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Le Figaro: “Aliyev’s Azerbaijan fears getting infected”

La police azérie procède à une arrestation lors d'une manifestation de l'opposition dans le centre de Bakou, le 2 avril dernier. Crédits photo : HUMBATOVA/REUTERS.
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.

A hub

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

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Oil revenues in Azerbaijan (and what they should mean…)

The price of oil has surpassed $115 per barrel. An export of 1 million barrels per day means a daily income of $115 million. Calculations show that output and transportation costs are up to $10 per barrel, meaning that from every $115 earned from a barrel of oil, $10 are attributed to costs; 80% of the remaining $105 – that is $84 – go to the Azerbaijani government, and 20% – that is $21 – go to Azerbaijani companies. So $84 million every day, $2.5 billion every month, $30 billion every year are made on oil sales. That is $9.60 per day (8 AZN), 240-250 AZN per month, or 3000 AZN per year per person.

Research: Gubad İbadoglu

Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy (AZAD) hold protest in Washington

On 19 March Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy (AZAD) held a protest outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington. About 30 protesters participated at the “March for a Free Azerbaijan”, condemning the recent mass arrests of youths in Azerbaijan and calling for respect of freedom of speech and assembly. Representatives of other countries protested alongside Azeris. At the protest which lasted over two hours, slogans such as “No to monarchy!”, “Free Bakhtiyar!”, “Free Jabbar!”, “Free Dayanat!”, “It’s time to go”, “Leave, you son of a dictator”, “Freedom!” and “Resign!” were voiced and held up on placards. The Azerbaijani national anthem was also sung during the protest. Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, head of AZAD and one of the organizers of the event told VOA that the primary demand was that president Ilham Aliyev resigns.

Elmar Chakhtakhtinsky said that such demonstrations will be organized again in support of the continuing protests in Azerbaijan. He also sent a message to Azerbaijani officials within the country and abroad: “Take a look at history, stop supporting the regime. Change your position, while it is not too late!”

After the demonstration’s statement was read the organizers attempted to present this statement, along with a bar of soap, to the embassy. Nobody from the embassy would open the door.

Original in Azeri [VOA News]

A watermelon revolution? Azerbaijan and democracy (The Economist, 2005)

Just six years ago The Economist tried to predict what would happen in Azerbaijan in the coming years, after the November 2005 parliamentary elections. Note the hopeful and fairly uncritical tone of the article. I doubt any respected newspaper or journal would write such an article today (apart from the Financial Times, apparently.) “By the time Azerbaijan’s share of Caspian oil runs out in about 20 years, the 40% of the population living in poverty will have been lifted out of it. And Mr Aliev may, in time, replace the old-school cronies he inherited from his father with modernisers.” Let’s ignore that. But even the “gloomier version” of the future outlined in the penultimate paragraph does not reflect reality – just how much the situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated in the last six years. The full article:

The Economist
4 June 2005

Might Azerbaijan be next in line for a democratic revolution?

Not likely, says Azerbaijan’s president.

As his capital, Baku, swelters, Ilham Aliev should be sweating. He
inherited the presidency from his father, Heidar, after a
flawed election in 2003. Parliamentary elections are due in
November. Azerbaijan is as corrupt as almost anywhere on the
planet. The parallels with pre-revolutionary Georgia, Ukraine and
Kirgizstan are painfully clear. So is Mr Aliev nervous? “No”, he
says firmly.

Why not? Because, he declares, his regime is more popular than those of
other ex-Soviet countries, and because the opposition is discredited by
violence in 2003, and by its association with the government before his
father, a Soviet-era boss, returned in 1993. “I am a new generation,”
Mr Aliev says, glossing over his dynastic succession. His country
also has energy. A new pipeline will pump oil from the Caspian Sea to
Turkey via Georgia. This may explain why the West has tolerated the
Aliev clan’s excesses. (Rumours of possible American military bases
in Azerbaijan are denied by Mr Aliev.)

“We do not have human-rights abuse in our country,” says the president,
cracking his knuckles. But Elmar Mammadyarov, the foreign minister
admits that the police were over-zealous when violently breaking
up a street demonstration on May 21st. International watchdogs have
documented a string of dreadful police and judicial abuses. The big
difference in Ukraine, says Isa Gambar, who claims to have beaten
Mr Aliev in the 2003 election, was that its leaders were persuaded
not to use force. Ali Kerimli, another opposition leader, says that,
for Azerbaijan’s sake, the West must now be stern with Uzbekistan
over its massacres last month.

The oil also makes it easier to grease palms and secure
loyalties. Baku’s bureaucrats are said to receive two salaries:
paltry official ones, and cash supplements. For ordinary folk, oil
revenues seem to offer the chance of a share in the narrow prosperity
evident in Baku’s designer shops and Mercedes-crowded streets. Yet
the lesson of Ukraine and Kirgizstan is that revolutions can strike
even apparently stable regimes.

If Mr Aliev stays on, there are two prognoses for Azerbaijan’s future,
resting on contrasting assessments of his personality. The optimistic
version is that he means what he says about creating a middle class,
tackling corruption and using oil revenues to diversify the economy,
much of which collapsed with the Soviet Union. By the time Azerbaijan’s
share of Caspian oil runs out in about 20 years, the 40% of the
population living in poverty will have been lifted out of it. And Mr
Aliev may, in time, replace the old-school cronies he inherited from
his father with modernisers.

The gloomier version is that, for all his talk of media impartiality
and against corruption, Mr Aliev has kept on the old elite because
he agrees with them. The oil money will be wasted, and the country’s
gaping inequality will widen. Radical Islam may encroach from Dagestan
to the north or Iran to the south. Or oil may finance the reconquest
of Nagorno-Karabakh, a bit of Azerbaijan seized by Armenia in the
1990s. “Every patience has limits,” says Mr Aliev. Bellicose talk puts
pressure on Armenia. One day, the threats may even be fulfilled. They
certainly appeal to angry Azeris: Karabakh comes up in conversation
almost as often as Heidar Aliev’s image appears on plinths and in
portraits.

A small test of direction will be an opposition rally this weekend. A
bigger one will come with the November election, for which Mr Gambar,
Mr Kerimli and others are trying to unite. If he could overcome the
usual post-Soviet neurosis about elections, there would probably be
little cost for Mr Aliev in allowing the free vote that he says he
wants. Can he?

Government shuts down National Democratic Institute office in Baku

USA’s National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been warned that its Baku Office will be shut down.

According to information given to RFE/RL Azerbaijani service, on 7 March head of NDI’s Azerbaijan agency Alex Grigoriev was called to the Ministry of Justice and given a letter of notice about the office being shut down.

The letter outlines that Azerbaijan’s legislation does not allow international organizations to operate in the country without registration, and demands that NDI stops all activity in Azerbaijan.

In the last five years, NDI has addressed the Ministry of Justice to go through registration several times but was refused each time.

Currently consultations are taking place with the US Embassy, US Agency for International Development (USAID) and NDI’s office in Washington.

Speaker for the United States Embassy in Baku Keith Bean has told RFE/RL that they are trying to clarify the issue regarding NDI’s agency. There will be an official statement as soon as this is done.

NDI had stopped its programs with political parties in Azerbaijan over a year ago. The Institute’s main activities were election monitoring and youth programs.

Dictator Ilham Aliyev’s clan wants to open a bank in Geneva

The daughters of the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan set an example by settling at Lake Geneva. Here is the Pashayev family – which the first lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva belongs to – who chose Geneva to manage their clan’s riches. New “PEP”s in sight?

On 24 February in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the president of the board of directors at PashaBank Farid Akhundov was very open to local press: “We have started the process of placing representatives in Switzerland. To do this, we have appointed a consultant, well-connected among Swiss bankers. Their mission is to establish a schedule and recommendations on the form which this representation will take.”

A bank near black gold

When contacted, Tobias Lux, speaker for FINMA (Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority), could neither confirm nor reject that the process has started for PashaBank, among the 54 pending demands: “We are by law prohibited to do this,” he says. However we have found out from the Azeri capital that the city chosen for the country’s largest commercial bank is Geneva. What will they do there? According to Farid Akhundov, who already does a lot of traveling to Geneva, the financial services for Azeri enterprises as well as managing their patrons’ fortunes are very likely to be at the heart of the activity of PashaBank Geneva.

From then on, even if financing the trade of raw materials (trade finance) will doubtlessly not be part of this activity as it remains centralized in Baku, this bank will not find itself on foreign land. There it will find Socar Trading, based in Rive, none other than the world headquarters of Azeri oil trading (1 million barrels per day). Established in Geneva only three years ago, Socar Trading “has sold 19 billion dollars’ worth of Azerbaijan oil in 2010”, states Valery Golovushkin, the Chief Executive. And Socar is on par with the big ‘black gold’ traders based in Geneva.

This being said, it is mainly the “pedigree” of PashaBank that is worthy of the biggest attention. The establishment belongs to Pasha Holding (construction, travel, insurance), founded y the second most powerful family in the small central Asian Republic: the Pashayev family. And for good reasons. Mehriban, the daughter of patriarch Arif Pashayev, is none other than the very glamorous spouse of the current president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, who rules his country with an iron fist but in velvet gloves which he reserves for Westerners.

According to American diplomats quoted by WikiLeaks, “Today Azerbaijan functions like Europe did in the Middle Ages: a small number of families, all interlinked, control entire regions of the country and whole sections of the national economy”, which is dominated by petrol and gas. The entire oil sales generated by Socar – which Ilham Aliyev was the boss of before succeeding his father Heydar – also slip “into official, as well as less official tills.”

Azeri spring on 11 March

In taking a huge step into Geneva, Azerbaijan is following the example of the Kazakh president Nazarbayev and that of the Uzbek master, Islam Karimov. For the time being, we do not know the Genevan residence of the Aliyev-Pashayev clan. Recently, however, Ilham Aliyev – who they call “Don Corleone” (or The Godfather) in Baku – has acquired a flamboyant seaside property in Dubai which costs $44 million, under the name of his son aged… 11. His own annual salary does not exceed $228 000.

From now on Aliyev, Karimov and Nazarbayev (partners of Switzerland at FMI – The Friedrich Miescher Institute) see themselves described as the last dictators to have survived the Arab Spring. In doing so they strongly risk being the last “politically exposed persons” (PEP) whose assets Switzerland freezes with all its might. The proof? On 11 March Azeri youth, via Facebook, are calling for a protest against the reign of Don Corleone. This will be their very first “Great People’s Day”.

Original in French [Le Matin]

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