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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

“Manatvision” – by Baxram

Last night Azerbaijan came first in the annual “money-spending” competition, EUROvision. I don’t want to say anything about the pair that represented the country. Good luck to the both of them.

10 million was spent on Safura last year. Those 10 million could have been spent on increasing teachers’ wages, or repairing orphanages. Even the crumbling walls, the wrecked toilets and the war-torn wards at Republic Hospital… Who knows how much they spent this year. How much they paid people to make sure Azerbaijan wins – that’s another question. Who gives a damn how much they spent anyway! As if the money would have been spent on us had it not been for Eurovision? It’s not like they ever increase wages or lay down pavements for the people’s welfare. Whatever they do, they do for themselves. The other day when I was going to Binagadi, about half way there (at that section of the road they were asphalting a road) a taxi driver said that a relative of Rovnag Abdullayev’s had died and was buried at Mehdiabad, and the last time he went to visit the grave he didn’t like the road the way it was and instantly said that it must be re-asphalted. Long story short, everything is for them.

I digress. The night they won, the streets of Baku were overflowing with people celebrating. People rejoiced, people cried. Some sent Turkish love songs to their high school sweethearts, with with whom they once shared a romantic Doner in the park; some called their mothers in tears of joy; but for the majority it was another night of hunger.  Another night of falling asleep with the image of the shoes their father can’t, and never will, afford to buy them etched in their minds. Ilham Aliyev, on the other hand, rang Elik to congratulate him. As though in the last 8 years he has done everything but congratulate Elik.

If one day you tell those people who went wild on the streets, come – let’s demand out rights, they’ll look for a hole to crawl into.

Listening to interviews with people who took to the streets to celebrate these last couple of days confirmed that, the more you belittle them, the more you insult them, the better it is. There are some who say, “May we watch Eurovision in Shusha next year”, those who say “this is another step towards the liberation of Karabakh”… And there are those who say that this is a result of the successful home and foreign policy that Heydar Aliyev built and Ilham Aliyev carried through. I agree with the latter. This is the result of a successful home and foreign policy. This topic can be discussed for days on end, but it’s better if I leave it there.

Finally, our king managed to conquer Europe, too.

The saddest thing is that democracy was beaten by dictatorship… By monarchy…

Original in Azeri on Baxram’s Blog

Ilkin Gambar sent to the front line – in connection to protests?

Ilkin Gambar, son of Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar, has been sent to the front line today after serving over 2 months in the army. News came in via Facebook, where he told his friends that his father was unofficially warned about his son being taken to the front line. There were also some reports that this was part of a threat to Isa Gambar, and that he was told that his son is being sent to the front line to avenge the 2 April protests – if more protests were arranged his son would be ‘martyred’. This is unconfirmed.

When asked by Musavat.com how he assesses this as a political figure and a father, Isa Gambar said: “The Ministry of Defence has a right to place soldiers in any location at its disposal. So I don’t want to politicize this issue. At the same time I’d like to say that the Commander In Chief and the Minister of Defense carry responsibility for each and every soldier’s life.”

Isa Gambar did not want to comment on whether he considers this a personal threat towards him after the recent opposition protests.

Source: Facebook; Yeni Musavat

APFP chairman Ali Karimli targeted in a protest outside his house

31 March, Genocide Day in Azerbaijan, was commemorated in a different way this year. Ali Karimli, chairman of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was targeted as a large group consisting mostly of students gathered outside his house chanting, singing and holding placards.

These placards had slogans like “There’s no place in Azerbaijan for the Ali Karimli’s of this world, who sell our land to Armenians!”, “Shame on the traitor!”, “Ali Karimli, what money does your family live on in London?” and “Ali Karimli + radical islamists = chaos”. This comes after yesterday’s rumors spread by pro-Aliyev media outlets stating that Ali Karimli was to meet and “conspire” with a number of radical Islamist groups.

They also chanted slogans in support of the Aliyev regime: “Long live Ilham Aliyev!”, “Our only president, our only leader is Ilham Aliyev”, and other slogans in support of the ruling party. Videos show a student singing “Mavi” (“Blue”, meaning “gay” in Azeri slang) through a loudspeaker – part of a black PR campaign against Karimli that started years ago.

The protest continued to Heydar Aliyev Palace. Unsurprisingly the police did not interfere, despite the fact that the protest impeded traffic.

Ali Karimli told Azadliq Radiosu that this was clearly a stunt conducted by the government and that such actions will not stop him from fighting. He also warned party members not to go near the protest so that there would not be any confrontation.

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?

Azerbaijan Islamic Party also plans protests

Nardaran, 18 dekabr 2010Azerbaijan Islamic Party is also planning protests. The protests will be related to solving the Karabakh problem, the recent rights violations of the religious, and against the arrest of Islamic Party activists.

This is according to information given to RFE/RL Azerbaijani service by Elchin Manafov, chairman of the Islamic Party. He says that they will soon contact the Baku mayoralty regarding the time and place of the protest.

Original in Azeri here [RFE/RL]

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