Rights defenders urge Obama Administration not to rely on Aliyev government

The leading Azeri democracy defenders on Thursday urged Obama Administration “not to rely on Ilham Aliyev government” just hours after the Azerbaijani President’s official website published a surprise letter from the White House where the US president extended “his best wishes to I.Aliyev on his reelection for the third term.”

“This congratulations… were not extended in time and that itself is an indication of a problem,” Gorxmaz Asgarov, vice-chairman of Azerbaijani- Americans for Democracy (AZAD) told TURAN’s Washington correspondent.  “Imagine, if you have a birthday and somebody congratulates you a month later,” he added.

AZAD, nonpartisan organization that advocates for democracy in Azerbaijan, discussed this issue as well as other human rights violations and democratic challenges in Azerbaijan at an event titled “The Perils of Content with Azerbaijan: Is Status-Quo Sustainable for the West’s Favorite ‘Gas Station”?” in the US Capital, two blocks away from the White House, November 7.

The keynote speakers of the event were Rasul Jafarov, the chairman of the Human Rights Club and project coordinator of the Art for Democracy Campaign, Rebecca Vincent Art for Democracy’s advocacy director, commentator or Azerbaijan and Irena Lasota, renown expert on democratization in post-communist countries.

Addressing the event, Elmar Shahtakhtinski, chairman of AZAD and other speakers mentioned that Azerbaijan’s future will be decided by Azeris themselves, but the deteriorating situation inside the country might force issues of democracy and human rights higher onto the agenda of the West or US.

The question, Elmar said, is whether Azerbaijan’s ability to remain a stable energy and security partner for the West in light of the country’s backsliding record on democracy and pervasive corruption.

Azerbaijan is “not such a reliable partner as it is working hard to promote itself as,” answered Rebecca Vincent.

Baku is failing across the board to implement the human rights obligations that it has committed itself by joining bodies such as the UN, the Council of Europe and ratifying a number of international treaties.

The Azeri government systematically violates the human rights, while dismissing international criticism, siting other regional countries’ records and showing that not interested in democracy and human rights at all “ added Rasul Jafarov. 

In reality, he said, the government is “acting in a totally different way, aiming to create fair atmosphere and self-censorship in the society.” 

Although Baku officials “like to bring up the fact that during the elections any candidate can conduct meetings either outside or at a venue, in practice the executive power publishes the list of places where politicians or political groups can meet with their potential voters.” Jafarov said.

Speaking on freedom of expression, Vincent mentioned among the country's 140 political prisoners there are nine journalists and one blogger. The trend has shifted from previous years when journalists were arrested for “something directly connected to their work, such as defamation, to unrelated crimes, ranging from hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion, supporting terrorism, you name it.”

“The idea is to make it more confusing for outsides to understand which cases are politically motivated and which are not, but the intention is to silence these political voices,” she added.

As the state completely controls the broadcast media in the country, Internet is the only hope, but for the analysts, its freedom is also deteriorating. “The government is taking further action to punish those who turn to the Internet to express their criticism.”

“The behavior of the entire government of Azerbaijan allows us to say that while it is claiming that it is legitimate, governing the country under the will of its people, it is not,” said Gorkhmaz Asgarov.

With the 85% of votes for Ilham Aliyev, he said, “seems like is trying to make Azerbaijan more and more like Turkmenistan.”

The question is, he said, what could be expected from the cooperation of Aliyev government and western democracies.

Vincent believes, there is a need for more attention for individual cases and trends in Azerbaijan. “It is really necessary to make sure that this regime is not given unmerited carrots or rewards,”.

Washington, for her, should continue it’s support activities, not stop and be optimistic, stop self-censorship that we potentially have for ourselves, ignore it and find more creative ways to engage with the people.

Addressing from the audience, Richard Kauzlarich, former ambassador to Azerbaijan said, the economy is one thing that needs to be highlighted more: the need for better distribution of the wealth, the need for the economic reform.  

For the ambassador, the regimes where a president has been just elected with 85% of the vote, are “very vulnerable.”

“If you look at the economic situation of Azerbaijan, oil production is dropping off, gas production is dropping off… The regime will have to get used to living off the revenues that it had generated up to this point from SOCAR,“ he said.

Concluding his comment, Asgarov said. “Wse need as outsiders and insiders to develop different ways and measures for democracy… It is much more complicated than sending election observers who give you a thumps up or thumps down.”

 

Alakbar Raufoglu

Washington, DC

 

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