Azeri police making an arrest at an opposition protest in the center of Baku, 2 April. Photo credits: HUMBATOVA/REUTERS. © STR New / Reuters/REUTERS
Determined to preserve the “Azeri model”, autocrat Ilham Aliyev harshly represses the protests which have multiplied under the influence of the Arab spring.
With his angelic face and his chic outfit, Eldar Gasimov became Azerbaijan’s idol overnight. Along with his partner Nigar Jamal, the young man won Eurovision 2011 on 14 May, inflating the whole country with pride. Since then, the two lovebirds have been scouring the trendy bars of Baku, taking advantage of their sudden and unexpected fame. He is a multilingual international relations student; she is married to a businessman and lives in London. A modern and cosmopolitan showcase of Azerbaijan, a land full of oil which smiles at foreign investors and is in search of respectability on an international level. The picture would have been almost perfect if, in this Muslim majority republic ruled by enlightened autocrat Ilham Aliyev, the wind of Arab revolutions had not started to blow. The last descendant of the Aliyev dynasty (his father was head of the KGB in soviet Azerbaijan before becoming leader of its communist party) has been in power for 8 years and follows every movement of protest. Within a few weeks, several demonstrations have been suppressed and their leaders sent to prison. “The opposition has become a kind of business. It is run by people who do not support our country in carrying out an independent policy and asserting its European values,” laments Samad Seyidov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. A list of the threatening neighbors of Azerbaijan: Russia, the former tutelary power, to the north, nuclear Iran to the south, unstable Central Asia to the east, Turkey to the west, but most importantly Armenia, accused of illegally occupying Nagorno Karabakh through its “omnipotent” diaspora. Willing to go to war, the public opinion is also pushing the Azeri government to regain by force the territory it lost after a war in 1994.
Fortunately, thanks to the equivalent of one million barrels of oil pumped out of its soil each day, Azerbaijan has indebted countries. The country, which already ships its crude oil to the Mediterranean through the BTC pipeline, is also expected to become a hub of the Nabucco pipeline project, sponsored by Europe. Placed in a sovereign wealth fund, oil revenues – $30 billion expected in late 2011 – fund infrastructure and Azeri foreign exchanges students. who, once they return home, drive along the seashore in 4×4 cars. Meanwhile President Ilham Aliyev, whose fathers photographs have their special place in many streets of Baku, is accused of drifting into a monarchy. “The human rights situation is only getting worse,” says Idrak Abassov, one of the most active opposition journalists, who partly gets his resources from the intelligentsia. The regime, moralized by Europe, has recently made some concessions. Nevertheless it remains committed to preserving the “Azeri model.”
Original in French – Le Figaro