Khadija Ismayilova: "I am not a toy to be exchanged for diplomatic gain by Baku or Washington."
BAKU. May 24, 2016: If you believe in good omens, a rare season of amnesty augurs well for Khadija Ismayilova's appeal for prison release.
The RFE/RL investigative journalist is challenging her 7 1/2-year sentence for tax evasion before the Azerbaijani Supreme Court on May 25, just three days before the country celebrates its annual Republic Day with a mass amnesty, proposed by the country's first lady, that anticipates the release of some 3,500 prisoners convicted of minor crimes. Although Ismayilova's criminal conviction makes her ineligible for the pardon, there is speculation that she may benefit from the confluence of events.
Ismayilova's appeal also follows a snap presidential pardon in March of 14 political prisoners, including human rights activist Rasul Jafarov and members of the N!DA pro-democracy youth movement. A 15th prisoner, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, was released less than two weeks later. Read more...
BAKU. May 18, 2016: Two youth activists in Azerbaijan have accused police in the capital of beating them in an unsuccessful attempt to force them to confess to vandalizing a monument, and then charging the pair with bogus drug offenses when they didn't break.
International rights groups have condemned the authorities' treatment of Giyas Ibrahimov, 22, and Bayram Mammadov, 21, and demanded an investigation into the circumstances of the case.
The two were reportedly detained on May 10 on suspicion of painting graffiti on a statue of former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, father of the current leader, Ilham Aliyev.
They leveled their allegations in court testimony in the capital, Baku, on May 12, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.
The court sent the two to pretrial detention but ordered a probe into the police abuse allegations.
Human rights activists accuse authorities in Baku of routinely trumping up drug charges against activists in an effort to intimidate them.
BAKU. May 13, 2016: The local court in Baku charged two members of N!DA Civic Youth Movement - Bayram Mammadov and Giyasaddin Ibrahim - with drug possession. The local police arranged a thinly veiled operation “discovering” one kilogram of heroin in Bayram Mammadov’s house and charging Giyasaddin Ibrahim with similar charges. The police operation followed immediately after some unidentified youth activists mocked the former Azerbaijani dictator Heydar Aliyev, the father of the incumbent Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and the founder of the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan.
On May 10, the birthday of Heydar Aliyev which the Azerbaijani government celebrated as “flower holiday” since 2003, unidentified youth activists wrote “Happy Slave Day” (the word ‘flower’(gül) and ‘slave’(qul) rhyme in Azeri language) on Heydar Ailyev’s monument in front of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan in Baku. They also wrote “Fuck the System” on the same monument.
By M. Patrucic, E. Rose, I. Velska and K. Ismayilova, OCCRP Project
LONDON. May 10, 2016: With a wide semi-circular entrance hall and doormen in tops-and-tails, the apartment building at 199 Knightsbridge in London is all glass, polished marble, and clean lines. Advertised as an enclave of private residential apartments in the capital’s heart, the penthouse of the prestigious development is yet another home for Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, daughters of the president of Azerbaijan.
It is the latest multimillion property secretly owned by the Aliyevs to be discovered, part of an empire amassed since 2003 when Ilham Aliyev took over from his father as president of the oil-rich country. OCCRP has identified over US$140 million in luxury apartments the family maintains around the globe and these are just the known properties.
Other international properties include a US$ 25 million London mansion; a flat valued at up to US$ 8 million overlooking the Speakers’ Corner of Hyde Park; nine waterfront mansions in Dubai valued at US$ 44 million; a dacha near Moscow worth at least US$ 37 million; and a US$ 1.1 million villa in an exclusive neighborhood in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary.
WASHINGTON. May 7, 2016: Overshadowed by the massive Panama Papers leak, another series of recent reports have shed new light on illicit relations between Western organizations and senior officials in both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. As detailed by Australia’s Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post, a trove of leaked emails have revealed how Monaco-based Unaoil acted for years as a “bribe factory” between Western corporations — Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), namely — and numerous Caspian clients. Globally, according to the outlets, Unaoil was tied to “billions of dollars of government contracts [that] were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms” like Halliburton and KBR.
The new information comes from a series of hundreds of thousands of emails linked to Unaoil’s chief executive, Cyrus Ahsani, resulting in the “biggest leak of confidential files in the history of the oil industry.” Unaoil, which “specializes in paying bribes for multinational clients,” according to the outlets, was raided by Monegasque authorities earlier in April as a result of the leak.
WASHINGTON, DC. May 2, 2016: Built in 1900, located in Washington’s most diverse neighborhood with some of the city’s finest museums and foreign embassies, a historic Dupont Circlehousehas been the desire of many prospective byers since its major renovation last year.
The house, located between R and 21st streets, looks marvelous from the outside, albeit its windows are filled with white cover, and a security camera is mounted above the wall to the mansion’s driveway. There is also a mysterious sign “H” that towers on top of the building.
“That “H” [sign] has nothing to do with the neighborhood, perhaps it might refer to some name, - definitely not Hillary [Clinton] - as the place is owned by foreigners,” giggles a local resident who agreed to share his opinion about the mansion without being identified.
BAKU. April 28, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani officials said on April 28 that one civilian was killed and 8 were injured by an artillery strike from the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh overnight.
The statement came hours after Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry claimed that forces in Nagorno-Karabakh had shelled Azerbaijan's Terter and Agdam districts in violation of a cease-fire deal that went into effect on April 5.
De facto officials from the breakaway territory rejected Azerbaijan's claims and accused Baku of using tanks, mortars, flame throwers, and multiple-launch rocket systems for military attacks against the region.
Separatist leaders in Stepanakert said earlier this week that three of their soldiers were killed by Azerbaijani attacks.
WASHINGTON. April 25, 2016: The scheme was simple enough.
In May of 2013, the government of Azerbaijan, via its State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), injected $750,000 into an obscure Texas-based non-profit, the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ).
The assembly then flipped the funds into a series of secondary non-profits – a constellation of US-based 501(c)(3) organizations scattered across America, all pushing Turkic interests.
A few weeks later, nine members of the US Congress touched down in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, flown and feted by those very funds. And it was quite a gathering: sumptuous dinners, fireworks displays, gifts of hand-woven carpets, crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and DVDs praising the country’s president—all free of charge, and costing well in excess of the permissible limits of gifts to Congress.
It was also, according to a recent report from the US’s Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), one of the most egregious ethics violations Washington has seen since the days of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose rule-Flouting activities spurred the US’s last round of ethics reforms nearly a decade ago.
YEREVAN. April 18, 2016: Russia’s plans to keep selling guns to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, no matter if the Caucasus’ two irascible neighbors use them against each other, is feeding growing Armenian frustration with their only strategic ally.
The exchange comes on the heels of a four-day flare-up in frontline violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was the worst since the signature of a ceasefire in 1994. With tensions still running high, how Russia chooses to support Armenia, the only South Caucasus member of Moscow’s economic and military alliances, matters much to Armenians.
When faced with military aggression by Azerbaijan, Yerevan believes it is entitled to support from its ally, even if this ally also doubles as a supposedly objective mediator for talks with Baku.
WASHINGTON. April 14, 2016: When Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, visited Washington later last month, it was an opportunity for Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as others in the US foreign policy establishment, to publicly voice their concerns over crackdown against journalists, especially the attacks on US-funded media group, RFE/RL in Baku. They chose not to do so. Well, at least publicly.
Aliyev government, in its turn, seems intent on ensuring American support in its conflict with the independent voices through investing in lobbying activity; something that they have found reasonable to believe is paying off.
As it was reported earlier, Podesta, which guarantees Azerbaijani government’s access to some of the most powerful people in Washington, have been receiving approximately $50,000 per month from the Azerbaijani Embassy, for its service.
TEL AVIV. April 12, 2016: Israel intends to deliver more drones to the Azeri army in the coming days, according to a letter sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon.
In the letter, Galon demanded that Ya’alon put a stop to the delivery of Israeli drones to Azerbaijan, which is fighting against Armenia in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, until it receives an absolute commitment that its army will not use Israeli armaments against Armenian forces.
“As you know, Armenia and Azerbaijan are both friendly to Israel, and it is inconceivable that Israeli weapons be used in a war between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” wrote Galon.
YEREVAN. April 7, 2016 (RFE/RL): Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says it is vital that a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia-backed separatists over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh does not slide into a "hot phase."
On a visit to Armenia on April 7, Medvedev said Russia was ready to continue to act as an intermediary in resolving the conflict and hoped a cease-fire agreement would hold.
Dozens of people were killed in Nagorno Karabakh in fighting that erupted on April 2 between Azerbaijan's military and Armenian-backed separatists.
It was the worst fighting since a 1994 cease-fire that stopped the conflict but did not resolve the underlying dispute.
A tense calm has held since a cease-fire was agreed on April 5.
On April 7, each side alleged the other had violated the truce in skirmishes overnight. Each said one of their servicemen was killed.
BAKU. April 5, 2016 (Azadliq.org): Armenia confirms 20 dead, 72 wounded, and 26 are missing
The Defense Ministry of Nagorno Karabakh's separatist regime issued a statement confirming 20 dead, 72 wounded and 26 servicemen missing.
The statement also confirms destruction of 7 tanks, and loss of 8 strategic heights to the north and south.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry warns
In a statement issued April 4, Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan says Armenia's Armed Forces are firing at residential buildings along the frontline out of revenge for losing control over some of the territories taken by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan two days ago.
BAKU. April 5, 2016: On October 31, 2003, Ilham Aliyev, the newly elected president of Azerbaijan, stood behind a podium and a profusion of white flowers to address presidents, prime ministers and 2,000 other guests assembled at the Respublika Palace. First touching the constitution and then the Koran, Aliyev swore to serve his people. That night, fireworks lit up the sky of the Azeri capital, Baku.
Aliyev’s election to lead this energy-rich former Soviet republic bordering both Russia and Iran had been all but guaranteed. His ailing father, Heydar, an ex-KGB officer, had served in the same role for the previous 10 years. Election monitors reported that police had beaten and detained political opponents, in line with the country’s reputation for repression.
Becoming president wasn’t Aliyev’s only ascension during 2003. Using a network of secretive companies in offshore tax havens, his family, advisers and allies set about acquiring expensive overseas homes and positions in the country’s valuable industries and natural resources, including the family’s majority control of a major gold mine that has been unknown until now.
April 5, 2016: Disturbing reports of atrocities, and official claims and counterclaims continue to stream from the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone as fighting enters its third day. With no international media or conflict-monitoring mission apparently yet on the ground in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, it is next to impossible to glean frontline facts from the ongoing information war.
That lack of objective information could become even more critical in the coming days. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a Karabakh native, pledged on April 4 that escalation of the fighting, the worst since the signing of a 1994 ceasefire, would prompt Yerevan to recognize Nagorno Karabakh as an independent state.
An Armenian investigative news service, Hetq.am, on April 4 published photos of two elderly residents they claim were killed and maimed by Azerbaijani troops when they overran the village of Talish in northeastern Karabakh on April 2. (Warning: graphic image) The Armenian government and the Karabakhi separatist forces it supports claimed they swiftly recaptured the village and nearby heights. Hetq.am said that their photographer, Hakob Poghosian, had then gained access to the village.
Azerbaijan, however, claimed early on April 4 that it is still in control of the area. One pro-government news website that published the information, APA, was not working later in the day. A group of Armenian hackers, Monte Melkonian Cyber Army, took credit for downing the site on April 2. A group of Turkish hackers appears to be responding for Azerbaijan, the site HackRead reported.
BAKU. April 2, 2016(Azadliq.org):EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini worried by the reportsof erupted battles on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines.
"I call on the parties to stop fighting immediately and observe the ceasefire. The sides must show restraint and avoid any further actions or statements that could result in the escalation", said Mogherini.
"The European Union deplores the loss of life, in particular the reports of civilian casualties and deaths."
"The European Union fully supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the three Co-Chairs. We expect both sides to respect strictly the ceasefire, refrain from the use of force and resume efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Khadija Ismayilova is an investigative journalist and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service. She has been imprisoned in Azerbaijan since December 2014.
BAKU. April 1, 2016: I am writing this letter from jail in Baku, Azerbaijan, where I’m serving a 7½ -year sentence for a crime I never committed.
I am a journalist and my only “crime” was to investigate high-level corruption within the government and family of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev . Aliyev inherited power from his father in 2003 and changed the constitution in 2009 so he could stay in power indefinitely. He has been called an enemy of the press by international watchdogs, while abusing other fundamental freedoms and violating people’s right to truth and decency.
Aliyev is in Washington this week to attend the Nuclear Security Summit that began Thursday. To get an invitation to this event from President Obama, he had to pardon several political prisoners. A lthough they have been released from jail, they remain confined within the country, barred from leaving, and justice has not been restored.
This is a very costly invitation for Aliyev, who for years refused to accept international pressure or criticism on this issue. His response was, always, that Azerbaijan doesn’t have political prisoners. In December, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act to recognize Azerbaijan’s violations of human rights and freedoms and to hold individual officials accountable. It must pass.
WASHINGTON. March 30, 2016: What would you do for a photo with President Obama? Hoping to secure one as he visits Washington D.C. this week, Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, my home country, has released 16 political prisoners. A one-on-one meeting with Obama doesn’t appear to be in the cards, but Aliyev seems to have scored a private meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry today, and he may still be seeking a photo opportunity, meetings with other top U.S. officials, or some other form of validation. If the United States values its commitment to human rights and democracy, it should make sure he doesn’t get it.
Aliyev will be just one of dozens of world leaders who are gathering in Washington this week for a meeting devoted to securing nuclear materials, the Nuclear Security Summit. It’s a particularly important occasion for autocrats like Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan for 13 years, to burnish their reputations back home. We know from lavish public relations spectacles, like the 2015 European Games and the upcoming Formula One European Grand Prix that Aliyev desperately craves international status. Insiders in D.C. tell us he is eager for that ultimate seal of approval — a few minutes and a photo op with Obama — that would give him the image boost he seeks in the midst of an economic crisis at home.
BAKU. March 28, 2016 (Azadliq.org): Intigam Aliyev interview with AzadliqRadiosu on his arrival home shortly after his release.
"I am going through a mix of emotions. I won't speak about plenary session's decision. Of course I am happy to be free. Because it is not the time to be resting. It was unjust of me while people outside [in freedom] were busy working in difficult conditions. That is why, my release is important, I will now take over some of the cases. But I am also sad. Because some of my friends are still in jail. And I would be happy to give up my freedom for theirs. In general however things are moving ahead. And I have no doubts that they will be released soon. Azerbaijan will be freed soon too. Despite all the repression and pressure, Azerbaijani community continues to fight for democracy and freedoms. This gives me a lot of hope. And it gave me a lot of hope there [in jail] as we received support from our friends, comrades, international communities. It showed this community's passion for freedom and that it is impossible to suffocate it with arrests, and pressure. I would like to thank you all of you. And also I am sad you had to wait for me outside all this time. I am sorry and thank you!"
BAKU. March 19, 2016(Azadliq.org): March 17, following the release of some of the high profile political prisoners in Azerbaijan AzadliqRadiosu spoke to their family members as well as some of the international organizations, which followed the cases of political prisoners closely.
Commenting on the release of her jailed husband and N!DA activist Rashadat Akhundov Turkan Huseynova, said, "These past three years were very difficult. I was not expecting his release. I guess when you do not expect the release and then hear the news, the joy is stronger".
"Surely the release of our friends and many of the political prisoners made us very happy, especially the release of Rasul Jafarov, one of the founders of the movement. However, the fact that our founder and head of the movement Ilgar Mammadov remains behind bars is saddening. This only proves yet again, that the regime is avoiding the sole opponent Ilgar Mammadov despite the official decision from the European Court of Human Rights", said executive secretary of ReAL movement Natig Jafarli.
BAKU. March 17, 2016 (Azadliq.org): March 17, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned some 148 men and women having signed a decree on "pardoning a number of prisoners". Many of the high profile political prisoners were also included in the list.
Among the ones released today are rights defenders Taleh Khasmammadov and Rasul Jafarov; chief of National Statehood Party Nemat Panahli; N!DA activists Rashad Hasanov, Rashadat Akhundov, Mammad Azizov, Omar Mammadov; head of Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center Anar Ammadli; Musavat party activists Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, Sirac Karimov; ad journalists Parviz Hashimov, and Hilal Mammadov.
Member of N!DA movement Ilkin Rustamzade; blogger Abdul Abilov, journalists Khadija Ismayilova, Seymur Hazi, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev and the leader of ReAL opposition movement Ilgar Mammadov remain in jail. -0-
BAKU. March 16, 2016 (RFE/RL): An opposition figure in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to three years in jail.
A court in Baku found Mammad Ibrahim -- an adviser to the leader of Azerbaijan's opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) -- guilty of hooliganism on March 15 and sentenced him the same day.
Ibrahim was arrested in September.
He pleaded not guilty and insists the case against him is politically motivated.
Ibrahim's lawyer Yalcin Imanov said he plans to appeal the court's ruling.
PRAGUE. March 16, 2016 (RFE/RL): Famed international rights lawyer Amal Clooney says Azerbaijan is abusing its power by trying to silence critics of the regime, including imprisoned reporter Khadija Ismayilova.
Clooney, who is helping represent Ismayilova before Europe's top human rights court, also said that the case against Ismayilova was wholly politically motivated, aimed at keeping her from continuing her corruption investigations of President Ilham Aliyev and his family members.
"I believe it's important to protect an individual journalist against a powerful state that has overstepped. This is about a government that is abusing its power to silence journalists like Khadija, as well as other critics of the ruling regime," Clooney told RFE/RL in an e-mail conversation on March 15.
"It's important to fight for the right of journalists to tell the world what is happening in their countries," she said.
Ismayilova, a renowned investigative reporter and regular contributor to RFE/RL, was arrested in Baku in December 2014 and put on trial on charges that her supporters said were politically motivated.
In September, a Baku court sentenced her to 7 1/2 years in prison, a ruling that prompted international criticism.
BAKU. March 14, 2016 (RFE/RL): Reports from Baku say Azerbaijani border guards have shot dead five armed Bangladeshi and Azeri citizens who illegally crossed the border from Iran.
The shootings took place on March 13 near the village of Dashkend in the Yardymli district on Azerbaijan's southern border with Iran after a signaling device detected a group of eight to 10 people crossing into Azerbaijani territory.
A statement from the border-guard service said the group ignored warning shots and began to shoot back at the police.
It said two armed suspects were detained.
Authorities on March 14 were continuing to search for up to three members of the group who fled further into Azerbaijan. -0-
KONYA. March 8, 2016 (RFE/RL): Turkey and Azerbaijan have launched joint air force exercises, media in Azerbaijan have reported.
According to reports, Azerbaijan's Air Force servicemen arrived in the central Turkish city of Konya on March 7 to take part in the drills.
The maneuvers are expected to last from March 7 to March 25.
Three MiG-29 fighter jets, three Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft and three Il-76 military transport aircraft from Azerbaijan's Armed Forces will be involved into the annual planned exercises, the reports say.
In 2015, the armed forces of the two neighboring countries held both land and air force exercises. -0-
WASHINGTON. March 3, 2016: A former U.S. congressman has resigned as chairman of a central player in the multimillion-dollar Azerbaijani lobbying effort to court American support for the ex-Soviet republic's authoritarian government, saying he has not been paid for his services "in a year."
Former U.S. Representative Dan Burton (Republican-Indiana) this week resigned from the Azerbaijan America Alliance, a group founded by tycoon Anar Mammadov, son of the oil-rich Caucasus nation’s transport minister, that has paid U.S. lobbyists more than $12 million since 2011.
"As I have not heard from you or Anar, and have not been paid for a year, please consider this e-mail as a letter of resignation as Chairman of the Azerbaijan American Alliance," Burton wrote in a March 1 e-mail to James Fabiani, whose Washington-based firm lobbies for the group in the United States. The e-mail was seen by RFE/RL.
WASHINGTON. March 2, 2016: A leading U.S. Congressman on Tuesday urged the OSCE leadership, as well as the U.S. government, to raise the issues of political prisoners and lack of media freedom in Azerbaijan during their discussions with the Azeri government, and with president Ilham Aliyev personally.
"I met with [President Aliyev] twice in Baku, and I'm hoping to meet him here," Congressman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), the chairman of the Committee for Security and Cooperation in Europe, (or Helsinki Commission) and the sponsor of 'Azerbaijan Democracy Act,' told TURAN's Washington correspondent.
Aliyev is expected to attend the US-led Nuclear Security Summit in Washington later in March.
Speaking about the prospects for 'Azerbaijan Democracy Act,' the Congressman said, the next step is 'probably another hearing, very shortly, followed by marked up of the legislation.' 'We are very serious about this bill,' he said, 'We are trying to get President Aliyev to realize that he and his government have chosen to repress individuals, journalists, opposition folks, which does not end well.'
BAKU. March 2, 2016: “I believe Azerbaijan is at a turning point which will allow it to improve its relations with Europe and the Council of Europe,” said Pedro Agramunt, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), ending a two-day state visit to Azerbaijan (29 February-1 March).
“From my high-level discussions, I sense the possibility of a wind of change as Azerbaijan faces up to a variety of challenges,” said Mr Agramunt, who met the President, Speaker of Parliament and Foreign Minister, among others. “These challenges go beyond energy issues and human rights, and include the financial crisis and the need to attract foreign investors through the rule of law and transparency, all this in the context of the sensitive geopolitical situation that Azerbaijan finds itself in.”
BAKU. March 1, 2016: Counter to civil-rights activists’ hopes, it was petroleum rather than press freedom that took the top billing during European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s visit to Azerbaijan. In Baku, Mogherini commended Azerbaijan as a reliable source of energy and strategic partnership for Europe. The civil liberties watchdogs argued that, with its displays of intolerance for homegrown critical opinion, Azerbaijan is not worthy of an EU partnership.
But for the EU policymakers, worthy partners in the region are mainly defined by cubic meters; not necessarily democracy rankings. Mogherini said in Baku on February 29 that there is an internal consensus within the bloc that its collective foreign policy should give priority to “partners and initiatives that are crucial for better diversification of the EU energy resources.” A key role is reserved for Azerbaijan is this regard, as it is the starting point of a forthcoming East-West natural-gas pipeline system.
WASHINGTON. February 24, 2016 (Turan): Early this month Congressman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), the chairman of U.S. Helsinki Commission,sent a clear messageto Azerbaijan, urging Ilham Aliyev government to "let people out of prison who have committed no crime," to avoid criticism from the democratic world.
Smith recently introduced a landmark bill called "Azerbaijani Democracy Act" to the Commission. If accepted, the bill would impose visa sanctions on Azeri senior leadership amid their human rights violations.
The Aliyev government, in its response, rejects human rights violations and release of political prisoners.
Instead, it hired a leading US consultancy - Podesta Group - to help its side in a pushback against the legislation and boosting its image in Washington.
Elin Sulieymanov, the ambassador of Azerbaijan to the U.S., signed an agreement with the Podesta Group Inc., on February 1, 2016, to ‘perform public relations services for the country,’ according to U.S. Justice Department records.
Podesta, which guarantees Azerbaijani government’s access to some of the most powerful people in Washington, will received at least $50,000 per month from the Azerbaijani Embassy, plus expenses for the ‘additional services,’ TURAN's US correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu reports.
BAKU. February 19, 2016: Azerbaijan wants to wriggle out of a diplomatic dilemma by trying to reconcile Turkey, its closest strategic ally, and Russia, with whom it shares a Soviet past. But experts believe the risk of Azerbaijan getting dragged into the brewing confrontation may be higher than Baku’s ability to broker a solution.
Since Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter last November, Russian-Turkish relations have been in a downward spiral. Russia has stepped up efforts to bomb Turkish-backed rebels in Syria, while providing support to Kurdish fighters who Ankara deems to be terrorists. Speculation is now running high that Turkish forces could invade Syria to defend Ankara’s strategic interests. That would be a step with unpredictable consequences, given Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s evident hostility for his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Against that backdrop, Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking country that borders Russia and has strong economic and cultural connections to Turkey, can only feel nervous.
BAKU. February 17, 2016 (RFE/RL): To save money, Baku has turned off public lighting at night. The capital of Azerbaijan has often promoted itself to tourists as the "Bright Lights of Baku." But the recent economic crisis and the dive in oil prices have forced the country to tighten its purse strings.
WASHINGTON. February 12, 2016: Top U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (Democrat, New York) has become the first co-sponsor in the U.S. Capitol of comprehensive legislation aimed at denying U.S. visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to Baku's ongoing crackdown against independent voices, TURAN's Washington correspondent reports.
The bill H.R.4264, titled 'Azerbaijan Democracy Act", was introduced by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), the chairman of Helsinki Commission later last year, during the Commission’s hearing on journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s imprisonment.
Baku considers the Act "pro-Armenian", citing chairman Smith's long-term advocacy on recognition of 1915 events -- Armenian's mass killings by Ottomans -- as genocide, something that Turkey denies.
The latest move, however, might be unpleasant news for the Aliyev government's propaganda machine, as Congresswoman Slaughter is known to Azeri audience with her 2013 letter supporting Baku's campaign honoring the 2015 March events, as well as Azerbaijani Remembrance Day. (http://news.az/articles/politics/78521)
In the meantime, Congressman Smith on Thursday, took an initiative and commented on Baku's accusations against his action and the legislation, calling them "false and very foolish."