1 Sep 2015
Azerbaijan – August 2015
Partnerships with SCO and Iran, men in shorts, image of the west and court cases
At the beginning of July during a meeting in Ufa, Russia, the heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states signed documents providing Azerbaijan with the status of SCO dialogue partner. Turkey, Armenia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nepal also have the same status. At the end of July, the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan made a statement that “the cooperation with the SCO will create new opportunities for Azerbaijan,” and this corresponds to the multiple-vector foreign policy of the country. Some rapprochement with Russia is taking place prompted by criticism against a number of European institutions and the US. The relations between Azerbaijan and the US have deteriorated due to US disapproval of human rights violations and the increasing number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Some official media called this situation “an anti-Azerbaijan war.” Under these circumstances at the end of July, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Hoagland paid a visit to Azerbaijan, opening a new phase in renewed US-Azerbaijan relations.
The number of critical publications against the US and EU in Azerbaijani mass media substantially decreased in August (compared with May-July 2015). At the same time, “western” politics is actively discussed and criticized as usual for its “double standards” against Azerbaijan. In August, the head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration Ramiz Mekhtiyev published a book titled “A World Order of Double Standards and Modern Azerbaijan.” In his book, some international human rights organizations are accused of anti-Azerbaijani activity. Azerbaijani civil and human rights activists and members of a number of opposition parties are represented as a “fifth column.” The US and some European nations are condemned for their direct support and implementation of the “double standards” politics.
Meanwhile, investigative actions and legal proceedings against a number of human rights activists and journalists are taking place in Azerbaijan. In August, the trials of prominent human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, scholar, and peace advocate Arif Yunus continued. On August 13, the Court of Grave Crimes in Baku sentenced Leyla Yunus to 8 years and 6 months and Arif Yunus to 7 years of imprisonment on charges of fraud, illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion. The political opposition condemned the court’s decision and considered it persecution against the government’s critics. Representatives of the US State Department, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and a number of international human rights organizations also strongly criticized the verdict and called for its reconsideration. Representatives of the authorities including Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev stated in response that all are equal before the law and no one is persecuted for his professional activities and political views in Azerbaijan.
The trial of Radio Liberty investigative journalist Khadidja Ismayilova also continued in August. She is famous for her critical reports about the business interests of the presidential family. Ismayilova is charged with incitement to suicide, large-scale embezzlement, illegal trading, tax evasion and abuse of authority. She might be sentenced for up to 9 years in prison.
On August 8, unknown individuals beat journalist Rasim Aliyev, the Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) to death. The reason was the journalist’s criticism of the popular Azerbaijani footballer (Gabala FC) Javid Huseynov on Facebook for his improper conduct during the match with Cypriot Apoel FC. The footballer was arrested in connection with the journalist’s murder. President Ilham Aliyev took the investigation of Rasim Aliyev’s death under his personal supervision. From October 2014, Rasim Aliyev had been replacing the Chairman of the IRFS Emin Huseynov, who had been hiding from authorities at the Swiss Embassy in Baku since August 2014. Huseynov, who was accused of illegal business activities, escaped Azerbaijan with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in June 2015.
The Swiss Foreign Minister visited Baku on the occasion of the European games in June 2015. The organization of this event required heavy financial expenses and was held amid an economic downturn related to the declining oil prices. At the same time, the recent deal on Iran’s nuclear program opens new opportunities for Azerbaijan-Iran economic cooperation. A delegation led by the Minister of Economy and Industry of Azerbaijan Shahin Mustafayev visited Iran offering Azerbaijan to use the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to export oil and gas to world markets. Iran can also join the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) in the future. Iran offered swap deliveries of Azerbaijan’s oil to the Persian Gulf region.
According to official statistics currently there are sufficient resources in public ownership to stabilize the economic situation. However, in the long term, difficulties are possible with low oil prices. Citizens of the country have already been affected by the national currency devaluation (more than 30 percent) in February 2015. The exchange market was shaken again in August. On August 21-22, a number of exchange offices stopped selling Euros and US dollars due to the latest gradual devaluation of the Manat. The government continues to support a number of projects initiated before the price of oil started falling. For example, the data portal voiceofkarabakh.com was created by the public research association “Center of History of the Caucasus,” which is funded by the Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The association published a brochure called “Short History and Causes of the Karabakh Conflict” in both English and Russian.
Society and Culture
On August 2 in Baku, young men and women marched in shorts through the city center to support ending the stereotype that wearing shorts is “immoral”. The march became a continuation of the action of support that swept the social networks. Social network users posted photos of themselves wearing shorts with the hashtag #MənŞortGeyinirəm (I am wearing shorts). The movement was initiated in reaction to a scandalous statement made by the president of the “Muasir Musavat” party Khafiz Hajiyev, in which he called for violence against men wearing shorts in public.
The 7th annual Gabala International Music Festival was held in Gabala from July 25 to 31, where lovers of eclectic music from around the world came together. The festival hosted famous ensembles from eight countries, including the Symphonic Orchestra of Italy, the Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra of Moscow and the Austrian Chamber Orchestra.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.