Tuesday, July 29

Azerbaijan: The ultimate battle of words

Originally written for Meydan TV now sharing this on my blog. 

There is an on-going trend for those who are not very familiar (or too familiar) with Azerbaijan. And that is the ultimate battle of words between the government officials and the world that exists outside their 86,600 km2  world. There is the official language which comes down to one general statement and that is there is nothing wrong with this nation of 9.3 million and that everything is just superb.

Then there is the unofficial language, of the invisible ones, of the group of people who are most often end up in jail, even more often intimidated or even more often belittled and humiliated.

But is still within the country boundaries.

Outside of Azerbaijan exists a whole other world. Which not always takes things the way they are. In short, “everything is grand” just wont cut it.

One of these countries, is her Majesty’s England. Famous for its five o’clock tea and delicious scones. But what England also has is an outspoken government, especially when it comes to speaking about the importance of the freedom of speech and human rights. These leaders are not so much liked in Azerbaijan. No caviar involving deals are done with these men and women.

And because caviar won’t do it, there is a special kind of treatment and allergic reaction developed towards such individuals. It is most commonly known as “go-mind-your-own-business” type of reaction.

So it was not at all surprising when one of Azerbaijan’s very own, Elman Abdullayev of the Press Service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, reacted in exactly this manner to the words of the British Minister for Europe, David Lidington.

Just a few days earlier, Lidington condemned the verdict against the human rights activist Hassan Huseynli, adding, how much disappointed was he that Huseynli was sentenced to six years and whose sentence appears to be politically motivated. “In recent years the British Embassy in Baku worked closely with Mr. Huseynli on projects designed to promote social entrepreneurship and strengthen female participation in civil society. Mr Huseynli joins a growing number of civil society activists sentenced to lengthy prison terms. I again call on Azerbaijan to address concerns felt by many about the increasingly worrying trend of detentions and prison sentences which appear to be politically motivated”, read the rest of Lidington’s statement.

And in a manner of tit-for-tat, Press Service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry immediately reacted advising "to refrain from undue interference in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan, and spend their efforts to improve human rights in his [Lidington’s] country."

The icing on the cake was the following statement by Abdullayev saying, “no one in Azerbaijan  is persecuted for his/her political views, and he regards  the words of Lidington as an 'indicator' of  Britain's attitude to the rule of law” adding a myriad of existing issues as  “lack of conditions for free ships, torture, opacity legislatures, mass surveillance of citizens on the Internet and telephone tapping, violation of privacy, slavery, racial discrimination, violation of immigration laws, and etc.”

Does the last part of Abdullayev’s statement imply that there are no cases of torture, crystal clear and transparent legislature, no mass surveillance of citizens online and “0” cases of telephone tapping? Perhaps not so much of racial discrimination in Azerbaijan but what about minorities or religious groups and the tolerance exercised towards these communities?

The last time the world has checked UK ranks 33rd and Azerbaijan 160th on the World Press Freedom Index; 36th vs. 183rd (don’t have to guess which one is which) on the Freedom House Press Freedom Index; UK is “free” when it comes to Freedom on the Net and Azerbaijan is “party free” (imagine all that surveillance); one gets the picture without further comparisons.

So why the battle? Why poke fingers at ourselves by comments and statements that make little sense and draw only further criticism if not laughter? Wouldn’t it be better to start addressing some of the raised shortcomings rather than dismissing them? Perhaps it is time to accept the truth?

Many of these questions will remain just questions for the time being. Mostly due to the mere fact of negligence, which is widely spread among the government circles in Azerbaijan. And to the dismay of the many who see the reality different from Azerbaijani authorities the battle will go on.

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