Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Troubled Partner: Growing Authoritarianism in Azerbaijan
Committee Staff Present:
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Senior State Department Adviser,
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
U.S. Department of State
H.E. Elin Suleymanov,
Republic of Azerbaijan
Leader of the “EL” Movement,
National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan
Samad Seyidov, Dsc, MP
Chairman of the Assembly,
Republican Alternative (ReAl)
Director, Russia and Eurasia,
National Endowment for Democracy
The briefing was held from 2:01 p.m. to 4:19 p.m. EDT
in the Capitol Visitor Center, Senate Room 201-00, Washington, D.C.,
Shelly Han, Senior Adviser, CSCE moderating
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
HAN: Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome you to a briefing of the Commission
on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the human rights situation in
Azerbaijan. We’re very pleased to have an illustrious and large panel to
discuss this issue.
Both Azerbaijan and the United States are participating states in the OSCE, and
as such, have agreed to the principle that comprehensive security and stability
requires not only physical security and economic development but respect for
human rights as well.
We have six speakers today. And I’d like to remind them to keep their
statements succinct as we want to have time, after all the speakers have
finished, for questions. We will invite the audience to ask questions as well.
And we have distributed bios for each of the speakers so I’ll refer you to
those instead of reading them out loud before each speaker.
Before we start with our witnesses, I’d like to turn to the commission’s senior
State Department adviser, Dr. Paul Carter, who’s going to provide a few remarks
to help frame our discussion for today.
CARTER: Thank you, Shelly, for the introduction. As Shelly mentioned, I would
like to take just a few minutes to provide some context and frame today’s
discussion. I note at the outset that my remarks are not an official statement
of State Department policy, but are offered instead in my capacity as senior
adviser to the Helsinki Commission.
The United States is a friend of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani people. We
regard the government of Azerbaijan as a partner with whom we share many
interests and cooperate on many issues. Azerbaijan is located in the
strategically important Caucuses region, borders Russia and Iran, and is a key
gateway along the new Silk Road to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Azerbaijan established its economic independence soon after the collapse of the
Soviet Union and now plays an important role in efforts to supply Europe with
alternative sources of energy.
The government has supplied contingents of troops to work with us in Kosovo,
Iraq, and Afghanistan. And the country is a significant transit corridor for
the United States to Afghanistan.
The United States has worked closely with Azerbaijan, as well as Armenia,
through the OSCE Minsk Group to find a positive, forward-looking solution to
the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. And the government of Azerbaijan has taken a
positive approach to significant international issues, including maintaining
good relations with Israel and respecting sanctions against Iran.
These common interests and approaches have fostered good relations between the
United States and the government of Azerbaijan and have received much attention
in Washington and Baku.
But we are not here today to discuss energy, regional security or
Nagorno-Karabakh. Our purpose today is to discuss a set of issues that has
received less attention but is no less significant. These issues concern the
many reports of the Azerbaijani government’s decline in respect for democratic
values and growing authoritarianism.
Reported trends include: intimidation, arrests and use of force against
journalists and human rights activists; tough new NGO registration
requirements; legal restrictions on the Internet, including criminalizing
online liable and abuse; restrictions on freedom of assembly, forceful
dispersion of unsanctioned protests, and detention of demonstrators; unfair
administration of justice, including arbitrary arrests and detention;
politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, lengthy pre-trial
detention and executive interference in the judiciary; the jailing of religious
believers; the closing, in April, of the Free Thought University; and, since
April 28th, the jamming of Radio Liberty-Radio Free Europe broadcasts.
Azerbaijan will hold a presidential election in October of this year. The OSCE
election observation mission’s reports on previous elections in Azerbaijan
found that those elections failed to meet OSCE and other international
standards in significant ways.
We are concerned, given the current apparent decline in respect for democratic
values in Azerbaijan, that the prospects for a free and fair presidential
election have not improved and, indeed, may have significantly declined. In
this regard, I note as well that the government of Azerbaijan still has not
issued an invitation to the OSCE to send long and short-term observers to the
We have a distinguished panel of Azerbaijani and American officials,
politicians and experts to provide more information on these issues and help us
to understand their significance.
While some of our panelists currently are active on the Azerbaijan political
scene, I would like to stress that the Helsinki Commission does not take sides
in the upcoming presidential election. Our only interest is in supporting a
free and fair campaign and election as well as a greater respect for human
rights and democratic values.
With that, I would like to return the floor to Shelly, who will introduce our
HAN: Thanks, Paul. Now, I’d like to turn to Thomas Melia, who’s the deputy
assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and
You have the floor.
MELIA: Thank you. Thank you, Ms. Han and Dr. Carter and all of the commission
members and staff for inviting me here to brief about the situation in
Azerbaijan and its implications for the October presidential election.
Azerbaijan is, as Dr. Carter summarized so well, an important partner for the
United States. It plays a significant role in advancing energy security for
our friends and allies, and provides vital support as a transportation hub for
the international security mission in Afghanistan.
Thus, it is timely and important for us to take a sober look at recent
Azerbaijani government actions, which raise concerns in advance of the October
presidential election, and about democratic and civil society development more
As a friend of Azerbaijan, the United States supports the country’s long-term
stability in a tough neighborhood. In this connection, I want to share some of
the concerns that we in Washington and our colleagues at our embassy in Baku
have discussed with senior Azerbaijani government officials in recent months.
We have seen some positive efforts by the government in certain important areas
affecting human rights situation, such as in combating human trafficking and
battling against domestic violence, as well as an impressive new ASAN,
administration services center, in Baku that’s intended to decrease petty
Unfortunately, the political environment for human rights and fundamental
freedoms more broadly has worsened since at least last November, when the Milli
Mejlis passed amendments significantly increasing fines on participants and
organizers of unauthorized protests.
Then, this year alone, restrictive actions have included an increase in the
number of detained peaceful democracy activists, use of water cannons to
disperse a peaceful protest in Baku, legislation further restricting NGO
financing, criminal code amendments that extend penalties for defamation and
insults to online content, and the closure of the facility of the Free Thought
University, a non-partisan forum established by young activists to develop
critical analytical skills and independent thinking, which the U.S. government
has been proud to support in its formative months and for the first couple of
years. And there’s been pressure on independent defense lawyers, resulting in
a decreasing number of such lawyers prepared to defend individuals charged in
sensitive political cases.
U.S. officials consistently highlight the importance of greater respect for
human rights and fundamental freedoms with Azerbaijani government officials at
all levels in Baku and Washington. We also raise our concerns at OSCE fora,
such as the weekly permanent council meetings in Vienna, most recently on July
To amplify U.S. government concerns, I have traveled to Azerbaijan three times
since taking my current position in DRL. I was there in June 2011, last
December, and in April of this year.
While in Azerbaijan, I’ve met with government officials at the highest levels,
as well as democratic reform advocates, such as political party and civil
society leaders, independent journalists and defense lawyers.
In the most recent visit, in April, to demonstrate solidarity with families of
incarcerated democracy activists, I also met with Vafa Mammadova, the wife of
ReAl presidential candidate Ilgar Mammadov, who has been in pre-trial detention
for more than five months.
In my meetings, I have urged our partners, our counterparts in the government
of Azerbaijan to respect universally recognized freedoms such as freedom of
expression, assembly, and association, and not to penalize individuals for
attempting to exercise these freedoms. I also have emphasized the importance
of fostering an environment conducive to pluralism among civil society
organizations, political parties and media outlets as a foundation of true
While in Baku in mid-April, on an inter-agency delegation that I co-led with
USAID Assistant Administration Paige Alexander, we conveyed these messages to
senior government officials and non-government leaders. In addition to the
Department of State and USAID, the Department of Justice also participated in
our inter-agency delegation to convey our strong support for strengthening the
rule of law.
In April, I urged Azerbaijani authorities to take four concrete steps to
enhance political stability during this important election year.
First, to investigate what appeared to be credible reports of harassment of
lawyers defending journalists and activists, with an eye towards ending
interference in the work of lawyers who play a pivotal role in establishing the
rule of law in modern societies.
Second, to immediately release arrested democracy activists, such as Ilgar
Mammadov – the European Parliament called in a resolution adopted on June 13th
for his immediate and unconditional release, and we echo that, as well as
others who have been incarcerated for having exercised their fundamental
Third, to engage in a real dialogue with Azerbaijani civil society, including
those such as Free Thought University and other nongovernmental, nonprofit
organizations that are trying to advance civic culture and democratic
principles, as well with international organizations that are present in
Azerbaijan to support the country’s democratic development. An important part
of this broader dialogue would be to facilitate the timely registration of
those NGOs that have sought to register with the appropriate authorities.
Fourth, to create conditions that would be conducive to open public debate and
the unhindered functioning of political parties during this election year. As
I said in public and in private in April, in Baku, is it up to Azerbaijanis to
decide on the future of political developments in their country. The interest
of the United States is solely in assuring that these decisions are reached
through democratic, transparent processes and institutions.
The Azerbaijani people will have a choice of leadership in the presidential
election this coming October. The government of Azerbaijan has an opportunity
now to take bold steps to improve the political environment and to begin
establishing the conditions that are necessary for a more open, competitive,
fair and democratic electoral process, a process that doesn’t take place just
on election day but throughout these next several months.
Let me emphasize here the importance of three freedoms that are fundamental to
democratic electoral processes and that are also discussed in the OSCE ODHIR’s
July 12th needs assessment mission report.
First is freedom of association. We will look for unhindered candidate
registration, election campaigns and access to the media. Azerbaijanis should
be able to join the non-governmental organization, political party or political
movement of their choice without fear of detention or other punitive measures.
Second, freedom of expression – we will look for an environment conducive to an
open public dialogue and freedom of the media. Azerbaijanis should be able to
peacefully express their views, and receive and impart information and ideas
without fear of detention or other obstacles. Similarly, journalists and media
outlets should be able to do their work without fear of beatings, imprisonment,
threats, loss of employment or other interference in the dissemination of their
And third, and finally, freedom of assembly – we will look for respect for
freedom of peaceful assembly, including unhindered meetings between candidates
and voters, and rallies that are accessible by public transportation without
the risk of detention.
We urge the government of Azerbaijan to conduct a free and fair electoral
process as observed by both domestic and international monitors. We will look
for the ability of domestic monitors to organize, gain access to the electoral
process and to report their observations.
Timely registration of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Study center,
EMDS, one of the country’s leading independent election monitoring
organizations would be another positive step. And we welcome Foreign Minister
Mammadyarov’s statement that Azerbaijan intends to invite ODIHR and the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly to monitor the October election. We’re pleased that
ODIHR conducted a needs assessment mission in June. And we urge the government
to issue the requisite formal invitations soon.
Finally, I want to highlight a statement made yesterday by Ambassador
Morningstar, who said that, quote now, “During this election year, it is
particularly important for the Azerbaijani government to help guarantee the
free flow of information to its people.” In this connection, I urge the
government to expeditiously investigate the problems recently encountered by
RFERL and other Azerbaijani language media outlets in broadcasting some of
their satellite programming to Azerbaijanis.
In closing, I would like to stress that the United States engages in human
rights and democracy promotion with Azerbaijan as a friend and partner. Here,
I would like to cite an Azerbaijani saying, which I’m doing with some
trepidation: (In Azerbaijani) – which I’m told by my experts means a friend
will speak with no curtain or veil. Is that a reasonable translation? It’s
just not a reasonable pronunciation probably. I should learn some more? All
right. I’ll learn more by the next hearing.
In my numerous meetings with Azerbaijanis, I’ve heard directly that enhanced
respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law and
clear steps toward liberalization and democracy, including a democratic
electoral process are reforms that Azerbaijanis widely seek. Such reforms
would also strengthen our bilateral relationship. Our strongest and most
durable relationships around the world are with democracies that respect human
rights in addition to sharing other interests with us.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to the remainder of the
HAN: Thank you, Mr. Melia. I appreciate that.
Now we’re going to switch seats and we’ll invite Ambassador Suleymanov to join
us and to give his statement. We really appreciate that the ambassador is
participating today. I think it’s important to have a full range of voices on
this issue and we appreciate his participation.
SULEYMANOV: Thank you.
HAN: Mr. Ambassador, you have the floor.
SULEYMANOV: Thank you very much. Mr. Carter, Ms. Han, thank you very much for
the opportunity to speak before the U.S. commission, Helsinki Commission, and
by monitoring the human rights and comprehensive security, you have done a
great job. We appreciate your commitment. Thank you very much. I have
submitted a comprehensive version of my remarks and I will make just major
The partnership between the United States and Azerbaijan is important to each
of our countries. It’s based on common values and common interests, in energy,
regional security, and a variety of issues. I understand, as Mr. Carter
pointed out, shoulder to shoulder in Iraq – and we were in Iraq and Kosovo, now
we stand in the Balkans.
But modern reforms have always been an important part of our dialogue. In
fact, Azerbaijan today is the only country in the South Caucuses which
co-finances the civil society promotion projects, 50 percent co-financed with
USAID jointly. And we always appreciate friendly and helpful advice from our
I take Mr. Carter’s statement that today’s briefing is a reflection of our
friendly and strategic partnership and that’s why you have a briefing on
Azerbaijan, not on other countries which had elections recently. And that’s
why I’m here representing my government, as a reflection of our partnership
with you as well.
I also take at face value your statement that you do not take sides in
Azerbaijani political system and debate. And I look forward to maintaining an
objective view, which we hope will be maintained throughout this discussion.
And I’m yet to see the full confirmation of that.
I also am talking among friends, as our good friend, Mr. Melia has said, (in
Azerbaijani). You don’t want me to speak without any veil with my American
friends. I could go a little bit too critical, you know that. So I will not
do that. However, I will also speak as among friends.
I respectfully reject the wrongful claim about going to authoritarianism in
Azerbaijan. We do not accept that. In fact, make no mistake. What is going
on in Azerbaijan is a truly independent nation with a vibrant political system
and a free market economy. What is going on is a secular government with a
diverse and inclusive society, where members of every faith can live together
with dignity and mutual respect. What is going on is prosperity and economic
opportunities for all our citizens, and I think that should be recognized here
Azerbaijan is an ancient civilization but a young democracy in a tough
neighborhood. That was mentioned here as well. Just like every nation on
earth, we are not perfect.
Consider the obstacles we must overcome. Our country has been independent for
22 years since ending of the communist rule for seven decades. Now, we suffer
from the Armenian occupation of almost 1 percent – one-fifth of our
international recognized territory and displacement of about one million people
from their homes.
Since restoring independence, Azerbaijan has been building a free, democratic
society, where everyone living on our soil can equally and fully enjoy human
rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of their racial, religious and
Now, I want to make this point very importantly. We believe that tolerance,
inclusiveness and diversity are fundamental pillars – and gender rights –
fundamental pillars of a democratic system. They’re often overlooked, easily
dismissed. We often go to the procedural issues, and say, OK. This, Azeris
got that, that’s OK. We don’t need to talk about it. But that is what forms
democracy and that’s where democracy fails is exactly because we don’t have
sufficient respect for tolerance, inclusiveness (and diversity ?) and I think
that’s a fundamental point I want to make. Azerbaijan is very proud of its –
(inaudible). In that, I think Azerbaijan can actually be an example for many
on how to be an inclusive society, tolerant and respectful of all its citizens,
regardless of their background and ethnicity.
We still have to do a lot of work to eliminate the vestiges of the Soviet
mentality, to address our challenges, among them fighting corruption and
building democratic institutions. That’s obvious. But our progress is
remarkable. It is especially remarkable if you look at the neighborhood we
live. I mean, that’s an important factor.
Now, before I go any further, I want to talk about the elephant in the room.
We could try to dismiss it. We could not mention it. But the major and the
greatest and the gravest challenge facing the citizens of the Republic of
Azerbaijan is the ongoing occupation, forceful displacement of one million of
my people. We could talk about all the rights of our people. We could talk
about all we want, but we cannot ignore the fact that one million of
Azerbaijanis – children, women and men – have been living outside their homes,
forcefully displaced, having no rights for reproductive health, gender, voting,
health care, and education. I think that’s very important.
Now, in that spirit, I am actually somewhat surprised by the bizarre move by
our colleagues from the Armenian Assembly of America who decided to submit
their testimony here.
First of all, I thought it was a discussion on Azerbaijan. Second, I hope – I
haven’t seen that testimony, but I believe that it addresses three very
important issues. I think it does – I hope it addresses the fact that the
Armenian government today grossly violates the rights of Azerbaijani displaced
people. I hope they submitted it because there was no event on Armenian
elections, which are very problematic, and it addresses the fact that
presidential candidates get shot in Armenia before the elections. And since
you didn’t have the event on that, I hope our Armenian friends actually
mentioned that in their own submission.
And I do hope that they express concern with their government’s treatment of
Moldovan human rights commissioner Mrs. Aurelia Grigoriu, who was kidnapped and
held hostage in the Republic of Armenia by the government of Armenia. So I
hope those things are outlined in that particular statement. I think that’s a
welcome one. If it is aimed at bashing Azerbaijan, then I would take an issue
with Mr. Carter’s statement about objectivity of this event today.
In three months, the citizens of Azerbaijan will exercise their constitutional
and civic right to elect the president of the republic to lead the nation over
the next five years. We will everything possible to hold democratic elections
that the Azerbaijani people deserve and expect because the future of
independent Azerbaijan is and should be decided and determined only by our
citizens living in Azerbaijan, not in foreign capitals, not in neighboring
capitals. And I think that’s a very important point.
For those Azerbaijani citizens who are living abroad, our diplomatic missions,
including one which I lead, will be open and providing an opportunity to vote.
And I encourage everybody to register with our consulate and exercise their
right and civic duty to vote for the president of the Republican of Azerbaijan
once the election campaign begins.
Since adopting our constitution in 1995, Azerbaijan has been creating the
mechanism to protect human rights, (extensive ?) democracy and ensure rule of
law. We benefit from our ever expanding participation in the European
community and strong support from the United States and other members of the
worldwide community of democratic societies.
We joined the Council of Europe in 2001. It’s an important step. By 2014,
Azerbaijan will assume for the first time the chairmanship of the Committee of
the (Ministers ?) Council of Europe.
To our national program to raise awareness of the protection of human rights,
we’re building institutions that gives life to a free society. There are five
issues on that, five building blocks for democracy.
For our democracy, first, a fully functioning, independent judiciary is not a
choice but a prerogative. It’s an imperative. In the very short term of time,
the national judiciary and legal system has been organized subject to
democratic principles. We are working very hard and include the World Bank and
other international institutions to build a depoliticized judicial system which
is independent of any interference.
Second, freedom of expression, of course, is (the lifeblood ?) of democracy.
In Azerbaijan today, there are about 5,000 media outlets affiliated to a wide
range of private organizations and individuals. Some of them are here. There
are about 40 daily and 200 weekly and monthly newspapers. There are 50
Our state fund for support of mass media supports newspapers and other outlets,
including opposition papers without interfering with their content. In 2010,
under the program initiated by President Muhavaliv, around $6.4 million have
been allocated to strengthening the social protection for journalists,
including housing assistance.
President’s fund for support of media actually allocates money to the very
media which spends most of the time criticizing the government. Actually,
those – we have a fund which does not interfere with the work of journalists.
Freedom of expression includes freedom of Internet. In Azerbaijan, there’s
unrestricted – absolutely unrestricted Internet access. About 65 percent of
the Azerbaijani population have access to Internet. We will increase that
number. We’re working very hard and we appreciate the help from our American
friends on working with us to make it about 100 percent connectivity. Of
course, that is an ambitious goal and we’ll try to as much.
Still, democracy requests a vibrant civil society. Within the last five years,
the council of state support to NGOs has allocated more than $14 million to
1,800 projects. Azerbaijan is a lively – and the political discourse is very
diverse with many voices, including the opposition, and much of that support
also goes to the opposition groups.
Fourth, a strong democracy required educated citizens. Our top priority is
developing our human capital. What happens is Azerbaijan is launching
additional reforms in education. I think everybody who watches Azerbaijan
closely knows that. And we will also provide full government support for our
students studying abroad, about 5,000 Azerbaijani students studying abroad in
leading institutions internationally.
Fifth, and I think this is the most visible and the most – not a civil progress
been in combating corruption. I think – I appreciate Mr. Melia mentioning the
ASAN service, which has basically revolutionized and opened access of
Azerbaijani citizens to their government services.
We’re fighting corruption. In fact, one of the interesting things you would
look at is that Transparency International, with which we often disagree and
which is mostly very critical of many governments around the world, has noticed
an increase of corruption instances throughout the world and decrease of such
in Azerbaijan. I think that recognition should be mentioned here as well.
Azerbaijani – prosperity of the Azerbaijani people is increasing. Azerbaijan
today accounts for 80 percent, 80 percent of South Caucuses economy. And, you
know, the poverty level has came down from 49 percent to 6 percent. So we are
facing a very prosperous, increasingly – a population which is increasingly –
whose welfare is increasing on a regular basis.
Now, once again, before I complete my words, I would like to point out that the
greatest support the United States government can do to for our people is to
help us, us and Armenians to come at the end of the day to a solution and a
fair settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict so finally our people have
the ability to fully enjoy the rights, which are very basic rights. We’re not
talking about freedom of assembly even. We’re talking rights to live and
rights to basically enjoy their lives as human beings in dignity.
With that, I think the one very important step would be, very obviously, to
encourage the United States to appoint a full-time negotiator, which the United
States is lacking. And while I appreciate the statements made by the U.S.
government at the OSCE permanent council in Vienna, I would be also very
appreciative if equal attention would be paid to the mistreatment of
Azerbaijani citizens and made an effort to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan
And, in closing, let me welcome all the representatives of Azerbaijan who are
here, both from the government and from the opposition. You could see that we
have a vibrant society. You read about the activities of our different
political groups from the media, which is actually freely accessible to you.
Our people have events, which are held without much interference. And we
appreciate American support to Azerbaijan in general and our working together
with Americans on promoting democracy and reforms in our part of the world.
We appreciate your support and thank you for your attention. And I will be
remaining here for the remainder of the discussion. Thank you very much.
HAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. I appreciate your remarks. And we
do look forward to having you back up on the panel after this next panel.
If I could invite Mr. Namazov, Mr. Gadirli, Dr. Lanskoy, and Mr. Seyidov. Thank
OK. We’d like to start with Mr. Namazov, if you could start off the panel.
And he’ll be using our interpreter to make his statement. Thank you.
(Mr. Namazov’s remarks are delivered via interpreter.)
NAMAZOV: Thank you for inviting me to this event. I represent here the
National Council of Democratic Forces in Azerbaijan and I speak on their
behalf. I have travelled 6,000 miles here to speak about the realities of
Azerbaijan, which makes less than one minute for a mile. Less than one minute
for a mile.
I encourage you to look into the documents that I’m going to distribute. These
are the statements from our council and information we’d like to disperse. For
the first time since Azerbaijan regained its independence, leading Azerbaijani
political party leaders and delegates here, representatives of civil society,
media captains, youth have united together in the eve of presidential elections
creating the national council and they have agreed to go to this election with
a single candidate.
Our council has prepared a special declaration, a paper discussing the next two
years that will happen if we win the elections, that discusses the major
reforms, legal and democratic reforms that will take during the two years.
And another document that we have adopted and it will also be distributed to
you is our petition to law enforcement agencies in Azerbaijan that discusses
the situation of the president that foreign media has written about, about
allegations about various properties around the world that are significant
corruption cases that we want to be investigated. These are serious facts that
we have asked the central election commission, public prosecutor’s office,
Supreme Court to investigate because these are important allegations that need
to be investigated, which are about the president. And we will try to get
concrete responses from these institutions why they have not done anything so
far to start those investigations
Another important document that I will distribute today is a letter written
from jail. This is a letter written by arrested members of NIDA youth movement
who are in jail now. And just yesterday, two more members of the youth groups,
Ulvi Hasanli and Megedli (ph) have been arrested while they were helping us to
prepare documents for here.
Out of 129 members of the national council, 12 are in jail now. And, of
course, we demand the release of all political prisoners. The names were
mentioned today, Ilgar Mammadov, Yadigar Sadiqov, and others who are in jail
now should all be released.
The spread of corruption and lack of social justice leads to the situation when
without intervention of political parties in Azerbaijan, people in rural areas,
in districts rise against the corrupt officials.
All this social crisis in Azerbaijan and political-social crisis shows that
Azerbaijan needs to have reforms, needs to have significant changes. If there
are not democratic – if democratic elections are not held in Azerbaijan, chaos
and confrontations wait Azerbaijan, which will in turn – which will
significantly damage its relationship with partners and with its neighbors.
At the end of my presentation, I would like to pass to you three important
messages of our national council to you.
First is to exert appropriate pressure on Azerbaijani government officials who
have violated freedom of rights similar to that of the Magnitsky Act. To
liberalize pre-election situation, all political prisoners should be released,
the right of freedom, right of assembly, freedom of expression have to be
restored. And there should be no pressure on independent media and their
outlets. And the legislative – the electoral legislation has to be reformed
based on recommendations from ODIHR and OSCE and Venice Commission, Council of
And we want the provision of maybe – by independent institute, provision of
exit polls in Azerbaijan from independent institutions because all previous
elections in Azerbaijan have been falsified and they did not meet international
standards. The democratic elections need to be born in Azerbaijan. They’re
not only an issue related to the people of Azerbaijan but also to the security
and stability of Azerbaijan.
I hope our American partners understand the same way as we do that to
transition to a democratic government is necessary. Thank you so much.
HAN: Thank very much, Mr. Namazov. I appreciate that. I think you got more
miles out of that statement than you originally planned.
Dr. Seyidov, we welcome your participation.
SEYIDOV: Thank you very much for having me today. And I think that this is
really very important to take part in this briefing and to discuss issues which
are related to my country.
Of course, my ambassador made my life so easy. He actually presented facts
which I thought to present. And that’s why I will try to cover much more with
the situation with human rights, with the geopolitical situation in Azerbaijan.
And let me start with my disagreement with Mr. Carter’s statement that today we
are here and today we are not going to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and
we are thinking only about human rights and we should think about human rights.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a problem of human rights. That’s a great violation of the
human rights of Azerbaijanis. One million approximately Azerbaijanis have been
violated and ethnically cleansed from Azerbaijan. And to think and discuss a
human rights issue in the Azerbaijani region without the Nagorno-Karabakh
issue, that’s impossible. We should take into account this reality.
The second remark, my disagreement with the title of today’s briefing, troubled
partner – “Troubled partners and growing authoritarianism in Azerbaijan.”
Troubled partner, how can it be possible? We as a state, as Azerbaijan, opened
all our facilities for America exactly after 9/11. We’re today doing our best
for the coalition and our soldiers shoulder to shoulder fighting in
Afghanistan, in Iraq and Kosovo, as you said. We are doing our best not only
for our country, for the region, but for Europe and the United States of
And that’s why I think that you lost the focus. The real troubled partner is
not far from us, the country which created the occupation of my land, the
country which ethnically cleansed 20 percent of my territory, a country where
the real human rights is really dangerous.
My second remark is about growing authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. You know,
Mr. Namazov just said that today we can see in Azerbaijan that democratic
forces try to unite and this is very good and unique opportunity to see in
Azerbaijan, but who created this environment. When our foreign visitors,
guests came to Azerbaijan, already you have mentioned that your opposition is
very fragile. Your opposition is really very weak. Today, opposition is
sitting together with us and talking about the future of Azerbaijan. Is it
authoritarian regime? Or maybe we can say that just a few days ago the leading
chief of the very, very radical oppositional newspaper became a member of the
board which has been created after the congress, journalist congress in
Azerbaijan. And this is the real sign of democratization, not the sign of
Or maybe we are talking about – we should talk about the role of women in
Azerbaijan. I can speak about other things and today, I think, my ambassador
is absolutely right. What we can see in Azerbaijan, that’s a growing economy,
growing our relationships with neighboring countries, and growing the role of
Azerbaijan in our region. And maybe because of that and exactly because of
that today we can see that pressure from different regions, from different
countries are growing. Not authoritarianism is growing in Azerbaijan. I’m
from parliament, I can’t say, but attempts to destabilize situation in
Azerbaijan is growing.
Today, Azerbaijan maybe is the last state in our region which is defending
Western values and cooperation with Europe and United States of America. We
have seen what happened to Georgia, to Ukraine, what kind of process is going
on in the Russian Federation. And I think today there is such strong pressure
on Azerbaijan exactly because of our desire to be together with the rest of the
democratic and civilized world.
The president of Azerbaijan is a leader who is doing his best to integrate with
Europe and with the United States of America. And that’s why I’m so proud that
today my government said yes to the Trans-Anatolian pipeline, which brings
closer Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Georgia to Europe and to the United
States of America.
Of course, we are not so perfect, but we are doing our best. We became a
member of the Council of Europe, where 47 countries are existing. And next
year, we will chair the Council of Europe. At the same time, we are very
active in the Islamic Conference. And we have a special attitude concerning
cooperation between East and West. From this point of view, I think it is
very, very important to take this into account in this kind of discussion, when
opposition and people who are not agree with you can see – can express their
views much more important than use Molotov cocktail against the government,
against the forces in Azerbaijan. And I ask my colleagues and friends to
understand that democracy is rule of law and human rights, it’s discussions,
exchange of views, not use of force.
Today, human rights is a very, very special issue for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan
has joined the European Charter of the Human Rights. And we’re under
jurisdiction of the European Court for Human Rights. You can compare the
number of appeals from Azerbaijan and from countries who are member of the
European Union: United Kingdom, Romania, Bulgaria, France, and other countries.
And you can see that the number of appeals from Azerbaijan is much less than
from these countries.
You can compare the number of prisoners within the prisons in Azerbaijan, in
Georgia, in France, in United Kingdom, and you will see that the number of
prisoners within the prison in Azerbaijan, according the European standards,
and especially taking into account the last pardoning decrees and amnesties
which were adopted by the parliament.
You can see that day by day the number of women within the parliament and
within the municipalities is growing. And from this point of view, the last
municipality elections and parliamentary elections gave us possibility to have
approximately 20 percent women members in the parliament and more than 30
percent women at the municipalities.
Today, Azerbaijan is doing its best for human rights and for democracy, rule of
law not only within the country, but taking in all programs, in all
initiatives. My president just recently has signed the special action plan to
improve human rights situation in Azerbaijan.
As you know, we are coming to the chair position at the Council of Europe at
the beginning – at the middle of the 2014. An action plan on the discussion
together with Council of Europe concerning human rights development in
Azerbaijan. That’s impossible to change everything overnight. Only 20 years,
we are an independent country.
United States of America 237 years is independent, but even in United States of
America we can see some problematic issues. The main – the most important
thing, the political will of the country to change, to see, new developments,
new reforms, and government of Azerbaijan is keen to provide these reforms.
We have sent an invitation to the Council of Europe to see observation mission
for presidential elections here, this year, in October. And 32 members from
the Council of Europe will be in Azerbaijan for pre-election mission and for
The same invitation will be sent from Azerbaijan to other international
organizations. But what we don’t want to see and what we have seen during the
last elections – parliamentary elections and presidential elections in
Azerbaijan, previously prepared opinion, previously prepared papers about the
results of the elections in Azerbaijan, about the situation in Azerbaijan.
Today, my country is struggle for democratization, human rights, and rule of
law. The war, the struggle is going on. We, as Azerbaijani representatives,
we are doing all our best being surrounding with very difficult neighbors.
Could you imagine from one side so great, so big, so influential Russian
Federation? From another side, fundamentalistic and fundamental –
fundamentalistic tensions and Iran. Twenty percent of territories under
occupation. Situation in Georgia, which is not so understandable. And taking
into account all these difficulties, Azerbaijani leadership is insisting to be
together with the rest of the civilized world and to do its best.
Thank you very much.
HAN: Thank you very much for that.
Next, I’d like to call on Mr. Gadirli, if you can please – I’m sorry I’m not
saying anybody’s title, so I apologize for that. You are the representative of
the ReAl network. And I’ll rely on you to explain your affiliation. Thanks.
GADIRLI: Thank you very much. I also would like to express my personal
gratitude for having been invited for such an event.
I sincerely welcome our Azerbaijani friends, Mr. Ambassador – (inaudible).
It’s very rare opportunity for us to sit together in our own country. I’m bit
confused because I had another idea of what I’m going to say before coming
here. Now, listening to the previous presentation, I’ve changed my mind.
I would like to start with a quote. The quote goes like this. “Do you know
where Azerbaijan is? Well, today, they came in a group of very interesting and
intelligent gentlemen who are coming from Azerbaijan. I couldn’t have time to
find until they begun where they came from, but I find this out immediately,
that I was talking to men who talk exactly the same language that I did in
respect of ideas, in respect of conceptions of liberty, in respect of
conceptions of justice and rights.” End of quote.
These words belong to the president of the United States Woodrow Wilson. He
said this – actually wrote these words after meeting with Azerbaijani
delegation to Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
That was a time when Azerbaijan established its first republic. (Inaudible) –
was not only the first in Azerbaijani history, but in the history of entire
Muslim world and the Turk people, in fact, the first republic in that
At that time, the population was very poor, illiterate, only 64 people held
university degrees. The country – the war with Armenia over Karabakh was still
ongoing. Azerbaijan was threatened by its neighbors, yet the people was
capable of effectively establishing a republic without any foreign aid.
The strategies then was to seek an international recognition of that republic.
Now, today, we are independent and proudly so. We’re rich – never in our
history our society was as rich as it is today. Our population is literate.
The level of literacy is well above 90 percent. But there’re certain
differences that I would like to talk about.
When we had the republic – I mean, the first republic – Azerbaijan was
exporting ideas to some of its neighbors such as Persia, as it was then called,
and Ottoman Empire, ideas out of which, among many other things, a Turkish
Republic evolved. It was Azerbaijan from where ideas of Turkishness,
(inaudible?), and republicanism went to Turkey, not the other way around.
Now, today, we’re a country which jams radios, which bans opposition to appear
on the television, which effectively shuts down other sorts of media who have
nationwide broadcast. Not only opposition, but different thinking
intellectuals are not allowed to appear on television.
When we had the republic, in the second decade of the 20th century, within two
years that the republic was alive, the government changed four times. We have
five governmental coalition. Well, to some this is a sign of political
instability. Yes, there is some portion of truth in that. But it also
signifies the culture of negotiation, coordination, and cooperation that
Azerbaijan had at that time.
Today, that is exactly what our society is like. And today, we have a society
ruled by one family, effectively, since 1969, with a short break in the ’80s.
When we had the first republic, we had a prime minister, who after his
resignation wrote a letter to his father asking for a financial help because he
was short of money after resignation. Today, we read from various sources
reports about billions of wealth owned by ruling elite.
Now, all that is possible today because we don’t have a republic. And this is
the strategy that – and the challenge that our nation is facing. I join and I
don’t want just to reiterate, but I want to undersign what Mr. Ambassador and
other – Samad Seyidov that said about the Karabakh issue. Our nation stands
united, so there is no fundamental disagreement on that.
There’re few disagreements about details, but in general – so that has nothing
to do with being in opposition in Azerbaijan, even though we sometimes see it
from the government side that opposition is either trying to destabilize the
situation or sell out the country order.
I represent here Republican Alternative. That is an opposition movement. We
are on the way to transforming our movement into a political party. The
chairman of our board is in jail now. He was arrested on February 4, still
kept in custody. The charges he’s faced with are quite serious. He may end up
in jail for another 12 years. But in fact, what he was arrested for? Exactly
because he was advocating for republican ideals, because he was advocating for
Euro-Atlantic integration, the deep integration, the true integration.
The republicanism – I know that this word can confuse American audiences, but
I’m speaking not in terms of political parties, but in terms of the trend, the
form of the government – can be organized in various forms. When we had the
first republic, the people then had a vision and knowledge and the courage and
very difficult environment compared to which we have today, but even in a
harder situation, to create a parliamentary form of government. They were
aware of a presidential form. They knew that – the system in America, how it
was organized. But they had a deeper vision about the future of the country.
They somehow intuitively knew that presidential system wouldn’t fit our
And in fact, if you study, whoever tried to copy the American system of the
government – take Latin America, post-Soviet countries, African countries,
whoever tried to have a strong president as a head of executive failed in
That fact is quite telling. So another challenge in front of us is to
transform our country into a proper parliamentary republic which will reflect
the diversity of the country, where political parties can cooperate, negotiate,
establish coalitions. What we don’t have is a republic. And we will pursue
this goal. We will continue to follow our strategy because it is much more
than simply changing the government.
If you simply change the people, I mean the officials, that wouldn’t work. The
deeper understanding is required. A country must be radically reformed and
And – am I running out of time?
GADIRLI: OK, thank you. But anyway, I better stop here because I assume there
will be questions and I will have more time on – (inaudible) – detail. Thank
HAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Gadirli.
Now, I’d like to turn to our final witness, Dr. Miriam Lanskoy. She’s the
director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy.
LANSKOY: I’m very grateful to the Helsinki Commission for holding this
briefing and for giving me the opportunity to speak about democracy and human
rights in Azerbaijan.
The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit foundation
dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the
world. The NED has been working in Azerbaijan since the mid 1990s and has
supported various projects there.
Over the last decade, freedom in Azerbaijan has declined substantially. The
Nations in Transit Index shows a deep decline in every category of governance
and the combined score going from 5.6 to 6.6. President Ilham Aliyev, who came
to power in 2003, is now seeking a third term as president. This was forbidden
by the constitution until 2009, when term limits were removed, opening the way
to any number of future terms as president.
The early months of 2013 saw an unexpected increase in social unrest. And this
was followed by a harsh government crackdown. There were various protests,
some in Baku and some in the regions, some of which became violent. There were
peaceful rallies in Baku that were violently dispersed by the police, who used
water cannons and rubber bullets. Dozens of peaceful protesters were fined and
sentenced to short periods of administrative detention. I provide a lot more
detail in my written comments, but here, in the interest of time, I’m going to
focus on a few things that I consider to be the most pressing issues.
Human Rights Watch reports 16 critics of the government who have been arrested
in the first six months of 2013. Two prominent opposition figures, Tofiq
Yaqublu of Musavat and Ilgar Mammadov of ReAl have already – already been
mentioned here and they have already been in jail for six months waiting trial
on false charges of having instigated civil unrest in Ismayilli. Seven members
of the youth movement NIDA have been in jail since March. And four of them are
considered Amnesty International prisoners of conscience.
Human Rights Watch has profiled other cases of opposition youth activists who
apparently had drugs planted on them by police. Some of them are religious
activists as well.
In the realm of media, freedom of information has also declined in the first
half of 2013. The government has, for a long time, controlled broadcast media
and most newspapers, but now it is trying to establish greater control on the
Internet and in satellite broadcasts.
June 2013 amendments to the criminal code made defamation on the Internet a
criminal offense, making it possible to make criminal cases against online
activists. Since April 2013, signals carrying Azeri language news produced by
Radio Free Europe have been jammed.
There’s also been problems with respect to NGOs. A new amendment in the NGO
law increases existing sanctions against unregistered NGO activity in
conjunction with arbitrary denial of registration, which places activists in an
impossible position. They cannot work without registration, but they’re
arbitrarily denied registration. The case of EMDS has already been mentioned.
The youth organization OL!, which ran a highly successful free thought
university, was shut down suddenly this spring. Several articles and
statements smearing the work of NDI and NED appeared in March.
Freedom of religion is another area of steep decline this year. The U.S.
Commission for International Religious Freedom has downgraded Azerbaijan to a
tier two country. The commission focused its criticism on a 2009 law on
religion, which led to numerous raids, detentions, and arrests.
I’d like to turn now to the pre-election environment which is probably of
greatest interest to the Commission. In July – in a July 2nd speech, President
Aliyev seemed to encourage the police to abuse the opposition. He recalled
that during past elections, international organization sought investigations
into the conduct of police, to which he said, “I said back then and I want to
say again now that not a single policemen will be punished.” President Aliyev
went on to characterize his political opponents as traitors, betrayers,
Opposition activists are harassed, detained, barred from travel. There’s been
no sanctioned rally in the center of Baku since 2006. And unsanctioned rallies
are broken up violently.
Despite this deepening authoritarianism, there has been a very significant
development. In May, the National Council was formed. It is an umbrella
organization that brings together opposition, politicians, NGOs, scholars,
youth, bloggers, and even former government officials. In June, the National
Council resolved to support a single presidential candidate from all the
opposition forces. They chose Rustam Ibragimbekov, an Oscar-winning director
and screenwriter who is revered in Azerbaijan.
The National Council has outlined an ambitious program for constitutional
reform that would reduce the powers of the president, institute checks and
balances, and restore basic freedoms.
Going into this election period, which is likely to be more competitive and
more volatile than recent elections, ensuring independent and credible vote
monitoring is of the outmost importance. Many contentious issues, including
the registration of Mr. Ibragimbekov or other opposition candidates as they
come forth and their ability to campaign are likely to require international
Domestic election monitoring organization EMDS remains unregistered. And
domestic monitors are very vulnerable in the absence of a large and
comprehensive OSCE mission. As has already been observed here, there still has
not been an official invitation for OSCE monitoring.
A preliminary ODIHR report indicates a request for 30 long-term and 280
short-term observers. It would be better if this mission could be larger. By
comparison, there were 600 observers in Azerbaijan in 2003 in the presidential
elections and there were 400 in Georgia last year. And Georgia has, by far,
fewer polling stations.
In closing, I’m very grateful to the Helsinki Commission for convening this
briefing. It comes at a very important time. And I hope that you will remain
equally engaged in the coming months and will continue to call attention to the
cases of political prisoners and the ability of civil society to do their work
without harassment and intimidation. Thank you.
HAN: Thank you, Dr. Lanskoy.
Now, I’d like to bring all of our panelists back up, if you don’t mind. Mr.
Melia, you’ll be joining us over here.
HAN: OK. I think we’re all set and I’m going to turn to Paul to start us off,
ask a couple of questions, and then we’ll turn to the audience.
CARTER: OK. I want to give the audience time here to ask questions, so I
won’t take much. I did want to – Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your
remarks. And I noted when you said that the government of Azerbaijan would do
all that it could to ensure a democratic election, I thought that was a very
good point. Can you assure the Helsinki Commission that Mr. Rustam
Ibragimbekov will be allowed to return to Azerbaijan without the threat of
arrest and to conduct a campaign for the presidency free of harassment by the
SULEYMANOV: Mr. Carter, thank you very much for your question. Well, I don’t
know of any obstacles for Mr. Ibragimbekov to come back to Azerbaijan when he
wishes. I genuinely believe that a person who wants to run for a leadership
position in Azerbaijan needs, first of all, to be in Azerbaijan and perhaps to
be citizen of Azerbaijan. That would be helpful.
Azerbaijan has laws which have been in place for a long time. It’s not a new
procedure. If Mr. Ibragimbekov actually – his candidacy and nomination
complies – first of all, he has to be nominated by a number – there’re special
rules, you know. There has to be 40,000 people registered voters submitting
the request. There has – they have to come for at least from 60 precincts and
he has to basically be registered by the Central Electoral Commission in
compliance with Azerbaijani laws.
Those laws, as a matter of fact, require no commitment to any other foreign
nation. As it stands now, it is my understanding that Mr. Ibragimbekov is a
citizen of the Russian Federation. While we do enjoy our friendly
relationships with the citizens of Russian Federation, we do try to elect
people in our country who are citizens of Azerbaijan only. So should his
procedures be done, that’s up to him. We don’t interfere with his
decision-making. And should he comply with all the requirements for a
presidential candidate, I don’t know of any reason not to do that.
But now, let me tell you something. I, as a representative of Azerbaijani – of
Azerbaijan Republic and as a diplomat here, I have no power and no direct
influence over the Central Electoral Commission. So to make a commitment on
behalf of a body I do not control, I cannot. I can ask you, for instance, can
you assure that Section 907, which is obviously a counterproductive part of the
legislation, needs to be – will be repealed? You agree with me that that’s
wrong, but you do not have power over parliament to commit to that.
So I think we’re in equal situation. We’ll do what we can, but he has to
comply with the Central Election Committee requirements.
HAN: Mr. Melia, I wondered if I could ask you to just give us some comments on
this pre-election period is really often the most important part of an election
because on polling day, we’ve seen in many places, the outcome is pretty much
already predetermined because of who’s on the ballot and who gets registered
and who’s – so if you can talk about what you would like to see happen in
Azerbaijan and maybe how the U.S. is engaging with Azerbaijan on this issue in
this important period.
MELIA: Sure. Well, we’re not treating Azerbaijan differently than we would
treat any other country. The kinds of assessment that we do, the reports that
we write, such in the Annual Human Rights report, we apply the same standards
globally and conducting consistent assessment, as do, I think, many of the NGOs
and think tanks that describe political processes and so on.
So the – you very correctly say – and I think I touched on this in my initial
statement, that an election doesn’t just happen on voting day or vote counting
day. So an overall assessment of the electoral process naturally includes what
happens in the 90 days preceding an election. And we’re about at – all of the
precise data hasn’t been announced yet – we’re probably about 90 days out from
the election right now.
So you know, the opportunity for candidates and voters to meet and assemble and
talk about ideas and to have some access to the broadcast media and other
opportunities to make their case to the voters, all of that will be part of
what we and international monitors from other countries will be looking at.
As I said, release of Mr. Mammadov from prison – he’s been in pretrial
detention for more than five months now – would be an important step forward.
He’s an announced presidential candidate. He should have a chance to talk to
voters. So there’s a number of things – I laid them out in my testimony – that
I think would be good steps in the right direction to live up to the
aspirations and commitments that I think the ambassador conveyed and I think
Azerbaijan is quite capable of.
HAN: Thank you very much. I just wanted to have a follow up – two follow up
quick questions before we move on from – if Mr. Namazov would like to talk
about the status of Mr. Ibragimbekov and how – perhaps what the plans are from
your party’s standpoint.
And also, Mr. Gadirli, given that Mr. Mammadov is in prison, what options do
you have for his candidacy? Thanks.
NAMAZOV: Thank you. I want to refer to previous question about Mr.
Ibragimbekov ability to travel to Azerbaijan and be registered as a candidate.
With this question, I want to mention that Mr. Ibragimbekov has, in recent
times, twice had problems in both entering and exiting Azerbaijan at the
border. State officials created troubles for him, including border control and
other agencies. And each time, I had to go to the airport personally to help
him out. And during this time, he was held at the airport for several hours.
And each time the border officials that were mentioning to him personally that
because he’s speaking against president, he’s criticizing president, they’re
giving him this trouble.
At that time Mr. Ibragimbekov was not our single candidate. He was just an
intellectual or a filmmaker.
Regarding the registration of him as a candidate, I want to emphasize that our
experts are working on – our lawyers are working on his registration. And
according to them, there’s no – according to them, there’re no legal obstacles
that can prevent him to be registered as a candidate. And they will be working
definitely on collecting those signatures from the regions and et cetera, but
even prior to that, already, there’re statements made from the government,
members of the ruling party, who openly say that he cannot be registered as a
candidate. And this is before the elections.
And if – we hope that our candidate will be registered, but if he’s not going
to be registered, then legitimacy of these elections will be questioned. And
we as National Council will organize rallies to protect his rights. But we
wish that the government will change its mind and register him as a candidate
and not create extra problems for themselves.
HAN: OK. Mr. Gadirli, if you could answer, and then the ambassador wanted to
GADIRLI: Thank you. Now, Ilgar Mammadov situation, as I said, he is in
pretrial detention now, since February 4. No investigation goes on. Actually,
he was not visited by investigators since then, so he’s just kept there.
That’s quite indicative. That reveals the purpose of his arrest, to keep him
out of this election for various reasons, because he is, as I said, stands for
republicanism, stands for Euro-Atlantic integration. He was capable to raise
the hope of the new generation of voters. And in fact, by the way, one of the
few positive changes that goes on in Azerbaijan is a generational change, is an
unstoppable and uncontrollable.
So Ilgar Mammadov is dedicated, is devoted to his ideals, and he’s strong
enough and he is – he has a will to stand in this election as a candidate. And
we as a group of his supporters and members of the organization he’s presiding
over, will pursue with the nomination we have announced earlier, January,
February this year.
What if he’s not registered, as I assume, that was the second part of the
question or – well, ideally, we have two options, either to have another
candidate from our organization, or to support someone else from the
opposition. Obviously, we’re not going to support the incumbent party’s
candidate. But is far too early to elaborate on that.
We pursue – we continue with Ilgar Mammadov. He’s our candidate. We will do
our best to try to get registered. With the registration, the entire situation
is rather confusing. It’s not just about – (inaudible) – Ilham Aliyev himself
is not eligible to stand in election this year because the constitution – you
all know perhaps that the constitution was amended and that limitation about
for one person to be two times – to be no more than two times president in a
row is now lifted. But that amendment was made after Ilham Aliyev became
president for the second time. Ilham Aliyev made a constitutional promise to
the people, he swore on the constitution. He took an oath. And at that time,
the constitution did contain that limitation. So now Aliyev made a
constitutional promise to the people that he will not run – as a candidate –
not become a president for more than two times in a row.
So that amendment, if we stay within the logic of the law, which forbids the
retroactive application of amendments, is applicable. Something from 2013, we
still in principle disagree with that amendment because we think that no more
two times is the moral established practice. But if that amendment is going to
be applied, it should not apply to Ilham Aliyev himself. And of course, given
the brutal situation at hand, if Ilham Aliyev is registered, then, of course,
it would be fair to register Rustam Ibragimbekov as well because, regardless of
some other legal obstacles he may have.
HAN: OK. Thank you.
SEYIDOV: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for giving me the floor.
That’s, you know, a very familiar picture. When facts which, in front of us,
try to present absolutely in different way, in not so understandable way. This
is the constitution of Azerbaijan, my dear friends. Article 100 and I think
you are familiar with the constitution of Azerbaijan. And I want to just to
read the Article 100. Any citizen of the Republic of Azerbaijan not younger
than 35 years of age, who has resided permanently on the territory of Republic
of Azerbaijan, no longer than 10 years – et cetera – previously committed a
serious crime – has no obligation to other states, has higher education, who
has no dual citizenship may be elected president of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
We all knows that for at present, Mr. Ibragimbekov has his Russian citizenship.
He, today, is not able to be registered as a candidate for the presidency.
This is the constitution of Azerbaijan.
That’s a very strange situation when my oppositional friends talking about
legal steps and democratic elections and they started from violation of the
constitution, the fundamental law of my country.
The same situation with my friend Mr. Gadirli. Mr. Gadirli, this is your
interpretation. I can bring a lot of lawyers who can bring you absolutely
different interpretation of the constitution of Azerbaijan, but these
amendments has been amended by the majority of Azerbaijani population. And my
president has his right to be elected for the third term.
And that’s why, please, my dear friends, the problem of Azerbaijani opposition
is not speak about the concrete steps, the concrete items from the constitution
and to think how can they avoid the law which already adopted by Azerbaijani
nation. We, as a leading party, we will do our best to organize the election
in a free and fair manner, according to the constitution of Azerbaijan. Thank
HAN: OK. I think that Mr. Namazov wants to address the – hopefully, you’ll
address the citizenship issue. And then I really do want to go to the
NAMAZOV: Well, it’s apparent that the passport Rustam Ibragimbekov had from
Soviet times, that’s a Soviet passport, which was transferred – became a
Russian citizenship passport, he has – he didn’t deny this fact, so he admits
that he has a Russian passport. He’s submitted his recusal or refusal of his
Russian citizenship to Russian authorities. And according to Russian
procedures – procedures in Russia, within a matter of few weeks, maximum a
month, the Russian government has to make a decision on that – a positive
decision on that request.
And for me it’s very strange that Mr. Samad Seyidov, the chairman of the
governmental committee – International Relations Committee, does not want to
see this. He has write about this in the media. There’s just the discussion
about this, and is presenting this situation in a different way. I try to find
a soft way to say it, but I think basically it’s a lie.
SEYIDOV: And I think this is a constitution. This is not my words.
HAN: OK. Yeah. Now, I’m going to go to the audience now, and – but first of
all, I see there’s a lot of interest and because of that interest, I’m going to
set some ground rules for your participation. And the first ground rule is
that there’s no statements. It has to be a question, direct question – please,
sit down, just one second please – OK, a direct question and I’m going to time
you. You get one minute to ask your question. And then I’m going to ring this
bell, OK? And then, that will be the end of your question and we’ll move to
answer it. And I think what we’re going to do is we’ll take two or three
questions, and then we’ll have the panelists respond.
First of all, I want to ask, are there any journalists that are in the room
because I would like to call on a journalist first?
Q: I’m a journalist. I’m a political expert from Continet (sp) Media Group.
HAN: OK. But I actually saw this gentleman’s hand first, so –
Q: But I’m former chief of staff of government. I’m former chief of staff of
parliament. Please let me have an opportunity to ask our representative.
HAN: OK. I hope to give you a chance in just a minute. Thank you. And if
you – I’m sorry, the third rule is that you need to identify yourself. And I’m
starting my timer.
Q: My name is Ilhan – (inaudible) – I represent AZ, AZ news agency of
Azerbaijan. My question would be to Eldar Namazov. Rustam Ibragimbekov is a
great person, valuable, well-known in Azerbaijan as merely the person of art,
scenarist, and so on. But it’s a known fact that he has this dual citizenship
and it’s also known that he’s been out of Azerbaijan for very long time. At
the same time, the National Council is uniting force of opposition. What I’m
wondering about is why not find a candidate which lives in Azerbaijan, which
has single citizenship, and which can represent the whole country, and knows
the issues of the country, has been living with the people? So why to set it
up for failure basically?
HAN: I am going to take two or three questions, and then we’ll – OK – no,
please, if you’ll wait for the microphone and identify yourself, thank you.
Q: Ramis Yunusov. I’m former chief of staff of government. I’m former chief
of staff of parliament of Azerbaijan.
HAN: I’m sorry, you need to use the microphone for the record.
Q: My question is for Samad Seyidov. Mr. Seyidov, you’re talking about the
constitution. According to international human right organization such as
Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and regarding
political prisons in Azerbaijan, political prisons – situation in political
prisons in Azerbaijan, can you tell us for everybody how many political
prisoners are there today in Azerbaijan, number?
HAN: OK, I’m going to take one more from this gentleman in the second row, if
you wait for the mic., please.
Q: Hi. My name is Yusuf – (inaudible) – Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency.
My question is to the representative on the State Department, Mr. Melia. Since
as you saw opposition usually refers to human rights groups such as, for
instance, Freedom House, I wanted to mention that if you look at the report for
2013 Freedom in the World, Freedom House identifies Azerbaijan as not free,
while identifying Armenia and even Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied Nagorno-Karabakh
as partly free. My question is that – I’m not even going to talk about
Armenia, where people are massacred even post-election, during post-election
protests in 2008, but if you look – my question’s about Nagorno-Karabakh: How
can a U.S. government funded agency go into an internationally recognized
Azerbaijani territory under occupation, conduct a survey, and then declare it
HAN: Just finish your question.
Q: – as partly free? Isn’t it an invitation for other countries to follow the
suit, invade another country, occupy a large chunk of territory, and then, you
know, remove the 600,000 natives from that land, and then open a few news
agencies and, you know, declare it – invite the Freedom House and such
HAN: OK. I think we got it. Thank you. So we’ve got three questions on the
table. Mr. Melia, would you like to start first, since we just had that
question, and then we’ll turn over to you.
MELIA: Freedom in the World is not funded by the U.S. government. It’s funded
by private donations to Freedom House. Some other publications that Freedom
House does, like Nations in Transit, do get some assistance from the U.S.
government. And what we give them a grant to do is to provide their own
honest, independent assessment of the state of political rights and civil
liberties in countries around the world. We don’t exercise any editorial
control over the way they write the reports or the judgments they come to, the
conclusions they come to. So I’ll redirect you to the editors and managers of
Freedom House to discuss their methodology.
HAN: Mr. Seyidov.
SEYIDOV: Thank you for your questions. When we became a member of the Council
of Europe, in front of me appeared the list of so-called political prisoners
which consist 716 person. We released all, and then after one month, one
month, some agents from Azerbaijan presented to the Council of Europe another
list of 500 political prisoners.
We as a very young member of the Council of Europe released them all. And
then, after two weeks, appeared new list of political prisoners with 400 or
approximately 500 again. That’s why, from this point of view, Mr. Ramis Yunus,
we do not have political prisons. We have our obligations in front of the
European Court of Human Rights and any person who convicted in Azerbaijan who
made any kind of crimes can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
And I want to give you some very interesting fact. European Court of Human
Rights made some decisions concerning Azerbaijan, and all these decisions have
been implemented by Azerbaijani government. Despite of the fact that some
European countries, including very, very famous and very influential, so-called
old democracies, even today are not ready to implement the decision of the
European Court of Human Rights.
That’s why when we are talking about so-called political prisoners which used
as a pressure to Azerbaijani policy, that’s another story. When we can see
that some problematic issues had happened in Azerbaijan, we’re ready to
investigate by ourselves. And we did it for a long period of time. Together
with representative of NGOs in Azerbaijan, we had created special group in
order to find solution of these kind of arrests and this kind of intimidation –
this kind of attitudes. And what had happened? Some international
organizations appointed very famous just now person, Mr. Strasser, as a
rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan and send us message, you are
working in Azerbaijan by yourself. That’s not so fair. Some supervisor from
the Council of Europe should monitor you.
That’s why, again, we are ready to do our best for human rights, but we don’t
want to see human rights as a tool in order to push to Azerbaijan to achieve
some goals which some international organization has concerning Azerbaijan.
Q: Can you tell me –
HAN: No, I’m sorry. There’s no response from – we’re going to cut off. You
could probably approach him afterwards to discuss that, but now, I’ll ask Mr.
Namazov to answer the question from the gentleman.
NAMAZOV: Rustam Ibragimbekov is citizen of Azerbaijan Republic constantly
living in the territory of Azerbaijan Republic, is a chairman of the
Cinematographers Union, is a chairman of Forum of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan.
He’s a founder and the chairman of Ibrus Theater, a drama theater Azerbaijan.
Each year, he attends tens of events in Azerbaijan. And it’s unfair to say
that he is not living – he’s living outside of Azerbaijan.
When we were selecting, voting for Rustam Ibragimbekov, there were 87 members
of National Council in the hall, and out of 87 members, 86 voted for him and
only one abstained, which shows that we made the right decision in selecting
him as unified single candidate.
HAN: OK, thank you. We’re going to take three more questions, and that will
draw our briefing to a close. So I’m going to call on you, in the second row
right there. If you could wait – in the pink shirt – I’m sorry, purple shirt –
whatever color that is. And Mr. Mollazade, did you – OK, and then Mr.
Q: OK. Good afternoon. I’m Professor Brenda Shaffer at Georgetown University
and my question I would like to offer to Mr. Melia and to Dr. Carter. In this
Cold War period, the Soviet Union and the United States pursued a strategic
competition between them through arming different movements, the different
national movements in the Third World, different ideological movements,
different religious movements. We saw the results of this. It brought
societies apart. It created civil wars. It killed millions of people and
destabilized countries, and in the end, it even hurt the security of the United
In the post-Soviet period, we see that the countries have actually learned a
new cheaper model and actually probably more efficient, which is instead of
arming different movements around the world, we’re seeing the strategic
competitions taking place in the ballot box and in the street and through
protests. So we see, for instance, in the post-Arab Spring Middle East it’s
not just about the people’s will, but it’s also the will of Russia, the will of
Iran, the will of foreign powers.
We see in the Caucasus in the past couple of years that not only is U.S. aid
active there, but Russia’s version of aid, Iran’s version of aid. And even the
list of political prisoners that Dr. Lanskoy discussed, many of them are there
because they’re representatives of the Iranian government, funded by the
Iranian government, being used for terrorist activities, and not just religious
So I’d like to know what is the U.S. policy on helping states find a balance
between true democratic processes or misuse of the democratic processes for the
promotion of external forces. Again, in the Middle East, but also specifically
we’re seeing this focus in the South Caucasus, in Georgia, a Russian citizen
elected for prime minister; in Azerbaijan, a Russian citizen, a candidate – how
to allow this not to be an arena of external competition?
HAN: And then, well, if you could allow these two to ask their questions –
Q: Hello, my name is Rafiq (sp) from University of Delaware. I have a really
simply question to Azerbaijani official policymakers. I wonder whether there
will be any changes regarding the settlement, the resolution of
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia after the presidential
election. Do you expect any major changes, any changes in your counterparts?
Thank you very much.
HAN: And then, right here in the front row.
Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank for your commission for a very
HAN: Could you please identify yourself?
Q: My question to representative of U.S. government – my name is Asim
Mollazade. I’m chairman of Democratic Reform Party of Azerbaijan. My question
is to Mr. Melia. Mr. Putin said that one of the biggest tragedy of 20th
century was collapse of Soviet Union. And now, after idea of Eurasian Union,
we have the active involvement of Russia to political process of post-Soviet
world elections in Latvia, elections in Georgia, a lot of Russian citizens were
elected there. And as a result, we had arrest of prime minister of Georgia,
Ivane Merabishvili, and the silence in the world about this fact when people
from Rose Revolution in jail. And also situations continue in Azerbaijan, and
Madam Shaffer said about the Hezbollah-type of organization going to kill U.S.
ambassador, Israel ambassador, leaders of Jewish Azerbaijani community.
And – (inaudible) – these people are in list of political prisoners, so called
discussing. I mean, can anybody accept Hezbollah activity or Russian network
activity financing – (inaudible) – in former Soviet territory? Is it a lack of
U.S. interest to this situation? What do you think about the restoration of
Soviet Union by Putin?
HAN: I’ll give you a moment to think about that. (Laughter.) And so let’s
start with – Paul, did you want to comment first on the professor from
MELIA: Two versions of the same question actually.
HAN: OK. Would you like to start? Yeah, and I’ll give you – I’ll call on
MELIA: Yeah, I was going to say that the two questions are intertwined, the
discussion about nationality and politics and external influences in
neighboring states and so on.
In my time in the U.S. government, which is brief but illuminating, I have come
to appreciate the limits of American and other governments’ ability to
influence outcomes in other countries. And it reminds me of a fundamental
premise that I had learned working in the NGO world over the previous 25 years,
which is that the outcomes in foreign political process will be determined by
the people in those countries, and that there will be – whether they move
forward or backwards, whether they have conflict or they have, you know,
reconciliation, those are largely decisions that will be taken by the people of
each country. And Azerbaijan, in this sense, is no different than any of the
We as international actors play a supporting role. We can encourage what we
think are good decisions. We can try to discourage bad decisions. We can
demonstrate that we support the work of certain kinds of actors like civil
groups or journalist or government agencies. You know, we work a lot with
government agencies and we try to improve their capacity to do their business
So – but we can’t make them do their work better. We can’t make them more
professional or more democratic or more transparent. That’s not a function of
the assistance we provide. That’s a function of decisions that are taken by
other people who live in other countries.
Now, I know there are other actors out there that are perhaps a tad more
malevolent than the United States generally is. But again, I would not
overstate the degree of international influence in these political processes.
I think the Russian role in Georgia has been vastly overstated by some. I
think, again, it’s Georgians driving decisions in Georgia and I think that that
would be the case in Azerbaijan. It would be the people and officials and the
voters in Azerbaijan that will ultimately decide the future of the country.
But Dr. Carter is much more of an expert on the nationalities of the former
Soviet Union than I am. So he can explain what’s really going on.
CARTER: Thank you very much, Tom. (Laughs.) I guess my observation on this
would be that actually echoing what Tom had to say about the influence of
bigger powers on other countries. I mean, certainly history shows that sooner
or later it’s the domestic situations in these countries that win out. And you
know, sometimes these big powers can influence developments even for long
periods of time, but then eventually, it’s the situations within the countries
The United States, in many countries – we can’t want democracy more than the
people of the countries with which we have a relationship. Our assistance
overseas, history and the record of our assistance shows that – that where the
people really want this, we can help them, but where the people are not ready
yet or have other ideas, things don’t work out.
We think that given the developments in Azerbaijan that things seem to be going
in a – at least popular opinion wants democracy. We believe that. And we
certainly would like to do everything we can to support that. And that’s one
of the reasons that we had this hearing today, to try to give a little bit of a
support to that effort.
HAN: OK. I’m going to turn next to the Ambassador and Mr. Seyidov, are you
going to address the Nagorno-Karabakh question?
HAN: OK. And then what I’m going to do is I’ll allow everyone to have one to
two minutes to sort of wrap up with any final comments you’d like to make.
SEYIDOV: Thank you very much, again. That’s a very, very essential question
because today, Nagorno-Karabakh issue is the question which we should discuss
everywhere. And today, the pressure which we can see to Azerbaijan because of
our independent policy. We did our best to be an independent and we’re doing
our best to be an independent, but unfortunately not only we are able to see
our possibilities and our influence in the region, and that’s why I think
Karabakh issue is the key point to show who is a master in the region.
And Azerbaijan is in favor to find a solution, peaceful solution of
Nagorno-Karabakh issue and then several times mentioned that unfortunately we
faced with three Armenia, not with one. The one Armenia is just nation which
are living in a neighboring country. Poor people, they are isolated because of
the policy which provided by the government Armenia. But the second Armenia
living here, in United States of America, in Los Angeles, that’s a Diaspora,
rich, influential, standing there and maybe here and try to influence to these
briefings. And the third Armenia is existing, Armenia as a tool in the hands
of the big power to show he’s a master in South Caucasian region.
You said, my dear colleagues, that, you know, nation is responsible for future
and for democracy. Of course nation is responsible, but why we have seen the
same déjà vu in Georgia, Russian citizen coming and taking part in election; in
Azerbaijan, Russian citizen is coming and taking part, negotiations between
Armenia and Azerbaijan deadlock. United States of America is in favor to
change status quo, but even you are not able to change the situation.
And that’s why, despite of all this pressure, despite of all these obstacles,
the leadership of Azerbaijan is doing its best for finding the solution of
Nagorno-Karabakh – peaceful solution of Nagorno-Karabakh. Because we have a
lot of things to lose. We want to keep our future. We want to do our best for
our country. Thank you very much.
HAN: Mr. Namazov.
NAMAZOV: We observe today that pre-election situation in Azerbaijan has
already started, that there’re steps taken towards already with clear outcome
for – towards the elections. Government is trying to present National Council
here in Washington as Russia’s project. But other member of Azeri government,
like the chairman of president staff, Mr. Ramsmetiev (ph), he travels to Moscow
or Tehran, where he says that National Council is a project of the West. And
if they – the National Council wins this election, Azerbaijan will be more
integrated to Europe, to West, to NATO. So as you see, that there’s in the
same amount of time two different presentations of the National Council.
But I want to assure you that the decision of what will be the next government
will be decided not in Moscow, Tehran, or Washington, but by the will of
Azerbaijani people and they will be determined by voting in October and then
defending their laws to make the change.
HAN: Mr. Ambassador, if you could spend two minutes wrapping up.
SULEYMANOV: Yes. Thank you very much once again. And let me raise one
question right away. As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, I am quite
used to the Soviet propaganda casually using words like racism and I know it is
(irrelevant to ?) the United States. So I grew up living in an imperialist
racist society here. If you look at the propaganda efforts today against the
United States, you would often see the same thing.
I’m very saddened at what I heard here – (inaudible) – casual use of words
“false,” “planted,” “smearing.” So for instance, when it is someone in
Azerbaijan, when it’s written against somebody who you like, it’s a smearing
campaign. If it’s written about somebody in the government, it’s freedom of
speech and can never be stopped.
So we need to be a little bit more grown up about this and basically think
about things which are realistic. I mean, I spent five and a half years as
consul general in Los Angeles. We saw yesterday what happened in Los Angeles
between police force and protesters. Now, what should we – should we have a
briefing at the parliament of Azerbaijan and somebody coming and mentoring
Ambassador Morningstar? He’s not a young man. I don’t want him to suffer like
that. So let us get a little bit realistic here.
Another thing is, for instance, I – so – and be a little bit careful in casual
using words. I mean, those words actually matter. And if we want them to
matter, then let’s use them more carefully.
Now, I – another thing which surprised me here is that we have spent discussing
a potential candidacy of Mr. Ibragimbekov, who’s a well-known actor, but what
are we discussing? It’s a superficial – I’m not as familiar as Mr. Namazov is
with the Russian decision-making process. So I don’t know exactly what the
Russians decide or what they don’t decide. I don’t know. I don’t know
Russians that well.
But at the moment, the fact is obvious: Mr. Ibragimbekov has a Russian
passport. He said he wants to get rid of it. If he gets rid of it by time and
he’s eligible to be registered, he will be registered by law. If he’s not
eligible, he will not be eligible. So discussion of this but – and using this
discussion in order to attack the government when the fact stands is actually
kind of – just – I mean, it’s kind of strange, to be honest.
The other thing that I wanted to say is first of all, Mr. Gadirli, I thank you
for bringing up the words of Mr. Wilson, President Wilson. I think every
Azerbaijani in this room and beyond, we all share the aspiration of Mr.
Topchubashev, Fatali Khan Khoyski, and everybody else who built Azerbaijan’s
republic. Every day, I can tell you that my mission here defends the flag of
the Republic of Azerbaijan because we believe in the spirit of that flag.
Now, Mr. Gadirli, you know how much I respect you, but you also know that the
republic you referred to lived 23 months and no, Mr. Melia, it did not fall
because of domestic dissidents, it fell because of the obvious foreign
invasion. So please, while in a – you know – in a continent – the great
continent of North America surrounded oceans, it seems that foreign
intervention is a very remote possibility. In my country, it’s not the same.
Mr. Gadirli, I share your aspiration for democratic and independent Azerbaijan.
We do everything possible to make sure that happens. Let us work together.
Let us work together to make sure that the spirit which instilled in that
republic remains forever. Azerbaijan must be independent. And let me tell you
something. As much as you might disagree with the government of Azerbaijan, it
is because of the leadership of Haydar Alyiev and Ilham Alyiev, the Republic of
Azerbaijan (stands ?) at the most independent, most sovereign, and in most
progressive republic of the former Soviet Union. So in fact, when you blow
down the words of Mr. Wilson, you know what we’re trying to do is to solidify
Now, I will just make a very small reference to what you said. I know that you
basically believe in parliamentary system, and you’re entitled to your view.
Based on that you offer a very narrow interpretation of a referendum and a
constitution. I disagree with your view on that. I think that majority view
in Azerbaijan is obvious and majority view around the world supports the idea
that amendment into constitution enters into force for the moment it’s adopted.
So I think there’s no legal preclusion for the incumbent president to be
HAN: I’m sorry, but we’re going to lose our room and I apologize for cutting
you off. Mr. Melia if you could start, then we’ll go to Dr. Lanskoy and then
Mr. Gadirli, you’ll have the last word. Oh, I’m sorry, and Paul.
MELIA: I’ll just conclude where we began by saying that Azerbaijan is an
important partner of the United States. It is our policy that we want them to
succeed as a sovereign, secure, and prosperous country based on the shared
democratic aspirations that we have all committed to in joining the OSCE and
the Council of Europe. And everything we do and say is intended to contribute
to the consolidation of Azerbaijan’s success as an independent nation.
I think in the context of these 90 days or so until the presidential election
comes, there are a handful of things that the government of Azerbaijan could do
tomorrow that would advance the democratic process. We talked about the need
to release Ilgar Mammadov. I think it’s entirely within the power of the
government to register the EMDS as a domestic election monitoring organization,
to invite ODIHR, the OSCE ODIHR to send their observers short and long-term.
And to permit ordinary political activity – let people come and go, have their
meetings, make their speeches, and get their messages out, and let the people
decide whether to vote for one candidate or the other.
We in the United States don’t have any preferences for candidates of parties.
We focus on a process and the more transparent and fair the process is, the
more confident we are that Azerbaijan will move forward.
HAN: Dr. Lanskoy.
LANSKOY: Thank you. Let me say a couple of things. First, on the whole
question of kind of what do we look for in the election period, one of the sort
of basic issues is whether there’s an acceptance that there can be an
opposition, and not just saying – not just automatically painting the
opposition as a projection of bad foreign influence.
We see a lot of authoritarian governments that do that, that say the opposition
is not authentic. The opposition is somehow influenced by others. We see this
right now in Russia, where Putin is basically saying this is – you know – those
NGOs, they’re foreign agents and members of the opposition met with the
Georgian parliamentarian – this is not an authentic opposition. And it’s a
shame to see some of that happening in Azerbaijan.
Ilgar Mammadov is well-known to us. He’s not an agent of Russia. He’s not an
agent of Iran. He’s certainly a political prisoner. It is a shame to hear
that type of argument being used against people who are totally pro-Western.
The time that I’ve spent watching Azerbaijan actually predates those back to
when I was at the EU and I was following Azerbaijan closely and publishing on
it all the time. And you could see how over these 20 years Azerbaijan has gone
in the wrong direction. It used to be roughly on parity with Georgia when it
came to things like NATO expansion. Azerbaijan and Georgia in the mid-’90s
were about in the same place as they – Azerbaijan was saying we really want to
be in NATO and was looking for a path in that direction.
Now, there’s such a big difference. If you look at, again, referring to
Freedom House surveys, and those are based on extensive research, Azerbaijan’s
scores are getting closer to Uzbekistan. It’s not getting closer to Georgia or
closer to Europe. It’s getting closer to the Central Asians, and that’s very
Finally, with – it’s already been said. Azerbaijan has a very vibrant civil
society. And on that, I do agree with the representatives of the government.
There’s really a great civil society. It is a very diverse country. And
there’s no place that’s more ready for democratic government and I wish all the
Azerbaijanis the best in the elections.
HAN: Mr. Gadirli.
GADIRLI: Thank you. I deliberately started my speech with a quote from former
President Wilson. He didn’t say that he agreed or disagreed with Azerbaijani
delegation. The only thing he said that he noticed that they were speaking the
same language. Now, this is very important. It’s important because it reveals
the fact how people conceptualize the world, how they envision the future of
their country, how they understand their own existence, what mental map they
have in their own hand in the end.
So we have a very bright ambassador here in the U.S. It’s not that I’m paying
the tribute to what he has just said to me –
SULEYMANOV: It looks that way. (Laughter.)
GADIRLI: No, we have – there’re bright people in the government, employed by
the government, who speak various languages, who built a personal career and
have self-esteem. That goes without saying. It’s not that we don’t see that.
The problem is and what I try to explain here is how government communicates to
its own people internally.
I don’t believe in – I have no illusion about foreign aid, especially in a
democracy building. And we’re not here to complain or ask for something. But
the language the government uses to communicate to its own people is extremely
outdated, extremely outdated. The concepts they use, the terminologies they
employ, the phraseology they use actually. I mean, one of the MPs whom I
personally respect, is not a member of incumbent party, but he’s a bright
lawyer himself, recently, relatively recently said to the media that Ilgar
Mammadov, I quote, “is a last and unsuccessful attempt by the West to have a
color revolution in Azerbaijan.” End of quote.
Now, regardless of whether – I’m not getting into the fact statement of whether
he’s true or not, but the language is quite indicative.
Now, we hear here and there in Azerbaijan, someone is Russian agent. Someone
is Iranian agent. Someone is Western agent. I’m really fed up with this. We
have to pay attention to the conduct, to the process. We have to ensure that
ideas become part of the process and people are valued because of the things
There’s another thing that is overlooked, what is called intellectual
dependence. That’s very different thing from the thing that agency of change.
If I studied, for example, German philosophy, which greatly influenced myself,
I can fairly enough say that I am intellectually dependent on German
philosophy. I didn’t study Chinese philosophy. I’m not intellectually
dependent on what the greatest Chinese civilization produced.
But the worldview I have is a Western. But now, what we see is the government,
again, communicating to its own people. I know that they say a lot of nice and
sometimes true things to the West. But the way they communicate to its own
people is very outdated and very Russian-like, not in terms that the Russians
instructs them, but in terms of the system, the similarity in the system, the
similarity in the problems.
Look what the Russia – how Russia treats its NGO and how Azerbaijani government
treats the NGO. The same talks: agents, agents, agents, foreign aid, grants,
blah, blah. How Russia treats its parties, its political parties and the
political process, how Azerbaijani government treats its political parties and
process, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, Professor Brenda Shaffer mentioned about the task upon the Iranian
influence, et cetera. This is another truth, by the way. A growing Islam, for
example. Yes, Islam grows in Azerbaijan, but partly because it was oppressed
during Soviet time. Now, it simply is reaching its traditional level. I think
it will catch some 30-35 percent of the society. Yes, it’s visible because the
number of voters increased who have some religious aspirations and for any
politician, including the incumbent party – and they do so, which is fair
enough and it’s legitimate to – in public people’s campaign – we have to
address the needs of the believers. And that says, yes, Islam has become
politically – political factor. But not in the sense that Islam is becoming a
political factor in a way that any Islamic group can grab the power.
They have significant and very deep disagreements among themselves. They have
different intellectual dependencies. Some depend on Iran. Some depend on
Turkey. Some depend on (Arab ?). And there’s no way they can come to any
agreement among themselves.
So let’s just stop these speculations and manipulations about Islam, about
Russia, about Iran without – with due account to the real geostrategical
threats. And I agree with you, Mr. Ambassador, they are threats. They are
threats. They’re existential threats. And they’re not going to go anywhere if
the government changes. And we do share that concern. Also about Karabakh. I
don’t know if there’re Armenians here, no matter from which part of the world
they’re from. But I also want our American friends to know this. It’s not
just about Azerbaijan and Armenia.
In the beginning, in the end of the ’90s and beginning –
HAN: I’m sorry, Mr. Gadirli, you have to wrap up your –
GADIRLI: If I may just –
HAN: Yeah, just finish this comment, please, but quickly.
GADIRLI: – finish this particular comment because this is very important.
This also reveals how deep understanding in our society is.
We have to have a clear picture. And the end of the ’80s and the beginning of
’90s were two different trends. Armenians wanted Karabakh at any price.
Azerbaijanis wanted independence at any price. When you want something at any
price, you pay the highest price possible. And what we have, Azerbaijan got
its independence, but lost a control over the Karabakh and surrounding area.
Armenia got control over Karabakh and surrounding areas, but lost its
Now, I have – I want to understand everyone here in this room, occupation is
the price Azerbaijan pays for its independence.
Now, Mr. Ambassador –
HAN: This has to be your last point because –
GADIRLI: – I want you to know that the reason I’m standing in opposition about
that is just the fact that we don’t talk to each other in our country – no, not
you and myself. But is no talk in Azerbaijan.
SULEYMANOV: You know my email account, come on.
GADIRLI: I know that I can access you. (Laughter.) And in fact, unlike
Americans here, I have a luxury to ignore your diplomatic status because for me
you’re first of all my fellow compatriot. But because we don’t have a talk, a
dialogue, a process – there is no process. No one can misuse it or use it if
there is no process.
HAN: Thank you.
SEYIDOV: Mr. Gadirli –
HAN: Actually, I’m going to have to stop it right there. I’m sorry.
SEYIDOV: The romantic period is over. That’s a romantic period. (Laughter.)
GADIRLI: It’s not romantic. That’s realistic.
SEYIDOV: That’s a romantic period.
HAN: All right. Thank you. I’m going to call on Dr. Carter to provide some
concluding remarks and then we’ll wrap it up.
CARTER: OK. We’ve heard testimony from a distinguished group of American and
Azerbaijan officials, politicians, and experts. They’ve offered diverse
perspectives on the current political situation in Azerbaijan and the prospects
for a free and fair presidential election this fall. We are grateful to each
for agreeing to appear at this briefing today.
I began my introductory remarks earlier by noting that the United States is a
friend of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani people and that we have many common
interests with the government in Baku. These strong ties have an important –
have been an important factor in our close cooperation over the years and we
would like to see our relationship become even stronger. As we have heard
today, Azerbaijan is indeed at a crossroads. One path leads forward toward
democracy and economic prosperity. The other leads toward authoritarianism,
corruption, and eventually, economic stagnation and decline.
The presidential election this fall will be an important opportunity for
Azerbaijan to act on this choice. All candidates must be allowed to move and
campaign freely without fear of arrest or harassment. Journalists must be free
to cover and report on the election and other stories without the threat of
detention on trumped up charges, physical assault, or the jamming of
NGOs, religious organizations, and other elements of civil society must be
allowed to operate without arbitrary bureaucratic or legal impediments. And
all of Azerbaijani society must be able to trust that it is governed in a
transparent and rule-based manner in the interests of all and not in the
interests of a small group.
These are obligations that Azerbaijan has undertaken as a member of the United
Nations, the OSCE, and other international organizations. It has – excuse me –
it is our sincere hope that Azerbaijan will see this opportunity, guarantee
these basic democratic and human rights, and take its rightful place as a
regional cornerstone of democracy, social peace, and prosperity.
Thank you again to all of our panelists and to all of you who have attended
this briefing today.
HAN: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
[Whereupon, at 4:19 p.m., the briefing was concluded.]