Wednesday, September 10

When we need international attention the most, not everyone is interested as it turns out

A couple never separated before in their 36 years of marriage is currently in jail. A little boy is growing up without his father because he is in jail. An NGO head, determined to influence election results by publishing transparent reports on violations, is currently in jail. A well - respected human rights defender is in jail. The list goes on. According to the most recent report published by a group of civil society organizations there are 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Those mentioned above, are on this list of other activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. All of these men and women are in jail as a result of their work in a country currently in charge of the Presidency of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. The charges brought against them are just as false as the government’s statements on existence of freedom and democracy in Azerbaijan. 

And yet, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, gets off easy no matter what the next human rights violation – he is very rich and so is the country he reigns over. A kleptocrat by nature, Aliyev, is the son, of a former Politburo – member - turn - president, Heydar Aliyev. In 2003, when Aliyev senior died, he passed on the torch to his son, Ilham Aliyev in the country’s first undemocratic elections. And so did a new chapter for Azerbaijan begin. Aliyev secured a victory in presidential elections over the course of the next decade, changing the constitution in 2009 to scrape off the two-term limit. His victory in the most recent presidential elections in October of 2013 marks another era for Azerbaijan – a period of severe crackdown on dissent. While there has been an on-going witch-hunt against civil society activists, anti- government political party members, groups and human rights activists, never has the country witnessed the crackdown of such proportions. Just in the course of the past four months, 15 people were arrested all known for their critical and anti – Aliyev views. Some are facing life time imprisonment. 

Yet, in an e-mail correspondence with an editor from an XXX international publication I was told to perhaps tackle another issue in the upcoming article. Because this was not the first article sent in on the country's disturbing crackdown record. Alas, the outlet might come across as having a vested interest in showing Azerbaijan from this negative angle. Very unfortunate, as I was very much hoping this was an independent media outlet interested in shedding light on a country that's not discussed widely in the international media, not of its deteriorating human rights record at least. I am sorry if this is not interesting enough, but if nothing else is happening in a country apart from arrests, detentions and violation of the very basic right to free speech then I do not see how you can call yourself an independent outlet. Turns out there is a vested interest after all. Just of a different kind.

Wednesday, August 27

The battle of words goes on

Following the publication of the following piece in Washingpost about Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev and the most recent crackdown on the supporters of free speech and democracy in the country it didn’t take long for the official response to come through.

Commenting on the allegations explained at length in the article (including the trumped up charges brought up against Leyla and Arif Yunus), Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Washington D.C. Elin Suleymanov said it wasn’t as simple as that. “The merit of charges against Leyla and Arif Yunus should be determined by the legal system in Azerbaijan, not by political campaigns. The detention could have been avoided had they responded to the repeated summons to testify in an ongoing investigation. Instead […] they rejected any interaction with law enforcement officials”. Perhaps if Mr. Suleymanov was prevented from leaving the country on one of his trips without any explanation he’d think differently. Until then, his response should come as no surprise.

In his letter to editorial of Washington Post, Richard Kauzlarich, who was US Ambassador to Azerbaijan between 1994 and 1997 wrote a timely response to Ambassador Suleymanov: “The ambassador did not address the bogus charges of spying for Armenia made against Leyla and Arif Yunus, the fact that Mrs. Yunus is being denied medicines and medical treatment or the fact that there are dozens of other political prisoners being detained or imprisoned in Azerbaijani jails”.

The truth of the matter is everyone including Ambassador Suleymanov is aware that the on-going crackdown is unjustified. And more than anything it makes the government of Azerbaijan look weak – if this was a confident leadership the country would have no political prisoners in jail or any other problems with freedom of speech or human rights as a matter of fact.

As for public diplomacy and the role people like Yunuses play in the on-going track two discussions instead of belittling, some gratitude would be much appreciated. Especially as Ambassador Kauzlarich rightly notes, “neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan has demonstrated a commitment to the Minsk Group framework because neither side is prepared to make the compromises necessary to achieve the peaceful resolution of this conflict”.