An EU-backed energy project that foresees the construction of a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey is likely to shower Baku’s repressive leadership with new income.
The recent coup attempt in Turkey has raised concerns that political instability in the increasingly authoritarian country could jeopardize strategic energy projects including the Southern Gas Corridor, a European Union (EU) plan to import natural gas from the Caspian Sea region. However, repressive conditions in Azerbaijan are also cause for alarm. Given that past growth in Azerbaijan’s energy sector has fueled government corruption and related crackdowns on civil liberties, a boost in revenue and international status from the new pipeline route could worsen the country’s already tarnished human rights record—and thereby imperil its long-term reliability as a supplier.
Even as it nurtures an opaque business environment and starves the non-oil sector of growth and healthy investment, Azerbaijan’s energy wealth has enabled the corrupt leadership to entrench itself in power by tightening control over the media and other institutions.
Civil society groups have tracked the country’s authoritarian drift for many years, pointing to evidence of election rigging, arbitrary detentions, and violence against the opposition. But prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova recently argued that matters grew steadily worse because the Azerbaijani government did not “encounter much criticism from democratic countries.” For example, President George W. Bush spoke of Azerbaijan as “a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens, that understands that democracy is the wave of the future.” In 2010, Hillary Clinton highlighted restrictions on civil society, but insisted, “We believe that there has been a tremendous amount of progress in Azerbaijan.”
Repression has escalated sharply over the past three years.
BAKU. July 21, 2016 (RFE/RL): A private Azerbaijani television station has been taken off the air and accused of damaging Baku's "strategic" links with Turkey after announcing it would broadcast an interview with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey's government blames Gulen for orchestrating last weekend's failed military coup, in which hundreds died and more than 1,500 more were injured when troops tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) on July 18 announced on its website that it was temporarily suspending the operations of private-owned ANS television while also filing legal action to revoke the station's license.
"To avert provocations aimed at disrupting strategic relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and to prevent overt terrorist propaganda … it has been decided to suspend the operations of ANS television channel for one month," said a July 18 statement posted on the council's website.
BAKU. July 21, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijan's government has taken over a private university widely linked with controversial Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, and put it under the control of a school owned by the state oil company. Students at the Qafqaz University in Baku were left wondering what was happening to their institution. -0-
BAKU. July 13, 2016: Some Azerbaijani activists claim that international rights watchdogs, such as Amnesty International, have created a two-tier system for political prisoners that effectively hinders less prominent government critics’ chances for release from prison. “We see they are interested in the cases of star political prisoners,” commented attorney Yalchin Imanov, who represents jailed Azerbaijani Islamic Party Chairperson Movsum Samadov and opposition parliamentarian Asif Yusifli, among other imprisoned government critics. “As a result,” he charged, “except for very few cases, the majority of illegal arrests, cases of unfairly punished people are overlooked; especially, opposition parties’ members and religious activists are being forgotten by international organizations.” The London-based Amnesty International, which compiles what many Azerbaijanis see as the most important list of alleged victims of judicial abuses, lists only 14 prisoners of conscience for Azerbaijan: bloggers and social-media activists Abdul Abilov and Elvin Karimov; blogger Rashad Ramazanov; opposition journalist Seymur Haziyev; opposition politicians Fuad Gahramanli, Faraj Karimov and Ilgar Mammadov; opposition youth activists Elvin Abdullayev and Murad Adlilov; political activist Ilkin Rustamzade; Rovshan Zahidov and Rufat Zahidov, relatives of an opposition journalist; and leftist activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, jailed for spraying graffiti on a statue of the late President Heydar Aliyev.
WASHINGTON. July 6, 2016: It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.
Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.
By denying space for moderate political voices that offer possible alternatives to existing policies and leaders, kleptocracies open the way for extremists. Altay Goyushov, an Azerbaijani scholar and a former Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, has observed that by repressing peaceful activists and reformers in Azerbaijan, the kleptocratic regime in Baku “argues that it is taking steps to ensure stability. They have this exactly wrong. By eliminating moderate voices in society, Azerbaijan’s leaders set the stage for an anti-Western environment that will serve as a breeding ground for extremists, who pose a grave security threat to both the region and the West.”
WASHINGTON. June 24, 2016 (Turan): Amid oil price slump Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has recently decided to limit its operations in the US, TURAN's Washington correspondent A. Raufoglu was informed by several sources knowledgeable on the matter.
SOCAR, once a lavish spender on just about anything from bizarre lobbying projects to sponsoring international contests, has already closed its several offices abroad such as the ones in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as the company announced in May.
The American subsidiary of SOCAR has been updating its website until recently, albeit its staffers haven't been seen around during the past few months. A surprise sign appeared in front of SOCAR's DuPont Circle office building early this week and reads "Office space for lease" referring to a real estate company called "Summit."
The company confirmed its involvement in leasing out SOCAR's building apartments without providing any further details when reached over the phone.
SOCAR America purchased a 23,000-square-foot historic building in DuPont Circle in 2012. The mansion located on 18th street NW, previously served as home for Freedom House, a human rights watchdog that lists Azerbaijan among the word’s top “not free” countries.
By Charles Recknagel and Arzu Geybullayeva, RFE/RL
BAKU. June 17, 2016: No matter who wins the Formula One Grand Prix in Baku this weekend, Vahid Veliyev stands to make some money: He is renting out his balcony, which overlooks the course of the first-ever F1 race to be held in Azerbaijan.
The asking price: $200 a day, with a discount if a spectator leases the small outdoor space for all three days of the June 17-19 event.
"That will include a table on the balcony, as well as tea with sweets," says Veliyev, who put an ad in the paper after the government urged Baku residents with balconies to rent them out for the race.
The chance to earn extra income from a balcony overlooking the circuit is one of the few ways any of the city's residents stand to benefit from Baku's latest effort to become a global sports and entertainment center. The event, which culminates with the Grand Prix race on June 19, is taking place as the country's economy has slowed to a crawl due to the low price of oil, the main source of revenue.
BAKU. June 14, 2016 (FreedomHouse.org):The government of Azerbaijan released investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from prison on May 25—583 days after she was jailed on trumped-up charges. She remains confined to Baku, the capital, but has resumed her reporting on corruption involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev. She spoke with Freedom House by telephone.
Freedom House: Why do you think the authorities targeted you for arrest?
Ismayilova: The government wanted to arrest me because it wanted to silence me, to stop my investigations. They wanted to prevent me from advocating for human rights and telling the truth. They put a lot of effort into this venture and brought several cases under different parts of the criminal code.
They finally had to release me because, in all the cases and whatever the charges, it was clear from the beginning that the accusations were false and entirely political. In the last case, the charges were chosen specifically because of the crimes I was actually reporting and writing about, crimes in which my reporting showed involvement by the government. They chose these particular parts of the criminal code—alleging embezzlement and tax evasion—because these were their crimes.
Other activists were arrested at about the same time as you, in December 2014. What was making the government nervous? Why did the government act at that particular time?
It was a long process that started long before the actual crackdown; it came step by step. They spent a lot of money on lobbying, and they put a lot of effort into silencing media, and then decided on a major crackdown to eliminate civil society on an institutional level.
WASHINGTON. June 10, 2016: Pre-requisites for joining Donald Trump’s campaign include but are not limited to: representing military juntas in D.C., using fake “volunteers” to push for the privatization of social security, and accepting money from ExxonMobil to deny the impacts of climate change.
At least that’s what worked for Trump’s newest hire: Jim Murphy, the former president of the lobbying shop DCI Group, which was responsible for all of the aforementioned shenanigans. Murphycameon board as the campaign’s new national political director on Monday, according to a report fromThe New York Times. He replaced an open space left by former Republican National Committee operative Rick Wiley who was abruptly cut from the operation at the end of May. But that didn’t stop DCI from associating with repressive regimes. In 2012, the firm was hiredfor $20,000 a month by Azerbaijan to improve its public relations in the United States. The State Departmentreferredto the country’s human rights record as “poor, especially with respect to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the administration of justice, and the respect of property rights.” The goal of the DCI-Azeri partnership was to highlight the country’s energy resources as a benefit for the United States.
WASHINGTON. June 7, 2016: Six months before he launched his presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced a new real estate project in Baku, Azerbaijan. The partner was Anar Mammadov, the son of a government minister suspected by U.S. diplomats of laundering money for Iran's military and described as "notoriously corrupt."
Eighteen months later, and only weeks after daughter Ivanka Trump released a publicity video of the nearly finished project, references to the Baku project have disappeared from Trump's website. Trump's general counsel, Alan Garten, told The Associated Press that it was on hold for economic reasons.
Trump often talks of hiring the best people and surrounding himself with people he can trust. In practice, however, he and his executives have at times appeared to overlook details about the background of people he has chosen as business partners, such as whether they had dubious associations, had been convicted of crimes, faced extradition or inflated their resumes.
The Trump camp's vetting skills are important as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee turns to selecting a running mate. They would become even more crucial if he won the White House. As president, Trump would have to name more than 3,600 political appointees to senior government jobs, including critical positions overseeing the national security and the economy.
In the Azerbaijani case, Garten said the Trump Organization had performed meticulous due diligence on the company's partners, and had hired a third-party firm that specializes in background intelligence and searching global sanctions, warrant and watch lists at home and abroad.
But Trump had not researched the allegations against the Baku partner's father because the father was not a party to the deal, Garten said.
WASHINGTON, DC. June 3, 2016: Early in May, a Washington-based lobby firm called Greenberg Traurig LLP signed a contact with a Baku-based "human rights group" offering its lobbying service to provide "U.S. government relations counsel."
The Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan, a pro-government group known as its bogus advocacy on behalf of Azeri government's "caviar diplomacy" in Europe, will pay $25,000 per month to Greenberg Traurig with the three-month contract in Washington, according to Justice Department's records.
Payment will be made by Renaissance Associates – another Baku-based pro-government group, – on ACSDA's behalf, TURAN's Washington correspondent was informed.
The pact was signed between ACSDA's chairman Elkhan Siraj Suleymanov, a member of Azerbaijan’s parliament, and Greenberg Traurig’s Elana Broitman, former Capitol Hill advisor. Broitman previously served in the Clinton administration as Senior Rule of Law Advisor to the USAID.
In her letter to Suleymanov on April 20, Broitman highlighted the company's billing policy adding that the rates of their lawyers and paralegals "are subject to change." "Any new rates would be implemented immediately after they are adopted and would apply to services rendered after the effective date thereof."
BAKU. June 1, 2016 (Radio Azadliq): London -- one of world's most expensive cities. Owning property here can be a profitable investment -- especially when it's located in one of the city's most exclusive neighborhoods.
New investigations by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reveal that Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva -- the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev -- own at least three properties in some of the priciest parts of London.
The investigations, aided by the Panama Papers link, show how the Aliyev family used offshore companies in Panama and the Virgin Islands to hide their ownership of the London real estate, which is estimated to have cost a total of at least 60 million dollars.
BAKU. May 27, 2016 (OCCRP): On her first day of freedom, between CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and the Voice of America, Khadija Ismayilova made time to talk to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. She reflected on the experience of her 537 days in jail, the current situation in Azerbaijan and the Khadija Project, OCCRP’s response to her incarceration.
OCCRP: Can you tell us about the conditions in jail? Did you ever encounter any kind of abuse, either against you or others?
Khadija: I told myself I’m not spending my lifetime, I’m spending a prison term. So I’m not going to get older – the time that is spent there is not my life. So that was the attitude, and attitude is essential.
There were some minor problems, but my decision was that I will not complain about the conditions, because I don’t want people to be scared of the prison. That’s what the government wants, is for the journalists, activists, politicians to be afraid of imprisonment and stop criticizing the government…. There is nothing unbearable – as you see, I am full of energy. You can survive – and even more.
OCCRP: Can you explain the specific terms of your release? I understand you can’t leave the country, but can you travel at all? And are you allowed to continue with your work?
By Miranda Patrucic, Khadija Ismayilova and RFE/RL, OCCRP
BAKU. May 27, 2016: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ordered the state-owned gold company AzerGold to buy out four mining companies, including at least two owned by his own family. The deal bails the First Family out of a disastrous failed mining venture that had left gold unsold, workers unpaid and their personal companies in deep financial debt.
The family controls some of the country’s richest gold, copper and silver deposits. The people of Azerbaijan will now foot the bill for the family’s often incompetent attempts to mine the country’s mineral wealth – all at a time when the country is suffering a financial crisis.
The news was quietly released as the world was celebrating the long-awaited release from prison of Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova. Ismayilova, who has reported extensively about corruption by the First Family, has been in prison in Baku since her arrest on Dec. 5, 2014. She was set free after her final appeal hearing Wednesday at the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan, two days before her 40th birthday.
BAKU. May 26, 2016 (RFE/RL): RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova released from an Azerbaijani prison on May 25, said she was able to remain optimistic in custody, despite her ordeal.She spent 537 days in jail on a series of charges which international observers said were retribution for her investigative reporting on corruption connected to Azerbaijan’s ruling family.This week her sentence was reduced from 7 1/2 years to a suspended term of 3 1/2 years, and she walked free.In an interview one day after her release, she called on others to keep fighting for those unjustly imprisoned:
BAKU. May 25, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court has ordered that RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova be released from custody after reducing her prison term from 7 1/2 years in custody to a suspended term of 3 1/2 years.
The court made the decision on May 25 after hearing an appeal by the journalist.
"This is a great day for Khadija, and for all journalists and for free speech everywhere," RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic said. "We are overjoyed for Khadija and her family and can't wait for her to get back to work."
The court reversed Ismayilova's convictions on charges of misappropriation of property and abuse of position, but upheld her convictions for illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion.
Ismayilova was not in court at the time. Her lawyer, Fariz Namazly, told AFP that "we expect her to leave prison later in the evening."
WASHINGTON. May 25, 2016: Yesterday, May 24, the US Senator John McCain was interviewed by the Azerbaijani Service of the Voice of America regarding the human rights conditions and the situation with political prisoners in Azerbaijan:
BAKU. May 24, 2016: If you believe in good omens, a rare season of amnesty augurs well for Khadija Ismayilova's appeal for prison release.
The RFE/RL investigative journalist is challenging her 7 1/2-year sentence for tax evasion before the Azerbaijani Supreme Court on May 25, just three days before the country celebrates its annual Republic Day with a mass amnesty, proposed by the country's first lady, that anticipates the release of some 3,500 prisoners convicted of minor crimes. Although Ismayilova's criminal conviction makes her ineligible for the pardon, there is speculation that she may benefit from the confluence of events.
Ismayilova's appeal also follows a snap presidential pardon in March of 14 political prisoners, including human rights activist Rasul Jafarov and members of the N!DA pro-democracy youth movement. A 15th prisoner, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, was released less than two weeks later.
BAKU. May 18, 2016: Two youth activists in Azerbaijan have accused police in the capital of beating them in an unsuccessful attempt to force them to confess to vandalizing a monument, and then charging the pair with bogus drug offenses when they didn't break.
International rights groups have condemned the authorities' treatment of Giyas Ibrahimov, 22, and Bayram Mammadov, 21, and demanded an investigation into the circumstances of the case.
The two were reportedly detained on May 10 on suspicion of painting graffiti on a statue of former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, father of the current leader, Ilham Aliyev.
They leveled their allegations in court testimony in the capital, Baku, on May 12, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.
The court sent the two to pretrial detention but ordered a probe into the police abuse allegations.
Human rights activists accuse authorities in Baku of routinely trumping up drug charges against activists in an effort to intimidate them.
BAKU. May 13, 2016: The local court in Baku charged two members of N!DA Civic Youth Movement - Bayram Mammadov and Giyasaddin Ibrahim - with drug possession. The local police arranged a thinly veiled operation “discovering” one kilogram of heroin in Bayram Mammadov’s house and charging Giyasaddin Ibrahim with similar charges. The police operation followed immediately after some unidentified youth activists mocked the former Azerbaijani dictator Heydar Aliyev, the father of the incumbent Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and the founder of the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan.
On May 10, the birthday of Heydar Aliyev which the Azerbaijani government celebrated as “flower holiday” since 2003, unidentified youth activists wrote “Happy Slave Day” (the word ‘flower’(gül) and ‘slave’(qul) rhyme in Azeri language) on Heydar Ailyev’s monument in front of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan in Baku. They also wrote “Fuck the System” on the same monument.
By M. Patrucic, E. Rose, I. Velska and K. Ismayilova, OCCRP Project
LONDON. May 10, 2016: With a wide semi-circular entrance hall and doormen in tops-and-tails, the apartment building at 199 Knightsbridge in London is all glass, polished marble, and clean lines. Advertised as an enclave of private residential apartments in the capital’s heart, the penthouse of the prestigious development is yet another home for Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, daughters of the president of Azerbaijan.
It is the latest multimillion property secretly owned by the Aliyevs to be discovered, part of an empire amassed since 2003 when Ilham Aliyev took over from his father as president of the oil-rich country. OCCRP has identified over US$140 million in luxury apartments the family maintains around the globe and these are just the known properties.
Other international properties include a US$ 25 million London mansion; a flat valued at up to US$ 8 million overlooking the Speakers’ Corner of Hyde Park; nine waterfront mansions in Dubai valued at US$ 44 million; a dacha near Moscow worth at least US$ 37 million; and a US$ 1.1 million villa in an exclusive neighborhood in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary.
WASHINGTON. May 7, 2016: Overshadowed by the massive Panama Papers leak, another series of recent reports have shed new light on illicit relations between Western organizations and senior officials in both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. As detailed by Australia’s Fairfax Media and the Huffington Post, a trove of leaked emails have revealed how Monaco-based Unaoil acted for years as a “bribe factory” between Western corporations — Halliburton and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), namely — and numerous Caspian clients. Globally, according to the outlets, Unaoil was tied to “billions of dollars of government contracts [that] were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms” like Halliburton and KBR.
The new information comes from a series of hundreds of thousands of emails linked to Unaoil’s chief executive, Cyrus Ahsani, resulting in the “biggest leak of confidential files in the history of the oil industry.” Unaoil, which “specializes in paying bribes for multinational clients,” according to the outlets, was raided by Monegasque authorities earlier in April as a result of the leak.
WASHINGTON, DC. May 2, 2016: Built in 1900, located in Washington’s most diverse neighborhood with some of the city’s finest museums and foreign embassies, a historic Dupont Circlehousehas been the desire of many prospective byers since its major renovation last year.
The house, located between R and 21st streets, looks marvelous from the outside, albeit its windows are filled with white cover, and a security camera is mounted above the wall to the mansion’s driveway. There is also a mysterious sign “H” that towers on top of the building.
“That “H” [sign] has nothing to do with the neighborhood, perhaps it might refer to some name, - definitely not Hillary [Clinton] - as the place is owned by foreigners,” giggles a local resident who agreed to share his opinion about the mansion without being identified.
BAKU. April 28, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani officials said on April 28 that one civilian was killed and 8 were injured by an artillery strike from the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh overnight.
The statement came hours after Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry claimed that forces in Nagorno-Karabakh had shelled Azerbaijan's Terter and Agdam districts in violation of a cease-fire deal that went into effect on April 5.
De facto officials from the breakaway territory rejected Azerbaijan's claims and accused Baku of using tanks, mortars, flame throwers, and multiple-launch rocket systems for military attacks against the region.
Separatist leaders in Stepanakert said earlier this week that three of their soldiers were killed by Azerbaijani attacks.
WASHINGTON. April 25, 2016: The scheme was simple enough.
In May of 2013, the government of Azerbaijan, via its State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), injected $750,000 into an obscure Texas-based non-profit, the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ).
The assembly then flipped the funds into a series of secondary non-profits – a constellation of US-based 501(c)(3) organizations scattered across America, all pushing Turkic interests.
A few weeks later, nine members of the US Congress touched down in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, flown and feted by those very funds. And it was quite a gathering: sumptuous dinners, fireworks displays, gifts of hand-woven carpets, crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and DVDs praising the country’s president—all free of charge, and costing well in excess of the permissible limits of gifts to Congress.
It was also, according to a recent report from the US’s Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), one of the most egregious ethics violations Washington has seen since the days of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose rule-Flouting activities spurred the US’s last round of ethics reforms nearly a decade ago.
YEREVAN. April 18, 2016: Russia’s plans to keep selling guns to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, no matter if the Caucasus’ two irascible neighbors use them against each other, is feeding growing Armenian frustration with their only strategic ally.
The exchange comes on the heels of a four-day flare-up in frontline violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was the worst since the signature of a ceasefire in 1994. With tensions still running high, how Russia chooses to support Armenia, the only South Caucasus member of Moscow’s economic and military alliances, matters much to Armenians.
When faced with military aggression by Azerbaijan, Yerevan believes it is entitled to support from its ally, even if this ally also doubles as a supposedly objective mediator for talks with Baku.
WASHINGTON. April 14, 2016: When Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, visited Washington later last month, it was an opportunity for Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as others in the US foreign policy establishment, to publicly voice their concerns over crackdown against journalists, especially the attacks on US-funded media group, RFE/RL in Baku. They chose not to do so. Well, at least publicly.
Aliyev government, in its turn, seems intent on ensuring American support in its conflict with the independent voices through investing in lobbying activity; something that they have found reasonable to believe is paying off.
As it was reported earlier, Podesta, which guarantees Azerbaijani government’s access to some of the most powerful people in Washington, have been receiving approximately $50,000 per month from the Azerbaijani Embassy, for its service.
TEL AVIV. April 12, 2016: Israel intends to deliver more drones to the Azeri army in the coming days, according to a letter sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon.
In the letter, Galon demanded that Ya’alon put a stop to the delivery of Israeli drones to Azerbaijan, which is fighting against Armenia in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, until it receives an absolute commitment that its army will not use Israeli armaments against Armenian forces.
“As you know, Armenia and Azerbaijan are both friendly to Israel, and it is inconceivable that Israeli weapons be used in a war between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” wrote Galon.
YEREVAN. April 7, 2016 (RFE/RL): Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says it is vital that a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia-backed separatists over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh does not slide into a "hot phase."
On a visit to Armenia on April 7, Medvedev said Russia was ready to continue to act as an intermediary in resolving the conflict and hoped a cease-fire agreement would hold.
Dozens of people were killed in Nagorno Karabakh in fighting that erupted on April 2 between Azerbaijan's military and Armenian-backed separatists.
It was the worst fighting since a 1994 cease-fire that stopped the conflict but did not resolve the underlying dispute.
A tense calm has held since a cease-fire was agreed on April 5.
On April 7, each side alleged the other had violated the truce in skirmishes overnight. Each said one of their servicemen was killed.
BAKU. April 5, 2016 (Azadliq.org): Armenia confirms 20 dead, 72 wounded, and 26 are missing
The Defense Ministry of Nagorno Karabakh's separatist regime issued a statement confirming 20 dead, 72 wounded and 26 servicemen missing.
The statement also confirms destruction of 7 tanks, and loss of 8 strategic heights to the north and south.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry warns
In a statement issued April 4, Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan says Armenia's Armed Forces are firing at residential buildings along the frontline out of revenge for losing control over some of the territories taken by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan two days ago.
BAKU. April 5, 2016: On October 31, 2003, Ilham Aliyev, the newly elected president of Azerbaijan, stood behind a podium and a profusion of white flowers to address presidents, prime ministers and 2,000 other guests assembled at the Respublika Palace. First touching the constitution and then the Koran, Aliyev swore to serve his people. That night, fireworks lit up the sky of the Azeri capital, Baku.
Aliyev’s election to lead this energy-rich former Soviet republic bordering both Russia and Iran had been all but guaranteed. His ailing father, Heydar, an ex-KGB officer, had served in the same role for the previous 10 years. Election monitors reported that police had beaten and detained political opponents, in line with the country’s reputation for repression.
Becoming president wasn’t Aliyev’s only ascension during 2003. Using a network of secretive companies in offshore tax havens, his family, advisers and allies set about acquiring expensive overseas homes and positions in the country’s valuable industries and natural resources, including the family’s majority control of a major gold mine that has been unknown until now.
April 5, 2016: Disturbing reports of atrocities, and official claims and counterclaims continue to stream from the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone as fighting enters its third day. With no international media or conflict-monitoring mission apparently yet on the ground in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, it is next to impossible to glean frontline facts from the ongoing information war.
That lack of objective information could become even more critical in the coming days. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a Karabakh native, pledged on April 4 that escalation of the fighting, the worst since the signing of a 1994 ceasefire, would prompt Yerevan to recognize Nagorno Karabakh as an independent state.
An Armenian investigative news service, Hetq.am, on April 4 published photos of two elderly residents they claim were killed and maimed by Azerbaijani troops when they overran the village of Talish in northeastern Karabakh on April 2. (Warning: graphic image) The Armenian government and the Karabakhi separatist forces it supports claimed they swiftly recaptured the village and nearby heights. Hetq.am said that their photographer, Hakob Poghosian, had then gained access to the village.
Azerbaijan, however, claimed early on April 4 that it is still in control of the area. One pro-government news website that published the information, APA, was not working later in the day. A group of Armenian hackers, Monte Melkonian Cyber Army, took credit for downing the site on April 2. A group of Turkish hackers appears to be responding for Azerbaijan, the site HackRead reported.
BAKU. April 2, 2016(Azadliq.org):EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini worried by the reportsof erupted battles on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines.
"I call on the parties to stop fighting immediately and observe the ceasefire. The sides must show restraint and avoid any further actions or statements that could result in the escalation", said Mogherini.
"The European Union deplores the loss of life, in particular the reports of civilian casualties and deaths."
"The European Union fully supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the three Co-Chairs. We expect both sides to respect strictly the ceasefire, refrain from the use of force and resume efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Khadija Ismayilova is an investigative journalist and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service. She has been imprisoned in Azerbaijan since December 2014.
BAKU. April 1, 2016: I am writing this letter from jail in Baku, Azerbaijan, where I’m serving a 7½ -year sentence for a crime I never committed.
I am a journalist and my only “crime” was to investigate high-level corruption within the government and family of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev . Aliyev inherited power from his father in 2003 and changed the constitution in 2009 so he could stay in power indefinitely. He has been called an enemy of the press by international watchdogs, while abusing other fundamental freedoms and violating people’s right to truth and decency.
Aliyev is in Washington this week to attend the Nuclear Security Summit that began Thursday. To get an invitation to this event from President Obama, he had to pardon several political prisoners. A lthough they have been released from jail, they remain confined within the country, barred from leaving, and justice has not been restored.
This is a very costly invitation for Aliyev, who for years refused to accept international pressure or criticism on this issue. His response was, always, that Azerbaijan doesn’t have political prisoners. In December, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act to recognize Azerbaijan’s violations of human rights and freedoms and to hold individual officials accountable. It must pass.
WASHINGTON. March 30, 2016: What would you do for a photo with President Obama? Hoping to secure one as he visits Washington D.C. this week, Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, my home country, has released 16 political prisoners. A one-on-one meeting with Obama doesn’t appear to be in the cards, but Aliyev seems to have scored a private meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry today, and he may still be seeking a photo opportunity, meetings with other top U.S. officials, or some other form of validation. If the United States values its commitment to human rights and democracy, it should make sure he doesn’t get it.
Aliyev will be just one of dozens of world leaders who are gathering in Washington this week for a meeting devoted to securing nuclear materials, the Nuclear Security Summit. It’s a particularly important occasion for autocrats like Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan for 13 years, to burnish their reputations back home. We know from lavish public relations spectacles, like the 2015 European Games and the upcoming Formula One European Grand Prix that Aliyev desperately craves international status. Insiders in D.C. tell us he is eager for that ultimate seal of approval — a few minutes and a photo op with Obama — that would give him the image boost he seeks in the midst of an economic crisis at home.
BAKU. March 28, 2016 (Azadliq.org): Intigam Aliyev interview with AzadliqRadiosu on his arrival home shortly after his release.
"I am going through a mix of emotions. I won't speak about plenary session's decision. Of course I am happy to be free. Because it is not the time to be resting. It was unjust of me while people outside [in freedom] were busy working in difficult conditions. That is why, my release is important, I will now take over some of the cases. But I am also sad. Because some of my friends are still in jail. And I would be happy to give up my freedom for theirs. In general however things are moving ahead. And I have no doubts that they will be released soon. Azerbaijan will be freed soon too. Despite all the repression and pressure, Azerbaijani community continues to fight for democracy and freedoms. This gives me a lot of hope. And it gave me a lot of hope there [in jail] as we received support from our friends, comrades, international communities. It showed this community's passion for freedom and that it is impossible to suffocate it with arrests, and pressure. I would like to thank you all of you. And also I am sad you had to wait for me outside all this time. I am sorry and thank you!"
BAKU. March 19, 2016(Azadliq.org): March 17, following the release of some of the high profile political prisoners in Azerbaijan AzadliqRadiosu spoke to their family members as well as some of the international organizations, which followed the cases of political prisoners closely.
Commenting on the release of her jailed husband and N!DA activist Rashadat Akhundov Turkan Huseynova, said, "These past three years were very difficult. I was not expecting his release. I guess when you do not expect the release and then hear the news, the joy is stronger".
"Surely the release of our friends and many of the political prisoners made us very happy, especially the release of Rasul Jafarov, one of the founders of the movement. However, the fact that our founder and head of the movement Ilgar Mammadov remains behind bars is saddening. This only proves yet again, that the regime is avoiding the sole opponent Ilgar Mammadov despite the official decision from the European Court of Human Rights", said executive secretary of ReAL movement Natig Jafarli.
BAKU. March 17, 2016 (Azadliq.org): March 17, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned some 148 men and women having signed a decree on "pardoning a number of prisoners". Many of the high profile political prisoners were also included in the list.
Among the ones released today are rights defenders Taleh Khasmammadov and Rasul Jafarov; chief of National Statehood Party Nemat Panahli; N!DA activists Rashad Hasanov, Rashadat Akhundov, Mammad Azizov, Omar Mammadov; head of Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center Anar Ammadli; Musavat party activists Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, Sirac Karimov; ad journalists Parviz Hashimov, and Hilal Mammadov.
Member of N!DA movement Ilkin Rustamzade; blogger Abdul Abilov, journalists Khadija Ismayilova, Seymur Hazi, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev and the leader of ReAL opposition movement Ilgar Mammadov remain in jail. -0-
BAKU. March 16, 2016 (RFE/RL): An opposition figure in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to three years in jail.
A court in Baku found Mammad Ibrahim -- an adviser to the leader of Azerbaijan's opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) -- guilty of hooliganism on March 15 and sentenced him the same day.
Ibrahim was arrested in September.
He pleaded not guilty and insists the case against him is politically motivated.
Ibrahim's lawyer Yalcin Imanov said he plans to appeal the court's ruling.