Azerbaijan https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/18638/all cached version 08/02/2019 17:51:16 en In Azerbaijan, a hunger strike is the only remaining hope for justice https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/in-azerbaijan-a-hunger-strike-is-the-only-remaining-hope-for-justice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Mehman Huseynov, an Azeri blogger, is facing new fabricated charges in prison. But people inside and outside the country are coming together to try and free him.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/408370528.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/408370528.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="249" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mehman Huseynov. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>This January, five political prisoners in Azerbaijan, in an unprecedented act of solidarity, released a letter in support of jailed blogger Mehman Huseynov. The five signatories of the letter, released on the 13th, are Ilkin Rustamzade (activist, sentenced to eight years in May 2014), Giyas Ibrahim (activist, sentenced to ten years in December 2016), Bayram Mammadov (activist, sentenced to ten years in December 2016), Elchin Ismayilli (journalist, sentenced to nine years in September 2017) and Ahsan Nuruzade (religious activist, sentenced to seven years in March 2018). They are calling on <a href="http://turan.az/ext/news/2018/9/free/Social/en/74740.htm">Azerbaijan’s 130 other political prisoners</a> to join them.</p><p dir="ltr">“If we do not show unity today, it means, that one day, it can happen to any of us. If we wait like a lamb to the slaughter, tomorrow, [the prison authority] will discover drugs, tanks or something of that kind [in our cells], or we would all be accused of ‘beating’ someone [...] Starting today, for Mehman and others, we declare our decision to go on a hunger strike and call on all political prisoners to join us.”</p><p dir="ltr">The letter comes on day 19 of a hunger strike started by Mehman Huseynov, a popular blogger known for his satirical reporting on inequality, corruption and social justice. Huseynov, 26, is chief editor of Sancaq TV (The Pin), a socio-political magazine active on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Sancaq.biz/">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-hpv4fl9cNOXENouHus9Gg">YouTube</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/sancaq.production/?hl=en">Instagram</a>. Before his arrest in March 2017, Huseynov was working on a <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/mehman-huseynov-sentenced">campaign</a> (<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGcuImpm158">“The Hunt for Corrupt Officials”</a>) that documented corruption in the high echelons of Azerbaijan’s ruling establishment.</p><p dir="ltr">In <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiQA83hpJoU">one of the last interviews</a> posted on YouTube before his arrest, Huseynov asked residents of Baku whether they would choose their wives as their first secretaries or assistants if they were president or a director of a large company – a clear reference to President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva. The video was uploaded on 27 February 2017. Huseynov was arrested on 3 March 2017 in a Baku courtroom, where he was charged with defamation and sentenced to two years behind bars.</p><p dir="ltr">This story does not begin or end here. If anything, it is just one chapter in the struggle of Azerbaijani advocates of freedoms and equality – and Huseynov is one of many heroes of the story.</p><h2>Behind the boy with the cap and mic</h2><p dir="ltr">Mehman Huseynov, 26, has lived without a national ID since 2012.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2013, Huseynov was detained at the Haydar Aliyev International airport, en route to Norway to receive the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe journalist award. At the time, police told Huseynov the travel ban was connected to an ongoing case from 2012 when Huseynov was <a href="https://www.refworld.org/docid/4fdb2f9a23.html">detained</a> for allegedly assaulting police officers at an unsanctioned anti-government rally. Following his release, Huseynov had to sign a pledge not to leave Azerbaijan. In 2014, Huseynov was informed that his national ID was fake and that there is no such person as Mehman Huseynov registered in the system. Huseynov requested information from the Ministry of the Interior, which confirmed that his documents were in order. Finally, in September 2015, Huseynov was hoping to receive his new ID when he was detained at a local e-service centre. After being kept for several hours, <a href="https://mir-az.tumblr.com/post/128470692344/mehman-h%C3%BCsenovun-s%C9%99n%C9%99dl%C9%99ri-niy%C9%99-verilmi">according to Huseynov</a> himself, he was released but told that the reason for his detention was a ban on all his documentation.</p><p dir="ltr">Without any documentation, and repeated harassment and pressure at the hands of ruling Baku, the situation further escalated in January 2017, when Huseynov was reportedly abducted and <a href="https://globalvoices.org/2017/03/03/in-azerbaijan-another-blogger-gets-jail-time/">tortured</a> whilst in police custody. Following his forced temporary detention, Huseynov was subject to a fine in total amount of 200 AZN (£91) in a closed door hearing where he was found guilty of disobeying a lawful order.</p><p dir="ltr">When Huseynov described the inhumane treatment he was subject to during his detention, the Chief of Baku police filed a lawsuit against Huseynov, accusing him of giving false information about his detention and treatment. As a result, in March 2017, Huseynov was sentenced to two years of imprisonment on defamation charges. In previous cases, journalists, rights advocates and activists often were sentenced to jail on charges such as drug possession, hooliganism, money laundering and abuse of power. Huseynov was the first to receive a sentence for defamation. According to the criminal code, the maximum time for this sentence is three years. The fact that Huseynov received two years attests to what Huseynov’s supporters describe as the Azeri government’s attempt to keep Huseynov locked up.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Journalists, rights advocates and activists often were sentenced to jail on charges such as drug possession, hooliganism, money laundering and abuse of power</p><p dir="ltr">In late December 2018, just short of two months before release, Huseynov was presented with a new set of charges, accusing him of alleged physical violence against a prison officer.</p><p dir="ltr">The reaction both at home and abroad to the new charges and Mehman Huseynov’s decision to go on a hunger strike has been overwhelming. Under the hashtag #FreeMehman, scores of civic activists flooded the social media accounts of President Ilham Aliyev, his wife and their socialite daughter Leyla Aliyeva. A support rally in Baku on 4 January was followed by several administrative detentions and fines, before being violently dispersed by the local police. But while protests in Baku have been dispersed, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">political emigres and dissidents living abroad</a> have organised rallies in Germany, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Lithuania and elsewhere.</p><p dir="ltr">Exiled Azerbaijani rapper Jamali Ali released a song “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN4slj5xl7A">My Queen”</a>, calling on the authorities to release Mehman and others. Several members of opposition parties have announced their decision to join Huseynov by declaring a hunger strike as well. On 14 January, investigative reporter Khadija Ismayil also announced her decision to join the hunger strike while the numbers of imprisoned political prisoners joining the strike in solidarity from prisons is growing following the call on 13 January.</p><p dir="ltr">On 17 January, the European Parliament passed a <a href="https://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=P8-RC-2019-0056&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN&amp;fbclid=IwAR3DZdqX6yyqxcjL2xC29oVf5_D1tn95HIYa3PL8DV2sD62z5ASBn28WHeA">resolution</a>, calling for Huseynov’s unconditional release. The resolution was backed by all major parties in the European Parliament, and calls on Azerbaijan for full guarantees of media freedom and freedom of speech.</p><iframe src="https://www.rferl.org/embed/player/0/29719324.html?type=video" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="460" height="259" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>19 January: thousands gather in central Baku in support of releasing Azerbaijani political prisoners. Source: RFE/RL.</em><p dir="ltr">“What is important not to forget is that Mehman was sentenced on bogus charges the first time, and now is facing new bogus charges. So even if tomorrow Mehman stops the hunger strike, we should not forget why he started it in the first place – as a protest against the charges,” said Rasul Jafarov, a prominent human rights lawyer, in an interview on 14 January.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.turan.az/ext/news/2019/1/free/politics%20news/en/78007.htm">statement</a> issued on 12 January 2019 by 13 Human Rights Houses, explain in detail the bogus allegations and the real implications of new charges against the blogger if found guilty.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Huseynov’s lawyer Shahla Humbatova, Huseynov is facing a possible new sentence of up to seven years. This is the gravest of sentences one can receive for the alleged offense Huseynov is being accused of. He was sentenced to two out of possible three years in 2017 and is now facing anywhere from five to seven.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">According to Huseynov’s lawyer Shahla Humbatova, Huseynov is facing a possible new sentence of up to seven years</p><p dir="ltr">There were two previous cases of political activists dying in Azerbaijan while in prison. In November 2007, Faina Kurgunova died in detention at the age of 33. She was the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/1079210.html">first female political prisoner</a> to die in prison while on a hunger strike. Kurgunova was a member of ADP – Azerbaijan Democratic Party and was serving her time for alleged drug possession. At the time, the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/1079210.html">reported</a> cause of death was “depression” and “malnutrition”. Ten years later, Mehman Galandarov, an activist and blogger was <a href="http://oc-media.org/azerbaijani-activist-found-dead-in-jail/">found dead in his prison cell</a>, having hanged himself.</p><p dir="ltr">In both cases, prison authorities tried to manipulate these deaths, saying, at first, that nothing was wrong. Similarly, in the case of Mehman Huseynov, official statements (<a href="https://en.azvision.az/news/98880/-mehman-huseynov-ends-hunger-strike-.html">such as this one</a>) allegedly claiming that Mehman ended his hunger strike and that he is well are far from surprising. Rasul Jafarov believes only what comes from Mehman directly or through his lawyer and people who visit him: “As a former political prisoner, I know how these letters, statements can be manipulated. And I can 100% confirm that the most recent letter circulating around was fake, it was not even his handwriting.” This can also explain the new reports <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155732077771244&amp;set=a.10151613573211244&amp;type=3&amp;theater">pressure</a> against political prisoners who have gone on hunger strike in support of Huseynov, including threats of new charges if they do not stop.</p><p dir="ltr">Will a hunger strike change the behaviour of a Council of Europe member state known for its poor human rights record? Or will it be yet another story that will go down in history as just another silenced voice, desperate for justice?</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ismail-djalilov-and-tamara-grigoryeva/injustice-for-all%20">Injustice for all: how Azerbaijan’s bar association was reduced to tatters </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown">Azerbaijan’s digital crackdown requires a political solution </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten">Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Mon, 21 Jan 2019 07:12:47 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 121356 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s blocking of websites is a sign of further restrictions online https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijans-blocking-of-websites <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This month has seen yet another series of attacks on internet freedom.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The website of exile Azerbaijani news site MeydanTV, which was blocked earlier this year. </span></span></span>It has been a busy month for the Cyber Security Service at Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Transport, Communication and High Technologies. </p><p dir="ltr">Since early August, the service has targeted a number of independent news websites – first requesting them to remove specific content, and later blocking access to these websites altogether. The blocking came after the websites featured articles on the corrupt practices of certain government officials, other stories merely reported on local grievances. Editors and journalists have been summoned to the prosecutor office for questioning over the published articles, though the editors are reluctant to comply. In their public statements, editors say there was no slander nor misinformation in any of the articles published. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, the Azerbaijani authorities are relying on legislative amendments passed in 2017 to the “Law on Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information”. According to these amendments, if a website contains prohibited information that poses danger to state or society (“special circumstances”), the relevant authority can block the website without a court order within eight hours of notifying the manager and editor of a website. The lack of necessity for a court order (although in regular circumstances it must be obtained) allowed the authorities to block some of the most prominent news outlets in Azerbaijan. </p><p dir="ltr">Since May 2017, over 20 websites have been blocked in Azerbaijan, including Azadliq Radio (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Azerbaijan Service) and its international service, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Azadliq Newspaper (independent of the Azadliq radio), Meydan TV, Turan TV and Azerbaijan Saadi (Azerbaijan Hour), OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Unit), abzas.net, obyektiv.tv and others. </p><p dir="ltr">When in May 2017 a court upheld the decision to block access to Azadliq Radio and others, it did so on the ground that these outlets promoted violence, hatred, extremism, violated privacy or constituted slander. This time, the decision to block access is similar, although it focuses more on slander and spreading misinformation. An editor of one of the recently blocked websites (az24saat.org) was asked to remove four articles that mentioned Ali Hasanov, an aide to President Ilham Aliyev. Monitortv.info, which was among the blocked websites, also received a note requesting the removal of articles mentioning Ali Hasanov on the grounds that these stories contained slander and lies. </p><p dir="ltr">There is no official data on the number of blocked websites in Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Communication, High Technologies and Transportation has so far failed to provide accurate lists. This in itself is a <a href="https://alasgarmaammadli.blogspot.com/2018/07/onlayn-internet-resurslar-qanuna-zidd.html">violation</a> of Article 13.3.6 of the Law on Information, Informatisation and Access to Information, which requests the Ministry to prepare a list of blocked websites if it has blocked access to a resource and the court upheld this decision. </p><p dir="ltr">In the absence of an official resource, independent media experts such as Alasgar Mammadli argue there are far more websites currently blocked than reported – he puts the number at roughly 60. My own tests conducted during recent research at the Berkman Center for Internet Society show roughly half that number. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">Keeping information away from the public</h2><p dir="ltr">In July 2018, the Prosecutor General's Office <a href="https://azertag.az/xeber/Bas_Prokurorluq_Sosial_sebekelerde_ve_bezi_saytlarda_texribat_xarakterli_chagirislarla_elaqedar_cinayet_isi_baslanilib-1178164">launched</a> criminal investigations against four news websites: criminal.az, bastainfo.com, topxeber.az and fia.az. The former two were accused of “knowingly spreading false information,” while the latter two were accused of “spreading unfounded, sensational claims in order to confuse the public.” Criminal.az is an independent website, known for its coverage of crime-related news, while bastainfo.com is affiliated with the opposition party Musavat. The latter two are run-of-the-mill online news websites. </p><p dir="ltr">The decision to block these websites came in the aftermath of <a href="http://oc-media.org/two-police-officers-killed-in-ganja-rally-after-botched-assassination-on-mayor/">events in Ganja</a>, the country’s third largest city, where three people were killed in the span of just a few days. First on 3 July, the city mayor was seriously injured in an attempted assassination, and just days later, two police officers were killed in what authorities described as riots. The authorities were quick to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/attacks-in-azerbaijan-raise-accusations-of-islamist-extremism-government-skullduggery">blame</a> Islamic extremists for the attacks and the unrest. But independent pundits saw these claims as a means to prevent information from reaching the public. </p><p dir="ltr">For press freedom advocates watching the events unfold in Azerbaijan over the past two months, there are plenty of signs that the authorities are coming after what is the only remaining space for dissent in Azerbaijan, the Internet. For years now, authorities in Azerbaijan have been notorious for clamping down on press freedom, whether by jailing or intimidating journalists, shutting down publications and fining independent newspapers. And since 2013, there has also been a clear <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown">trend</a> in curbing down on internet freedoms in Azerbaijan. </p><p dir="ltr">Over the years, attempts by members of the parliament “to control” social media platforms in order to avoid “external forces” from spreading misinformation on Azerbaijan have become more frequent. The most recent example <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/43723/">includes at least 14 people being arrested</a> for their social media posts on the grounds of making “illegal appeals”. As a result, some of these people were <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/29562/">sentenced</a> to administrative detention. At least three face criminal charges for allegedly “supporting terrorism” and “disrupting social and political stability”. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown">Azerbaijan’s digital crackdown requires a political solution </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-bystrov/how-to-clear-belarus-of-independent-media-in-one-easy-step">With attacks on independent media, the &quot;thaw&quot; in Belarus is over</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ismail-djalilov-and-tamara-grigoryeva/injustice-for-all%20">Injustice for all: how Azerbaijan’s bar association was reduced to tatters </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Fri, 31 Aug 2018 07:40:04 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 119408 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Injustice for all: how Azerbaijan’s bar association was reduced to tatters https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ismail-djalilov-and-tamara-grigoryeva/injustice-for-all%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A strong and independent legal community is the most significant obstacle to the arbitrariness of authoritarian rule.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_1_5835882686.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_1_5835882686.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Iryna Stasiuk. </span></span></span>On the evening of 29 May, Samad Rahimli, an Azerbaijani lawyer and human rights defender, was sat at a desk in the middle of a large auditorium. Facing him were seven members of the Azerbaijani Collegium of Lawyers’ admission committee, who were waiting to interview him and decide whether or not he would be admitted. Although Rahimli had been warned privately that he would not be accepted, he was calm and ready for the interview.</p><p dir="ltr">“The oral interview was supposed to last up to 30 minutes, and I was held there for 35,” he says. “The rest (of the candidates) were quizzed for 10-15 minutes.” Rahimli knew this because he’d been waiting for his interview since morning. His turn came at around 6 pm.</p><p dir="ltr">Rahimli knew full well that the second, oral part of the interview is broad by design, and that the seven committee members sitting opposite him at a U-shaped table, were not going to go easy on him. “I was interrupted, I was told my responses were wrong, I was told to cite the article by heart, not to be argumentative,” he says, adding that he refused to answer some questions or quote obscure articles and rules because he didn’t consider himself under any obligation to do so per rules of the examination.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, just as the private warnings had prophesied, and despite years of experience working on cases and bringing dozens of them to the European Court of Human Rights, Rahimli was informed that he had not passed. He and others say that he was not admitted precisely because of this experience.</p><h2>The systematic elimination of free thinkers</h2><p dir="ltr">That Azerbaijan is no heaven for fundamental freedoms is common knowledge. The harassment of lawyers by law enforcement and judiciary has been occurring for a long time, and is <a href="https://www.osce.org/baku/20432?download=true">well documented</a>. But 2017 was the year when the Azerbaijani authorities began systematically eliminating the independent legal profession as an institution.</p><p dir="ltr">At the risk of dismantling the country’s already tenuous rule of law system, the Azerbaijani government has been arresting, harassing and disbarring lawyers. It has also influenced the Collegium of Lawyers to discriminate during bar entrance exams against any lawyer deemed unreliable or disloyal or who dares to provide legal representation to the authorities’ opponents. While introducing cosmetic reforms, the regime is rolling out new restrictive laws on lawyering, eliminating all the critical members of the Collegium and replacing them with subservient loyalists and government advocates.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Samad_Rahimli_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Samad_Rahimli_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Samad Rahimli (left), with lawyer Ziya Guliyev, and NGO worker Hasan Huseynli. Photo courtesy of Samad Rahimli.</span></span></span>“The crackdown on the lawyers is part of a long process of eliminating the government’s opponents,” says Yalchin Imanov, a lawyer who was <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/yalchin-imanov-suspended-practising-pending-trial">disbarred in 2017 for his human rights work</a>. “First, the government went after political parties, then, in 2014, they went after civil society and the media. From then on, the only institution that had independent free-thinkers was the Collegium of Lawyers… These attacks on them had been occurring in the past, as well, but not in such a systematic way like now.”</p><p dir="ltr">When the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan">notorious crackdown of 2014</a> on the Azerbaijani civil society started, it was the human rights lawyers who drew attention to these attacks, says Intigam Aliyev, a prominent lawyer in Azerbaijan who was <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-intigam-aliyev">disbarred and spent 2014-2016 in prison</a> for his human rights work. Aliyev adds that the state “always viewed the legal profession through a prism of political interests and as of strategic importance.”</p><p dir="ltr">Maran Turner, executive director at <a href="http://www.freedom-now.org/">Freedom Now</a>, a Washington-based NGO that works on the rights of lawyers in Azerbaijan among others, notes that despite all the pressure on the independent legal profession “the lawyers that are the most active, they are continuing to do this work, even though most of them have been disbarred.”</p><h2>The collegium of yes-men</h2><p dir="ltr">On paper, the <a href="http://www.barassociation.az/">Collegium of Lawyers</a> is an independent non-governmental organisation that operates based on Azerbaijan’s <a href="http://cis-legislation.com/document.fwx?rgn=10556">Law on Lawyers and Legal Activities</a>. It was created in 2004 as a requirement <a href="http://well-documented">set forth by the international organisations</a> that the country became a member of, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). A self-regulating organisation, the Collegium is supposed to defend the rights and freedoms under the law, provide citizens with professional legal representation and enhance the prestige of the legal profession, as stated on its <a href="http://www.barassociation.az/en/azecollegium">website</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">“The legal profession that is considered one of most effective mechanisms for the defense of human rights in the world, in Azerbaijan is simply a decoration,” Intigam Aliyev remarks. “In the best case scenario, our Collegium operates like a department of the Justice Ministry or the Presidential Apparatus.”</p><p dir="ltr">The organisation’s complete dependence on the government’s good graces is not news. A <a href="https://www.osce.org/ru/odihr/124151?download=true">2014 OSCE report</a> outlines in detail many ways in which the organisation is not only dependent on the Azerbaijani state – but is also being used to suppress lawyers who are willing to represent and speak up on behalf of victims of grave human rights violations.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_120700006113.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_120700006113.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="192" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anar Bagirov. Source: Turan Agency.</span></span></span>When the Collegium of Lawyers <a href="http://en.apa.az/azerbaijani-news/social-news/new-chairman-of-azerbaijan-s-bar-association-elected.html">elected a new chairman</a> in December 2017, some had hopes that he would improve Azerbaijan’s legal profession on the whole and the organisation itself. </p><p dir="ltr">For years, the Collegium had been led by Azer Tagiyev, and Anar Bagirov, the young lawyer who replaced him, initially impressed observers in the legal community, media and civil society at large, giving frequent interviews in which he stressed the importance of improving the legal profession. Bagirov also acknowledged that Azerbaijan has one of the lowest ratios of lawyers per capita in the world (one lawyer per more than 10,000 citizens), and called for immediate reforms.</p><p dir="ltr">However, not everyone was impressed. “We stressed that the problem with Anar Bagirov is that he is a business partner of the Azerbaijani Justice Minister’s son, who also owns a <a href="https://bhm.az/az/sp/25.html">law firm</a>,” says Samad Rahimli. “We said that he (Bagirov) has a business relationship and (is in a dependent position on the latter) which would raise questions about his objectivity and further complicate an already complex situation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, many lawyers mention that although Azer Taghiyev wasn’t a reformist by any stretch of imagination, he was more protective of Collegium members – and willing to negotiate with the government.</p><p dir="ltr">When Bagirov took over chairmanship of the Collegium, he vowed to raise its membership numbers. Azerbaijan, with its population of 10 million, has slightly more than <a href="http://s">1,0</a><a href="http://www.barassociation.az/en/azecollegium">00 collegium members</a>, whereas neighbouring Georgia and Armenia – which have populations of roughly four and three million each – have more than 4,000 and 1,500 collegium members respectively, according to data released by the <a href="http://advokatura.kz/advokatskaya-deyatelnost-v-stranah-sng-i-baltii/">Kazakhstan collegium</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/info_4592b32ffc7f83841fb2888304e17374.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/info_4592b32ffc7f83841fb2888304e17374.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Collegium of Lawyers, Baku. Source: Collegium of Lawyers.</span></span></span>After Bagirov took over chairmanship, the number of bar members did increase by over a hundred people, but none of them were human rights lawyers. Just as Bagirov took over the organisation, a wave of disbarments started to hit Azerbaijan’s human rights lawyers. Yalchin Imanov was disbarred in December 2017, and then two other lawyers, Asabali Mustafayev and Nemat Karimli, <a href="http://iphronline.org/justice-under-threat-in-azerbaijan-as-bar-association-bans-yet-more-independent-lawyers.html">had their licenses temporarily suspended in April 2018</a>. Irada Javadova, another professional who had vocally opposed violations, was <a href="https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-lawyer-irada-javadova-disbarment-decided-in-unfair-proceedings/">disbarred in June 2018</a>. At the same time, in October 2017, new amendments to the Law on Representation were introduced by the government, prohibiting lawyers who aren’t Collegium members from practicing even procedural and civil law.</p><p dir="ltr">“Anar Bagirov managed to do in six months what Azer Tagiyev couldn’t do [in years]. This is an indicator of his success in fulfilling all of his obligations before the government,” Rahimli comments facetiously, lamenting that Bagirov’s short tenure has seen a sharp decline in lawyers’ activity in general.</p><h2>Murphy’s law</h2><p>Prior to November 2017, if a lawyer was disbarred in Azerbaijan, they could still legally represent clients in court with the exception of criminal cases. But new amendments to Azerbaijan’s Law on Representation changed the consequences of disbarment for lawyers, reserving the right to represent clients in any court proceedings only for Collegium members.</p><p dir="ltr">Commenting on these changes, Yalchin Imanov says that some lawyers resisted them at the time, calling them a move against lawyers as an institution. For him, the goal was to deprive independent lawyers of an opportunity to work once and for all. “The disbarment would serve as a cautionary tale, it would keep the rest in check, sending a signal that if they follow in the footsteps of so-and-so, the same fate would await them too.”</p><p dir="ltr">Once these amendments were introduced, Bagirov <a href="https://www.azernews.az/business/131398.html">rushed to ensure the public</a> that the law was part of the reforms he’d promised, and that the Collegium would soon welcome new members as the result of the bar examination.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Anar Bagirov managed to do in six months what Azer Tagiyev couldn’t do (in years). This is an indicator of his success in fulfilling all of his obligations before the government”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet according to critics, the oral examination – previously a part of the Collegium’s entrance exam – has become a tool for undermining the candidacies of lawyers the government deems undesirable or disloyal. Most of the lawyers who fail the new examination have failed it exactly at the final stage, the oral examination.</p><p dir="ltr">Rahimli bemoans the lack of objective methodology for the exam, mentioning that the issue is considered so serious that it has been raised with the Council of Europe&nbsp;– whereas Imanov is critical of the vagueness of the rules and laws defining the oral examination process itself. “There are no articles enumerating the exact fashion in which this procedure is conducted in the law, rules or the by-laws of the Collegium of Lawyers. However, by common logic, the final step ought to examine the general worldview of the candidates who had already passed the first step and whose knowledge of the applicable law had been tested.”</p><p dir="ltr">“It clearly signals that the Collegium will not admit independent or opposition-minded members, as well as those working on human rights cases,” Imanov adds. “I don’t think it is plausible that lawyers who have participated in numerous civil cases, represented clients in court, successfully forwarded cases to the European Court of Human Rights, possess inferior knowledge of the law to the extent that they cannot pass the oral examination. This is the undeniable proof of bias against them and the intent to keep them out.”</p><p dir="ltr">It’s pure math, according to Aliyev: “The heavy workload of numerous administrative, civil and criminal cases in the campaign of repressions against civil society was shouldered by 10-15 lawyers. They turned into a major headache for the government. Now, imagine that the Collegium of Lawyers was an independent and democratic organisation, and it numbered not 10-15, but 1,000-1,500 independent and principled lawyers. The authoritarian government understands this danger very well,” he says, adding that in a country with 150 political prisoners, there are now only six lawyers working on political cases. </p><p>In terms of the future that awaits lawyers who fail the oral examination, Intigam Aliyev says that “for some of them, the doors close for good. These are the politically active lawyers who criticise the government in the press and on social media.” A second group, Aliyev says, are the ones who still have a chance to get back in the good graces of the government if they “behave”.</p><h2>Catch-22</h2><p dir="ltr">With less than a dozen independent members left in the Collegium, Azerbaijan is on the path of further dismantling the rule of law and the ability of the judiciary system to do its work. However, some international organisations are satisfied with what they see so far. “Unfortunately, a few international organisations have presented the cosmetic changes at the Collegium of Lawyers as a reform. How can you explain to them that a new building or even admission of new members to the Collegium does not constitute a reform?” Aliyev asks. “It is impossible to reform an organisation that is under total government control, is managed by the feudal era rules, that prohibits lawyers from speaking out, and where fawning and flattery are a norm.”</p><p dir="ltr">Speaking of the ethics code adopted by the Collegium’s new management, Rahimli is critical of some of its stipulations. “There are some difficult new obligations that the lawyers are supposed to abide by. It says a lawyer must be objective and neutral, which goes against the very nature of lawyers’ obligations to their clients. Lawyers are not objective, they take a side. Lawyers are also not supposed to engage in politics, a point reiterated by Anar Bagirov himself. Some of the lawyers were warned not to politicise the organisation, and warned that they will not be admitted because they were suspected of wanting to do just that.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Some of the lawyers were warned not to politicise the organisation, and warned that they will not be admitted because they were suspected of wanting to do just that”</p><p dir="ltr">But, as Maran Turner says, no matter how much the government has pressured independent lawyers, they are still highly regarded in Azerbaijani society and even by the government, who can’t easily dismiss them as a “fifth column”. In order to break the vicious circle of pressure on them, Turner suggests working with international financial institutions that provide the financial aid highly craved by Azerbaijani authorities. </p><p>“(International financial institutions) should be telling the government that respect for the lawyers is about respect for the international law, for the rule of law and independent judiciary. This is about having a healthy institution. If you don’t have independent lawyers, if you have very few lawyers, then you completely compromise your judiciary,” Turner adds.</p><p dir="ltr">***</p><p dir="ltr">On the evening of 5 June, almost a week after the examination, Samad Rahimli searched for his name on the site of those admitted to the Collegium. “I was not surprised,” he says dispassionately. “It meant I wasn’t admitted. Azerbaijan is a small country. I was warned my chances were pretty slim.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">Azerbaijan’s unlucky lawyers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/compassion-fatigue-what-happens-in-eurasia">Compassion fatigue: what happens in Eurasia when the world looks away</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/harry-hummel/rule-of-law-contacts-with-azerbaijan">Rule of law contacts with Azerbaijan must raise human rights abuse</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tamara Grigoryeva Ismail Djalilov Azerbaijan Wed, 18 Jul 2018 09:29:16 +0000 Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva 118753 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Impatient dictators: how snap elections shore up authoritarianism in Eurasia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/impatient-dictators <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Authoritarian states are using all-too familiar constitutional mechanisms to consolidate power.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-05-21_at_15.11.13.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-05-21_at_15.11.13.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fatima Mövlamlı. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Fatima Mövlamlı, an Azerbaijani teenager, is used to seeing İlham Aliyev, her country’s president, everywhere: on TV, street billboards, on portraits at her school and health clinic. The man would always be kindly smiling in various settings: surrounded by children, villagers, workers, happy citizens of prosperous Azerbaijan. His seemingly omnipresent, inescapable smile watched over her as she grew up.</p><p dir="ltr">But when Fatima turned 17, she looked around and saw a different picture: in the city where she grew up, although the dictator smiled at everyone from the posters, big and small, people rarely smiled back. Their faces conveyed anxiety, they seemed preoccupied with making ends meet as officials made pronouncements on the health and strength of the economy, constantly repeating the adjective “analogue-less” in reference to Azerbaijan. The smiles were slowly and gradually giving way to disquiet, fear and hopelessness. </p><p dir="ltr">When she looked around, Mövlamlı saw a country ruled by a dictator. </p><p dir="ltr">This is why when Ilham Aliyev called for snap elections in February 2018, she decided to act. On 26 March, Mövlamlı left home with <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/get_img?ImageWidth=960&amp;ImageHeight=960&amp;ImageId=40243">posters</a> of Ilham Aliyev to take part in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">“Know Your Dictator” campaign</a>, launched by Azerbaijani emigres in Europe in order to draw attention to Aliyev’s rule. The posters contained a QR code with further information, and Mövlamlı was determined to inform people of the dictatorship and its <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-snap-election-aliyev/29018696.html">use of elections</a> to further consolidate Aliyev’s grip on power.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“I did this to demonstrate that our youth hasn’t lost the ability to fight, and to give people reason to summon their courage,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mövlamlı was immediately summoned to the Binagadi district police station in Baku, where she was interrogated for five hours. After her release, Mövlamlı attended a 31 March protest, proclaiming that detention can’t make her stop campaigning. She says she was kidnapped by the authorities after the rally and, in direct contradiction of Azerbaijani laws, kept incommunicado from her family and friends for five days. In a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw6N1GzIbvY&amp;feature=youtu.be">video</a> published a few days after her release, Mövlamlı claims she was forced to undress, then a video of her was taken and she was held for days without access to her family or lawyer at the <a href="http://mia.gov.az/?/az/content/153/">Main Department on Combating Human Trafficking</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Commenting for this article, Mövlamlı says she didn’t expect to be kidnapped. “Given the fact that I am only 17, and my experience is pretty limited, naturally, I couldn’t foresee the events I’ve been through with much clarity. I thought I could be arrested, I didn’t think beyond the arrest. Not of being kidnapped, not of being slandered, it wouldn’t even enter my mind that such a mighty government would deal with a 17 year old girl with such ruthlessness and show such inhumane treatment.”</p><p dir="ltr">To Mövlamlı and others who participated in this campaign against the 11 April snap elections, the fact that that they happened without much condemnation from the international community, and that <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-aliyev-expected-win-reelection-april-11-vote/29158177.html">Ilham Aliyev secured a fourth term</a>, was a tragedy. But for the Aliyev regime, much like other dictatorships across Eurasia, these elections were simply a mechanism of further power usurpation. While for Mövlamlı, Aliyev’s fourth presidency is a curse of another seven years that she has to battle, across Eurasia it was just one domino tile of many. </p><p dir="ltr">Notorious for copying each other’s authoritarian traits, whether <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/david-lewis/moscow-consensus-constructing-autocracy-in-post-soviet-eurasia">taxation of NGOs and “foreign agent”-style legislation or imprisoning political opponents on petty criminal charges</a>, Eurasia’s dictators have discovered yet another technique: call snap elections, seize the political momentum and rig the results while society is dazzled, the opposition is in turmoil and the international community’s attention is elsewhere. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Snap election epidemic</h2><p dir="ltr">Across Eurasia, snap elections happen rather frequently. In some contexts, such as after revolutions and during political crises, they are justified (Kyrgyzstan, possibly soon Armenia). In other contexts, while there are clearly circumstances that do require snap elections, it’s also obvious that this mechanism is used by authoritarian regimes to their benefit (Turkey). And then there are clear-cut dictatorships that shamelessly use snap elections to run their own show (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan), and once one country is able to pull this trick off, others start replicating it. </p><p dir="ltr">“One way of looking at what purpose snap elections serve is: what purpose do elections serve? If elections are a complete show, snap elections are probably also a complete show. Generally, snap elections are critical to the point that elections are critical, as a general rule of thumb,” says Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a research associate at the Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/aliyev_6.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/aliyev_6.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan. Image: anastasia vikulova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In democracies, snap elections usually happen at a time of a political crisis, says Anar Mammadli, Chairman of Azerbaijan-based Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, referring to elections in the UK, Czech Republic and Turkey, before the country succumbed to authoritarianism. But in authoritarian states, such as Kazakhstan in 2015-2016 and Azerbaijan this year, the snap elections mechanism is being used to further consolidate power.</p><p dir="ltr">Anthony Bowyer, Senior Program Manager at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) says that in these scenarios: “You would almost think they’d be more honest with themselves if they just extended presidential rule rather than to go through the trouble of having what is obviously an orchestrated process, which... would certainly draw the ire of the international community a bit more than having a flawed election in some ways.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Where elections don’t matter</h2><p dir="ltr">Snap elections matter in places where they can create some sort of unpredictable change, says Karabekir Akkoyunlu. But in states like Kazakhstan (snap elections in 2015 and 2016) and Azerbaijan, snap elections demonstrably bring no significant change. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In Kazakhstan, the elections in general haven’t mattered much for the past 20 years, says Andrei Grishin of Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights, even prior to the snap election the number of government-supporting parliamentarians was very high, but president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the country since 1991, was concerned about losing public trust and therefore used administrative resources to further usurp power. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“We didn’t have any political crisis. Nazarbayev suddenly announced that we needed changes, and we had the snap elections. As a result, he simply consolidated more power,” Grishin adds. </p><p dir="ltr">But when Kazakhstan did it, nobody blinked an eye in the international community, and after a couple of usual statements of concern, everyone went back to business as usual. But while international organisations never bothered to check out of the kingdom of Morpheus, across the Caspian Sea, in another regime, Azerbaijan, president Aliyev and his team were watching closely and taking notes. The snap election mechanism was a flashy new toy to play with, all while consolidating yet more power. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5622911146_517d7d4208_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5622911146_517d7d4208_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Nazarbaev's message to the people of Kazakhstan: “Through the crisis to renewal and development”. Photo CC BY 2.0: upyernoz / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But Aliyev couldn’t just call an election straight away. So first he <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">called a referendum in 2016</a>, which extended presidential term limits and gave the president the authority to call presidential elections at any time. This move, in a way, predicted the April 2018 snap elections, says Anar Mammadli. </p><p dir="ltr">“The referendum gave additional powers to the president, such as extending the presidential term to seven years, created the institute of vice-president, who is appointed by the president. At the same time, in 2016 the human rights crisis in Azerbaijan had worsened, so did the relations with the West; and the social-economic crisis has resulted in a certain discontent among the people,” says Mammadli, adding that by calling snap elections in April 2018, Aliyev tried to extend maximum control and usurp power even further. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, presidential elections were to be held in October 2018, but Aliyev moved them to April. The 2016 referendum and previous electoral code changes have limited the opposition and practically removed all effective campaigning tools. But, by moving it to April, Aliyev avoided whatever international outcry could possibly result from it, because the international community was busy with the Russian presidential elections and escalation in Syria. According to Mammadli, Aliyev was also concerned that with the worsening economic situation, inflation and increased unemployment the fall might bring surprise socio-economic protests – and this is a scenario he’d rather not face. In the cases of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, calling for snap elections had to do with lust for more power, reinforcing the legitimacy of the president, mobilising different parts of the power vertical, says Nate Schenkkan, Director of Nations in Transit at Freedom House. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You force everyone to demonstrate their loyalty. That's how they get the numbers they want”</p><p dir="ltr">“You force everyone to demonstrate their loyalty. That's how they get the numbers they want. You make sure students, doctors, etc. are mobilised during the election. It's a way to check the system, and to demonstrate power. You show how you can make this happen, fast and unscheduled,” Schenkkan adds. </p><p dir="ltr">In these cases of authoritarian rulers, when using the snap elections, power holders make it clear to society, the political landscape and the international community that “they have the initiative to decide when elections can be held” and that “they have the power to infuse a (degree of) unpredictability in the political arena which authoritarian rulers do use,” says Karabekir Akkoyunlu, explaining that the snap elections give the ruler “the power to control further dynamics”. He reminds us, however, that the same logic applies to snap elections in democratic systems, as well. </p><p dir="ltr">“Whoever has the ability to call the shots presumably does so in a way that fits their interests. So, we could even talk about this in a liberal democracy,” he adds. </p><p dir="ltr">But just a month away the region is to see another snap election, this time, in Turkey. While an argument can be made that the situation is fundamentally different under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a number of trends resemble Eurasia’s solid authoritarian regimes. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“You compete, I win” </h2><p dir="ltr">In Turkey, snap elections have for a long time been a constitutional mechanism used by politicians at times of crisis or change. During the 1980s and 1990s, collapsing fragile coalition governments, perceived turns towards socialism or Islam, all ended in early elections – both with and without tanks in the streets. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">However, with what some qualify as an increasingly authoritarian rule of the former Prime Minister-turned-President Erdoğan, the element of unpredictability has faded as his party, AKP, has consistently gained the majority in the parliament. This has meant AKP hasn’t had to form fragile coalition governments with other political parties like so many of its predecessors. In this climate, snap elections are used for different purposes and under different circumstances this altogether: “They still are a competitive authoritarianism. But we have similarities,” says Anar Mammadli, comparing Turkey to Azerbaijan, which, though they share geographic proximity and cultural ties, have very different political systems.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The big difference is whether the system has true competition to call it a democracy, or a truly competitive authoritarianism which I would classify Turkey as being”</p><p dir="ltr">“They also had a referendum, and now again the election, which was held early. So, Erdoğan, just like Aliyev, used the referendum and was granted certain opportunities by it. Same as in Aliyev's case – Erdoğan capitalised on his improved rating due to [a military operation in] Afrin, and gambled that he could win [the election]. Plus, he wanted to do a “renovation” and bring in a new team after the election to strengthen his grip on power. So, although, there are indeed similarities, these aren't equal situations. Erdoğan, even if not in the first round, but in the second round is going to win.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Anadolu_Agency-Xinhua_News_Agency-PA_Images.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Anadolu_Agency-Xinhua_News_Agency-PA_Images.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference during an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 18, 2018. Photo: Xinhua / Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Snap elections aren’t inherently wrong, and this is the argument that Turkey makes,” says Nate Schenkkan. When critics condemned the emergency situation and claimed that it had limited and shrunk the space for political campaigning, the Turkish government pointed to the French snap elections held in France in 2017, which were also held in an emergency situation. “This was a different kind of emergency,” Schenkkan clarifies. </p><p dir="ltr">“The big difference is whether the system has true competition to call it a democracy, or a truly competitive authoritarianism which I would classify Turkey as being, or whether elections are not at the stage of producing real institutional change, as I would say is the case is for Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan at the moment,” says Karabekir Akkoyunlu. “Because, however we look at it, despite the fact that Turkey is really moving along the path (towards) consolidated authoritarianism, there are significant differences here.”</p><p dir="ltr">Akkoyunlu points to the referendum that Erdoğan won by 51%, and the presidential elections in 2014 that he won by 52%. “There is a long history, and still institutional memory and practice of democratic competition that doesn’t go away (so soon).” For Akkoyunlu, what sets Turkey apart from the two former Soviet states is the possibility of meaningful competition: “In the case of Turkey it’s clear that calling the snap election can give the government an advantage, (as) they decide when the best time is because despite all this illiberal move, there’s still real competition both in the society, but also in terms of political parties.”</p><p dir="ltr">This resonates with Schenkkan’s position, who says that Turkey's election is “not completely unlike the normal snap election in a normal parliamentary system.” Citing the government’s concerns about the state of the economy, he says: “In a way it's logical why they want it now, and that's within the range of what you can do.” However, according to him, the caveats are the state of emergency and the fact that <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-18188426">some MPs are in prison</a> which make these elections “not a normal election.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Observe, but don’t interfere </h2><p dir="ltr">As elections do not happen in a vacuum, there’s something to be said about the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anne-rennschmid/is-election-observing-in-central-asia-lost-cause">role of the international community in observing, validating and legitimising these processes</a>, both at the level of nation-states and their groupings: “Individual countries can certainly (condemn the process or the outcome), and embassies and ambassadors who have a particular profile in the world, and the U.S., has been one of that sort, do so,” says Anthony Bowyer. According to him, international organisations, such as the Council of Europe, as well as member-states of these bodies “have a lot to lose by having a flawed election or political process” within their borders. </p><p dir="ltr">However, when it comes to the clear commonly-accepted standard or statute to which a particular election can be held within the context of the international law, it gets more complicated. While Schenkkan points to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe as a set of standards and rules that would be expected to apply to members such as Azerbaijan and Turkey, for Akkoyunlu, it is not so clear cut: “I am not aware of the discussion of the snap elections within international law. It is very much part of the countries’ domestic political systems, I am not aware of any international legal bases that (cover) or institutionalise the use of snap elections and impose certain regulations. I don’t think it exists.”</p><p dir="ltr">At a maximum, according to Akkoyunlu, we can talk about the role of the international public opinion or particular countries making their opinions known, as the United States did when it decried snap elections in Venezuela in January of this year. “There could be a public or diplomatic reaction, but beyond that its very much a national issue, and I am not even sure the international law is even relevant.” </p><p dir="ltr">Anar Mammadli admits that there are no specific international mechanisms to prevent a snap election without a reason, but says there are international documents that express principals under which such elections could he held. “According to the UN convention on civil and political rights, the elections have to be held within a reasonable time. So there is a principle, but no mechanism. Because electoral process has a lot of national specifics, it is hard to call it to account. There are no universal mechanisms. In that regard, one needs to look from the point of each citizen's opportunity to use his or her right to make a political choice,” he adds.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Even when I’m 44</h2><p dir="ltr">Responding to a seemingly simple question, “What did you feel when you learned of İlham Aliyev’s reelection?” Fatima Mövlamlı pauses for an instant, before firing back: “I only blamed the people. Why? Because even a child would guess that Aliyev would be (re)elected president. The only thing needed to prevent this was for the people to rise up, and they didn’t.”</p><p dir="ltr">In her opinion, the creation and strengthening of the Aliyev regime is conditioned on people remaining silent, and since they remain silent, the president can re-elect himself not just for the fourth time in a row, but fourteen times. “The only way out is that the people rise up, like it’s done in civilised societies, and protest.” </p><p dir="ltr">Mövlamlı, who now reportedly finds herself a subject of a <a href="http://gozetci.az/article/index/8648?l=az_AZ">travel ban</a>, will be 24 by the time Aliyev’s current term expires. Reflecting on that fact, she says: “The main reason behind my struggle is because I realised it is my civic duty to fight against injustices. Forget 24, even if he’s president when I am 44 years old, Fatima Mövlamlı will still continue her struggle.” </p><p dir="ltr">“The most fearsome thing is, if during this next term the ruling government doesn’t see the power of the people, if it doesn’t see them rise up, I think we will see even more tragic events. Azerbaijan will be indistinguishable from North Korea, and I don’t want this to happen.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/david-lewis/moscow-consensus-constructing-autocracy-in-post-soviet-eurasia">The “Moscow Consensus”: Constructing autocracy in post-Soviet Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/luca-anceschi/end-of-nazarbayev-dream">The end of the Nazarbayev dream </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/compassion-fatigue-what-happens-in-eurasia">Compassion fatigue: what happens in Eurasia when the world looks away</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ismail Djalilov Tamara Grigoryeva Kazakhstan Azerbaijan Tue, 22 May 2018 21:26:03 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 117990 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s digital crackdown requires a political solution https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Framing Azerbaijan’s online campaign to harass journalists and activists as a “technical” problem only distracts from the politics behind it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev at the World Economic Forum at Davos 2018. Photo CC BY 4.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 11 April, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev will be re-elected to his fourth term in office while his major rivals <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">sit in jail</a> or boycott the snap elections. Despite the certain result, hackers, apparently acting on the orders of the Azerbaijani government, have used cheap ransomware, imported surveillance hardware and bullying tactics to head off any freedom of expression or organisation online. </p><p dir="ltr">In addition to the nuts and bolts of how an authoritarian state works to prevent the sort of <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/how-an-egyptian-revolution-began-on-facebook.html">online organisation</a><a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-facebook-kicked-off-the-euromaidan-revolution-2015-7?r=US&amp;IR=T&amp;IR=T"> that once dominated</a> <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/evaluating-irans-twitter-revolution/58337/">headlines worldwide</a>, this is also a story about how the built-in deniability of cyber-attacks insulates Azerbaijan from unwanted attention from the international community –&nbsp;and how inexpensive and accessible cyber-authoritarianism can be in 2018. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Turning up the pressure</h2><p dir="ltr">The pressure campaign in question began a few weeks after President Ilham Aliyev returned from the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels in late November 2017. It was also around the time that an <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/26609/">appeals court uphold an order</a> to block the country’s five major independent news websites.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MeydanTV’s website as accessed from inside Azerbaijan, February 2018.</span></span></span>The first piece of malware was sent to a Baku-based journalist in mid-December from the hacked Facebook account of a well-known opposition activist. The journalist absent-mindedly opened it, before realising their mistake and securing their device. Another file came in a few hours later from a similarly hacked account of a fellow journalist, which was not opened.</p><p dir="ltr">The first malware used in the campaign, obtained by Civil Rights Defenders, was <a href="https://www.virustotal.com/#/file/00b4820fa93ca76a92ddda3b530374623032026cf19a33fda10e45e67faf3bb3/details">written in early December and sent off to the first target within a few weeks</a> – a fast enough development time to suggest the developers were more interested in getting their product out as fast as possible, rather than ensuring it actually worked as intended.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the campaign was not limited to phishing alone. In the first week of January, enough bogus YouTube copyright complaints were <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/has-copyright-become-a-new-weapon-against-online-media">filed against Meydan TV</a> (a Berlin-based independent media that is the frequent target of Azerbaijani government ire) that the social media company removed a number of the videos, threatening Meydan TV with removal from the platform. Six videos of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service were also removed. YouTube eventually reversed their decision and restored all of the videos.</p><p dir="ltr">Later in January, a wide variety of Azerbaijanis journalists connected to Meydan TV, as well as <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">a number of political figures</a>, began to receive malware from hacked accounts of fellow journalists and activists on Facebook Messenger. The ease with which the hackers accessed numerous accounts, all of whom contacted by Civil Rights Defenders insisted they had two-factor authentication turned on, is a strong indication of government involvement. Facebook’s “real name” policy, an Azerbaijani law that requires all SIM cards to be registered to a personal identification number, and the government’s use of <a href="https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/05/swedish-telcom-giant-teliasonera-caught-helping-authoritarian-regimes-spy-its">“black boxes”</a> that allow it to monitor all unencrypted telecommunications traffic, means hackers with access to the government’s “black boxes” can trigger a password reset on a Facebook account and intercept the resulting security message before it can reach the user.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The tactics Azerbaijan use are cheap and widely available, and primarily effective because the international community does not seriously attempt to compel them to stop</p><p dir="ltr">The hackers didn’t rely on Facebook alone, and later began sending <a href="https://www.facebook.com/emin.milli.3/posts/1542571435862273">phishing emails from spoofed addresses</a>. Although these emails appeared, at a glance, to come from the email accounts of Meydan TV staff and volunteers, they were actually sent via a common email app called LeafPHPMailer 2.7. Apps of this type are used by businesses (and email scammers) to send mass emails, and allow the user to alter how the name of the sender will appear to the recipient. </p><p dir="ltr">To further disguise their identity, the hackers used copies of the app on several different websites, which they appear to have selected simply by googling “LeafPHPMailer 2.7”. A Google search for that term returns search results of websites that have installed the app but haven’t properly secured access by requiring a login.</p><p dir="ltr">However, as the hackers put no real effort into making the emails look authentic – many including the same message twice, once in Azerbaijani and once in broken English – this line of attack was not as successful as the Facebook-based phishing.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Crude tools</h2><p dir="ltr">An analysis of some of the malware used in the attacks by the cybersecurity activist outfit VirtualRoad showed it was neither similar to the expensive <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/4136-azerbaijan-bought-hacking-team-s-surveillance-spyware-leaks-reveal">commercial surveillance products Azerbaijan once purchased from Hacking Team</a>, or the <a href="https://medium.com/amnesty-insights/false-friends-how-fake-accounts-and-crude-malware-targeted-dissidents-in-azerbaijan-9b6594cafe60">less-effective homemade spyware it was caught using in 2016.</a> Instead, it appeared to be simple ransomware, likely purchased on a hacker forum on the dark web. The purpose was not to gather intelligence, but instead to disrupt and cause havoc in activist and journalist networks.</p><p dir="ltr">An examination of the data of a Facebook account that was taken over by the same hacker who attempted to delete Meydan TV’s Facebook page (the hacker reset both accounts’ email addresses to the same email account) shows the same strategy at work. Despite having access to the account for more than a day, the hacker did not download any Facebook data and did not use it for any purpose other than to send dozens of friend requests to other Azerbaijani accounts.</p><p dir="ltr">At the time, the motives behind and timing for the attacks were not clear. Azerbaijani activists and journalists are used to harassment and the state has a well-documented history of mass surveillance, but the intensity and lack of interest in intelligence-gathering were both new. When President Ilham Aliyev surprised observers on 5 February by calling for snap elections in April, everything quickly made sense in retrospect.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-35917144.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Election campaign posters promoting incumbent president Ilham Aliyev, presidential and other presidential candidates in Baku. (c) Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 27 March, Facebook returned around 100,000 followers of Meydan TV who had been blocked or removed by the hacker, and is currently in the process of recovering their archive of stories. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful, but it did both waste a certain amount of some Meydan TV staff members’ time. It also sent a rather unambiguous message to the rest of Azerbaijan’s online journalist and activist community about the state’s stance towards dissent online.</p><p dir="ltr">The Azerbaijani government focuses the bulk of its energy on social media because <a href="https://advox.globalvoices.org/2017/05/19/azerbaijan-blocks-independent-media-and-actually-admits-it/">it has been openly blocking the primary Azerbaijani independent media</a> websites since early 2017. <a href="https://www.qurium.org/alerts/azerbaijan/corruption-censorship-and-deep-packet-inspection/">According to research published by VirtualRoad</a>, which also hosts several independent Azerbaijani websites, the government uses equipment bought from the Israeli firm Allot Communications for $3m to block the websites using <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-state-and-dissidents-acquire-new-weapons-for-cyber-war)">deep package inspection</a>. The hardware was originally purchased to monitor secure messenger traffic during the 2015 European Games. Bribes and kickbacks <a href="http://mia.az/w250900/.../">made as part of its purchase</a> were <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/24392/">part of a wide-ranging corruption scandal</a> that resulted in numerous prosecutions, resignations of high-ranking ministers, and the <a href="http://www.mincom.gov.az/media-en/news-2/details/12319">reorganisation of several government ministries</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">However, no censorship system is impenetrable. One year after the government began formally blocking critical websites, VirtualRoad found several weaknesses in Allot Communications’ system – in part by purchasing a cheaper version of the $3m hardware second-hand on Ebay, and unblocked the websites it hosts <a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/29139882.html">in late March</a>. These included websites that had been blocked by court order, like Azadliq.info, and smaller websites the state blocked without bothering with the usual legal fig leaf, such as <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22317/">Abzas.net</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">VirtualRoad also pinpointed the source of the equipment and the attacks against independent media websites as servers belonging to Azintelecom LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Azerbaijani government. Rather than attempting to identify and fix the security holes that VirtualRoad exploited to penetrate Azerbaijan’s firewall, hackers at Azintelecom IP addresses – who at first neglected to turn on a virtual private network to hide their identity – have responded by launching <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penetration_test">penetration tests</a> against VirtualRoad’s servers, but have not yet attempted to “hack back” or otherwise harm their system.</p><p dir="ltr">On the morning of 9 April, Azintelecom shifted tactics and began blocking each site’s individual IP address. VirtualRoad responded by swiftly moving each site to a new virtual server, forcing the Azerbaijani government to play a game of whack-a-mole that continued at press time.</p><p dir="ltr">Azintelecom also <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-telia-company-azerbaijan-divestment/telia-sells-azercell-stake-in-gradual-exit-from-eurasia-idUSKBN1GH1FO">recently purchased Azercell</a>, the country’s largest telecommunications company, from Sweden’s Telia in February in an opaque sale that appears to have been <a href="https://www.svd.se/larm-om-ny-telia-affar-varre-an-i-uzbekistan">well below any reasonably assessed value for the company</a>. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Forum for free speech</h2><p dir="ltr">The internet, and Facebook in particular, has been the sole venue for free speech or organising outside of state structures in Azerbaijan for years. A thorough harassment campaign, launched in the wake of the Arab Spring, forced free-thinking organisations to close, harassed and arrested many of their members, and pressured any venue that was foolish enough to offer a non-approved group a place to gather. Independent thinkers moved online and often abroad.</p><p dir="ltr">Laws and attacks on online activists have only accelerated in the last several years. In 2016, the government both <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-bans-insulting-its-president-online">outlawed insulting the president online</a> and <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/26/azerbaijan-abuse-allegations-mar-high-profile-trial">sentenced the deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party</a> to ten years’ imprisonment for a single critical Facebook post. In early 2017, the country’s most popular blogger Mehman Huseynov was <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/mehman-huseynov-sentenced">sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on fabricated charges</a> after he refused orders to stop posting his popular corruption-themed blogs and videos on Facebook.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As states with advanced capabilities continue to push the envelope of cyber-espionage, they open up space for others to act without drawing international attention or major headlines</p><p dir="ltr">In all these respects, Azerbaijan is not especially unique or extreme when compared to other authoritarian states. It has yet to poison one of its dissidents abroad. It does not employ the small army of spies and assassins that Ramzan Kadyrov uses to keep the Chechen diaspora in check. It does not have China or Russia’s advanced hacking units, and it also <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/6876/Leaks-reveal-Azerbaijan-spent-$384000-on-spyware-but-lacked-tech-skills-to-use-it.htm">appears to have thrown in the towel</a> on acquiring expensive foreign-made hacking tools.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s tactics may be <a href="https://medium.com/amnesty-insights/false-friends-how-fake-accounts-and-crude-malware-targeted-dissidents-in-azerbaijan-9b6594cafe60">crude</a>, thuggish and done on the cheap, but in the current geopolitical climate, they are also effective. Western policymakers tend to view hacking and online harassment as a technological problem with a technical, rather than a political, solution. The difficulties inherent in <a href="https://sipa.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/Cyber_Workshop_Attributing%20cyber%20attacks.pdf">conclusively attributing cyber attacks</a> enable political leaders to avoid taking a stance at all, to the increasing detriment of political and social rights.</p><p dir="ltr">The modern tendency to confuse technical and political issues is not limited to cybersecurity, or even to the internet and internet-related issues in general, but it is here where it is the most evident and acute. Although the conventional wisdom has come a long ways since <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/books/review/Siegel-t.html?pagewanted=all">the pollyannish western attitudes towards the Arab Spring</a> and Iran’s Green Revolution, a general belief persists that technology will allow policymakers to hack their way out of complex problems.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan is an excellent case study. It can effectively spy on and bully its citizens online without access to the sort of cybertools available to the United States, Russia or other wealthy countries because its citizens expect to be surveilled by their government, and have no legal recourse or ability to compel their government to respect due process.</p><p dir="ltr">To exacerbate matters, protections against surveillance that citizens of wealthy countries take for granted are much harder to obtain. Most Azerbaijanis are forced to rely on pirated and extremely insecure versions of common software because international intellectual property agreements make legal copies unaffordable – a large part of why the cheap, off-the-rack ransomware used as part of this campaign was so effective.</p><p dir="ltr">Even in the event an activist, journalist, or human rights defender has the means and the expertise to secure her devices and communications, security services have no compunction about finding a physical method of making a target unlock their phone or laptop.</p><h2 dir="ltr">What to do</h2><p dir="ltr">Western states have prioritised developing cybersecurity policy responses for <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/raising-consequences-hacking-american-companies">private businesses</a> and <a href="https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/white-paper/2017/12/05/cybersecurity-framework-v11/draft">infrastructure</a>. This is understandable, but it overlooks how methods that authoritarian states develop for use against activists and journalists are often later employed against other states and international businesses.</p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Loading.gif" alt="" width="460" height="250" /></p><p dir="ltr">The responsibility for protecting activists has been <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/alphabet-outline-vpn-software/">delegated to tech</a> and social media giants who have become the backbone of the modern internet, with mixed results (Twitter’s continued failure to address trolling is a notable example.) However, even with new scandals about Facebook or YouTube erupting on a biweekly basis, no western government has seriously raised the issue of regulating their behaviour.</p><p dir="ltr">Even if such an unlikely political consensus were to emerge, it would not be sufficient. Facebook and Twitter can and do need to be more responsive to complaints of state-backed harassment, and support for programmes like <a href="https://www.techsoup.org/">TechSoup</a> and Google’s VPN service are valuable tools for those on the front lines of human rights. But tech giants’ best conceivable effort would be a poor substitute for tangible diplomatic engagement or even a relaxation of the international copyright restrictions that unfairly punish lower-income countries and citizens of authoritarian states.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Western governments need to face up to their own complicity, put their own houses in order, and use all diplomatic and legal means to live up to their international commitments to human rights</p><p dir="ltr">The tactics Azerbaijan use are cheap and widely available, and primarily effective because the international community does not seriously attempt to compel them to stop. So what to do? </p><p dir="ltr">First and foremost, there is no substitute for diplomatic engagement and holding Azerbaijan to its international commitments to human rights and rule of law. The software Azerbaijan uses is cheap and widely available, and even international pariahs have little difficulty in acquiring surveillance hardware – Allot Communications was caught selling <a href="https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/12/israeli-firm-under-fire-selling-spyware-iran">similar technology to Iran back in 2011</a>. Western governments would not react to a violent crackdown on street protests by attempting to limit a government’s access to tear gas, nightsticks, and small arms, and it would be equally ineffective to do the same with cyberweapons.</p><p dir="ltr">Second, western countries need to seriously examine how the secrecy inherent in the modern global financial system aids and abets grand corruption. The Azerbaijani state is heavily invested in intimidating and surveilling its population because its primary activity is not governing, but <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/">defrauding its citizens</a> – a practice that is made possible through the west’s maintenance of a system of tax havens, shell companies, and unscrupulous financial services firms. The west provides the Azerbaijani state with both the tools to oppress its citizenry and a place to hide the spoils.</p><p dir="ltr">One last step democratic countries could take would be to more rigorously regulate the private corporations that produce and sell surveillance software and hardware, instead of the current model that pays lip service to regulation but <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-spyware/human-rights-groups-say-mexico-not-investigating-spyware-claims-idUSKCN1G50DV">prioritises profits over fundamental human rights</a>. Allot Communications is still around to help Azerbaijan censor the internet seven years after being caught helping Israel’s arch-rival do the same, and even the industry’s poster child for bad behaviour, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/6876/Leaks-reveal-Azerbaijan-spent-$384000-on-spyware-but-lacked-tech-skills-to-use-it.htm">Italy’s Hacking Team</a>, is <a href="https://www.welivesecurity.com/2018/03/09/new-traces-hacking-team-wild/">currently supplying spyware to at least 14 countries</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">As states with advanced capabilities continue to push the envelope of cyber-espionage, they open up space for others to act without drawing international attention or major headlines, but the consequences for both everyday citizens and activists are no less real. No algorithm or hack is going to reverse this trend – western governments need to face up to their own complicity, put their own houses in order, and use all diplomatic and legal means to live up to their international commitments to human rights.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>The authors would like to thank Arzu Geybullayeva, who provided research, translation and much more to both Civil Rights Defenders and VirtualRoad without which this piece would not have been possible.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/leonid-volkov/western-internet-companies-censor-russia">Why are western internet companies cooperating with the Putin regime to censor the web?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-patriotic-trolls">In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marcin de Kaminski Mike Runey Azerbaijan Tue, 10 Apr 2018 21:08:38 +0000 Mike Runey and Marcin de Kaminski 117143 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rule of law contacts with Azerbaijan must raise human rights abuse https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/harry-hummel/rule-of-law-contacts-with-azerbaijan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan remains a member of many international bodies, but this is often not a sufficient point of leverage. The country’s public prosecutors are a case in point.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/FreeMukhtarli_Protest.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/FreeMukhtarli_Protest.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hundreds of people attend an anti-corruption protest in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on 23 September 2017. “Free Afgan Mukhtarli!” reads this poster. Image still via YouTube / RFE/RL. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>International bodies do not systematically raise the attack on fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan in their relations with the country, even when human rights and the rule of law are a key part of their mandate. Public prosecutors are a case in point: international professional bodies do not address the instrumentalisation of the profession in the suppression of civil society and opposition.</p><p dir="ltr">The Executive Committee of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), a worldwide association that claims to <a href="http://www.iap-association.org/About">“set and raise standards of professional conduct and ethics for prosecutors worldwide”</a> meets in Baku in April. They should kick off a formal review of the compliance of Azerbaijani prosecutors with its professional standards. Ahead of the meeting, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee has <a href="https://www.nhc.nl/call-to-suspend-azerbaijans-membership-to-the-international-association-of-prosecutors/.">addressed a complaint</a> to the IAP on Azerbaijan, suggesting its prosecution service is “guilty of dishonourable conduct”.</p><p dir="ltr">On 11 April, when the IAP meeting is held, presidential elections are taking place in Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliyev will be re-elected president. So much can be predicted in a country with severe restrictions on freedom of expression and on civil society and opposition organising. The IAP representatives will have ample possibilities to reflect on the role of their colleagues in arriving at this sorry state of democracy. Azerbaijan’s main opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">has been in jail since 2013</a> on politically motivated charges. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in a trial replete with irregularities in witness testimony and court proceedings. The European Court of Human Rights has <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/news-2017/-/asset_publisher/StEVosr24HJ2/content/ilgar-mammadov-case-council-of-europe-notifies-azerbaijan-of-intention-to-launch-unprecedented-legal-action?inheritRedirect=false&amp;desktop=false">judged</a> that the conviction was unjust, but until now Mammadov has not been released and rehabilitated.</p><p dir="ltr">Popular blogger Mehman Huseynov is in prison since March 2017 after launching an online discussion on the appointment of Aliyev’s wife as vice-president. His arrest happened after an earlier incident in January 2017 when <a href="https://www.nhc.nl/rights-groups-demand-justice-journalist-mehman-huseynov-tortured-azerbaijan/">he was abducted, dealt electric shocks, beaten up by police and presented in court</a> (for disobeying police orders) with a bruised face. The authorities formally opened an inquiry into Huseynov’s allegations, but swiftly closed the inquiry claiming the allegations were groundless. He was then prosecuted for defamation of the police station and sentenced to two years.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The track record of the Azerbaijani prosecution service is a poignant illustration of the gap between the IAP commitments and the practice of its members</p><p dir="ltr">In these cases and in many others, public prosecutors have played a central role in the criminalisation of people exercising their right to engage in peaceful expression of views or political activity, or in the defense of those whose human rights are suppressed. They have flouted their duty to thoroughly investigate reports of torture and prosecute those responsible. These prosecutors have operated in violation of the spirit and letter of the <a href="http://www.iap-association.org/Resources-Documentation/IAP-Standards/Professional-Responsibility">IAP’s professional standards</a> which state that prosecutors shall “protect and accused person’s right to a fair trial” and “respect, protect and uphold the universal concept of human dignity and human rights”. Until now, the IAP has no clear procedure to hold their members accountable for (non-)compliance with these standards, despite <a href="http://www.defendersorviolators.info/petition-iap-2017">several requests by a broad group of civil society organisations</a>, including Amnesty International, Article 19, the International Federation for Human Rights and a large number of Transparency International chapters.</p><p dir="ltr">The track record of the Azerbaijani prosecution service is a poignant illustration of the gap between the IAP commitments and the practice of its members. Structural and procedural factors limit the independence and impartiality of the prosecution service in Azerbaijan, but even more important may be a culture of obedience to the executive branch of government. Prosecutors in this system are likely heavily pre-selected for willingness or even eagerness to comply. Occasional cases of criticism from inside the profession are harshly suppressed. In 2015, Rufat Safarov of the Zardab District Prosector’s Office resigned over “rampant dishonesty and violation of people’s rights”, stating that “thieves and corrupt officials are free and enjoying life, while innocent people languish in prison”. This led to Safarov being prosecuted for bribery himself. The evidence presented in court seemed clumsily fabricated and court procedures very questionable. He was convicted to five years imprisonment in September 2016. He is included in the <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/26917/">political prisoners list</a> issued by Azerbaijani human rights defenders.</p><p dir="ltr">Even at the Council of Europe, set up to protect and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law, not all parts of the organisation take on board the mounting number of European Court Human Rights judgments and clear positions of the Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights. The Council has a professional advisory and monitoring body for the prosecutor’s profession, the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, but this year’s <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/ccpe/-/report-on-the-independence-and-impartiality-of-the-prosecution-services-in-the-council-of-europe-member-states-in-2017">report on the independence and impartiality of prosecutors </a>does not mention Azerbaijan one time, even though it supposedly uses “information contained in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, (…) reports of the Human Rights Commissioner (…)”.</p><p dir="ltr">Both the IAP and the prosecutors’ body of the Council of Europe do not raise grave human rights concerns in their contacts with persons who are instrumental in state repression. This sends a message of “business as usual” in international rule of law cooperation; human rights can be overlooked when it comes to joint work on the rule of law. This is an inconsistent and ambiguous position, which should be replaced by an honest review of compliance with professional standards.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">Azerbaijan’s unlucky lawyers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Harry Hummel Azerbaijan Mon, 09 Apr 2018 21:39:39 +0000 Harry Hummel 117093 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijani mafia in the heart of Europe? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/mobistan-in-the-heart-of-europe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An apparent clash between Azerbaijani organised crime groups in southern France raises questions around EU immigration fraud and security procedures.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-04_at_14.50.02_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-04_at_14.50.02_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The scene where Azerbaijan nationals Rahim and Aida Namazov were shot on 30 March. Source: La Depeche. </span></span></span>The Azerbaijani mafia, little known in western Europe previously, arrived in France with a loud bang. Seven bangs, to be precise. The usual serenity of the picturesque town of Colomiers, a dozen kilometres outside of Toulouse, was <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azeri-journalist-in-exile-shot-in-southern-france/a-43197000">disrupted by gunshots</a> in the early morning of Friday 30 March. These were aimed at the car in which Rahim Namazov, an Azerbaijani national, was traveling together with his wife, Aida. She died in the attack, and Namazov’s condition is described as grave as he clings to life in a local hospital. </p><p dir="ltr">Speaking to reporters in the immediate aftermath of the incident, the mayor of Colomiers <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2018/03/30/world/europe/30reuters-france-shooting-azerbaijan.html">described this attack as a likely “settling of scores”</a>, and rushed to call the incident an attack on journalism and freedom of the press. </p><p dir="ltr">The problem is, no one in Azerbaijan has heard of a journalist by the name of Rahim Namazov. While Namazov arrived in France and was granted political asylum there in 2010, claiming persecution in his native Azerbaijan due to journalistic work, observers in his native country have been unsuccessfully searching for evidence supporting his connection with the profession. </p><p dir="ltr">Namazov’s claims to being a journalist seem to hinge on previous work with the newspaper Əlillər (“The Disabled”), a lightweight in the landscape of Azerbaijan’s print media. Speaking to MeydanTV, Rey Karimoglu, a journalist working for Əlillər, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/28027/">denied</a> that Namazov was ever reporter for the paper. “At that time [2001], the chief editor of Əlillər, Mushtaba Ismayiloglu, hired Rahim Namazov to sell newspapers. We didn’t have a journalist by that name.” </p><p dir="ltr">In his interview, Karimoglu said that Namazov had been arrested for his participation in a 2001 rally hosted by disabled Karabakh war veterans. Namazov was sentenced “to five or six years in prison”, but he spent under a year behind bars until his release via a mass presidential pardon by Heydar Aliyev. “Then he disappeared, we didn’t see him. It could be that the chief editor gave him a press card while he worked for us, and then he used that card,” Karimoglu said. </p><p dir="ltr">While the circumstances of the attack on Namazov remain blurry, this case raises a number of pressing questions on immigration and security procedures in the EU. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Unsubstantiated asylum claims</h2><p dir="ltr">Upon his arrival in France, Namazov allegedly pretended first to be a journalist, then a criminal gang member, recently placing himself in the centre of a YouTube feud with Nadir Salifov, aka Lotu Quli, an Azerbaijani mafia boss based in Turkey, says Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist in Azerbaijan. She adds that a lot of profanity was involved in the fight, and that Namazov and Salifov promised to kill each other — it was a few weeks after this online feud that Namazov was attacked. </p><p dir="ltr">“What is certain: this guy [Namazov] has nothing to do with journalism. There is a need for more thorough vetting procedures. The human rights staff at the [EU] embassies in Azerbaijan is too weak and limited. So they lose touch [with the immigration services back in the EU],” Ismayilova says. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 12.36.12.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rahim Namazov at home. Source: TM Kanal / Youtube. </span></span></span>Although there is no trace of Namazov’s journalistic work, he did send an open letter to a little known Azerbaijani newspaper <a href="http://www.yerkramas.org/article/40608/v-vch-yax-naxichevana-prodayut-organy-soldat-shok-shok">Taraf</a>, outlining the abuse of power in the military — albeit in 2012, two years after claiming asylum in France. His social media profiles don’t reveal any journalistic work either. Apart from scores of pictures of him, Namazov’s social media hosts various memes that suggest he belongs to Azerbaijan’s criminal world.</p><p dir="ltr">The YouTube videos Ismayilova refers to are a series of postings containing the audio recording of a voice (apparently, Namazov’s), in which he taunts the Turkey-based crime lord Lotu Quli and several of his allies in the most profane manner. He refers to himself in Russian as “Opasniy Roma” (“Dangerous Roma”), positioning himself as a respected and dangerous crime lord, way above Quli in the criminal world hierarchy. According to YouTube statistics, some of these videos have been viewed 160,000 times in the two weeks after they were published. In some of the videos, Namazov hints at Quli collaborating with the government of Azerbaijan. In a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXWyI6sWDIo">video</a> published several weeks before the shooting, Namazov denies rumours on Youtube and Instagram about an attack on him that resulted in a murder in Toronto, Canada. </p><p dir="ltr">It doesn’t happen every day that a self-proclaimed journalist joins the mafia, but Namazov’s case perfectly depicts the challenges within the EU’s asylum processes and border security. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Fraud with asylum is always a possibility, but this cannot justify to deny or stop totally or restrict excessively the historic achievement of the right to asylum”</p><p dir="ltr">There is little communication between the EU countries’ immigration services. Each of them have different asylum and immigration procedures, as well as different levels of scrutiny and different methods to vet the cases. While it is possible that Namazov had grounds for asylum, if he didn’t, it’s evident that he could have benefited from the lack of standardised verification procedures and collaboration across the EU with regards to the asylum applications processing.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Cyrille Fijnaut, professor of Criminal Law at Tilburg Law School, says the lack of harmonisation of procedures across the EU adds to the problem. “The immigration and asylum policy of the European Union is, despite all sorts of efforts to harmonize and to support same procedures at the external borders, still to a large extent the responsibility of the national governments [of the] member states.” </p><p dir="ltr">Sven Giegold, a German politician affiliated with the Green Party who represents his country in the European Parliament, says the lack of common border control procedures [and considering applications for asylum at the border] make it “effectively difficult for ordinary people to claim asylum, but if you have enough money to pay those who bring you across border, then you have a higher chance to claim asylum.” He adds that to claim asylum in Europe one has to first step foot on European soil.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is, basically, not easy, because you must either have a [visa] which you do not get easily and not for asylum purposes, or you cross by land or sea. If you look at European geography, it’s very difficult to claim asylum in the first place,” Giegold adds. </p><p dir="ltr">But even if one made it to the EU and managed to apply for asylum, how does one manage to fabricate a case? Also, while there are scores of fake cases, those <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/no-place-is-a-safe-haven">truly in need of protection</a> often remain on the outskirts of the European humanitarian assistance system. </p><p dir="ltr">Samad Rahimli, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">human rights lawyer in Azerbaijan</a>, says that for an asylum applicant, especially at a time of the migration crisis in Europe, it often depends on what kind of immigration officer or lawyer the person happens upon. Rahimli adds that in countries like Azerbaijan the system is corrupt, and “there are fake firms that can create fake documents to help one get asylum.”</p><p dir="ltr">Rahim Haciyev, an editor at the France-based Azerbaijani opposition <a href="https://www.azadliq.info/">Azadliq </a>newspaper, when asked about Namazov’s case, says it’s quite possible that this individual is one of those who didn’t have a real case. He adds that people in countries like Azerbaijan can even “pay the police and get fake documents about being arrested and imprisoned. It's a whole syndicate. I came here to France and saw that other Azerbaijanis do that too — use fake documents to get asylum.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 5.18.58 AM.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="83" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A screenshot from Rahim Namazov's online address to Lotu Quli. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Rahimli adds that asylum law in the EU (unlike, for example, criminal law, where in cases there has to be proof beyond reasonable doubt), according to the <a href="http://www.unhcr.org/3bcfdf164.pdf">Geneva Conventions’ regulations concerning refugees</a>, gives the applicant the benefit of the doubt. As long as at least 10% of the facts stated in an individual asylum application can be verified, asylum is usually granted.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Giegold says that, in a nutshell, the EU’s current procedures often mean that “many people who truly have reasons to arrive either for asylum or a refugee status cannot claim their right or access their right, but other people who have enough money are able to come.” As a result, those with questionable grounds for asylum, like Namazov, do receive asylum, while people like the Azerbaijani journalist <a href="https://cpj.org/data/people/afgan-mukhtarli/index.php">Afghan Mukhtarli</a> (who have grounds to seek asylum in the EU) end up in jail due to their own limited resources and lack of visa. </p><p dir="ltr">Does this mean though that the EU should make its asylum policies stricter? Rahimli says that increasing the 10% veracity threshold in an asylum claim isn’t going to change things drastically, but will leave those vulnerable and without resources in a much worse position. Instead, he suggests increasing the immigration services’ budgets and developing databases of experts that immigration officials could call upon for advice. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Between sensitivity and hysteria</h2><p dir="ltr">As pertinent as these questions are, the problem is that they, albeit unintentionally, may add to to the migration crisis hysteria in Europe. Just because there are fake asylum cases from countries like Azerbaijan, this shouldn’t lead to an assumption that this is a situation across the board. </p><p dir="ltr">Shahida Tulaganova, a London-based investigative journalist who has <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/6169678.stm">studied the forged document trade in Europe</a>, reminds that “this is a sensitive issue, and it is important not to spur racial or ethnic hatred.”</p><p dir="ltr">“When you talk about immigration, you are talking about people who aren’t White. By definition, strengthening border control will spur hatred towards those immigrants,” Tulaganova adds. </p><p dir="ltr">Instead of applying more scrutiny against a particular group or nationality, such as Azerbaijanis, tightening the procedures in general, applying them across the board and not treating one group of applicants with more scrutiny than others should help prevent fraud, Tulaganova says. Haciyev agrees, adding that the EU needs a system where claims are verified carefully with experts in such a way to avoid anti-migrant backlash. </p><p dir="ltr">Giegold says that if done with certain sensitivity, it is possible to improve migration policies and avoid anti-migrant hysteria at the same time. He also reminds that it is important to make a point: the inflow of asylum seekers does not increase criminality in Europe, and asylum seekers as a group are no more violent than others.. </p><p dir="ltr">“The goal for common control of the borders can raise the control aspect and also humanitarian standards.Therefore, common control of the borders would enable uniformity for the initial intake assessment of asylum seekers. If things like this happen, this will always feed those who are against migration,” he adds. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">Organised crime and border security </h2><p dir="ltr">But while asylum seekers are no more violent or criminal than others, mafia groups from the MENA, Africa, Asia and Eurasia regions are known to penetrate and operate freely across Europe. Namazov’s case proves that even the Azerbaijani mafia, little known in Europe, is deep in the game these days. </p><p dir="ltr">How do these criminals manage to get into Europe and operate there? Observers seem to agree that most of them use forged documents. </p><p dir="ltr">Shahida Tulaganova says that forging documents is just like any kind of forgery in Europe. She says that the people involved in forging documents are “always one step ahead of law enforcement, the immigration authorities”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“It is a fact that there are Azerbaijani and Turkish government-supported people and criminal groups across Europe. Europeans need to investigate these issues”</span></p><p dir="ltr">When it comes to border control and verification of passports, the situation resembles that of asylum procedures, which, according to Sven Giegold, vary by country. There is a variation in levels of scrutiny, types of questions asked, types of scanning machines to check the passports, and when moving within the EU, individuals often don’t even need passports, but only national IDs, Tulaganova says, adding that those are sometimes simply checked by the police officers, and not the scanning machines.</p><p dir="ltr">When one can pick an EU country with less border scrutiny to enter the <a href="https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/">Schengen zone</a>, and then move within Europe with just an ID, this makes it easier for organised crime groups, including those from Azerbaijan, to operate within the region. As for obtaining those forged passports and IDs, Tulaganova explains that one can play the bureaucratic EU system to their benefit. </p><p dir="ltr">The illicit trade in lost or stolen passports is a big part of the problem, she says: “There is an EU-wide database, but imagine the bureaucracy of the EU institutions. Plus, if somebody reports a lost or stolen passport and applies for another [one], then you can easily sell it.” Tulaganova adds that by the time it takes time to get a new passport, the old passport remains usable, and it has a value on the black market. </p><p dir="ltr">Haciyev, currently residing in France where the attack on Namazov occured, alleges that “Azerbaijani criminal circles based in Turkey made a decision that was then carried out in Europe.” According to him, the fact that Namazov was attacked only three weeks after his profane YouTube tirades directed at Azerbaijani mafia in Azerbaijan and Turkey shows that they have some well-functioning and well-placed networks in Europe</p><h2 dir="ltr">Mafia or mafia-state?</h2><p dir="ltr">However, some of the blame rests not only with the EU institutions, but with the countries of origin, such as Azerbaijan, notes Gavin Slade, lecturer in Legacies of Communism at the University of Glasgow: “As to the flaws in the system of immigration, I would say that this is a matter of police cooperation and ensuring that local law enforcement identify people who should not travel. From what I have heard over the years, local police in countries such as Georgia and Azerbaijan do not provide all necessary assistance to European police forces to identify dangerous people in the first place.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/lotu-quli_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/lotu-quli_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lotu Quli. Source: Telegraph.az. </span></span></span>Ismayilova agrees, speaking of the Azerbaijani law enforcement apparatus: “While our security officers are too busy giving special treatment to activists, criminals are moving cases of cash, trucks full of drugs and maybe guns through the borders.”</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6yLJI9GEmA">videos published</a> in the last several weeks that are widely believed to have been the cause of the attack, Namazov often lashed out against Azerbaijani crime lord Lotu Quli. He alleged that the latter is connected to the Azerbaijani authorities, and cited Quli’s early release from prison in October 2017 in Azerbaijan as something “unheard of” given the charges and his stature.</p><p dir="ltr">While one can only speculate about Namazov’s claim of Lotu Quli’s connection to the Azerbaijani government, many others also allow the possibility of a connection between crime lords and the Azerbaijani government: “It is a fact that there are Azerbaijani and Turkish government-supported people and criminal groups across Europe. Europeans need to investigate these issues,” says Haciyev. </p><p dir="ltr">Given all the shortcomings and flaws in the European immigration system, Giegold makes a point he considers the most important: “There’s always potential for fraud, but just because it happens, should we give up asylum? I’d say no. Fraud with asylum is always a possibility, but this cannot justify to deny or stop totally or restrict excessively the historic achievement of the right to asylum.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia">A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ismail Djalilov Tamara Grigoryeva Azerbaijan Thu, 05 Apr 2018 03:40:01 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 117056 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Azerbaijan's political migrants are behind a new public campaign to draw attention to authoritarian rule at home. Judging by the reaction, it has the regime rattled.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.15.25.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.15.25.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service. Used with permission. </span></span></span>“Come home and we’ll teach you how to engage in political struggle. Take a look, the kids are staying home and learning,” says the the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/azadliqradiosu/photos/a.1058555297505267.1073741831.115254408502032/2035404033153717/?type=3&amp;theater">Azerbaijani police officer</a> in the cartoon above to the man pointing his finger at him as he live-streams.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">This cartoon, published by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, appeared after a group of Azerbaijanis living in Europe started a new political campaign. It illustrates the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">all-too familiar reality</a> of the consequences Azerbaijani political activists face and how the Aliyev regime reacts to their activism. Called “Know Your Dictator”, the campaign has so far made it to several European capitals, United States, Canada, Russia, Georgia and even Azerbaijan. The idea is simple: an A4 picture of Ilham Aliyev (and sometimes both father, Heydar Aliyev and the son) with the phrase “know your dictator” plastered across it. The group upped their game during Novruz celebrations, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9oCRHllsIM">printing larger posters</a> to congratulate the “Family of Dictators”. </p><p dir="ltr">The people behind the campaign describe themselves as an unofficial movement of Azerbaijani political immigrants living in Europe. It was formed in early March after a protest action organised in Germany. Speaking of the movement’s structure, Tural Sadigli, Ordukhan Temirkhan and Rasul Mursalov <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka_tPLHCNGg">said</a>: “The movement has no official structure, it has no name, and it is open to Azerbaijanis living abroad and in Azerbaijan.” The goal, however, is ambitious: “To work together with all interested parties, including diaspora organisations, media and dissidents, towards bringing down the despotic leadership in Azerbaijan.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.18.21.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.18.21.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ordukhan Temirkhan and the "Know your dictator" campaign, Berlin. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>The last time the Azerbaijani diaspora was involved in this kind of action was January 2017. An Azerbaijani MP described Azerbaijani labour migrants living in Russia as the “scum of society”. In response, Azerbaijani migrants <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/28197867.html">flooded </a>Facebook with their video responses, not just from Russia, but from Ukraine and even Germany. But this action was a one-off, and this was probably related to the way the Azerbaijani diaspora is structured. Often viewed as a political tool and a form of political lobbying in the hands of the government, Azerbaijan’s diaspora is relatively passive. As Sergey Rumyanstev <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">writes</a>: “The goals of the regime in power ‘at home’ dictate those of Azerbaijan’s diaspora organisations,” which is what they do by telling “the truth” to the world about Azerbaijan – the country’s accomplishments and the reforms implemented by the Aliyev family. As a result, these diaspora groups only “entrench the cult and legitimacy” of the regime at home.</p><p dir="ltr">What makes “know your dictator” campaign unique, however, is the Aliyev government’s response. It is far from pleased, and the regime is responding by threatening to shut down social media platforms ahead of snap presidential elections on 11 April. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether a hashtag can defeat the government, but so far, it seems, the hashtag is winning. </p><h2 dir="ltr">An unpatriotic handful of flies</h2><p dir="ltr">In mid-March, Ali Hasanov, Azerbaijani presidential aid on civic and social issues, <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/29099070.html">wrote</a> on Facebook to respond to people in the diaspora critical of the regime, calling them “tools in the hands of anti-Azerbaijani powers”, and promptly accusing them of “losing their sense of patriotism” (which is, it seems, a “terrible national tragedy”).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AR_Prezident_Administrasiyasının_ictimai-siyasi_məsələlər_şöbəsinin_müdiri_Əli_Həsənov_-_VOA_-_02_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="321" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ali Hasanov. Wikipedia / VOA. Public Domain. </span></span></span>A week later, Hasanov posted a new note, this time minimising the numbers of those involved in anti-Aliyev rhetoric abroad to a handful. “They are five to ten people who have sought political asylum by forged means, and now engage in anti-Azerbaijani activities,” wrote Hasanov. By contrast, there are 15,000-20,000 Azerbaijani immigrants (out of a total 100,000 Azerbaijanis living abroad) who always protect “the interests of our country” in Europe, the presidential aid <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/eli-hesenov-muhacirler/29115149.html">added</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In late March, Azerbaijan’s National Press Council held a roundtable <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/eli-hesenov-internet/29135183.html">discussion</a> calling for media solidarity while “protecting moral and cultural values on the Internet media and social networks”. Here, Hasanov once again highlighted the ongoing “disgusting campaign” against the “Azerbaijani authorities” and “the state of Azerbaijan”. Speaking to a group of journalists, Hasanov said, as someone responsible for communication policy and relations with diaspora representatives, he has taken it upon himself to inform the people of “this dirty campaign” that has “reached an extreme level”. “Their goal is to damage the positive image of the first person [president] and his team, to form a mass mood of discontent against them, and to destabilise the country.” </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Whether it’s anonymous protest in Washington or the “Know your dictator” campaign in Berlin, it’s clear that official Baku is antsy</p><p dir="ltr">Hasanov’s response begs the question: why would a top government official waste his time writing about five people on his Facebook page (and not once, but twice)? As it turns out, Hasanov is not alone in responding.</p><p dir="ltr">In a televised debate of presidential candidates (in which Ilham Aliyev did not participate), one candidate tried sending a different message to Azerbaijani dissidents. “We have received information that the ASALA [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Secret_Army_for_the_Liberation_of_Armenia">Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia</a>] is planning to kill them [exiled activists] in order to make the government look bad,” exclaimed Hafiz Hajiyev, without providing any further evidence or explaining where this information came from.</p><p>In the meantime, Mirshahin Aghayev, the host of a <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijans-new-pro-government-tv-network-has-some-familiar-faces">new television channel</a>, took it to another level, using profane language to address the men behind the “Know your dictator” campaign on air. Aghayev is the co-founder of the former Azerbaijan News Agency (ANS), which <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijans-new-pro-government-tv-network-has-some-familiar-faces">lost</a> its license in 2016 in the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey – ANS had prepared an interview with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen. Desperate, Aghayev even appealed to Azerbaijan’s dead president Heydar Aliyev to help him in a difficult situation. Though he was a laughing stock at the time, Aghayev seem to have his prayers answered. And not only his prayers: Real TV is reportedly indirectly <a href="https://www.facebook.com/khadija.ismayil/posts/10208942605000925">owned</a> by Azerbaijan’s ruling family.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A classic of Azerbaijan’s patriotic narrative, labeling critics at home and abroad as Armenian spies is useful if you want to play on national sentiments</p><p dir="ltr">Tural Sadigli believes that the Azerbaijani government is afraid they are losing the upper hand in the game between them and Azerbaijan’s political immigrants. This is why they’re resorting to all kinds of new means of retaliation, including setting up new television channels where the anchor can swear and humiliate others without retribution. “We are certain, it is the government who has directly ordered people to come after us,” says Ordukhan Teymurkhan. It is obvious this is happening when even Ali Hasanov himself has been deployed, says Teymurkhan. “I just wish they came after us directly and left our families alone,” he adds. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Armenian spies in Vendetta masks</h2><p dir="ltr">A classic of Azerbaijan’s patriotic narrative, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">labeling critics at home and abroad as Armenian spies</a> is useful if you want to play on national sentiments. It remains a handy last resort in the hands of the ruling regime when influencing opinions. Writing of Sadigli, Teymurkhan and others as having lost “their sense of patriotism”, Ali Hasanov knows too well the impact these words can have on a society that has experienced war, is living in a state of an on-going war, and faces the possibility of the conflict resuming at any time. Rallying support behind misinformation and accusations is an effective measure in a tightly controlled society, lacking any form of freedoms. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.10.30_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-02_at_10.10.30_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="225" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15 March: anti-government rally in Washington DC. Source: RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service. </span></span></span>On 15 March, a group of Azerbaijanis staged an anti-government <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/aksiya-vashinqton-ilham-eliyev-prezident-secki/29102152.html">rally</a> in Washington DC. Unlike the protesters in Europe, the participants of this rally all wore Anonymous masks. There is no information of who organised the rally. None of the DC based human rights organisations were contacted. The anonymity led to a wave of speculations in Azerbaijan. Some have said these were the children of government employees studying abroad, while activists chose to embrace the action, explaining the masks as a measure of precaution: these people don’t want their family members to come under pressure back home. </p><p dir="ltr">Whether it’s anonymous protest in Washington or the “Know your dictator” campaign in Berlin, it’s clear that official Baku is antsy. We are seeing a shift from the usual measures of trying to scare activists abroad by punishing family members at home, to having high-ranking government officials and the propaganda mouthpieces make statements that clearly show discomfort at the campaigns abroad. The <a href="http://virtualaz.org/olke/115508">discussion</a> about shutting down social media platforms ahead of the presidential elections only attests to pre-election insecurity in government circles. Hadi Rajabli, chairman of labour and social policy committee, in a statement issued on 28 March, said he wasn’t calling for Facebook to be shut down, but that Azerbaijan had to rely on the “international experience of blocking sites and pages of users damaging ‘moral and cultural values of people’”. </p><p dir="ltr">In a country where old habits die hard, it is still too early to tell whether a dissident movement of immigrants can force the ruling regime to change. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:39:51 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 116998 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A wave of brutal crackdowns on LGBT communities in the post-Soviet space has exposed civil society’s shortcomings — and destroyed lives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Every day, before leaving the house, Milan zips his jacket all the way up to his chin. He puts on his sunglasses, hat and earphones with the volume cranked up to the max and walks to a language class.</p><p dir="ltr">“People can barely see my face that way, and I can barely hear what is happening around me. I go to class, and then sometimes I meet with the social worker or go to the doctor. Then I have something to eat and set off to walk around the city until I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. Only then do I go home,” Milan says, adding that the thing he is most afraid of is closing his eyes and not being able to fall asleep.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is why I prefer to come home so tired that I literally pass out. Otherwise, every time I close my eyes, I feel the cold concrete floor against my stomach, I can taste the blood on my tongue, hear the shouting of the guards and see those smeared walls.”</p><p dir="ltr">Almost a year after Russia’s <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti">broke</a> horrific accounts of the roundups and severe torture that gay men were subjected to in Chechnya (the exact number of deaths remains unknown), the crisis is far from over. Though many gay men in Chechnya, like Milan, fled abroad with the help of Russian LGBT rights defenders, they still have to hide their real identities and locations to prevent possible harassment from the Chechen intelligence — just like in Chechnya. Over the summer of 2017, reports of similar crimes across the North Caucasus increased, and in September, reports of similar roundups, humiliation and torture against LGBT people (who allegedly had STDs and were involved in sex work) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">emerged from Azerbaijan</a> — and in October, Tajikistan <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-lgbt-registry/28800614.html">created</a> a registry of LGBT citizens after police conducted operations to identity them.</p><p dir="ltr">While each crisis had its specifics, they all were used by the authorities to demonstrate their ability to crush any vulnerable community in an atmosphere of impunity, as well as to divert attention from other issues and extort money from the victims. The crises also exposed weak points, such as the lack of evacuation mechanisms, the fragility of the LGBT communities in question and inadequate collaboration between LGBT rights and general civil society groups in Eurasia.</p><h2>Copy-paste crimes</h2><p dir="ltr">“The crisis is ongoing, we definitely receive more casefiles and requests. Not on the scale of last year, but there are still many cases that get referred to us,” says a spokesperson for LGBT Network, the rights group in Russia that handled the majority of the cases of Chechen gay victims in 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">“We are receiving requests for help not only from Chechnya, but also other neighboring republics in the North Caucasus: Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and beyond. We are still not sure what to make of it. Was that the overall situation in the North Caucasus on the eve of the last year’s crisis, or did the other republics in the region simply adopt the pattern of the Chechen authorities? The attention created by the crisis is fading away, but it’s still ongoing.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same</p><p dir="ltr">Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an Azerbaijani LGBT rights defender, also cites ongoing problems in her work with victims of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge. “Now, a few months after these roundups in Baku, the risks for the LGBT community aren’t as high as before. But those whom we helped back in September say they are continuously receiving threats and being targeted by the law enforcement.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tajikistan, the news that the General Prosecutor’s Office had created a list of “proven LGBT people” with hundreds of names was more a confirmation of existing information, according to Dilrabo Samadova, a Dushanbe-based human rights lawyer.This list first came out in 2015 after Tajik officials went after sex workers, “uncovering” the country’s LGBT community in the process.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/content_map_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former military offices in Argun, Chechnya, where gay men were detained, humiliated, tortured and subject to extortion in 2017. Image: </span></span></span>Following Tajikistan, the news of similar attacks on a smaller scale started to pop up elsewhere across Eurasian.“Any such negative developments tend to have a negative effect and find their way across the region at some point. We’ve seen that with the ‘gay propaganda’ law and other similar events,” says Kyrgyz Indigo’s activist Amir Mukhambetov, commenting on <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/04/kyrgyzstan-lgbt-community-fear-attacks-russia">Kyrgyzstan’s 2014 gay propaganda law</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">But while these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same.</p><h2>Show of power and corruption</h2><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/dmitry-dubrovsky">Dmitry Dubrovsky</a> with Saint Petersburg’s Human Rights Council says it’s hard to explain why the attacks on gay people happened in Chechnya. Dubrovsky says that previously, for example, honour killings of women were widespread in Chechnya, but “they were carried out by the families, while gays were targeted by the Chechen authorities.” He adds that “homophobia in general in Russia is quite high”, citing a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/homophobic-video-warns-russians-of-dangers-of-not-voting">recent homophobic video on social media</a> that called on Russians to participate in the March 2018 presidential elections as an example.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Chechen authorities were always hostile towards anyone who could be labeled as ‘the other,’” says the LGBT network spokesperson, adding that the LGBT people had always suffered physical attacks in the past, as well as attempts to extort money from them.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ copy 2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>“This is the first time it was so massive. In an instant, the gays became the whole focus of the Chechen authorities… What we’ve learned is that it just happens in Chechnya that someone, some group just becomes ‘the other’ at one point or the other: drug users, traffic violators, etc. There's no one who is on the safe side living in that area, anyone can easily become a victim,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">In Dushanbe, Samadova also cites the rise of homophobia and says events like the crackdown in Chechnya or Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law affect the state of LGBT rights in Tajikistan. “The government harasses the LGBT community to extort money. However, interestingly, the harassment partially comes from the State Committee on National Security [known by the abbreviation GKNB] and if GKNB does it, it means the state is portraying the LGBT community as a threat to national security.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes”</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, according to Mehdiyeva, there were dozens of explanations floating around regarding the reasons for the crackdown, but she attributes the situation in October to corruption, adding that “the LGBT people who had an STD at the time of an arrest had already been registered with the Ministry of Health. Also, in Azerbaijan, if anyone in any district wants to do any kind of work, the police know about it. The same is true of sex work. They [the police] were told to catch the LGBT people, so they caught the ones they already knew and demanded others’ phone numbers from them, and then engaged in extortion.”</p><p dir="ltr">But no matter what the causes, these crises have exposed major problem areas.</p><h2>Exposing the fault lines</h2><p dir="ltr">One of the biggest problems that these crises faced was the lack of swift and well thought-out evacuation mechanisms for victims. Referring to his own experience of observing evacuations of LGBT Chechens, Dubrovsky says “there were no mechanisms that worked well. Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes in the cases when there are threats to one’s freedom and/or life.”</p><p dir="ltr">Another problem is that the “public narrative in many of these cases is such that it’s the victims’ fault,” says Amir Mukhambetov.</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, Mehdiyeva says the narrative fits the same pattern, noting that “the officials caught those who were too loud in the streets, or had STDs.” Unlike Chechnya, Mehdiyeva adds, the victims of the LGBT crackdown in Azerbaijan didn’t receive a lot of help in terms of relocation to safety. However, she links the lack of assistance to the fact that in Chechnya there were instances of people dying as the result of torture, and “in Azerbaijan, the worst we had was the use of a taser.”</p><p dir="ltr">The spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network says their organisation, on the contrary, had seen a lot of support from the international community, including help with ensuring safety. However, “there were a lot of governments that were hesitant to address this crisis in public speeches or take it up with president Putin. There was a lot of back channeling, but some were hesitant to speak out publicly. [Had they done so,] more countries could have opened their borders and accepted more refugees.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Mehdiyeva says in Azerbaijan, the lack of support on behalf of civil society at large was obvious. “The public thought that there was really some crisis as it was portrayed by the Ministry of Health. Members of civil society at large could have said something, but they chose to remain silent.” Mehdiyeva mentions that the international media’s attention to the matter was much higher than their local counterparts, though the Azerbaijani Service of the BBC, as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Germany-based Meydan TV later started reporting as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Samad Rahimli, a human rights lawyer based in Baku who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">represented a number of the victims in court</a>, describes Azerbaijani civil society’s reaction as “less than desirable”. “On the one hand, there was no condemnation, and on the other, a small part of civil society reacted with homophobic statements.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it”</p><p>Rahimli adds that the situation did not pertain solely to the LGBT community. “Since we witnessed blatant discrimination on the one hand, and violation of fundamental rights such as the use of torture, restriction of the right to liberty and due process, it was directly within the purview of the civil society groups and organisations.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The potential reasons for such a reaction,” Rahimli adds, “is the fact that, quite unfortunately, a sizable portion of the civil society organisations see themselves as part of the political opposition and identify with them. In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it. They are afraid to lose votes and are wary of the people’s reaction or that the government would use their support in a smear campaign. Civil society, sadly, shares this hesitation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, the situation has developed along a somewhat different path. The LGBT Network’s spokesperson calls the current state of things “a new era of human rights-related crimes” and adds that the shift towards severe attacks on communities has shown that “we are not protected anymore”, and “there should be more unity in resolving such crises.”</p><h2>Unity is key</h2><p dir="ltr">The same spokesperson with the LGBT Network in Russia says they’d like to see more of Russian civil society at large addressing LGBT issues.</p><p>“In Russia, we still have the ‘normal’ people’s rights and the rights of LGBT,” they say, adding that a number of civil society groups “started to make a huge leap towards appreciating the need for supporting the LGBT people in Chechnya, as well as acknowledging their existence in the first place.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large”</p><p dir="ltr">However, both the LGBT Network and Dmitry Dubrovsky state that in Russia speaking out about the violations of the rights of the LGBT community can at any time be interpreted as LGBT propaganda, which is punishable under the provisions of the notorious gay propaganda law of 2013.</p><p dir="ltr">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large,” says Dubrovsky, pointing out that “the LGBT rights community is a group of self-defense, and the rights defenders at large are more a group formed around principles. These groups have a lot of common points, but also conceptual differences. It is important to understand that their strategic goals are not always the same. For example, from the point of view of the rights defenders, discrimination at a university must be publicized, but from the point of view of a student, this will greatly complicate their life.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maxim Lapunov, centre, who <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice>came forward publicly to seek justice</a> after he was detained and tortured by Chechen police. Source: Human Rights Watch. </span></span></span>Existing personal relationships help collaboration at the time of crises like the one in Chechnya, says the LGBT Network’s spokesperson, adding that it’s important to “at least try to establish our points of collaboration”.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the frequently mentioned areas for collaboration is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">research</a>. Going forward, those knowledgeable of the issue point out that conducting research on LGBT topics could help push for change.</p><h2>Lack of research</h2><p dir="ltr">Recent crises have shown that there’s little systematic data on the issue of the LGBT rights or communities in general across Eurasia, and all that’s available is anecdotal data. “When there’s a more systematic data, then these issues are taken more seriously,” Dubrovsky says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mehdiyeva agrees that substantial research would help in the areas such as litigation, legislative changes and advocacy. Rahimli also mentions the lack of any substantive public opinion data or research in the country. He cites a public attitudes study carried out by ILGA-Europe, a leading LGBT rights advocacy group based in Brussels, which <a href="https://www.ilga-europe.org/sites/default/files/Attachments/side_a_rainbow_europe_map_2016_a3_small.pdf">described Azerbaijan as the worst place to be gay in Europe</a> in its LGBTI index of 2016.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again</p><p>“Only after such a study is conducted can we talk about creating a sound framework to address the LGBT issues in Azerbaijan, such as strategic litigation, the scope and size of discrimination faced by the members of the community or enacting anti-discrimination legislation,” Rahimli says.</p><p dir="ltr">A year later, the world has moved on to address other challenges. Milan has moved on too — after he managed to relocate. His steps brisk, his shoulders wavering and long arms flapping, is yet again on one of his walks “till exhaustion” when his phone rings. He says he understands that the world can’t be transfixed with Chechnya forever, but “you all need to know this crisis isn’t over.”</p><p dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again. In an environment of impunity and lack of local and international accountability mechanisms, further spread of such attacks on other countries and other vulnerable communities is inevitable.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">What is being done right now, Milan says, only addresses the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but “there should be something else. So that the government knows they can’t treat people like they’ve treated me. There should be some sort of retaliation. If it is not punished, the government will do something like this again.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">“We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice">Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Tamara Grigoryeva Ismail Djalilov Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Human rights Chechnya Azerbaijan Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:45:51 +0000 Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva 116342 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>2018 is an election year in Azerbaijan. The authorities may have the streets on lockdown, but the fight against dissent in cyberspace is just beginning.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Loading.gif" height="250" width="460" frameborder="0" /></p><p dir="ltr">Last week, somebody broke into MeydanTV’s Facebook. By Monday, the Berlin-based online news platform finally restored its access to the page — but had lost years of posts and nearly 100,000 subscribers (the publication had experienced a series of DDoS attacks on its site earlier in January). Anybody who knows the parlous state of freedom of speech in Azerbaijan knows of <a href="http://meydan.tv">MeydanTV</a>. The site’s independent journalism has won it no friends in the South Caucasus state, where its journalists are routinely harassed.</p><p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, reports have abounded of DDoS attacks and hacking of Facebook and email accounts of Azerbaijani dissidents and their supporters. Both of us can attest from personal experience that the attackers have upped their game — using surveillance technologies such as Deep Packet Inspection (DIP) and <a href="https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hacker-lexicon-spear-phishing/">spearphishing attempts</a>. As we enter 2018 and a presidential (re)election in October, these moves attest to a digital crackdown in Azerbaijan – policing the internet and deterring online activism. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The block doctrine</h2><p dir="ltr">One development at the end of last year showed a new stage of regime mobilisation against online dissent. A <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/azerbaijan">legal amendment</a> last year allowed Azerbaijan’s state institutions to block websites on the grounds of national security — and MeydanTV’s was among them.</p><p dir="ltr">Furious, five blocked media outlets contested the ruling. During an appeals hearing on 19 December 2017, &nbsp;a representative from the Ministry of Communication (the government body that carried out the blocking) said the websites were blocked not at his ministry’s orders, but by the prosecutor’s office.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-01-31_at_18.07.18.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-01-31_at_18.07.18.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MeydanTV’s website as accessed from outside Azerbaijan</span></span></span>Bakhtiyar Mammadov, who testified on behalf of the ministry, declared Meydan TV, Radio Azatliq (RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service), and the independent Azadliq newspaper (unrelated to Azadliq Radio), Turan TV, and Azerbaijan Hour were to be the first on the list of websites to be blocked following the amendments. “We received a letter from the prosecutor’s office telling us to take immediate measures against these websites,” <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/azadliq-sayt-blok-qadaga/28927052.html">said</a> Mammadov.</p><p dir="ltr">While Mammadov urged the judge to dismiss the lawyers’ appeal to unblock the websites, he argued that blocking only boosted their readership, and that dedicated users can still find ways to access them. At the end of the day, the court in Baku ruled against unblocking the online news outlets.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Hacking away at the opposition</h2><p dir="ltr">With the right know-how, getting around a block isn’t too difficult — you can use a VPN or a mirrored website. Too bad that the authorities are eager to target those who’d want to do so.</p><p dir="ltr">In a recent interview, a dissident activist from Azerbaijan told us of two types of politically-motivated hacking that the regime uses today. Firstly, there’s hacking of Armenian websites (Azerbaijan technically remains at war with its western neighbour over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh), secondly, there’s the hacking of civil society activists’ email and social media accounts. In the case of civil society activists, a hacker picks his target, acquires access to just one account and once in, has access to emails and contacts of everyone else in the contact list. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="color: #666666; font-size: 22px; font-weight: bold; text-align: center;">It seems clear that the authorities have stepped up their internet policing measures ahead of elections in October</span></p><p dir="ltr">Hacking Facebook accounts isn’t too difficult, as most accounts are linked to a phone number and therefore a mobile network operator. In a country where these firms are under the watchful eye of the authorities, requesting a password via mobile device to reset the password is simple. With one SMS, the hacker gets hold of the account and the damage is done.</p><p dir="ltr">Recent examples include the hacking of Facebook profiles and pages &nbsp;of political figures Ali Karimli and Camil Hasanli. As former presidential candidate Hasanli put it, the damage inflicted was extensive. He lost 75,000 of his 108,350 subscribers, as well as all the posts, photos, videos, and articles he’d shared since 2013.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="768"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MeydanTV’s website as accessed from inside Azerbaijan</span></span></span></p> <p dir="ltr">This wasn’t the first time Hasanli has been hacked, but he believes the hackers have now raised the stakes. “My accounts were hacked one year ago, around the time of a [opposition] political rally, but I was able to quickly regain access to my account,” he recalls. This time, says Hasanli, the hacker got back into his pages several times before finally being shut out. He believes this was more than an ordinary hacker attack, and suspects that updated technology was used.</p><p dir="ltr">The possibility of new technology is something for forensic specialists to establish. But to any observer, it seems clear that the authorities have stepped up their internet policing measures ahead of elections in October, and are ready to deploy all kinds of tricks to keep dissident voices muted offline and online. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">Denial of service, denial of dissent</h2><p dir="ltr">In this March 2017 <a href="https://www.qurium.org/news-media-websites-attacked-from-governmental-infrastructure-in-azerbaijan/">report</a>, the secure hosting service VirtualRoad analysed the types and frequency of DDoS attacks in Azerbaijan. A DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attack is an attempt to make an online service (often a bank or news website) unavailable, by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. </p><p dir="ltr">VirtualRoad states that all DDoS attacks observed between October 2016 and March 2017 originated from dedicated servers operated by Azerbaijani system administrators, which made VirtualRoad conclude that the attackers were close to the country’s cybersecurity community. VirtualRoad also discovered botnet attacks against the small independent news website abzas.net and azadliq.info before these websites were blocked. </p><p dir="ltr">The DDoS attacks Meydan TV experienced in January of this year, however, point to new revelations. MeydanTV’s website managers tracked the sources of the DDoS attacks and discovered that this time they were carried out from from India, Vietnam, Romania, Brazil, and Indonesia. And this time, defending the website was much harder.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Now that much of Azerbaijan’s civil society is out of the picture, the goal is to render the opposition totally harmless</span></p><p dir="ltr">As a result, Meydan TV’s mirror website was disabled in the first DDoS attack of this style. Not even the site’s Cloudflare service (which provides DDoS protection and firewall) were enough to keep the website secure. As the attacks continued over several days, it was difficult for the news outlet to continue the work as usual. </p><p dir="ltr">In addition to DDoS attacks, Azerbaijani activists have been subject to other forms of intimidation and surveillance including <a href="http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-deep-packet-inspection-works">Deep Packet Inspection</a> (DPI) — also known as information extraction, which in normal circumstances is used for innocuous reasons, but in the wrong hands can be used for surveillance, and snooping over personal content, spear phishing, and the creation of impersonating accounts. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2014, Citizen Lab revealed Azerbaijan was among the customers of Hacking Team, from which the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs had <a href="https://citizenlab.ca/2014/02/mapping-hacking-teams-untraceable-spyware/">bought</a> Remote Control Spyware (RCS) technology. In <a href="https://medium.com/amnesty-insights/false-friends-how-fake-accounts-and-crude-malware-targeted-dissidents-in-azerbaijan-9b6594cafe60">research</a> published last March, Amnesty International concluded that spearphishing and other forms of attacks against Azerbaijani dissidents began in November 2015, the year when Azerbaijan had its parliamentary elections — and when the regime woke up to what was happening online. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The calm before the fraud?</h2><p dir="ltr">With presidential elections scheduled for 17 October, Azerbaijan’s political arena is going to be on lockdown. The elected president will stay in power for the next seven years based on the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">29 amendments voted through via a country-wide referendum</a> two years ago. </p><p dir="ltr">The new president will also have a range of powers, including dismissing parliament and calling for early presidential elections. The current head of state, president Ilham Aliyev, took power in 2003, secured a second presidential term in 2008 and in 2009 scrapped presidential term limits all together — this allowed him to run and successfully win the presidential elections in 2013. Following the 2016 referendum, Aliyev appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva to the position of the country’s First Vice President, a seat in the government also made possible by the 2016 referendum. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev. Photo CC BY 4.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The country’s &nbsp;electoral history is marred by vote rigging and ballot stuffing, to name a few. Elections are held in an unequal environment where activists, dissidents and civil society representatives were and are harassed, intimidated and silenced. Aliyev has won every single presidential election with an over 80% majority since taking the seat from his father, the late Heydar Aliyev, and Yeni Azerbaijan, the ruling party, has managed to win majority in all parliamentary elections since the Aliyev family took over the presidency. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Camil Hasanli, the political, social and economic environment established in Azerbaijan is an unequal playing field. The opposition does not have access to television (which remains a key point of news access among wider population); civil society has been silenced; independent media is blocked and so is the opposition media; while critical voices have been either arrested or forced out of the country. “In this environment, the only place remaining for influencing public opinion is Facebook,” notes Hasanli. And so it is not surprising that the authorities are using various methods against online dissidence to take the remaining free space. Scores of Azerbaijani citizens have been questioned for posting critical commentary on Facebook, or simply liking a social media status, or clicking “attend” for political rallies. There are currently four bloggers who are serving a prison term. Even <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-diplomat-corruption-charges-facebook-criticism/27185331.html">diplomats</a> have paid a heavy price for voicing their concerns on social media. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While Azerbaijan is certainly far from Russia’s troll factories, it is catching up &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A number of political figures and experts interviewed for this story commented that attacks on the internet usually take place during certain political events, elections, rallies and protests. And given this year is too an election year it is not totally surprising to see more online activity taking place and new targets selected. Now that much of Azerbaijan’s civil society is out of the picture, the goal is to render the opposition totally harmless. This includes hacking of political leaders’ Facebook pages and their accounts, as well as pressure against prominent dissident bloggers, using their families as baits. </p><p dir="ltr">Two prominent cases involve video bloggers Orduhan Temirhan and Mammad Mirza, both of whom live abroad. In June 2017, some 12 members of Orduhan’s family members were <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83906">detained</a>, questioned and asked to demand the Netherlands-based Temirhan stop his activism in an exchange for their freedom. While in January this year, Mirza’s father was briefly <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/news/26889/">detained</a> and then released in an exchange for his brother-in-law. The family has denounced Mirza while the blogger is refusing to stop any of his work. Mirza in an interview with Meydan TV said he has no intention of stopping and plans to attend a rally in Strasbourg in February to speak of the threats against his family. </p><p dir="ltr">While Mirza and Ordukhan are committed to their cause, so are Azerbaijani trolls who are committed to the jobs they have been given. Anecdotal evidence suggests some of these fierce online commentators are civil servants, pro-government journalists and members of the ruling party branch. Often their comments are copy paste or excerpts from statements made by the President and other government officials. Their ability to engage in a healthy debate online is weak say political activists often subject to their harassment. There are users with assigned user accounts, but there are also users that operate more than one account disguised under different names. </p><p dir="ltr">While Azerbaijan is certainly far from Russia’s troll factories, it is catching up. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-patriotic-trolls">In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten">Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Hebib Muntezir Arzu Geybulla Human rights Azerbaijan Fri, 02 Feb 2018 06:02:21 +0000 Arzu Geybulla and Hebib Muntezir 115920 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Runey_Mike_opEd.jpg" alt="" width="80" />Last year, this fearless journalist was abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and wound up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. We need more like him.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Afgan Mukhtarli and I first met in early 2015, at Prospero’s cafe in central Tbilisi. We were both recent arrivals to Georgia: I was here because an upstart Azerbaijani media outlet had failed to attract a more qualified candidate, and Afgan because his investigative reporting — particularly on the corruption of the country’s military and its ruling Aliyev family — had forced him to flee neighbouring Azerbaijan to end the government’s harassment of him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">However, it didn’t stop. Family members who remained in Azerbaijan were still threatened, still followed, and still harassed. Neither did Afgan, who kept reporting, supporting struggling members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Tbilisi’s then-thriving Azerbaijani exile community</a>, and kept protesting. Then in May of last year, the Azerbaijani government escalated their war on Afgan by having him abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and whisked away to a prison in Baku. Earlier this month, he was <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30793">sentenced to six years in prison</a>.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where silence is golden</h2><p dir="ltr">The Azerbaijani state’s attacks on its discontents are always deeply personal. One journalist saw her brother, a rural day labourer whom she credibly believed had never read a word she’d written, sent to prison for a year on fabricated drug charges. Afgan was no exception. He had volunteered to fight in the Nagorno Karabakh War as a young man, and it clearly bothered him that the same state he had once risked his life for was now doing its utmost to destroy him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s legendary stubbornness served him well as an investigative reporter, but it also roused the ire of certain parts of the Georgian state. There was no protest he wouldn’t attend — there is a picture, lost somewhere deep in Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm, of Afgan protesting the sentence of youth activist Qiyas Ibragimov with a group of Georgian street punks half his age - and both the Georgian police and the quasi-official security contractors hired by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani took notice.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or&nbsp;burning hazelnuts&nbsp;to keep warm?</p><p dir="ltr">In the same cafe where Afgan and I first met, less than a year and a half later, Afgan’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva would be interviewed about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">how the Georgian state abducted Mukhtarli</a> and arranged for him to be “caught” by Azerbaijani border guards while smuggling over $10,000 across the border, in the middle of the night and without his passport. Six months and multiple indignities passed before Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing. His lawyers are appealing, but much damage has already been done.</p><p dir="ltr">He has been denied proper medical care for his type two diabetes while in custody, and the Azerbaijani court declined to permit him to travel to the funeral for his sister, niece, and nephew in the town of Zaqatala, <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=79314">who died in their sleep</a> after wind extinguished the flame of the gas heater the family used in lieu of central heating.</p><p dir="ltr">Due to the government’s decision to try him in a court in Balakan, six hours by car northwest of Baku, for no apparent reason other than to inconvenience his lawyers and discourage journalists from attending the trial, the funeral was less than an hour’s drive away. </p><p dir="ltr">The sad and tragic death of his relatives was one of the grim outcomes of entrenched elite corruption that Mukhtarli sought to expose as a journalist. Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or <a href="https://www.azernews.az/lifestyle/122005.html">burning hazelnuts</a> to keep warm?</p><h2 dir="ltr">A state of impunity</h2><p dir="ltr">In most countries, the sentencing of a journalist — or anyone, regardless of occupation — on such absurd charges would be a major story in and of itself. In Azerbaijan it barely counts as news.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017 alone, a photojournalist and blogger was sentenced <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/sv/news/journalist-mehman-huseynov-sentenced-to-two-years-on-fabricated-charges/">to two years</a> for slander for accurately describing his torture by Baku police, and another received <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/304334/">seven years</a> for extortion for reporting on police-protected brothels. Another managed <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303722/">to lose all his teeth</a> during a month-long stint for failing to obey police instructions, and three months into pretrial detention over a Facebook post, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/">yet another inexplicably hung himself</a> in his cell. </p><p dir="ltr">If we were to start counting beyond the legal system, we would note <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/25504/">the case of Ilqar Valiyev</a>, who was abducted and tortured by Azerbaijani servicemen near the line of contact with the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. They had assumed he was an Armenian spy. Valiyev is now in a third country, but he escaped Azerbaijan via Georgia, where Mukhtarli helped him get medical care.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Ilqar Valiyev. Source: meydan.tv</span></span></span>Although his case has caught by far the most international attention, Mukhtarli’s kidnapping is part of a trend of closer ties between two South Caucasus countries that are often held up as the poster children for everything that can go right and wrong in “European integration”. Georgia celebrated its long-awaited goal of visa-free travel to the EU last March, while Azerbaijan’s year was marred by the <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a> revelations and the delay of the signing of a new partnership agreement with the EU. From Brussels or Berlin, one could be forgiven for believing the two post-Soviet states were moving in opposite directions.</p><p dir="ltr">It isn’t the case. A recent <a href="https://puerrtto.livejournal.com/979192.html">blog post</a> by Alexander Lapshin, an Israeli-Russian travel writer who ran afoul of the Azerbaijani authorities about evidence submitted during his prosecution, revealed that Georgia responded to a request for information on his entry and exit from the country with a wealth of supplementary information. This ranged from property Lapshin owned in Batumi to data on those who happened to cross the Armenian border shortly before or after him in late 2016. As most other countries ignored Azerbaijan’s requests — even a friendly state would probably question why the request was not sent via Interpol — it raised questions about what prompted Georgia’s enthusiasm.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</p><p dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=2231&amp;lang=eng">biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</a>, investing more than twice as much as any European state, and as of this year, its <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/8714/Georgia-Not-To-Purchase-Gas-from-Russia-in-2018">sole supplier of natural gas</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In a deal that raised eyebrows internationally and sparked protests among the domestic opposition, last January the Georgian government and Russia’s Gazprom renegotiated how Gazprom pays Georgia for use of its pipeline for transferring natural gas to Armenia. In the past, Gazprom compensated Georgia with an in-kind payment of 10% of the gas that entered its territory, but the new arrangement <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-russia-gas-agreement-armenia/28256580.html">stated</a> Georgia would receive cash instead. Neither side has revealed the final terms. As the price is likely tied to the heavily subsidised prices Gazprom charges Armenia, it’s hardly likely the deal was favourable to Georgia.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, then-Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-georgia-gas-agreement-azerbaijan-gazprom/28439726.html">announced another deal</a> with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR to increase Azerbaijani gas sales to Georgia to replace the lost Russian gas. As with the Gazprom deal, the financial terms were not disclosed, and the result was Azerbaijan now provides 99% of Georgia’s natural gas. Less than two months later, Afgan Mukhtarli would disappear from the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where guests are sacred</h2><p dir="ltr">News of Afgan’s arrest spread quickly across social media, leading to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40606599">on-air protests by journalists</a> and demands for accountability from ordinary Georgians, many of whom saw their government’s complicity in Mukhtarli’s disappearance <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">as a betrayal of deeply-held beliefs</a> about hospitality and protection of guests. “What if they kill him? What are we going to tell his wife? This is medieval! What kind of Georgian would give his guest, no matter who he is, to an enemy?” said Tbilisi shopkeeper Meda Aslamazishvili to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">Eurasianet’s Giorgi Lomsadze</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the furore, Georgia’s official investigation never got off the ground. <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/78347">Local investigative journalists</a> and <a href="https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/curious-case-afgan-mukhtarli">members of the OCCRP network</a> quickly discovered that both the security cameras in central Tbilisi and along the Azerbaijani border that would have recorded either Mukhtarli’s abduction or attempt to cross illegally had been either deactivated or their footage deleted.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Mustafayeva's personal archive. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">It has been months since the Georgian government has offered any updates, and fearing for her own safety, Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafeyeva <a href="https://eurasianet.org/node/85541">took her daughter and fled to Germany</a>. In doing so, she became the latest Azerbaijani dissident or journalist to be forced out of Georgia in the last eighteen months.</p><p dir="ltr">Beginning in late 2016, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-election/ruling-party-in-georgia-decisively-wins-parliament-vote-idUSKCN1272AT">shortly before elections</a> that granted the ruling Georgian Dream party a constitutional supermajority, several exiled Azerbaijanis who had filed routine paperwork renewing their residence permits received letters from the Georgian government informing them they would not be renewed on national security grounds. None of them could realistically expect to return to Azerbaijan without facing immediate arrest, and most had no choice by to try their luck at asylum in the European Union.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, has unsubtly been pushing them to leave</p><p dir="ltr">Some were lucky enough to have behind-the-scenes help from a friendly embassy, and others, such as composer and intellectual Elmir Mirzoyev, resigned themselves <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/ein-gefluechteter-komponist-berichtet-aus-dem-leben-eines-lagerinsassen/14690850.html">to the realities of a refugee camp</a> and the risk of refusal and deportation. Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, intellectuals, and journalists, was unsubtly pushing them to leave.</p><p dir="ltr">Some who noticed the refusal letters did not seem to be based on Georgian law opted to try to fight the government for permission to stay. One such couple was Afgan Mukhtarli and Lelya Mustafayeva.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A time to shout</h2><p dir="ltr">Mukhtarli’s sentencing is not the end of the story. His lawyers are appealing, and the case is ripe for the European Court of Human Rights. The Georgian officials who signed off on Mukhtarli’s kidnapping will know that when his term is over — either in six years, or possibly earlier, given Ilham Aliyev’s practice of showing clemency with mass pardons during Nowruz, the Azerbaijani New Year — the notoriously feisty journalist will have a story to tell.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan has long escaped significant international pressure for its human rights abuses, both in part due to its relatively low international profile and a moderately successful campaign to buy some of the west’s <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2015/06/22/profile-of-an-undercover-lobbyist-for-azerbaijan.en.html">less scrupulous academics</a> and <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/azerbaijans-high-profile-beneficiaries">public figures</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijani opposition supporters hold Azerbaijani flag and EU flags during a protest against corruption and political repression at Mahsul Stadium, Baku, October 2017. Photo (c): Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">But rights advocates are not without leverage — Azerbaijan has still not managed to secure all necessary financing for the Southern Gas Corridor, and the European Investment Bank recently <a href="https://euobserver.com/tickers/140259">delayed a final decision</a> on a €1.5 billion loan for “due diligence” issues after months of campaigning by environmental groups. </p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s longstanding refusal to comply with a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights and <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">release opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov</a> has finally escalated to the point where it is <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">risking expulsion or suspension</a> from the Council of Europe. Baku could opt to quit the Council and leave Mammadov in prison, but in doing so would sacrifice much of the international support it would need to see the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic reintegrated into Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">One day Afgan will be free and resume his quest, to <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/news/statements/journalists-conviction-a-black-eye-for-azerbaijan-and-georgia/">paraphrase his words on the day of his sentencing</a>, to have the last word until the end of his life. It is a dark time for journalism and human rights across the world, but rather than despair, it is the responsibility of those who are free to keep working, writing, arguing, and being the inconvenient citizens that refuse to leave the corrupt and powerful be.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mike Runey Human rights Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:50:00 +0000 Mike Runey 115876 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s unlucky lawyers https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Baku-based lawyer Samed Rahimli discusses new changes in Azerbaijan that are set to make life (even more) difficult for the country’s independent lawyers.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2985988.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2985988.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supreme court of Azerbaijan, 2016. Photo (c): Murad Orudzhev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Samed Rahimli is a Baku-based lawyer with a long track record of advocacy for detainees in Azerbaijan’s jails. This year, Rahimli co-founded <a href="https://www.facebook.com/praktikhuquqshunaslar/?ref=br_rs">Praktik Hüquqşünaslar Qrupu</a>, an advocacy initiative determined to oppose new changes to Azerbaijan’s legal profession.</p><p dir="ltr">On 31 October, Azerbaijan’s parliament <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85946">approved</a> amendments to the civil code which give the state-controlled bar association full control over practicing law in the country. Azerbaijan’s lawyers are either licensed members of the bar who have had to take a highly politicised examination, or “hüquqşünaslar”, registered lawyers who are not members of the bar, but are entitled to represent their clients in non-criminal cases.</p><p dir="ltr">The changes could lead to thousands of lawyers becoming unable to represent anybody in a court of law. Observers have already decried the move as part of an intensifying crackdown on the handful of human rights lawyers who still remain in the country (following the legislative changes, some lawyers have reported being called to their local police stations).</p><p dir="ltr">Justice in Azerbaijan has never been easy to obtain. As part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/russia/topics/human-rights-lawyers-in-their-own-words">oDR’s series of interviews with human rights lawyers</a>, I asked Samed Rahimli why these changes could make it even rarer.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s at stake with these new amendments? How can we understand this recent crackdown on Azerbaijan’s lawyers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Samed Rahimli:</strong> Look at the historical context. In Soviet Azerbaijan, there was no such thing as an independent attorney or lawyer. Institutions of attorneys and lawyers (i.e. the bar associations) were under state control.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">After independence, these state-controlled bar associations came under scrutiny, and calls were made to establish a new independent attorneys’ institution. The established bar associations were not pleased, they didn’t want to lose their influence. Establishing alternative legal institutions was also debated at length in Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet states.</p><p dir="ltr">There were attempts to reform the system. In 1998, a system of licensed lawyers was established in Azerbaijan, separate from the bar association. Lawyers could receive a license from the Ministry of Justice to practice and thus to represent clients at local courts. This system was soon eliminated, as the government considered it unnecessary.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“By the 2000s, the legal profession in Azerbaijan largely existed outside the confines of the bar association, which had come to be seen as a very closed organisation with complicated public relations”</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s legal system soon divided into two groups: the bar association itself, and lawyers who wanted to function independently. The state, of course, was interested in empowering the traditional bar association, which they kept under strict control. Thus bar associations came under the rule of those with a very top-down, Soviet-era approach to law, and those closely affiliated with the ministry of justice. Legislation was drafted to allow members of the official bar association to more effectively practice law and engage with state institutions — and independent lawyers were sidelined.</p><p dir="ltr">Around the same time, a new civil code was adopted in Russia. It allowed lawyers who were not attorneys (i.e. members of bar associations) to represent individuals in civil rather than criminal cases. In 2000 Azerbaijan followed suit, and lawyers here soon started representing clients in civil cases without being members of the bar. Thus, attorneys dealt with criminal cases, and independent lawyers dealt with civil (i.e. administrative) cases.</p><p dir="ltr">Once Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe (CoE), it committed to reforming its judicial system. However, these reforms were never completed — largely due to the authorities’ lack of interest. A new bar association was eventually established in 2004 — and was supposed to have included those independent lawyers once licensed by the ministry of justice as well as the attorneys from the old bar.</p><p dir="ltr">There should also have been a founding conference, with an organising committee consisting of three attorneys and three independent lawyers, each chosen by their respective colleagues. But the government changed the law — as a result, all lawyers on the committee had to be appointed directly by the Justice Ministry. This move clearly violated the independence of the constituent assembly, to the advantage of attorneys favoured by the state. From the very start, the independence of this reformed bar was undermined.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Essentially, any lawyer with an NGO background started to have difficulties during the entrance exams to the new bar. Many were no longer accepted as members</p><p dir="ltr">Veteran human rights lawyers İntigam Aliyev and Annaga Hajibeyli were supposed to have been engaged in the process, but were barred from directly participating in the founding meeting and it was held without their involvement. Later in 2004, they were punished for continuing to practice law independently, and by 2005, the rest of those lawyers who did not participate in the new bar’s founding conference had to take an exam to the bar association. Increasing numbers of them were rejected, in a clear attempt by the association to limit its membership.</p><p dir="ltr">Lawyers of the bar association-affiliated law and consultancy centre such as Namizad Safarov and Latifa Aliyeva, who dared to hold independent elections for their chairpeople, were expelled from the association in 2006-2008.</p><p dir="ltr">Essentially, any lawyer with an NGO background started to have difficulties during the entrance exams to the new bar. Many were no longer accepted as members. The exam process was entirely opaque, and there were no objective criteria for the interview.</p><p dir="ltr">From 2010 onwards, all lawyers dealing with politically sensitive cases started being removed from the bar association. After all, it made sense for the bar’s new head Azer Tagiyev to slim down the association’s membership — he did his best to reduce the number of attorneys as much as possible. Exams were held less frequently, and over the past 13 years, lawyers were examined for a new intake to the bar only four or five times.</p><p dir="ltr">So, we ended up with two groups of lawyers. On the one hand, those dealing with political or NGO-related cases started not attending meetings of the bar association, nor bothering to apply to join it. On the other, there were many lawyers who weren’t interested in criminal nor political cases, and were allowed to attend civil cases without being members of the bar anyway. By the 2000s, the legal profession in Azerbaijan largely existed outside the confines of the bar association, which had come to be seen as a very closed organisation with complicated public relations, to put it mildly.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So what exactly happened in October with these new amendments? Why did this state of affairs only become “a problem” for the authorities so recently?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> Until October, the courts and authorities did not publicly question the situation. Then in October 2017, the new amendments were enacted and a very short period of time given to lawyers before they have to cease practicing. Many of them don’t even have time to complete their current cases, let alone try applying again to the bar association. Most of the legal community has been exempt from any kind of official representation, and now that’s come back to bite them.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s a very serious problem. The entire future of Azerbaijan’s legal profession is under threat.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And what concrete problems do these amendments spell for those practicing law in Azerbaijan today?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> Well, lawyers deal with two jobs. They provide either legal consultation or representation. Some lawyers may limit themselves to legal the former, but most represent their clients before the authorities, in courts and other institutions. And if a lawyer doesn’t engage in this kind of representation, his awareness of law will be very theoretical, with little practical experience of the court system.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Samad_Rahimli_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Samad_Rahimli_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Samad Rahimli (left), with lawyer Ziya Guliyev, and NGO worker Hasan Huseynli. Photo courtesy of Samad Rahimli.</span></span></span>A contradiction will emerge between the conceptual law and practical law. Thus, with this regulation, 90% of lawyers in the country are deprived of this practice.</p><p dir="ltr">The remaining 10% — members of the bar association — have serious problems. They basically focus on criminal cases and most of them are quite old. They are have a Soviet background and are not interested in improving themselves. They do not have the same goals as the young generation and are not interested in contributing to the law profession. That is to say, this legislation excludes 90% of lawyers, in particular the younger and more productive ones, from representing clients — the basis of legal practice. This is a very serious problem.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What will be the impact on Azerbaijani society as a whole?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> Well, worse than the impact on lawyers, that’s for sure. We have a saying in Azerbaijan that nobody will have problems if they’re aware of their rights. But ordinary people are under no obligation to learn them. And law is not so simple. When somebody is ill, doctors should interfere. It’s the same with lawyers and human rights defenders.</p><p dir="ltr">There are many legal issues that ordinary citizens are unaware of. Sometimes you need a professional to explain why you need to go to court and defend your rights — and citizens should have the full ability to hire lawyers, who know all the procedures, for that purpose. Now, if we estimate that there are 9,000-10,000 lawyers in Azerbaijan today (both members of the bar association and independent practitioners), then it’s possible that only 900 will remain after all these changes.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>According to the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has one of the lowest ratios of lawyers per 100,000 people in Europe</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Also remember that only around 100 of those 900 bar association members are administrative staff, who aren’t really engaged with the public as legal representatives. If the bar association eventually opens up and accepts new members, then perhaps there’ll be 1,500 court representatives available to the public — but until that happens, there’ll be just 700-800 available.</p><p dir="ltr">There are roughly nine million people in Azerbaijan. Of course, not all of them require urgent legal assistance, but there are still just ten lawyers per 100,000 people in Azerbaijan today. Not only does this undermine the credibility of the jurisprudence system, but it also disenfranchises the public — particularly those from low-income backgrounds.</p><p dir="ltr">Their distribution is also very unequal. Around 600 of these members of the bar association are based in Baku; the other 200 are in the regions. About three million Azerbaijanis now live in and around the capital of Baku, and about seven million in the provinces. Imagine what it means to have about 200 attorneys available for seven million people, compared to 600 lawyers for three million people. <a href="https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/cooperation/cepej/evaluation/2016/publication/REV1/2016_1%20-%20CEPEJ%20Study%2023%20-%20General%20report%20-%20EN.pdf">According to the CoE</a>, Azerbaijan has one of the lowest ratios of lawyers per 100,000 people in Europe.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does this mean for people outside Baku if they attempt to seek justice?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> It means that they may not get it. For example, there are two attorneys in Gazakh region, and just one attorney in Oguz region. There is a single attorney in the Zardab province. If two parties are in conflict, then region’s single attorney will defend just one person. The other has to bring an attorney from outside the province.</p><p dir="ltr">Remember the difficult economic situation in Azerbaijan’s regions. At the moment, lawyers who are not members of the bar association will represent a client in court for a fairly small fee — around 300-400 Manat [£130-£175]. Members of the bar association ask for much more. It’s a problem of supply and demand, and prices for those few remaining attorneys are likely to rise as a result.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What do you think are the political motivations for this move?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> The government never discloses its actual position, but has alluded to a belief that attorneys rather than lawyers should deal with legal matters. The timing is important. Right now, Russia is having a particularly heated debate about access to legal representation, and our government is often “inspired” by Moscow in such matters. But Azerbaijan is in more of a hurry — Moscow has put forward a new five-year plan in Russia, according to which a new legislative framework should be established within five years, and all lawyers should become members of the bar association during the same period. The Azerbaijani government has allocated just two months: as of 1 January this new law, ratified by the president on 7 November, will be enacted. That’s a very small window of time — and crucially, no bar examinations will be held during the period.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">You should also bear in mind the corruption of Azerbaijan’s court system. Salaries are extremely low for court officials — especially those of judges at first instance courts.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Recent years have seen restrictions on almost all spaces in Azerbaijan, from political parties to media and civil society. Now, it’s the legal profession’s turn</p><p dir="ltr">As such, the Azerbaijani judicial system could continue its work thanks to corruption. This includes the continued unlawful maintenance of court judges and employees via extra payments on top of their monthly salary. In this system, anybody who doesn’t resort to corruption would lose his job security. For example, those of us who bring cases to the ECHR often win. But we lose 90-95% of our work in Azerbaijan. Over there, our job is to go to court and lose.</p><p dir="ltr">If we earn money via corruption, we are not independent. If we just fulfil orders from the authorities, we are not independent either. Essentially, the government has created conditions for corruption to thrive in the court system. and the court was in a full state of corruption.</p><p dir="ltr">To some extent, things improved after the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim">2015 economic crisis</a>. Everybody’s income decreased, and there was simply less money [to pay bribes]. Even businessmen were no longer interested in going to court and paying for legal counsel or defence to resolve their disputes. For corruption to continue, there has to be money.</p><p dir="ltr">With fewer chances for legal representation, people will also have to come to court themselves and settle issues directly — spending money on the court system. So, I think, in that way a new form of corruption could be appearing — people will have less access to independent lawyers, and they’ll be more dependent on the corrupt courts, without any representation.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, remember that there were quite a lot of independently-minded people involved in advocacy work. Some of them were also involved in the NGO sector, and the authorities found it quite difficult to control their activities. It was a lot easier for them to dissolve the independent legal profession and supervise it through the closely-controlled bar association.</p><p dir="ltr">Recent years have seen restrictions on almost all spaces in Azerbaijan, from political parties to media and civil society. Now, it’s the legal profession’s turn.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Around 2,000 lawyers in Azerbaijan provide legal counsel and representation to the country’s large IDP population who were displaced during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. How will this affect these legal professionals?<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />SR:</strong> The 2,000 counts only the acting lawyers registered by the government’s taxation department. Baku is running a project in collaboration with international NGOs to offer free legal assistance to IDPs in Azerbaijan. And to be blunt, it was a sham. Most of those involved in that project are lawyers, not attorneys. As a result of these new changes, projects such as this will have to end. A large number of humanitarian projects are focused on the regions, where there are already not enough attorneys to implement them properly.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And how will it affect the IDPs?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR: </strong>Very badly. The government's general approach is that “we understand that the problems and will solve all of them by new year”, which seems absurd. You can’t solve the IDP question in so short a time.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>These latest laws aren’t the first instance of harassment of lawyers in Azerbaijan. Back in 2015, the human rights defender and lawyer Khalid Bagirov (to whom you were an assistant) was disbarred on ethics charges. The move was widely interpreted as payback for his public defence of the imprisoned opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, among other prisoners. What can his experience teach lawyers today?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR: </strong>Bagirov’s case is an example of how attorney who does his job honestly is kicked out. Not just Khalid Bagirov, but also Yalchin Imanov's case shows that being a professional attorney engaged in conscientious work will bring the authorities down on you. The bar association not only failed to defend them, but actively supported the government’s punishments. After these cases, many attorneys realised that if they crossed the red line and crossed swords with the authorities, they would be penalised. As you can see, the number of attorneys attending to politically-motivated cases in court has remained the same — that is, the same handful of people: just five or six of the bar association’s 900 members.</p><p dir="ltr">Why aren’t the other attorneys interested? Firstly, because this work is pro bono and they won’t get a fee. And secondly, because they’re really afraid.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you practically plan to go forward with your work under these new circumstances?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR: </strong>I specialise in cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). As such, I can live off my legal fees. The fact also remains that Baku is keeping is very busy, and it seems that problems [concerning human rights] will only increase in number in Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">We will continue our work in the ECHR. But of course, in order to bring cases before it, all available options for recourse via local courts have to be exhausted. We will find a way out. We will continue to help our clients who come to us for consultation. But I am in the minority; few lawyers in Azerbaijan specialise in the European Court, and even fewer have the opportunity to learn to do so. Meanwhile, lawyers in Azerbaijan’s regions are finding it extremely difficult to help anybody. In a word, they’ve been deprived of their right to practice their profession.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Finally, Azerbaijan now <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86451">risks being expelled from the Council of Europe</a> (CoE) due to Ilgar Mammadov’s continued imprisonment. What might this mean for Azeri lawyers working with international organisations?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SR:</strong> Look, Azerbaijan’s expulsion from the CoE is not a good result. Things should never have deteriorated to this extent, but unfortunately the current situation is simply because Azerbaijan failed to comply with a clear ruling by the ECHR. That’s how such organisations work. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />For its part, Baku has not complied with the standards it has formally adopted before international organisations. There are two sides to this dispute, but it is a clear mistake of the Azerbaijani government.</p><p dir="ltr">If (or when) Azerbaijan loses its place at the CoE due to its non-compliance, then the country’s lawyers will no longer formally have any guarantees from that body. Yes, there are parallel guarantees reflected in Azerbaijan’s commitments to the UN — but Baku’s obligations before the CoE were more efficient and clear-cut. As such, the process will lead to a further negative impact on the rights of lawyers.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">“We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/andrei-sabinin-russia-human-rights-lawyer">Andrei Sabinin: “You have to immerse yourself in the lives of strangers”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/state-society-and-individual-in-russian-courtroom">State, society and the individual in the Russian courtroom </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Human rights lawyers in their own words Azerbaijan Thu, 21 Dec 2017 20:16:07 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 115430 at https://www.opendemocracy.net From the boat race to Azerbaijani jails: how dirty gas sells itself to elites https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jo-ram-pascoe-sabido/from-boat-race-to-azerbaijani-jails-how-dirty-gas-sells-itself-to-elites <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new report exposes the network of lobbying and hypocrisy that risks locking Europe into decades of unnecessary fossil fuel expansion.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/gas.PNG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/gas.PNG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The European Investment Bank (EIB) is at COP23, the UN climate talks in Bonn, talking about financing climate solutions.</p> <p>Yet this week it is also facing mass protest over its possible multi-billion euro loan to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The pipeline would transport Azerbaijani gas from the Turkish-Greek border to the heel of Italy. The $4.5bn TAP is the last leg of the BP-led Euro-Caspian Mega-Pipeline, or Southern Gas Corridor as the industry calls it. The entire Euro-Caspian Mega-Pipeline costs $45bn and is mired in human rights abuses, corruption scandals and numerous illegalities - but it’s still going ahead. </p> <p><a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">New research</a> from Corporate Europe Observatory exposes the web of lobbying and PR that has allowed the pipeline to to get this far, roping in prestigious London universities and top politicians along the way.</p> <p>The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline’s shareholders include oil and gas majors BP and Azerbaijani state-owned SOCAR (1), along with gas pipeline builders and operators from Italy (Snam, 20%), Belgium (Fluxys, 19%), Spain (Enagás, 16%) and Switzerland (Axpo, 5%).</p> <p>But construction is being held up by communities along the pipeline whose livelihoods are being threatened. In Greece, farmers have been organising themselves through the courts and on the ground, while in Italy local communities have been physically putting themselves in the way of the diggers. The military has just <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MovimentoNoTAP/posts/709886585881673">locked down two local villages</a> to ensure construction begins. In Azerbaijan, local activists and journalists opposing TAP and the entire Southern Gas Corridor have been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">thrown in jail</a> on trumped up charges. Azeri President Aliyev has been keen to silence dissent and quash any hint his corrupt regime is rigging elections and violating human rights.</p> <p>The recent Azerbaijani <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/06/southern-gas-corridor-is-the-missing-piece-of-azerbaijani-laundromat-puzzle">Laundromat scandal</a> exposed the regime's use of tax havens and money laundering to fund its efforts to curry favour with European politicians and other figures – buying their silence and political support with gifts and bribes. Less notorious are the softer approaches; the campaigns to make Azerbaijan and the entire Southern Gas Corridor acceptable in the eyes of the political and economic elites in national capitals and with the European Commission. The latter is lending substantial political as well as economic support to the mega-pipeline. </p> <p>A key player is <a href="http://teas.eu/">The European Azerbaijan Society</a> (TEAS), an Azeri lobby group with offices around Europe. Headed up by the son of an Azeri Minister and member of President Aliyev's inner circle, TEAS is teaming up with think tanks, lobby groups and academic institutions to organise high-level events to build credibility around the Southern Gas Corridor.</p> <p>One TEAS collaborator is the prestigious King’s College London. Alongside BP and the consortium TAP AG, TEAS is an <a href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/warstudies/research/groups/eucers/newsletter/newsletter66.pdf">official partner and supporter</a> of the university's European Centre for Energy &amp; Resource Security (EUCERS). In January 2014 they organised the <a href="http://www.ibde.org/component/content/article/240-programme-european-energy-forum.html">European Energy Forum</a>, putting ambassadors and ministers from TAP countries on panels alongside friendly academics, think tanks, and top executives from BP and TAP AG. The supportive European Commission was not just a speaker, but also sponsored the event's networking session. The keynote was delivered by Michael Fallon, the UK's then-Minister for Energy. Two months later in Parliament his government <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-uk-foreign-secretary-emphasises-azerbaijan%E2%80%99s-role-ensuring-energy-security">publicly championed</a> Azerbaijan as a European gas supplier.</p> <p>TEAS also targets UK decision makers through organising and sponsoring cultural and sporting events, such as the iconic <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-teas-supports-iconic-oxford-cambridge-university-boat-race">Oxford-Cambridge University Boat Race</a> in 2014 or the jazz events organised during the <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-400-conservatives-get-groove-teas-jazz-reception">Conservative</a>, <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-200-labourites-attend-exciting-teas-jazz-reception">Labour</a> and <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-200-libdems-get-swing-teas-jazz-reception">Liberal Democrat</a> party conferences.</p> <p>TEAS is just one channel used by the consortium TAP AG to win support. The combined lobbying budget of TAP AG and its shareholders exceeded €6m in 2016, with 26 lobbyists on the payroll. This secured them more than 30 meetings between late 2014-2017 with Vice-President Maros Šefčovič and his cabinet, the European Commission's Southern Gas Corridor champion.</p> <p>More examples are <a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">given in the report</a>, but the gas industry in general is a major player in Brussels, convincing the EU that gas is a 'clean' fuel (despite its methane emissions making it <a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">as bad for the climate as coal</a>). If the gas industry and it’s PR bedfellows get their way, the result will be a completely unnecessary gas infrastructure building programme, with TAP just one of many new projects. In fact, European gas demand has <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Natural_gas_consumption_statistics">fallen 13% </a>since 2010 while liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure is being used at <a href="https://alsi.gie.eu/#/">less than 25%</a> of its capacity. </p> <p>The new pipelines and gas infrastructure will lock Europe into 40-50 more years of fossil fuels and the social and environmental consequences it entails. Gas expansion is not something the EIB should be funding. Around Europe groups are calling on the public bank to not fund TAP or any new gas infrastructure. Given their posturing at COP23 around climate solutions, pulling out of gas should be a no-brainer.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/jake-wood/making-inevitable-impossible-winning-at-fossil-fuel-frontlines">Making the inevitable impossible – winning at the fossil fuel frontlines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? oD Russia uk Pascoe Sabido Jo Ram Green Eurasia Azerbaijan Wed, 15 Nov 2017 14:57:25 +0000 Jo Ram and Pascoe Sabido 114677 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In late September Azerbaijan’s police rounded up and detained dozens of LGBT people. What explains this sudden crackdown?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Policevan_Baku.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Policevan_Baku.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police van in central Baku, September 2017. Image still via Euro Vision Social Newswire / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In late September Azerbaijan’s police force began rounding up LGBT people, and those perceived to be such, across the country. On 2 October, police released all detainees, while admitting that 83 had been detained (LGBT rights activists estimate their number at 150-200). The events led to widespread international condemnation, but this story isn’t over — not least for the young men and women whose lives may never be the same.</p><p>In the weeks since the crackdown, several LGBT people have either left the capital of Baku, or <a href="http://oc-media.org/arrests-threats-and-humiliation-in-azerbaijans-crackdown-on-queer-people/ " target="_blank">fled the country altogether</a> (reportedly to Russia and Turkey). Harassment of LGBT people continued into October in the country’s second-largest city of Ganja. After detaining and strip-searching LGBT people, local police “<a href="https://twitter.com/minorityaze/status/919289389716471809" target="_blank">warned [gay and transgender people] to leave the city</a>, where they are not wanted” alleged <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/culture/16959/" target="_blank"><em>Minority</em>, the country’s only LGBT magazine</a>, in a tweet on 14 October.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijani society is so intolerant towards LGBT people that the country was declared “the worst place to be gay in Europe”</p><p>Homosexuality was decriminalised in Azerbaijan in 2000. However, public attitudes have yet to change: LGBT people remain largely defenceless against hate crimes and hate speech. In January 2014, Isa Shahmarli, founder of the Azad LGBT network, took his own life by hanging himself with a rainbow flag. In his final note, the prominent activist blamed society for his death. Such are the levels of Azerbaijani society’s revulsion towards LGBT people that the country was declared “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/10/azerbaijan-worst-place-in-europe-to-be-gay-lgbt-rainbow-index" target="_blank">the worst place to be gay in Europe</a>” in the 2016 Rainbow Index.&nbsp;</p><p>In this atmosphere, it’s no surprise if some Azerbaijanis turned a blind eye to the crackdown. But what explains the detentions and humiliations in the first place? And what could <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat" target="_blank">a country which lavishes millions on its international image</a> have conceivably gained from an anti-LGBT crackdown?</p><h2>Contagion and contempt</h2><p>Baku still dismisses any accusations from human rights organisations of systematic pressure against gay, lesbian and transgender people. Its spokesmen first declared that the detentions were carried out in the interests of public health. Azerbaijan’s interior ministry and the prosecutor general’s office <a href="https://www.facebook.com/mia.gov.az/posts/1922739461276691" target="_blank">released a joint statement</a> on 2 October that raids in the capital targeted people accused of “offering unsolicited sexual services to locals and tourists, violating public order and spreading infectious diseases.”</p><p>The authorities’ statement also claimed that of those detained, six had AIDS, a further six were HIV-positive, and 16 had syphilis. The stats quickly became confused, as reports emerged that AIDS centres were denying having conducted any medical examinations. Pro-government media went even further, claiming that <a href="http://virtualaz.org/cemiyyet/103566" target="_blank">all those detained had sexually-transmitted diseases</a>. Whatever the discrepancies, the authorities concluded that urgent measures to protect public health had to be taken.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00116070.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00116070.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Young Azerbaijanis at the waterfront in Baku, 2005. Photo (c): Dmitry Korobeynikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In an interview for <em>EurasiaNet</em>, spokesman for Azerbaijan’s interior ministry Ehsan Zaidov, cited the aforementioned claims as <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85326" target="_blank">proof that public concerns about the LGBT community were entirely justified</a>. He also added that LGBT people among the Azerbaijani population “[do] not fit in our nation, our state, and our mentality.”</p><p>This isn’t the first time police have rounded up LGBT people in Baku. Law enforcement personnel have often conducted AIDS tests upon detaining transgender, gay or lesbian people. What was remarkable about the crackdown in September was its sheer scale, aggression and systematic nature — police arrested people on the street, while others were reportedly <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/azerbaijan-gay-men-abuse-lgbt-arrests-crackdown-torture-electric-shocks-a8016291.html" target="_blank">tortured and forced to confess their involvement in the sex trade</a>. </p><h2>Spirited away<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p><span>Officials state that the police operation lasted for 15 days, from 15-30 September, while local lawyers state it began a day earlier.&nbsp;</span><span>On 14 September, plainclothes police entered nightclubs and bars to detain LGBT people. Reports soon emerged that police had been approaching LGBT people on streets and the parks across Baku and demanded that they leave — and fast. In short, they were to become invisible.</span></p><p>The first three days alone saw the arrest of over 100 people, 56 of whom were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention of 10-30 days by district courts. Some 18 were fined, and nine received verbal warnings. Others were held by police with no formalities whatsoever.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“They lined us up outside the front door of the police station and ordered us not to show our faces on Torgovaya Street [now called Nizami Street - ed.] or any other touristic areas after 10-11 PM,” one gay man who was detained in central Baku tells me. September, it should be mentioned, is not tourist season in Azerbaijan.</p><p>Some were luckier. One gay man told me that he was outside when his flatmates were taken into custody: “I went out to buy groceries and heard my friend yelling from the balcony, telling me to run away, as [the police] had come for us. I hid in a hen-house all night,” he says. When he returned, the flat had been turned upside-down. The landlord then evicted the man and his friends.</p><p>“I was shocked,” began one trans woman who described the humiliation endured after her trial. Detained while dining at Baku’s Hard Rock Café, she was forced to undergo a blood test on suspicion of carrying an infectious disease. Police then shaved off her hair to make her “look like a man”. This isn’t uncommon experience for <a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/nigar-aka-naomi" target="_blank">trans people in Azerbaijan</a>. Despite having undergone male-to-female surgery, many trans women in Azerbaijan are still registered as male on their national identity cards, a gender identity to which they must conform. To date, only one trans woman has succeeded in changing the gender on her passport.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many LGBT people are now afraid of venturing out in public&nbsp;— they fear being trapped by the police and being taken into custody once more</p><p>Transgender and transsexual people have been particularly hard-hit in the latest crackdown, and several have left Azerbaijan or returned to their families (if their relatives still accept them). “We don’t want to be invisible,” one told me from a neighbouring country, “We will not die. People will speak of us even after we are gone.”</p><p>“The psychological condition of these people is not good,” sighs Javid Nabiyev, chair of the <a href="http://www.nefeslgbt.org/index.php/en/" target="_blank">Nefes (Breathe) LGBT rights organisation</a>. The prospects that they’ll get the help they need in Azerbaijan are dim indeed. However, Matanat Azizova, chair of the Gender Crisis Centre, sees the crackdown as a “clear violation of human rights”, adding that Azerbaijan is obliged to comply with European conventions on human rights and its own constitution, which proclaims the “equality of all people”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Thanks to rising international pressure from early October, the detained people in Baku eventually walked free. But many LGBT people are now afraid of venturing out in public — and even more afraid of meeting unfamiliar people. As Nabiyev puts it, they fear being trapped by the police and taken into custody once more.</p><p>There’s also the fact that alongside the beatings and verbal abuse, many detained people were released only after giving names and addresses of other LGBT people in Baku. These contacts were then arrested in turn.</p><p>So, the pretexts for this police operation seem as wide-ranging as the crackdown itself. But what, exactly, are the likely motives?</p><h2>A crackdown without a cause?</h2><p>Responding to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/Muiznieks-asks-for-details-on-the-LGBT-situation-in-Azerbaijan-183281" target="_blank">a letter by Nils Muižnieks</a>, the Council of Europe’s commissioner on human rights, Azerbaijan’s interior minister Ramil Üsübov dismissed the idea that the detentions were linked to the detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/amp/az/site/news/25659/Ramil-Usubov:-Cinsi-azlıqların-vəziyyəti-Avropa-ölkələrindəkindən-fərqlənmir.htm" target="_blank">declaring</a>&nbsp;that “the situation [for LGBT rights] in Azerbaijan is not fundamentally different from the rest of Europe”. His explanation reiterated nearly all the justifications offered by officials since detentions started.</p><p>A<span>longside “health concerns”, Azerbaijan’s interior ministry has also cited appeals from Baku residents as a reason for the police operation (human rights defenders have disputed this claim). One official justification for the numerous detentions and arrests was that those under scrutiny resisted arrest or disturbed the public order. Indeed, the interior ministry included “hooliganism” as a factor in its recent statement.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Usubov_Ramil.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Usubov_Ramil.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The situation [for LGBT rights] in Azerbaijan is not fundamentally different from the rest of Europe”, says interior minister Ramil Üsübov. Photo courtesy of MeydanTV. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>“The official accusations against them are unfounded, and the victims say that they’ve done nothing except follow the orders of police officers,” Samad Rahimli, a Baku-based lawyer involved in defending the detainees, tells me. All those whom I interviewed for this article confirmed that the police did not specify the exact reason for their detention while they were in custody.</p><p>“I was told by the police that I had been disrupting public order. I couldn’t fathom how. We were just chatting among ourselves on Torgovaya Street,” recalls one gay man, adding that he was then rebuked by the police for “asking too many questions”.</p><p>Another gay man tried to find out more during his detention at Baku’s main police department, to which officers responded that “everything [he knew] was just a rumour, and that the operation [was] an order from above.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Police also explained the crackdown by accusing those targeted of being sex workers, stressing their “immorality”</p><p>Police also explained the crackdown by accusing those targeted of being sex workers, stressing their “immorality”. As Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister went on to say in an interview with Lent.Az that those “working at nights” caused the most public concern. This ties in with another possibility — that the crackdown was the result of an appeal from Baku residents (Ministry of Interior said this, but human rights defenders have disputed the claim).&nbsp;</p><p>In at least 57 cases known to lawyers, LGBT detainees were accused not of engaging in sex work, but resisting police officers in their line of duty.&nbsp;</p><p>Prostitution is illegal in Azerbaijan and is punishable by a fine — police raids against sex workers are routine in the capital. Operating brothels and pimping are criminal offences which can land the defendant with a prison sentence. Yet it’s important to note that <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=58286" target="_blank">such activities are far from limited to the country’s LGBT community</a> and its alleged “immorality”.&nbsp;</p><p>“We don’t deny that there are many transgender people among Azerbaijan’s sex workers,” explains Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an activist for Nefest and editor of <em>Minority.&nbsp;</em>“However, they are often obliged to get involved in it,” continues Mehdiyeva, noting that LGBT people are often excluded from many sectors of the labour market.&nbsp;</p><p>For most sex workers in the country, the legal fine of 100 Manat (£45) is essentially a bribe to police to avoid arrest. Most detainees I spoke to confirmed that they had been fined 100-150 Manat, though <em>Minority</em>&nbsp;states some individuals have been fined 1,000-3,000 Manat (£450-1,350).</p><p>“There’s no legal documentation of any of these fines,” explains Samad Ismayilov, one of the founders of <em>Minority</em>. “The aim was just to extort and terrorise people.”</p><p>Even if one accepts the police explanation that the raid was launched first and foremost against sex workers, activists estimate that machinery of state soon turned towards another 150-200 LGBT people. They worked in the most diverse professions — teachers and housekeepers, bakers and hairdressers.&nbsp;</p><p>Mehdiyeva points out that many police probably can’t tell the difference between sex workers and LGBT people — let alone between transgender, transsexual and gay people. This arbitrariness is as dangerous as targeted acts of discrimination, and pours no less oil on an already raging fire.&nbsp;</p><h2>Rumours&nbsp;</h2><p>A transgender woman insulted a minister passing by in his car. Transgender people beat the son of an influential Arab businessman. A government official’s son received a sexually transmitted disease after a night on the town. These are just some of the rumours which have been swirling around Baku since mid-September. Everybody’s reading the tea leaves here. Some even believe the crackdown is just one manifestation of intra-elite rivalries.</p><p>This much is certain: Azerbaijan’s LGBT community is a group nobody is willing to defend, and a group which nearly everybody hates. They’re a symbol of “western decadence” for conservatives and traditionalists, whom Azerbaijan’s government is eager to appease in its delicate dance between the west and the rest. After all, Baku has always been cautious in its dealings over the LGBT community — having to show (nominal) progress on human rights to European partners, without irritating a conservative electorate.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leyla_Ali-AzLGBT.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leyla_Ali-AzLGBT.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rainbow Azerbaijan. An illustration by Leyla Ali for Minority Azerbaijan, the country’s only LGBT-interest publication. Photo: Facebook / Minority Azerbaijan.</span></span></span></p><p>And while the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical" target="_blank">politics of homophobia in the South Caucasus is riven with geopolitical divides</a>, not all LGBT people are automatically activists who feel compelled to pick a side. Indeed, most Azerbaijani LGBT people I interviewed did not seem particularly interested in the political situation in Azerbaijan. They wanted to keep their heads down and get on with their lives — their principal concern being that the country’s police interfered in those lives far too easily. Even those who somehow believed Azerbaijan to be democratic state saw this as “surprising”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijan’s LGBT community never posed a political threat to the regime&nbsp;—&nbsp;many want to keep their heads down and get on with life</p><p>Indeed, Azerbaijan’s LGBT community has never posed a political threat to the regime — indeed, when politically expedient they have been showcased to the international community as a symptom of a newly westernised Azerbaijan. Never was this clearer than in 2012, when Baku hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, widely perceived by Azerbaijanis as “gay-friendly”.&nbsp;</p><p>One could well ask whether the LGBT community have any friends in Azerbaijani politics whatsoever. When approached for comment, several of Azerbaijan’s opposition politicians did not seem willing to engage with the topic. Isa Gambar, former leader of Müsavat, the country’s largest opposition party, said that he remained sceptical of both the interior ministry’s statements on the detention and the accounts of human rights defenders (the party’s current leader Arif Hajili made no statement on the detentions). Leader of the National Council of Democratic Forces and former presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli is less equivocal&nbsp;<span>— he sees</span><span>&nbsp;the detentions as the act of a police state, and states that his political platform has no interest in citizens’ personal lives.&nbsp;</span></p><p>One theory is that a crackdown on the beleaguered LGBT community was a useful gesture in the government’s attempts to build bridges with a conservative Muslim electorate. In 2011, 92% of self-described Azerbaijani Muslims <a href="http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-morality/" target="_blank">believed homosexuality to be morally wrong</a> (although it is important to note that <a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp" target="_blank">93% of Azerbaijani society at large held the same view</a>). Nevertheless, Azerbaijanis of all faiths and none took to social media to support the actions of the police — calling on them to “burn” LGBT people in their social media comments.</p><h2>Look, a bird!</h2><p>Finally, there’s the timing. On 12 September, Baku’s police chief Mirgafar Seyidov <a href="http://www.turan.az/wap/2017/9/free/politics%20news/en/65456.htm" target="_blank">became the first Azerbaijani citizen to wind up on the Global Magnitsky List</a>, thus subject to western sanctions in response to corruption and human rights abuses.</p><p>Crucially, early September also saw the publication of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-azerbaijani-laundromat" target="_blank">new OCCRP investigation on Azerbaijan’s laundromat</a> — a slush fund which laundered nearly $3 billion to pay for the luxurious lifestyles of the Azerbaijani elite and their <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat" target="_blank">extensive lobbying efforts abroad</a>. In response, Baku blocked the OCCRP’s website and slammed the report as “absurd”. By 23 September, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/opposition-activists-hold-anticorruption-rally-baku/28753209.html" target="_blank">hundreds of opposition activists were protesting in Baku</a>, enraged by the new allegations.</p><p>Given that these revelations were probably quite embarrassing for several government officials, it’s not impossible that “a nice little war” was in order — to prove the authorities’ popular credentials and deflect public outrage.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s not impossible that “a nice little war” was in order — to deflect public outrage from yet more embarassing revelations about the corruption of Azerbaijan’s elite</p><p>Historian Altay Göyüşov also wrote in a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/altaygr/posts/10208086805407971" target="_blank">25 September Facebook post</a> that launching a crackdown during the Islamic holy month of Muharram also had a certain resonance — perhaps a message of support for conservative Azerbaijanis’ worldview.&nbsp;</p><p>These detentions have also been widely compared to the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">brutal anti-gay purges in Chechnya earlier this year</a>, which saw dozens of gay men detained, assaulted, and tortured. Authorities allegedly encouraged “honour killings” across the territory.&nbsp;</p><p>“It’s totally similar,” argues Nabiyev, adding that “the government is just trying to publicly make an excuse for western sanctions against Azerbaijan, taking this opportunity to demonstrate that mainstream opinion still supports the government [and vice versa].”&nbsp;</p><p>“Should any sanctions be intensified in future, the government can then imply that they were imposed due to pressure on gay people [and they may be held responsible],” predicts Nabiyev.&nbsp;</p><p>It seems that other authoritarian governments may have followed Baku’s lead — news recently surfaced that <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/17/tajikistan-gay-lesbian-register-medical-checks" target="_blank">Tajikistan has drawn up a list of gay and lesbian citizens</a>. The justification? Public health concerns.&nbsp;</p><p>There may be many explanations for what happened in Baku, and what may still be happening in other cities across Azerbaijan. What is all too clear is that the short-term goals from harassing a widely-reviled sexual minority outweigh the international costs. It would seem that in Azerbaijan LGBT people simply remain too easy to hate — and for the authorities, too tempting a target.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="http://oc-media.org/azerbaijans-media-spreading-fear-and-hate-of-queer-people/" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s media —&nbsp;spreading fear and hatred of queer people</a>”, Vahid Ali, <em>OC Media</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-ruling-in-bad-faith">Azerbaijan: ruling in bad faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 30 Oct 2017 09:19:24 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 114333 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Azerbaijani authorities are using international criminal warrants to pursue their critics abroad. It looks like they’re getting away with it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fikret_Huseynli_YouTubess7.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fikret_Huseynli_YouTubess7.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>After his detention at Boryspil airport by Ukrainian authorities, Azerbaijani journalist Fikret Huseynli now faces extradition back to Baku. Image still via Front Line / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>You’d think that escaping a state where one has been persecuted is enough to start a new life. But this isn’t the case for Azerbaijanis who have found themselves on the government’s radar for criticising the regime — even from abroad.</p><p>On 14 October, Fikret Huseynli, an Azerbaijani journalist and Dutch citizen, was <a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/ukraine-arrests-second-journalist-interpol-red-notice" target="_blank">detained by Ukrainian border police at Kyiv Boryspil airport</a> on an Interpol red notice. Huseynli was baffled by the border police’s desire to detain him, and it looked at first that the case would be resolved quickly. But Huseynli remains in Ukraine after a local court decided to hold him in custody for a further 18 days, pending examination of his appeal.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The <em>Financial Times</em> estimates that only three percent of requests to Interpol to file red notice are properly assessed</p><p>Reporters Without Borders <a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/ukraine-arrests-second-journalist-interpol-red-notice" target="_blank">issued a statement</a> urging Ukrainian authorities not to “abet the attempts of regimes such as Azerbaijan’s to extend their persecution beyond their borders”. As Huseynli told the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, employees of Azerbaijani embassy in Kyiv showed up at the airport after his detention and were present during Huseynli’s questioning.</p><p>This isn’t the first time the Azerbaijani government has tried to pursue its critics abroad. But Huseynli’s detention raises concerns around the use of Interpol’s red notice system, especially when it is used by undemocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, <a href="https://euobserver.com/justice/121207" target="_blank">Belarus</a>, <a href="https://www.icij.org/investigations/interpols-red-flag/interpols-red-notices-used-some-pursue-political-dissenters-opponents/" target="_blank">Iran</a>, Russia, <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/interpol-who-polices-the-worlds-police/a-40171868" target="_blank">Turkey</a>&nbsp;and others.&nbsp;</p><h2>Inside the dictator’s toolbox</h2><p>Interpol issues colour-coded notices, the most powerful of which is the red notice — <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/interpol-who-polices-the-worlds-police/a-40171868" target="_blank">described</a> by one publication as the “closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today”. But for years now, rights-focused groups, including the European Commission, have argued that whenever an authoritarian regime requests a red notice, Interpol does not carry out detailed background checks against the people who are being flagged, nor is there external oversight of its operations and decisions. In December 2016, the <em>Financial Times</em> estimated that <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/8d2d213d-60a3-38ae-9004-f2cd1062f78e?mhq5j=e7" target="_blank">only three percent of red notice applications are properly assessed</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Another reason for concern is Interpol’s senior leadership, which includes Alexander Prokopchuk and Meng Hongwei — one is the former head of Russian interior ministry department, the latter is China’s vice minister of public security. In 2011, Interpol’s Secretary General Ronald Noble <a href="https://azertag.az/en/xeber/Azerbaijans_first_lady_Mehriban_Aliyeva_honored_with_Interpols_memorial_medal-283564" target="_blank">awarded</a> Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan’s first lady, with a memorial medal for her contribution to the creation of a safer world.</p><p>Azerbaijan became a member of Interpol in 1992 and the Interpol National Central Bureau for Azerbaijan was opened in 1993. According to the information on Interpol’s <a href="https://www.interpol.int/Member-countries/Europe/Azerbaijan" target="_blank">website</a>, the aim of establishing a local bureau was to “ensure swift and efficient criminal intelligence exchange between Azerbaijan’s law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in other Interpol member countries”. In 2012, some <a href="m.apa.az/en/azerbaijani-news/developments/azerbaijan-declares-172-persons-wanted-via-interpol" target="_blank">172 Azerbaijani citizens</a> were wanted by the government of Azerbaijan — 160 for criminal offenses, 12 for reportedly going missing. I looked for recent indicators and according to the list, there are still 160 people wanted on red notices and 14 on Yellow Notices. Searching for Fikret Huseynli brought no results, although it’s likely that not every red notice automatically appears on Interpol’s online database.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Interpol_rednotice_Azerbaijan_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Interpol_rednotice_Azerbaijan_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Enemy of the state. Interpol’s online database of red notice warrants, showing Azerbaijani citizens wanted by the Azerbaijani government. While not all will be political dissidents, Azerbaijan is one of several states to have developed a taste for abusing this international law enforcement system. Photo CC: oDR.</span></span></span></p><p>Alovsat Aliyev, a former Azerbaijani national who sought asylum in Germany, was <a href="http://musavat.com/news/elovset-eliyev-meni-20-gun-sheraitsiz-chetin-shertler-altinda-turmede-saxladilar_348397.html" target="_blank">detained by Ukrainian border police in April 2016</a>. Aliyev [unrelated to Azerbaijan’s ruling family] was travelling to Ukraine to attend the launch of the new NGO he had founded — Legal Assistance to Migrants. At Boryspil airport, on his way back to Germany, Aliyev was informed he was the subject of an Interpol red notice. A local court ruled to arrest Aliyev, and sentenced him to 25 days’ imprisonment. He spent 20 days at the detention facility, in terrible unsanitary conditions. Writing about the experience after his release, Aliyev recalled that he and his cellmates had to take turns sleeping, as there were just 20 beds for 27 inmates. During his detention, he was approached several times by representatives of the Azerbaijani government, who offered him extradition. Aliyev refused, fully aware of the consequences if he agreed. He later said that <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/ru/site/politics/24784/" target="_blank">release would have been impossible</a> were it not for the Germany Embassy in Ukraine.</p><p>High-profile fugures aren’t safe, either. This August, Russia <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-prosecutor-assails-interpol-refusing-issue-william-browder-warrant/28695877.html" target="_self">sought the assistance of Interpol’s Red Notice system to request the arrest and extradition of Bill Browder</a>, one of the people behind the campaign to freeze visas and foreign assets of Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses. As prior attempts were not successful, Russia <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/24/russia-issues-new-red-notice-request-arrest-british-putin-critic/" target="_blank">filed another application for a red notice against Browder</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Alongside Huseynli, two other dissidents have been detained at Kyiv airport on a red notice warrant: Uzbek journalist Narzullo Akunzhonov and Kazakh journalist Zhanara Akhmet</p><p>Central Asia’s autocracies are particularly enthusiastic (ab)users of the red notice system. On 20 September, <a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/ukraine-urged-not-deport-uzbek-journalist" target="_blank">Uzbek journalist Narzullo Akunzhonov was also detained at Boryspil airport</a> on the basis of a red notice issued at Tashkent’s behest. Yesterday, Ukrainian border police also <a href="https://en.lb.ua/news/2017/10/22/4734_kazakh_journalist_detained_kyiv.html" target="_blank">detained the Kazakh journalist Zhanara Akhmet</a>, who has now requested political asylum, at Boryspil airport due to another red notice. On 9 October, Greek police <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/greece-detains-leading-member-islamic-renaissance-party-tajikistan/28789580.html" target="_blank">detained Tajik opposition activist Mirzorahim Kuzov at Athens airport</a> (Kuzov is a member of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists" target="_blank">country’s banned Islamic Renaissance Party</a>). The pattern here is all too obvious.</p><p>Earlier, it was <a href="http://www.gppi.net/publications/human-rights/article/how-interpol-can-be-protected-from-despots/" target="_blank">reported</a> that Turkey was trying to return a Turkish man with German citizenship from Spain using a similar method. The swift response by the German government to the effect that the man in question was a government critic (and no criminal) meant that extradition was averted. Similar to Turkey, the government of Azerbaijan issued a warning accusing Huseynli of illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border and of committing fraud in Azerbaijan.</p><p>In the past, some Azerbaijanis have succeeded in having their names removed from Interpol’s red notice database given their refugee status. Following new policy introduced in 2014, red notices against refugees were no longer permitted as long as certain conditions were met. These conditions included confirmation of an individual’s refugee or asylum seeker status; confirmation that an individual feared persecution in the country that requested the red notice; or that the refugee status granted was not based on political grounds vis-a-vis the requesting country. For example, <a href="https://www.fairtrials.org/azer-samadov/" target="_blank">Azer Samadov left Azerbaijan in 2003</a> after being persecuted for opposing the regime and later emigrated to the Netherlands as a refugee in 2008. A year later, Azer learned he was on Interpol’s list when he was detained at Amsterdam Schipol airport. It took Samadov eight years to rid himself of the red notice.</p><h2>A homecoming to avoid</h2><p>What makes Azer’s story interesting is his prior relocation to Georgia — a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents" target="_blank">common trend for many Azerbaijani political activists</a>. Though he moved to Georgia in 2003, Azer was arrested in 2006 by Georgian counter-terrorist forces at the request of the Azerbaijani authorities — a familiar story in light of the repression faced by Azerbaijani journalists and activists over the last few years in Georgia. As the recent report “<a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html" target="_blank">Repression Beyond Borders: Exiled Azerbaijanis in Georgia</a>” notes, while many Azerbaijani political activists have taken advantage of Georgia’s liberal immigration policy and NGO-friendly environment, the close relationship between the Georgian and Azerbaijani governments has put significant pressure on Azerbaijani exiles. The atmosphere has only deteriorated following the Aliyevs’ further consolidation of power through Azerbaijan’s 2016 constitutional referendum.&nbsp;</p><p>The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">story of Afgan Mukhtarli</a>, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist who was abducted in Tbilisi in May 2017 in what looked like a well-planned and orchestrated kidnapping, has raised further questions. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction" target="_blank">Georgian investigations into Mukhtarli’s disappearance are yet to yield any results</a>. The report also highlights safety concerns of other Azerbaijani exiles, including cases where Azerbaijani citizens have had applications for residency permits and asylum rejected. One such person is Dasghin Agalarli, who was also on Interpol’s Red Notice system, and who had his asylum request rejected. Agalarli has since left Georgia — and so have a number of Azerbaijanis who at some point took refuge there. Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, decided it was no longer safe for herself or her daughter to remain in Georgia, and recently <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85541" target="_blank">sought asylum in Germany</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/FreeMukhtarli_Protest.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/FreeMukhtarli_Protest.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hundreds of opposition activists attended an anti-corruption protest in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on 23 September. “Free Afgan Mukhtarli!” reads this poster. Image still via YouTube / RFE/RL. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In 2014, Azerbaijan managed to extradite Rauf Mirkadirov, a prominent Azerbaijani columnist and journalist who had been living in Ankara since 2010. The veteran journalist was baffled to learn that his press credentials had been revoked together with his residency permit when crossing the Georgian border. Mirkadirov was handcuffed in front of his wife and daughter and then taken to the airport, flown to Azerbaijan where he was arrested by local police on charges of high treason. Mirkadirov was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, but later pardoned by the authorities. He fled to join his family following his release.</p><p>The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">persecution of Azerbaijan’s critics</a> both inside and outside the country is nothing new, but it is clear that the measures taken by the Aliyev regime are becoming more extreme. Back in Azerbaijan, there are more and more reports of Azerbaijani citizens being targeted for their participation in recent political protests. On <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-23/azeris-rally-in-capital-to-protest-alleged-3-billion-scheme" target="_blank">23 September</a> and <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/opposition-activists-hold-anticorruption-rally-baku/28779648.html" target="_blank">7 October</a>, the National Council of Democratic Forces organised anti-corruption rallies. Although several weeks have passed since, members of opposition parties as well as non-party affiliates are still being targeted by the authorities.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Baku’s eagerness to (ab)use the red notice system shows the true extent, figuratively and literally, of the Aliyev regime’s thirst for revenge beyond borders</p><p>A recent case was the dismissal of a long standing veteran actor from the Azerbaijan Drama Theatre. Just few days earlier, a post office employee reported being fired from her job after attending the opposition rally. Others dismissed include a professor teaching at Azerbaijan State Economic University and a doctor who has been fired from his job at the dental clinic. At least 90 members of the Popular Front Party have been called into questioning, threatened, arrested, or fined following their participation at the rally. Other prominent individuals called into questioning include Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and former political prisoner.&nbsp;</p><p>Scores of other citizens are&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country" target="_blank">prevented from leaving the country</a>, including a number of journalists and prominent critics of the government. Those imprisoned face humiliation, beatings, inhumane cell conditions, extended time in solitary confinement at the mercy of prison guards and administration. As I write this, reports have just emerged on the health of Bayram Mammadov, the 21-year old <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/azerbaijan-ten-years-in-jail-for-youth-activist-who-sprayed-graffiti-is-a-travesty-of-justice/" target="_blank">youth activist sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for spray-painting graffiti on a statue</a> of Heydar Aliyev in Baku. Due to the poor conditions in which he is being kept, he has developed a serious kidney inflammation, alongside other health complications.</p><p>Azerbaijani dissidents have innumerable good reasons to avoid extradition back to a country which routinely makes a mockery of justice. With that in mind, it’s time for Interpol to reconsider its questionable system of international red notices — which show the true extent, figuratively and literally, of the Azerbaijani regime’s thirst for revenge beyond its borders.</p><p><strong><em>Want to know more about the struggle to reform Interpol? Read <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/matt-mulberry/reforming-interpol-boldly-and-from-bottom-up" target="_blank">Matt Mulberry’s thoughts on the Open Dialogue foundation’s set of proposals</a> to overhaul the easily abused red notice system</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/matt-mulberry/reforming-interpol-boldly-and-from-bottom-up">Reforming Interpol: boldly, and from the bottom-up </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus">Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Mon, 23 Oct 2017 11:13:32 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 114200 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202017-10-13%20at%2010.jpg" alt="Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 10.jpg" width="80" />My husband was kidnapped on the streets of Tbilisi and ended up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. Four months on, I’ve got no answers — only more questions.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive. </span></span></span>Four months have now passed since my husband, the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">abducted from Tbilisi</a> and illegally delivered into the hands of the Azerbaijani government. Initially, this case was investigated by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Now it is under the purview of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. But despite the efforts of these two state agencies, the Georgian authorities have still not released any finding related to my husband’s abduction. I’m not sure they ever seriously intended to.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan fled to Georgia in January 2015 as a result of prosecution against him. In late 2014, he conducted a series of investigations into <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/3626/">high-level corruption in the Azerbaijani army</a> and other state agencies. When Afgan moved to Georgia, he started to investigate the investments of Azerbaijan’s ruling family, the Aliyevs, in Georgia — he was the first Azerbaijani journalist to do so. As Afgan revealed, the first family of Azerbaijan, namely <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8759/">Ilham Aliyev’s daughters Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva</a> have<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/9330/"> a stake</a> in Georgia’s banking sector. The family also own tourism and cargo companies operating in Georgia. My husband’s last article was about politically motivated abductions that he faced four months after publication.</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, we met with some investigators in the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding Afgan’s abduction case. The investigators said that they have sent CCTV videos for forensic examination in order to identify car license plate numbers involved in the abduction — several videos are of low quality and were recorded from a distance. I told the investigators that they don’t need to make their job too difficult.</p><p dir="ltr">As Afgan has <a href="http://1tv.ge/en/news/view/163596.html">said</a>, several Georgian-speaking men wearing Georgian police uniforms detained him on Niaghvari Street in central Tbilisi, beat him in a car on adjoining Ukleba Street in front of a small grocery shop, then turned the car back to Niaghvari Street, drove up to Daniel Chonqadze Street and took him through Shio Chitadze street where Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Italian Embassy are situated. These ministry and embassy buildings both have high resolution cameras. Investigators can easily see the license plate numbers of the cars from these videos. The investigation has to look into the car which transported Afgan to Chitadze Street.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office</span></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office, which continues to press trumped-up charges against Afgan. The current investigation in Azerbaijan claims that Afgan, currently in jail in Baku, crossed the Azerbaijani border illegally, smuggled €10,000 and attacked an Azerbaijani border service official. Here, Georgia is caught between two dilemmas. The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office cannot “prove” whether Afgan Mukhtarli crossed the border illegally or was abducted. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When the investigation was under the control of the Georgian police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that CCTV under the control of the police were switched off during the hours when abduction happened. The police had already <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">intruded and doctored CCTV videos from private businesses</a>, as the Rustavi 2 television channel has reported. </p><p dir="ltr">Ten days after the allegation about the involvement of Georgian police officers in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction, the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Besik Amiranashvili, who heads up the Georgian police, was <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/77651">dismissed</a> from his post without any explanation. Then, later, the Head of Georgia’s Border Police and Chief of Georgian Counter Intelligence Agency were<a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng"> dismissed</a> from their posts temporarily. Georgia’s Interior Minister <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng">stressed</a> this step was taken to “exclude any questions in the case”. However, we still haven’t been able to find answers to our questions.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000033736_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Dismissing these officials on its own does not make any sense. Afgan claims that he was forced to cross the border checkpoint without his passport. Actually, the border police officials who allowed it should have been immediately involved in the investigation, interrogated and necessary measures implemented. But this didn’t happen.</p><p dir="ltr">Before 22 July, when the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office took the case under investigation, we had already submitted photographs of the people who had followed Afgan prior to his abduction, but the police did not identify these people. They only surfaced after we published their photos on social media.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian police investigators informed us that the recording mechanism of the border checkpoint CCTV did not work during the hours when the abduction happened. Then, after four months, the videos from border check point somehow “surfaced”. The Prosecutor’s Office stated (but did not show us) that they have the relevant border checkpoint videos in their possession and that there is no evidence of violence and abduction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding the videos of the unknown people who surveilled Afgan and his friend Dashqin Aghalarli, an Azerbaijani opposition activist in exile in Tbilisi, investigators from the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said that about four months had passed and they can not obtain videos from private businesses as they have been deleted.</p><p dir="ltr">The criminal case on Afgan’s abduction was launched after I made a complaint to the Georgian police in reference to Article 143.1 (Illegal limitation of freedom) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. We demand that Articles 143.2, 143.3, 143.4 also be added into the criminal case: the crime has been committed by taking the victim abroad with a prior agreement by a group using violence. This is about more than just the illegal deprivation of freedom.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mULfXgJWJgE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr"><br />Neither Afgan, nor myself have yet been granted official victim status. Legally, this means that no one has suffered, and the abduction is not a serious crime. Georgian investigators claim there is not enough evidence to add the above articles to the criminal case. And unless these articles are added to the criminal case materials, none of us can be granted victim status. Neither I, nor my legal counsel have yet been able to read the criminal case materials relating to Afgan’s abduction in full.</p><p dir="ltr">The surveillance of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani dissidents living in Georgia</a> continues even after Afgan’s abduction — indeed, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-muxtarli-wife-mustafayeva-flees-georgia/28789847.html" target="_blank">I have now left Georgia due to concerns for my safety</a>. On 29 June, in a Tbilisi café, an unknown man placed a laptop bag on the sofa as soon as I left my seat to visit the bathroom. The video that we watched in the Prosecutor’s Office showed that this man approached the table, put the bag on the sofa and left the place. It is obvious that he put the bag on the sofa by purpose.</p><p dir="ltr">But the investigators started to defend this individual, saying that he is a solid person, a professor who speaks multiple languages. I found it interesting that this “polyglot professor” was walking around Tbilisi with an empty bag and, when I asked him “Whose bag is this?”, could not find any language to respond. He just explained me with gestures that the bag belonged him, grabbed the bag from my hands and moved away extremely quickly.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20156047_1794766803871955_5385920858339400145_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>22 July, 2017: Leyla Mustafayeva and others protest the detentions of Azerbaijani journalists in Tbilisi. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>I checked the above bag when I took it in my hands and it was empty. I suspected that there could have been a listening device inside — why else would someone have placed the bag near a table where complete strangers were sitting? He placed the bag on the sofa so professionally that Dashqin Aghalarli, Afgan’s friend who was also sitting at the table, didn’t notice him — he was busy on his mobile phone.</p><p dir="ltr">Surveillance intensified after Azerbaijani’s Ministry of Interior Affairs <a href="http://en.axar.az/news/society/196126.html">visited</a> Georgia in early August. We delivered the photos and videos of the men whom we suspected of following us again when I was out walking with Dashqin Aghalarli and my four–year-old daughter. We wrote to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding this surveillance on 7 August, 2017. Two months on, they have not yet identified them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As to the people who followed Afghan, Dashqin, I and Rahim Shaliyev, one of the witnesses who saw Afgan last, on 19 September <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1859508930731075&amp;set=a.108657322482920.16377.100000159571507&amp;type=3">I published their photographs on Facebook</a> in order to identify them. These men then surfaced as a result. Before then, the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office had no information about them. We provided the Georgian investigators with their names.</p><p dir="ltr">The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office does not have Afgan’s testimony. They claim they have applied to Azerbaijani Chief Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate him. However, no response has been received, investigators claim. This month, when the OSCE Media Representative Harlem Desir visited Georgia, the First Vice-Speaker of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/455547-eutho-s-tsarmomadgeneli-mediis-thavisuflebis-sakithkhebshi-thamar-chugoshvilthan-shekhvedrisas-afgan-mukhtharlis-saqmith-dainteresda.html">stated </a>that the results of the investigation into the abduction also depend on the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan. However, the Georgian side has not carried out a proper investigation. The abduction happened on Georgian territory. Afgan claims that the group of people who abducted him were reporting to someone occasionally in Georgian. These people beat and tortured him by putting a bag on his head. They wore Georgian police uniforms. Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As it happens, Azerbaijan’s Channel One and Elman Nasirov, an Azerbaijani MP, have answered some of these questions, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/azerbaijani-mp-georgian-intel-abduction-48710">saying</a> that Afgan Mukhtarli was brought to Azerbaijan as a result of a joint operation of the special forces of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Georgian State Security Service <a href="http://ssg.gov.ge/en/news/248/saxelmtsifo-usafrtxoebis-samsaxuris-gancxadeba">denies</a> this. </p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s abduction has led to grave consequences for Georgia. There is now a <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0267+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN">Resolution of the European Parliament</a> on this case, a <a href="https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/06/271551.htm">statement of the US Department of State</a> and statements by other European institutions. Indeed, the resolution of the<a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=P8-RC-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN"> European Parliament</a> says that the Georgian authorities have to clarify beyond doubt all suspicion regarding the involvement of Georgian state agents in the forced disappearance of Afghan. Any illegal act committed in order to maintain a good relationship with Azerbaijan or violate the rights of a foreign citizen means that Georgia’s current government is ready to violate the rule of law in the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-tyrants-reach-knows-no-borders/2017/09/28/b95f9946-a2e9-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?utm_term=.42a83d94afe2">interest of a tyrant</a>. Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">The more this investigation is slowed down, the more suspicion arises regarding the involvement of Georgian officials in the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli, who today sits in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Leyla Mustafayeva Human rights Georgia Azerbaijan Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:15:35 +0000 Leyla Mustafayeva 113986 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" alt="osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" width="80" />We all know about Baku’s international efforts to whitewash criticism of human rights abuses. What makes these latest revelations so different?</p><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-32971826.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>23 September: several thousand people gather in Baku for a protest rally of the National Council of Democratic Forces, under the slogan ''Return the money stolen from the people!''. (c) Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s been a busy last few weeks for Sofia’s City Prosecutor Office, which has launched an <a href="http://sofiaglobe.com/2017/09/07/azerbaijani-laundromat-reports-bulgarian-prosecutor-general-orders-probe-of-mitrev/" target="_blank">investigation into Kalin Mitrev</a>, the Bulgarian representative to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. In Slovenia, a presidential candidate <a href="https://www.sns.si/izjava-za-javnost/" target="_blank">dropped out of the race</a>. In the UK, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/theresa-may-challenged-over-azerbaijani-money-laundering-scheme" target="_blank">called for a full investigation</a> into the whereabouts of dirty money channeled through UK offshores to buy influence and powerful friends.&nbsp;</p><p>The reason for all this commotion is the revelations surrounding a new money laundering scheme dubbed the “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/" target="_blank">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a>”, released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) together with international investigative media outlets and Belingske. Stories of offshores, investments and businesses owned by members of the ruling Aliyev family have adorned international publications for years. This is hardly the first <a href="https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160404-azerbaijan-hidden-wealth.html" target="_blank">investigative exposé</a> of corruption and money laundering schemes commonly used in Azerbaijan — just remember the Panama Papers.&nbsp;</p><p>So what makes the latest round of revelations so special? In the days since their announcement, I’ve had time to chew over the question. As executive director of OCCRP Paul Radu told me, this was the first time investigative journalists have actually gained access to bank accounts, and revealed the actual beneficiaries of these huge transactions. Radu added that the funds were used not just to purchase luxury goods and politicians in Europe, but that countries like Iran had used Azerbaijan’s slush fund to bypass sanctions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Unlike ever before, these revelations reveal the extraordinary lengths to which Baku will go in order to whitewash criticism and buy praise</p><p>These revelations concern me, not only as an Azerbaijani but also as a journalist. Unlike ever before, they reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the government in Baku will go to whitewash criticism of the country’s dismal human rights record — with a little help from its foreign friends.&nbsp;</p><h2>A serving of caviar diplomacy&nbsp;</h2><p>The time frame indicated in the investigations is significant. In 2012, the Azerbaijani leadership tasted what an international outcry on human rights abuse at home meant <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17479011" target="_blank">while hosting the Eurovision song contest</a>. By this point, the regime had already started making useful friends at the Council of Europe thanks to what Berlin-based think tank ESI described in its 2012 report as “<a href="http://www.esiweb.org/pdf/esi_document_id_131.pdf" target="_blank">Caviar Diplomacy</a>”.&nbsp;</p><p>Their report is an excellent explainer for anyone trying to understand how Azerbaijan’s laundromat works. Caviar Diplomacy was about “winning and retaining the stamp of legitimacy” — and win Azerbaijan certainly did when it came to finding positive assessments about the country’s internal democratic progress.&nbsp;</p><p>In some cases, these friendly voices needed a little gift. At least, this may have been the case with German politician Eduard Lintner. Lintner, a Christian Social Union politician, <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">allegedly received a total of 819,500 euros between 2012-2014</a>. He also led a German mission to Azerbaijan to observe the <a href="http://www.osce.org/institutions/110015" target="_blank">rigged 2013 presidential elections</a>, though concluded that the contest had been <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">held with “German standards”</a>. The now retired politician has since denied benefitting from the slush fund, insisting that the money was received through an NGO he established to promote Azerbaijani-German relations after stepping down from the Council of Europe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The German CSU parliamentarian Eduard Lintner. Like several other European politicians, Lintner has highly praised rigged elections held by Azerbaijan’s autocratic regime. Photo CC-by-SA 3.0: Togodumnus / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>European politicians once called for sanctions and suspended the Azerbaijani delegation’s voting rights at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). That tone began to change some time after the presidential elections in 2008 and <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7949327.stm" target="_blank">referendum in 2009</a> that removed presidential term limits. Instead of calling for sanctions over Baku’s human rights violations, they now call for “patience” (in the words of former British Liberal Democrat MP Michael Hancock).&nbsp;</p><p>Others joined these calls for patience. Delegates from Baku argued there was scope for progress despite the falsifications, irregularities and shortcomings to which even they readily admitted. But the highlight of Azerbaijan’s “caviar diplomacy” really showed its true impact in 2012 when PACE <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-en.asp?newsid=4296&amp;lang=2" target="_blank">voted against a draft resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan</a>. This served as a green light for the authorities in Baku to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">launch a crackdown against civil society</a>. They went after journalists, rights defenders and political activists, while making deep changes to legislation governing NGOs and the media.&nbsp;</p><p>Parliamentary elections in 2015, and another <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">country-wide referendum held in 2016</a> were no different. Aleksander Nikoloski, a Macedonian MP from the VMRO-DPMNE party who headed the PACE mission to Azerbaijan said the result expressed the will of the people of Azerbaijan and was a “step forward towards safe, stable and sustainable development of the country”, while other MPs <a href="http://www.epde.org/en/newsreader/items/international-election-observers-whitewash-fraudulent-referendum-in-azerbaijan.html" target="_blank">stated</a> the results were <a href="https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2016/09/27/azerbaijan-referendum-result-is-ringing-endorsement-of-aliyev-plans/" target="_blank">democratic</a> and took place according to international standards.&nbsp;</p><h2>Beyond business as usual&nbsp;</h2><p>Praise for these elections was music to the ears of the Azerbaijani government. While the regime’s threshold for criticism has never been too high, it has certainly stepped up its game.&nbsp;</p><p>When in 2015, OCCRP <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/azerbaijan-telecom/offshores-paid-nothing-for-share-of-state-telecom">published an investigation</a> revealing the hand of Finnish-Swedish telecommunications firm TeliaSonera assisting the president and his family to acquire more than $1 billion, the president’s top aide Ali Hasanov called the work “unfounded”, “false” and “primitive”. The most recent revelations have prompted the government in Baku to block access to OCCRP’s website altogether. As usual, the report was slammed as “biased”, “ridiculous” and part of an orchestrated “smear” campaign organised by no other than the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">“Armenian lobby”</a>, albeit with the help of British Intelligence and George Soros.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="150" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Azerbaijani manat – money that gets about. After the OCCRP revealed information about Baku’s $2.8bn slush fund, the site was blocked across Azerbaijan. Photo courtesy of Photolia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of reaction isn’t surprising. After all, this time there is evidence of money being transferred directly to politicians and members of the European parliament who we know have played their part improving Azerbaijan’s image in Europe. It is these revelations that have pushed the European Parliament, PACE and politicians across Europe to condemn such acts of corruption, thoroughly investigate them and adopt measures to prevent their ever occurring again. </p><p>The timing is also important. On 7 September, three days after the breaking of the laundromat story, United States Senator Richard Durbin <a href="https://twitter.com/RobBerschinski/status/905816750838644736">proposed sanctions against Azerbaijan</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>What these latest revelations reveal is how Azerbaijani money has been used to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">buy favours and praise while playing down criticism</a>. It also shows that rather than investing in long-term development of Azerbaijan, the country’s ruling elite prefers to invest in assets abroad. The corruption in my country is such that even the elite know that their property rights are respected only abroad, and that it’s only abroad that they don’t have to pay bribes to keep their businesses. They also know that no one will ask questions or hold them accountable for their actions at home. Or so they thought.</p><p>Earlier this year, Azerbaijan <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-eiti/azerbaijan-leaves-transparency-group-after-membership-suspended-idUSKBN16I007">left the EITI</a> (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) amid growing international criticism of crackdowns on dissent. For years, Azerbaijan had tried to push certain policymakers to see criticism of the country’s human rights record as not being theirs to make. Now that we know what we do about Azerbaijan’s lobbying onslaught, whose place is it to make that criticism?</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy</span></p><p>It’s up to you to peek <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a>. Yes, Baku’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline" target="_blank">“business as usual” with large western energy firms breeds apologists</a> for Azerbaijan’s regime overseas. But the west is not the only powerful actor in this relationship — governments in Europe and North America are themselves the targets of a concerted campaign of political influence, on which the Aliyev regime has lavished millions of dollars.</p><p>As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, using their institutions and their citizens, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-mikhail-kaluzhsky-natalia-antonova-thomas-rowley/from-panama-via-london-with">From Panama, via London, with love</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Caucasus Azerbaijan Fri, 29 Sep 2017 09:22:54 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 113688 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Armenia and Azerbaijan’s collision course over Nagorno-Karabakh https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olesya-vartanyan-magdalena-grono/armenia-and-azerbaijan-collision-course-over-nagorno-karabakh <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sound principles for conflict resolution over Nagorno-Karabakh exist. But mistrust, a gulf between mediators and the parties involved, as well as Baku and Yerevan's appetite for military gains render the current formula impossible.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31564498.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 2017: Soldiers of Nagorno Karabakh army make a patrol close to Martakert frontline, less than 300 meters of the Azerbaijan army positions. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Twenty-three years after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire deal that ended a bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a steady drumbeat of armed escalation is making a return to large-scale violent conflict more likely than ever before.</p> <p>Last April, a four-day flare-up killed at least 200 people. Further skirmishes continue to inflict casualties along the Line of Contact (LoC), the 200km frontline which separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Both sides intermittently employ heavy artillery and anti-tank weapons against each other. In May this year, there were reports of self-guided rockets and missiles falling near densely populated areas. On 4 July, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40504373"><span>a </span><span>two</span><span>-year-old girl and her grandmother</span></a> in the Azerbaijani village of Alkhanli were killed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Years of military build-up have been propelled in Azerbaijan by oil and gas windfall and in economically weaker Armenia by Russia’s preferential prices of weaponry. Alongside <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/nagorno-karabakh-azerbaijan/looming-dangers-one-year-after-nagorno-karabakh-escalation"><span>highly-mobilised, bellicose societies</span></a> on both sides, these developments risk escalating tensions into an unprecedented larger-scale conflict. The fallout of a headlong collision would likely cause immeasurable destruction and exact an enormous civilian casualty toll far worse than April’s flare-up. Such developments could even prompt the intervention of regional powers Russia and Turkey, who have defence commitments with Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively.</p> <p>At present, Baku and Yerevan say they have little faith in the stalled conflict settlement process led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. Meetings in May and June last year between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan produced no tangible results. Baku’s frustration with the status quo is at odds with Yerevan’s efforts, in the absence of security, to cement it.</p> <p>Yet after the April 2016 escalation, both sides ultimately share the conviction that the use of force may be a better means to their ends than the defunct political talks. This heightens the temptation to try and use it, or to be ready to respond decisively.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The </strong><strong>a</strong><strong>ftermath of April’s </strong><strong>e</strong><strong>scalation</strong></h2> <p>The April 2016 flare-up stoked up both parties’ appetite for conflict. Despite heavy casualties on the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, waves of pro-war sentiment swept into all segments of society. The four-day escalation amplified voices calling for a necessary decisive moment in the two-decades long conflict. Many in both societies now believe that another war is not only inevitable but may be the best way to end the perpetual, stalemated tension.</p> <p>Azerbaijani society, buoyed by its sense of victory after reclaiming two strategically significant heights from Armenian side’s control, felt new confidence in its armed forces. By altering the much-resented status quo on the ground, it dispelled a myth of Armenian invincibility built up in the 1992-1994 war. Baku’s heavy investment in its armed forces since 2006 gives it the feeling of a technological edge that could tip the balance. In 2015, Baku spent $3bn on its military, more than Armenia’s entire national budget. Many in Azerbaijan consequently believe that a full reconquest of Nagorno-Karabakh is feasible.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The turbulence after April 2016 was most heavily felt in Nagorno-Karabakh society itself. Although the ethnic Armenian-controlled territory retains close links with Armenia and relies on its military support, much of the population remains relatively isolated</p> <p>In contrast, in the aftermath of the April escalation, Armenians questioned their leadership’s ability to protect Nagorno-Karabakh and its ethnic Armenian population. At the same time, the escalation galvanised the Armenian society, which is fully behind a decisive response to any military challenges. But throughout 2016, with an upcoming election in Spring 2017, dissatisfaction about the post-April fall out was directed at politicians. A two-year constitutional transition from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary republic, due to be completed in Spring 2018, has only increased the ruling elite’s vulnerabilities and restricted its room for manoeuvrer. The political elite feels itself under significant pressure not to repeat their performance and to stand tall in the face of heightening tensions.&nbsp;</p> <p>The turbulence after April 2016 was most heavily felt in Nagorno-Karabakh society itself. Although the ethnic Armenian-controlled territory retains close links with Armenia and relies on its military support, much of the population remains relatively isolated. It harbours a distinct identity shaped by its experience as a society under siege. The local de facto Nagorno-Karabakh leadership has in the past years prioritised economic and administrative reforms through embarking on programs designed to stimulate the agriculture, energy and foreign investment sectors, all of which generate local income. Yet following April’s clashes the local authorities, with Armenia’s support, reoriented priorities. They shifted local financial resources toward military purposes, such as the construction of roads and tunnels; purchasing high-tech equipment; refurbishing trench structures; and improving surveillance.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Risks of renewed war</strong></h2> <p>With increasing militarism on both sides of the Line of Contact, the relative stability that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone once knew is vanishing. The danger for both sides is that another flare-up could easily spiral out of control. In the event of a full-scale outbreak of violence, neither Baku nor Yerevan are likely to secure their objectives but rather inflict severe destruction on each other.&nbsp;</p> <p>Summer-Autumn 2017 is viewed by both sides as a critical period during which their enemy could intensify military operations. Yerevan believes that the Azerbaijani public has high expectations after last year’s gains and thinks Baku’s goal is to re-establish full control over at least some of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh (which are now held by ethnic Armenian forces) if not all of the conflict region. For its part, Baku believes Yerevan might provoke a fight to regain the land it lost in April 2016, or otherwise improve its standing. In the absence of military communications or any dialogue between the sides, a fateful misinterpretation of both sides’ intentions and activities is ever-easier to imagine along the front line.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/7290290884_453961d142_z_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A resident of Shusha displays a photo of a family member killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1991-1994). CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>A new consensus emerged in the Nagorno-Karabakh’s society in the winter of 2016. In the event of an Azerbaijani attack, it is likely that <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83821"><span>Armenian forces will advance fifteen kilometres</span></a> beyond the LoC into Azerbaijani territory in order to establish a larger buffer zone and secure new bargaining chips for eventual negotiations. Armenians believe such a move would break their enemy’s will to fight once and for all. Yet this would be a highly risky strategy. Baku is keen to make use of its technical and quantitative advantage in weaponry and equipment supplied by Russia, Israel, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as its ever-expanding military numbers, to inflict heavy costs.&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeping another flare-up remote, limited and local will be difficult. In the event that either side comes under heavy pressure, their <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/feature/armenias-new-ballistic-missiles-will-shake-the-neighborhood-18026"><span>possession of ballistic missiles</span></a> – absent during the 1990s conflict – all but guarantees widespread destruction of civilian, economic and military infrastructure. Neither side can necessarily prevent triggering regional tripwires that might cause a far larger war. While Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) led by Russia and also has bilateral defence commitments with Russia, Azerbaijan in 2010 signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support with Turkey.</p> <p>A sudden escalation will quickly have major humanitarian impact, widespread displacement and an unprecedented number of casualties. An Armenian advance into the Azerbaijani side of the LoC would impact numerous densely populated settlements of ethnic Azerbaijanis. Estimates suggest that anywhere between 300,000 to 600,000 residents would be displaced in the event of open conflict. Moreover, war would put the 150,000 inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh itself under huge strain. Soviet-era bomb shelters are locked or decrepit and many residents remain unclear of what to do in the event of war. Basic medicinal supplies and foodstuffs are limited.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Unlocking the settlement process</strong></h2> <p>The April 2016 hostilities clarified the <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/azerbaijan/nagorno-karabakh-new-opening-or-more-peril"><span>risks as well as heavy costs</span></a> of renewed conflict. But far from spurring the two parties to cooperate and reinvigorate the moribund negotiation process, two subsequent high-level meetings in Vienna and St</p> <p>Petersburg were unable to reach any agreement. Negotiations ground to a halt in September 2016, with some indications in Spring 2017 that another meeting between presidents is being considered for later this year.&nbsp;</p> <p>Public opinion on both sides appears increasingly entrenched, bellicose and uncompromising. Respective leaders tread a fine line between appeasing hawkish domestic constituencies and compromising just enough to move the settlement process forward – or at least to prevent the blame for failure falling on their own shoulders. Ironically, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders face the same dilemma. Mutual concessions that might benefit the two countries and lower tensions in the longer term could in the shorter run threaten internal stability and the survival of ruling elites. There is thus little incentive for compromise. The tactical use of force remains the dominant modus operandi to gain advantage at the negotiating table.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-21302794.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2014: French president Francois Hollande hosts talks with his Azerbaijan' counterpart Ilham Aliyev as part of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Summit over Nagorno-Karabakh. (c) Pool/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Further compounding the stalemate is Yerevan and Baku’s deep mistrust of international mediators who they perceive as guided by the interests of major powers and incapable of ensuring the region’s security. In theory, both sides seek a more proactive mediation role of the OSCE Minsk Group. In practice, both sides want the Minsk Group to criticise and assign responsibility for stalled talks and the deteriorating security situation on the other party. So far the Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, Russia, the US and France, have remained highly cautious and only the Russian co-chair has had backing by the country’s leadership.&nbsp;</p> <p>The cause of peace has suffered from waning western interest over the past decade. Russia is the sole country consistently demonstrating high level political will to engage, at the same time as selling weaponry to both parties. Both Baku and Yerevan suspect that Moscow is using this leverage to buttress its geopolitical presence in the South Caucasus, an area it considers a “sphere of privileged interests”. The absence of western leadership has left the two parties at the mercy of Russian mediation. Although Moscow has been active in forwarding proposals, they have gained little traction or support. The Lavrov Plan of late 2015, predicated on the return to Azerbaijan of five or seven Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, security arrangements and interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, sparked Armenian anger and fears that Russia’s position was shifting toward Baku.</p> <h2><strong>Outstanding issues</strong></h2> <p>So long as the conflict’s core sticking points remain unaddressed, both sides treat war as a real option. Three main issues have remained unresolved on the negotiating table since the end of the 1990s war. Resolution of these are the only way to build a solid foundation for a durable peace.&nbsp;</p> <p>First, seven Azerbaijani districts outside Nagorno-Karabakh itself have been held by ethnic Armenian forces since 1994. While Baku insists these territories are under “occupation” – the term used in UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 from the 1992-1994 war – Yerevan says the territories can only be returned within a larger agreement, which will also take into consideration security arrangements and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In order to address the outstanding conflict issues, a first stepping stone will be to combat the profound lack of trust between leaders and the societies</p> <p>Second, principles of self-determination and territorial integrity are far from a black-and-white issue. Azerbaijan insists on self-rule for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, thus guaranteeing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Armenia calls for self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh outside of Azerbaijan, which would in practice lead to independence for the territory, even if that may be a prelude to a union with Armenia.The precedents of Kosovo’s recognition by the West, and Russia’s unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have particular resonance in Nagorno-Karabakh. These cases stoke fears that discussions of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status might make the conflict’s parties pawns in a larger geopolitical chess game.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>For all sides, state-led propaganda has entrenched public opinion against concessions. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Third, peacekeeping forces and broader international security agreements are a precondition for return of the territories around NK under Azerbaijani control, as well as for the return home of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis, displaced by the 1990s war. Aside from the two sides’ general lack of faith that international guarantees will be respected, much debate exists on the composition and mandate of such a security force. Only Russia has expressed willingness to send military personnel. But in a rare example of mutual agreement, neither Baku nor Yerevan wish to see Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone.</p><p>Troop deployment by any outside power, particularly Russia, is a hard pill to swallow for <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/isolation-post-soviet-conflict-regions-narrows-road-peace"><span>post-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan</span></a>, who have both recently celebrated a quarter century of sovereign independence.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>A way forward?</strong></h2> <p>In order to address the outstanding conflict issues, a first stepping stone will be to combat the profound lack of trust between leaders and the societies. </p><p>Since the 1990s, negotiations have become the prerogative of the two sides’ presidents and foreign ministers. While all alternative channels of communications are closed, the rhetoric since April 2016 has grown increasingly provocative. The hyper-personalisation of the process means substantive positions are the sole responsibility of the individual rather than broader institutions. When relations are frosty between leaders, as present circumstances demonstrate, negotiations cannot be divorced from the prevailing political climate.</p> <p>Progress will also partly depend on restoring faith in international diplomatic mediation, <a href="http://en.apa.az/nagorno_karabakh/the-co-chairs-of-the-osce-minsk-group-released-statement-on-the-recent-escalation-in-nagorno-karabakh-conflict-zone.html"><span>namely the Minsk Group</span></a>. Negotiations are the only way out of the current impasse and the best way to avert another war. Sound principles for conflict resolution exist, but pervasive mistrust, a gulf between outside mediators and the parties involved, and Baku and Yerevan’s current appetite for maximal military gains render the current formula incapacitated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Western powers, particularly Washington and Paris, will need to reinvigorate their interest in conflict. High-level coordination with Moscow to kickstart substantive discussions on the unresolved issues is pivotal. In the short term, the Minsk Group can work on enhancing monitoring, implementing an investigative mechanism and increasing cross-party communication between political elites and militaries. Such proposals were discussed in Vienna and St Petersburg and need to proceed, but must be accompanied by the more substantive discussions of outstanding issues.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Yerevan favours security confidence building measures before substantive talks, Baku will balk at their implementation without the prospect of discussions. Pressure from high-level powers here is capable of bridging the divide. They can also push Armenia and Azerbaijan to tone down their hostile rhetoric, soften their negotiating position, and acknowledge – privately and publicly – that this conflict ultimately will only be resolved through negotiations. Ultimately, the mentality that currently persists, namely that stalemate, even war, are better options than compromise and negotiation, must be overcome.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">Armenia’s crisis and the legacy of victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Magdalena Grono Olesya Vartanyan Caucasus Azerbaijan Armenia Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:07:55 +0000 Olesya Vartanyan and Magdalena Grono 112263 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Turkish authorities’ fight against real and imagined enemies in the Gülen movement has now reached Azerbaijan and Georgia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A group of AKP party supporters protest the attempted military coup against the Turkish government, allegedly supported by the cleric Fethullah Gülen and his organisation. Saracahane Park, Istanbul, July 2016. Photo (c) Depo Photos/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The European Parliament has <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=B8-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN" target="_blank">passed a resolution</a> expressing “serious concern” on the case of the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">abducted from Tbilisi late May</a>, only to appear before a court in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku some days later. But the spotlight has yet to fall on another case in Georgia: Mustafa Emre Çabuk, a Turkish schoolteacher, still sits in Gldani prison in the Georgian capital, where an uncertain fate awaits him.&nbsp;</p><p>Ankara has repeatedly accused Çabuk of “supporting terrorism” in reference to his alleged links with the Hizmet movement associated with Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Muslim preacher and philanthropist based in the US. Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, is now at imminent risk of extradition to Turkey where, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/25/turkey-emergency-decrees-facilitate-torture" target="_blank">judging by similar cases</a>, he is at risk of being tortured.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, now risks of extradition to Turkey where&nbsp;he risks being tortured</p><p>Çabuk first came to Georgia in 2002 to work as a physics teacher at the Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School in Batumi, which was <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29836" target="_blank">shut down earlier this year</a> by Georgia’s National Center for Education Quality Enhancement (NCEQE). The Georgian authorities’ decision came shortly after Turkish officials criticised the Gülen-run school, which teaches five to 12-year olds, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79721" target="_blank">calling it</a> an institution “serving a terrorist group.”&nbsp;</p><p>The abduction of Mukhtarli shattered <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents" target="_blank">Georgia’s image as a safe haven for dissidents from neighbouring countries</a>, and prompted many Georgians to consider the extent of oil-rich Azerbaijan’s political clout. With Turkey sliding ever further into authoritarianism, is there another headache on the horizon for the Georgian authorities?&nbsp;</p><h2>The price of a good education&nbsp;</h2><p>At the order of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish officials and diplomats have made appeals worldwide calling on governments to close down Gülen schools abroad. The Turkish government insists that this network of schools poses a national security threat, and has classified the Gülen network as a terrorist group.</p><p>FETÖ, as the Turkish government calls the Gülen movement’s “terrorist network”, is accused of plotting last year’s failed coup on 15 July. Calling the events a “a gift from God,” Erdoğan promised that those responsible would “pay a heavy price.” Those who feared the coup would provide a pretext to crack down on all dissident have been proved right. Not only Gülen followers, but Turkish liberals, secular democrats and journalists have been arrested, with many more tortured in detention and fired from their jobs. Over the months following the coup, Turkey has arrested more than 40,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 in the military, civil service and private sector. Turkish nationals working in Gülen-affiliated schools worldwide now fear repatriation and prefer either to apply for a political asylum in their host country or to try their luck in the EU or USA.&nbsp;</p><p>Çabuk has found himself in a similar situation. In 2007, he started work as director of the Niko Nikoladze High School in Kutaisi, western Georgia. From 2012 until 2016, Çabuk served as deputy general director of all Gülen schools in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>“Under his watch, many students from our school were successful after having participated at different national and international scientific Olympiads,” a teacher from the closed Şahin Friendship School recalls. The teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous over fears of retribution, underlines that the schools’ quality of education improved directly after Çabuk’s appointment. The teacher simply couldn’t believe how “an accomplished educator” such as Çabuk “might be labeled as a terrorist.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest in solidarity with Mustafa Çabuk on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi, 7 June 2017. Photo (c): Luka Pertaia / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On 24 May, the Georgian authorities launched an extradition procedure against Çabuk at the official request of Turkey. According to information provided by the Turkish prosecutor, Çabuk is wanted for committing a crime as defined by Article 314/2 of Turkey’s Criminal Code: membership of the FETÖ terrorist organisation (recognised as such only by Turkey). Information obtained by openDemocracy shows that he, with the permission of the directors, wanted to sell 60% of shares of the Tbilisi-based Demirel private school to Metropolitan Education and Consultation Services, a company registered in the USA.</p><p>The documentation that supposedly incriminates Çabuk mostly describes the activities of the Gülen movement in Turkey. It does not specify why either&nbsp;Çabuk’s&nbsp;role at the school or his deal with the American company on its behalf constitute a link to terrorist activities and organisations. “Precisely for these reasons, we believe that the charges are entirely unsubstantiated and politically motivated,” concludes Tamta Mikeladze, civil and political rights program director at Tbilisi’s Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre.&nbsp;</p><h2>Settling scores&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk was detained shortly after <a href="http://gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&amp;sec_id=463&amp;info_id=61125" target="_blank">Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım paid a visit to Tbilisi</a> to meet his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Kvirikashvili in May.</p><p>Georgia’s Minister of Education Aleksandre Jejelava has <a href="http://oc-media.org/gulen-school-manager-arrested-after-turkish-pms-tbilisi-visit/" target="_blank">publicly denied</a> any official request from the Turkish side to detain Çabuk but instead says they are “doing their best to defend students from ideological pressure.” During the press conference with Yıldırım, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, recalling last year’s failed coup in Turkey, was <a href="http://www.sabah.com.tr/gundem/2017/05/23/basbakan-binali-yildirim-gurcistanda-canli" target="_blank">quoted</a> by the pro-government daily <em>Sabah</em> as saying that, “we have to remove the main sources of terror here [in Georgia]. We have to fight with these sources in the wider region, then we must develop our economic and business partnerships.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk’s case, just like Mukhtarli’s, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values</p><p>On 25 May, Tbilisi City Court sentenced Çabuk to three months’ imprisonment, pending extradition. “He’s been in prison for more than a month, and the charge is both scary and ridiculous," says Çabuk’s wife, Tuğba, who adds she still has faith in Georgia’s commitment to democracy. “Georgia is a country that is at the door of the democratic European Union rather than one where democracy has already seen its end.” She has publicly called for the Georgian government not to bow to pressure from Ankara, and <a href="http://oc-media.org/wife-of-gulen-school-manager-detained-in-tbilisi-asks-for-protection/" target="_blank">has herself requested protection from the Georgian authorities</a>, fearing reprisals.&nbsp;</p><p>The case of Mustafa Çabuk, as well as those of journalists and activists from Azerbaijan, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values. Mikeladze adds that due to political loyalty to neighbouring states, the Georgian government “risks denying the protection of fundamental human rights to foreign citizens desperately in need of them, which in turn harms building a democratic state based on the same principles here at home.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demirel College in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where Mustafa Çabuk worked as a manager and teacher. Photo CC: WikiMapia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of political bargaining is common between Turkey and South Caucasus states. After all, Gülen schools were welcomed throughout the region from the early 1990s. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Georgia became the first country that welcomed representatives of Gülen’s movement, though the Azerbaijani city of Nakhchivan was the first place outside Turkey to host a Gülen-affiliated school. Until the purge, some 13 Gülen-funded schools and the <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/16113" target="_blank">now nationalised Qafqaz University</a>&nbsp;functioned in Azerbaijan. The movement’s schools now operate in 160 countries worldwide.</p><p>After Turkey’s AKP government restored its power following last year’s coup, Ankara initiated a purge against all Gülen followers in the Caucasus and Central Asia. As a strongly authoritarian state and long-time ally of Turkey, Azerbaijan was only too eager to oblige — Baku’s solution was to nationalise the schools. The <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/majlis-podcast-gulen-schools/27919459.html" target="_blank">attitude of the Central Asian republics</a>, with whom Turkey has maintained strong economic and political ties since their independence, was far from united. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan pushed back against the Turkish demand to pursue Gülenists. Turkmenistan played ball, launching a <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81611" target="_blank">massive crackdown</a> against all followers of Gülen in the country, while Uzbekistan never welcomed the Turkish schools in the first place. Tajikistan closed the last of its Gülen schools in 2015, though that could be explained as part of a wider campaign against all Islamic groups in the country.</p><h2>Pressure points&nbsp;</h2><p>What power, exactly, does Ankara have over Georgia? As Giorgi Badridze, senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) puts it, Turkey is one of Georgia’s most important strategic partners. “In a world where our largest neighbour, Russia, puts us under constant military and economic pressure, Turkey plays a vital role both politically and economically. This doesn’t mean that Georgia should disregard the rule of law for the sake of good relations, but if Turkey’s official request is found to be lawful and within the framework of bilateral agreements, then it can’t be ignored.”&nbsp;</p><p>It seems clear that Ankara has already put enormous pressure on Tbilisi to close Gülenist schools and deport Turks working at them. Azerbaijani journalist Mahir Zeynalov, chief editor of the <em>Globe Post</em> who was deported from Turkey for a tweet critical of Erdoğan in 2014, echoes Badridze’s view. Zeynalov stresses that it’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/georgia/" target="_blank">second largest trading partner after the EU</a>. Turkish money has flowed into a series of infrastructure projects in Georgia, and is particularly influential in the western province of Ajara.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s&nbsp;second largest trading partner after the EU</p><p>The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association has <a href="https://www.gyla.ge/index.php/en/post/saqartvelom-mustafa-emre-chabuqi-turqets-ar-unda-gadasces#sthash.ay7nSJb0.dpbs" target="_blank">monitored Çabuk’s case</a> and believes that the court ruling for a provisional arrest falls short of the standards established under the Georgian legislation and the European Convention. The prosecutor declared that Çabuk could otherwise flee the country and continue his “criminal activities”, but did not give any grounds for these fears.</p><p>“The court’s decision is not well-founded,” says Vakhtang Kvizhinadze, Çabuk’s lawyer, adding that his appeal against it was in vain. The decision was kept in force despite the fact that Çabuk has lived in Georgia for years and has a residency permit. “Mustafa did not evade any of his obligations before the court,” Kvizhinadze says.&nbsp;</p><p>According to his wife, when the police came to arrest Çabuk on the morning of 24 May, they informed him that the Georgian authorities had no problem with him, but that his arrest was requested by Turkey. “We didn’t even go to Turkey for 17 months, but now my husband is blamed for terrorist activities and a coup attempt,” sighs Tuğba Çabuk.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Good neighbours on the Black Sea. Batumi, capital of Georgia’s autonomous region of Ajara, which is heavily dependent on Turkish investment. As one of Georgia’s largest trading partners, Turkey is involved in several large infrastructure projects, from airports to dams and railways. Photo (c): Alexander Chichurin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Georgian legislation allows the courts to imprison somebody wanted by foreign law enforcement agencies, but only as a last resort and never as a punitive method. Çabuk could have been released on bail after handing over his passport and a cash payment of bail of GEL 10,000 (£3,248). When he tried, the court refused.</p><p>“Unless Mustafa can get refugee status or citizenship, then yes, he might be extradited," underlines Kvizhinadze. “Failing that, Tbilisi could always press Ankara to guarantee that Çabuk’s human rights will be respected in Turkey.”&nbsp;</p><p>Sozar Subari, Georgia's Minister for IDPs, accommodation and refugees, stated on 7 June that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dnIJC04nkw" target="_blank">Çabuk cannot immediately be deported to Turkey simply upon Ankara’s say so</a>, and that a number of documents would be required before extradition was possible. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has started a <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur56/6372/2017/en/" target="_blank">campaign in Çabuk’s defence</a>.</p><p>Under Article 28 of the Law of Georgia on International Cooperation in Criminal Matters, Georgia has the right to refuse an extradition if the crime concerned has been fully or partially committed on the country’s territory, as was Çabuk’s alleged crime concerning the Demirel school. Article 35 of the Treaty between Georgia and Turkey on mutual legal assistance in civil, trade and criminal matters states much the same.&nbsp;</p><p>“I’m not sure how eager the Georgian government is to hand Çabuk over to the Turkish authorities, particularly given how the Mukhtarli scandal damaged Georgia's international reputation,” says Badridze, who hopes that the court’s final decision will be guided by legal considerations and not by politics.&nbsp;</p><h2>Déjà vu in Baku&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk’s colleague Taci Şentürk, a manager at the Turkish Istek school in Baku, was detained on 7 June. Once he was able to call his family, Şentürk told his spouse Fatma that he was to be sent to Turkey. He proposed that his family come to the airport to meet for the last time. “The policemen did not let my husband give one last kiss to our kids, nor could our lawyer meet him," Fatma Şentürk told me, adding that the only reason they were given was the sudden invalidation of Taci’s passport. The Şentürks’ residency permit in Azerbaijan was due to expire on 7 September this year.&nbsp;</p><p>There is no official information as to why Taci’s passport was invalidated, despite his having the right of residency in Azerbaijan. The question must now be raised how Taci Şentürk was supposed to have entered Turkey without a valid travel document.&nbsp;</p><p>Just 20 minutes before takeoff, Fatma says, a representative of the UN office in Baku arrived and demanded that Taci Şentürk be removed from the plane on the grounds that he and his family were now under the protection of UNHCR’s Baku Office. But after Şentürk was taken off the plane, the representative did not accompany him home. “Police were waiting for him at the airport terminal, and returned him to their organised crime department,” adds Fatma. “Despite my insistence that Taci might be sent to Turkey, the UN delegation couldn’t do anything,” says Fatma Şentürk. Her husband was eventually sent to Turkey on 8 June. Şentürk is now being interrogated in Turkey’s directorate for combatting smuggling and organised crime in Konya.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Taci Şentürk. A Turkish teacher working in Azerbaijan’s capital, Şentürk’s deportation to was stopped at the last minute by UN officials, though it is believed he has been extradited to Turkey regardless. Photo courtesy of the Stockholm Centre for Freedom. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Fatma Şentürk now wants to leave Azerbaijan as she no longer feels safe there. “Even with the UN protection letter, our safety is not guaranteed,” she adds. “Taci always believed that the Azerbaijanis were our brothers and so would not betray us, but it happened. Even our Azerbaijani lawyer refused to take on the case, saying it was politically-motivated and so might endanger his security too.”&nbsp;</p><p>Independent lawyer Samed Rahimli, who will bring Taci Şentürk’s case to the European Court of Human Rights, says that Şentürk’s case is remarkable — he was extradited to Turkey without any legal procedure. “UN protection was completely ignored by the Azerbaijani authorities,” says Rahimli.</p><p>Şentürk is not the first Turkish national who was deported from Azerbaijan in this manner. On 6 June, Muharrem Menekşe, a member of the Gülen movement, was sent to Istanbul without any legal grounds. Menekşe had lived in Baku since the early 1990s, where he ran a small business.&nbsp;</p><p>Rahimli adds that there was no official charge or formal process from the Turkish authorities in either case: “Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.” A similar fate befell the Azerbaijani opposition journalist <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/24/turkey/azerbaijan-journalist-deported-imprisoned" target="_blank">Rauf Mirgadirov, who was deported to Azerbaijan from Turkey</a>, where he lived and worked, in 2014.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There was no formal charge from the Turkish authorities in either the&nbsp;Şentürk or&nbsp;Menekşe’s deportation: Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.</p><p>“Erdogan and Aliyev have long rode roughshod over the laws because of their own interests,” says Ulvi Hasanli, a board member of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA youth movement</a>. “There may be other cases of which we are unaware.” That Ankara and Baku are so prepared to trade favours shows a convergence of regime interests rather than strictly national ones. But it was not always so. Erdoğan’s deteriorating international image as well as his vow to getting rid of his archenemy Gülen has made Azerbaijan and Turkey even closer allies in fighting dissent.&nbsp;</p><p>In Azerbaijan, few people appear to care about Taci Şentürk’s fate. When I approached Baku residents, almost none of them knew of Taci Şentürk. Most were surprised to hear about the deportation of a Turkish national; as Azerbaijanis and Turks share many cultural ties, mistreating a Turkish citizen could be considered shameful by Azerbaijanis. </p><p>The ruling on whether Çabuk will receive political asylum in Georgia will be made on Friday — the extradition process has been put on hold while his asylum application is being considered. The ultimate decision on whether he will be deported to Turkey to face (in)justice will be made in a final trial to be held after 24 August, after his three months’ detention comes to an end.</p><p>Between 2007 and 2016, Ankara made almost <a href="http://greece.greekreporter.com/2017/01/31/turkish-propaganda-targets-greece-eu-for-not-responding-to-extradition-requests/" target="_blank">399 extradition requests</a> to western European countries, though only 11 have been granted (including nine by EU Member States). These include requests for the extradition of 59 participants in the coup attempt of 15 July. Germany has refused to expel 22 individuals linked with Gülen. In Greece, civil society protest over Turkey’s extradition bid request led to a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/greek-court-turns-down-extradition-request-eight-turkish-officers-ankara-failed-coup" target="_blank">Supreme Court ruling against it</a>.</p><p>Wealthy and influential western European countries can afford to reject extradition requests made by the Turkish government. But Azerbaijan and Georgia probably cannot. Neither wants to harm their relationship with Turkey, which is an important corridor to the west and regional counterbalance against Russia. Ankara’s hunt for Gülen may prove a test of how the two states can defend their sovereignty. That is, if they’re interested.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/zeynep-gambetti/failed-coup-attempt-in-turkey-victory-of-democracy">Failed coup attempt in Turkey: the victory of democracy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cihan-tugal/turkey-coup-aftermath-between-neo-fascism-and-bonapartism">Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia North-Africa West-Asia oD Russia Turkey Lamiya Adilgizi Uncivil society Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 06 Jul 2017 08:21:50 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 112122 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Walking free in Azerbaijan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s easy to celebrate when Azerbaijan’s political prisoners are released. But ensnared by public stigma and personal trauma, what are the chances that they ever find a place for themselves in society?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khadija Ismayilova returns home after her release (on probation) in May 2015. In September 2015, the acclaimed investigative journalist was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev dynasty is tightening the screws, and last year was a new low. At the end of 2016, Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov, two activists for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">youth movement N!DA</a>, were <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/azerbaijan-ten-years-in-jail-for-youth-activist-who-sprayed-graffiti-is-a-travesty-of-justice/" target="_blank">sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for spraying graffiti</a> on the statue of former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. “Happy Slave Day”, they wrote — a play on the similarity of the words <em>gül</em> (“flower”) and <em>qul</em> (“slave”) in Azerbaijani.</p><p>Amnesty International has recognised Mammadov and Ibrahimov as prisoners of conscience. And they’re far from the only ones. We could mention the jailed video blogger <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur55/6178/2017/en/" target="_blank">Mehman Hüseynov</a> or the journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">Afghan Mukhtarli, who was recently abducted from the Georgian capital</a> and sentenced on bogus charges in Baku. We could mention many more still, and hold international campaigns for their release. Sometimes, as in the case of famous journalist Khadija Ismayilova, this pressure even bears some fruit.</p><p>Released on parole last May, Ismayilova still continues her work from Azerbaijan. The journalist’s mother <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/31/freed-journalist-khadija-ismayilova-azerbaijan-interview" target="_blank">is said to have remarked</a> that Khadija would have been safer in prison, as “they wouldn’t just kill you [in there].”</p><p>A dissident can walk free, but their story doesn’t end there — they have few hopes of finding a place for themselves in a society as authoritarian as Azerbaijan. Repression breeds depression, and political prisoners who walk free can find themselves mired in hopelessness. If you’re once a dissident, you’re always a dissident — employers and even friends keep their distance after release. After all, it’s just easier that way.</p><h2>Munificence&nbsp;</h2><p>At the end of last year, Azerbaijani civil society eagerly awaited president Ilham Aliyev’s pardon list, which he’s usually given before the new year’s holidays. There tends to be a handful of political prisoners among the convicted, too. But this time, there was no announcement.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course, it’s not pangs of conscience that prompt such moves. As the human rights activist and chairman of the Azerbaijan without Political Prisoners group Ogtay Gulaliyev writes, the regime in Baku pardons political prisoners when it needs to sweeten relations with Europe. For example, the <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/azerbaijan-pocs-release/" target="_blank">last pardon list</a> was issued just before Novruz (Persian and Azerbaijani new year) and included <a href="http://www.bbc.com/azeri/azerbaijan/2016/03/160317_president_pardon.shtml" target="_blank">12 jailed activists</a>. Gulaliyev regarded it as an attempt to increase Azerbaijan’s chances at receiving an invitation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2016. More recently, with the EU <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory" target="_blank">focused on migration politics</a> and the US busy with elections (and their aftermath), Azerbaijan’s leaders didn’t see any need to show such mercy.&nbsp;</p><p>In any case, mercy often comes with strings attached. The release of one prominent dissident is usually accompanied by the arrest of a few lesser-known troublemakers. Khadija Ismayilova has called it “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2016/05/27/interview-with-khadija.html" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s revolving door</a>.”</p><p>Naturally, how well one adapts to life after imprisonment depends on the harshness of life inside, and the trauma it can bring. “Conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is that you’re stuck in a cell,” remarks Tofig Yagublu. The ex-political prisoner, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to five years. Yagublu was pardoned by president Ilham Aliyev in March 2016.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Essentially, conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is you’re stuck in a cell”</p><p>The loss of his daughter Nargiz, also an opposition activist, struck Yagublu hard. Yagublu couldn’t attend her wedding as he was behind bars, but was released for seven days to be at her funeral (she died during childbirth in Russia in 2015).&nbsp;</p><p>On the whole, says Yagublu, political prisoners are respected by other inmates. But in poor conditions, that mattered little. Yagublu was moved between prisons several times, but says conditions rarely varied. He slept near every night near somebody with tuberculosis. “There were usually two or three times more inmates than beds,” he adds, “and they were too small anyway.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The prisoners I met were often just normal people,” remarks Zaur Gurbanli, a N!DA youth activist. “Most of them weren’t guilty. They’d been arrested on all kinds of pretexts, like failing to pay a bribe.” Gurbanli was arrested in 2013 and released at the end of the following year. He also adds that fellow inmates rarely bothered political prisoners unless the wardens made them.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Avaz Zeynalli, editor in chief of Khural newspaper, at his court hearing in 2013. He was found guilty of tax evasion and initially sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, though his critical articles targeting high-ranking officials were widely believed to be the real reason. Photo courtesy of IRFS / Obyektiv TV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>For Zaur Gurbanli and Avaz Zeynalli, prison was a formative experience that many ways has strengthened their resolve. They’re prepared, too. For many activists and dissidents of all stripes, the threat of a jail sentence is never far off.&nbsp;</p><p>After Zeynalli’s arrest in 2011, the <em>Khural </em>newspaper where he worked as editor in chief was shut down. Two years later, he was sentenced to nine years behind bars, and released in December 2014 by presidential pardon. Zeynalli adds that he had plenty of time to read and write during his sentence — and even managed to smuggle out his prison diaries. “The time passed as there was so much to do, and I prepared myself for freedom,” he reflects.&nbsp;</p><p>Celebrated academic <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/freethinker-loses-his-freedom-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">Arif Yunus had quite a different experience</a>. Even though he was first arrested in 1976, the ordeal was no easier. In 2014, Arif and his wife Leyla were arrested almost simultaneously. Their only daughter was abroad and could not return to Azerbaijan — though if she had, she wouldn’t have seen him. Yunus says that meetings with relatives and even lawyers were restricted. For more than a year, he lived in solitary confinement (according to reports by Juan Mendes of the UN, a person cannot survive such a condition undamaged for more than 15 days).&nbsp;</p><p>“You know that your wife is also in jail and is probably being tortured, but you can’t see her. You can’t get any information to your daughter,” Yunus begins. “Just imagine that you’re on an uninhabited island. It’s very small, perhaps six square metres. But you don’t see animals, neither birds nor trees. All you see are white walls and a blazing 150-watt light, which is on for 24 hours.”&nbsp;</p><p>“For the first eight days, I didn’t even see the guard,” Yunus continues. “He just opened a small window and left some food for me. I had no contact. In this situation, lots of people start to hallucinate. Some even commit suicide. I couldn’t control myself and just started beating my head against the wall. In order to make things easier, I forbade myself to think about my wife and daughter, trying to escape the depression.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Is there life beyond bars?&nbsp;</h2><p>Arif Yunus was released in November 2015 on grounds of deteriorating health, though wasn’t allowed to leave Baku. Adapting was hard. He couldn’t sleep at home for six days, so used was he he sleeping beneath a 15-watt light. Sleeping pills were a remedy, but he soon became dependent on them.&nbsp;</p><p>The popular blogger and youth activist <a href="http://www.freedom-now.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Omar-Mammadov.pdf" target="_blank">Omar Mammadov</a> had been arrested in January 2014 (he also ran a satirical Facebook page mocking pro-government media). Mammadov, who was also pardoned by the president in 2016, says that upon his release he saw “nothing around [him] but emptiness.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects, given Azerbaijan’s economic downturn</span></p><p>There were no protests in Baku, no demonstrations. “I realised that nobody cared. I felt like I had stepped into a void,” he sighs. “There was no activity as there was before. Even the opposition was doing nothing.”&nbsp;</p><p>This was a freedom for which neither Mammadov nor Zeynalli could prepare.</p><p>Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects. Last year, Zaur Gurbanli won a Chevening Scholarship and is now a student at Glasgow University. Following his release from jail, he applied for several jobs. His arrest worked against him — some employers knew exactly who he was, while others found out when he had to explain the two-year gap in his employment history.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Meet me at the prison gates. Youth activist Zaur Gurbanli walks free in December 2014. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“I couldn’t lie to them,” Gurbanli tells me. “I also couldn’t tell them that I was arrested as a common criminal, but perhaps telling them that I was instead arrested for my political views is an even worse idea. Either way, they refused to hire me.”&nbsp;</p><p>Mammadov tells of similar experiences. After one employer gave him a job, he suddenly left the room and told his new employee to wait for five minutes. Mammadov was then told he was no longer hired, because somebody had ordered the management to drop him immediately. He has now lost hope in finding a job in Azerbaijan, and plans to get an education abroad.</p><h2>Who not to hire&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijan is in the midst of a protracted economic downturn. Educated young people are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains" target="_blank">leaving the country</a>, and nepotism is rife in filling sought-after positions. With work hard to come by for everybody, these circumstances alone work against all former prisoners, political or otherwise.</p><p>While Azerbaijani law forbids former prisoners from working in a police department or as a prosecutor, it’s highly unlikely that the state officially orders other employers not to hire former political prisoners. After all, there’s no need — poor economic prospects and a stigma towards “criminals” of all kinds work perfectly well in excluding them from the labour market.&nbsp;</p><p>When faced with such a candidate at a job interview, junior managers and small business owners alike don’t have many other choices. The ex-con may profess their innocence, blaming the state for bought courts and crooked cops. Who would you believe?&nbsp;</p><p>In these cases, many in authoritarian Azerbaijan would rather hedge their bets with the authorities, whatever deeper misgivings they may have. This is partly due to lack of alternative sources of information, and partly a cultural predilection. As they say in Russia, <em>vor dolzhen sidet’ v tyurme</em> (“a thief should sit in jail”) — so if you’ve spent time behind bars, you must’ve done something wrong, whether you know it or not. After all, there has to be some logic to the way of things.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center"><span>Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache; the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.</span></p><p>Zeynalli also stresses that known members of many political parties cannot be hired in state positions. “I have friends who are doctors and teachers who have had to resign from the Musavat and National Front parties. They still work only because they’ve joined the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.” Of course, there are those who have broken ranks with former opposition comrades with gusto -- though in today’s economic realities, “seeing the error of your ways” may not automatically lead to employment.&nbsp;</p><p>Arif Yunus says that his daughter managed what he and Leyla had failed to do for 22 years. While they were imprisoned, she registered the Institute of Peace and Democracy abroad, as a foreign NGO (the organisation was founded in Azerbaijan in 1994 - ed.) “We now know where we’ll work, and what we’ll work on,” Yunus says. “My wife will work on political prisoners’ issues, and I’ll work on my own projects related to Islamism and terrorism.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arif Yunus gives an interview to the press after his release from jail in November 2015, on grounds of deteriorating health. Yunus was initially barred from leaving Baku after his release, and had to wait until December before the release of his wife Leyla. Image still via YouTube / RFE/RL. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Arif and Leyla Yunus left Azerbaijan for the Netherlands to seek health treatment and join their daughter in 2015. Arif Yunus insists that had they stayed in Azerbaijan, even the sum of their impressive work couldn’t have helped them&nbsp;<span>– </span><span><span>and in May, a Baku court <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/leyla-arif-yunus-forcible-return-azerbaijan-court-order/28493480.html" target="_blank">demanded their return to Azerbaijan to face charges</a></span></span>. Since 2014, Baku has added many hurdles to the law related to NGO work: “opening a bank account is a nightmare, you cannot register, you cannot get a grant for a project unless the state gives you permission. Practically, you depend on the state. You cannot run an NGO as an NGO anymore.”&nbsp;</p><p>That also goes for business. Almost all independent companies of any significance have to have relationships with the state or with figures who do. Even a company which functions without much interference will probably not employ somebody who has publicly criticised the government. If that’s practically impossible in the state sector, it’s definitely impractical for the private sector. Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache — and from the taxmen to that new job your cousin’s just applied for, the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.&nbsp;</p><p>Then there’s one final practicality — sometimes a court verdict can remain valid well after a presidential pardon. There’s no telling whether your employee will be hauled over the coals and brought before a judge yet again.</p><p>When they walk out of the prison gates, Azerbaijan’s dissidents find that the children, trees and skyscrapers of Baku have grown taller. But the landscape for freedom of expression and professional advancement remains as bleak as ever, with their criminal convictions a heavy burden to bear.</p><p><strong><em>Find out more about Azerbaijan’s slide into authoritarianism in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">Sergey Rumyantsev’s essay on the birth of a political dynasty</a>&nbsp;— how the Aliyev family rose to power, and where it’s headed next...&nbsp;</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gulnar Salimova Uncivil society Human rights Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:41:37 +0000 Gulnar Salimova 111898 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A culinary conflict in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ruzanna-tsaturyan/culinary-conflict-south-caucasus-karabakh <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How national cuisines became yet another battlefield in the enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ruzanna-tsaturyan/kulinarnaya-voina-armenia-azerbaijan" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00433541.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00433541.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dolma or Tolma? This name of this dish has led to more than a few heated disputes. Photo (c): Vitaly Arutyunov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Is the popular dish consisting of vine leaves stuffed with rice and/or meat called <em>dolma</em> or <em>tolma</em>? You may think this is a purely culinary question, but you’d be mistaken. Presidents, politicians, ministers, community organisations and the media are all engaged in a heated debate over the preparation of tolma/dolma in the South Caucasus, and particularly in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has hit the kitchens.</p><p>On 27 April 2011, the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev fired the first salvo by <a href="http://www.trend.az/azerbaijan/politics/1867318.html" target="_blank">stating</a> at the annual conference of his country’s Academy of Sciences that: “if you ask an Armenian what ‘dolma’ means in their language, they won’t be able to answer. It’s like ‘Karabakh’ for them – a meaningless word”. A few months later, Armenia responded by holding its own “tolma” (not dolma) festival as part of the “Golden Apricot” international film festival. The festival organisers, the “Society for the Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions” <a href="http://www.aysor.am/am/news/2011/12/07/sedrak-mamulyan/374067" target="_blank">explained</a>&nbsp;(link to Armenian language site):</p><p>“The aim of the festival is to popularise traditional Armenian dishes and the idea of tolma as part of our national cuisine, contrary to the received opinion that it has Turkish roots. After our organisation held its tolma festival, which was <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdJd3Nx_nxA" target="_blank">reported on CNN</a>, the Azerbaijanis fell silent – we had dealt them a knockout blow”. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">While no one argues about what country a national anthem or flag belongs to, there is no consensus on the provenance of certain kinds of food. </p><p>The debates over the “nationality” of dishes had been developing over many years before the outbreak of the “tolma war”. A rise in ethnic consciousness, an overemphasis on national culture and issues around national identity and anything that might threaten it are all hangovers from the colonial (in this case, Soviet) past.</p><p>In the Soviet years, cookbooks based on regional cuisines defined the borders of their cultures and encouraged culinary nationalism. Cookbooks, as structured collections of the directions post-Soviet dining should take, have become the main weapons in the South Caucasus culinary wars. It is true, though, that while no one argues about what country a national anthem or flag belongs to, there is no consensus on the provenance of certain kinds of food. </p><p>Today’s conflicts provide a multitude of examples of culinary wars in areas with unresolved border issues. One of the best known and most studied regions in this context is the Balkans, where disputes over its Ottoman legacy are still active. And there is the more recent example of the “<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/07/18/483715410/give-chickpeas-a-chance-why-hummus-unites-and-divides-the-mideast" target="_blank">hummus wars</a>” being fought between Arabs and Israelis. </p><p>An analysis of Armenian-Azerbaijani culinary clashes shows that this conflict itself is leading to an exacerbation of the spilt in national gastronomic traditions, where each side insists that it has the historic right of “ownership” of a given dish. </p><h2>The rules of engagement</h2><p>In 2011 I began looking at the Armenian-Azerbaijani national food war and received a grant from the South Caucasus branch of the Heinrich Böll Foundation to pursue my research further. I began to realise that culinary wars also have their own rules for attack and defence, as well as their generals and troops and, depending on the outcome of their battles, dishes that have fallen on the field of battle or been taken prisoner. </p><p>The South Caucasus culinary wars have been going on for many years and on all fronts. In 2011, for example, on the eve of a visit to Armenia by the then President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili, there were articles in the press about Georgia-Armenian “culinary appropriations” and mutual recriminations. Their headlines themselves reflected their subjects: “In Yerevan, will Saakashvili try to stand up for khachapuri cheese bread and Saperavi wine?”, “Will Saakashvili discuss the questions of churchkhela [a traditional sweet of nuts encased in a dried fruit paste – ed.] and khachapuri?” and so on.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00790353.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00790353.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Armenian soldiers prepare kebabs near the frontline in Martakert Region. Nagorno-Karabakh, 1992. Photo (c): R. Mangasaryan / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>In this case the Georgian-Armenian conflict was more about brand names and marketing, as well known delicacies were involved – Georgian varieties of wine and churchkhela, which is popular in both Armenia and Georgia. And in general, Georgian-Armenian culinary arguments are sporadic and rarely go beyond media altercations (and chiefly on social media at that). </p><p>On the Armenian-Azerbaijani gastronomic front, passions are more unbridled, and have long since strayed into the real political arena. In Azerbaijan, the war is waged directly from government offices, while in Armenia the media and the third sector are mainly focused on their neighbour’s “culinary appropriations”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijan’s National Culinary Centre, which receives government funding, is accusing the Armenians of stealing its national cuisine</p><p>Azerbaijan, for example, has a “<a href="https://www.azernews.az/tags/9641/" target="_blank">National Culinary Centre</a>”, whose CEO Tahir Amiraslanov actively promotes publications devoted to Azerbaijan’s national cuisine and an analysis of alleged Armenian pretentions and takeover attempts in the culinary sphere. His organisation, which receives government funding, publishes material accusing the Armenians of stealing Azerbaijan’s national cuisine. He told one interviewer that “Since 1989, the issue of Armenian pretentions towards Azerbaijan’s culinary traditions has been discussed at the highest level, by specialists and academics, many times. Every pan-Turkish, Islamic dish, including those from Azerbaijan, is claimed as Armenian – they are trying to prove that an Armenian culinary tradition exists.</p><p>Meanwhile, Armenia is busy working out a defence. There are a number of forces engaged in this exercise: its “Society for the Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions”; its academic community, represented by both nutricians and ethnographers, and its media, which often fuel public demand for incisive debates on the “ Armenian-ness” of various dishes.</p><h2>Historical tolma</h2><p>The main dishes affected by the culinary wars are those with a clearly symbolic ethnic significance: tolma/dolma, lavash [flatbread], harisa [a thick, meaty porridge], kofta [meatballs], pahlava [a sweet dessert based on filo pastry] and other dishes with a ritual or celebratory history. </p><p>The tolma/dolma dichotomy is still at the centre of gastro-nationalist discussion in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The involvement of well known international cultural heritage organisations such as UNESCO has intensified the zeal on both sides. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture, in answer to “Armenia’s attempt to lay claim to lavash”, in 2016 fired off a request to UNESCO (entitled “The culture of the preparation of dolma and its classification as a marker of culture identity”) to have the dish included in the organisation’s <a href="https://ich.unesco.org/en/lists" target="_blank">intangible cultural heritage list</a>. The request will be considered by UNESCO at its meeting in November.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/6903939680_1e4e0fd6fd_b-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/6903939680_1e4e0fd6fd_b-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Churchkhela at a bazaar in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. This traditional delicacy is prepared by pouring grape syrup over a string of walnuts and leaving it to set. Photo CC-by-4.0: Gabriella Opraz / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Meanwhile, Armenia has been celebrating its annual tolma (not dolma) festival. It is telling that the choice of location for the festival always has a symbolic significance. The first one, in 2011, took place at the Sardarabad memorial complex – the site of a battle in 1918 that halted an attack by Turkish troops and laid the foundation for the independent, and short-lived, Democratic Republic of Armenia.</p><p>“This is a place that symbolises self-defence”, Sedrak Mamulyan, one of the festival organisers, said in an interview. “Our national cuisine is where we can develop this self protection. It’s is among the oldest and most famous in the world, and acted as a donor for our neighbours: all our neighbours have adopted Armenian dishes”. </p><p>In 2017, Armenia’s Ministry of Culture chose the village of Hnaberd, near the site of the country’s medieval capital Dvin, as the venue for the tolma festival. Chefs prepared a 60 metre long tolma (the usual length is 10cm), while bands and dance groups in national costume entertained the public – the festival is a hit with locals and tourists alike. Pastry cooks also constructed a model of the ancient Temple of Garni (the only standing Greco-Roman colonnaded building in the former Soviet Union); Mount Ararat, sacred to Armenians although situated in modern Turkey; the fertile Ararat valley and other historical symbols – all out of tolma. And they also demonstrated their expertise by combining tolma with another “conflicted” dish – the kebab. </p><h2>Down the grapevine</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/374px-Garni_Temple_made_from_lavash-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/374px-Garni_Temple_made_from_lavash-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A model of the ancient temple of Garni, Armenia, made of Lavash. ArmExpo, Yerevan, 2013. Photo CC-by-2.0: Armine Aghayan / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Why is it dolma/tolma, lavash and harisa porridge that have become the symbols of national discord? It is because they represent territorial aspirations: as the tolma festival organiser explains, “The roots of an indigenous people and their right to the territory they occupy is inextricably linked with their national cuisine. And tolma is a typical dish of a settled, and therefore indigenous people”. </p><p>Azerbaijanis are equally convinced that their national dishes prove that they are indigenous to their lands. Azerbaijan’s reaction to a “Karabakh Cuisine” festival held in Moscow was, not surprisingly, chilly. In an article entitled “Karabakh separatists have decided to introduce Moscow to ‘Karabakh Cuisine’”, the CEO of Azerbaijan’s National Culinary Centre wrote that “Karabakh is an Azerbaijani territory, so any dishes developed there are part of our heritage. The Armenians settled in the area later and learned how to cook from us.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Dishes made of wheat can only have been created by people living a settled way of life – and therefore must be Armenian”</p><p>How, then, can you disprove national belonging through food? The Armenian side’s main argument is that to make tolma you need vine leaves, which is evidence of early agricultural development: there is also clear archeological evidence for viticulture and wine-drinking in ancient Armenia. Another stumbling block for the Azerbaijani side in this context is the fact that dishes based on wheat are a sure sign of cereal production, which in its turn points to a settled people. The thick, meaty porridge harisa is a very popular dish in Armenia (a similar dish known as keshkek is widely eaten in Turkey).</p><p>In Armenia, the inclusion of keshkek in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list has provoked hot debate, in the course of which the organisation has been pilloried and accused of involvement in “caviar diplomacy”. There’s been discussion of the apparent incompatibility between Turkic nomadic traditions and authentic wheat-based dishes: “dishes made of wheat can only have been created by people living a settled way of life – and therefore must be Armenian.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1200px-Azərbaycan_Lavaşı-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1200px-Azərbaycan_Lavaşı-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An elderly woman prepares Lavash. Azerbaijan, 2014. Photo CC-by-4.0: Elxan Qəniyev / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Debate on the way lavash is baked in a “tonir” – a clay oven sunk into the ground – has provoked <a href="http://www.tert.am/ru/news/2014/11/27/armenia-lavash-27/1517807" target="_blank">arguments</a> (link to Russian language site) around territorial rights: “Lavash was only ever baked in a tonir, and a tonir is a characteristic of a settled society, but not of a nomadic one like the Turks”. Discussions like this on the culinary-political claims of their neighbours can end up looking like direct threats to Armenian indigenous identity: “<a href="http://www.arminfo.info/russian/culture/article/20-03-2012/14-20-00" target="_blank">the next thing will be claims that the Turks always used tonirs</a>” (link to Russian language site).</p><p>In 2015, another discussion on the “takeover” of lavash by the Azerbaijani side – as part of a multi-national request to UNESCO to recognise traditional flatbread – drew attention yet again to the contrast between settlement and nomadism, seen by Armenians as a lower stage of development. The main thrust of the Armenian media discussions was that Turks and Azerbaijanis only sought to claim the dishes of “settled” societies, apparently showing how keen they were to conceal their nomadic existence”. </p><p>These debates echo a developmentalist tradition of demonstrating a settled population’s apparent superiority over a nomadic one – a mode of thinking which developed in the pre-Soviet and Soviet periods. State’s policy boiled down to an official adoption of this position. Nomads, as a rule, were seen as “destroyers of advanced civilisations” &nbsp;– hence evidence of ancient agricultural development is cherished by nationalists on both sides.</p><p>It is hard here to avoid quoting the famous anthropologist Mary Douglas: “national food cultures become a blinding fetish which, if disregarded, may be as dangerous as an explosion”.</p><h2>The proof is in the pudding</h2><p>Tolma or dolma – these forms are also not just variations on a single word, but a long road back into history, and another turn in the discussion about settlement and nomadism. </p><p>Back in the 1960s, the historian Suren Yeremyan, studying the origins and development of Armenian food culture, was already looking at early settlement and agricultural practice in Armenia through the meaning of the word “tolma”: “In Armenia we can still find wild grape vines, known as ‘toli’ (from the Urartu ‘uduli’ – grape), and many are still producing fruit”. The word “uduli” was chosen as the name of the annual tolma festival because it was a good fit with the philosophy behind the event: to show Armenian cuisine as authentic, ancient and the result of unbroken cultural continuity. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">The present Armenian-Azerbaijani food wars are the legacy of an indigenous, historical, linguistic and cultural continuity </p><p>In contrast, Azerbaijani sources point to words of Turkic origin: “the name dolma comes from the Turkish verb ‘dolmag’, which can be translated as ‘to fill up’”. There is a clear link between the Turkish version of the word and the way the dish is made. The Azeri language also contains the verb ‘dolamag’ – ‘to roll up’. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dolma_Stamp_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dolma_Stamp_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="208" height="150" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Our dolma. Postage stamp from Azerbaijan. Photo CC: H. MIrzoyev / Azermarka. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>It can also, however, be used in the context of making dolma, as Tahir Amiraslanov of Azerbaijan’s National Culinary Centre explained while <a href="http://open.az/2008/01/24/page,1,3,armjanskaja-kukhnja-razjasnenija-k.html" target="_blank">discussing a book about Armenian cuisine</a> (link to Russian site). These discussions are repeated, almost word for word, on media platforms and in forums, where there are passionate discussions about the “authentic” way of preparing the dish: the tolma is a rice and/or rice mixture wrapped in vine leaves, whereas the dolma is vegetables stuffed with a similar mixture. </p><p>The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has certainly left its mark on the development of a discourse around food in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The present Armenian-Azerbaijani food wars are the legacy of an indigenous, historical, linguistic and cultural continuity. They continue a process of incorporating the past into the present – though tastes and smells of which the very mention evokes strong sensations. </p><p>Serving as a means of consolidating and mobilising internal public and ethnic sensibilities, the food wars act as a barrier to the formation of a common historical narrative – along with a common present and future. They intensify the polarisation of the two sides, as exemplified by a famous line in the 1970s Soviet cult film comedy “Mimino”: “you don’t know how to make dolma here.”</p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><p><strong><em>Find out more about conflict behind the frontline in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/christina-soloyan/in-armenia-front-line-starts-at-school" target="_blank">Christina Soloyan’s article on the Karabakh conflict in Armenia’s schoolrooms and school textbooks</a></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/christina-soloyan/in-armenia-front-line-starts-at-school">In Armenia, the frontline starts at school</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/baba-hadji-symbol-of-ethnic-harmony">Baba-Hadji, symbol of ethnic harmony</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ruzanna Tsaturyan Cultural politics Caucasus Azerbaijan Armenia Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:08:42 +0000 Ruzanna Tsaturyan 111834 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The kidnapping of an Azerbaijani investigative journalist in broad daylight in Tbilisi raises questions about how far the west is willing to tolerate Azerbaijan's authoritarian slide.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000033736.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=http://www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>. </span></span></span>On 29 May, an Azerbaijani journalist and political activist was kidnapped in <a href="https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/georgia">Georgia</a>’s capital Tbilisi and then illegally brought across the border to <a href="https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/azerbaijan">Azerbaijan</a>, where he reappeared less than 24 hours later in Azerbaijani border police custody, Human Rights Watch said today. He now faces bogus, politically motivated charges of illegal border crossing and smuggling. Georgian authorities should promptly investigate the kidnapping of the journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, and Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against him.</p><p>Mukhtarli and his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, also an investigative journalist, have been living in Georgia since 2015 to escape the Azerbaijani government’s vicious crackdown against its critics. There are fears that Mukhtarli faces the imminent threat of ill-treatment in custody.<br /><br />“Mukhtarli went to Georgia seeking safety, but it seems he was not far enough out of the Azerbaijani government’s clutches,” said <a href="https://www.hrw.org/about/people/giorgi-gogia">Giorgi Gogia</a>, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “The Georgian government also shares responsibility for his fate and should come clean about its role in his illegal detention and return.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli, 43, is an investigative journalist who has worked for several independent and opposition media outlets, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Meydan TV and others. His investigative stories exposed corruption in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, and the extensive business networks owned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his affiliates in neighboring Georgia. <br /><br />Mukhtarli continued his activism in Tbilisi and participated in a series of protests in front of the Azerbaijani embassy. Mukhtarli’s Facebook posts often criticized government corruption and the persecution of activists in Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli also alleged on Facebook that he was being subjected to surveillance by unidentified people.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Mukhtarli told his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, who spoke to him in custody, that unidentified men stopped him a few blocks from his house, pushed him into a car, and drove him to a park, where they put a bag over his head and beat him</p><p><br />Mukhtarli’s and Mustafayeva’s residence permits for Georgia formally expired in September 2016, when Georgian authorities refused to extend them. But the couple continued to legally reside in Georgia, as Azerbaijani passport holders do not require visas for Georgia and can remain in the country for up to one year.<strong><br /><br /></strong>On 29 May, at about 7pm, after meeting a friend in a café in central Tbilisi, Mukhtarli called Mustafayeva to let her know that he was on his way home. But Mustafayeva told Human Rights Watch that Mukhtarli did not return. The next morning, Mustafayeva filed a missing person’s report with the local police and alerted local media and civil society groups. On the afternoon of 30 May, Mukhtarli resurfaced in Baku, in the investigative unit of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan. <strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli told his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, who spoke to him in custody, that unidentified men stopped him a few blocks from his house, pushed him into a car, and drove him to a park, where they put a bag over his head and beat him. His captors spoke Georgian among themselves and addressed him in Russian. <br /><br />After he complained that he could not breathe and had heart problems, the assailants instead blindfolded him with a shirt and used scotch tape to hold it in place. Sadigov told Human Rights Watch that Mukhtarli’s nose was broken and he saw bruises on his forehead, left temple, right eye, and elsewhere on his face. Mukhtarli also complained of severe pain in his chest, which he believed was caused by a fractured rib.<br /><br />Mukhtarli told Sadigov that his captors changed vehicles twice. The assailants in the second vehicle spoke Azeri and brought him to an Azerbaijani border checkpoint in Balakan district at about 11pm on 29 May. At the checkpoint, unidentified people removed his blindfold and told him that he had illegally crossed the border, and someone also planted €10,000 on him. Azerbaijani authorities held Mukhtarli at the border checkpoint overnight and in the early hours of 30 May took him to a nearby closed border pass zone, and photographed him to make it look as though he were trespassing there. At this point, Azerbaijani authorities detained him, handcuffed him, and transported him to Baku. <strong><br /><br /></strong>Azerbaijani law requires a person to show a valid passport before crossing the Azerbaijani-Georgia border, but Mukhtarli’s passport remains in Tbilisi.</p><p><strong><span class="mag-quote-center">Georgian authorities should immediately investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping, including whether Georgian law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Mukhtarli across the border<br /></span><br /></strong>“This kidnapping is clumsy and cowardly,” Gogia said. “No one for a minute will believe that Mukhtarli voluntarily tried to enter Azerbaijan, from where he fled to escape persecution. If Azerbaijani authorities have evidence of wrongdoing they could have pursued him through extradition. Instead, he was abducted by cartoonish gangsters.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Georgian authorities should immediately investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping, including whether Georgian law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Mukhtarli across the border or whether they actively participated in his kidnapping, Human Rights Watch said.<strong><br /><br /></strong>Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are members of the Council of Europe and parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, and any involvement of, or acquiescence by, state agents in the kidnapping and transfer of Mukhtarli to Azerbaijan is a serious violation of the convention. <br /><br />In cases involving unlawful transfer of individuals out of Russia, the <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#%7B%22itemid%22:[%22001-155007%22]%7D">European Court of Human Rights has warned</a> that “any extra-judicial transfer or extraordinary rendition, by its deliberate circumvention of due process, is an absolute negation of the rule of law and the values protected by the Convention. It therefore amounts to a violation of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Convention.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli is expected to face a closed court hearing on 31 May, to determine whether he will be held in pretrial custody during the investigation. <strong><br /><br /></strong>“Azerbaijan has an appalling record of harassing and prosecuting government critics, and we are seriously concerned for Mukhtarli’s safety,” Gogia said. “Azerbaijani authorities should immediately free him and allow him to reunite with his wife in Georgia.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Giorgi Gogia Azerbaijan Wed, 31 May 2017 13:42:05 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 111312 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia has long been an oasis for dissidents from neighbouring Azerbaijan. But with Baku investing in its western neighbour at record levels, are they still safe?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jamal Ali, Azerbaijani rapper and journalist. Photo/Image Still via MeydanTV / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I felt like trash,” says Jamal Ali. Last month Ali, a rapper and producer for Azerbaijani independent media outlet <a href="http://meydan.tv/en" target="_blank">MeydanTV</a>, was denied entry to Georgia. He flew back to Berlin, perplexed.&nbsp;</p><p>MeydanTV has few friends in authoritarian Azerbaijan, where many of its writers and editors have been harassed and imprisoned by the authorities. Ali is just one example: after performing at an opposition rally in 2012, he was sent to prison for ten days, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/18/tortured-singer-flees-azerbaijan-eurovision" target="_blank">where he was tortured</a>. Upon release, Ali fled to Germany. He’s lived there ever since, while his family remain in Azerbaijan, where they face <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81886" target="_blank">reprisals from the authorities</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Ali’s experience at the Georgian border was unexpected — several of his colleagues live and work in the Georgian capital. In fact, over the past two decades, Tbilisi has become something of an oasis for Azerbaijani activists and independent journalists seeking safety. And after Ali’s run-in with the Georgian authorities, they’ve started to wonder whether the stakes are getting higher.&nbsp;</p><h2>An oasis no more?&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijani dissidents suspect that Ali’s detention at Tbilisi airport was orchestrated by the Azerbaijani authorities, though they probably expected a little more from their Georgian partners. </p><p>In an <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99120" target="_blank">article published recently by pro-regime website Haqqin.az</a>, Eynulla Fatullayev, a former prisoner of conscience turned pro-government journalist, criticised the Georgian authorities for not extraditing Ali back to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Fatullayev also condemned Georgia for creating the conditions for an “anti-Azerbaijani nucleus" to flourish in the heart of Tbilisi. Azerbaijani oppositionists, he concluded, were uniting in Georgia to overthrow his country’s ruling government.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 13.50.09.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eynulla Fatullaev's accusatory text identifies leading exiles as members of a shadowy "anti-Azerbaijani cell" abroad. Source: Haqqin.az. </span></span></span>Given Azerbaijan’s autocratic neighbourhood — the country borders Iran, Russia and Armenia (with which Baku is still technically at war) — Georgia is the obvious destination for people in Ali’s situation. Azerbaijanis enjoy visa-free travel to Georgia. They’re even able to stay there for 12 months. Economic and cultural links between the two South Caucasus states are booming, and the journey between Baku and Tbilisi isn’t so arduous.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgia has a long history of openness towards Azerbaijanis who are unwelcome at home. It was in Tbilisi, not Baku, where Azerbaijani dissident intellectuals declared the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on 28 May 1918.&nbsp;</p><p>After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Caucasus region descended into conflict, Tbilisi again became an oasis for Azerbaijani dissidents, who fled to Georgia in two waves as an authoritarian regime took power in Baku. The first came after October 2003, when Ilham Aliyev followed his late father Heydar in becoming president, following an election <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan/13467" target="_blank">widely regarded as fraudulent</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A bust of Heydar Aliyev, former leader of Azerbaijan (and father of ruling president Ilham Aliyev) near Old Tbilisi. Photo CC-by-SA-4.0: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The aftermath of this sham vote saw a wave of politically-motivated arrests, further prompting Azerbaijanis to flee west — they assumed they could breathe more easily in a place like Georgia. This coincided with Georgia’s democratic reforms after the Rose Revolution of 2003, which saw pro-western, reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili come to power. Saakashvili’s rebranding of Georgia appealed to desperate Azerbaijani dissidents, and young intellectuals such as novelist Seymur Baycan, journalist Gunel Movlud and composer Elmir Mirzoyev packed their bags and relocated there.</p><p>The second wave started in March 2013, a month which saw an intense crackdown on dissent in Azerbaijan. Repressions began after the non-parliamentary opposition held rallies in January and March under the slogan “Stop Killing Our Soldiers”, in reference to the non-combat deaths of Azerbaijani conscripts. The rally reflected the pent-up rage of ordinary people, and grew into the largest such event since 2005, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest rigged parliamentary elections. After these scenes, the authorities soon banned all opposition rallies.&nbsp;</p><p>In response, Azerbaijan’s authorities detained dozens of young activists, including members of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA movement</a>. Again, some of them headed to Georgia, and to safety.</p><h2>Freedom is back in fashion</h2><p>Most agree that the unprecedented pressure from the Azerbaijani government on dissidents in Georgia began in late 2014. This was likely the result of an influx of oil money, prompting the overconfident authorities in Azerbaijan to behave more boldly. Efgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist who has taken refuge in Georgia, points to the close strategic relationship developed between Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili.</p><p>During the last six months of Saakashvili’s presidency, Azerbaijan’s Milli Shura (National Council of Democratic Forces) called for a summit in Tbilisi, which Saakashvili later banned, with the cryptic <a href="http://az.azvision.az/Milli_Shura_ermeni_otelinde_-9444-xeber.html" target="_blank">justification</a> that “political stability in Azerbaijan necessitates the political stability of Georgia.”</p><p>After Saakashvili’s defeat in 2012, the opposition Georgian Dream (GD) formed a coalition government. Azerbaijani dissidents felt more secure in moving to Georgia, given that some of GD’s coalition partners were sympathetic to the plight of activists from Azerbaijan’s beleaguered opposition.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229 (1)_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields are powering the country's authoritarian regime — and its reach abroad. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These hopes, however, were unfounded. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire mastermind behind the Georgian Dream coalition (and accused by some of a pro-Russian orientation), pushed reform plans to one side. Although ahead of its neighbours, the state of democracy and human rights deteriorated under Ivanishvili, and the flourishing economy came first. Naturally, Azerbaijan, with its extensive oil and gas resources, became Georgia’s most important partner.</p><h2>Neither out of sight, nor out of mind</h2><p>Ali isn’t the only Azerbaijani dissident who has faced difficulties in Georgia. Gulnur Kazimova, a former journalist for Radio Liberty (which was blocked by court order in Azerbaijan earlier this month), <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/06/exiled-from-azerbaijan-just-for-being-a-journalist/" target="_blank">had to flee the city of Ganja with her husband and children</a> in December 2014 after receiving a tip-off that the police were coming to arrest her.</p><p>It’s now three years since Gulnur relocated to Tbilisi, over which time she’s changed flats 11 times after warnings from Tbilisi’s Human Rights House that she and her family were under threat. “After each and every move, we would run into the same security concerns. We were mostly worried for our children,” Kazimova tells me. “Though we later understood that running away was not a solution and that we have to try and not live in fear.” Kazimova has returned to journalism, and now writes about the problems ethnic Azerbaijanis face in Georgia.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi, Georgia. Image still via AZERTAC / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Even in Tbilisi, she faces problems. But here it’s the Georgian police who won’t leave Kazimova alone. The most disturbing incident came last May, when a black Toyota car followed Kazimova along a street in Old Tbilisi. Its occupant was photographing Kazimova and her husband.&nbsp;</p><p>“The surveillance was so obvious that my husband and I took a photo of the car and went straight to the police,” Kazimova says, adding that she knows the Azerbaijani authorities will not relent in their pursuit. The Georgian police launched an investigation into the incident, which lasted for three months.&nbsp;</p><p>Although the results of the investigation did not confirm targeted surveillance of Kazimova and her family, she did mention that a policeman at Tbilisi’s Ortachala police station told her that she wasn’t being followed by SOCAR employees or the Azerbaijani authorities, but “by Georgia’s intelligence service.”&nbsp;</p><h2>The pipelines that bind us</h2><p>Baku has one major lever of influence over Georgia. It’s called SOCAR, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic.</p><p>Last year, SOCAR increased natural gas supplies to Georgia by 50m cubic metres, in order to further “mutually beneficial cooperation in the future." This April, a new agreement was signed between Tbilisi and Baku that will allow for a supply of 2,347 billion cubic metres of Azeri gas to Georgia. This figure constitutes almost 90% of the 2,457 billion cubic metres of natural gas imported to Georgia in total.</p><p>This new agreement automatically precludes any potential deal with Gazprom, which is considered by the Georgian opposition and civil society as a threat to the nation’s energy security in the region. According to Georgia’s minister of energy Kakha Kaladze, much of the country’s electricity demand from April onwards is to be provided for with Azerbaijani gas.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west</p><p>SOCAR first came to the Georgian market as SOCAR Georgian Petroleum in 2006. From 2007 onwards, SOCAR started to import gas to Georgia and dealt with Georgia’s gas distribution networks by establishing another subsidiary, called SOCAR Georgia Gas. It later constructed a Black Sea terminal and in May 2008 opened a new export terminal on the coast at Kulevi. In other words, SOCAR has established its business in three separate areas and in recent years, SOCAR has even become the largest single taxpayer in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west. Georgia is Azerbaijan’s closest link to international markets, such as Turkey and the EU. As economist Ilham Shaban puts it: “Azerbaijan is very interested in gaining a strategic foothold in Georgia, for its own economic well-being.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Workers lay a section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in 2006. Photo (c): ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>But SOCAR is more than an energy giant, it’s also a philanthropist, increasing the country’s prestige among the country’s ethnic Azerbaijanis, one of the country’s major minority groups, and Georgians alike. “All of these processes are controlled by the Georgian government," says Zohrab Ismail, an Azerbaijani economist, adding that Tbilisi is eager to win the good graces of foreign investors.&nbsp;</p><p>This seems to be having a chilling effect on the welcome Georgia has extended to Azerbaijani dissidents in the past. For instance, though the Georgian state did not offer any explanation on the refusal to admit Jamal Ali, it is assumed that his entrance to Georgia was denied due to his professional activities — particularly his latest critical report on how Azerbaijan’s national oil company SOCAR supplied free gas to the churches of Tbilisi.&nbsp;</p><h2>Gas and hot air</h2><p>Dashgin Agalarli is sure that the Georgian authorities are in close collaboration with Azerbaijan’s intelligence services. An opposition activist and member of Azerbaijan’s Musavat party, Agalarli is wanted at home and was jailed in Georgia for six months (although the Georgian Dream coalition government never extradited him back to Baku.)</p><p>Agalarli was arrested by Interpol while crossing the border from Turkey to Georgia, after an Azerbaijani court found him guilty of tax evasion and issued a call for his arrest on 31 October. Apart from a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Georgia was the only country Agalarli could reach without needing a visa.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgian authorities have refused to grant Agalarli residency, and on 21 March <a href="https://www.meydantv.org/en/site/politics/22827/" target="_blank">told him to leave the country within a month</a>. Although Agalarli is challenging the ruling and still remains in Tbilisi, the outlook remains uncertain. “Unless something changes, he’ll most probably be deported,” says Efgan Mukhtarli, another Azeri journalist who has taken shelter in Georgia. The court decision, Mukhtarli adds, was clearly “politically rather than legally motivated.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security</span></p><p>Mukhtarli suggests that if Agalarli is extradited to Baku, he could face the same fate as Mehman Qalandarov, an Azerbaijani blogger who was <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/" target="_blank">found dead in his prison cell</a> on 28 April. Qalandarov, who was in a pre-trial detention in Baku, had fled to Tbilisi in the summer of 2016 and helped organise various protests in Georgia against the Aliyev regime. He returned to Baku because of financial difficulties. “One political dissident who had a Tbilisi past is already dead,” Mukhtarli warns, worrying that anybody listed in the Haqqin.az article written by Fatullayev could be in the same boat.&nbsp;</p><p>The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99162" target="_blank">commented</a> on the claims made in the Haqqin.az article, promising to “study the issue closely” and stressing the close strategic partnership between Baku and Tbilisi. “This is the first time the Georgian government has officially expressed their views about our presence here,” says Mukhtarli. He adds that in previous years, Tbilisi was cautious and preferred communicating with the Azerbaijani dissident community via various non-governmental organisations.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dashgin Agalarli, an Azerbaijani oppositionist who has been threatened with expulsion from Georgia. Photo courtesy of MeydanTV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Natia Tavberidze, the coordinator of Human Rights House in Tbilisi, doesn’t believe that the situation is “critical”. She says her organisation continues to support Azerbaijani activists in exile, and has had no run-ins with Georgian officialdom so far.&nbsp;</p><p>Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, a journalist, is also “alarmed”. In September 2016, Mustafayeva’s application for residence in Georgia was turned down. She told me that five days before the official rejection, she was called in to the Georgian interior ministry’s department of terrorism and anti-corruption for questioning. “My residence permission request lay on the table with some handwritten notes in Georgian added to it. I was asked about the reason of my arrival and my activities in Georgia,” recalls Mustafayeva, adding that her official rejection letter stated that she “pose[d] a danger to the state security and public safety of Georgia.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The way my spouse was recently questioned in Azerbaijan once again confirmed my suspicions that personal information about human rights activists and journalists is being transferred to the Azerbaijani authorities,” Agalarli says.&nbsp;</p><p>So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security. Both deny carrying out any terrorist activities or attempting to topple any government. “For the second time in our lives, we’re under government pressure. I just can’t understand it,” sighs Agalarli, adding that he regrets seeing Georgia as a safe haven. In Mustafayeva’s words, it feels worse than being jailed.&nbsp;</p><h2>Awkward guests&nbsp;</h2><p>Although Georgia has a visa-free regime with Azerbaijan, administrative registration and residency potentially pose hurdles for those seeking to put down roots in Tbilisi. Enrolling children into a Georgian school, or applying for a visa for a third country, require a residence permit. But some are able to settle, if not always thrive, in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani lawyer Emin Aslan, it’s usually not too difficult to get an official residence permit. “Though those who publicly oppose the Azerbaijani government in opposition rallies outside the embassy might run into some problems on Baku’s request,” says Aslan, adding that harassment of activists likely increases as a result of such campaigns.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country</p><p>Indeed, the Azerbaijani government does not want to see its neighbour to the west become a hub for its critics. Likewise, the Georgian Dream government wants to keep the good graces of its regional partner and key energy supplier. And perhaps the Georgian authorities, dealing with their own problems of inequality and poverty, want to avoid having more residents to provide for — especially those who may prove a political nuisance.</p><p>If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country — most likely the Czech Republic or Germany, which both host established communities of Azerbaijani dissidents.&nbsp;</p><p>Sergey Rumyantsev, a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/sergey-rumyantsev" target="_blank">sociologist and expert on Azerbaijani politics</a> based in Berlin, is sure that Baku will keep putting pressure on the Georgian government in the months to come. “Georgian efforts to get rid of their annoying new visitors could be undertaken very delicately, but they’ll still serve the purpose of decreasing the opposition to the Aliyev regime in Georgia,” he concludes. However, Rumyantsev adds that the US embassy and EU probably play a role here, mitigating pressure on Azerbaijani dissidents by calling on Tbilisi to honour its lofty democratic values.&nbsp;</p><p>After his close shave, Jamal Ali worries that Tbilisi may be betraying those values. As each year passes, the Aliyev regime becomes more vicious in its crackdown on dissidents in Azerbaijan. And given the geopolitical realities of the South Caucasus, there’s no way out for them except via Georgia.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Migration matters Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Wed, 24 May 2017 11:25:15 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 111119 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Azerbaijan is losing its brains https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Educated young people in Azerbaijan see few prospects for work at home&nbsp;<span style="color: #222222; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">–</span>&nbsp;and even fewer if they’re critically-minded. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/utechka-umov-azerbaidzhan" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_University_Medical.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_University_Medical.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Students attend a lecture at Azerbaijan Medical University in Baku. Photo CC: Mohammed Sadegmo / ATU-AMU / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Azerbaijan is losing its educated young people. I know from personal experience; my late father, an academic, insisted on sending me to study abroad. He encouraged my application to universities in Turkey and shortly after I left to study International Relations in Ankara, my dad gathered his documents and in a sign of protest left our native Azerbaijan to teach in Turkey as well. He was frustrated with corruption and the falling quality of education&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;and when the former minister of education openly forced him into taking bribes.&nbsp;</p><p>That’s just how things worked, but he decided he’d had enough. Threats from the ministry that he would lose his position as university rector, were the final straw. He resigned and transferred himself to Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey, where he continued teaching economics and civil engineering until his death in 2012. “Connections” and “gifts” didn’t have the same weight there.&nbsp;</p><p>My father graduated high school in his small village with a gold medal, aced university and went on to pursue his graduate studies in Moscow. His was a Soviet education. By the time I was halfway through primary school, Azerbaijan became an independent state, and we watched how quickly my teachers of Russian and Jewish descent were replaced by Azerbaijani teachers who barely knew neither Russian nor the subject they were supposed to teach. In 6th grade, I was transferred to a Turkish lyceum from where I went to pursue my studies in Turkey and the United Kingdom.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">When entrenched corruption and nepotism are business as usual, does hard work and hard study count for anything?</span></p><p>Things weren’t ideal, but I didn’t experience corruption, and my teachers seemed more driven by teaching classes than taking bribes. But I always considered myself among the lucky ones, certainly compared to my friend Aynur Jafar. Despite being accepted to the prestigious Baku State University to study law, her hopes were quickly crushed. Students were often humiliated by their professors and corruption was rampant. Aynur realised that the next six years she would spend there were a waste of time.&nbsp;</p><p>Aynur recalls how some of the professors teaching at the law faculty even threatened students with raising the final price for passing exams unless their students started behaving in class. Jafar and a handful of other students refused to pay bribes for grades. The average price tag for an “A” was around $300 while Jafar was an undergraduate student between 2000 and 2004.&nbsp;</p><h2>Letting go broadens the mind</h2><p>Azerbaijan is undergoing a protracted economic crisis, which its authoritarian Aliyev regime is having difficulty tackling. When entrenched cronyism, corruption and nepotism are business as usual, does hard work and hard study count for anything? Under these circumstances, many citizens would happily seek a better life elsewhere, and the educated ones are no exception.&nbsp;</p><p>The journalist Emin Milli was 26 when he came up with the “Gelecek Ozu Gelmeyecek” [Azerbaijani: The future won’t come by itself] campaign, calling on universities in Baku to send 5,000 Azerbaijani students every year to study abroad. That was in 2005. A year later, President Ilham Aliyev signed a presidential decree on an overseas scholarship programme for 5,000 students. It would be funded through Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund (SOFAZ) and managed by the ministry of education together with State Committee for Student Exams. Unlike Milli’s proposal, the government programme planned to spread the 5,000 scholarships over several years.</p><p>At the time, Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government believed the programme would win over the loyalty of students sent abroad. However, as one Azerbaijani scholar told me, on condition of anonymity, this was a short-lived expectation. “In fact, students pursuing degrees abroad in the social and political sciences even started viewing government policies critically!”</p><p>The same year also saw a <a href="http://www.socar.az/socar/en/careers/scholarship-programs/study-abroad-program" target="_blank">scholarship programme launched by SOCAR</a>, the state oil giant, which offered financial support for students interested in engineering, human resources or law. SOCAR aimed at sending 50 students a year, but last year sent 100. Of course, there were strings attached&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;students had to agree to come back home and spend five years working in Azerbaijan after graduation.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-7915657.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-7915657.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Young people take a stroll by the statue of poet Mirza Sabir near the old city walls in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo (c): Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>While the government had taken up Emin’s proposal, it was just about the only idea which pleased the authorities. In 2009, Milli was arrested with his friend Adnan Hajizade and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment on bogus charges of hooliganism. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-emin-milli/odr-speaks-to-meydantv-s-emin-milli" target="_blank">Milli, who went on to found the independent outlet <em>MeydanTV</em></a> in 2013, was already known for his critical views of the Azerbaijani government, while Hajizade was founder of a popular youth network called OL! [Azeri: “to be”].&nbsp;</p><p>Though they didn’t receive government scholarships, Emin and Adnan were both Western-educated and the traction the two young men were accumulating through their youth networks scared the authorities. In the aftermath of the rigged 2008 presidential elections and referendum in 2009, it became clear that dissent was not to be tolerated.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Whatever subjects they study, rarely do qualified western-educated alumni receive high ranking or decision making positions in Azerbaijan’s government</p><p>So high was the fear of the authorities’ fear of social-media fuelled unrest, given what was happening in neighboring Iran, and later during the Arab Spring, that the state scholarship program changed its priorities. Out went economics, law and political science; the focus was now on physics, chemistry and anthropology. Some of the scholars saw this shift as missing the point behind the idea of sending students abroad in the first place. Whatever subjects they study, rarely do qualified western-educated alumni receive high ranking or decision making positions in Azerbaijan’s government.</p><p>We may as well ask whether Azerbaijan’s government cares about the problem at all. I’m not convinced that they do; those who leave, whether with a scholarship or not, often don’t want to be associated with the regime. Those who leave for reasons other than education may do so out of a deeper frustration, so the powers that be certainly won’t miss them.</p><h2>Who is leaving?&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijan’s State Statistical Office does not keep statistics (at least not public ones) about Azerbaijani emigres and asylum seekers. But it does provide some limited data on foreigners who have moved to Azerbaijan compared to Azerbaijanis who have left the country for good. The most recent data is from 2015, which indicates a number of 2,700 foreigners whomoved to Azerbaijan versus 1,600 Azerbaijanis who have left the country permanently. The <a href="http://popstats.unhcr.org/en/overview#_ga=1.81441685.305714192.1491400034" target="_blank">UN Refugee Council paints a more drastic picture</a>. As of June 30, 2016 there were 5,959 Azerbaijani citizens with pending asylum applications elsewhere and 11,160 refugees and people in refugee-like status. In 2015 these numbers were 5,230 and 9,712 respectively. Of course, politically-motivated emigration is only a small part of brain drain, and the majority of Azerbaijanis who leave do not request asylum - but even the growth in this category should give us pause.&nbsp;</p><p>Let’s return to my friend Aynur, a human rights lawyer who’s now based in the USA. She left Azerbaijan in 2014, during that year’s <a href="http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/2014-The-great-Azerbaijani-crackdown" target="_blank">crackdown against prominent civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders</a> including her former teachers, mentors and colleagues. It became impossible to work as a human rights lawyer, even for international organisations.&nbsp;</p><p>Authorities introduced draconian amendments to the law on NGOs, and a wave of criminal cases launched against them in April 2014. Work carried out by both international NGOs but also their local partner stalled. The Open Society Foundation, IREX, and NDI were among the international organisations eventually forced out of Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p>One journalist who spoke to me on condition of anonymity told me that, “in a country where there’s no democracy, we can’t do our job. So I personally looked elsewhere. It’s more than a brain drain [...] it’s physically draining too, because even though I’m not there, I’m still writing about Azerbaijan.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-EC-university.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-EC-university.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="252" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan State Economic University, Baku. Photo CC-by-2.0: Niyaz Bakili / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In a recent interview with <em>Radio Azadliq</em>, the Azerbaijani service of RFE/RL, former political prisoner and veteran journalist Rauf Mirkadirov said that the <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/azerbaycani-gelecekden-mehrum-edirler/28346833.html" target="_blank">current waves of migration were wholly predictable</a>. Speaking about political exiles like himself (he’s reunited with his family and is now in Switzerland), Mirkardirov added that sooner or later, everybody wants to live a comfortable life, free from harassment. At least, that explained why his generation are leaving. His concern was that young people are choosing to leave, which does not bode well for Azerbaijan’s future.&nbsp;</p><p>Kamal [a pseudonym] is just one such example. Unlike Aynur and Rauf, Kamal’s motivation to leave was less political. He had a well paying job, a high-level position at a company, but he couldn’t put up with life in Azerbaijan for much longer. “I’d say that 60% of my decision to leave was to find a better quality of life with better prospects and medical insurance. A justice system which works, and without this stifling atmosphere where everybody is afraid. The inequality is also depressing… I simply could not longer stand seeing the injustice”, he concludes.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For working class families, the choice of destination is much narrower&nbsp;–&nbsp;usually Russia</p><p>There are many other Azerbaijanis like Kamal: middle class, educated people in their mid-30s and early 40s who plan to leave or have left already in search for better opportunities for their families and children. For working class families where knowledge of foreign languages or specialist higher education is non-existent, the choice of destination is much narrower. It’s usually Russia, where several hundred thousand (if not millions) of Azerbaijanis already live&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;as another post-Soviet state, it’s easier to adjust to life there, and many people have family connections. But this in no way means that Russia is only a destination for Azerbaijan’s unskilled workers. After an Azerbaijani member of parliament recently called emigres in Russia the “scum of Azerbaijan,” an outraged social media campaign against him revealed how diverse this community really is.&nbsp;</p><p>Most Azerbaijanis speak at least rudimentary Russian&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;but for those who want to move outside the former Soviet Union, the language barrier is a big hurdle. Kamal believes that had Azerbaijanis grown up speaking English as opposed to Russian as their second language, there would certainly be more people seeking a better future in the EU, US, or Canada.</p><h2>No troublemakers, please</h2><p>The state scholarship program refused to open doors for students like Jafar. Clearly, the ministry of education valued loyalty over capability. She was one of many applicants turned down because of her political views. There were some exceptions, but mostly for the pretence of keeping a balance.</p><p>In 2013, Mikayil Jabbarov, a charismatic 40-year old, replaced 70-year old Misir Mardanov as Azerbaijan’s minister of education. Mardanov had occupied the position since 1998 (it was he who sacked my father), but his replacement did not change much. Corruption and an outdated teaching style continue to plague Azerbaijan’s education system.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev, the current president of Azerbaijan, contemplates a portrait of his father Heydar, the country’s former president and Soviet-era leader. Photo (c): Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The poor quality and lack of independence of higher education in Azerbaijan is beginning to make it unattractive for the country’s young people. At least, that’s is how Nijat Mammadbayli put it. Nijat, who is currently studying for his master’s degree in Germany, was also turned down by the ministry for his political and social activism and because law, his chosen field of study, was not seen as a priority.</p><p>In fact, none of the political or social science fields are listed as priority areas today on the website of the State Program for Azerbaijani students to Study Abroad. Instead, the ministry is offering scholarships for students interested in <a href="http://xaricdetehsil.edu.gov.az/c-dphaqqinda/prioritet-istiqametler/" target="_blank">studying in practical and vocational fields</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The state now prioritises vocational fields in scholarships for students to study abroad&nbsp;<span>–</span><span>&nbsp;</span>&nbsp;political and social sciences are out of fashion</p><p>Leila Aliyeva [unrelated to the ruling family], a political analyst and academic based in Oxford laughs when I tell her this: “political and social sciences are exactly the areas most in need of reform in Azerbaijan!” Aliyeva isn’t surprised that the ministry of education has also fallen under the control of the ruling regime. “From the early 2000s, political control over higher education intensified. The authorities wanted to influence young people at an early age. Open-minded people were sacked in many state universities.”&nbsp;</p><p>A big factor in Azerbaijan’s brain drain is nepotism, says Aliyeva. “As it’s at the very core of the system, there are very few opportunities left for young people. Instead of educated state officials with a vision, Azerbaijan ended up with ranks of technocrats whose sole job was to ensure autocrats at the top stay in power.”&nbsp;</p><p>“There’s not much vision. The state still doesn’t have a training blueprint for teachers, its law on education still isn’t fully developed and despite numerous programmes announced since 1999, none have been fully implemented. We’ve only seen cosmetic changes” explains Malahat Murshudlu, head of the Azerbaijan Free Teachers’ Union.&nbsp;</p><p>After 20 years, even SOCAR has realised that it could have easily afforded to found an entire university itself. As one scholar told me on condition of anonymity, doing so will ensure that it has professional and “reliable” cadres to with with in future.&nbsp;</p><h2>A place to breathe freely&nbsp;</h2><p>After the rigged referendum last September, some <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">29 amendments were made to the Azerbaijani constitution</a>, which included extending presidential term limits and creating a vice presidency. In late February, president Ilham Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva to the position of first vice president making her the country’s second highest ranking official with full immunity. In case Ilham Aliyev steps down, his wife is now in a position to replace her husband.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Instead of educated state officials with a vision, Azerbaijan ended up with ranks of technocrats whose sole job was to ensure autocrats at the top stay in power”</p><p>On 3 March, a court in Baku sentenced the popular video blogger Mehman Hüseynov to two years in prison on charges of slander, in the first open sentencing of a journalist for such a crime. Azerbaijan now has at least 7 bloggers and journalists behind bars while one of the managers of an independent online television channel Kanal 13 was detained on May 2, and <a href="https://mappingmediafreedom.org/?k=Azerbaijan#/4015" target="_blank">sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention</a>. Another regional reporter is <a href="https://mappingmediafreedom.org/?k=Azerbaijan#/4031" target="_blank">facing possible hooliganism charges</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Azerbaijan’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">old social contract</a>, in which the state promised rising living standards in exchange for citizens staying out of politics, is looking quite brittle. The regime is tightening the screws, and living conditions are proving more challenging than ever before in the aftermath of two currency devaluations. A number of MPs have even suggested that <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81831" target="_blank">Azerbaijanis literally tighten their belts</a> by eating less and staying in shape. </p><p>Azerbaijan’s monthly minimum wage is now 155 Manat (approximately £71); in 2016 it was 136 (£63). The average monthly salary is now 490 Manat (£223). And while Azerbaijan’s state budget for 2017 <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/azerbaijan-budget-idUSL5N1EB1KY" target="_blank">has been significantly cut</a>, the government intends to open its doors for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome" target="_blank">yet more expensive international events</a>, such as the Islamic Solidarity Games and Formula 1 Grand Prix.&nbsp;</p><p>A brain drain, a colony of emigres&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;call it what you will. The reality is that Azerbaijanis who know about foreign languages and foreign opportunities, who are tired of paying bribes and keeping their mouths shut are leaving in search of a better life. Giving up on one’s country is never an easy feat, but for educated young Azerbaijanis, there are few other options.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Migration matters Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 18 May 2017 20:02:02 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 111027 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Baku is going to great lengths to mobilise, or even create, an international Azerbaijani diaspora. To what end? <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantzev/vezde-diaspora" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Moscow_Azerbaijan_Celebration_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Moscow_Azerbaijan_Celebration_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Moscow celebrate international Azerbaijani solidarity day. 23 December 2014. Photo CC: Kaspiy.AZ. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Despite the economic crisis of the past two years, it’s still fashionable in Azerbaijan to take trips to “western” countries. A funny incident happened recently when a group of mid-rank government officials from Azerbaijan visited Berlin and Paris. Accompanied by an Azerbaijani who had lived for many years in the German capital, they took a stroll through the streets — and incessantly complained to their companion about the poor street lighting.&nbsp;</p><p>In their opinion, things weren’t much better in Paris. As they took a walk through the city centre in the evening, they could only find one brightly-lit building. They were proud to discover that it was the Azerbaijani cultural centre. 

Like many others founded across the EU and US, this cultural institute was a result of Azerbaijan’s official policy of diaspora-building. It’s a policy born of Azerbaijan’s decades-long struggle with Armenia for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which remains unresolved to this day.

The Armenian diaspora is well-rooted and well-known in Europe and North America. In Azerbaijan, it’s seen as immensely influential and strongly united in solidarity. No surprise, then, that it became something of a case study for Azerbaijan’s own diaspora project.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime, a diaspora is synonymous with an overseas political lobby</p><p>In Azerbaijan today, it’s easy to believe that the Armenian lobby alone guaranteed strong international support for Armenia throughout the course of the conflict in Karabakh. The depth of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby" target="_blank">Azerbaijanis’ belief in the omnipotence of the Armenian lobby</a> has become even clearer in recent days, following the supreme court of Russia’s decision to <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/5919caa69a79476c5ef60f80?from=newsfeed" target="_blank">annul the registration of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress</a> on 15 May (link in Russian). Many commentators rushed to conclusions about Armenian plots and intrigues.&nbsp;</p><p>As such, the luminaries of this project are convinced that a diaspora’s size directly determines its influence. Therefore, the Azerbaijani diaspora is portrayed as a trans-national community of solidarity numbering some ten million people, living outside the “historical homeland” and spread throughout 70 countries. 

</p><p>For Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime, a diaspora is synonymous with an overseas political lobby. Indeed, it’s been declared that the most important element of this policy is officially that a strong and unified Azerbaijani lobby in the “west” and post-Soviet space will be able to successfully resist the power of the Armenian lobby. 

Since the early 2000s, the Azerbaijani authorities have invested large sums of financial and symbolic capital into this project. They’ve tried to conjure up a diaspora to their liking as quickly as possible. How has that worked out for them?</p><h2>

The “great national leader” and the birth of a diaspora&nbsp;</h2><p>With the dissolution of the USSR, Azerbaijanis living in the Republic of Azerbaijan could once again contact their ethnic kin from the other side of the iron curtain. At that moment, the young state was economically devastated and locked into a fierce war with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. A handful of Azerbaijani emigres, then known as “foreign Azerbaijanis”, made some efforts to send humanitarian aid. Their best efforts came to naught. Azerbaijan’s economy soon stabilised as the Karabakh conflict froze. 

</p><p>When <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">Heydar Aliyev, former head of Azerbaijan’s communist party and father of the current president Ilham</a>, came to power in 1993, he soon recognised that ethnic Azerbaijanis living in “the west” and other post-Soviet countries could be political resource. And the behest of the “great leader”, as he’s known in Azerbaijan to this day, plans for a diaspora were born.

</p><p>In his numerous speeches before Azerbaijanis living in several different countries, the former president laid out the objectives of this diaspora-building project. One of the first was in <a href="http://lib.aliyevheritage.org/ru/9389127.html" target="_blank">Bern in 1995</a>, where Heydar Aliyev told his “compatriots” about a conversation he had with the Irish president Mary Robinson, who told him about Ireland’s potato famine, as a result of which millions of people had to leave the country (1995 marked the 150th anniversary of the tragedy).

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096120.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096120.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="330" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman walks past the Azerbaijani embassy in Moscow. Photo (c): Evgeny Odinokov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Heydar Aliyev responded that while he didn’t know how Irish people commemorated the date, he was sure that “while it may have been a tragedy 150 years ago, it must be a great source of joy for your nation today. Because as a result, Irish people can be found across the whole world, particularly in the USA and in several European countries. Such a small country as Ireland now has a big lobby overseas.”&nbsp;</p><p>But Aliyev senior didn’t finish there. He added that he used his position as head of Soviet Azerbaijan to found a large internal lobby for his quasi-independent state. Yet unlike the Irish experience, history did not give Azerbaijanis the opportunity (or “great joy”) to found a diaspora of victims. “In those days [the 1970s-80s], I wanted to settle Azerbaijanis across the entire Soviet Union” he said. “Not through tragedy, of course, but through other means. This would create a great source of support for Azerbaijan […] The more Azerbaijanis live in each country, the better it is for us. The only condition is that they don’t forget their nation, their religion, and their motherland.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Heydar Aliyev succeeded in constantly increasing quotas for Azerbaijani students in the most USSR’s most prestigious universities</p><p>

From the 1920s, Azerbaijani students were sent to study in Moscow, Leningrad, and other large cities thanks to Soviet educational and nationalities policies. Heydar Aliyev succeeded in constantly increasing quotas for Azerbaijani students in the most USSR’s most prestigious universities. </p><p>“Aliyev sent us” recalls a participant of the programme in 1976, “There was a ceremony. He shook everybody’s hands, and kissed the girls on the cheek. And we lucky few, ‘Heydar’s kids”, were sent to conquer Moscow and Leningrad. Many returned home; those who didn’t went on to build the Azerbaijani diaspora in the 1990s.”&nbsp;</p><h2>A historical homeland and spurious statistics

</h2><p>The circle of emigres mobilised to build this diaspora was a lot wider than university graduates. Azerbaijani Turks (as they were then known) and the migrations they underwent in the 20th century were defined by the policies of several empires, from the Ottoman, Persian and Russian to the Soviet, and the absence of their own nation-state. In the post-Soviet context, where ethno-nationalist ideas predominate, myths of “historical territories” are in fashion — accordingly, members of this diaspora can include citizens of several states, whose ancestors may never have lived in the territories which came to form today’s Republic of Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oldtown_carpets_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oldtown_carpets_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At the intersection of the Soviet and Turkic worlds. Carpets on sale in Old Baku. Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Ken Smith / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>These people are now considered to be ethnic Azerbaijanis who have somehow ended up outside their “historic homeland”, whose borders should encompass not only the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan but, according to some historians and politicians, all of Armenia, parts of the Russian region of Dagestan, large parts of north-western Iran and areas of eastern Georgia. In this manner the Azerbaijanis of Georgia, Turkey and Iran, whose exact numbers are unclear, are all counted among the Azerbaijani diaspora.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">According to some historians and politicians, “historic Azerbaijan” encompasses all of Armenia, parts of the Russian region of Dagestan, large parts of north-western Iran and areas of eastern Georgia</p><p>This provided big opportunities for conjuring up statistics. In preparation for the second World Congress of Azerbaijanis, held on 16 March 2006, the state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad produced a documentary film with the telling title “<a href="http://www.diaspora.gov.az/index.php?options=news&amp;id=357&amp;news_id=1070" target="_blank">we’re a nation of 50 million</a>.” By their arithmetic, this includes ten million Azerbaijanis living in around 70 countries. As for the rest — they must be living “at home”. But the entire population of modern Azerbaijan barely approaches this figure [ed.&nbsp;<span>—</span><span>&nbsp;it’s estimated at 9.7 million].&nbsp;</span></p><p>As is true of many other cases, solidarity between this supposed ten million strong trans-national Azerbaijani community exists only in the context of official diaspora discourse. In the absence of traditional community structures which would provide a degree of cohesion (such as political parties or religious institutions), diaspora activism is generally limited to quite a small circle of ethnic Azerbaijani businessmen and their family members.</p><h2>A constitution for a diaspora</h2><p>

In fact, when people from Azerbaijan emigrate and have the opportunity to get to know ethnic Azerbaijanis from, say, Iran or Turkey, they’re sometimes in for a shock. The true extent of behavioural and cultural differences becomes all too clear. The everyday experience of communicating with Azerbaijanis from elsewhere forces even ethnic activists to doubt the possibility of any strong solidarity. “I’ll tell you this much” begins one, “even if, one day, the southern [Iranian] Azerbaijanis get independence, we’ll be two separate nations in two separate states.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Heydar_Aliyev_77_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Heydar_Aliyev_77_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Heydar Aliyev, former president of Azerbaijan and father of the current president Ilham Aliyev. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Begemot / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This intra-group diversity was supposed to be reflected in the “Charter of Solidarity of the World’s Azerbaijanis.” This document, and the programmes surrounding it, was drafted by Azerbaijani academics on the initiative and under the patronage of the authorities in Baku. The charter largely reiterates the ideas set forth in the law “on state policy concerning Azerbaijanis living abroad”, which was passed on 27 December 2002. Following the spirit of this law, the charter defines Azerbaijanis living abroad as former citizens of either independent or Soviet Azerbaijan “who consider themselves to be Azerbaijani.” It also includes “persons and their children who do not belong to the above categories, but consider themselves to be Azerbaijani due to ethnic, cultural, linguistic or historical ties.”&nbsp;</p><p>The only reason why the diaspora’s being dispersed across 70 countries is not a hindrance to its unity is stated to be, of course, the existence of an independent Azerbaijan. Among other factors are “the historical homeland’s deep roots in the ethnic memory of the nation,” the existence of shared traditions, a shared language and religion, a “particular ethno-social worldview and system of values” and the ideology of “Azerbaijanism”, or contemporary Azerbaijani nationalism. Finally, there’s the presence of a “shared national leader” in the personage of Heydar Aliyev. The charter repeats his motto: “I have always been proud and I am proud today that I am Azerbaijani!” and calls on “dear compatriots” to “be proud that you are a child and descendant of this ancient land, that you represent a nation with a glorious history! BE PROUD THAT YOU ARE AZERBAIJANI!</p><h2>”

Bureaucrats of the diaspora, unite!”

</h2><p>This political project had acquired a distinct form by the early 2000s. In November 2001, Baku held the inaugural World Congress of Azerbaijanis at the initiative of Heydar Aliyev. The following year saw the foundation of the state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad — Nazim Ibragimov was appointed its permanent leader. Its first convention led to the creation of yet another body, the “Coordinating Council of World Azerbaijanis”, led by, of course, pan-Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. The success of diaspora-building henceforth came to be measured in how many organisations existed, and how to unify them into one structure.</p><p>When Ilham Aliyev, the current president of Azerbaijan, came to power in 2003, he inherited all these institutions and a style of diaspora-building along with them. The only major change was a symbolic one; renaming the aforementioned state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad to the “committee for working with the diaspora.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Moscow_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Moscow_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="156" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Baku to Moscow: a popular journey. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis live and work in Russia. Photo CC: Müsavat. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>At the base of this massive bureaucratic pyramid of Azerbaijani diaspora organisations are various city and regional-level bodies. Above that are coordinators for individual countries, such as the Coordination Centre for Azerbaijanis in Germany or the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress. Next come organisations which claim the leadership of Azerbaijani communities across several countries, and finally the World Congress of Azerbaijanis. The ministry of foreign affairs and state committee then coordinate and direct the activities of these diaspora organisations however the authorities in Baku see fit.</p><p>President Aliyev himself praised the success of this diaspora-building project in the penultimate World Congress of Azerbaijanis, pointing out that “if we had 336 diaspora organisations five years ago, now we have 416.” At the fourth congress last year, delegates stated that there are now 462 such organisations. 

The congress can’t count

Earlier this month, Baku suffered its first disappointment in the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress after its registration was annulled by Russia’s supreme court. This was a particular blow, since its foundation in 2001 had been personally supported by Heydar Aliyev and Vladimir Putin. The Azerbaijani parliament, state committee and of course the Russian community in Azerbaijan protested. Azerbaijan’s ministry of foreign affairs also voiced concern.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Azerbaijan, it’s normal to believe that all diaspora organisations are (or should be) controlled and financed by the government of the “homeland state”</p><p>

It’s difficult to know if there were any reasons for the closure of the congress apart from the legal justifications as officially declared. Given how politics functions in Azerbaijan and Russia, particularly in regard to ethnic minorities, it’s clear that such issues are usually resolved on the very highest levels, allowing leaders to turn a blind eye to formalities. It’s possible that the Russian government decided it would rather support the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Azerbaijanis in Russia, created on their own initiative. Soyun Sadykov, the honorary president and former head of this organisation, is known to be close to the Russian authorities. Or perhaps the fiasco was provoked by internal rifts in the Azerbaijani community and competition for subsidies from Baku.&nbsp;</p><p>The reaction of Azerbaijani mass media to the closure was very illustrative. Of course, there was much speculation about the Armenian lobby in Russia — supposedly so powerful that it could shut down the congress on its whim. Moreover, the annulment of the congress’s registration was presented as the destruction of country’s entire Azerbaijani diaspora. That is to say, the authorities have successfully taught Azerbaijani society than a diaspora is the sum of its formal organisations and bureaucratic structures — hence it’s perfectly normal to believe that all diaspora organisations are (or should be) controlled, directed, and financed by the government of the “homeland state.” Because how else could it be? In any case, the resources allocated to the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress would have been enough for several diaspora organisations. 
</p><p>Essentially, the congress was a community of influential businessmen who attempted to use the social capital of an “ethnic community” to curry favour with both the Azerbaijani and the Russian authorities. It also enlisted the support of intellectuals to create a positive image of Azerbaijanis in Russia. The congress was something like a branch of the embassy, foreign ministry, and state committee for the diaspora. There’s a multitude of organisations like this in Russia today, for various ethnic groups. However, the overwhelming majority of Azerbaijanis in Russia were indifferent to the congress and its work — unless you count the occasional free concert for National Salvation Day, of course [ed — Heydar Aliyev came to power on 15 June 1993, which is celebrated as a national holiday in Azerbaijan].</p><p>The goals of the regime in power “at home” dictate those of Azerbaijan’s diaspora organisations. Baku is eager that Azerbaijanis abroad tell the world “the truth” about Azerbaijan, about the “great successes” of the Aliyev regime. Azerbaijan, it’s believed, can not afford to be a terra incognita in public consciousness abroad. In order to inform the world about Azerbaijan’s existence (and its achievements), these diaspora groups organise concerts, exhibitions, days of Azerbaijani culture — as well as demonstrations and protests.&nbsp;</p><p>Only a few diaspora activists take part in political protests, though their impact on public awareness in the EU or USA seems to be negligible. On the other hand, when these demonstrations appear on newsreels back home, Azerbaijanis feel that they have the support of a significant diaspora community around the world — which also happens to support the regime in Baku. In this manner, the activities and very presence of a trans-national, pan-Azerbaijani diaspora entrenches the cult and legitimacy of Heydar Aliyev and the regime he founded.&nbsp;</p><h2>Exporting conflict</h2><p>One goal of Baku’s diaspora-building stands head and shoulders above the others — resolving the Karabakh conflict to Azerbaijan’s favour. As the USSR disintegrated, the conflict was the catalyst for Azerbaijanis living across the Soviet republics, the EU and in the USA to start mobilising in solidarity with Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Diaspora_Berlin_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Diaspora_Berlin_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Mr President - you have the support of Azerbaijanis across the world!” Members of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Germany take part in a protest against Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Berlin, 2016. Photo CC: 1News / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Convinced that the Armenian lobby had brought international support for the Karabakh Armenian cause, the regime in Baku realised the urgent need to have a strong voice in the “west” which could put forward its side of the story. Existing emigre communities weren’t up to the task. So when the organised Azerbaijani diaspora was founded in the 2000s, the stage was set for a confrontation with Armenian communities overseas.&nbsp;</p><p>The Azerbaijani government openly attempts to mobilise Azerbaijanis living abroad into confrontations with diaspora Armenians — even in circumstances when members of both communities hold citizenship of a third country (for example, in Russia or Ukraine). The regime in Baku is relentless in its attempt to export the Karabakh conflict in this manner — though admittedly it is not alone in doing so.

</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Azerbaijani government openly attempts to mobilise Azerbaijanis abroad into confrontations with diaspora Armenians — even when members of both communities hold citizenship of a third country</p><p>State propaganda has convinced many Azerbaijanis that their ethnic kin in other countries should be motivated solely by the interests of the Republic of Azerbaijan — or rather, its government. For example, Azerbaijanis in Paris shouldn’t vote for Le Pen, not because she’s a wholly unsuitable candidate for France, but because she holds an “incorrect” position on Karabakh. Ethno-nationalist loyalty is perceived as the overarching priority — a natural law of sorts. Azerbaijanis who return to their country of origin on holiday are often asked what they’ve done recently to resolve the conflict.</p><h2>The measure of a diaspora
</h2><p>Over the two decades which passed since Heydar Aliyev’s speech in Bern, an Azerbaijani diaspora has appeared practically everywhere. Or at least in those “western countries” the president intended. But despite it all, it’s worth asking whether this diaspora actually exists.</p><p>The American sociologist Rogers Brubaker once noted that if every group of migrants were to be called a diaspora, then none of them are. Clearly, the Azerbaijani diaspora is radically different from any of the well-rooted “classical diasporas”, such as the Armenian, Jewish or Greek. Some researchers believe that a diaspora must emerge from a historic trauma, which is inapplicable in this case. Robin Cohen, for example, <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/Global_Diasporas.html?id=SFuJhqpJa64C&amp;redir_esc=y" target="_blank">identified three types of diasporas</a> — labour, trade, and imperial. None of them would fully apply to the Azerbaijani diaspora.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Martyrs&#039;_Lane_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Martyrs&#039;_Lane_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Alley of Martyrs in Baku, resting place of Azerbaijanis killed during the Karabakh war. Photo CC-4.0: Ilgar Jafarov / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The brainchild of Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet rulers and developed by politically mobilised ethnic activists, this Azerbaijani diaspora appears to us in several forms. It’s a mythical, trans-national solidarity of ten million people. It’s a bureaucratic simulacrum; a vertical structure of 462 separate organisations, many of which exist only on paper. It also exists on the level of discourse, or to paraphrase <a href="http://yanko.lib.ru/books/cultur/sadomirskaya-rodina.htm" target="_blank">Irina Sandomirskaja</a>, only when it’s spoken about.</p><p>With that in mind, the Azerbaijani diaspora will certainly be with us for the foreseeable future, as a key talking point in the halls of power in Baku. 
</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">Searching for the ‘Armenian Lobby’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Rumyantsev Migration matters Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 18 May 2017 19:57:43 +0000 Sergey Rumyantsev 111026 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Behind Azerbaijan’s facades https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Azerbaijan, power is strictly a family business. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/azerbaijan-strana-vysokikh-zaborov" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_AZ_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_AZ_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A member of the presidential guard at Azerbaijan’s presidential palace in Baku, 2017. Photo CC-by-2.0: CJCS / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The inventiveness of Baku’s urban planners when it comes to designing fences is inexhaustible. These barriers, designed to keep guests away from the less elegant side of life in Azerbaijan’s capital city, will make an impression on even the most demanding visitor. Fences block the view on the road connecting Baku’s Heydar Aliyev airport (named after the country’s former president) to the city centre, which Heydar’s son, the current president, is feverishly trying to turn into a second Dubai. In downtown Baku, which is lavishly decorated with tonnes of expensive marble and granite, pseudo-neoclassical facades take on the role of these fences in order to hide the ugly old Soviet-era apartment blocks.</p><p>The regime is persistent in trying to hide anything that might complicate its image of Azerbaijan as a developed and prospering country — from locals, tourists and probably themselves. “If you tore down all the fences, you’d have enough metal to build two more cities,” I once heard a Baku resident remark. This sentiment reminded me that Azerbaijan’s facades are not merely built from stone, but from discourses, ideologies and institutions too. These ornamentations are also designed to conjure up the image of a modern democratic society.</p><p>Every authoritarian regime has its riddles and enigmas. What kind of Azerbaijan will be revealed to us once we remove these facades and fences, so carefully designed to keep up pretences?</p><h2>A presidential dynasty
</h2><p>Reflecting on the specifics of Azerbaijan’s political field reminded me of an <a href="https://philpapers.org/rec/BOUFTK" target="_blank">article by Pierre Bourdieu.</a> It’s a rather free association, but attempting to describe the specifics of how the political field is constructed in Azerbaijan takes me back to his image of the “King’s house”, or most importantly, politics-as-inheritance.</p><p>Of course, the country’s leadership is technically elected. In accordance with the constitution, regular parliamentary and presidential elections are held. But it’s also inherited. According to the rules of the “household”, members of the same family — who possess social and symbolic capital — inevitably keep their places at the helm of state. And this has allowed the Aliyev family to keep control of Azerbaijan for over two decades.</p><p>Not long ago, a new government position was created, which entrenched the system of inheriting power even more. If Ramiz Mekhtiyev, head of Azerbaijan’s presidential administration and chief ideologue of the regime, is to be believed, “the Azerbaijani people, following the spirit of globalisation and changes across the civilised world, will not forget their great history.” It was probably in this spirit that the great event of 21 February came to pass — namely, the appointment of the first lady as Azerbaijan’s first vice-president.

The post itself was only created in September 2016 after a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments</a>. For the first time in history, Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of president Ilham Aliyev, received this cushy job. Should some unforeseen tragedy befall Azerbaijan’s fit and cheerful head of state, his ambitious wife will lead the country.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The regime’s style of rule is largely personal, and is guaranteed by a reliable and loyal group of courtiers close to the family on whom the president depends</span></p><p>In this case, Azerbaijan will see its third transfer of power within the Aliyev family. Or to be more precise, the Aliyev-Pashayev family (Mehriban’s maiden name). Following the death in 2003 of Heydar Aliyev, patriarch and founder of the ruling dynasty, Mehriban’s family members strengthened their positions. They held several high-ranking posts at the time, and in the years since the Pashayev family has become seen as an independent political force. Mehriban’s appointment is not simply a sign that they are growing stronger, but an acknowledgement from on high of the Pashayevs’ influential and lasting status.

<br /><br />Most probably, and according to the rules of the “King’s house”, Heydar Aliyev the second, son of the current president and grandson of the former president, is being prepared for high office. For the moment, any predictions as to how that situation could develop remain speculative. But one thing is clear — after the next pale imitation of parliamentary elections is held in 2020, the young Aliyev could find himself in a deputy’s seat in the country’s parliament. That will probably be the first step in his official nomination as successor to Ilham.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aliyev_Elder_Carpet_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aliyev_Elder_Carpet_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A carpet with an image of Heydar Aliyev, father of the ruling president of Azerbaijan. Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Esther Dyson / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Of course, Azerbaijan’s constitution states this country is a democracy, with the president as its head. All the institutions necessary for a modern administrative state exist in the country — ministries, parliament, constitutional and other courts, municipal government. But the real practices of how power is executed, how positions in the bureaucratic apparatus are assigned, and, most importantly, the principles of transferring the state’s highest post from one set of hands to the next, suggest many parallels, and, it should be said, points of contrasts, with a dynastic state. 

<br /><br />With this in mind, it’s worth looking at these strategies of inheritance that further the ruling family’s prosperity — the aim to which the state and its functions have been reduced. The regime’s style of rule is largely personal, and is guaranteed by a reliable and loyal group of courtiers close to the family whom the president depends on. But even this style of rule has its risks and its rules. Can the head of state ever sacrifice his own interests in order to guarantee his material and symbolic legacy? Will the family try to manage this legacy within the household to help its own assets prosper?</p><h2>An uncivil society</h2><p>Upon returning to power in 1993, Azerbaijan’s former Soviet-era strongman Heydar Aliyev started reconstructing the country’s political landscape and established an authoritarian regime that outlived its creator. He was also able to found a dynasty, which has successfully monopolised power over the country and dominates the political field.</p><p>How was Aliyev able to ensure a successful transition from Soviet bureaucratic state to Azerbaijani presidential dynasty? Stephen Kotkin suggests that totalitarian states or states with totalitarian tendencies don’t simply destroy society — they create their own anew. The result could be called an “uncivil society”, or “those formidable bonds and forms of social organisation that accompanied an illiberal state, particularly an illiberal state without private property.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Regardless of its presidents’ clear sympathies for such a style of rule, neither in its early years in the 1990s nor today can the Azerbaijani regime be described as “totalitarian”</p><p>When Aliyev senior created Azerbaijan’s uncivil society, he also instituted the right to private property. Nowadays, this right isn’t so much regulated by the law as by the appetites and interests of members of the ruling family or inner circle. But regardless of its presidents’ clear sympathies for such a style of rule, neither in its early years in the 1990s nor today can the Azerbaijani regime be described as “totalitarian”.</p><p>Yet it still makes sense to use Kotkin’s term to understand the practices and processes taking place in Azerbaijan, as well as in civil society. We can then identify from where the regime draws the resources for its legitimisation and how it’s able to attract significant support from among the population, thereby securing a dynasty.</p><h2>How the people were tempered: founding a multiparty system</h2><p>In the early years of Azerbaijan’s independence, Heydar Aliyev didn’t waste his time riding the wave of reform and radical political social change. He chose what he knew. In November 1992, he became chairman of the Yeni Azərbaycan (New Azerbaijan) Party. In its design and pre-eminent position in the political field, the YAP brings to mind up all kinds of parallels with the old Communist Party — or even with United Russia, founded several years later. Soviet ideology was replaced with the slogans of populist nationalism. The Politburo may have gone, but the practice of nominating the permanent chairman of the country’s largest party as head of state remained. For a couple of years before becoming president, Ilham Aliyev acted as the first deputy to the party chairman (i.e. to his father, Heydar).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Vote_1924_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Vote_1924_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="177" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In Baku, the practice of imitating elections has a long and ignoble history. A Soviet-era poster urging citizens to vote in Baku municipal elections, 1924. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Kitchener.lord / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Throughout the long years of his rule, which began in 2003 after Heyday Aliyev’s death, Ilham has also acted as permanent party chairman. Mehriban is one of his deputies, and in her first interview as vice-president, she claimed that the YAP counted some 700,000 party members. Officially, Azerbaijan has a population of 10 million, but given mass emigration, the real number is almost certainly lower. In any case, the number of YAP party members as a proportion of the Azerbaijan’s population is the same as Communist Party members across the Soviet Union in 1989.<br /><br />

It’s not unusual to hear stories about how a random public official discovers that they’re a member of the YAP by chance. But undoubtedly, a significant number of those who joined did so voluntarily, in order to gain social capital. Among them are more than a few eager young people, who dream of a career in government service. Since 2005, they’ve had their own mass movement: “Ireli” (“forward” in Azeri), which has lately been reformed into a civic organisation under the slogan “Ilhamla Ireli” (“Forward with Ilham!”)

It’s customary to believe there are over 50 political parties in Azerbaijan today, though far from all of them are really active. There are dozens of pro-government parties orbiting Yeni Azərbaycan, and they’re generally rightwing (such as the Civic Solidarity Party, the Motherland Party, and the Alliance for Azerbaijan). Their members are recruited to parliament, along with independent deputies, in order to keep up the image of a democratic, multiparty system. There have been no genuine opposition politicians in Azerbaijan’s last two parliaments.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">At the beginning of 2017, there is next to no space left for opposition parties in the battle for resources</p><p>In December 2014, Ramiz Mekhtiyev outlined a new approach towards the opposition in a book entitled “The World Order of Double Standards and Modern Azerbaijan”. Writing on the country’s “Fifth Column”, a term which has become increasingly popular across the post-Soviet space, he denounced as its members all active human rights defenders, critically-minded journalists and well-known opposition political parties. All these figures and organisations, in Mekhtiyev’s opinion, receive direct support from “the west” and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby" target="_blank">historical enemy in the form of “the Armenian lobby”</a>, and are preparing to launch a colour revolution in Azerbaijan.

<br /><br />At the beginning of 2017, there is next to no space left for opposition parties in the battle for resources. This affects all genuine oppositionists, whether in the Azerbaijani Popular Front, Musavat (the country’s oldest political party), or the National Independence Party. With every year, the opposition has less and less access to the public sphere and are even more marginalised as their support melts away.

<br /><br />To a great extent, these parties came out of the Popular Front, founded in 1988 to unite Azerbaijan’s opposition parties in the last years of Soviet rule. Their political sympathies mostly lie between the centre-right and the far right; their leaders and activists declare support for “western-style democracy”. 

<br /><br />In 2009, the authorities held a referendum to remove limits on presidential terms (two had previously been the maximum). That very same year, a fascinating new political movement came into being: the “Republican Alternative” (REAL). Its leader was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president" target="_blank">Ilgar Mammadov, sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 2013</a> for his political activities. The group mostly comprises young intellectuals, and over the last couple of years, repression against the movement has grown to such an extent that it’s hard to say if REAL can survive.

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Parliament_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Parliament_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Government House in Baku. Photo CC-by-2.0: Andreas Kontokanis / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br /><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s fractious Islamic opposition</a> should also be mentioned, in all its complexity. In Autumn 1991, a Shi’ite Islamist party was founded with its electoral base in the town of Nardaran, not far from Baku. As its members were sympathetic to Iran, the “collective West” (in particular Israel and the USA) made its discomfort quite clear. In May 1996, five of its leaders and activists were arrested. Following its public criticism of the regime, party suffered further repression in 2011, and seven of its members were arrested along with their relatives.</p><p>Nardaran hit the news again in late autumn 2015. In the course of a police raid against members of the Muslim Unity Movement, two policemen and four members of the Islamist group were killed. Following these events, a special operation was held to restore order to the village where the Islamists had established control. The criminal case against the movement’s leaders continues to this day.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Ilham Aliyev’s reign has seen the end of any concerted political battle against the government (or even imitations of it), and the intensification of repression against all and any opponents

</span>For the most part, political Islam in the first post-Soviet years was connected with disparate groups, based around certain mosques and the religious leaders who preached in them. Among the more prominent Shi’ite groupings was that of the Juma Mosque in Baku, led by Haji Ilgar Ibrahimoğlu. Several Sunni Salafist circles also emerged, centred around the Şehitler and Abu-Bakr mosques, among others — although these were most closed to visitors in the 2000s. 

<br /><br />However, Heydar Aliyev did prove himself able to make small compromises with all these groups if came to improving the regime’s image. By contrast, Ilham Aliyev’s reign has seen the end of any concerted political battle against the government (or even imitations of it), and the intensification of repression against all and any opponents and their marginalisation from the public space. The current president’s rule will be remembered by the arrests of political opponents, the destruction of human rights organisations and severe pressure against independent and critically-minded media outlets, bloggers and journalists.

</p><h2>The importance of family friends

</h2><p>Amid such repression, the regime is nonetheless able to increase the ranks of its supporters. In the Milli Mejlis, the parliament which is strongly reminiscent of the Supreme Council of Soviet Azerbaijan, deputies are not selected, but appointed. A place in the parliament has long since served as nothing more than a reward for loyalty. And ever since the opposition has stopped getting its requisite five or six meaningless seats in parliament, the Mejlis has been able to rubber-stamp all the president’s decrees and laws without wasting any time on pointlessly debating them. </p><p>Cities and regions are not ruled by elected mayors or governors, but by rulers appointed from on high. Once they’re handed control of some district or city, they can rule it with impunity, and the most important factor on their governance is how close they are (or wish they were) to the president and his entourage.
</p><p>
Azerbaijan’s high-ranking officials are those who have proved their loyalty to Aliyev over many years. That said, there has been some discord — such as the important arrest in 2005 of Ali Insanov, minister of health, along with several other senior officials. On this level, preference is given to long-term relationships. Alongside the irreplaceable president, many of the most hardworking ministers even began their careers in the late Soviet period.

For example, let’s take the no less irreplaceable head of the presidential administration, Ramiz Mekhtiyev, who was once secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Azerbaijan. Since 1996, he’s worked with the irreplaceable prime minister Artur Rasizade, who was first deputy chairman of the council of ministers in Soviet Azerbaijan. Ramil Usubov, irreplaceable minister of the interior, also spent most of his professional life working in Soviet Azerbaijan’s interior ministry.

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02621064.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02621064.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev arrives in Moscow to attend 70th anniversary celebrations of the USSR’s victory in the Second World War. To his right sits Mehriban Aliyeva. Photo (c): Evgeny Biyatov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Getting a government position depends on family and regional ties and, in the final instance, on the possibility of keeping ties with the Aliyev family. The shorter the distance, the greater and more immediate the reward. This principle of rule by the “King’s house” operates at every level of government. The pyramid of power in Azerbaijan starts with closely connected families, with fierce loyalties to each other, and above all with their crowning loyalty to the president. The latter distributes posts in state institutions and departments as awards for loyalty and as payment for enduring devotion. This practice not only helps these lucky few control the country and support themselves and their families, but embeds the state and its employees in the financial wellbeing and corrupt schemes of the Aliyev family and their entourage.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This presidential dynasty has monopolised all resources in the country and distributes them as though they were personal property&nbsp;</p><p>The most sought-after positions are with the <em>siloviki</em> (security services, interior ministry or military), or in the local authorities. Lower down the ladder, jobs as high-school teachers or doctors in clinics are in great demand. The overwhelming majority of this immense army of state employees and bureaucrats unquestioningly obey the rules of loyalty to the system. They vote as they’re told. Their fear of losing their position, and with it the symbolic capital and the sources of income (albeit often insignificant), outweighs their desire to show discontent. </p><p>
This presidential dynasty has monopolised all resources in the country and distributes them as though they were personal property. After the death of Heydar Aliyev, when Azerbaijan’s financial fortunes were on the rise due to oil and gas dollars, the “King’s house” stopped playing at politics altogether. The Aliyevs felt that everything was running like clockwork, and neither the EU nor the US would bother to sanction them. Yet the crisis of 2014 proved a blow to their growing ambitions, and a big one. It became clear that the ruling family does not know how to deal with economic hardship — and no matter how hard the president tries to play the role of the caring, patriarchal leader who tries to keep low prices for his people’s bread and bus tickets, the prestige of the dynasty is still fading.&nbsp;</p><p>For the moment, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim" target="_blank">social unrest has been limited to local outbreaks of protest</a>, which are quickly extinguished by the authorities. However, the problem remains: there are simply fewer resources with which to buy loyalty.

</p><h2>Where next for the “King’s house”?&nbsp;</h2><p>Throughout their rule, the Aliyev family has purged the political field so thoroughly that, <a href="https://www.perlentaucher.de/buch/joerg-baberowski/der-feind-ist-ueberall.html" target="_blank">as Jörg Baberowski would have put it</a>, revolution is now only possible through riots and chaos. The powers that be never thought it necessary to educate their subjects in political culture. Their demand was simply that the people learn how to obey, and how to demonstrate that undying obedience. Consequently, the population are unable to demonstrate en masse and achieve changes within the legal limits of public political protest — for the simple reason that they were never allowed to in the first place.</p><p>

For now, the crisis may pass and the Aliyevs will hold on to power. But economic hardships will return eventually — or there’ll come a day when the oil and gas run out. After 25 years of independence, the Aliyev dynasty have shown that they are incapable promoting a sustainable prosperity for the country they have inherited. The current system is excellent at using the institutions of state to siphon away Azerbaijan’s resources, creating little in return. It’s only possible to convince the majority of Azerbaijanis that they live in a blossoming country full of hope when the economy peaks — and it’s unlikely that those moments will return soon.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Aliyev family has purged the political field so thoroughly that&nbsp;revolution is now only possible through riots and chaos</p><p>This situation can only be remedied through radical economic reform (not to speak of political changes). In such a scenario, the Aliyevs would likely lose the support of the army of bureaucrats and state employees on whose loyalty they depend. The Aliyev dynasty will be rudely interrupted, and perhaps that’s what fate has in store. But it won’t be the opposition’s political protests that sweep them away, but bread-and-butter economic and social unrest.&nbsp;</p><p>The very design of the current system suggests that it doesn’t have a long-term future. Returning again to the idea of a “presidential dynasty,” it’s clear that despite its best efforts, a real “King’s house” cannot take root in Azerbaijan. No matter how close the Aliyevs come to their ideal, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that one day, Azerbaijanis are told that Ilham has become president for life, or has declared himself a Sultan. The family can win election after election, but the president (whether the second or the third) will never achieve the legitimacy of the regime’s founding father. Attempts to convince Azerbaijan and the world that there’s substance behind the democratic facade frequently come to nothing.&nbsp;</p><p>In today’s realities, when Azerbaijan must play a part in the European political arena, the Aliyev family will only ever be regarded as authoritarian usurpers — and their system of a presidential dynasty as a political oxymoron.

<br /><br /><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Rumyantsev Caucasus Azerbaijan Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:33:23 +0000 Sergey Rumyantsev 109569 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Ilgar_Mammadov.jpg" alt="Ilgar_Mammadov.jpg" width="80" />International investment in fossil fuel extraction is making me and other Azerbaijani political prisoners hostages to the Aliyev regime.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Freedom_Fieber.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Freedom_Fieber.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A thirst for freedom. Azerbaijan has seen a crackdown on any political dissent over the past few years, with dozens of activists and critics of the regime in Baku going behind bars. So far, there’s little sign of improvement. CC-by-NC-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Though respectful of the memory of Nelson Mandela, the mass media have occasionally shed light on the late South African leader’s warm relationship with scoundrels such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/12/10/the-last-great-liberator-why-mandela-made-and-stayed-friends-with-dictators/">Muammar Qaddafi</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/nelson-mandela-castro_n_4400212.html">Fidel Castro</a>, as well as his refusal to <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2013/12/nelson-mandela-and-china">defend Chinese dissidents</a>. These events have been evoked to invite critical thinking about an iconic figure and balance his place in history.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Most readers of these articles judge a figure they previously held as an idol as hypocritical or tainted. They do not ask questions about the roots of a particular contradiction. In the case of Mandela, the dictators above had supported the anti-apartheid struggle of the African National Congress, while several established democracies indulged the inhuman system of apartheid because of the diamond, oil and other industries, and particularly because of the Cold War.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">After only <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">four years in prison</a>, even on bogus charges and a politically motivated sentence, I am nowhere near Mandela in terms of symbolising a cause of global significance. Republicanism in my country, Azerbaijan — where the internationally promoted father-to-son succession of absolute power has disillusioned millions — is hardly comparable to the fight against racial segregation. Still, I can, better than many others, explain the flawed international attitudes that help keep democrats locked in the prisons of the “clever autocrats” who are, in turn, courted by retrograde forces within today’s democracies.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">I will tell the story of how plans for a giant pipeline that would suck gas from Azerbaijan to Italy, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), impacts on Azerbaijan’s political prisoners&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In this letter I will focus only on one tension of the struggle we face here in Azerbaijan — between our democratic aspirations that enjoy only a nominal solidarity abroad, and the attempt to build a de facto monarchy which receives comprehensive support from foreign interest groups.</p> <p class="normal">To be precise, I will tell the story of how plans for a giant pipeline that would suck gas from Azerbaijan to Italy, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), impacts on Azerbaijan’s political prisoners.</p> <p class="normal">I will tell the story by discussing my own case. But before I tell it, you need to know what the Southern Gas Corridor is and why my release is crucial for the morale of our democratic forces. Indeed, Council of Europe officials say my freedom is essential for the entire architecture of protection under the European Convention of Human Rights, but there is still no punishment of my jailer.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>What is the Southern Gas Corridor?</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">The Southern Gas Corridor is a multinational piece of gas infrastructure worth $43 billion US dollars. It is designed to extract and pump 16 billion cubic metres of natural gas every year from 2018, sucking hydrocarbons from&nbsp; Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas field to European and Turkish markets. The EU, Turkey, and the US are all eager to connect the pipeline to Turkmenistan so that to an extra 20-30 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas can be added to the scheme.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/TAP_Southern_Gas_Corridor_EN_rgb_672x224.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="153" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>SGC incorporates three separate pipelines, as well as natural gas processing and drilling wells. Source: <a href=https://www.tap-ag.com/the-pipeline/the-big-picture/southern-gas-corridor>TAP-AG</a>.</span></span></span>The significance of the SGC is twofold. First, the project could provide up to 8-10% of EU’s gas imports, thus reducing the union’s dependence on Russia. Secondly, it will become another platform for geopolitical access (Russians would use a slightly ominous word “penetration”) of the west to Central Asia.&nbsp;</p> <h2>How did SGC encourage more repression?&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">Any rational democratic government in Baku would opt for the SGC without much debate and then turn its attention to issues truly important for Azerbaijan’s sustainable economic development. The revenue generated by the project would not be viewed as vital for the country when compared to the country’s economic potential in a less monopolised and more competition-based economy.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">However, since the moment when a Russian government plane took Ilham Aliyev’s barely breathing father from a Turkish military hospital to the best clinic in America, in order to smooth the transition of power, the absolute ruler of Azerbaijan has been trained to deal with great powers first and then use such deals to repress domestic political dissent second. He has kept the country's economy almost exclusively based on selling oil and gas and importing everything else.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Since 2013, Aliyev has instigated an unprecedented wave of attacks on civil society&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Recently, Aliyev has been trying to present the SGC as his generous gift to the west so that governments will not talk about human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan. At one point Aliyev was even considering unilaterally funding the entire project.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Since 2013, Aliyev has instigated an <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan">unprecedented wave of attacks on civil society</a>, which he used to illustrate the seriousness of his ambition for energy cooperation with the west.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In the middle of this tug of war, Azerbaijan suddenly found itself short of money due to falling oil prices. It could not fund its share in the parts of SGC that ran through Turkey (TANAP) and Greece, Albania and Italy (TAP) without backing from four leading international financial institutions — the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, World Bank and Asian Development Bank.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02298114.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02298114.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan’s ruling president Ilham Aliyev, Baku, 2013. (c) Alexey Kudenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>During 2016, these institutions said their backing was subject to Azerbaijan’s compliance with the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). In September, Riccardo Puliti, director on energy and natural resources at the EBRD, cited the resumption of the EITI membership of Azerbaijan as <a href="http://aaenergyterminal.com/newsRegion.php?newsid=9500960">“the main factor”</a> for the prospect of approval of funds for TANAP/TAP.</p> <p class="normal">Together with EIB, EBRD wants to cover US $2.16 billion out of the total US $8.6 billion cost of the TANAP. TAP will cost US $6.2 billion.&nbsp;</p> <h2>What is the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative?&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">The EITI is a joint global initiative of governments, extractive industries, and local and international civil society organisations that aims, inter alia, to verify the amount of natural resources extracted by (mostly international) corporations and how much of the latters’ revenue is shared with host states. Its purpose, in that respect, is to safeguard transnational businesses from future claims that they have ransacked a developing nation — for instance, by sponsoring a political regime unfriendly to civil society and principle freedoms.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Aliyev has been trying to present the SGC as his generous gift to the west so that governments will not talk about human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In April 2015, because of the unprecedented crackdown on civil society during 2013-2014, the EITI Board lowered the status of Azerbaijan in the initiative from “member” to “candidate”. This move, alongside falling oil prices, complicated funding for the Southern Gas Corridor. International backers were reluctant to be associated with the poor ethics of implementing energy projects in a country where already fragmented liberties were degenerating even further.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Hence, during 2016, several governments, especially the US, put strong political pressure on Azerbaijan. This resulted in a minor retreat by the dictatorship. Some interest groups claimed at the EITI board that this was “progress”.</p> <p class="normal">The EITI board assembled on 25 October to review Azerbaijan’s situation. I appealed to the board ahead of its meeting.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Why did my appeal matter?</h2> <p class="normal">My appeal was heard primarily because, until I was arrested in March 2013, I was a member of the Advisory Board of what is now the <a href="http://www.resourcegovernance.org/">Natural Resource Governance Institute</a> (NRGI), a key international civil society segment of EITI.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In addition to my status within the EITI, the circumstances of my case — which was unusually embarrassing for the authorities — also played a role:</p> <p class="normal">i) The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had <a href="https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;cad=rja&amp;uact=8&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiW1t-ess7RAhVeF8AKHXkfA5cQFggcMAA&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fhudoc.echr.coe.int%2Fapp%2Fconversion%2Fpdf%2F%3Flibrary%3DECHR%26id%3D003-4767289-5801220%26filename%3D003-4767289-5801220.pdf&amp;usg=AFQjCNGCrmONa1e3m4CsxeSYRbxErhRoUg">established</a> that the true reason behind the 12 court decisions (by a total of 19 judges) for my arrest and continued detention was the wish of the authorities&nbsp; “to silence me” for criticising the government;</p> <p class="normal">ii) The US embassy in Azerbaijan had spent an immense amount of man-hours observing all 30 sessions of my trial during five months in a remote town and concluded: “the verdict was not based on evidence, and was politically motivated”;&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">iii) The European Parliament’s June 2013 <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+MOTION+P7-RC-2013-0289+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN">resolution</a>, which carried my name in its title, had called for my immediate and unconditional release — a call reiterated in the next two EP resolutions of 2014 and 2015 on human rights situation in Azerbaijan;&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">iv) Since December 2014, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe had adopted eight (now nine) resolutions and decisions specifically on my case whereby it insisted on <a href="https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?p=&amp;id=2361903&amp;direct=true">urgent release</a> in line with the ECHR judgment.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Due to an onslaught by civil society partners during the 25 October debate, the EITI Board refused to return Azerbaijan its “member” status.</p> <h2>Indecision in America</h2> <p class="normal">I am very much obliged to the US embassy for conducting the hard labour of trial observation, but the US government representative’s stance at the <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://eiti.org/sites/default/files/documents/35th_eiti_board_meeting_-_minutes.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;ust=1484841157956000&amp;usg=AFQjCNF8mg4LxBeLYW8WYp0XEHvkj24pOw">EITI board meeting in October</a> was a surprising disappointment.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Mary Warlick, the representative of the US government, insisted that Azerbaijan has made progress worth of being rewarded by EITI membership. Obviously, she was speaking for that part of the US government that wants the SGC pipeline to be built at any cost to our freedom.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">A month later, in a counter-balancing act, John Kirby, spokesman of the US Department of State, <a href="https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/11/264516.htm">called on Azerbaijan to drop all charges against me</a>.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/images-cms-image-000019809.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/images-cms-image-000019809.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilgar Mammadov has been in prison since 2013. Source: Meydan.tv. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Samantha Power’s <a href="https://www.facebook.com/AmbassadorPower/photos/a.1445629179004852.1073741829.1445226922378411/1905656926335406/?type=3">Facebook posting of my family photo</a> on 10 December, the International day of Human Rights, was also touching. Power is US Permanent Representative at UN. Two years ago, she already mentioned my case in the EITI context at a conference.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Complementing her kindness, around the same time Christopher Smith, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission of the US Congress, in an interview about fresh draconian laws restricting free speech in Azerbaijan, repeated his one year old call for my release.</p> <p class="normal">Yet, on 15 December, Amos Hochstein, US State Department’s Special Envoy on Energy, <a href="http://www.azernews.az/oil_and_gas/106594.html">assured</a> the authorities in Baku that “regardless of any political changes, the US will remain committed to its obligations under the SGC”.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Indecision in Europe</h2> <p class="normal">I could set out a similar pattern of European hesitation beginning with my first days in jail.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">To be concise, though, let me recall only the fact that on 20 September (the same day that Rodrigo Duterte called the European Parliament <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-37429979">“hypocritical”</a> for its criticism of the extra-judicial executions in Philippines), a conciliatory delegation of the EP in Baku not only agreed to hear a lecture from Ilham Aliyev on “[EP] President Martin Schultz and his deputy Lubarek being enemies of the people of Azerbaijan”, but even praised the lecture as a “constructive one”, in the words of Sajjad Karim, the British MEP who had led the delegation.</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">Political prisoners of Azerbaijan are not worth the amount of money involved in the SGC, but European values probably are</span></p> <p class="normal">The aforementioned three resolutions of the European Parliament were thus crossed out as I observed from behind bars.</p> <p class="normal">Two presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Of Europe (PACE) have visited me in prison, but this only highlighted the irrelevance of the body to the situation on the ground. They never stopped talking of how constructive or how ongoing their dialogue with the Azerbaijani authorities has been.</p> <h2>New threats</h2> <p class="normal">Our narrow win at the EITI Board exposes us to two new threats. (I do not discuss here the extraneous threats, which may originate from, for example, rising oil prices or collapse of the nuclear deal with Iran, i.e. anything adding confidence or bargaining power to the regime in Baku.)&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">One is that at the next EITI board meeting in March 2017, those driven by pressing commodity and geopolitical interests may outnumber or otherwise outpower the civil society party. If Ilham Aliyev proceeds with his cosmetic, fig leaf “reforms” or releases those political prisoners who have already pleaded for pardon or surrendered in any other way, the probability of my freedom being sacrificed will arise again.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Flames.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Flames.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A gilded cage? Baku’s flame towers, the product of an oil-fuelled building boom in the Azerbaijani capital. CC-by-NC-2.0: Babak Fakhamzadeh / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The other threat is that instead of battling at the EITI, those interest groups may ask the international financial institutions to disconnect the SGC loans from Azerbaijan’s compliance with the EITI. These institutions are easier to convince as they are full of short-termist bank executives, rather than civil society activists concerned with the rule of law, transparency and public accountability.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The second scenario may already be in effect as rumours suggest that the World Bank has <a href="http://aa.com.tr/en/economy/world-bank-approves-800-million-loan-for-tanap/711016">endorsed</a> a US $800m loan to the TANAP. If so, then the postponed energy consultations between Baku and Brussels at the end of January may put the loans back on the EITI-friendly track. Political prisoners of Azerbaijan are not worth of the amount of money involved in the SGC, but European values probably are.</p> <h2>Deep jail horizon</h2> <p class="normal">Of 11 other members of the ruling body of my civic movement, REAL, three had to flee the country after my arrest, two were jailed (for 1.5 years and one month on charges not related to my case), two are not permitted to travel abroad (again on separate cases); one of them cannot even leave Baku.</p> <p class="normal">From time to time, activists spend days under administrative detention designed to scare others. Nonetheless, we live in a world different from the one which tolerated and even fed apartheid.</p> <p class="normal">Mandela’s fight promoted an agenda and international institutions where we can defend the values of freedom from encroachment by dictators and their business partners. This is why we should not consider the means of resisting oppression or seeking solidarity with other international arrangements any less conventional now. The problem is that when others see that our peaceful efforts are not fruitful, they turn to more radical means to end injustice. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/emma-hughes/walking-line">Walking the line</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ilgar Mammadov Politics of Plunder Human rights Economy Azerbaijan Fri, 20 Jan 2017 10:41:06 +0000 Ilgar Mammadov 108215 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Principles down the pipeline https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">News of fresh fossil fuel loans and corruption confirm a harsh truth — European and international institutions continue to actively support the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_4095.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: (c) Laure Cops, Wouter Vanmol and Berber Verpoest. </span></span></span>This Tuesday, the World Bank <a href="http://www.dailysabah.com/energy/2016/12/21/world-bank-approves-800m-loan-for-tanap-project">approved two $400m loans to Azerbaijan and Turkey</a> to fund the construction of the Turkish section of the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline pipeline called TANAP. Today, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is due to discuss another loan to TANAP. (<em>Update: l<a href="http://gbtimes.com/business/china-led-aiib-invests-gas-pipeline-linking-azerbaijan-turkey-europe">oan approved</a>.</em>)&nbsp;This comes a week after the Asian Development Bank (ADB) <a href="http://www.naturalgasworld.com/adb-approves-shah-deniz2-loan-34794">approved a controversial $1bn loan to the Azerbaijani gas field that will feed the pipeline</a>. These bank loans are being considered despite an alleged <a href="http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&amp;id=156&amp;document_ID=181">corruption scandal</a> involving the bribery of Council of Europe MPs by Azerbaijan in 2013. As the Italian courts have recently uncovered, this was likely in exchange <a href="http://www.rai.it/dl/docs/1481650085978caviar_democracyOKOK.pdf">for voting against a key report on the country’s political prisoners</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline is a very important project for Azerbaijan, BP and the UK. A gigantic piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, it will <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/emma-hughes/walking-line">run over 3,500km to bring gas to Europe from the BP-operated Shah Deniz fields</a> off the coast of Azerbaijan. It will thus further entrench the Azerbaijani regime financially and politically. The scheme, which has been under discussion since 2000, was <a href="http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/All-That-Glitters-Pdf.pdf">described by BP CEO Bob Dudley</a> as “one of the largest and most complex... undertaken by the global oil and gas industry”.</p><p dir="ltr">Ilham Aliyev’s regime, which has ruled the fossil fuel-rich Azerbaijan for 23 years, and BP have been bound together since 1994, when they signed the “Contract of the Century” to extract oil from the Caspian Sea. Aliyev’s corrupt and repressive regime is underpinned by oil and gas revenues — $48 billion of $135 billion in state revenues from oil has been <a href="http://www.rai.it/dl/docs/1481650085978caviar_democracyOKOK.pdf">diverted to offshore tax havens</a>. To date, BP has <a href="http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/All-That-Glitters-Pdf.pdf">sunk $10 billion into the initial development of the Shah Deniz Field</a> from which the gas will be sourced.</p><p dir="ltr">In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP sold off $40 billion worth of assets from Egypt to Vietnam, from the USA to Russia. But it maintained its investment in Azerbaijan even as other international oil companies pulled out. BP is also the largest non-Azeri stakeholder in the pipeline as it runs from Turkey to Italy. The company will suffer a substantial financial blow if it was unable to realise its investment.</p><p dir="ltr">By approving the loan, the World Bank will not only directly contradict the climate goals that it and other European public banks committed to in Paris last December, but it will also contravene its own safeguard standards by supporting controversial regimes — Azerbaijan and Turkey.</p><p dir="ltr">In Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s control of the press is significantly limiting freedom of speech, TANAP <a href="http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/2016/06/world-bank-set-to-finance-criticised-mega-gas-pipeline-from-azerbaijan-to-europe/">crosses Kurdish regions that are currently affected by an escalation of violence</a> following the breakdown of peace talks in July 2015. In Azerbaijan, there are currently about 100 prisoners of conscience, including <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/azerbaijan-ten-years-in-jail-for-youth-activist-who-sprayed-graffiti-is-a-travesty-of-justice/">Bayram Mammadov</a> and <a href="http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/10/25/490683/Azerbaijan-Baku-Giyas-Ibrahimov">Qiyas Ibrahimov</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">N!DA youth movement activists</a>, and journalists <a href="https://www.irfs.org/news-feed/journalist-and-citizen-whose-problems-he-publicised-convicted-on-defamation-charges/">Ikram Rahimov</a> and <a href="http://iphronline.org/azerbaijan-stop-crackdown-freedom-expression-20161206.html">Afgan Sadigov</a>. The situation of prisoners like these was the subject of the Strasser report that is in the middle of the alleged corruption story at the Council of Europe (CoE).</p><p dir="ltr">The CoE, Europe’s “leading human rights organisation”, monitors the 47 member states, focusing on human rights, civil rights, the justice system and corruption. Azerbaijan knows that a conviction in any of these areas would be bad for business.</p><p dir="ltr">So it was handy that in January 2013, the CoE voted against the publication of a key report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan drafted by MP Christoph Strasser, who was denied entry into Azerbaijan to carry out his investigations. But in late 2016, Luca Volontè, a former member of the Union of the Centre Party in Italy, and president of the European People's Party in the Council of Europe, was charged by Milan Public Prosecutor's Office for allegedly accepting a €2.39 million bribe from the government of Azerbaijan in exchange for persuading the People’s Party to vote against this report. The publication of Strasser’s report would have invited public scrutiny of corruption, repression, and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, creating challenges for the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline to be approved and financed.</p><p dir="ltr">The bribe was made possible through a complex money laundering web. Between 2013 and 2014, four British companies (called LCM, Hilux, Polux and Metastar) <a href="http://www.rai.it/dl/docs/1481650085978caviar_democracyOKOK.pdf">paid money to Volontè</a>. They are all controlled by joint stock companies located in Belize, the Seychelles and the British Virgin Islands, offshore tax havens. The companies paid €390,000 for advice that Volente personally provided to Elkhan Suleymanov, a good friend of president Aliyev, and the head of the Azerbaijani lobby in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Another €2m was paid to Volontè’s foundation, Novae Terrae, with a further €8m was promised over 10 years.</p><p dir="ltr">The investigation by the Milan prosecutors kicked off at a bank in Barlassina where the foreign transfers for Volontè arrived. Untangling the web, Gian Gaetan O Bellavia, accountant and anti money laundering expert <a href="http://www.rai.it/dl/docs/1481650085978caviar_democracyOKOK.pdf">explains</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“So we have Community companies administered by unknown offshore joint stock companies that move money of unknown origin into Community banks, without these transactions being flagged as potential money laundering operations. This is true frontier of money laundering. It’s the European community. And all operators in the sector have realised this, or are becoming aware of it now.”</p><p dir="ltr">That the Azeri state is involved in dark webs of corruption and repression comes as no surprise to those who follow affairs in Azerbaijan. When the Panama Papers scandal broke, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev was one of the 11 heads of state named. Through the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama, the Aliyev family controls mobile phone companies, the Azerbaijani bank Atabank and six gold mines in Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">Just 24 hours before the scandal hit headlines in April 2016, Azerbaijan’s special forces attacked Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed independent territory within Azerbaijan home to 150,000 people, mostly Armenian, leaving hundreds dead, and diverting attention from the ruling elite’s complicity in the Panama Papers controversy. Indeed, until recently the number of prisoners of conscience included journalist Khadija Ismayilova who discovered the Aliyev family is siphoning off state revenues from oil into Panama.</p><p dir="ltr">The current court case in Milan focuses on one Italian MP, but other MPs also voted against the Strasser report, preventing investigation and official reports on the Azeri situation from getting out. The UK, especially, is a key ally of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe — former UK MPs Mike Hancock and Robert Walter voted against Strasser’s report at the Council of Europe. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Freedom of speech and basic civil rights are a concern in Azerbaijan for several years. The Council of Europe’s unfolding corruption scandal exposes just how important it is for the Azeri state to divert attention from the severity of the crackdown against civil society in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan was also downgraded within the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2015 from full membership. Several IFIs, such as the EIB, the EBRD and the World Bank Group have de facto made approval of financing for Azeri gas projects and related pipelines conditional to the implementation by the Azeri government of corrective measures requested by the EITI.</p><p dir="ltr">By approving this loan on 20 December, which is before Azerbaijan has completed implementing EITI’s recommendations, the World Bank has broken this consensus, turning a blind eye to corruption and repression.</p><p><em><strong>Plans for a new Euro-Caspian pipeline will solidify the west's dependence on fossil fuels and authoritarian regimes. This&nbsp;<a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline#37823">new documentary</a>&nbsp;shows why we should stop and think.</strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/emma-hughes/walking-line">Walking the line</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Jo Ram Politics of Plunder Azerbaijan Wed, 21 Dec 2016 10:25:28 +0000 Jo Ram 107815 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-patriotic-trolls <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Azerbaijan has taken its crackdown against dissent to the internet. Opposition publications and journalists are routinely harassed – by both paid trolls and true believers. <strong><em><a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/politics/19405/" target="_blank">Azərbaycanca</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Troll.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Troll.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Twitter patriots and keyboard warriors. “I am proud that I am Azerbaijani” reads this image on a user’s profile, featuring presidents Heydar and Ilham Aliyev. </span></span></span>As a critic of Azerbaijan’s authorities and of president Ilham Aliyev, I’ve been called many things; a slut, a dog, a pig – you name it. These insults involved my ill mother and deceased father. She was a whore; he was a traitor who slept with an Armenian slut. I have been publicly shamed for writing columns for <em>Agos</em>, a Turkish-Armenian weekly, while living in Istanbul.</p><p>Among all the automated accounts who spread this abuse, I have managed to identify a group of regular users. They’re real people, who often retweet their gang leader (though the more creative ones go alone). These men and women, follow me everywhere I go online. They comment under my stories, blog posts, and of course, on Twitter. Some I have blocked, some I have muted, but mostly I have learned to ignore them.</p><h2>One for the resume</h2><p>Azerbaijan’s pro-government trolls have picked up their pace over the past few years. Freedom House’s <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2015/azerbaijan" target="_blank">recent report on internet freedom</a> demoted Azerbaijan to 56th place, citing the disrupting nature of pro-government trolling attacks on freedom of expression, among many other concerns.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">As a good friend once said of the patriotic trolls: “feed them – until they choke”</span></p><p>Earlier on, these trolls’ accounts were operated by IRELI - a pro-government youth organisation. In 2011 in an interview with News.az, secretary general of the organisation Rauf Mardiyev <a href="http://news.az/articles/society/38037" target="_blank">explained</a> that IRELI’s IT centre simply worked on the “education of young people and the protection of Azerbaijan’s interests in the virtual world”. This “protection of interests” online would explain IRELI’s engagement in trolling internet users who did not necessarily think alike. To their credit, they did a far better job than the members of ruling party’s youth branch. “Their accounts seemed more authentic; the pictures were better and their work was more sophisticated,” says Dr. Katy Pearce from University of Washington, and the author of <a href="https://www.academia.edu/5833149/Two_Can_Play_at_that_Game_Social_Media_Opportunities_in_Azerbaijan_for_Government_and_Opposition" target="_blank">numerous</a> <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01633.x/full" target="_blank">studies</a> on internet use in Azerbaijan.</p><p>Mardiyev’s interview also gives us an idea of the sheer number of people working with the organisation due to their IT literacy project. “Some 50,000 people to date have been involved in training in 52 cities and regions of the country […]orha Our objective is to produce young people who can take an active part in the information war”, commented Mardiyev.</p><p>Up-and-coming youth leaders such as Mardiyev want to stand out. Becoming members of organisations like IRELI is a great way to advance in a government career. The more tweets you post, the more you’re noticed. The more loyalty you show, the greater your chances of getting recognised or eventually a promotion. Dr. Pearce describes this phenomenon as “quantitative success”. It is the number of comments or tweets you leave online, not their quality, which matters.</p><p>Despite his growing success, Mardiyev became a victim of political circumstance. In 2014, a conflict between Turkey’s prime minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and the Islamic cleric and leader of Hizmet Movement Fethullah Gülen had begun to <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/68274" target="_blank">spread to Azerbaijan.</a> Mardiyev, a graduate of Hizmet-affiliated schools in Azerbaijan, was removed from his position in IRELI.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There’s an understanding, or a hope, that being around the Aliyev family online may help to join the ranks of the high society offline&nbsp;</p><p>But he wasn’t the only one. IRELI lost its leader, Elnur Aslanov, who at the time served as the spokesperson for the presidential administration. As for Mardiyev, he’s left Azerbaijan – but only certain events make his nationalist blood boil. He&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/RaufMardiyev" target="_blank">continues to fight disinformation</a> if it concerns the territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh but no longer posts pro-government comments or tweets. He recently thanked the Gods when the Formula 1 race in Azerbaijan’s capital, a prestigious event for the regime in Baku, came to an end.</p><p>IRELI’s dominance took a hit with the departure of Aslanov and Mardiyev. While there are still plenty of IRELI trolls, they’re now outshone by members of the youth branch of the ruling party and other youth organisations. However, unlike their predecessors they are easily detectable, and not as cunning. Their profiles are adorned with the flag of Azerbaijan, or a picture of lham Aliyev (and sometimes his father). Their tweets are repetitive, and seem automatically generated, full of fawning praise for the government and hatred for those who are not as pleased with the regime as they are. They’re a varied bunch: accountants, students, teachers, and of course members of pro-government youth movements.</p><h2>The march of the sockpuppets</h2><p>It’s hard to estimate exactly how many trolls the Azerbaijani government employs for its purposes. If in 2011 Mardiyev said that IRELI worked with <a href="http://news.az/articles/society/38037" target="_blank">up to 50,000 people</a>, then the number of trolls could have doubled or tripled since then (along with their vulgarity towards their targets). While there appear to be no&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandra-garmazhapova/patrolling-runet" target="_blank">“troll factories” as has been reported in Russia</a>, there are certainly networks with ring leaders who coordinate online harassment.&nbsp;</p><p>At least, this was certainly the case when a man named Elmar Mammadov informed a group of young Azerbaijanis in a group chat to start attacking <em>Azadliq Radio</em> (RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service) and <em>Meydan TV</em>, the dissident Berlin-based media outlet focusing on Azerbaijan. Although most Azerbaijanis get their news from TV, online services like these play an important role for those seeking an alternative viewpoint.</p><p>The order came ahead of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">26 September referendum on constitutional amendments</a>, against which a number of opposition groups planned rallies. As soon as Azadliq Radio and and Meydan TV began their livestream of the protests, Elmar wrote that “we are starting the attack. I wish everyone luck”.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Whataboutism is the most popular tactic against foreign critics; “how dare you criticise Azerbaijan, get your own house in order!”&nbsp;</span></p><p>In his next message, Elmar warned the group members to avoid “avoid writing YAP [short for the ruling Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyasi or Azerbaijan New Party], otherwise they will know it’s an organised act”. He then told his colleagues to harass <em>Meydan TV</em>, telling his “friends” to “post maximum comments”.</p><p>Most of these comments have been deleted from the both publications’ Facebook pages. “They post abusive and irrelevant comments, so we end up removing them,” commented <em>Azadliq Radio</em> employee who requested to stay anonymous. “They would say, so and so son from the opposition drives this really expensive car. So we remove this comment. And they come after us again and accuse us of violating freedom of expression,” the journalist added.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="https://twitter.com/arzugeybulla">@arzugeybulla</a> You are still alive Traitor? i wish you were in that Helicopter we shot down One MORE Armenian Down! YOU DEFACE OUR SOCIETY</p>— Orhan (@Rustamzade) <a href="https://twitter.com/Rustamzade/status/532785388331757569">November 13, 2014</a></blockquote><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="https://twitter.com/arzugeybulla">@arzugeybulla</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/presidentaz">@presidentaz</a> Dear President, please arrest this traitor and put her with Khadijah</p>— Hesen (@AzeriRambo) <a href="https://twitter.com/AzeriRambo/status/725475813148123136">April 28, 2016</a></blockquote><p>In an interview with <em>openDemocracy</em>, Hebib Muntezir and Orkhan Hebib, social media managers for <em>Meydan TV</em>, said that they often have to block up to 50 accounts per day due to trolling of their Facebook page. </p><p>“The moment they spot a story critical of Ilham Aliyev or something negative about the country, they start posting. Often it’s the same message. But there’s nothing of substance. And once you start blocking them, they return with a new account, but it’s almost always the same people,” Hebib and Orkhan told me. The biggest difference between Azerbaijani trolls and Russian pro-government trolls, believes Orkhan, is that Russian trolls come with substantial arguments, they prepare facts and figures. Hebib says that Azerbaijani trolls come poorly prepared; they simply “receive a screenshot of our Facebook page and start attacking us”.</p><p>The ruling party’s youth branch recently posted a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/NAPYouthUnion/photos/a.101192676693834.2014.100712156741886/975294992616927/?type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank">caricature</a> depicting its founder, the former political prisoner Emin Milli, responding to negative comments as EU and US representatives look on, advising him to shut down the comments section altogether.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Being a woman will get you abuse online. If you’re a vocal woman opposed to the authorities, the harassment is limitless</span></p><p>International events which scrutinise Azerbaijan’s abysmal human rights record also come under attack. Trolls hijack and distort the conversation, bringing the ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia to the forefront of discussion. First, criticism of Azerbaijan’s government is drowned out by reference to atrocities committed by the Armenian enemy. These trolls then pick on individual actors’ Twitter handles and spam them to discrediting their work. Whataboutism is the most popular tactic against foreign critics; “how dare you criticise Azerbaijan, get your own house in order!”&nbsp;</p><p>Attendees of a recent conference in Warsaw experienced this first-hand. The OSCE’s Human Rights Dimension Meeting was held from 19 to 30 September, and Azerbaijan was one of several countries under discussion. Some 35 Azerbaijani trolls hijacked the official #HDIM2016 hashtag, sharing graphic war photographs of decapitated children and raped women to distract from the topic at hand. The trolls demanded western recognition of Armenia’s illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territory and the status of internally displaced people from Karabakh.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Karabakh_Tweet_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Karabakh_Tweet_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>This “patriotic troll” spammed the Warsaw conference & Freedom House using the #HDIM hashtag, sending images of corpses from the Karabakh conflict.</span></span></span>The Karabakh conflict is still an open wound, and recently saw renewed clashes. As such, Azerbaijani internet users generally need no encouragement to argue with or spam their Armenian counterparts. Yet this was a clear, organised attempt to derail a valid conversation about authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. Whether trolls or government officials, the tactic is the same; in her first response to the OSCE’s criticism, the Azerbaijani delegate Nahida Abdurahmanova didn’t even try to fabricate progress in press freedom or human rights. She simply mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh.</p><p>In this particular case, a user named <a href="https://twitter.com/MuradNamiq" target="_blank">Namiq Murad</a> appeared to be the ringleader. A quick glance at Namiq’s Twitter profile shows that his account wasn’t solely created or used just to troll #HDIM2016. He tweets occasionally, but mostly retweets content from president Ilham Aliyev’s official account, sharing images of what he <a href="https://twitter.com/MuradNamiq/status/785556720277938177" target="_blank">considers</a> “historical moments”. Predictably, the Azerbaijani flag and the two Aliyevs (elder and younger) feature heavily on his profile.</p><h2>Trolls and their goals&nbsp;</h2><p>What Namiq and the other 30 or so #HDIM2016 trolls lacked was creativity, credibility and good English. Instead of trying to mute criticism, these sockpuppet armies often just embarrass the countries they represent, not least when combined with the presence of sycophantic GONGOs.</p><p>But there are also genuine trolls who make it their personal goal to comment, bully and dehumanise their targets. They’ll belittle you, and even abuse your family members. Then there’s the sexual harassment. In a traditionally patriarchal society like Azerbaijan, female internet users are regularly targeted, and attackers rarely need an excuse to abuse.&nbsp;</p><p>Being a woman is enough. If you’re a vocal woman opposed to the authorities, the harassment knows no limits. I’ve been attacked for my political views online, and watched as the comments gradually (or not so gradually) devolve into sexual abuse. Other men will join in – men who couldn’t care less about my politics nor anybody else’s.&nbsp;</p><p>Again, this isn’t to say that there aren’t internet users in Azerbaijan who are simply very fond of the regime, the ruling family and the government in Baku. This Facebook user, for example, dedicates his online account to poems and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003376683080" target="_blank">singing the praise of the ruling Aliyev family</a>. He’s particularly fond of the First Lady. “Mehriban Aliyeva is the personification of good and of hope!” reads one post. “You are an angel sent to us from above!” reads another.&nbsp;</p><p>The official Instagram accounts of the Ilham Aliyev’s two daughters (<a href="https://www.instagram.com/vip_arzualiyeva/" target="_blank">Arzu</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/leylaliyeva999/?hl=en" target="_blank">Leyla</a>) are full of praise. Azerbaijan’s internet users differ from those in Russia – the personality cult of the first family is far stronger. There’s an understanding, or a hope, that even being around them online may help to join the ranks of the high society offline.&nbsp;<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Geybulla_Caricature.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Geybulla_Caricature.jpg" alt="" title="" width="390" height="377" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A caricature sent to the author by “patriotic trolls”. Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan carries her away from Baku, where her father looks on from his grave, weeping. Copies of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos lie on the ground.</span></span></span>The atmosphere online is becoming even more restrictive. This month, Azerbaijan’s parliament&nbsp;<a href="http://www.contact.az/docs/2016/Politics/111500174870en.htm?1#.WC4d0qJ97sk" target="_blank">discussed&nbsp;harsher penalties for insulting the president online</a>. This bill, proposed by the prosecutor general, calls for an amendment to Article 323.1 of the Criminal Code, on the “protection of the honour and dignity of the president of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. </p><p>The word “mass media” in the bill will be replaced by the phrase “in mass media or in the case of public statements made online”. The prosecutor general is also calling to criminalise insults made online by fake user accounts. If passed, article 148.1 of the Criminal Code will hold individuals with fake social media profiles accountable for spreading misinformation, hate speech and making accusations.</p><p>The regime’s trolls, I assume, are not losing any sleep over these new laws.</p><p>But there’s a bigger picture. Authoritarian Azerbaijan has a pervasive culture of offline and online surveillance, which is an integral part of government control over its citizens. In July 2015 a leak revealed that an Italian surveillance firm, the Milan-based <a href="http://www.hackingteam.it" target="_blank">Hacking Team</a> was <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/4136-azerbaijan-bought-hacking-team-s-surveillance-spyware-leaks-reveal" target="_blank">selling technology to a number of repressive governments</a>, including Azerbaijan.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The&nbsp;marriage between paranoid dictators and the cyber-surveillance industry&nbsp;is a profitable one. With these kind of tools, who needs trolls?</span></p><p>These tools enable governments to break into individual computers and mobile phones. Reporters Without Borders lists the Hacking Team on its list of “Enemies of the Internet Index”. “The sale of surveillance tools to rights-abusing regimes directly impacts users at risk, including journalists, bloggers, sexual rights activists, members of the LGBTQ community and human rights defenders”, <a href="https://www.accessnow.org/hacking-team-hacked-how-to-protect-yourself/" target="_blank">wrote</a><em> AccessNow</em> shortly after the leak.</p><p>The <a href="https://medium.com/vantage/panopticon-for-sale-c2fc662d85d2#.nx3zx6sez" target="_blank">marriage between paranoid dictators and the cyber-surveillance industry</a> is a profitable one. With these kind of tools, who needs trolls?</p><p>DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service) have also evolved. When such operations once used large numbers of compromised domestic computers, Gustaf Bjorksten notes that there are now <a href="https://www.accessnow.org/defending-users-at-risk-from-ddos-attacks-an-evolving-challenge/" target="_blank">entire DDoS-for-hire services</a> which are run out of dedicated data-centres. This can hardly be the work of a few “concerned citizens”. MeydanTV director Emin Milli noted in a recent <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/18/the-case-for-outcast-media-meydan-tv-azerbaijan/" target="_blank">interview</a> with <em>Foreign Policy</em> that the oppositional channel has suffered DDoS attacks on several occasions. <em>Radio Azadliq</em> and the media rights watchdog Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)</p><p>DDoS attacks are also common between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where hackers from both sides attack government websites during public events. Government-sponsored trolls often praise and publicise these attacks.</p><p>In the meantime, critics and dissenters in Azerbaijan are trying to stand their ground online. As a good friend once said of the patriotic trolls: “feed them – until they choke”.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-konradova/usenet-coup">The Usenet coup: how the USSR discovered the internet in 1991 </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">Searching for the ‘Armenian Lobby’</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/grigory-tumanov/smooth-censorship-in-russia">Smooth censorship in Russia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:34:34 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 106974 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A quarter century since the collapse of Soviet rule in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, where is the region now and what can come next? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/25-let-postmoderna-kavkaz">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8261286339_5d6e853141_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8261286339_5d6e853141_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Life in Stepantsminda village, Georgia. CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The village of Sadakhlo sits at the intersection of borders between Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Lauded in Soviet times as the “point of friendship”, this place now seems more like a latter-day Checkpoint Charlie. On one side stand olive-skinned locals in American-style uniforms with M-16 rifles. They are Georgians. On the other stand similarly olive-skinned men in Soviet-style uniforms with AK-47s. They are Armenians; Armenia houses Russian military bases. The reason is immediately to the east where one finds Azeri soldiers, trained and equipped by their Turkish friends.</p><p>Fire is periodically exchanged between the Armenians and Azeris. The war over the disputed territory of Nagorny-Karabakh has been going on and off since 1991 — with no end in sight. The Georgians, with little sympathy for either side, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia" target="_blank">stay neutral in this conflict</a>. They face their own separatist enclaves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are protected by Russia. In the twisted geopolitics of the South Caucasus, the Georgian soldiers stood alongside US troops in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq, where they once even made the second largest contingent — quite a feat for such a small country.</p><p>Here at Sadakhlo, the ironies of postmodernity are all around us. How did we get into this mess?</p><h2>A short history of grand schemes</h2><p>Modernity was the epoch when humans developed an optimistic belief in progressively bettering the world. This was to be achieved through the activist application of collective will and rational plan. Postmodernity then marks the more recent epoch when historical optimism turned to pervasive disillusionment in grand schemes to better humanity. The epochs changed not merely due to artistic fashions or collective psychology. It was rather the unbearable realisation that mechanistic bureaucracy, the very epitome of modernity, had monopolised the pursuit of both rationality and collective will.</p><p>The devastating accusations of official hypocrisy came actually from the New Left, whose various currents advocated the same progressive ideals of modernity, only “with a human face”. The desire to question “authority” started in the youthful dissident protests of 1968 and continued up to the Occupy revolts and the Arab Spring of 2011, yet its peak arrived in 1989-1991 with the wave of protests engulfing communist regimes from East Berlin to Beijing.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">What alternatives could organise human society if the old structures of domination collapse in sudden chaos as in the Soviet bloc?</p><p>These fast-burning revolutions ended mostly in the forgetful embarrassment. Their aftermath left us amidst apathy and doubt, the irrational search for authenticity in fundamentalist nationalism and religion, or the pursuit of self-realisation in the libertarian (and very Russian) fantasies of Ayn Rand. </p><p>In large part this is because the classical modern theories of revolution, be they Marxist or the liberalism of Tocqueville, offered no plausible explanation or blueprint.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Soviet_Armenia_Carpet.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Soviet_Armenia_Carpet.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="330" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Carpet from Soviet Armenia celebrating the achievements of industrialisation, mid-1930s. CC Armenian Ministry of Culture / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But far from all classical social thought became irrelevant in this newest epoch of bureaucratic capitalism without alternatives. The core theory of Marx will stay relevant as long as there is capitalism. Moreover, Max Weber, the pioneering theorist of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and status groups (i.e. “identities”), offers a good starting point for a more sober understanding of postmodernity.</p><p>The questioning of authority in 1968 and 1989 marked the transition to a novel kind of revolution that might be rightly called Weberian — the broadly citizen efforts to overcome the “iron cage of bureaucracy”. Its early failures then must be re-analysed, with duly substantive rationality, in view of a movement politics that are capable of confronting reigning bureaucracies with something more transformative than symbolic performance.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Things need not necessarily end badly in the Caucasus. Overcoming gloom is an important immediate task precisely because our fears are not unfounded</p><p>This theoretical concern seems the most urgent practical issue on global agenda. What alternatives could organise human society if the old structures of domination collapse in sudden chaos as in the Soviet bloc? Capitalism is losing its dynamism in the successive crises of its own making. The first popular reactions are typically defensive reactionary. Faced with worsening economies and social services, environmental degradation, migration, and wars, people try to preserve what they have and hold dear. Particularist reactions, emphasising the bonds of kinship, shared ethnicity or faith, can escalate nastily. But they cannot effectively address global challenges.</p><p>More encouraging and universalist alternatives have to emerge if we are to preserve the achievements of modernity. It is on this world map that the South Caucasus and its Soviet past are better analysed.</p><h2>Actually existing modernity</h2><p>Our standoff at Sadakhlo perhaps traces its roots to the 1980s, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-intentioned bid to “rejuvenate socialist democracy”.</p><p>The Soviet Union was created by a small band of radical internationalist intelligentsia. Among them were many Jews, Russians, Latvians, Tatars, Armenians, and, quite prominently, the Georgians including Stalin. Believing in changing the whole world, the Bolsheviks reconquered the erstwhile territories of the Russian Empire, creating a revolutionary superpower. However, military force alone cannot explain their improbable success. The Bolsheviks carried a hugely modernistic belief in industrial development as the solution to all social and ethnic problems. My colleague Stephen Hanson wryly observed that the Bolsheviks became what Weber himself could not imagine: a charismatic bureaucracy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Soviets were themselves prisoners of their superpower pride vested in military-industrial complex and the east European buffer zone</p><p>Once the Leninist charisma wore out in the world of brutally realist geopolitics, what remained was merely a bureaucratic superpower. Where could it steer next? After Stalin’s death in 1953, a spate of Soviet oligarchic reformers, starting with the ruthless pragmatist Lavrenty Beria (incidentally, also a Georgian), sought appeasement with the west and economic reintegration with world capitalism. In short, the Chinese way out of communism epitomised by another such pragmatist: Deng Xiaoping. The difference is, however, that following the Cold War calculus America helped to modernise China against the USSR while rightly fearing that the emergent pan-European alliance of France and Germany with the reformed USSR could undermine the US hegemony.&nbsp;</p><p>The Soviets were themselves prisoners of their superpower pride vested in military-industrial complex and the east European buffer zone. This is what Gorbachev set out to undo, boldly sacrificing first the ballistic missiles and then the cumbersome satellite states.</p><p>Domestically, Gorbachev direly needed to replace the old party stalwarts with younger energetic supporters. Disguised as democratisation and <em>glasnost</em> (public debate), Gorbachev’s domestic campaign in fact revived the old Stalinist practice of purges against “bad” officials. The Party <em>nomenklatura</em> felt at once disoriented because they could not resist the General Secretary in the still totalitarian Soviet institutions. But Gorbachev overplayed his hand in the attempt to consolidate personal power through inviting popular denunciations against all wrongs.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />Unwittingly, Armenians were the first to expose internal fragilities. Loyally blaming everything on the long-dead Stalin, a group of prominent Armenian intellectuals petitioned Moscow for the transfer to Soviet Armenia of the small borderland province of Karabakh which, though predominantly Armenian, had been placed under Soviet Azerbaijan in 1921. This, they pleaded, would be a small compensation for the unredeemed losses to Armenian nation suffered in the 1915 genocide.&nbsp;</p><p>Against the grandiose tasks of a superpower changing its course, Moscow’s first bewildered reaction was to shrug it off. But the issue rapidly escalated from the Armenian petitions and Azerbaijani counter-petitions to pogroms in Azerbaijani cities in 1988 and the emergence of Armenian guerrilla groups. Two Soviet republics were now at war with each other. The communist bosses on both sides stood accused of impotence, lack of patriotism and corruption. War led to revolutions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00034593.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00034593.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="351" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tbilisi burns after the overthrow of Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his government in 1992. (c) Igor Mikhalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Gorbachev faced the impossible choice of either resorting to repression on a truly Stalinist scale, which would have ruined his foreign gambits or he could try to throw money at the crisis. But the money wasn’t there anyway. Perestroika was, in the first place, prompted by a budget crisis amidst slowdown in the over-invested Soviet industries and the sudden shortfall in export earnings due to the slump in world oil prices.&nbsp;</p><p>Once taboos were broken in the Karabakh conflict, radical nationalism and violence entered the political repertoire. In Tbilisi, in April 1989, Soviet paratroopers recently withdrawn from Afghanistan were ordered to disperse the round-the-clock nationalist vigil protesting the plight of fellow Georgians under minority rule in Abkhazia, another Soviet ethnic autonomy. The result was massive injuries and twenty fatalities, most of them women. Implausibly, Gorbachev denied prior knowledge of such orders. Overnight, an indignant Georgia became ungovernable. It remained so for almost two decades while losing territory, population and a grievous two-thirds of its economy, the biggest such loss among the post-Soviet countries.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the aftermath of 1991, power across the South Caucasus first fell to the hands of nationalist intelligentsias, who excelled in radical oratory</p><p>The Soviet state had thus collapsed before 1991 amidst the popular mobilisations for democratisation which turned nationalist and violent in all three countries of the South Caucasus. Why was the collapse so sudden, so ruinous, and lasting? The references to ethnic diversity and historical legacies are standard as they are wrong.</p><p>True, the Caucasus is a linguistic and anthropological wonderland. Flanked by great empires, the Caucasus always stayed an unyielding small rock between the grinding wheels of world history. Ethnic diversity alone, however, is not a fatal predicament. Elsewhere in eastern Europe, between Poland and Lithuania or in the fabled Transylvania, the legacies of ethnic cleansing somehow failed to reignite during the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Their peoples peacefully transitioned into becoming EU citizens. In fact, this might be a clue.</p><h2>From the periphery to the spotlight (and back again)&nbsp;</h2><p>Despite commonly heralded as a “bridge between east and west, north and south”, the Caucasus is relatively small, remote and, except for the oil and gas pipelines contested by Russia, Turkey, and the west, overall peripheral to the world economy. It was the same for Soviet planners, whose major industrial assets (again, except the oilfields of Baku) were located mainly between the Donbass and the Urals. Nonetheless in the USSR, a very big and mostly cold country, the Caucasus held a crucial advantage: its subtropical climate.&nbsp;</p><p>When the busy central planners could not be distracted with such trifles as supplying the sun-starved populations of northern industrial cities with fresh fruit and wine, the enterprising people of the Caucasus filled the market niche. The profits, though very unevenly distributed geographically, brought fabulous wealth to the region. This fed whole hierarchies of corruption as officials at all levels — black marketeers and pure criminals established comfortable monopolies in unsanctioned markets. Moscow, of course, was aware of the corruption, but regarded the Caucasus somewhat like its Sicily: a land of wine, great food, songs and the mafia. </p><p>In their heroic earlier years, the Bolshevik commissars were expected to be more than managers — they were continuously demanded to produce miracles. Willpower, however, works best when it somehow finds the means, and this “somehow” always belonged to the informal understandings shared in the Soviet managerial hierarchy. During the extraordinary years of Stalinist industrialisation, the second world war and post-war recovery the commissars were more than a Weberian rational bureaucracy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Moscow, of course, was aware of the corruption, but regarded the Caucasus somewhat like its Sicily: a land of wine, great food, songs and the mafia</p><p>In the long years of Soviet decline, their <em>nomenklatura</em> successors became much less than a rational bureaucracy. That extra space ordered by informal understandings gradually filled up with nepotism and corruption, a more typical variety of informal bureaucratic understandings. In the Caucasus, this demoralising process simply ran deeper. When Gorbachev shook the whole Soviet system from above, the <em>nomenklatura</em> felt stunned and scared. When popular uprisings surged right under their windows, they lost nerve and fled. Resistance was minimal.</p><p>In the aftermath of 1991, power across the South Caucasus first fell to the hands of nationalist intelligentsias, who excelled in radical rally oratory. They usually lasted about a year or less. Only in Armenia, where the intelligentsia tribunes rode the wave of victorious patriotism during the Karabakh war, they had time to learn the unsavoury tricks of post-Soviet politics. One example is the alleged exploits of Vano Siradeghyan, children’s writer turned the dreaded security chief, include 30 political assassinations and running monopolies on several food imports. Since 2000 he has been on an Interpol warrant, however, still at large.</p><p>Nonetheless after 1998, the elements of Yerevan intelligentsia were ousted by the cruder, yet more practical provincials promoted during the Karabakh war. This war essentially created the new Armenian state, and its commanders were used to ordering men and procuring the supplies by whatever means. They now seized the state and saw business positions as rightful spoils. These guerrilla veterans gradually displaced all economic and political rivals. But, after all, God loves the Armenians — and gave them no oil.&nbsp;</p><p>On the Azerbaijani side, defeat created an acute turmoil masterfully exploited by the ex-KGB general and ex-member of the Soviet Politburo Heydar Aliyev. As if a signal that the old Master was back, things quietened down, though not after a series of bizarre events and unsolved assassinations. Baku’s oil now flowed to world markets. Outdoing Dubai, Baku got its Heydar Aliyev Centre designed by no less than Zaha Hadid.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan’s current president Ilham Aliyev contemplates his father Heydar, former president and party boss during the last years of Soviet Azerbaijan. Baku, 2012. (c) Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Remarkably, even basic facts of Heydar Aliyev’s biography, such as the date and place of his birth and death, are hotly contested. Did Aliyev die before or after the succession of his son Ilham to presidency? A tired-looking Azeri intellectual told me in Istanbul: “do not believe that we are one nation with the Turks. They are a state nation, and we are a familial nation.” Although the statement rather betrays the despair of exile, Azerbaijan does look increasingly like a Middle Eastern “presidency for life”. In fact, frighteningly so.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia, meanwhile, is an ever eccentric case. Its post-Soviet politics goes in an odd cycle where each new leader is first greeted as saviour and in the end cursed as scoundrel. Such was the rise and fall of the mystical national–fundamentalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1989-1992, the Soviet-era big boss Eduard Shevardnadze in 1992-2003, and the mercurial reformer Mikheil Saakashvili who continues playing enfant terrible in the Ukrainian revolution as the governor of Odessa.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-pomerantsev/polyphonic-president" target="_blank">Saakashvili’s record in office is especially difficult to judge objectively</a> for he is dismissed and despised even more than he is adulated. What to make of the president who enthusiastically hosted Donald Trump and renamed the road to Tbilisi airport George W. Bush Avenue? Most of Saakashvili’s grandiose investment projects remain a mirage, and he barely survived the 2008 war in separatist South Ossetia.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The politics of minimising people’s pain now fosters conditions for a more successful way out of global postmodernity, wherever it ends</p><p>Yet Saakashvili and his western-educated upstarts did restore state power in Georgia, principally embodied in those soldiers at Sadakhlo wearing US uniforms and the new police force who no longer extort cash at ubiquitous roadblocks — their decent salaries come from the newly collected taxes. Their “tough cop” methods of combatting crime and corruption, however, allegedly bordered on sadistic pornography. His massive defeat at elections in October 2012 dealt a rude surprise to Saakashvili, sending him into exile and landing several key supporters in jail.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia’s newest saviour was an unlikely figure: the shadowy billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili who had amassed his fortune — reportedly twice larger than Georgia’s state budget — in the gangland Russia of the 1990s. After a brief stint as prime-minister of the splendidly named Georgian Dream coalition, Ivanishvili left mere figureheads in his stead and once again secluded himself in the gaudily postmodernist palace dominating the cityscape of Tbilisi. It remains to see what happens in Georgia after elections this October. Saakashvili’s party survives and nurtures some hope, but the bombast and energy seem gone now.&nbsp;</p><p>The immediate prospects of Armenia and Azerbaijan appear more troubling. Falling oil prices exposed the overreach of Baku’s hubristic drive to become a Dubai on the Caspian. The sultanistic regimes of the kind created by the Aliyev family tend to become very brittle when faced with economic distress and loss of prestige. The kinds of opposition to Ilham Aliyev also seem familiar: liberal intelligentsia in the capital city, the much larger and largely unknowable Islamist opposition in poorer neighborhoods, and aggrieved oligarchs who fell out from the palace circle. The wealthy Azeris from Russia could pose a threat, too.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/7074019303_f9992f9310_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/7074019303_f9992f9310_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman passes the ruined railway station in Sukhumi, de-facto capital of Abkhazia. Political realities have frustrated plans to re-open the railway south, once again joining Armenia & Georgia with Russia. CC Marco Fieber / Flicker. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Probably on this political calculus, last April president Ilham Aliyev gambled on redeeming his prestige in a lightning strike against the Armenian forces in Karabakh. After four days of fierce fighting, the Azeris advanced by only a few hundred metres and called it victory.</p><p>Although the Armenian forces largely stood the ground, this shock sent Armenian society into deep soul-searching. The victory in Karabakh remains the single legitimating accomplishment of independent Armenia. It helped to redeem the lasting trauma of Turkish genocide. However, this became impossible to reconcile with the lavish, by local measure, lifestyles of a ruling oligarchy readily noticed in a small impoverished country. On the one hand, Armenia’s population grew politically fearless after all the struggles and travails that they have experienced since 1988. On the other, the Karabakh veterans in power backed themselves into corner by monopolising the state, leaving them with few good moves in the face of de-legitimation.&nbsp;</p><p>The absence of a credible opposition channeled popular emotions into the internet, which can surely enhance emotions, but may not achieve the authoritative coordination required for political struggle. Tensions came to a head in July when a group of Karabakh veterans — or rather a charismatic sect of aggrieved first-wave volunteers left without positions after the war — <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory" target="_blank">attacked a police garrison in Yerevan and declared the beginning of national insurrection</a>. Their ill-conceived plan could not but fail. Even though president Serzh Sargsyan showed restraint, the mutiny accompanied by spontaneous street clashes between police and protesters, badly shook both Armenian society and state institutions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These are all only modest hopes for avoiding further disasters and better managing the peripheral varieties of capitalism in the Caucasus. Anything bolder would have to involve the end of postmodernity</p><p>Things need not necessarily end badly in the Caucasus. Overcoming gloom is an important immediate task precisely because our fears are not unfounded.</p><p>Nevertheless, Georgia might soon leave behind its messianic cycles, develop an orderly democratic rotation, and a more accountable political elite. Azerbaijan’s rulers, wearily following the oil markets and now puzzling over the infighting of Turkish patrons and Russia’s daring assertiveness, might instead try to re-legitimate themselves as prudent deal-makers, externally and domestically. Armenia, faced with debilitating impasse on all fronts, could finally turn to the pursuit of economic growth. The rare combination of the educated, hard-working but impoverished population in the homeland with the capital and global connections of an Armenian diaspora is begging for a <a href="http://www.romeconomics.com/beginners-guide-developmental-state/" target="_blank">developmental state</a> of the kind pioneered in once impoverished East Asia.&nbsp;</p><p>These are all only modest hopes for avoiding further disasters and better managing the peripheral varieties of capitalism in the Caucasus. Anything bolder would have to involve the end of postmodernity. But the politics of minimising people’s pain now fosters conditions for a more successful way out of global postmodernity, wherever it ends.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">Armenia’s crisis and the legacy of victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/way-down-in-pankisi">Way down in Pankisi</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/where-does-key-to-political-change-in-post-soviet-space-lie">Where does the key to political change lie in the post-Soviet space?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Georgi Derluguian 25 years of change Politics Georgia Conflict Caucasus Azerbaijan Armenia Mon, 03 Oct 2016 10:02:42 +0000 Georgi Derluguian 105718 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many authoritarian regimes would banish troublemakers. But in Azerbaijan, dissidents and critical journalists are prevented from leaving the country.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-26438493.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khadija Ismayilova, center, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has become a symbol of defiance during after her ordeal with Azerbaijan's authorities. (c) Aziz Karimov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“1937 is back again with a vengeance.” These words, written in 1988 by a popular local singer to describe Stalin-era repressions, are on the lips of many in Azerbaijan once again. They’re often quoted on social media as a comment on the country’s latest round of arrests. A recent opposition rally in Baku on 17 September against the country’ recent constitutional referendum is a good example — the authorities <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/news/17496/">used the opportunity to detain journalists alongside political activists</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>The authoritarian regime of president Ilham Aliyev has a large toolkit of repression — from arrest to surveillance, harassment and deportation. Yet in some cases, the Azerbaijani authorities don’t directly arrest troublesome activists and journalists. Instead, they simply ban them from leaving the country.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many journalists run into trouble with the authorities in Azerbaijan, who continue to harass them regardless of criticism of international human rights organisation</p><p>Over 15 people are in this situation. Usually, they are faced with other charges, such as tax evasion. It’s a common tactic against freelance journalists. Earlier this year Meydan TV, <a href="meydan.tv/en">an independent online media outlet based outside Azerbaijan</a>, was investigated for tax evasion and “illegal entrepreneurship”. The names of 15 journalists <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/13829/">were mentioned in the criminal case which followed</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>These same charges were levelled against Khadiya Ismayilova, the acclaimed freelance journalist and contributor to the Azerbaijani service of RFE/RL. In 2014, Ismayilova was sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment on charges of tax evasion, abuse of power and incitement to suicide, and soon became a cause celebre among Azerbaijani dissidents. Since Ismayilova was released in May 2016, she has set down to work on her unfinished investigative reports — in an even more oppressive environment for critical journalists.</p><p>Many journalists run into trouble with the authorities in Azerbaijan, who continue to harass them regardless of criticism of international human rights organisations. The stories of Aynur Elgunesh, Natig Javadly, Guler Mehdizade and Sevinj Vagifqizi are just some of many.</p><h2>Keeping it domestic</h2><p>“It was about 1:30am when our plane landed in Baku airport,” Sevinj Vagifqizi, a reporter for MeydanTV, writes to me over e-mail. “We’d just returned from Ukraine, where we had attended a training programme for journalists. When I reached passport control, I was informed by the Department for Combating Organised Crime (DCOC) that I am banned from leaving Azerbaijan.” Two other freelance journalists on assignment with MeydanTV, Aytan Farhadova and Izolda Aghaeva, were also present. They were told exactly the same.</p><p>“I told them that actually I was entering the country, not leaving it,” Vagifqizi says. She and her colleagues were then searched and handed over to the police, though the border guards presented no documents or warrants in the process.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img (1).jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2015: Sevinj Vaqifqizi, Izolda Aghayeva and Ayten Farhadova are detained at Baku's Heydar Aliyev International Airport. Source: <a href=https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/8162/>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Vagifqizi says that the police later took her and her fellow journalists’ money and mobile phones. At roughly 4am they were delivered to the DCOC. “At 11am, the deputy chief of the investigations department came and said that we had been brought here because of the criminal case against Meydan TV. As we had been called as witnesses in this case, we had been banned from leaving the country.”</p><p>“I suspected that I was the subject of the same ban,” Natig Javadly, another reporter, tells me. He was informed about the ban when called as a witness in the case against MeydanTV. “It was last September when an inspector gave me clear information that I was banned from leaving the country.”&nbsp;</p><p>While several of the Meydan journalists sought legal advice, Javadly, together with his lawyer, made an official application to Azerbaijan’s General Prosecutor’s office to reverse the ban.&nbsp;</p><p>Yet Javadly has little hope of a reprieve. “The court said that the reason for this ban is the criminal case against MeydanTV,” he says. His appeal was logged, but he doesn’t expect any positive results. “I don’t seriously expect anything, because there were similar appeals which were unsuccessful.”</p><p>After being banned from leaving Azerbaijan, Vagifqizi also tried to get the authorities to explain themselves. She sent a request to Azerbaijan’s State Border Service and DCOC, though the latter said they were not responsible. According to them, the decision was taken by the General Prosecutor’s Office. With the help of a lawyer, Vagifqizi filed a court case. To date, the Nasimi District Court in Baku has kept this ban in effect. “We believe the ban is illegal,” says Javadly, “and will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)”.&nbsp;</p><h2>Life in the waiting zone</h2><p>This ban on free movement is taking its toll on journalists’ morale. “I can’t take any trips, including training workshops which are important for every journalist,” Vagifqizi tells me. “I have invitations, but I can’t do anything with them […] I feel like I’m in a cage, with my hands tied.”</p><p>“It’s possible to live with this,” reflects Aytan Farhadova, another freelance journalist working with Meydan, “but before my flight to Baku, I informed my family about the time of arrival. When we were detained in Baku airport, I wished that they didn’t know about my situation. Then at least I could just tell them that my flight was delayed.”</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VoUC2Y3UUWc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>17 September, 2016: activists and journalists are detained during a protest against <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan's planned constitutional reforms</a>. Source: <a href="www.meydan.tv">MeydanTV</a></em><p>When Azerbaijan’s ANS TV reported on Farhadova’s case, an official from the southwestern Zangilan region informed her family that Farhadova had been arrested. “That’s why everyone was panicking. I always try and keep my family away from such things… but since then, everybody has known,” she sighs.&nbsp;</p><p>Farhadova also contested the ban, but Baku’s Nasimi district court upheld it. Like other journalists, Farhadova plans to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Azerbaijani authorities’ approach seems confusing. From their perspective, it would be a better idea to let critical journalists leave the country</p><p>Aynur Elgunesh, another freelance journalist, has faced problems at the border since 2014. According to Elgunesh, on every trip she has run into delays at passport control as border guards call their colleagues to check information about her. “Every time, they let me cross the border after a long wait and series of telephone calls. During these calls, I was identified as ‘person number five’. When I asked for the reason, they never answered.”</p><p>Elgunesh has written many letters to Azerbaijan’s General Prosecutor’s Office, the Border Guard and Ministry of Internal Affairs, but they answered that she was not subject to any ban.</p><p>Finally, on 6 December, 2015, on route to Sweden, Aynur was informed that she does not have permission to leave the country. Once again, the court case against MeydanTV was the central factor. Once again, the Nasimi district court in Baku rejected all appeals, and Elgunesh sent the case to the ECHR.&nbsp;</p><h2>To banish or to ban?&nbsp;</h2><p>The Azerbaijani authorities’ approach seems confusing. From their perspective, it would be a better idea to let critical journalists leave the country, rather than keeping them in the country where they can more easily dig up investigative stories.&nbsp;</p><p>In any case, distance is less of an obstacle these days. Farhadova says that recent investigations into organised corruption cases show that even journalists based abroad can continue their work and still have a real impact on Azerbaijani society. “Nowadays,” she says, “social networks are stronger than any media outlet. I think that this ban is just to intimidate. It’s to let us know that they’re keeping an eye on us.”&nbsp;</p><p>“Sometimes I joke that the government loves us so much that it doesn’t want to let us go,” says Vagifqizi. “I believe that this ban is because of my work at MeydanTV. The issues we deal with irritate the authorities. They want us to behave as pro-government media outlets do, or to shut up. But they’re not able to do that.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Prospects for media freedom in Azerbaijan are getting bleaker, even compared with the situation over the past three to four years</p><p>Javadly sees the travel ban as a symptom of Azerbaijan’s wider political culture. On 26 September, Azerbaijan held a referendum on 29 proposed constitutional amendments, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">which hands even more power to president Ilham Aliyev</a>. The country’s Constitutional Court approved the proposal in a hurry, without any legal consultation or any parliamentary or public debate. “So, banning journalists from leaving the country is not so unusual,” Javadly tells me. “The government isn’t interested in developing free media. There’s no need to search for some paradox in these cases.”&nbsp;</p><p>Aynur Elgunesh believes the travel ban is not only a way to intimidate journalists, but to remind them that ultimately their work depends on the goodwill of the state. “The state reminds us that we are face-to-face with danger at every single moment [of our work]”, she concludes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Es622UKnpY8B_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A flashmob held by <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities>N!DA</a>, whose members have also faced travel bans. Source: <a href=www.nidavh.org>N!DA</a>.</span></span></span>Guler Mehdizade, a Baku-based journalist, compares this situation to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">the image Azerbaijan’s authorities promote in international PR campaigns</a>. The end result, Mehdizade thinks, is that journalists simply work even harder.&nbsp;</p><p>Alongside Azerbaijan’s long-suffering journalists, there are also cases of other dissidents being denied permission to leave, from members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Ilgar Mammadov’s Republican Alternative</a> (REAL) to young activists from the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">N!DA youth movement</a>.&nbsp;</p><h2>“And finally, I crossed over”</h2><p>Mehdizade received her travel ban in July 2015. The same procedures happened to her. It wasn’t completely unexpected — she’d heard of other journalists’ facing similar problems.</p><p>On 13 February, Mehdizade decided to test the ban by attempting to cross the Azerbaijani-Georgia border. Her suspicions were confirmed, and she appealed to the authorities. The ban was upheld (a result of the criminal case against MeydanTV). Mehdizade also plans to bring the case before the ECHR.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Shirin Abbasov was arrested in September 2015 as part of the authorities' campaign against MeydanTV. Source: <a href=https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8226/>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>As somebody fond of travel, Mehdizade was very depressed. “It really hurts when you hear at the border: ‘Lady, what have you done to get you the ban?’ There are special checking procedures — they open your luggage and drop everything on the floor in front of the people. The way these people are looking at you, it’s awful.”&nbsp;</p><p>Mehdizade’s ban has also affected her husband’s travel plans. Even if it were lifted, she adds, the authorities’ harassment and questioning of critical journalists wouldn’t necessarily stop. In fact, poor communication between government agencies could lead to it lasting longer. “It’s really a weird feeling to not be able to leave the country,” she reflects. “I could live and work there happily for decades and never leave the country. But when you know about the limitation, you get depressed. You feel like you’re in prison.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Behind closed borders&nbsp;</h2><p>The release of Khadija Ismayilova in May 2016 may have been widely celebrated, but it wasn’t necessarily cause for optimism. As Ismayilova put it herself, <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2016/05/27/interview-with-khadija.html">Azerbaijan’s political prison has a revolving door</a> — on the day of Ismayilova’s release, the Baku authorities <a href="http://www.contact.az/docs/2016/Social/052500157262en.htm#.V-qAP5MrKRs">detained blogger Amid Seleymanov and photojournalist Elnur Mukhtarov for 10 days</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Prospects for media freedom in Azerbaijan are getting bleaker, even compared with the situation over the past three to four years. Mehdizade speaks of a noticeable increase in arrests, bans and threats against journalists over the past year.&nbsp;</p><p>With president Aliyev newly emboldened after yesterday’s rigged constitutional referendum, the picture can only worsen. Meanwhile, journalists under threat will experience these defeats at close quarters, from behind closed borders.</p> <p><em>Want to know more about Azerbaijan's opposition politics? Read Rebecca VIncent's <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president>profile of Ilgar Mammadov</a>, the head of the country's REAL movement who's currently in prison. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan’s unconstitutional future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair">Azerbaijan&#039;s Nardaran affair </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gulnar Salimova Beyond propaganda Azerbaijan Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:36:59 +0000 Gulnar Salimova 105625 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Release Ilgar Mammadov https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As Azerbaijan votes on constitutional amendments today, let’s not forget the country’s political prisoners.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000019809.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilgar Mammadov has been in prison since 2013. Source: <a href=www.meydan.tv>Meydan.tv</a>. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>As Azerbaijanis go to the polls today for <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/azeri-leader-set-to-entrench-rule-in-referendum-to-extend-term">a problematic constitutional referendum</a>, the country is in the midst of <a href="https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2016/08/azerbaijan-renewed-human-rights-crackdown-ahead-referendum/">an unprecedented human rights crackdown</a> — again. Or, more fittingly, still. Having locked up the country’s most prominent critics, all but extinguished the political opposition, established nearly total control of the media, and paralysed independent civil society, president Ilham Aliyev is now poised to consolidate power through a vote expected to serve as a serious blow to any remaining vestiges of democracy in Azerbaijan.</p><p>Since Aliyev came to power in 2003, he has overseen wave after wave of repression, targeting one group of critics after another with increasing frequency and intensity as the years have progressed. The human rights situation in the country has been especially dire since 2009, when the two-term presidential limit was removed by constitutional referendum. This move paved the way for Aliyev’s re-election to <a href="http://www.osce.org/institutions/110015?download=true">a third term in office via a seriously flawed vote in 2013</a>.</p><p>In the run-up to the October 2013 presidential election, the Azerbaijani authorities worked particularly aggressively to silence criticism and dissent. They firmly quashed a series of pro-democracy protests in early 2013, using excessive force to disperse the peaceful actions, and detaining dozens of protesters. The period was described as Azerbaijan’s <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-month-of-protests/24888023.html">“hot January”</a>, and led to months of targeting of activists involved with those protests and others deemed to be a threat to the regime. Azerbaijan’s jails swelled with new cases of political prisoners — among them Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) movement, who was arrested in March 2013.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Still behind bars three and a half years later, Ilgar Mammadov, 46, has largely been overlooked by the international community</p><p>Although Mammadov was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of inciting violent protest, the authorities’ real reason for targeting Mammadov seemed clear. Not only had he attempted to challenge Aliyev by running in the presidential election, but he had questioned the very legitimacy of a third term in office for Aliyev. Mammadov, and the REAL movement more broadly, had become too critical, and too visible for the authorities to ignore.&nbsp;</p><p>Still behind bars three and a half years later, Mammadov, 46, has largely been overlooked by the international community, which has not rallied behind him to the same extent as perhaps <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79606">more “celebrity” cases of jailed journalists and human rights defenders</a>. But Mammadov’s continued imprisonment serves as a constant reminder to Azerbaijan’s political opposition of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">serious consequences for those who dare to challenge the Aliyev regime</a>. It also demonstrates very clearly the low regard that the Azerbaijani government has for its international obligations, <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/11/how-azerbaijan-and-its-lobbyists-spin-congress/">despite presenting itself as a reliable international partner</a>.</p><p>Now, with Azerbaijan in the midst of a fully renewed human rights crackdown, against the backdrop of an economic crisis, and with another spate of repression likely to follow this constitutional referendum, the absence of a viable political opposition in the country is perhaps more damaging than ever before. Mammadov deserves seriously increased international attention and a renewed burst of efforts for his release.&nbsp;</p><h2>A pro-western alternative</h2><p>Like many figures in the Azerbaijani opposition, Mammadov first became politically active in the late 1980s as part of the national independence movement prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.&nbsp;</p><p>Mammadov was a student at Moscow State University at the time, where he completed a degree in political science in 1993, and went on to study at Central European University in Budapest, finishing a degree in political economy in 1997. Mammadov joined the National Independence Party, where he served as deputy chairman from 1998 to 2003 when he left the party over policy disputes. He remained politically independent until starting the REAL movement in 2009.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Ilgar_Mammadov.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="181" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilgar Mammadov in 2011. CC A-SA 4.0 Emin Asgarsoy / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Mammadov was one of the first local contacts I established after arriving in Baku in June 2006 — my first diplomatic posting as a political officer at the US embassy. </p><p>The year prior, Mammadov had left his position as a political assistant at the US embassy, and stood as an independent candidate in the November 2005 parliamentary elections. </p><p>In addition to his former post at the US embassy, Mammadov has held roles as an analyst with the International Crisis Group, a board member of Open Society Institute-Assistance Foundation Azerbaijan, a board member of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, and director of the Council of Europe School of Political Studies in Baku (a position he retained until his arrest).</p><p>By the time I arrived in Baku, Mammadov was working as a political analyst and blogger, and running projects related to public access to information. He was a frequent interlocutor of the embassy, someone whose opinions we often sought in response to developments in the country. He was extremely talented — highly educated, well-spoken, charismatic and impassioned. His own views were distinctly pro-western, and he knew both how to talk to a western audience and how to explain western values to the local population. Mammadov was young and ambitious, and it was clear that his star was rising.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The last time I saw Mammadov in person was in December 2012, just days before I would unknowingly leave Baku for the last time</p><p>According to Altay Goyushov, a historian and member of the REAL board, <a href="http://ilgarmammadov.livejournal.com">Mammadov’s blog</a> — the first of its kind in Azerbaijan — quickly became incredibly popular among Baku’s chattering classes. Goyushov said the site brought together all the key figures in Azerbaijan’s opposition politics, who used it as a policy debate forum. The blog began to influence public opinion, and eventually led to the formation of REAL in January 2009 in response to the government’s proposal of a series of constitutional amendments that were put to a vote in March 2009.&nbsp;</p><p>Most significantly, the constitutional amendments adopted in 2009 removed the two-term limitation that had been in place for the Azerbaijani presidency. These changes cleared the way for Aliyev to remain in office indefinitely. Mammadov was among the most vocal critics of the changes, even arguing against them on ANS TV — a rare opportunity for national broadcast of an opposition perspective. Goyushov said that appearance would later become even more popular, being widely shared and viewed again following Mammadov’s arrest in 2013.&nbsp;</p><h2>Mammadov’s arrest</h2><p>The last time I saw Mammadov in person was in December 2012, just days before I would unknowingly leave Baku for the last time. (My Azerbaijani residence permit <a href="http://littleatoms.com/ghosts-baku">would be illegally revoked in connection with my human rights work on the ground</a>.) When I met Mammadov that December, he was fully expecting to be arrested at any moment, as a group of MPs were pursuing a criminal defamation case against him for calling the Azerbaijani parliament a “zoo”.</p><p>Mammadov was indeed <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/02/azerbaijan-stop-score-settling-arrests/">arrested less than three months later</a>.&nbsp;The charges were even more ludicrous than the initial defamation accusation. After travelling to the region of Ismayilli to look into a protest that had erupted in response to local corruption, Mammadov was charged with inciting the protest himself, allegedly with the use of violence.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000023161.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegates visit Ilgar Mammadov in prison. Source: <a href=https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/15344/>Meydan.tv</a>.</span></span></span>Following a trial marred with due process violations, Mammadov was <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-azerbaijan-opposition-jailings/25306224.html">sentenced to a staggering seven years’ imprisonment</a>. Tofig Yagublu, a journalist and deputy chair of the opposition Musavat party, who had travelled to Ismayilli with Mammadov, stood trial alongside him and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on similar charges, although he was released early by presidential pardon in March 2016.</p><p>But Mammadov’s real crime? Daring to challenge president Aliyev. Mammadov had already announced his intention to stand as a presidential candidate during that year’s election. In fact, he attempted to run from jail, but was thwarted when the Central Election Commission claimed that <a href="http://m.apa.az/en/domestic-news/azerbaijani-cec-refuses-to-register-ilgar-mammadov-as-presidential-candidate-updated">4,982 of the 41,247 signatures gathered in support of his candidacy were invalid</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the three and a half years that Mammadov has now been jailed, the space for dissent has shrunk considerably in Azerbaijan</p><p>Further, Mammadov and other leading REAL movement figures very publicly argued that constitutional amendments adopted in the 2009 referendum did not apply to president Aliyev, but to his successor, thus calling into question the very legitimacy of Aliyev’s third term in office. Mammadov was also the only leader of an opposition group to participate in the unsanctioned protests that took place during Azerbaijan’s “hot January” just prior to his arrest in 2013.</p><p>In the three and a half years that Mammadov has now been jailed, the space for dissent has shrunk considerably in Azerbaijan. And yet he has remained vocal, finding ways to continue posting on his blog about political developments in the country, and refusing to write a letter to president Aliyev asking for pardon — a step that has reportedly been effective in some other cases of political prisoners. Mammadov has paid a heavy price for refusing to be silenced; ahead of the November 2015 parliamentary elections, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/02/hrw-submission-un-committee-against-torture-azerbaijan">reports surfaced that he had been tortured by prison officials</a> — beaten, dragged and kicked, resulting in serious injuries and broken teeth.&nbsp;</p><p>Due to the complete lack of rule of law in the country, as with all other political cases in Azerbaijan, Mammadov’s only hope for justice was from the European Court of Human Rights. The Court’s judgment, issued in May 2014, <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-144124">did not disappoint</a>: the Court declared Mammadov’s detention to be politically motivated and ordered the Azerbaijani government to release him. The judgment took effect in October 2014. However, nearly two years later, Azerbaijan continues to flout the Court’s decision, in blatant breach of its obligations as a Council of Europe member.</p><p>The Council of Europe has taken significant action in an attempt to secure Mammadov’s release — including numerous statements by Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, who also launched <a href="http://www.humanrightseurope.org/2015/12/council-of-europe-launches-investigation-into-azerbaijans-human-rights-compliance/">a rare investigation</a> into Azerbaijan’s compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, and numerous interim resolutions of the Committee of Ministers, which discusses Mammadov’s cases at its weekly “Meetings of the Ministers’ Deputies” as a standing agenda item.</p><p>But ultimately, the inability of the Council of Europe to hold Azerbaijan accountable as a member is now undermining the credibility of the entire body, and if unaddressed, may lead to Azerbaijan’s expulsion from the organisation.&nbsp;</p><h2>The middle-class opposition&nbsp;</h2><p>Although its popularity certainly seems to be growing within Azerbaijan, little is known internationally about the REAL movement. In 2014, one foreign commentator labelled the movement <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/68206">“Azerbaijan’s illiberal opposition”</a>. Eldar Mamedov pointed to comments made by REAL’s then co-leader Erkin Gadirli stating that homosexuality was “a choice”, and later calling for the assassination of Armenian officials for their role in the 1992 Khojali massacre. But this criticism is roundly rejected by REAL board members, who maintain that the comments in question were Gadirli’s personal views and did not reflect REAL’s policies. Gadirli <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/1658/Erkin-Gadirli-Removed-from-Position-in-ReAL.htm">was removed from his position</a> as co-leader shortly after the comments in question, but remains a member of the REAL board.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, the term “illiberal opposition” seems unfair when examining the movement’s policies. A more fitting description comes up when speaking to most local commentators: that REAL has filled a gap as Azerbaijan’s middle-class opposition, and one that appeals to the country’s educated youth. Natiq Jafarli, an economist and REAL board member, said the movement had become one of the leading opposition bodies in the country due to its appeal to the middle class, professionals, students and youth. Rasul Jafarov, a human rights defender and REAL board member, says that to him, REAL is the “most free, most democratic institution” in Azerbaijan, which may explain the attraction of REAL to many others in Baku’s human rights community.&nbsp;</p><p>Altay Goyushov, historian and REAL board member, describes the movement as Azerbaijan’s “only liberal opposition”. He said REAL was the only opposition group that had published its policy programme, which included promotion of Euro-Atlantic integration; establishing a truly representative government; and ideals such as rule of law, anti-corruption, a free-market economy and secularism. Goyushov argued that this focus on policy, rather than uniting around a single personality, made REAL different from Azerbaijan’s other opposition groups.</p><p>Representatives of REAL are reluctant to comment on the movement’s exact membership figures, but insist that support has grown significantly over the course of Mammadov’s imprisonment, which has given REAL greater visibility. REAL’s Facebook page <a href="https://www.facebook.com/respublikaci">currently has 14,000 followers</a> — a significant feat in a country where a simple “like” of a critical page or post can result in arrest or other serious consequences. In 2013, the movement collected more than 41,000 signatures in support of Mammadov’s presidential bid.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>As Azerbaijan's economy continues to slow down, we can expect to see repression ramp-up against dissent. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Mammadov is not the only REAL member to be targeted. In 2014, Rasul Jafarov was arrested and <a href="https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/37931/en/azerbaijan:-rasul-jafarov%E2%80%99s-conviction,-the-latest-human-rights-violation">later sentenced to six and a half years’ imprisonment on spurious charges</a> of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of power. He spent 18 months behind bars before his early release by presidential pardon in March 2016. Other REAL members were targeted professionally; for example, Altay Goyushov and Erkin Gadirli were fired from their positions at Baku State University, and Khalid Bagirov <a href="http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=aedca0d9-30d5-4c68-ac47-7f4f03276ced">was disbarred as an attorney</a>.</p><p>More recently, on 12 August, Natig Jafarli was arrested on the same charges that had been used against Rasul Jafarov and other civil society figures — illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of power. In a surprise move, Jafarli was <a href="https://www.irfs.org/news-feed/real-movement-executive-secretary-natig-jafarli-released-from-detention/">released by a Baku court on 9 September</a> — however he remains under a travel ban, and the criminal charges against him still stand. He could face between three and eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Jafarli told me that he believes he was targeted due to the government’s worry over REAL’s growing influence in the country and appeal to Azerbaijan’s youth.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It is people like Mammadov who will pay the price for western inaction</p><p>All REAL board members have been questioned in Jafarli’s case, and <a href="http://en.apa.az/azerbaijani-news/accidents-incidents-news/azerbaijani-prosecutor-general-s-office-issue-statement-on-natiq-jafarli-s-arrest.html">the statement</a> by the General Prosecutor’s Office on Jafarli’s arrest named Ilgar Mammadov — a move interpreted by some observers as a warning that a new criminal case could be opened against Mammadov, perhaps in an attempt by authorities to circumvent the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in his case.</p><p>While Jafarli remained detained, two young rank-and-file members of REAL, Elshan Gasimov and Togrul Ismayilov, <a href="https://www.irfs.org/news-feed/real-members-togrul-ismayilov-and-elshan-gasimov-arrested/">were detained on 15 August</a> immediately after collecting leaflets to be used in REAL’s campaigning related to the constitutional referendum. The movement was not calling for a boycott, rather for citizens to take part and vote against the proposed changes. Gasimov and Ismayilov were sentenced to seven days’ administration each, which resulted in REAL suspending its collection of signatures related to the referendum. Board members viewed it as involving undue risk for ordinary members, with little chance of success, given that authorities had already <a href="https://www.irfs.org/news-feed/central-election-commission-denies-registration-to-musavats-campaign-group/">denied registration to other opposition groups</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>One thing is certain: the Azerbaijani authorities are determined to silence Ilgar Mammadov and the broader REAL movement, and are employing various tactics in an attempt to do so. Given past patterns of repression around election periods in Azerbaijan, the authorities’ moves against REAL seem likely to increase, rather than abate, following the constitutional referendum, to punish REAL for speaking out in the run-up to the referendum, and to hinder the movement’s chances of campaigning effectively in any elections to follow.</p><h2>Western inaction&nbsp;</h2><p>Now, while Mammadov has sat in prison for more than three and a half years, Azerbaijanis are voting on a series of problematic constitutional amendments <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-aliyev-proposed-constitutional-amendments-caucasus-report/27867826.html">that would effectively consolidate power in the country’s already dominant presidency</a>. </p><p>Once the changes have been adopted — and observers have little doubt that they will be, given that Azerbaijan <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan">has not held a single fair and free election under Aliyev’s rule</a> — early presidential, and possibly parliamentary, elections could be triggered within a matter of weeks. Another flurry of flawed votes could prove irreversibly damaging to Azerbaijan’s already fragile democratic movement.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If the international community is serious about its stated commitment to promote and protect democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan, it must ensure that its actions match its words</p><p>All of this occurs while western leaders continue to shake Aliyev’s hand and smile for photos, carrying on with business as usual with a regime that is systematically failing to uphold its international human rights obligations. Western officials seem <a href="http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/07/22-tusk-meeting-azarbaidijan/">largely accepting of the myth portrayed by the Aliyev regime</a> and <a href="Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding">its lobbyists</a> that the international community needs Azerbaijan more than Azerbaijan needs the international community — a claim that rings hollow as the Azerbaijani government seeks international financing in the midst of domestic economic crisis.</p><p>Meanwhile, it is people like Mammadov who will pay the price for western inaction. A man who has spent his entire adult life promoting democratic values, who has worked for the US government and the Council of Europe, is being let down by precisely those institutions, and is being left at serious risk in an Azerbaijani jail cell despite a solid international legal case for his release. The west is failing to prioritise Mammadov’s case and the cases of Azerbaijan’s dozens of other political prisoners, while inexplicably walking on eggshells to placate a regime that ultimately needs western support more than ever before.</p><p>If the international community is serious about its stated commitment to promote and protect democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan, it must ensure that its actions match its words. Measures like individual sanctions against Azerbaijani officials responsible for human rights officials — as called for in <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+TA+P8-TA-2015-0316+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN">a resolution of the European Parliament</a> and in <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4264/text">a bill tabled at the US Congress</a> — should be pursued.</p><p>The Aliyev regime should not be given anything that it wants from the west — whether international loans or an invitation to the White House under a new administration — without first implementing concrete democratic reforms, starting with the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all other political prisoners in Azerbaijan.</p><p><em>Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet memory politics are great at uniting society. Too bad it’s against external enemies. Read more&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan’s unconstitutional future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair">Azerbaijan&#039;s Nardaran affair </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/dont-forget-azerbaijan-s-political-prisoners">Don&#039;t forget Azerbaijan&#039;s political prisoners</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Rebecca Vincent Politics Human rights Azerbaijan Mon, 26 Sep 2016 08:53:52 +0000 Rebecca Vincent 105583 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan's Nardaran affair https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Aliyev regime's crackdown on Azerbaijan's Islamic opposition is smoothing the way for further consolidation of power.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 06.23.02.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>22 July: family members wait outside as the Baku Court on Serious Crimes opens proceedings against Taleh Bagirzade, members of Muslim Unity and others. Source: Meydan.TV. </span></span></span>This month, a trial underway in Baku is bringing to light the conflict between Azerbaijan’s secular majority and the poor, religious communities found across the countries sparsely populated regions.</span></p><p>It involves an accused aspiring ayatollah, a prominent politician seemingly roped in at random and dozens of ordinary Azerbaijan’s citizens who may be little more than innocent bystanders. The confusion around the proceedings reveal the dichotomies of modern Azerbaijan — rich vs. poor, secular vs. religious, the state vs. the citizen.</p><h2>Courtroom farce</h2><p>The defendants are Taleh Bagirzade, a prominent Shiite cleric and former political prisoner, sixteen members of his <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/74651">Muslim Unity movement</a> and one secular politician arrested for a critical Facebook post. These men face <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/275610/">a litany of charges</a>, including murder, terrorism, and attempts to seize power through violence.</p><p>As with many high-profile trials in Azerbaijan in recent years, a guilty verdict is assured. Perhaps this explains why prosecutors appear untroubled by a trial that so far has hosted an uninterrupted stream of testimony on torture, forced confessions and brutality at the hands of security services. Most notably, the state has yet to provide a clear explanation of what the defendants are supposed to have done.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">As with many high-profile trials in Azerbaijan in recent years, a guilty verdict is assured</p><p>Even those who managed to gain entry to the courtroom — a few journalists, relatives of the defendants and representatives of foreign embassies — did not hear, literally, a coherent explanation of the state’s case, as the <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/286939/">prosecutor spoke quietly and did not use a microphone when laying out the state’s case</a>.</p><p>Such courtroom farces are not uncommon in modern Azerbaijan. Earlier this year, Mammad Ibrahim, an adviser to the leader of the Popular Front Party, was <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-opposition-figure-three-years-in-prison/27612365.html">sentenced to three years imprisonment for hooliganism</a>, despite the fact that prosecution witnesses refuted the government’s case and instead <a href="http://www.contact.az/docs/2016/Social/020100145483en.htm">complained of extra-legal pressure to testify</a>.</p><h2>No politician</h2><p>Taleh Bagirzade is not a politician. The head of Muslim Unity, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/7724/">an avowedly non-violent, conservative Shiite Islamist movement</a>, Bagirzade has already served two terms as a political prisoner in the last five years. Prior to his current legal troubles, Bagirzade’s greatest offense appears to have been representing <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-ruling-in-bad-faith">a moderate Islamist alternative to the state</a>.</p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000013957 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Taleh Bagirzade, head of Muslim Unity, has been accused of plotting a coup and establishing "a religious state under Sharia law". Source: <a href=www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Reports of torture at the hands of security services have been common since Bagirzade and the first of 76 other defendants (not all are being tried at once) were swept up in a raid on the evening of 26 November 2015 in the town of Nardaran, a conservative Shiite community about an hour’s drive north of Baku with <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav061302.shtml">a long history of anti-government protests</a>. Inside a modest house, the imam and several fellow believers were celebrating the sacred month of Muharram when armed riot police arrived from Baku and surrounded the building.</span></p><p>Everything that happened next is in dispute.</p><p>The official narrative is that authorities were tipped off that Muslim Unity was planning an armed insurrection against the state. Officials at the scene claimed someone inside the house opened fire on police. At some point a grenade was thrown. In the end, six people were dead, two of them police officers, and 15 men were in custody.</p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Testimony from the defendants and witnesses described a chaotic scene where peaceful citizens are set upon by black-masked security forces, and dragged, conscious and unconscious, into a waiting furniture van, according to testimony reported by the independent news agency <a href="http://contact.az/docs/2016/Social/080500164586en.htm">Contact.az</a>:</span></p><p class="blockquote-new">“We were thrown into a furniture van, where they began to beat us with rifle butts. It was there that our friend Farahim died from the beatings. Besides him in the car there already were several bloodied prisoners unconscious."&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">“When I was examined by the doctor, a police officer told him to cut off my nose," said the defendant. The last defendant Ali Nuriyev said the police knocked out his tooth and smashed his face, and later he was put four seams so that he could speak with his broken lips.</p><p>In reporting on the second day of testimony (<a href="https://www.facebook.com/khadija.ismayil/posts/10205304902220629">which is worth reading in full</a>), investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova described one defendant’s ordeal. Shamil Abdulaliyev spoke of lengthy extralegal detentions and repeated beatings at the hands of security personnel. He declined to describe either as torture:<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="blockquote-new">"I haven't been tortured like others", said in Baku Grave Crimes Court Shamil Abdulaliyev, who carries in his body two of the three bullets shot at him in Nardaran by the police. Only one day after he passed surgery in hospital he was taken out of intensive care for interrogation. He said he was threatened to be killed in hospital and forced to sign papers with false confession reading that as if Muslim Unity Union gave him arms for overthrow. He says he was not tortured. Two months incarceration in the penitentiary hospital for no reason, he thinks is not a torture…&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">Farhad Balayev was beaten and arrested inside the hospital. The real ordeal started after that. He was taken to Bandotdel (anti-organized crime unit of the Interior Ministry) and kept there illegally for more than two weeks. Interrogations followed beatings, beatings followed interrogations when Balayev refused to sign testimonies on his behalf, falsely accusing Tale Bagirzade and Muslim Unity Movement in preparing an armed coup. Finally he had to give up.&nbsp;</p><p>Official press coverage of the trial in Azerbaijan <a href="http://en.apa.az/azerbaijani-news/accidents-incidents-news/fuad-gahramanli-and-others-accused-in-nardaran-events-testify-in-court.html">largely consists of lengthy descriptions of defendants’ disavowed pre-trial testimony</a>, which they universally argue was obtained through torture. No reference is made to why they may have recanted.</p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The town roundly rejected the official story, and <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/9646/Unrest-in-Nardaran-after-Six-Die-in-Police-Raid.htm">men and women took to the streets</a>. Townspeople held rallies demanding the return of the bodies for proper burial, and local journalists who were able to enter the town before the government closed the roads and shut off electricity and other services, uploaded emotional, often harrowing footage that spread quickly across Azerbaijan’s gossipy social media.</span></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ynhUFUaZR0s" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>November 2015: Independent Azeribaijani news station <a href="www.meydan.tv">MeydanTV</a> interviews people affected by the raid in Nardaran.</em></p><p>Searches continued for a week, dozens of local residents were detained, and a total of 78 alleged Muslim Unity members were arrested in a nationwide sweep. Some, according to police, were carrying both weapons and narcotics at the time of their arrest — an apparently commonplace habit in Azerbaijan, according to police reports of arrests of journalists, politicians and their friends and family.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Many of the accused claim they aren’t members of Muslim Unity — something the group’s leadership has argued as well, said human rights activist Anar Mammadli. “The judge didn’t pay attention to this,” Mammadli told me, “or about the facts of torture by the staff of the Major Police Department… These facts were not reviewed by the court either.”<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The disorganised nature of the trial raises the question of what exactly the Azerbaijani state hopes to achieve&nbsp;</p><p>The absurdity hit a fever pitch when opposition politician Fuad Gaharamanli was arrested on 11 August for objecting to the accused’s treatment in a Facebook post. He stands charged with <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/news/16625/">three violations of the criminal code</a>, including Article 281 (making public appeals for the violent overthrow of the state).</p><p>According to Bagirzade, the <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/286245/">defendants were tortured</a>&nbsp;and asked to implicate Gaharamanli’s party, the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP), in the alleged uprising. Other defendants <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/287333/">have testified to their bewilderment</a> at the charges leveled against them and the methods used to force them to confess.</p><h2>Misplaced paranoia<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>The disorganised nature of the trial raises the question of what exactly the Azerbaijani state hopes to achieve.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Although both secular and religious opposition leaders have been swept up in a single move and will almost certainly stay in prison at president Ilham Aliyev’s whim, the complete dearth of incriminating evidence or a coherent narrative guarantees their convictions will be eventually overturned upon appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, according to observers and human rights activists following the case.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>As cases take years to make their way through the overloaded Court, mass convictions in the "Nardaran affair" could guarantee years of negative foreign press and uncomfortable conversations with the international lenders <a href="http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/azerbaijan-seeks-more-funds-for-sgc-29929">it will rely upon to build gas pipelines crucial to the state budget</a>.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-13644287 - peter leonard ap nardaran.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Over the past ten years, Nardaran has gained a reputation for being a "troublesome town". (c) Peter Leonard / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Further muddying the waters is the lack of widespread popular support of the accused. Although the Popular Front Party managed a good showing in the rigged 2013 presidential elections, the thorough crackdown on civil society that followed left the democratic opposition fractured and disorganised. Bagirzade himself readily admits that there is neither the support nor ideological infrastructure <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/7724/">to establish an Islamic state in today’s Azerbaijan</a>.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></span></p><p>It is possible the state has completely misapprehended the threat posed by both parties. Although the Azerbaijani security services face few limits on their ability to detain, interrogate, and torture citizens at will, it would be a mistake <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/6876/Leaks-reveal-Azerbaijan-spent-$384000-on-spyware-but-lacked-tech-skills-to-use-it.htm">to confuse this authority with competence</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Perhaps Azerbaijan believes a few dozen convictions of so-called Islamic terrorists will aid its efforts to become a vital ally in the west’s ongoing war on terror&nbsp;</p><p>If misplaced paranoia is not the culprit, perhaps Azerbaijan believes a few dozen convictions of so-called Islamic terrorists <a href="http://en.trend.az/azerbaijan/politics/2444021.html">will aid its efforts to be remain a vital ally in the west’s ongoing war on terror</a> — an increasingly valuable diplomatic objective in the face of Europe’s slow realisation that Azerbaijani gas <a href="https://www.oxfordenergy.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Azerbaijans-gas-supply-squeeze-and-the-consequences-for-the-Southern-Corridor-NG-110.pdf">can only minimally reduce the continent’s dependence on Gazprom</a>.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>As the primary battleground has shifted from Afghanistan to Syria, Azerbaijan is now l<a href="http://www.eur.army.mil/pdf/US-Transportation-Commander-emphasizes-Azerbaijan-Afghan-contribution.pdf">ess important as a transit route for US troops</a>, and Baku has been keen to compensate by proving itself an important actor in the fight against ISIS.</p><p>State media <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-syria-connection-islamic-state-isis/26781551.html">regularly publishes detail-free reports</a> of arrests of Azerbaijanis returning from or heading to Syria to take up arms, but independent analysis <a href="http://jihadology.net/2015/02/02/the-clear-banner-azerbaijani-foreign-fighters-in-2014/">has only identified about 200</a>&nbsp;(including non-combatant family members) — a miniscule portion of the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/29/iraq-and-syria-how-many-foreign-fighters-are-fighting-for-isil/">estimated 27,000 or so foreign fighters that have made the trip</a>. Furthermore, there is no record of a <a href="http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/08/syrian-shiite-militia.html">Shiite Azerbaijani traveling to fight in Syria</a>, despite attempts in the Azeri press <a href="http://vestnikkavkaza.net/news/Events-in-Nardaran-is-attempt-to-destabilize-Azerbaijan.html">to tie conservative, Iran-friendly towns like Nardaran to this larger global conflict</a>.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Despite the superficiality of the narrative, it is never wise to underestimate Azerbaijan’s willingness to push its agenda through high-priced lobbyists</p><p>President Aliyev may be trying to build a reputation as the key actor preventing Azerbaijan from slipping into religious chaos by padding his government’s statistics with a few dozen convictions — <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-david-w-montgomery/%E2%80%98muslim-radicalisation-of-central-asia%E2%80%99-is-dangerous-1">a tactic common in Central Asia</a>, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/08/us/fbi-isis-terrorism-stings.html">also practiced by the FBI</a>.</p><p>Despite the superficiality of the narrative, it is never wise to underestimate Azerbaijan’s willingness to push its agenda <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">through high-priced lobbyists</a> and the <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/15543/">odd unscrupulous parliamentarian</a>.</p><p>Policymakers may decide that the potential domestic political cost for supporting political prisoners like Bagirzade is too great. Rights groups <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79606">have long struggled to get official support for Azerbaijan’s several dozen less-famous political prisoners</a>, and few of them have been accused, however spuriously, of seeking to emulate Ayatollah Khomeini.</p><p>To date, a passing reference in the US State Department’s annual <a href="http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrappe">International Religious Freedom Report</a>&nbsp;constitutes the sole official foreign statement from a foreign government on the nearly year-long affair.</p><h2>A curious silence</h2><p>Most curious is the impact, or lack thereof, that the case is having on Azerbaijan’s politically engaged community.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Some activists and journalists have aggressively covered the trial, but Azerbaijani social media has been much more engaged in a scandal around <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Mehman.IRFS/posts/1075929795777270">an activist’s cheeky video of an MP’s oversized dacha</a> and the Ministry of Education’s decision to charge fees for university entrance exams.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Even a <a href="http://eldarzeynalov.blogspot.se/2016/07/silaha-l-atmaq-ny-lazmyd.html">highly critical essay</a> condemning Bagirzade (and Nardaran in general) by prominent human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov failed to make an impact. In the course of reporting this story, the author did not speak with anyone who had read it of their own accord. A rally led by opposition politician Ali Karimli attracted only a few dozen, and the video of it has been viewed less than 2,500 times.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Nardaran affair has been pushed out of the headlines by a crackdown on Azerbaijan’s secular civil society&nbsp;</p><p>“I am not surprised that no one is talking about it. It’s a sensitive topic to openly discuss, and I think some people are afraid of what they might say and how it might backfire,” said Azerbaijani journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/arzu-geybulla">Arzu Geybulla</a>. Liberal-minded Azerbaijanis may worry that expressing concern for the Nardaran defendants could be interpreted as support for their politics, and keep quiet to avoid unpredictable backlash from their peers.</p><p>Geybulla added that even Azerbaijani human rights lawyers seemed disinterested in the case. Many of the defendants relied upon public defenders, who they complained actively worked against their interests until several days into the trial.</p><p>On the other hand, the incomplete and polarised coverage of the events — which was largely split between emotionally-charged cinema verite-style footage from independent media and dry, bare bones accounts in official outlets — has left average Azerbaijanis uncomfortable expressing strong opinions on the case, says veteran human rights activist Anar Mammadli.</p><p>“At the beginning of the case, local and international audience didn’t get proper information… We hoped the court would clarify all questions and concerns on the operation. However, the current court process is under political control of the government and the independence of the judge is under doubt,” said Mammadli.</p><p>At the time of writing, the Nardaran affair has been pushed out of the headlines by <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/new-wave-of-reprisals-against-azerbaijani-opposition-party/27938240.html">a fresh crackdown on Azerbaijan’s secular civil society</a>. This is likely tied to an upcoming constitutional referendum in September <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">which will centralise more power in the office of the president</a>. Youth activists, journalist, opposition politicians and three unknown employees of mobile telecomms companies have been detained with regularity over the past ten days.</p><p>It is too early to predict how these parallel crises will resolve, or whether Azerbaijan’s Islamist or democratic opposition will be in anything but shambles by the end of the year. No matter the fate of the persons involved, they represent the challenges of reconciling the authoritarian, democratic, and Islamist strains of modern Azerbaijan — none of which are disappearing anytime soon.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-ruling-in-bad-faith">Azerbaijan: ruling in bad faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan’s unconstitutional future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mike Runey Religion Azerbaijan Wed, 24 Aug 2016 17:21:58 +0000 Mike Runey 104925 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s unconstitutional future https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Dominika.jpg" alt="Dominika.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /><span>Azerbaijan’s new draft constitution is due to be passed by a popular referendum this September. If passed, it will only cement the power of the Aliyev regime.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan's Neft Dashlari oil field has been active since the 1950s. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Azerbaijan is the little brother of Turkey, culturally and politically speaking. And so, no surprise that while Turkey is undergoing one of the gravest undemocratic turmoils for years, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev is poised to consolidate his hold on power by changing the constitution.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In late July, Aliyev <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/azerbaijan-calls-september-referendum-on-greater-presidential-powers/">announced that a referendum on the new constitution would take place on 26 September</a>. Given Aliyev’s track record, we can safely assume that this referendum will be a facade to anaesthetise European observers.</p><p>These are the tactics of Europe’s worst regime: lulling possible foreign critics with oil contracts, fancy sport and cultural events, and glossy inflight magazines published as Conde Nast “specials”, Meanwhile, citizens of Azerbaijan are denied fundamental rights, there are no independent media and political prisoners await freedom in deplorable conditions. Azerbaijan’s judiciary seems to be manually steered by the president and the parliament rubber-stamps whatever Aliyev wants.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The ostensible referendum seems like a bad joke to the population, which does not remember free and fair elections for the president or for the parliament.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The will of the people<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>On social media, concerned Azeris, who worry it may be the last nail in the coffin of a free society, have been discussing the draft of constitutional changes. Take the extension of the presidential mandate from five to seven years, or the new ability to declare extraordinary presidential elections at anytime, which president Aliyev is intending to ratify with what he will call “the will of the people”.</p><p>This constitutional change would make Azerbaijan even more authoritarian, strengthening the already substantial position of the president, whose abuse of power has been widely documented by investigative journalists (<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/dont-forget-azerbaijan-s-political-prisoners">whom he, of course, has jailed</a>).</p><p>“He will ram through the referendum and quickly announce elections before the economic crisis in our country is even more serious; this way, while the world is busy with other matters, he can falsify the referendum and reign undisturbed until 2023,” a lawyer from Baku wrote to us in an encrypted smartphone message. In solidarity with Azeri lawyers, we help defend the rights of victims of Aliyev’s oppressive policies, representing them before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where they turn when they cannot obtain justice in the national courts.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The proposed amendments signal constitutional restrictions to Azerbaijani citizens’ fundamental rights</p><p>The planned changes come at a time when most of Europe’s constitutional democracies — Azerbaijan only wishes it were one of them — have been shortening their presidential terms. For example, in 2000, France shortened the length of the presidential term from seven to five years, doing exactly the opposite of what Aliyev is intending to do. In his explanation to the public, president Jacques Chirac relied on populist, but valid formulations: “seven years is too long”, “five years is more modern”, “the French will vote more often”.</p><p>Constitutionalists argue that the give-and-take of the democratic process is the best source of effective democratic power control. A term of seven years, combined with the possibility of lifelong re-election (through a proxy like in Putin’s Russia), releases Aliyev from submitting to electoral contest, thus turning Azerbaijan into his own, private estate.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The proposed amendments also signal constitutional restrictions to Azerbaijani citizens’ fundamental rights. The constitution stipulates that every citizen from birth enjoys inviolable, undeniable and inalienable rights and freedoms. The new Article 24 introduces a restrictive clause, enabling the limitation of citizens’ freedoms in cases where rights are abused. Such general limitation, without any reference to proportionality or conditions of rights derogations, should raise constitutional concerns. These considerations may be purely academic in the context of Aliyev’s repressive regime, but by introducing the mysterious clause “abuse of the right is not allowed”, Azerbaijan’s new constitution will put the cart before the horse and suffocate those rights.</p><p>In all democratic constitutions, human rights always go first and only then certain limitations may follow if some pre-conditions are met (e.g. legality, serving a legitimate aim, necessity). Any prohibition of “abuse of rights” is redundant.</p><h2>Extraordinary conditions<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Under the proposed constitution, the president will receive new substantial powers, particularly to declare extraordinary presidential elections. In most European constitutional orders, anticipated or snap elections are ordered by parliament or the parliamentary spokesperson. This prerogative in the hands of president Aliyev will only reinforce his powers.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Thus, it isn’t hard to imagine that Aliyev could use it for political purposes — <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim">in case of social tension</a> or decreasing public support, Aliyev could simply order fresh elections. The result of this potential contest seems obvious given previous experience. Meanwhile, the outside world, which may not have the time and interest to check how genuine the whole exercise was, will be convinced that Aliyev still enjoys the Azerbaijani people's trust.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijan’s new draft constitution authorises demonstrations only if they do not “disrupt public order and public morals”. This will legalise the current practice of suppressing assemblies and rallies</p><p>At the same time, the draft changes introduce a new article that gives the president the power to appoint and dismiss vice-presidents (a position hitherto non-existent). This vice-president can carry out the functions of the president if the latter is incapacitated due to illness, or if the president wants to take a term “off” only to return later. It seems that as president Aliyev gets older, he is preparing the ground for a handpicked successor.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Azerbaijan’s new draft constitution authorises demonstrations only if they do not “disrupt public order and public morals”. This will legalise the current practice of suppressing assemblies and rallies. Take the violent dispersion of a demonstration in January 2013, when a Baku crowd of hundreds protested against corruption and injustice. Most of the protesters <a href="http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/19049.html">were detained without legal grounds for several hours</a>, transported to the outskirts of the capital and released.</p><p>In a recent judgment in the case of <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{&quot;fulltext&quot;:[&quot;huseynov&quot;],&quot;documentcollectionid2&quot;:[&quot;GRANDCHAMBER&quot;,&quot;CHAMBER&quot;],&quot;itemid&quot;:[&quot;001-154161&quot;]}">Huseynov v. Azerbaijan</a>, the European Court of Human Rights stated that Azerbaijani authorities need to grant particular protection to demonstrators and should restrain themselves from using excessive force against them. Emin Huseynov, a local journalist now in exile, was seriously beaten while reporting from a gathering in 2008.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This new condition on the right to assembly (to not “disrupt public order and public morals”) is a general term devoid of legal precision, and it would be an easy ground to prohibit demonstrations or to disperse them in the name of the law.</p><h2>Know your rights</h2><p>A similar intent to legitimise current abuses of human rights can be found in the articles relating to property rights and loss of citizenship. </p><p>For years now, Baku has <a href="http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/The-New-Baku-demolition-and-beautification-101575">witnessed forced evictions, confiscations and demolitions of private houses in the rush to modernise the capital</a>. Mass expropriations are carried out without either adequate compensation or legal proceedings. In these places there emerge new parking lots, boutique stores, boulevards, skyscrapers, shopping centres and even a Formula One race track.</p><p>According to the proposed amendments to Azerbaijan’s constitution, “private property causes social responsibility”. Moreover, “property rights over land plots might be limited by law to ensure social justice and effective use of land”. Here too, the authors use superfluous notions, giving a wide margin for the government to pursue unjust evictions. The draft changes pass over fair and proportional compensation — a prerequisite of any eviction according to international law — which should be provided to expropriated citizens.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">One of the main principles of democracy and the rule of law is transparency and openness. Voters should know clearly what legal proposals are submitted to them&nbsp;</p><p>Another set of amendments would enable the withdrawal of an individual’s citizenship in cases “provided by law”. Stripping someone of their citizenship and forcing the person to become stateless is a tool of political repression used by the Aliyev regime towards journalists and human rights defenders. In doing so, Azerbaijan is in breach of its own commitments under the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which forbids rendering anyone stateless by such means and on political grounds.</p><p>The manner in which the referendum will be held and what questions should be addressed to the people is essential. One of the main principles of democracy and the rule of law is transparency and openness. Voters should know clearly what legal proposals are submitted to them — particularly important in referenda and plebiscites.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Back in 2009, president Aliyev <a href="http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/10357.html">changed the country’s constitution</a>, granting himself the opportunity for potentially unlimited re-election. At that time, the ballot form only stated the new text of the constitution, not what was being replaced, and specific changes such as the removal of presidential term limits were buried in the middle of 29 minor and bigger constitutional changes. Thus, it was unclear what was being voted on unless you had a copy of the old constitution in front of you — unlikely for average citizen.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Knowing the Azerbaijani regime, it would be naïve to expect a different scenario at the upcoming September referendum, which, alas, may be just another smokescreen. It should be seen by the international community for what it is — and vigorously denounced.</p><p><em>Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet memory politics are great at uniting society. Too bad it’s against external enemies. Read more <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska Azerbaijan Wed, 10 Aug 2016 07:45:38 +0000 Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska 104672 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Months on from a deadly fire on a Caspian sea oil rig, the Azerbaijani authorities are yet to conduct a full investigation.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span></span><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At 5:40pm on 4 December 2015, a heavy storm and high waves swept through an underwater gas pipeline on the Guneshli 10 oil platform. (c) Meydan TV.</span></span></span>Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.</span></p><p>Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against the side of production platform no. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.</p><p>The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.</p><p>State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, stated the OWRPO <a href="http://www.nhmt-az.org/frontend/pages/human-rights-inner.php?id=108">in a report published in February</a>.</p><p>The government was quick to dismiss the report, but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a word. The prosecutor has opened a criminal case (which is standard procedure), but has made public no details of its investigation. It is not known whether it has questioned managers accused by oil workers of glaring safety breaches.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued”</p><p><span>Mirvari Gharamanli, president of the OWRPO, <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/its-oil-first-people-second-just-like-in-soviet-times/">said to me in an interview</a>: “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued. It should be other way round: people first, and then the oil. People should have been evacuated in a timely way. Attention should have been paid to these safety issues. But the human factor comes at the end.”</span></p><p>The oil workers’ trade union should have monitored safety standards, but were “not interested” in that, nor in investigating the causes of the accident,&nbsp;<span>Gharamanli</span><span>&nbsp;told me. “They helped with a bit of money to the families, that’s all. And we are talking about human lives here.”</span></p><p>The events of 4 December, as described in the media and the OWRPO’s report, were as follows. (The OWRPO report is <a href="http://www.nhmt-az.org/frontend/pages/human-rights-inner.php?id=108">here</a>; there are news agency reports <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-accident-fire-idUSKBN0TO09H20151205">here</a> and <a href="https://www.oilandgaspeople.com/news/6240/at-least-32-dead-in-worst-offshore-disaster-since-piper-alpha/">here</a>; and <a href="http://caspianbarrel.org/?p=37318">a valuable analytical article on the Caspian Barrel web site</a>.) </p><p>Wind speed had risen to 38-40 metres per second, and the height of waves rose from 8 metres to 9-10 metres. At about 17.40, a submarine gas pipe running from the platform broke. There was an explosion of gas escaping from it, and a fire broke out, which soon spread to a number of the oil and gas wells operaetd from the platform.</p><p>Due to the strength of the storm, firefighting and rescue vessels were unable to reach the platform, which is operated by Azneft, a production division of Socar (the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic). </p><p>There were 63 workers on the rig; most of them evacuated via the north side of the platform and boarded two lifeboats. The OWRPO says that the way the evacuation was implemented by those in charge on the platform showed a lack of safety training and awareness. </p><p>Both of the boats were lowered on cables to about 10 metres above sea level: it was decided not to lower them into the water for fear of being dashed against the platform by the storm. </p><p>One of the lifeboats was blown by the wind and got wedged between the platform’s supporting legs. That saved the lives of its occupants, who were rescued after the storm subsided.</p><p>The cables holding the other boat snapped. It was blown against the side of the rig and broke into pieces. Those on board were thrown in to the water.</p><p>The rescue vessels, still held back by the force of the storm, only managed to pull three men from the water, one of whom died straight away.</p><p>The rest of those who had been on that lifeboat perished. The OWRPO concluded that there were 12 dead and 19 missing, presumed dead (listed in the OWRPO report <a href="http://caspianbarrel.org/?p=37318">here</a>). There has been no official list of victims published by the government or Socar.</p><p>Three other Azerbaijani oil workers lost their lives on 4 December – Dzhavad Khudaverdiev (44), Bakhman Dzhafarov (54) and Rovshan Mamedov (41) were swept out to sea from production platform no. 501 at the Oil Rocks oil field – bringing the total number of deceased on that day to 34. (Reported <a href="http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/309508.html">here in Russian</a>.)</p><p>The OWRPO conducted its own investigation into the tragedy, and published it on 24 February this year. The organisation concluded that:</p><p>■ Workers had reported a gas leak from the pipeline a day before the disaster. They were told by the managers of the “28 May” oil and gas production department not to stop production – although doing so might have minimised losses when the accident happened</p><p>■ The practice, and legal requirement in Azerbaijan, of reducing worker numbers on rigs to the minimum during stormy weather, was not followed. Of the 63 people on the rig when the fire began, 15 were members of a construction and drilling team – in breach of the Labour Code, which states that construction, installation and dismantling work on platforms should be stopped during stormy weather</p><p>■ There were other non-essential workers, including five catering staff, on the platform. “The heads of departments are obliged to explain to society, and the families of killed and missing oil workers: why didn’t they send them away, if they received information about a hurricane?” the OWRPO report states</p><p>■ Azerbaijan’s law requires that in storms of force 8 or greater, most types of production work should be stopped, and that in storms of force 10 or greater, all work, except to flush and cool tools, should be stopped. This did not happen</p><p>■ Many of the workers were not wearing lifejackets during the evacuation. Mirvari Gharamanli said that this is confirmed by photographic evidence from the scene, and her own meetings with survivors in hospitals. (Note: There are different requirements for safety clothing in different countries. On the North Sea, the standard now is for each worker to have a survival suit; in some oil producing countries, lifejackets are still the norm. UK oil worker trade unionists say that it is unthinkable that, during an evacuation during stormy weather, that either survival suits or lifejackets were not available)</p><p>■ “Safety rules were seriously violated”, the OWRPO said; direct responsibility lies with the heads of the “28 May” oil and gas production department, the complex drilling trust, the transportation department, Caspian Catering Service and others. </p><p>■ “During the rescue operation, oil workers were not given proper instructions.” (The report stated that some industry experts believed that the evacuation should not have been attempted, and that workers would have had a better chance of survival by remaining on the platform, in the living quarters. Other industry specialists dispute this)</p><p>■ Questions were raised by industry specialists about the quality of the lifeboats, and when they had been inspected</p><p>The OWRPO report also detailed the fog of lies and deceit created around the accident by the government and Socar on the evening that it took place. </p><p>For six hours after the emergency began, no public comment was issued by Socar or the ministry of emergency situations; then Socar issued a statement that there had been no injuries or deaths. Mirvari Gharamanli <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/its-oil-first-people-second-just-like-in-soviet-times/">explained in her interview</a> how her Facebook page became a lightning-rod for information in the midst of an official blackout.</p><p>The OWRPO also accuses the authorities of treating oil workers’ families with contempt. Although, under pressure, they established a central information point, no psychological support was provided – and some families were sent away by intolerant officials.</p><p>In March, Socar <a href="https://business-humanrights.org/en/azerbaijan-workplace-health-safety-abuses-by-socar-contributed-to-high-number-of-casualties-following-guneshli-oil-field-accident-says-ngo-report-includes-firms-comments">issued an inconsequential rebuttal</a> to the OWRPO report (reported here), which failed to deal with any of the main points, but has itself said nothing about the causes of the disaster, or the possibility that safety procedures could be improved.</p><p>It is hard to think of a more cynical, money-grubbing attitude to the safety of a company’s employees.</p><p>The background to the disaster is the generally poor safety culture in the Azerbaijani oil industry, the OWRPO says. In 2014, 19 people were killed; in 2015, as a result of the accident on platform no. 10, this figure more than doubled to 40. The organisation blames production-oriented management and the spinelessness of the officially-sanctioned trade union, which has raised no protest at the official failure to investigate last year’s tragedy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Oil is an international business; we need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests</p><p>But this is also an issue for the oil industry, and oil workers, internationally. (James Marriott raised some key issues in December last year, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-mariott/behind-storm">in this article on openDemocracy</a>.)</p><p>The Guneshli death toll was the highest on an offshore oil platform <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/article-store/the-north-sea-1-the-reaction-to-piper-alpha/">since the explosion on Piper Alpha in the North Sea</a>, which killed 167 British workers in 1988, and the highest in any offshore accident since the American drilling ship Seacrest capsized in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989, killing 90 people. And yet the international reaction to it has been minimal.</p><p>The British government, a key supporter of the Azerbaijan regime, has maintained a polite silence. BP, which operates the largest oil and gas fields in Azerbaijan and has billions of dollars’ worth of joint projects with Socar – although it has no operational involvement whatever with the Guneshli field where the accident took place – sees the Azerbaijani company as one of its most important business partners.</p><p>An acquaintance who works in the oil business said: “You could see how important they think the lives of oil workers are, at the annual oil and gas business conference in Baku in June. No-one from the oil companies or the government expressed any regret about the disaster. It was not even mentioned by any of the main speakers. Not even a moment’s silence.”&nbsp;<span>Senior BP managers and Baroness Nicholson, representing the UK government, were among those who had more important things to discuss.</span></p><p>Oil is an international business; we need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests.&nbsp;<span>Let’s hope the international trade union federations can find ways of putting pressure on Azerbaijan over its appalling safety record. Perhaps British and Norwegian oil workers could take up the issue.</span></p><p>Let’s find ways of supporting OWRPO’s efforts to organise Azerbaijani oil workers, to improve workplace conditions and dismantle the safety culture that subordinates human life to production.</p><p><em>This article first appeared on <a href="peopleandnature.wordpress.com/">People &amp; Nature</a>.</em><span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/james-mariott/behind-storm">Behind the storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gabriel Levy Green Eurasia Azerbaijan Thu, 04 Aug 2016 07:55:26 +0000 Gabriel Levy 104531 at https://www.opendemocracy.net