A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The diplomatic row between Azerbaijan and the OSCE regarding the mandate of the OSCE Office in Baku went public last week in Vienna.On 14 May 2013, whilst in Vienna accompanying President Ilham Aliev who was on a state visit to Austria, the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, took time to address formally the representatives of the 57 participating States of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at a meeting of the Organisation’s Permanent Council.
Couched in diplomatic language the Minister’s speech, and the response to it from many of the diplomats present, highlighted a serious stand-off on the issue of the role of the Office of the OSCE in Baku. The office was established in 1999 and was seen as an important mechanism to accompany Azerbaijan’s programme of reforms aimed at bringing it in line with OSCE commitments.
Over the recent months Azerbaijan has been asking for the mandate of the office to change, in practise reducing its role to that of a technical office. Since the budget of the office is part of the OSCE budget, and since the budget needs to be approved by consensus by all the member states Azerbaijan has been hinting that it may veto the whole budget unless its request is satisfied.
This is only one of many issues that have emerged over the last year in Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU and other countries as a result of a crack-down against all form of dissent in the country.
read the current mandate of the OSCE office in Baku here.OSCE Baku office mandate More…
The case of Azerbaijani political activist Ilgar Mammedov is fast becoming a test-case of the resilience and integrity of those European institutions that are meant to be the guardians of human rights on the continent. Mammedov was arrested earlier this year after visiting the town of Ismaili at a time when rioting was taking place. Mammedov is accused of inciting the riot.
Unrests in Ismailli district began on the evening of January 23, after an accident involving the nephew of the head of the local administration Nizami Alekperov, and the son of the Minister of Labor Fizuli Alekperov - Vugar Alekperov, triggering a riot. The participants set fire to a number of commercial entities belonging to officials. Special Forces and internal troops entered the district using rubber bullets and tear gas There were dozens of arrests and many injured as a result of clashes. Mammedov, who is also Director of the Council of Europe Schgool for Political Studies in Baku and co-Chair of the social movement “Real”, went to Ismaili to investigate the incident and was subsequently arrested and accused of inciting the riot.
His case was raised this week by the Council of Europe, an institution that has traditionally been the beacon of human rights on the continent. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council and will take over its rotating chairmanship in 2014. There is great unease in European circles about the message this will send, and frustration at a deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan at this juncture. More…
The US Department of State last week released its annual publication “Country reports on human rights practices” which reviews the global human rights situation throughout the world.. The report highlights serious problems in the field of human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and a systematic democratic deficit in the governance of the three countries. Many of the issues raised in the report have been reported on by Caucasus Elections Watch throughout last year, including the situation in prisons, problems with the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, harassment of opposition activists and problems with the electoral process.
“It is in our interest to promote the universal rights of all persons. Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbours, stronger allies, and better economic partners. Governments that enforce safe workplaces, prohibit exploitative child and forced labour, and educate their citizens create a more level playing field and broader customer base for the global marketplace. Conversely, governments that threaten regional and global peace, from Iran to North Korea, are also egregious human rights abusers, with citizens trapped in the grip of domestic repression, economic deprivation, and international isolation.”
US Secretary of State, John Kerry
We reproduce here the Executive Summaries of the report with regards to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The full report can be accessed at http://www.state.gov. More…
The President of the European Council Herman Van
Rompuy (r) greets OSCE Secretary General Lamberto
Zannier during the latter’s official visit to the EU,
Brussels, 10 April 2013.
Picture courtesy of the European Union
The current challenging political and economic environment calls for focused international response, said OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy during their meeting on 10 April 2013.
According to the web portal osce.org they discussed a wide range of issues related to the European security dialogue, including the role the OSCE can play as a forum to build bridges between different countries to create a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community. They also exchanged views on regional issues on the OSCE agenda including recent developments related to the protracted conflicts. In Brussels the Secretary General also met with Commissioner Štefan Füle responsible for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy and senior officials from the European External Action Service.
Whilst the EU and the OSCE are two organisations that are very different in nature they face many common challenges and the overlap of membership of the 27 EU member states who form nearly half the membership of the OSCE calls for a more harmonised and more focused relationship. Nowhere is this more the case than in the South Caucasus where the two organisations are involved in multiple ways on wide spectrum of issues involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, from conflict resolution to democracy and human rights issues. More…
A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)
Police tactics in dealing with street protests are often subject to criticism, in democratic countries as much as in totalitarian ones. The use of water cannon and rubber bullets is allowed under standard operating procedures in many countries. Usually it means that either the number of demonstrators was so huge that the police felt that they were losing control and that there was a threat to public order, or that the protest had become violent and there was danger to safety of citizens or property. It could also mean that the police were unprofessional or under instructions to use heavy handed tactics.
The protest held in Baku on 10 March was neither huge nor violent yet the police responded with tear gas, water-canon and rubber bullets, and arrested around eighty protestors.. The use of overwhelming force to break up a protest mainly by young people angry at the number of deaths in the Azerbaijani Army as a result of abuse by senior officers is a sign of the jittery mood in the Azerbaijani leadership ahead of presidential elections in October. The protestors were calling for the resignation of the Defence Minister. Amongst them were relatives of some of the hundreds soldiers who died in the Azerbaijani military in non combat situations over the last years.
Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. The government has a choice: dialogue and reform or confrontation. It seems it has opted for the latter. If things do not change very fast the October election will be an irrelevance. The squeeze on the opposition continues; a leading Presidential contender, Ilgar Mammedov, is in jail; and the space for peaceful dissent shrinking by the minute. More…
Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev signing the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. The Act made the subject of human rights a matter of legitimate concern to all.
Over the last few weeks it has become common to hear officials in Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent in Armenia, complaining that the European Union is interfering in the internal affairs of their countries. This happens whenever EU officials or diplomats raise issues connected with human rights, rule of law and free elections. The chorus started first with some pro government journalists and commentators, but by last week senior officials in the two countries had joined the fray.
These officials clearly do not understand the processes that have been going on in Europe in the last forty years. The historic Helsinki Final Act adopted by all the European states (with the exception of Albania) in 1975 laid the foundation of a new European order which recognised the indivisibility of security and that human rights on the continent were not simply an internal matter but a matter of legitimate concern for all. More…
At the 941st meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Vienna on Thursday, 14 February 2013 a statement was made on behalf of the twenty-seven member states of the European Union and on behalf of Croatia, Montenegro, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzogovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who aligned themselves with it, expressing concern about recent developments in Azerbaijan in the field of human rights. More…
The European Union has few tools at its disposal when responding to threats to freedom of speech in the South Caucasus, except for its moral authority. The institution and its member states are not perfect by far, but together they represent the best practise on issues related to human rights and democratic traditions. Governments and people in the South Caucasus recognise this even if they do not always admit it.
The events of the last few days in the three South Caucasus countries caused concern. None was serious enough to trigger a crisis but all were serious enough to raise alarm bells and to highlight the question as to what is the end game of the EU with regards to the region on this issue. The soul searching has started and it will continue, probably until November or thereabouts when the EU expects either to welcome Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia closer to it through Association Agreements, or relegate all or some of them to the status of trade partners. More…
Books of Akram Ayisli being burnt in the city of Ganja.
Azerbaijan chose the week in which it launched its first communication satellite into space to crack down on a writer who dared challenge the official narrative of history and relations with Armenia. Observers could not fail to notice the irony that whilst the space launch was being hailed as an example of Azerbaijan’s success as a modern state the burning of the books of Akram Ayisli and threats by a pro government politician to put up a prize for the author’s ears, sounded more like medieval acts of intolerance. Akram Aylisli was last week officially stripped of his “People’s Writer” title and his presidentially awarded pension. He was also expelled from the Union of Azerbaijani Writers. The actions were taken because of Aylisli’s novel “Stone Dreams,” published in a popular Russian magazine last year. It focuses on clashes between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s and challenges stereotypical characterisations that have been part of the official narrative of events. “Spontaneous” public protests against Aylisli and rituals in which Ayisli’s books were burned have now been followed by a bizarre offer by a pro government politician to pay a prize of 10,000 manats (around US$12,700) for the ear of Ayisli. Aysili is now saying he is considering leaving the country because he is afraid for his life.
source: CEW staff
Prominent Azerbaijani activist, Ilgar Mammedov was arrested in Baku on Monday, (4 February) and charged with instigating unrest in the town of Ismaili. During several days of rioting in Ismaili in January a hotel and several cars were burnt by angry crowds protesting against corruption by local officials.
Ilgar Mammedov is Chairman of the Real Alternative, Movement for Social Change.
It is not yet clear how Mammedov has been implicated in the affair. Ilgar Mammedov is a well known activist, considered cautious and considerate in his criticism. Writing on her facebook page, prominent female activist Khadija Ismailova said that “his arrest is a signal to those who think there is a safe way of doing opposition politics. There is no safe way.”
The arrest of Mammedov is considered as a sign that the Azerbaijani government is upping the stakes in its “cat and mouse” game with opposition forces ahead of presidential elections in October.
Source: CEW Staff
President Ilham Aliev addressing a meeting of the cabinet of Ministers in Baku on 15 January 2013.
Azerbaijan has become the latest country to shed off its “post-soviet label”. The term long frowned upon by the Baltic states and Georgia amongst others, is often used to describe those countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, who later this year will seek re-election for the third term, told a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that Azerbaijan had made great achievements in the economic field and in the sphere of international diplomacy. the President said that next month the country will also launch its first telecommunications satellite into orbit. Aliev said, “ Azerbaijan is becoming a space-faring nation, we are developing a space industry. a few years ago it was hard to imagine that there would come a time when Azerbaijan would become a space-faring nation. But that time is coming, and in the next few days we will celebrate this historic event. this, in itself, is a great achievement in every sense – for the prestige of the country, for its modernization and for the development of new technologies. It is also beneficial for business, because it is an economically viable project.
But most importantly, it demonstrates the development and intentions of our country. It demonstrates our overall outlook and policy because we are building a modern and strong state. We have long gone beyond regional boundaries. We have long left in the past the notion of a post-Soviet country. We are not a post-Soviet country. Sometimes in meetings with foreign partners the phrase “post-Soviet country” is used. I say to them, “Wait. Azerbaijan is not a post-Soviet country. Perhaps some countries are post-Soviet, but we are not. We are the independent state of Azerbaijan.” More…
Political activism in Azerbaijan continues to search for ways of expressing itself in an environment that whilst not being totalitarian, leaves little space for the expression of dissent.
For many years street protests were the way that Azerbaijanis vented their political opinions. But opportunities for that have become increasingly limited, with the government restricting public demonstrations, and banning them completely from the centre of the capital, Baku.
Despite technical and financial problems, several anti-government newspapers continue to publish. Journalists report harassment of all forms, especially when reporting on corruption, but many remain undeterred.
In recent years many young activists have taken to cyberspace, where many young activists now blog regularly in Azerbaijani, English Russian and other languages, connecting not only with their own compatriots at home and abroad, but also internationally. The government has by and large tried to ignore this phenomena, using positive methods to counter it, largely by strengthening its own on-line presence.
Youth groups have become increasingly active and increasingly artistic in their methods. Increasing international attention has made the Azerbaijani government more sensitive to the way it handles dissent, and there are some signs that “soft policing” may be more in fashion now. Both sides however are testing the water. More…
In an end of year essay on the state of play in the South Caucasus, long time regional analyst Dennis Sammut says that democrats in the South Caucasus, and their friends, need not be ecstatic about the achievements of 2012. But they can allow themselves a moment of optimism and satisfaction.
Fragile gains give hope
There has not been a single revolution. The three Presidents who held office at the beginning of the year were still sitting in their palaces as the year end approached. Yet in many respects 2012 has been an unprecedented and momentous year for the countries of the South Caucasus and one that is bound to leave its mark on the future politics of the region.
By and large democracy has won. An opposition party thrashed the ruling party in parliamentary elections in Georgia. Parliamentary elections in Armenia were deemed better than previous ones and five political forces gained seats in the new National Assembly, and in Azerbaijan pro-democracy activists carved a larger space for their activity through clever use of new media, whilst a much predicted post Eurovision crack-down on dissent failed to materialise.
The fragile gains of 2012 give hope that the region has turned the corner in its efforts towards democratic state-building, but democracy is far from secure. There remains a serious democratic deficit and none of this year’s gains are as yet consolidated, so they can easily be swept away. But for once, it does no harm to be optimistic. More…
Whilst Armenia and Azerbaijan emphatically insist that they are European countries representatives of some of their leading political parties last week participated in the 7th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) which was hosted in Baku by Azerbaijan’s ruling party YAP and was attended by a number of other Azerbaijani parties, both pro government and opposition, as well as by the leader of Armenia’s Heritage Party, and Presidential candidate, Raffi Hovhanessian.
The participation of Armenian and Azerbaijani political parties in this event has caused some amused bewilderment since both countries, as well as their political elites, have for the last two decades since they attained their independence, insisted very emphatically that they were European countries, and both countries are now full members of the Council of Europe.
Unlike Turkey and Russia, whose geography puts them part in Europe and part in Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have traditionally been categorised in either one or the other. Whilst some still put them as Asian countries, since their admission to the Council of Europe in the late 1990s they are generally defined as European. Political observers question if ICAPP was worth paying the prize of opening once more the discussion on this issue. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have in recent years been criticised in European political frameworks for their human rights record, and their democratic credentials questioned. More…
A protestor being restrained by police in Baku on 17 November 2012
(picture by Mehman Huseynov).
Dozens of demonstrators were arrested in Baku over the weekend after participating in an unsanctioned demonstration calling for the dissolution of Parliament.
As was the case with previous protests organised by youth movements and opposition groups in Azerbaijan, the Baku City Council did not issue a permit for the demonstration which took place on Saturday 17, November in Fountain Square, citing potential disruptions to traffic in the city centre.
According to the Facebook event set-up to organise the protest, over 1,700 people confirmed their attendance. In the end only around a hundred turned up. More…
The opening session of the Internet Governance Forum in Baku. (Photo: Mehman Huseynov).
The VII Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Baku from 6-9 November 2012. In the run-up to the event, local and international human rights watchdog organisations have voiced concerns about freedom of expression online in Azerbaijan. Marion Kipiani followed the event and spoke to some of the participants.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an annual meeting convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, bringing together governments, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss public policy issues related to the internet. This year’s IGF, hosted in Baku from 6 to 9 November 2012, focused on the role of Internet governance in promoting development. In addressing greetings to the participants of the IGF, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said his government was paying special attention to the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The President in his statement said Azerbaijan was respecting the freedom of the Internet, as shown by a number of Internet-based radio and TV stations, electronic newspapers and magazines, and the availability of social networks. The statement further noted that thousands of bloggers in Azerbaijan were freely engaging in their activity online. Local and international human rights watchdog organisations begged to differ. More…
The Maidan Tower in Baku. A symbol of Azerbaijani history.
With the democratic transition of power progressing in Georgia, the focus of the regional and international community is increasingly shifting to the upcoming elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notably, Azerbaijan has scheduled presidential elections for October 2013, which are regarded by many observers as crucial for the democratic development of the country.
Marion Kipiani was recently in Baku and she spoke with four experts about their perceptions of the political system, the upcoming elections, and the possible impacts of the change of government in Georgia on the electoral environment in Azerbaijan. The political and electoral systems in Azerbaijan are still under development, this was one of the few statements that the four experts unanimously agreed on. Farhad Mammedov, Razi Nurullayev, Anar Mammadli and Arastun Orujlu tell her why. More…