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Emil Agazade: Why single out Azerbaijan?

Emil Agazade is Head of Media at the European Azerbaijan Society.

Daniel Hamilton’s blog singled out Azerbaijan for some pretty harsh criticism. That criticism – and that singling out – reflects the stance and actions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Nobody is pretending that Azerbaijan is a perfect democracy. But then again, does such a thing exist?  Here in the UK we lock people up without trial, where we judge that they are a clear threat to the country and its population. We also have pretty extensive surveillance of ordinary citizens’ communications, and the government seems intent on extending that significantly. And, of course, there is a strong move – which should be fiercely resisted – to regulate the press. Nations do have a right to defend themselves, especially when they are at war or under direct threat.

If there are any perfect democracies in the world – and I don’t know of any – they certainly did not develop in under a quarter of a century. After the First World War Azerbaijan had a Parliamentary democracy – it even gave votes to women before the British did. However, this democracy was crushed by the Soviets within three years, and Azerbaijan remained under the Soviet heel until 1991. Since then Azerbaijan has held many Parliamentary, Presidential and local elections, all supervised by the international community. Granted none of these elections received a completely clean bill of health, but again, would our own? Personation, postal ballot rigging and expenses fiddling are a feature of UK elections, albeit mercifully very much the exception rather than the rule.

I would maintain that Azerbaijan’s record should be viewed through two prisms. Firstly, it should be borne in mind that Azerbaijan is by any standards still a very young democracy. And secondly, it exists in a pretty rough neighbourhood. If you border Armenia, Russia and Iran, and you are at war with one of those countries, your record on human rights and democracy should surely be viewed in that context. Just think how the UK – and the USA – behaved towards their own citizens and foreign nationals during the war. Also think how either country would feel if a fifth of their territory was under illegal military occupation.

So why has the Council of Europe decided to concentrate on Azerbaijan? Plenty of other countries have what others consider to be political prisoners, but not one of them has had a ‘special rapporteur’ appointed. The answer, in my view, lies with the numerically and financially powerful Armenian lobby, which strongly supports the illegal occupation of Nagorno Karbakh and the seven surrounding territories in contravention of four UN Security council resolutions. There are more Armenians living in France, Russia and the USA - coincidentally the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with finding a peaceful solution to the conflict – than there are living in Armenia. Like many expatriates the Armenian diaspora are more hard line than those who stayed at home, and they fund a massive lobbying campaign which seeks to demonise Azerbaijan. That is why Azerbaijan gets singled out, as opposed to Russia, Ukraine, or Armenia itself.

And yes, I admit it, I am a lobbyist, and I promote Azerbaijan. But then again I was born and brought up there, so unlike Daniel Hamilton and some of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I know what I am talking about.


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