Thursday, May 7

"West should withdraw support for regime in Baku"

By Bart Woord

"(This is the English translation of the extended version of the article that was published today in NRC Handelsblad - the published one is about 800 words, the one below is I think over a 1000. Its not a very good or precise translation but the best I can do for the moment)

On the 7th of May the Eastern Partnership will be signed by the EU and 6 of her eastern neighbors. In the run-up a lot of attention has been devoted to the situation of human rights and democracy in Belarus. Oddly enough the situation in Azerbaijan is being ignored, whereas it should be just as much of concern, if not more.

Of the three Southern Caucasian republics, Azerbaijan is least known among the European public. It is at the crossroads of Russian, Persian and Turkish civilizations and has been dominated, both politically and culturally, by Russia since the start of the 19th century until the end of the 20th. Baku, the capital, was the center of 19th century petrochemical industry and the Nobel brothers as well as the Rothschildt family set up businesses in this swiftly westernizing city. Baku hence still feels very European, both in terms of construction style as well as living style.

The short lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) was the first Islamic country that implemented full (women) suffrage, remarkably earlier than many Western countries. At the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties the Azerbaijani independence movement was one of the most strident of all within the Soviet Union and was at the base of the final disintegration of the communist bloc. Especially in the first part of the nineties, Azerbaijan was characterized by a dynamic democratization and a pluriform society, with partly fraudulent but still heavily fought elections.

Unfortunately there is very little to be seen back from that emerging democracy that Azerbaijan promised to become in the nineties. Freedom House marked the country as partly free until 2003, but since then it has been part of the non-free countries. The current dictator, Ilham Aliev, has continued the work of his father, the late leader until his death in 2003, in an all too effective manner and marginalized the opposition by intimidation, bribing and incarceration. Critical journalists are beaten up and students who bring attention to corruption at their universities are kicked out. The remaining media is of a depressing state, as became painfully clear at the recent, and for Azerbaijani standards absolutely unique, shooting attack in Baku where 13 students were murdered. News could only be gathered via Turkish and Russian TV and for those able via some new media, whereas the national media only brought the issue to light a couple of hours later.

Western governments have been closing their eyes for the deteriorating state of human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan for years. Belarus has opportunistically been dubbed the last dictatorship of Europe whereas Azerbaijan as member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE is just as much part of Europe and the government is just as notorious, if not more. During the scarce moments of honesty, Western representatives speak of this discrepancy as resulting from geopolitical considerations, meaning that good relations with the Azerbaijani government are that important for Western interests that human rights issues should be ignored. These considerations come down to the geographical position of Azerbaijan in the middle of Iran and Russia, as well as the role of Azerbaijan as an important alternative oil and gas provider for Russia.

Such opportunistic reasoning obviously turns Western human rights policy into a caricature. What might actually be even more problematic is the fact that such so-called realism testifies a shortsighted understanding of Western interests vis-a-vis Azerbaijan and that this could have disastrous effects already on the short term.

First, only a democratic Azerbaijan is a genuine alternative for Russian energy. The ties between the current Russian and Azerbaijani political elites are just as warm as they were in the past, politically, economically as well as personally. In the case of a further deterioration in the relations between Europa and Russia it will be unlikely that the authoritarian Azerbaijan will drop their Russian colleague. The renown Nabucco tap can be closed in a jiffy after a single call from the Kremlin.

Secondly, the close association of the West with the current regime has led to a sharp decline in the reputation of the West in Azerbaijan as a supporter of democracy. The remaining opposition is still very bitter over the lack of support after the fraudulent presidential elections in 2003, when the West withheld its support for the opposition whereas it did the opposite in similar situations in Georgia and Ukraine. In an environment with lots of dissatisfied youth, and in which the big southern neighbor is Iran, alternative associations are easily found. It is a public secret that radical muslim sects from Iran and the Arabian peninsula are actively promulgating.

Azerbaijan still has the potential to turn into a pluriform, stable democracy, which can be built on top of earlier, autonomous democratic traditions and institutions and hence does not need to be started from scratch. It is time that the West will be taking her own interests seriously and extends her explicit support to the few remaining democratic forces that remain in Azerbaijan, before it is too late."

3 comments:

Sınav said...

“Critical journalists are beaten up and students who bring attention to corruption at their universities are kicked out.”
As far as I know the beaten journalist’s case is not yet substantiated to have anything to do with the government. Per se I beat a journalist whose articles are not in favor of my interests and beliefs, then am I told by my government to beat that journalist?!

“Western governments have been closing their eyes for the deteriorating state of human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan for years. “
Azerbaijan is a member of variety of International Organizations which are monitoring and commenting on human rights issues. E.g. NGOs like “Dalğa gänclär Häräkatı”, OSCE and etc.

“ … Western representatives speak of this discrepancy as resulting from geopolitical considerations, meaning that good relations with the Azerbaijani government are that important for Western interests that human rights issues should be ignored. “
Human rights issue is not the pivotal point of politics; however Human rights violation takes place in different extents and therefore they deserve different reactions.

You may find these links informative:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/country_profiles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarus#Politics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarus#Foreign_relations_and_military
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Belarus
http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=34701
http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=34080



“The renown Nabucco tap can be closed in a jiffy after a single call from the Kremlin.”
If it were so, then The Russians wouldn’t offer to buy whole the Azerbaijanis gas at Net market price which is about $525 per every one thousand cubic meters.

“… fraudulent presidential elections in 2003, when the West withheld its support for the opposition whereas it did the opposite in similar situations in Georgia and Ukraine…”
I do not really understand what people have in their minds by talking about Azerbaijanis opposition. Maybe it is because I have a scant knowledge of the opposition parties. I live in South Azerbaijan where the Azerbaijanis people are beset by the racial discriminatory policies of Iranians; I realize the importance of opposition parties and the horrific nature of dictatorship though. The point is that I do not think of the opposition parties in Azerbaijan as real necessary means of democracy because I’ve never heard any sensible declaration or alternative plan of them to everything they keep on criticizing.
If there are cries for the lack of support for the opposition parties of Azerbaijan, then lets say the lack of support is due to the malfunctioning nature of the parties and not because of a discrepancy.


To be honest with you I think this article which lacks any analysis and falls short of providing facts is all about the Russian discontent with the EPP.

Arzu_G said...

Sinav,

As you would see in the begging of that post, right below the title, is the name of the author (its not me). I published it because i thought the article shed light on the reality in Azerbaijan and not necessarily provide facts. This article was written with the intentions to simply tell the foreigners who have no clue about Azerbaijan about the situation on the ground. And while you might be right with some of your arguments, I will pass on all your comments to the author. And let him do all the answering.

Thanks for the comment.

Jackal said...

Sinav, let me first say where I agree with you. The Azerbaijani opposition was discredited long ago. The combination of repressive government policies and their own petty egoism and self-indulgence disillusioned the public and transformed major opposition movements into risible shadow puppets.

And if you're looking north to Azerbaijan, under the dark shadow of Tehran, then I see the logic in many of your views. But just because some nations are worse-off, doesn't increase the freedom or lives of Azerbaijani under the Aliyev thumb.

True, Azerbaijan is a member of several international organizations and has signed many agreements. How are they treated? The same OSCE which was NOT invited to observe the referendum? The same Council of Europe which announed the referendum went against democracy and their principles?

I see your point. You say human rights should not be the pivotal point of politics. Let's say that strategic national interests should be. So then interest in Azerbaijan should be regional stability and energy security.

Yet instability is increasing - worsening corruption, increased centralization, increased violence, Islamism, lessening economic opportunity.

What about energy security? In order to punish Turkey for talking to Armenia, Azerbiajn will sell its gas to Russia instead of Turkey and Europe? We've seen how Russia uses oil and gas as a tool to get what it wants.

I know the talking points for the school of realism. They fit better in 2004. But after a while, those supporting Aliyev will be like those who supported the ruthless and corrupt Shah of Iran.