The situation in Azerbaijan has been on my to-blog-about list for quite some time, ever since I read how the country’s elections were tainted by claims of fraud and even after the results were accidentally released the day before everyone actually voted, they were not disputed by the people in the highest seats (or they were out of a job soon therafter). The country’s politics were brought to my attention again recently by an opinion piece by Arzu Geybullayeva on the Al Jazeera website. The piece gave to the issue gave me the final push I needed to make this blog happen.
So, Azerbaijan… let start with a small introduction.
According to the tourism website of Azerbaijan, it is “located in the south-eastern part of the Transcaucasian region, western Asia. It borders to the north – with Russia, in the north-west – with Georgia in the south – with Iran, in the west – with Armenia, in the extreme south-west – with Turkey. In the east it is washed by the Caspian Sea. Its area is 86 600 sq. m. km. In addition to the mainland it composes of numerous small islands of the Caspian Sea (Baku and Absheron archipelago).”
When looking through its history, one can not help but notice that it is a region marked by conflict involving a variety of parties, such as Arabs, Russians, Armenians and Turks. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Azerbaijan declared its independence from Russia in May 1918. The republic was reconquered by the Red Army in 1920 and was annexed into the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922. It was later reestablished as a separate Soviet Republic on Dec. 5, 1936. Azerbaijan declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union on Aug. 30, 1991.
So, the country, as it is now, is relatively young. Since its independence it has seen presidential elections eight times, and at least three (attempted) military coups. The current president, Ilham Aliyev, all though re-elected for a third term in October of 2013, is often referred to as a dictator. His father came to power through a military coup in 1993 and the family never looked back.
Geybullayeva refers to her homecountry as a “country of amputated spirits”, as its leader slides further down the slippery slope of tyranny. She describes how “in 2013 there were at least 19 prisoners of conscience behind bars in Azerbaijan” and “[what] all of these people have in common is their critical approach to the government’s policies, budget spending, election transparency and overall crackdown on dissent. For the government, however, they are dismissed as “hooligans” and “instigators of hate”, “liars” and “drug addicts”.”
Strange as it may sound, the tragedy for the Azerbaijani people is that country is doing quite well economically and contributes greatly to the world’s energy supply. As Gebullayeva writes:
It’s not that the international community isn’t aware of blackmail, harassment, circus trials and routine crackdowns, but a decision to take certain measures is lagging – if not completely absent – from the discussion table. So the question arises: Is energy security more important than human life? So far, this certainly has been the case.
Such an ugly side of international politics. Apparently, Aliyev has found the right balance between just the right amount of oppression on the one side and on the other side a significant enough contribution the the world’s economy to keep people in high places satisfied. They are handfed information and nice gifts from Azerbaijani officials to look the other way when the critical reports are handed out. What is more, the country has assumed its six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 14 May 2014, without anyone even giving it’s human rights situation a second thought.
Amnesty International justly asks:
So who is the criminal in this case? The authorities who fear a different voice, or the young, educated activists who care about the country they live in. Or perhaps the responsibility is in the hands of those who intentionally turn the other way in return for presents and deals? The situation at present in Azerbaijan suggests one thing – the burden of democracy is heavy and not all are willing to carry its weight.
A tragedy indeed, and one so close to home it is hard to believe we know so little about it. Azerbaijan’s slogan during the Eurovision contest in 2012 was “light your fire”. I encourage its people to do just that!