that it is the caviar-producing region’s Dubai. But on the weekend of June 18th and 19th the comparisons were with Monaco. Baku’s first-ever Formula 1 race took place on a 6km (4-mile) street circuit in the heart of Azerbaijan’s capital. On the longest straight, cars screamed up to 354kph (220mph), whooshing past the imposing, Stalin-era Government House and a marble-paved waterfront promenade. The circuit also incorporated fiendishly tight chicanes in a section that winds picturesquely around the walls of Baku’s UNESCO-protected old town.
The juxtaposition of medieval and modern architecture – the latter itself a mix of communist kitsch and modernist, skyscraping hotels and office blocks, built on hydrocarbon wealth – was stunning. “Wow! It’s all either centuries old or ten minutes old,” enthused a team official. Draped over the side of one of Baku’s half-dozen five-star hotels was a giant banner announcing that “The speed is higher in the land of fire” (as Azerbaijan is known because, some say, of its flaming surface-oil deposits). At night the façades of Baku’s tallest skyscrapers (above) were turned into giant LED-display screens showing figures waving chequered flags. Adding to the sense of unreality were the hundreds of purple-sprayed London taxis on the streets.
The race, truth be told, wasn’t terribly exciting. Having bagged pole position, Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes team led comfortably throughout. It lacked the sense of spectacle of Grand Prix extravaganzas held in Europe and Asia, which can attract crowds of more than 200,000. The children dressed as FI drivers, who paraded past the paddock during the opening ceremony, were waving to largely empty stands. There were plenty of unoccupied seats on the main grandstand. The FI “village” of shops, bars and cafés was often eerily quiet. There were 25,000 paying customers over the three days of practice, qualifying and racing. Azerbaijan may be oil-rich, but the wealth is unevenly spread: few of its 9m people could afford tickets, even when offered a 40% discount. Foreigners came only in dribs and drabs. The event’s boosters say it was Baku’s first shot at hosting; give it time. “Your first Grand Prix is always a prototype,” says Arif Rahimov, the chief race organiser (and son of Azerbaijan’s sports minister).
WASHINGTON. September 16, 2016 (CSCE.gov): In a recent letter to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed deep concern about the country’s September 26 constitutional referendum, which proposes changes that would undermine Azerbaijan’s international obligations to protect democracy. The bipartisan letter urging President Aliyev to reconsider holding the referendum and to live up to his government’s commitment to human rights was also signed by Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) and Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28).
“By lengthening presidential terms and expanding presidential authorities, the proposed constitutional changes are susceptible to abuse that would entrench political authority, making it less responsive to the will of the Azerbaijani people,” the Members of Congress wrote. “We are especially troubled by amendments that would restrict fundamental rights that are vital to open public debate and government accountability.”
Proposed changes to Azerbaijan’s constitution include extending the presidential term from five to seven years; removing the age limits for holding elected office; providing immunity for vice presidents; allowing the president to dissolve the national assembly and call early elections; and reorganizing the presidential line of succession.
BAKU. September 11, 2016: The opposition National Council of Democraatic Forces of Azerbaijan held a protest rally today. The opposition protesters chanted slogans against the scheduled referendum to increase the powers of the incumbent president of Azerbaijan. The referendum to change the constitution of Azerbaijan is scheduled for September 26, 2016 (Azeri Report).
BAKU. September 11, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani authorities have released an opposition activist from jail, just weeks after his detention prompted international criticism in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
Colleagues of Natig Jafarli, of the Republican Alternative Movement, said he was released from a Baku jail on September 9. The head of the Republican movement, Ilqar Mammadov, remains in prison.
Jafarli was arrested on August 12, charged with “illegal entrepreneurship” and other charges that prosecutors said stemmed from a grant the Republican movement received from the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, the National Democratic Institute.
BAKU. September 8, 2016 (Eurasianet.org): Just a few months ago, authorities in Azerbaijan spent tens of millions of dollars on hosting a Grand Prix auto race, which critics derided as a vanity project that satisfied the leadership’s craving for international attention, but did not produce any tangible benefits for the general population. Now, there are several indicators that government finances are tight and Azerbaijan’s economy could spin out.
The clearest sign of Azerbaijan’s fiscal vulnerability is the late-August move by commercial banks to suspend the sale of foreign currency, specifically US dollars. In the weeks leading up to the suspension, demand for dollars spiked, thus causing the Azerbaijani currency, the manat, to slide.
The manat’s summer woes fuelled fears that the government would carry out the third devaluation of the national currency since the winter of 2015. In September 2014, the manat traded at 0.78 to the US dollar. The rate on September 7, 2016, was 1.66 per dollar. The Central Bank in late August, prior to the suspension of foreign currency sales, characterized devaluation fears as “groundless.”
BAKU. September 7, 2016: On September 5, the Azerbaijani opposition party Musavat issued a progress report on the campaign for referendum on the constitutional amendments proposed by the Azerbaijani government, reports the Turan News Agency . The document reflects the law violations from the date of the announcement of the referendum on July 26 until August 31 this year. The constitutional referendum is pushed by the Azerbaijani government to extend the presidency term from five to seven years and also increase the executive powers of the Azerbaijani government.
According to the report issued by Musavat, the Azerbaijani government has not yet provided any detailed explanation to the Azerbaijani people about the essence of the referendum. The draft amendment was not submitted to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for evaluation. The authorities did not organize any public discussions on TV. In fact, no public debate has been held to discuss the upcoming referendum on the constitutional changes.
The only campaign group “Republic” was established by the opposition, but the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan refused to register it violating yet another election/referendum law. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal from the decision of the Central Election Commission. Thus, the attempt to have a public eye on the referendum process has effectively been prevented by the Azerbaijani government.
BAKU. September 6, 2016: The Turan News Agency reports that the Nasimi District Court of Baku rejected the appeal for bail filed on behalf of Natig Jafarli, one of the leaders of the opposition REAL movement imprisoned on trumped up charges. Natig Jafarli is accused of receiving grants for his nonprofit organization from international organizations in violation of the Azerbaijani laws.
Jafarli was arrested on August 12 this year. The next day the local court put him in pretrial custody for four months.
Investigation Department for Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor's Office brought charges against him under the Articles 192.1 (illegal entrepreneurship) and 308.2 (abuse of power, resulting in serious consequences) of the Criminal Code.
PARIS. August 24, 2016 (RSF.org): Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrest of Faiq Amirov, the financial director of the leading opposition daily Azadlig, and calls for the withdrawal of the ludicrous charges brought against him. Amirov, who is also an adviser to the head of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested on 20 August and was charged two days later with “inciting religious hatred” and “violating the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rites. ”The authorities, who have ordered him held provisionally for three months, absurdly claim that he is an “imam” in the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish cleric now regarded by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the leading threat to his government. The claim is based on the alleged discovery of books about the Gülen Movement’s philosophy in the trunk of Amirov’s car at the time of his arrest. The allegation has been greeted with widespread incredulity and well-known independent journalist Khadija Ismayilovacommented: “They used to plant arms and drugs to frame critics, but now they have upgraded to planting books.
PRAGUE. August 22, 2016: Having failed to persuade key defendants in the so-called “Nardaran trial” to implicate Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) Chairman Ali Karimli in an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to incite mass disturbances with a view to seizing power, the Azerbaijani authorities have now changed tack. Over the past several days, four PFPA activists have been apprehended on a variety of charges; one of them is accused of being a follower of exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the botched coup attempt last month.
According to Azerbaijani presidential administration deputy head Novruz Mamedov, several Azerbaijani opposition parties have links to Gulen’s Hizmet movement. He warned that all its supporters in Azerbaijan will be identified.
The PFPA , together with the Musavat Party, is one of Azerbaijan’s longest-established opposition parties -- it is the successor organization of the Azerbaijani Popular Front established in 1989 -- and one of very few ever to have won parliamentary representation. Karimli, 50, who has served as party chairman since 2000, was elected to parliament in 1995 and 2000.
Karimli has for years been denied a passport for travel abroad, and the Justice Ministry declined late last year to recognize as legal his reelection as PFPA chairman.
OSLO. August 17, 2016 (HumanRightsHouse.org): Several Azerbaijani activists including; Natig Jafarli, Elshan Gasimov, Togrul Ismayiıov, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, and Elgiz Qahreman have been arrested in the run up to a national referendum on expanding presidential powers. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) calls for the authorities in Azerbaijan to cease intimidating opposition and dissent during the referendum period. Additionally, we encourage the Council of Europe to hold Azerbaijan to its standards by guaranteeing the right to participate in public life during the referendum period, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
The proposed amendments would prolong the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the posts of first vice president and vice president. Other proposed changes are related to restrictions in the right to freedom of assembly, which would be contingent on "public order and morality"; and the right to property, which could be restricted in the interests of "social justice and effective land use.” In addition, Azerbaijani citizenship could be withdrawn "in accordance with the law." The referendum will be held on 26 September 2016.
“Everyone should be allowed to freely and safely express their opinion during a campaign – the right to participate in public life includes disagreeing with the government’s proposal. A popular referendum, in particular, should be an opportunity for true public debate on the future of the State’s institutions. Instead, we fear that we are now seeing the beginning of a new wave in the crackdown on civil society and opposition in direct relation to the referendum.” commented Ane Bonde, HRHF’s Regional Manager, Eastern Europe and Caucasus.
BAKU. August 15, 2016: Attorney General's Office o Azerbaijan made a statement to the local press explaining the charges against the recently arrested opposition activist Natig Jafarli. Natig Jafarli, executive secretary of the opposition REAL Movement, has been arrested on August 12 this year. The local court in Baku quickly sentenced him to four months of pretrial detention under the charge of illegal entrepreneurship. Today, the Attorney General's Office disclosed that the basis for Natig Jafarli's arrest was his receiving a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US based nonprofit organization funded by the US Congress, in the amount of $94,565, reported the Turan News Agency. The Attorney General's Office stated that Natig Jafarli received the NED grant without proper registration of his local nonprofit organization and that "the grant has been obtained for the purpose of receiving personal benefits and with the help of Ilgar Mamedov, the leader of REAL." The National Endowment for Democracy has not yet issued a statement clarifying its position regarding Natig Jafarli's arrest and the charges related to the NED grant to Natig Jafarli's organization (Azeri Report).
BAKU. August 10, 2016: The presidents of Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan met in Baku this week, for the first time in this trilateral format, part of a week of heavy diplomatic activity that highlighted the shifting international relations around the South Caucasus.
The Baku meeting took place on Monday, and was taken on the initiative of Azerbaijan. The top agenda item was a railroad project that could connect Russia and Eastern Europe to the Persian Gulf.
That project would bring not only economic benefits to the three countries, but could be a geostrategic boon for Azerbaijan, as well, said Zaur Shiriyev, a Baku-based political analyst. He noted that this project would compete with another Russia-initiated North-South railroad project, that would go from Russia through Abkhazia, Georgia, and Armenia.
BAKU. August 8, 2016 (RFE/RL): Russian President Vladimir Putin says he's eager to discuss new energy and transportation projects in the Caspian Sea region with his counterparts from Azerbaijan and Iran.
Putin held separate talks on August 8 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Hassan Rohani before all three leaders get together in Baku later.
Putin told Aliyev that the trilateral talks would allow the three countries to implement new projects in the Caspian Sea, including in the energy and transport sectors.
At a separate meeting with Rohani, Putin expressed satisfaction with developments of bilateral economic ties between Moscow and Tehran.
An EU-backed energy project that foresees the construction of a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey is likely to shower Baku’s repressive leadership with new income.
The recent coup attempt in Turkey has raised concerns that political instability in the increasingly authoritarian country could jeopardize strategic energy projects including the Southern Gas Corridor, a European Union (EU) plan to import natural gas from the Caspian Sea region. However, repressive conditions in Azerbaijan are also cause for alarm. Given that past growth in Azerbaijan’s energy sector has fueled government corruption and related crackdowns on civil liberties, a boost in revenue and international status from the new pipeline route could worsen the country’s already tarnished human rights record—and thereby imperil its long-term reliability as a supplier.
Even as it nurtures an opaque business environment and starves the non-oil sector of growth and healthy investment, Azerbaijan’s energy wealth has enabled the corrupt leadership to entrench itself in power by tightening control over the media and other institutions.
Civil society groups have tracked the country’s authoritarian drift for many years, pointing to evidence of election rigging, arbitrary detentions, and violence against the opposition. But prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova recently argued that matters grew steadily worse because the Azerbaijani government did not “encounter much criticism from democratic countries.” For example, President George W. Bush spoke of Azerbaijan as “a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens, that understands that democracy is the wave of the future.” In 2010, Hillary Clinton highlighted restrictions on civil society, but insisted, “We believe that there has been a tremendous amount of progress in Azerbaijan.”
Repression has escalated sharply over the past three years.
BAKU. July 21, 2016 (RFE/RL): A private Azerbaijani television station has been taken off the air and accused of damaging Baku's "strategic" links with Turkey after announcing it would broadcast an interview with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey's government blames Gulen for orchestrating last weekend's failed military coup, in which hundreds died and more than 1,500 more were injured when troops tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) on July 18 announced on its website that it was temporarily suspending the operations of private-owned ANS television while also filing legal action to revoke the station's license.
"To avert provocations aimed at disrupting strategic relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and to prevent overt terrorist propaganda … it has been decided to suspend the operations of ANS television channel for one month," said a July 18 statement posted on the council's website.
BAKU. July 21, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijan's government has taken over a private university widely linked with controversial Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, and put it under the control of a school owned by the state oil company. Students at the Qafqaz University in Baku were left wondering what was happening to their institution. -0-
BAKU. July 13, 2016: Some Azerbaijani activists claim that international rights watchdogs, such as Amnesty International, have created a two-tier system for political prisoners that effectively hinders less prominent government critics’ chances for release from prison. “We see they are interested in the cases of star political prisoners,” commented attorney Yalchin Imanov, who represents jailed Azerbaijani Islamic Party Chairperson Movsum Samadov and opposition parliamentarian Asif Yusifli, among other imprisoned government critics. “As a result,” he charged, “except for very few cases, the majority of illegal arrests, cases of unfairly punished people are overlooked; especially, opposition parties’ members and religious activists are being forgotten by international organizations.” The London-based Amnesty International, which compiles what many Azerbaijanis see as the most important list of alleged victims of judicial abuses, lists only 14 prisoners of conscience for Azerbaijan: bloggers and social-media activists Abdul Abilov and Elvin Karimov; blogger Rashad Ramazanov; opposition journalist Seymur Haziyev; opposition politicians Fuad Gahramanli, Faraj Karimov and Ilgar Mammadov; opposition youth activists Elvin Abdullayev and Murad Adlilov; political activist Ilkin Rustamzade; Rovshan Zahidov and Rufat Zahidov, relatives of an opposition journalist; and leftist activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, jailed for spraying graffiti on a statue of the late President Heydar Aliyev.
WASHINGTON. July 6, 2016: It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.
Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.
By denying space for moderate political voices that offer possible alternatives to existing policies and leaders, kleptocracies open the way for extremists. Altay Goyushov, an Azerbaijani scholar and a former Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, has observed that by repressing peaceful activists and reformers in Azerbaijan, the kleptocratic regime in Baku “argues that it is taking steps to ensure stability. They have this exactly wrong. By eliminating moderate voices in society, Azerbaijan’s leaders set the stage for an anti-Western environment that will serve as a breeding ground for extremists, who pose a grave security threat to both the region and the West.”
WASHINGTON. June 24, 2016 (Turan): Amid oil price slump Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has recently decided to limit its operations in the US, TURAN's Washington correspondent A. Raufoglu was informed by several sources knowledgeable on the matter.
SOCAR, once a lavish spender on just about anything from bizarre lobbying projects to sponsoring international contests, has already closed its several offices abroad such as the ones in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as the company announced in May.
The American subsidiary of SOCAR has been updating its website until recently, albeit its staffers haven't been seen around during the past few months. A surprise sign appeared in front of SOCAR's DuPont Circle office building early this week and reads "Office space for lease" referring to a real estate company called "Summit."
The company confirmed its involvement in leasing out SOCAR's building apartments without providing any further details when reached over the phone.
SOCAR America purchased a 23,000-square-foot historic building in DuPont Circle in 2012. The mansion located on 18th street NW, previously served as home for Freedom House, a human rights watchdog that lists Azerbaijan among the word’s top “not free” countries.
By Charles Recknagel and Arzu Geybullayeva, RFE/RL
BAKU. June 17, 2016: No matter who wins the Formula One Grand Prix in Baku this weekend, Vahid Veliyev stands to make some money: He is renting out his balcony, which overlooks the course of the first-ever F1 race to be held in Azerbaijan.
The asking price: $200 a day, with a discount if a spectator leases the small outdoor space for all three days of the June 17-19 event.
"That will include a table on the balcony, as well as tea with sweets," says Veliyev, who put an ad in the paper after the government urged Baku residents with balconies to rent them out for the race.
The chance to earn extra income from a balcony overlooking the circuit is one of the few ways any of the city's residents stand to benefit from Baku's latest effort to become a global sports and entertainment center. The event, which culminates with the Grand Prix race on June 19, is taking place as the country's economy has slowed to a crawl due to the low price of oil, the main source of revenue.
BAKU. June 14, 2016 (FreedomHouse.org):The government of Azerbaijan released investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from prison on May 25—583 days after she was jailed on trumped-up charges. She remains confined to Baku, the capital, but has resumed her reporting on corruption involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev. She spoke with Freedom House by telephone.
Freedom House: Why do you think the authorities targeted you for arrest?
Ismayilova: The government wanted to arrest me because it wanted to silence me, to stop my investigations. They wanted to prevent me from advocating for human rights and telling the truth. They put a lot of effort into this venture and brought several cases under different parts of the criminal code.
They finally had to release me because, in all the cases and whatever the charges, it was clear from the beginning that the accusations were false and entirely political. In the last case, the charges were chosen specifically because of the crimes I was actually reporting and writing about, crimes in which my reporting showed involvement by the government. They chose these particular parts of the criminal code—alleging embezzlement and tax evasion—because these were their crimes.
Other activists were arrested at about the same time as you, in December 2014. What was making the government nervous? Why did the government act at that particular time?
It was a long process that started long before the actual crackdown; it came step by step. They spent a lot of money on lobbying, and they put a lot of effort into silencing media, and then decided on a major crackdown to eliminate civil society on an institutional level.