Following the publication of the following piece in Washingpost about Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev and the most recent crackdown on the supporters of free speech and democracy in the country it didn’t take long for the official response to come through.
Commenting on the allegations explained at length in the article (including the trumped up charges brought up against Leyla and Arif Yunus), Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Washington D.C. Elin Suleymanov said it wasn’t as simple as that. “The merit of charges against Leyla and Arif Yunus should be determined by the legal system in Azerbaijan, not by political campaigns. The detention could have been avoided had they responded to the repeated summons to testify in an ongoing investigation. Instead […] they rejected any interaction with law enforcement officials”. Perhaps if Mr. Suleymanov was prevented from leaving the country on one of his trips without any explanation he’d think differently. Until then, his response should come as no surprise.
In his letter to editorial of Washington Post, Richard Kauzlarich, who was US Ambassador to Azerbaijan between 1994 and 1997 wrote a timely response to Ambassador Suleymanov: “The ambassador did not address the bogus charges of spying for Armenia made against Leyla and Arif Yunus, the fact that Mrs. Yunus is being denied medicines and medical treatment or the fact that there are dozens of other political prisoners being detained or imprisoned in Azerbaijani jails”.
The truth of the matter is everyone including Ambassador Suleymanov is aware that the on-going crackdown is unjustified. And more than anything it makes the government of Azerbaijan look weak – if this was a confident leadership the country would have no political prisoners in jail or any other problems with freedom of speech or human rights as a matter of fact.
As for public diplomacy and the role people like Yunuses play in the on-going track two discussions instead of belittling, some gratitude would be much appreciated. Especially as Ambassador Kauzlarich rightly notes, “neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan has demonstrated a commitment to the Minsk Group framework because neither side is prepared to make the compromises necessary to achieve the peaceful resolution of this conflict”.