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Center for National and International Studies




“…The target of the terror is not just Jamil Hasanli but the whole of society…”

The FB community is outraged by the blackmailing of the prominent scholar and political leader Jamil Hasanli, at what is widely perceived as the authorities’ punishment for his opposition activities, with civil and political leaders, journalists and bloggers demonstrating unity in their denouncement of the immoral and illegal act of the regime. They raise the issue of the political prisoner Saleh Rustamli, whose family became a target of state machine pressure; continue to discuss the violation of rights in the course of the Ter-ter case; show concern over Russia’s increasing control over the Karabagh region, but are inspired by the policies of the new US administration, targeting authoritarian regimes.

The black mailing of Dr. Jamil Hasanli.  Activists, journalists, bloggers and other FB users decry, protest and react with indignation to yet another attempt of the authorities to blackmail an activist – this time a prominent opposition leader, and internationally renowned historian Dr. Jamil Hasanli – with the illegally recorded intimate video of his female family member. The scholar has lately posted materials devoted to the human rights violations, in particular tortures, during the investigation of the so-called Ter-ter case. He has compared these methods to the practice of the Gestapo during the WW2. – Nacht der Langen Messer. Earlier the tortures were exposed by the human rights defender Ogtay Gulaliyev, who was then hit by a car and since then for more than a year was in a coma. Jamil Hasanli stated on his timeline that he was informed about the spread of the video of the private life of his daughter, made by Ilham Aliyev and his intelligence services, calling intervention in the private lives of the citizens, their bedrooms their ‘old profession’. He said that his daughter is 38 years old, divorced and with the right to have private life or marry a second time. Nobody, including himself, can prohibit her from doing that. There is nothing unusual about it. Immorality is to intervene in the intimate life of another, mobilize the intelligence services for that, and use it as a tool of political blackmail. He argues that similar to the previous cases of video blackmail, this is Ilham Aliyev’s craft. This dishonoured practice, he continues, is his old profession and the result of his incomplete upbringing. He reminded that his father was also opened the criminal case against for similar deeds when he worked in KGB. He concludes by saying that the hopes of the president to obstruct their political activities in this way are fruitless. “The private life of my daughter is her personal right, and the state has nothing to do with it. At the time, when the country has thousands of serious problems, the authorities are witnessed as having turned the state security services into the servant of the family: by attracting it to illegal acts of interference in private lives of the citizens is displaying its immoral nature. To expect more than that from this government would be a sin”.  Isa Gambar of Musavat called it “another expression of the immoral nature of the regime”. He stated that hitting a political rival by attacking his/her family member is immoral. The intervention in the private life of a citizen is immoral and illegal. The secret video recording of a woman in her bedroom is amoral. He demanded the authorities to put an end to these immoral practices. “Look who is governing the country”, exclaims Nigar Hezi, activist of Musavat – “How else can the authorities prove its immoral nature? The whole government led by Ilham Aliyev should resign!” Khadija Ismayil, who has herself been through the same experience, has noted: “The government again is busy with “yengellism” (yenge is an outdated tradition of a woman who checks the bed of the newlyweds to confirm virginity of the bride). The presidency of Ilham Aliyev will be remembered exactly by that.” Shemshad Aga states that such terror against the private lives of the citizens will not save the authorities, who are trying to cover up the hegemony of Russians in Karabagh, the Ter-ter case, and other problems. “It will not last long, you will get suffocated in your dirt,” he comments. The publisher Nigar Kocharli exclaims: “How long will you use women as an object of blackmail?  Whoever has a problem with each other or have a crack in their relations – they turn a woman into its victim. We cannot agree to that, this is just a new form of women’s enslavement. People who are to blame for spreading videos of a person for whom I have the highest respect should be immediately punished. Neither myself, nor any other person, who respects oneself will watch that video, but impunity will open ways to the worst crimes”. Gullu Jangirova, an activist in exile, decries the blackmail and states that the authorities are the source of immorality and do not have a moral right to speak about national values, or pronounce the name of Jamil Hasanli: they have lost this right long ago. To quote the eco-activist Javid Gara: “Crossing the red lines on intervention in private lives is a serious issue. I hope society will come up with a principled position in this regard. I am grateful to Jamil Hasanli for teaching the government a lesson of dignity. I would like to call on the government to be human beings. This is not an insult. This is an invitation.” Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, the youth leader, stated: “The political power is in the hands of low, uneducated, and people without any values”.  Journalist Afghan Mukhtarli comments that the president “is ruling the country by blackmail, threatening activists by videos of their intimate lives. There is a herd of those which calls this “reforms”. Gultakin Hajibeyli reminds readers that Professor Hasanli is well-known scholar, whose books have been published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge University Press and others, stresses his integrity and consistency in the struggle for democracy. She ties the blackmail to his publicising of human rights violations during the Ter-ter case investigations and decries the dirty methods the authorities used to silence people like Jamil Hasanli, whom everyone is proud of. The lawyer Alasgar Ahmadoglu shows that the violation of the privacy of citizens is punishable by the Azerbaijan Criminal Code article 156 – from fines to 2 years of imprisonment. The prominent journalist Shaveled Chobanoglu calls it “besides being a serious crime, an immoral and low act, which is directed against the whole country. The feminist leader Rabiyya Mammadova comments: “The government again is busy with the porno-industry. They probably think children are the result of cross-pollination. It is actually better to spread these videos, than stealing the benefits of war veterans, taking billions of national resources abroad, or keeping the population in misery.” The leader of ADR movement Gubad Ibadoglu and Tofig Yagublu of Musavat participated in a live stream where they categorically decried the blackmail against Jamil Hasanli. Osmangizi TV reveals the mechanism of the blackmail machine of Aliyev’s regime.

Post-war situation. The role of international factors in the situation in Karabagh is discussed and commented on by the FB community. The adoption of the Russian language as official in Karabagh, the latest tension between Russia and the US, NATO’s capacity to weaken Russia’s presence in the region – are the primary topics of discussion with US expert Paul Goble on Osmangizi TV. The activists and opposition leaders share the alarming statement by the chair of the party Spravedlivaya Rossiya Mironov, that Russia should unite Karabagh to herself. Ali Karimli of PFP comments, that the Russians who were brought in by llham Aliyev first established their mini-government there, then settled Armenians there from all over the world, took control over all governance – from social to defence issues, announced Russian as the official language, and now a politician close to Putin is bringing to public discussion the issue of uniting Karabagh with Russia, while Putin himself recently called the former Soviet republics ‘artificial’ states. He raises the question if this is the reason President Aliyev so often praises the Russian peacekeepers’ activities? He reminds his followers, that their party was opposed to the bringing in of these Russian troops by Aliyev, which were made to withdraw by President Elchibey. He asserts that Ilham Aliyev should express his categorial protest at Russia’s attempts to occupy the country, and that Russia’s withdrawal should turn into an all-national issue. Karimli also questions the statement of President Aliyev, that the conflict is over and asks whether he meant by that the establishment of full Russian control over the region’s governance. The newspaper Azadlyg reports, that contrary to official statements about Armenia being in a dire economic condition at the recent joint meeting of the officials of Karabagh and Armenia the latter decided to allocate 110b drams to the creation of infrastructure in Karabagh was announced. Fuad Gahramanli in his article attracts attention to the change of “peacekeeping” status of the Russian troops, declaring Russia language as official there and notes the absence of official reaction to all that in Baku. He anticipates that the next step will be distribution of Russian passports to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians there. He calls it the actual “soft” occupation, because after that, the role of peacekeepers will be protection of the “Russian citizens” in Karabagh and their presence will be dragged on for an indefinite time. It is clear, he argues, that peacekeepers should represent a neutral country, but being an ally of Armenia, and especially after distributing passports, it turns into an official party to the conflict. He notes that the fear of the Azerbaijani authorities of Russia is so strong, that they cannot even demand Russia’s implementation of the agreement mediated by Putin on 10th November, and the military victory in the war is turning into a capitulation of Azerbaijan before Russia. The Turkish journalist Aytan Aytaj argues in her interview with Osmangizi TV, that after the Karabagh War 2, the influence of Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia has increased.  Some journalists are touching upon the issue of how to deal with the Armenian-Turkish historical relations and its influence on Karabagh conflict. The journalists quote the Forbes publication which mentions the bombing of Baku by the Russian rockets from Armenia proper, and contrast this with its denial by President Aliyev.

Relations with the US. The democratic press praises reports that the US and EU are strengthening the alliance for the defence of democracy and that the South Caucasus will be paid a special attention to. This was decided at the video- Summit of the new administration of Joe Biden and all leaders of the EU, as local press reports with reference to the France Press. They also inform the public that Biden stressed the importance of the joint EU policy in relation to Turkey, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Western Balkans. They also find Biden’s statement that “we should prove that democracy works” important, as it may mean that the dictatorship coming from Russia will not work anymore.  FB users stress that after the issue of the Uygurs in China, the problem of Shahla Humbatova is the second important issue, which has not changed with the change of administration and that the Azerbaijani government should make a conclusion for itself. The FB users also observe that after intervention by Blinken, the government trolls started to spread the version that Shahla Humbatova was excluded due to her “irresponsible behaviour”. The PFP activists consider that Biden’s statement regarding Shahla Humbatova proves that the US has chosen a new language with Azerbaijan- it is not again about concern, but it is about demand.

Corruption scandals at PACE. The activists continue to discuss and decry the corruption scandal between a few German MPs and the Azerbaijani government. Ali Karimli of the PFP reports that the size of bribe of just one foreign MP (Edward Lintner received 4m Euros over 8 years) to protect the Azerbaijani government from criticism, was equal to cutting off the social benefits of 13,000 handicapped and the families of the war dead. The FB community also spreads the news that the German Head Prosecutor’s office confiscated the 997,000 Euro property of the ex-deputy of Bundestag, Mark Hauptman. FB users play with the expression used by President Aliyev, that if somebody observes any corruption, they should immediately give a signal to him, so he would undertake measures. The bloggers comment ironically: “If somebody has a chance there, please, give a signal to Ilham Aliyev”, “Now the signal to Ilham Aliyev comes from Germany – let him react!” The activists also comment that it seems that there is an awareness of the threat which the corrupt government of Aliyev represents for Western democracy. They also note that most probably when the president mentioned, at the last congress of the ruling party, that Western democracy had failed, he meant PACE, whose integrity was undermined by the network of corrupt German MPs. But his hopes were not realised, as the German judicial system now holds all of them responsible, and after the death of Karin Strenz on the plane, it is an indication that there are also international victims of Aliyev’s regime. But this is not even half of its transnational criminal deeds.

Relations with Russia. The statement of the  “Just Russia” ( Spravedlivaya Rossiya) party’s official Nikolay Novichkov that Karabagh should  be united with Russia is commented on with indignation by FB users. They also interpret the announcement of the Russian language in Karabagh as official as a major step towards turning the region into part of Russia. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF notes, that Armenia has the most strict and exclusive language law among all Soviet republics, which prescribes all children with Armenian parents to get education only in Armenian language and for 30 years Armenians did not change the status of language in Karabagh; but now the change of status of Russian language is an important indication of the change of the control over Karabagh. She warns that Putin’s is turning the region into Russia’s most dangerous bridgehead in the Caucasus and that the Russian troops are not going to withdraw, not after 5 years but at any time after that, in confirmation of the statement by Zatulin. She calls it “the burial of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty” and that currently it restores all the transportation conditions for the country-occupant. The other opposition activist, Seymur Hezi, considers that the trilateral agreement of November 10th does not exist anymore, especially in that – contrary to the provision according to which parallel to arrival of Russian peacekeepers, the Armenians forces withdraw, the latter is only fortifying its presence in Karabagh. Similarly, the agreement states that all IDPs, regardless of their ethnic identity, were supposed to be returned under the monitoring of the UN structures, but it is not so, as only Armenian IDPs are being returned and without the monitoring of the UN. He asks why Azerbaijan should ask permission of the Russian peacekeepers to move within its own internationally recognized territory? This proves that the implementation of the agreement of 10th November is in violation of both Azerbaijani and international laws.” Russia’s occupation, which started by simple practical steps now is moving to the community level, but Baku keeps silence, apparently because knew it in advance”, continues the PFP activist. Hezi, summarising the analysis, concludes that there are no peacekeepers in Karabagh, but there are Russian troops as the guarantors of the separatist regime. President Aliyev should either ask the international community for help, or by keeping silence, he proves to be a partner of Putin in this deed. Bakhityar Hajiyev draws parallels with Russia’s policy in the other secessionist regions – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Donbass and Crimea, stressing that it has been clear that the de-facto protector of the separatist regime in Karabagh is not Armenia anymore, but Russia, who will soon distribute Russian passports to the community. The Upper Karabagh, he argues, is getting out of Azerbaijan control day by day. After that, Azerbaijan will either have to submit to any claim of Moscow, or Russia will occupy these lands by the Abkhazia or Crimea scenario. Natig Jafarli of REAL anticipates further aggravation of the situation in Donbass, with Russia completing its occupation and conducting a referendum there by September this year.

By this time, he presumes the number of Russian passports holders will have risen twofold – from the current 450,000 to 1m people. He speculates on the reaction of the West and guesses at a few options – like Ukraine is too big and maybe it is easier to deal with the smaller Ukraine? Or by allowing Russia to occupy Donbass, they will bring the end of Russia’s governance and economy, failing under the increasing burden of greater territories, closer? He argues that Russia still thinks that power of the country is measured not by its economy, but by the physical size of its territory, and that the aggravated West-Russia confrontation as a result of possible occupation of Donbass will affect the region and Azerbaijan too. Gultakin Hajibeyli does not call it accidental that after Putin had labelled the former Soviet republics artificial, his close associate Mironov stated that Karabagh should be united with Russia, which proves that Russia is ill-intentioned towards Azerbaijan.

Human rights. The FB community shares an appeal of the “Reporters without Borders” organization to the French police to protect the blogger Mahammad Mirzeli. The blogger suffered 10 stabbings and underwent a 6-hour long surgery after the recent attack by knives of an armed gang. The appeal stresses that immediately after, he was again sent threatening messages. FB tells the story of Rashid Mammadov and his family, who were IDPs from the occupied region Zangilan, and have been living 7 people in one room in the students’ dormitory for all these years, waiting for an apartment. But when the time came, the Committee on Refugees and IDPs told them that earlier they had rejected an offer, although they could not present any signed document confirming it. Meydan TV devotes its programme to the concept of “police violence” and explains the difference between it within democratic states and in the region. The activists and journalists praise Blinken’s twitter status expressing concern for the exclusion of prominent female lawyer Shahla Humbatova, who received an award for Women of Courage of the US government when Trump was in office, from the Azerbaijani Bar Association.  The journalist Shamshad Aga comments that this news should be passed to the president of the Azerbaijan Bar Association, so he would not be happy that Trump is not in power anymore, because Biden has supported her too. He interprets Blinken’s statement “We are concerned with the pressure on Shahla Humbatova and call for her restoration in membership and give her our support” as the first step in foreign policy of the new US administration related to Azerbaijan.  The Popular Front Party has issued an alarming statement on pressure being exerted on the family of political prisoner Saleh Rustamov. He was the head of Geranboy region Executive power in 1992-3 and was arrested on trumped-up charges in 2018 for providing financial help to families of political prisoners. His family was pressured by the authorities after Saleh Rustamov refused to write a pardon appeal in prison and to accept all the fake accusations.  He declared that if the pressure does not stop, he will start a hunger strike. The statement is concluded by following: “The Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan demands the government to stop its unlawful actions against Saleh Rustamov immediately. Both Saleh Rustamov and other political prisoners must be released immediately. The PPFA calls on the foreign diplomatic corps and the international community to get mobilised for defending Saleh Rustamov and to take actual measures to stop the brutalities of Azerbaijani officials. The PPFA also calls on the country’s active part of the public to be sensitive to this issue, raise their voices in protest, and mobilise in support of Saleh Rustamov. The Azerbaijani people should show that they protect the people who live a political prison life because they are engaging in the fight for the people’s rights and freedoms. Threats against Saleh Rustamov must be condemned, and the organisation calls for his immediate release and that of other political prisoners.” The FB community continues to expose and decry the violations of law and tortures during the investigation of the Ter-ter case.

Governance, economy, social issues. The FB community discusses the death – according to the official version, by suicide – of director of the sales department in SOCAR, Nihad Aliyev, in Istanbul. The Turkish media reports he committed suicide in the Beshiktash hotel’s room. Nihad Aliyev is a nephew of the president of SOCAR Rovnag Abdullayev. His father Nusret Aliyev, brother of SOCAR’s president is the head of the gas department of the Oil Refinery. The activists, journalists, bloggers continue to decry the illegal hunting by tourists revealed by the eco-activist Javid Gara recently. The officials of Ministry of Ecology reported, that based on the photos and videos spread on social networks, its services have investigated the facts. The activists stress the alarming situation concerning the protection of birds, who had moved away from permanent urban construction hazards to the region just to fall into the hands of illegal hunters. The statements of both the tourists and the Ministry of Ecology were issued. The journalist Ruzgar Movsum reports that illegal hunting has been taking place for 10 years already, when the hunters were paying $3,000 per person to the Ministry of Ecology to be able to do that. He also warns against using the word “Arabs” as a discriminative generalization in this context, suggesting replacing it by “illegal hunters”, “tourists” etc., stressing that the true culprits of this are national bureaucrats. An eco-activist Javid Gara explains that indeed, most of the illegal hunting of birds is conducted by tourists from the Arab states, while the Western tourists hunt the goats for their horns and usually the old ones and within the season. He expresses his negative attitude towards any hunting tourism, and support only on a limited scale – for the locals. He asserts that the main target of protest and criticism is arbitrariness and corruption of local bureaucrats. The Ministry of Ecology claims fining 2 tourists 4,000 manats, and that the 372 hectares of the reserves of Ajinohur in 2017 was lent to an unnamed citizen who had invited the guests-tourists. It also rejects its sole responsibility, referring to other state structures which allowed the tourists to come to the country during the pandemic.  One of the activists compares the size of fines to the expenses on private charter flights carrying the hunters and hunting hawks, showing its insignificance as a punishment.

The economists stress the negative trend in the demography of the country. Samir Aliyev comments that the current population growth has reached the level of post WW2.  The death rate is similar to the one in 1955.  The pandemic, together with Karabagh War 2, has contributed to a record high death rate in 65 years, but a worsening trend had already been observed before the pandemic. The issue of child benefits was permanently on agenda of politicians and activists. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF contrasts the 8-13, 6b manat cost of the European Games hosted by official Baku to the resistance of the authorities to re-introduce child benefits “to the people, whom it remembers only if it needs sacrifices in war battles”. She ridicules the bureaucrats’ justification of it by an extra 3b manats, which they do not have, while billions are spent on ineffective projects, and asks where was 200b oil revenue spent if there was not enough for 100 manats in child benefits?  FB continues to discuss the inflated flight ticket prices of AZAL company. Ilkin Rustamzade notes that somebody mentioned that one of the AZAL’s plane is called Shusha and warns the followers not to be distracted by a populist tricks of corrupt bureaucrats: “Even if the plane is called “Mother-Sister-Honour”, it will not change the truth – that Jahangir Asgerov is a bandit and curses (insults, swears at) us as a people every day!”

Democracy and activism. The eco-activist Javid Gara considers appeals to the institutions, like the Fund of Heydar Aliyev, or personalities like Mehriban Aliyeva, that have nothing to do with environmental issues, as “spitting at the statehood” and categorically rejects such a possibility. But he considers it correct to appeal to the president, pointing to the fact that, created by the latter, the governance system does not work. He concludes that there is no other option but starting protest actions. Ilgar Mammadov of REAL has expressed his criticism of the possible protests based on environmental concerns, recalling allegedly conspirative nature of the national-liberation movement of the late 1980s, which started with the protest against the destruction of the Topkhana reserve in Karabagh. Javid Gara has argued in response, that based on Mammadov’s radical statements a few years ago, he cannot believe in his sincerity and that he understands “his jealousy”. He is upset with the absence of any monitoring mechanism over the fining of the violators of environmental laws in the country or even any reliable data base. He considers that while the people have proved their capacity to mobilise and protest against environmental violations, the young people educated abroad are caught in “whataboutism” and “regardless” syndromes. The blogger and activist Mehman Huseynov argues that, unlike the Arab hunters of birds, he is hunting the corrupt bureaucrats. Similarly, he jokingly comments, he is looking for a patron-minister, so he could more safely venture out hunting. He adds that he would be lucky if the Ministry of Interior did not send him on a search for “illegal possession of weapons”. Shamshad Aga comments on the statement of the Security Department of the Ministry of Ecology, Hikmet Alizade, that “the season of birds migration is over”. He jokes that tomorrow Alizade may say that the birds flew into exile. Ilkin Rustamzade considers dismantling the tourists’ camp in the Gakh region a victory of activism and personally for Javid Gara and his team, who have covered this issue tirelessly for two days in the social networks.  The PFP activist Fuad Gahramanli discusses international relations and their influence on Azerbaijan. He first stresses the importance of Biden’s policy in creating an coalition of the US and Europe to promote democratic values in the world and of his view that autocratic regimes is a global security problem. He suggests that the main attack of the united US-Europe-UK coalition will be directed against Russia and China, with the change of regime in Russia as the closest strategic target, which will help to address the Chinese problem too. The new alliance will keep the FSU states at the centre of attention too, including pressure on regimes like in Azerbaijan. He argues that there are two options for the country: 1) The government does not take into account any US messages, and until the overthrow of Putin, joins it in an anti-Western coalition thus subjecting itself to sanctions, which would result in the elite’s loss of all its capital and assets in the West. This would be accompanied by the deepening confrontation in the country, which would make the democratic revolutionary situation inevitable. 2) The government refuses a course of confrontation with the West, choosing instead cooperation, reform of elections, and opening up the political system, which would lead to gradual distancing of the ruling elite from power. But regardless of the choice, the end would be the same – the victory of democracy over authoritarianism.

March 30, 2021