Center for National and International Studies
“The problem between the government of Turkey and the government of Azerbaijan can surface if only the Turkish government prioritizes democracy to the extent that the question of democracy becomes an integral part of its geopolitical interests.”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
President Ilham Aliyev signed a pardon order on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his father, the former president Heydar Aliyev. 801 people, including two political prisoners, were pardoned. Among those who were pardoned, 463 individuals were released from prison, 220 had their sentences halved, and 118 prisoners’ imprisonment sentences were changed to correctional works and fines. Although there were several former government officials arrested for corruption, among those released, only two political prisoners were pardoned according to the order, which is considered the largest presidential pardon in the history of Azerbaijan since its independence.
Opposition leader and chairperson of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Ali Karimli called the pardon “a demonstration of the regime’s loyalty to a policy of repression”. Karimli: “If Alizamin Salayev were a corrupt deputy minister and if he had embezzled 1.8 million manats of state funds, Ilham Aliyev would have pardoned him yesterday. If Alizamin had been an officer of the Ministry of National Security and committed racketeering and other official crimes, he would have been pardoned yesterday. If Alizamin were a real criminal, he would still have a chance to be pardoned. However, Alizamin is not corrupt, and he is not a criminal. He demands rights and justice from the authorities and the rights of ordinary people like him. Therefore, even though he is on the verge of death, he does not benefit from the “humanism” of the authorities. Alizamin Bey, who is on his 92nd day of hunger strike, is being killed because he is a political prisoner and not a corrupt person.”
Lawyer Elchin Sadigov said that 6000 people had been arrested in Azerbaijan since January. According to the human rights defender, there are hundreds of political prisoners in Azerbaijani jails. Sadigov: “This year, I tried to look up the cases in the courts with serial number 4 (cases that are concluded with imprisonment start with 4 ). Since the beginning of January, the number of arrested people has exceeded 6,000. I thought that this amnesty would at least reduce this number enough. However, it didn’t happen. Hundreds of political prisoners were added to the list to be considered for pardon. Most of them were hoping for amnesty, but their wishes did not come true. The ECHR’s indifference to political arrests in recent times, removing cases from the list in the manner of a unilateral declaration and describing it as a reconciliation, creates suitable conditions for further political arrests and a longer period of jail time. There has not been condemnation by the ECHR regarding the recent politically motivated arrests. They know that no matter how many condemnations they issue, the government does not consider them. I had hopes for the release of journalist Polad Aslanov, who was imprisoned for a long time without any evidence. It was in vain. Despite this, we will continue to defend human rights and freedoms.”
Governance and Corruption
Former Minister of Labor and Social Protection Salim Muslimov, whose trial has been going on for almost a year, agreed to return 4.5 million manats of which he was accused of embezzling during his term as a minister. The case of Muslimov, who is accused of embezzlement of 27 million manats, as well as taking bribes, is being considered at the Baku Court of Serious Crimes. The former minister, who was detained two years ago, was released to house arrest in May of last year after paying the estimated damage of 20 million manats. Muslimov officially paid approximately 24.5 million manats for the criminal case he was accused of.
Chairperson of Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Party (ADWP) Gubad Ibadoghlu said that the ongoing reconstruction works in the Karabakh region serve only to help the authorities to embezzle millions of state funding. “Laying the foundations of the villages does not mean the start of the work, and all this fuss is about taking photos, creating wrong images about the progress of the restoration works, deceiving the public, and removing the money allocated from the budget. For information, let me note that over 6.6 billion dollars (more than 11.2 billion manats) have been allocated for reconstruction and restoration works in the territories of Azerbaijan liberated from the occupation in the last three years.”
On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the former president Heydar Aliyev, there have been organized a number of events and celebrations. The Public Television ITV aired a documentary called “Grandmaster” on the occasion. However, the excessive praise and historical inaccuracies in the documentary film raised questions. The opposition leader, chairperson of the National Council of the Democratic Forces, Jamil Hasanli pointed out the serious historical mistakes referring to the archival documents. Hasanli: Of course, it is completely normal to make a documentary about Heydar Aliyev. However, a documentary should be based on documents and historical accuracy. Heydar Aliyev was a character of his time, and attempts to separate him from the time when he was active and “write” a new biography of him serve to falsify the real history and pave the way for fabrications. As the 100-year anniversary is upon us, it seems like a praise race is going on, fiction is flapping its wings and flying in the sky. They lie as much as they can. They are creating a new biography of Heydar Aliyev based on fiction, which has nothing to do with real history.”
Ganimat Zahid, a journalist exiled in France, commented on the legacy of the former president, saying that the current authoritarian family rule was established by Heydar Aliyev. Zahid: “Heydar Aliyev was not a statesman, he was a mafia leader. In the KGB system, which is one of the most vile regimes in the world, he managed to strengthen his mafia by sucking the blood of the people he ruled after coming to power by infiltrating the dirtiest technologies. Greed, rapacity, theft, fraud, and everything alike that you witness every day is his legacy.”
Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli remembered the activist Bayram Mammadov who was jailed for spraying “Happy Slave Day” slogan on the statue of Heydar Aliyev and was later found dead in Turkey. “Today is the day of those who turned flower holiday into slave holiday. Today is the day of two brave young men. It is the day of those who testify that hope is not extinguished. Today is the day of Bayram, who lost his life for the freedom of the slaves. Today is the day to hate the oppressor. This day will be remembered in the future as the day when Heydar’s statue was painted. The day will come when Ilham Aliyev will be remembered with hatred for murdering Bayram.”
Elections in Turkey
The upcoming presidential elections in Turkey is one of the most discussed topics on Azerbaijani social media. While many believe that the results of the elections will have consequences for Azerbaijan as well, the public opinion is diverging on the opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and President Erdogan. Director of the Baku Research Institute Altay Goyushov said that what worries President Aliyev is not who is going to be elected but rather how fair and democratic the elections will be. Goyushov also added that geopolitical interests would define Turkey’s foreign policy regardless of the results. “If Erdogan is not elected, it is expected that there may be problems between the government of Azerbaijan and the new government of Turkey. Aliyev openly interfered in the internal affairs of another country and supported a candidate. However, this is not the first time that such things have happened neither in our country nor abroad, and as a result, relations have not been seriously damaged. So what I’m saying is that geopolitics have the final say. Aliyev most probably has allies in Kılıchdaroğlu’s team, at least there is Hikmet Çetin. There may be some discussions and disagreements, but then geopolitics and money will fix everything. The problem between the government of Turkey and the government of Azerbaijan can surface if only the Turkish government prioritizes democracy to the extent that the question of democracy becomes an integral part of its geopolitical interests. But we have never seen such an approach from the USA or Europe, and on the contrary, they all unequivocally supported authoritarianism in Azerbaijan, and so does Turkey.”
Member of the APFP Fuad Gahramanli also commented on the Turkish elections saying that the Azerbaijani government must be careful in its statements about the elections and refuse to openly support Erdogan. “The fact that the Azerbaijani authorities are fully involved in this matter and appear as a party in the elections in Turkey puts our state interests at risk from a strategic point of view. After all, at this sensitive moment, at a time when geopolitical balances are being reset, Turkey’s strong support to Azerbaijan is very important. In no case should we forget that the security of our country in the face of regional threats is closely connected with the support of the Turkish state today. In that case, putting these bonds at risk is a mistake. Obviously, the support of the Azerbaijani authorities to Erdogan is not going to affect the opinion of the Turkish public. It would never do, but it will inevitably affect the attitude of the opponents of Erdogan against Azerbaijan, and we will have to pay the price for it as a country. Therefore, the Azerbaijani authorities should not lose their sense of responsibility.”
May 12, 2023