U.S. Lawmaker Urges Aliyev To Free Azerbaijani Journalist Khadija Ismayilova
WASHINGTON. February 3, 2016 (RFE/RL): A senior U.S. lawmaker has urged Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to release imprisoned investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova and other journalists, warning that their continued detention "will harm relations between our two countries."
U.S. Representative Ed Royce, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a January 28 letter to Aliyev that Azerbaijan's continued closure of RFE/RL's Baku bureau is damaging bilateral relations.
"I urge you to release Ismayilova, as well as other journalists imprisoned on dubious charges, and allow RFE/RL's Baku bureau to resume operations," Royce wrote.
Ismayilova was sentenced in September 2015 to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges widely viewed as retaliation for investigative reports linking Aliyev's family to massive business and real estate holdings.
BAKU. February 1, 2016 (RFE/RL): The credit ranging agency Standard and Poor's has downgraded Azerbaijan’s debt rating by one notch to BB+ in a warning to potential investors that Azerbaijan’s government bonds are considered speculative "junk."
The ratings agency says it now expects Azerbaijan’s economy to contract during 2016, despite a devaluation of the currency.
The downgrade, which will make it more expensive for the government in Baku to borrow money by issuing bonds, comes as Azerbaijan’s economy continues to suffer from falling global oil prices and as the central bank's foreign-currency reserves are dwindling.
Standard and Poor's warned that Azerbaijan depends too much on oil prices, adding that "external risks are increasing, with the central bank’s foreign-currency reserves declining by two-thirds from their mid-2014 peak."
BAKU. January 28, 2016 (RFE/RL): The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are discussing a possible aid package for Azerbaijan to help it cope with hardships brought on by a steep drop in oil prices.
An IMF team is due in Baku from January 28 to February 4 for a fact-finding visit at the request of Azerbaijani authorities, according to an IMF spokesman.
The Financial Times reported on January 27 that IMF and World Bank officials were discussing a possible $4 billion emergency loan package to Azerbaijan.
But IMF and World Bank spokesmen have declined to confirm the amount.
Azerbaijan has witnessed widespread protests sparked by a deep drop in the value of the national currency.
STRASBOURG. January 22, 2016 (Coe.int): Today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, published his written observations submitted to the European Court of Human Rights on a case concerning journalist and human rights defender Khadija Ismayilova. The Commissioner’s observations underscore the structural deficiencies in the area of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, including judicial harassment of those expressing critical opinions and a pattern of retaliatory measures against those who co-operate with international organisations to expose human rights violations in the country.
“The case of Khadija Ismayilova, whom I met several times in Strasbourg and Baku, is emblematic of the reprisals that journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders face in Azerbaijan because of their work. They are often selectively targeted with criminal prosecutions on charges that defy credibility, a problem which both affects the human rights of the persons concerned and obstructs the functioning of international human rights mechanisms.”Third party interventions represent an additional tool at the Commissioner’s disposal to help promote and protect human rights.
BAKU. January 22, 2016 (RFE/RL): Imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova has confirmed that prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will represent her at the European Court of Human Rights.
Ismayilova lawyer Fariz Namazli said in an exclusive statement on January 21 that the reporter, who was sentenced to more than seven years in prison last year on dubious economic-crimes charges, had agreed to Clooney's offer because of the "courage" she had demonstrated while defending Al-Jazeera journalistMohamed Fahmy in 2014 when he was imprisoned in Egypt.
Clooney, who has represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in recent years, will serve as co-counsel for Ismayilova.
The case seeks to challenge Azerbaijan's detention of Ismayilova -- who was in pretrial detention for nine months after her arrest in December 2014 -- as a violation of the European convention.
BAKU. January 19, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijan's parliament on January 19 approved a package of measures aimed at supporting the country's ailing manat currency, which has lost one-third of its value against the U.S. dollar during the past month.
The measures include limits on foreign currency leaving the country.
Baku also is introducing a 20 percent tax on currency exports related to direct investment, the purchase of real estate, or securities abroad.
Azerbaijan recently has burned through more than half its foreign currency reserves trying to defend the manat against the effect of falling oil prices.
Oil and gas account for 75 percent of Azerbaijan's state revenues.
BAKU. January 15, 2016 (RFE/RL): People on the streets of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, have reacted to nationwide protests which erupted following the collapse of the country's currency, the manat. It has lost 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in recent days. Several protesters were arrested in the district of Siyazan when security forces moved in. -0-
BAKU. January 15, 2016 (RFE/RL): Scores of people, including opposition activists, were detained in Azerbaijan on January 13 amid countrywide protests over worsening economic conditions in the oil-rich Caucasus state.
Protesters rallied in the districts of Fizuli, Aqsu, Aqcabardi, Siyazan, and Lankaran to voice their anger over price hikes on staples such as flour and bread.
Most of the arrests were made in the district of Siyazan, where troops were sent in. Overall, 55 people were detained there "to protect citizens' constitutional rights and ensure public safety," the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a joint statement.
The statement added that those detained held "illegal marches" in the city of Siyazan on both January 12 and 13.
"Unlawful actions inflicted various physical injuries on police officers and damaged two of the police vehicles," the statement said.
Security forces used tear gas against stone-throwing protesters in Siyazan and several other towns, where an undisclosed number of detentions were reported.
BAKU. January 11, 2016: Deeply in debt, a man in Azerbaijan sets himself alight -- highlighting the human cost of the collapse of the country's currency.
Alik Navruzov's self-immolation in front of his workplace on January 7 was said to be his response to the sudden crash of the manat, which has lost about a third of its value since Azerbaijan's Central Bank announced in December that it would no longer prop up the currency.
According to colleagues at the school in Neftchala where he worked as a maintenance man, Navruzov complained of having bank loans he could no longer make payments on.
The 63-year-old survived, and is now reportedly in stable condition at a hospital in the city, located in the eponymous oil-producing region some 130 kilometers south of the capital. But there appears to be no signs of relief for Navruzov's dire financial straits -- a situation that is all too familiar to a growing number of people in Azerbaijan.
WASHINGTON. January 7, 2016: Amid its ongoing brutal crackdown against independent voices and western institutions the Azerbaijani government has long been urged to improve the country's human rights record to avoid an international pariah status. In a surprise move, president Ilham Aliyev's office announced on Wednesday that it had received an invitation letter from the White House to the Nuclear Security Summit, which will take place in Washington, D.C. later in March. The invite, according to the Azeri sources, was issued on December 3rd, just days before President Aliyev signed a pardon decree granting amnesty to more than 200 people, in which he refused to include a single political prisoner's name.
Officials in Washington didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. While it remains unclear whether president Aliyev is still welcomed in the U.S. capital, analysts like David Kramer, former president of Freedom House, believe that a good will and positive feelings toward Azerbaijani leadership 'have largely dissolved' among Washington politicians, amid Aliyev's refusal to release political prisoners last month.
'Presidents Obama and Aliyev had a short meeting in Turkey in November, and Aliyev, from what I can see, has not responded in a positive way on any democracy/human rights issues after that meeting,' he said.
In an interview with TURAN's Washington correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu, David Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, spoke about current human rights challenges and government-backed anti-West campaign in Azerbaijan, as well as its impacts on the country’s relations with the West.
Q. President Aliyev took to Twitter on Tuesday (Jan 5) and posted that Azerbaijan 'moves along the path of democracy and development...' In what direction is Azerbaijan really moving with its current human rights record?
A. It's hard to see that there is a forward progress in Azerbaijan on democracy and human rights. The political prisoners are the main focus of those who're very critical of the situation in Azerbaijan, but there are other issues as well, such as elections -- both last year's for parliament election, and 2013's for president -- have also been criticized by the OSCE and ODIHR.
WASHINGTON. December 29, 2015: Despite all the expectations both at home and abroad the Azerbaijani government on Monday refused to release a single political prisoner from jail in a pardon decree, while granting amnesty to more than 200 others. The government rather decided to jail another prominent journalist, Rauf Mirgadirov, on espionage charges that his lawyers and supporters call bogus.
The move comes just days after a landmark bill seeking sanctions on Azerbaijan was submitted to the U.S. Congress in response to the Western criticisms’ falling on deaf ears in Baku.
With so many independent voices behind bars and its deepening confrontation with the West, where is Azerbaijan heading to, under current political leadership?
TURAN’s Washington’s correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu interviewed Richard Kauzlarich, a veteran American diplomat (ret) and analyst, former US Ambassador to Baku and deputy assistant secretary of State, on latest human rights situation in Azerbaijan and the country’s relations with the West.
Q. Many analysts high light the failure of private/quiet diplomacy in present situation, while the government propaganda in Baku keeps pointing on western criticism, and hinting on their pushback against the latest calls for sanctions in Washington… What is the best language to use with the Azeri government at this point?
A. I practiced both quiet and unquiet diplomacy when I was in the Department of State as Ambassador to Azerbaijan and then, Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were times and places for a quiet diplomacy and time and place for other forms of diplomacy.
In this case, as we witnessed certainly over the past year that the United States has been extraordinarily willing to engage with the government of Azerbaijan – in a positive way, and in a quiet way – but that hasn’t worked. There were some high level trips to Baku, such as visit of Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense and State, both have been out there in the last few months, and conveyed very positive messages. That has not worked either.
BAKU. December 28, 2015: Today, Azerbaijani president signed a decree pardoning 210 persons with not a single political prisoner among those who were pardoned. There are over 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including prominent journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, civil society representatives and opposition party leaders arrested and convicted on fabricated criminal charges.
In addition to that, today, the Azerbaijani court announced its verdict on the case of yet another political prisoner - journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, a case against whom is built on fabricated espionage charges - sentencing him to six years in prison.
Earlier, immediately after the announcement of the bill proposal by the US congressman Chris Smith to impose sanctions on the Azerbaijani government officials, Ogtay Asadov, speaker of the Azerbaijani parlaiment, and Ali Hasanov, chief of the public-political department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, had made statements indicating that the Azerbaijani president was preparing to pardon a large number of people, signaling that the list would include political prisoners as well. Apparently, the Aliyev regime had a change of heart and decided to double down by keeping all the political prisoners in jail.
Ironically, this decision of the Aliyev regime followed the interview by the US Ambassador Robert Cekuta to the pro-government Trend News Agency just two days ago. As usual, the US Ambassador spoke nothing about the political prisoners and political persecutions in Azerbaijan, instead he emphasized that the United States continued to place a high value on its relations with Azerbaijan and that the US congressman's "Azerbaijan Democracy Act" initiative was just one of over 7,000 bills which have been introduced by members of the two houses of the US Congress, among which just over 100 were approved by both houses, signed by the President, and enacted into law.
It is not clear whether the peculiar position taken by Ambassador Cekuta contributed in any way to the exclusion of political prisoners from Ilham Ailyev's pardon list. It surely did nothing to win their freedom.
BAKU. December 28, 2015: Two days ago, on December 26, Robert Cekuta, the United States Ambassador to Azerbaijan, gave an interview to the Trend News Agency, a progovernment media outlet of Azerbaijan. Azeri Report reposts that interview below:
Trend interviews US ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta
Q: "Azerbaijan Democracy Act” caused for deep concern in Azerbaijan. Individual initiative of US Congressmen, of course, does in no way reflect the position of US Administration. But we have not seen the official reaction of United States Administration and respectively, US Embassy on that account. How you would explain this silence?
A: As the Embassy has said publicly, we do not comment on draft legislation. This is the usual practice for us because of the separation of powers within the United States system. The legislature – or Congress – is separate from the Executive Branch, which includes the President, the State Department and other departments (what would be ministries here in Azerbaijan), and the judiciary are all separate from each other, something that was set out in our Constitution. That said, I have seen a lot of speculation in local media that reflects a misunderstanding of our legislative process. Our embassy has provided an overview of how draft bills get introduced by a member of Congress, get reviewed, and considered by members of the different legislative bodies and so forth to our social media accounts, and I encourage anyone interested in understanding the facts to review that information.
WASHINGTON. December 21, 2015: As President Ilham Aliyev decimated the Western-funded civil society in Azerbaijan over the last three years, Washington issued a statement after statement expressing mere concern at the sentencing of dozens of journalists and activists to lengthy prison terms. Every time the Azeri dissidents complained about the inadequacy of Western actions, the “concerned” segment of Washington replied saying that the West had no significant leverage over Baku and virtually nothing could be done to get the political prisoners released. In that sense, last week’s developments can be viewed as a small victory for the proponents of a practical approach to dealing with tyrants like Ilham Aliyev. The introduction of “Azerbaijan Democracy Act” by Representative Christopher Smith which envisages financial/visa sanctions against Azeri officials and the ensuing docile reaction from Baku shows that pressure works and it works well.
Ogtay Asadov, speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament, announced that the Azerbaijani government was already preparing to amnesty a number of prisoners. This statement came directly after the announcement of the bill proposal by Christopher Smith. It is widely expected that in the coming weeks numerous civil society activists will be released in reaction to the tough talk from Washington. Azeri Report further maintains that such form of discourse would have been productive from the very beginning when Ilham Aliyev first launched his campaign against what he termed as the “fifth column”. Had Washington sternly conveyed to Ilham Aliyev that his friendship with the West was contingent on his treatment of the civil society, lives could have been saved, individuals such as Khadija Ismayilova would not have to spend a day in prison, and RFE/RL would likely have a burgeoning operation in Baku. Instead, Washington’s continuous placation and incomprehensible refusal to deal with Aliyev in a more effective language, led to an entirely avoidable tragedy that has now unfolded before our eyes in Azerbaijan.
WASHINGTON. December 16, 2015 (CSCE.gov): Following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, a landmark bill that will deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government.
“We recognize that there are important national security and economic ties that exist between our two countries, but the United States can no longer remain blind to the appalling human rights violations that are taking place in Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Smith. “Journalists and activists are routinely arrested and imprisoned; opposition politicians are in jail and elections are not free and fair; human rights lawyers have been harassed and disbarred; and religious freedom is under attack. The Azerbaijan Democracy Act demonstrates that the United States takes human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously, and that we will not compromise when faced by a government that represses the political opposition, the media, and religious minorities.”
STRASBOURG. December 16, 2015 (Council of Europe Website): The Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, has launched an official inquiry into Azerbaijan's implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Judgments from the European Court of Human Rights have highlighted an arbitrary application of the law in Azerbaijan, notably in order to silence critical voices and limit freedom of speech," said the Secretary General.
"In these worrying circumstances, and given the lack of positive steps to address the situation, I will send representatives to Azerbaijan to seek explanations from the authorities concerning the country's implementation of the Human Rights Convention. I am particularly alarmed when individuals are deprived of their liberty due to an abuse of power by a country’s legal authorities, as the European Court of Human Rights found in the case of Ilgar Mammadov. This is a very serious violation of the Convention".
Under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Secretary General can launch an inquiry to find out how the domestic law in any member state makes sure that the convention is properly implemented.
BAKU. December 15, 2015: Jamil Hasanli, leader of the National Council of Democratic Forces recently awarded the International Democracy Prize named after Ion Ratiu, spoke to Alakbar Raufoglu, Washington correspondent of the Turan News Agency. Jamil Hasanli spoke on the situation with the growing number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and criticized the ambivalent approach of the US government on that issue.
Hasanli says one of the main problems of Azerbaijan is the prosecution of citizens for political reasons. There are over 100 political prisoners in the country and one can be certain that all charges against those persons have been fabricated since Hasanli says he attended almost all of those trials over the political prisoners and saw how the courts sentenced those political prisoners. While thanking the international human rights organizations for voicing concerns over the situation with political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Jamil Hasanli complained about the policies of the Western governments, specifically the approach of the US government which chose to collaborate with the Aliyev regime and “discuss” the human rights issue with the Aliyev regime behind the closed doors. "Just imagine, Yunus couple was arrested without any legal grounds based on fabricated charges; 60-year-old Leyla suffers tragedies in Kurdakhani [prison], and, as a result of torture, this courageous lady gets irreparable damage to her health; Arif Yunus faces death and their sentence is changed to parole to prevent them from dying in jail; And they are released to their home which has also been confiscated; and Mr. Kerry thanks Ilham Aliyev for all that, and the State Department thanks the Azerbaijani government. If these are the actions deserving thanks, and if the country acting as a guarantor of democracy and human rights in the world announces its gratitude for that, it is only natural to see massive political persecutions in Baku, the constant widening of the circle of political prisoners, suppression of democracy and destruction of civil society in the country."
BAKU. December 14, 2015: Today, the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev signed a decree abolishing the Ministry of National Natioanl Security (MNS) and creating two new security institutions in its replacement. The newly created spy agencies are the State Security Service to be headed by General Madat Guliyev and the Foreign Intelligence Service to be headed by Orkhan Sultanov. The decree underlnes that the decision to be ablish the MNS was aimed at “improving the efficiency” of the special services.
MNS was a powerful security institution in Azerbaijan establiished on the basis of the Azerbaijani branch of the Soviet KGB. This powerful institution wielded the powers equivalent to the combined authorities of the FBI, CIA and NSA in the US. MNS came under the close scrutiny of the Azerbaijani president earlier this year when it appeared that it was involved in many crimes and corruption schemes in the country, including illegal cooperation and information exchange with the Israeli secrete services according to the progovernment news website haqqin.az.
The abnolshment of the MNS comes after the arrest of 19 former ministry officials, including several generals, in the past two months for alleged extortion and abuse of office, according to the Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office (Azeri Report).
GENEVA. December 11, 2015 (HRW.org): A new United Nations report says that the government of Azerbaijan has failed to prosecute a single torture case despite hundreds of allegations of torture in its detention facilities in the past few years, Human Rights Watch said today. The report of Azerbaijan’s fourth review under the Convention against Torture highlights the government’s denial of credible and consistent torture allegations and calls on the government to free unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture examined Azerbaijan’s record on torture and ill-treatment on November 11 and 12, 2015, and published its conclusions on December 9, the same day the government freed an ailing prominent human rights defender, Leyla Yunus, who had been held for more than 16 months.
“The government has been locking up human rights defenders one after the other and then denying their reports of ill-treatment,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Committee Against Torture made clear that the government needs to free the human rights defenders and stop turning a blind eye to their ill-treatment in prison.”
BAKU. December 11, 2015: On December 8, Fuad Gahramanli, deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) was arrested on trumped up charges. The local court quickly sentenced the opposition party’s deputy chairman to three-month pretrial detention based on the charges of public incitement to overthrow the government and incitement of national, racial, social or religious hatred (Articles 281.1 and 283.2.1 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan). In essence, the opposition party’s deputy chairman is charged with writing Facebook postings criticizing the Azerbaijani government. Mr. Gahramanli’s Facebook postings are the only evidence used by the Azerbaijani law enforcement in his prosecution.
The National Council of the Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan issued a statement calling the charges against Fuad Gahramanli groundless and politically motivated. The National Council of the Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan stated that the government was using the trumped up charges “to create a false impression that aforementioned person and organizations are condoning criminal activities in Nardaran”. On November 26, the Azerbaijani law enforcement started a large operation in Nardaran, suburban village of Baku, attacking the peaceful residents of the village with the following government media propaganda portraying the entire event as the Azerbaijani government’s fight against the Islamic terrorism. Fuad Gahramanli, along with many opposition figures of Azerbaijan, posted Facebook statuses criticizing the Azerbaijani government’s false efforts of “fighting terrorism” in Nardaran. The National Council statement after Mr. Gahramanli’s arrest points out that the Azerbaijani government now seems intent to use those Facebook postings of the opposition politician to somehow tie the alleged Islamic radicals in Nardaran with the PFPA, a secular opposition party and/or the National Council of the Democratic Forces, also an alliance of secular democratic opposition forces of Azerbaijan.
BAKU. December 9, 2015 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijan's jailed human rights activist Leyla Yunus has been released from custody following a request by her lawyers for her to be freed due to her deteriorating health condition.
She had been sentenced to 8 1/2 years in jail after being convicted by a court in Baku on charges of fraud and tax evasion.
Yunus had worked for the unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku with her husband, Arif Yunus, who was arrested on the same charges.
Arif Yunus, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, was released from custody on health grounds in November.
The couple both still face charges of treason and their legal situation remains unchanged, despite being released.
The charges against the couple have been denounced as a travesty of justice by international human rights groups.
BAKU. December 8, 2015 (RFE/RL): Hopes faded for more than 20 oil workers still missing as rescue workers pulled bodies from the Caspian Sea, three days after a fire swept through a drilling rig off Azerbaijan's coast.
Six bodies were recovered on December 7, bringing the death toll to eight in what a senior official of state oil company SOCAR called "the biggest tragedy" in its history.
With 23 workers missing, President Ilham Aliyev's government struggled to soothe distraught relatives and head off questions about its handling of the disaster.
Azerbaijani authorities say a storm caused the fire to erupt on the oil platform in the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli field, about 120 kilometers offshore, on December 4.
BUCHAREST. December 5, 2015: It’s no secret that the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev likes to buy expensive buildings around the world, although it’s rarely clear where the money comes from.
But the history of the US$ 7.3 million house at 39 Popa Soare Street in Bucharest’s old city is even murkier than usual, involving offshore transactions, links to corrupt officials and organized crime, insider deals and a peculiar cult of personality for a dead leader.
The house today is the headquarters of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a non-governmental organization set up and run by the family of the current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the late Heydar Aliyev’s son.
Heydar Aliyev, who died in 2003 at the age of 80, was a former KGB general and first secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in Azerbaijan “who for 30 years ruled his native Azerbaijan with an iron fist,” according to his obituary in the New York Times.
The elder Aliyev also developed a cult of personality around himself, which, thanks in part to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, persists more than a decade after his death with thousands of portraits of the dead leader on billboards and official structures across Azerbaijan, often shown with his son. Scores of streets, buildings and parks bear his name, statue or image, including as many as a dozen in foreign countries.
But what, exactly, is the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and what does it do?
BAKU. December 4, 2015 (RFE/RL): Investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova was arrested in Azerbaijan one year ago. She was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges that rights groups say are retribution for her reporting on corruption. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service spoke to Khadija's mother, Elmira Ismayilova, on December 3.-0-
WASHINGTON. December 3, 2015: Escalating tensions between Russia and Turkey have spread to the Caucasus, a volatile region where both powers have long contested each other's influence.
After Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane that allegedly flew into Turkish airspace last week, a Cold War-style war of words erupted between Ankara and Moscow. Turkey has refused to apologize for the incident, while Russia has blocked sales of tourism packages to Turkey, imposed sanctions on Turkish fruits and vegetables, and accused Turkey of buying oil from the Islamic State.
Now the two sides are squaring off over the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two tiny former Soviet republics that have been at loggerheads since a six-year war over an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh ended in 1994.
"This is largely talk right now, but the problem is neither Turkey nor Russia really need war in the Caucasus," said Paul Stronski, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been pretty dangerous already. It's clear that things can easily get out of hand."
BAKU. December 2, 2015: Sandwiched between Turkey and Russia, and for centuries a battleground for the erstwhile empires, the South Caucasus is bracing for fallout from the geopolitical furor sparked by the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet.
Memories of multiple Ottoman-Tsarist wars that ravaged the South Caucasus from the 17th to the 20th centuries still exert influence over public opinion in the region. But modern-day issues wield the most influence in shaping loyalties, splitting the region into pro-Turkey and pro-Russia camps. The three states in the region – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – are coming under growing pressure to choose sides following Turkey’s November 24 shoot-down of the Su-24 fighter.
Armenia, Russia’s main, if only, committed ally in the South Caucasus, has been quick in unequivocally backing the Kremlin. With no diplomatic ties with Turkey to worry about, Yerevan essentially has echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “stab-in-the-back” line about Turkey’s conduct.
BAKU. November 23, 2015: Today, Bridget Brink, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, visited Baku meeting with the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Bridget Brink is on a regional tour visiting Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. During the meeting with Brink, Aliyev talked about his recent conversation with the US President at the G20 summit in Antalya, the successful bilateral cooperation between the US and Azerbaijan for many years. Azerbaijan has over 100 political prisoners, including Khadija Ismayilova, award-winning journalist of the US-funded Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe (Azeri Report).
BAKU. November 19, 2015 (Turan): The US Trade Mission with the participation of officials of the Department of Commerce and representatives of 14 American companies on November 18-20 are on a visit to Azerbaijan to discuss the possibility of the development of relations in the field of commerce and business representatives of government agencies and local entrepreneurship.
The US delegation includes representatives of the companies Baxter, Bloomberg LP, Capstone Turbine, Dow, Honeywell, Globalise, Langan, Miyamoto International, Osisoft, P & G, Thomson Reuters, Turner International, Wayback's Burgers, WSP / Parsons Brinkherhoff.
The mission is headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Commerce, Michael Lally.
On November 18, US Ambassador Robert Cekuta hosted a reception in honor of the mission.
WASHINGTON. November 16, 2015: Once again, the Iranian State TV aired a racist show insulting Iran’s largest ethnic population – the Azerbaijani people. An Iranian State TV aired a “comedy show” where an Azerbaijani was portrayed as someone who mistakenly uses a toilet brush instead of a toothbrush because according to the comedy show an Azerbaijani wouldn’t know the difference between a toilet brush and a toothbrush. For decades, racism, discrimination and harsh treatment of non-Persian ethnic minorities in Iran became the Persian-dominated regime's official state policy. Every now and then, the media outlets controlled by the regime openly deliver a racist message in the form of TV shows, movies or kid's educational programs on state media sparking angry protests by an offended non-Persian minority.
BAKU. November 12, 2015 (RFE/RL): Human rights defender Arif Yunus, whose case attracted worldwide attention when he and his wife were arrested in Azerbaijan in 2014 on suspicion of spying for Armenia, has been released from jail due to his deteriorating health.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports that the Baku Court of Appeals on November 12 granted Yunus's release at the request of his lawyers.
In August, Yunus was sentenced by a Baku court to seven years in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. His wife, Leyla Yunus, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years' imprisonment on the same charges. Neither has begun serving their sentences, although they remained jailed, and their cases relating to charges of treason are still pending.
PARIS. November 11, 2015: Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, hailed the protests of the Azeri people in Iran, who started protests in a number of big cities in Iran, following an insult to the Azeri people in a comedy show broadcasted on the Iraninan TV. In that TV show, there was an episode when an Azeri arived in a hotel in Iran and mistakenly used a toilette brush instead of a tooth brush. Portrayal of the Azeri people as backward and uncivilized has been carried out by the Persian nationalist elite in Iran for decades. As a result of such nationalist policies, Azeris, the largest national minority in Iran, does not have any Azeri language schools in the country. With the independence of Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Azeri minority in Iran has become more assertive demanding more rights in Iran.
On Monday, November 9, the cities of Tabriz, Urmia, Zanjan, Ardebil, Khoy, Maragheh, Marand, Naghadeh, Meshkinshahr, Ahar, Moghan and other cities in Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, Zanjan and Ardebil provinces were the scenes of large popular demonstrations in protest to the Iranian regime’s insult of Azeri compatriots in the state television that is under Khamenei’s control. Moreover, there were also gatherings and protests in the many cities, including Tehran and Shiraz. Demonstrations and clashes continued through part of the night in cities such as Tabriz.
WASHINGTON. November 6, 2015. Lately, Azerbaijan's lobbying in the US came under public scrutiny. Located at the edge of Europe in volatile Caucasus region, Azerbaijan is ruled by President Ilham Aliyev - the man who was recognized as the planet's most corrupt person and who inherited the top post in fraudulent "elections" from his late father, a former KGB general and leading Soviet communist boss. The country has one of the world's worst records on democracy, human rights and corruption. However, the ruling Aliyev regime spends significant fortunes to prop up its image abroad and secure support for itself from the US and European governments. With top dollars spent on influential lobbyist firms, grandiose events, and expensive gifts to Western officials and "experts", Azerbaijan's charm blitzkrieg even earned a name for itself: "caviar diplomacy".