An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
By Elmar Chakhtakhtinski
Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD)
May 31, 2012
Dear Secretary Clinton,
On June 6th you will be visiting Baku and meeting with the leader of Azerbaijan’s ruling regime, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. It is understandable that sometimes the US need to work with even the most corrupt dictatorships on the pressing matters of national interest. However, I respectfully suggest that a visit by the top US diplomat should have been preceded at least by some positive steps from the Azerbaijani leadership on democracy and human rights, such as the release of all political prisoners, for example.
In the past, Mr. Aliyev and his government have given you, other world leaders and the Azerbaijani people many promises. But each time, emboldened by the respect and acceptance they received at the international stage, they ignored their obligations and continued on the path towards totalitarianism and corruption.
During your last trip to Baku in July 2010, you stressed the importance of democratic development and respect for human rights. Within the two years since your last meeting with Mr. Aliyev, his regime did nothing to improve its record on these issues. Below are some of the developments that happened in Azerbaijan during that time:
- The parliamentary elections held within few months after your trip in 2010 were marred by wholesale fraud, as was every other election under the Aliyev regime. A new parliament was formed without a single representative from the political opposition. Currently, there is not a single branch of government in Azerbaijan at any level that can claim to be formed by free expression of people’s will.
- Media reports emerged with documented evidence that links the ruling Aliyev family to large-scale corruption involving secretive ownership through offshore companies of the country’s largest banks, phone operators, industrial complexes, gold mines and other enterprises. Neither Mr. Aliyev nor any of his officials have ever refuted these allegations or explained where all this wealth comes from. This might have been sufficient for the indictment and prosecution of Mr. Aliyev in any civilized country which, unlike Azerbaijan, is governed by laws.
- A US Congress sponsored Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova, whose investigative work revealed many of the corruption facts about the ruling family, was attacked with sexual blackmail and personal threats coupled with an aggressive dirty PR campaign against her in the pro-government press.
- Journalist Rafig Tagi, who had been critical of both the religious extremism and the Azerbaijani leadership, was murdered. The authorities were quick to point fingers to Iran and its agents, but no one has been charged with the crime yet. This eerily reminded a 2005 murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov, the most vocal regime critic at the time, whose killers have also evaded justice.
- The number of political prisoners has increased. The two bloggers, personally mentioned by you and President Obama to Mr. Aliyev in 2010, had been released but many others were thrown behind the bars. From an opposition leader Arif Hajili, one of the people who signed Azerbaijan’s Declaration of Independence from Soviet Empire, to young Harvard graduate and parliamentary candidate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, to local human rights defender in Goychay province Vidadi Iskenderov – there is a long list of people jailed for speaking out their minds, professing their beliefs and demanding their rights.
- The regime continued to ban protest rallies in the central parts of Baku and other cities, with police and government organized thugs brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.
I could also cite the inhumane demolitions of private homes, non-stop persecution of political dissidents and independent media on all fronts, pervasive corruption at all levels, and many other daily violations of basic rights and freedoms of Azerbaijani citizens. All these facts are well documented by major international organizations and the US State Department’s own Annual Human Rights Reports.
One thing stands clear from this record: the ruling Azerbaijani regime has convincingly demonstrated by its past and present actions that it has no intentions of ever loosening its repressive policies and conducting the long promised reforms. The twenty years of Aliyev dynasty in Azerbaijan had been plenty enough for holding at least one free and fair election, for allowing at least one independent TV and radio broadcast station, for not having the ruling family own the nation’s biggest companies, for not having journalists and dissidents murdered, blackmailed, beaten and jailed. These are not the elements of a mature democracy which might take decades to build: they are the very minimal steps necessary for any progress towards open and accountable governance.
Dear Madam Secretary,
The Aliyev regime often uses Azerbaijan’s energy resources and geo-strategic location as leverage, hoping that in return for energy and security cooperation the United States and other world powers will accept its legitimacy. But the recent history, including the events of Arab Spring, revealed the potential dangers of bloodshed and upheaval awaiting such unelected, oppressive governments, with all the ensuing uncertainty it brings for the United States and its allies in the region.
I urge you to use this opportunity to make it clear that America stands behind its principles and that democracy will not be perpetually sidelined by other considerations. By publicly demanding free elections, release of all political prisoners, and respect for basic rights and freedoms, the United States leadership would show that it considers the people of Azerbaijan, not just its government, as friends and allies and this friendship is based on shared vision of liberty, justice and peaceful development, not only on temporal energy and security interests.
Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, Chairman
Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD)