OUR 2009 RESEARCH TRIP TO BAKU, AZERBAIJAN
Leni Friedman Valenta and Jiri Valenta
Posted March 3, 2017
On The Train to BaKu
The train we boarded to Baku from Tbilisi was supposedly Turkish and had the Moslem crescent and star, but otherwise, it was clearly Russian. Sturdy and green, it offered a small table dividing the two narrow beds in our berth.
Two years earlier, as we traveled from St. Petersburg to Stavropol, the native stewardesses had been much prompter, also bringing gourmet breakfasts in the morning -- tea, vodka, caviar and cold cuts. They thus gave the lie to this one who avowed that the train, as well as everything in Azerbaijan was better than in Russia. This was also the view of an Azeri businessmen we met on board, who assured us that, “Whatever you want is just a phone call away.” A Georgian passenger objected, saying, “We have that in Tblisi too,” but he was trumped by another Azeri who insisted, “In Baku you could even get a belly dancer in your room with a snake.”
In the morning, drawing the curtains of our window, we got our first look at this paradise; dirt colored, bare hills and flatlands covered with small tufts of grass. While Georgia’s color was vibrantly green, Azerbaijan’s predominant color was brown. A seemingly unending pipeline stretched before us, the one that brings oil from Turkmenistan through Georgia’s territory to Batumi. From there the oil is transported to Turkey’s port of Suriname in the Mediterranean and from thence to Europe. As our journey progressed, the view reflected the very nature of this country; cisterns, oil wells, drilling rigs, huge mounds of dirt, a line of huge, cylindrical containers, a yard stacked with thousands of pieces of pipe.
It was the long pipeline the Russians were worried about at that time, fearing that another gas pipeline would be built parallel to it. Known as the NABUCO project, it threatened to put in jeopardy the monopoly of an existing gas line in the north to the Baltic States, dutifully overseen by Putin’s friend, former German chancellor Schroeder. It would also challenge a second, southern route from the northern Caspian Sea to the Black Sea port of Novosk and from there across the Black Sea to Western Europe. We also heard mention of yet another route being built between Georgia and the Ukraine. Doubtless giving Russia‘s Putin sleepless nights, this would be an even better one for furthering the alliance between Georgia and the Ukraine.
Our task in Azerbaijan was to find a key expert who could give us some insight into all of this as well as the society and its relations to its neighbors. Hopefully, this person would also be able to shed new light on the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno Karabachos.
Ah, the Karabakh! To an Azeri or Armenian the Karabakh is the red cape enveloping the bull or the pork loin served up to a Hassid. Whatever it is that causes the mind to cloud with fury or the heart to pound to arrhythmic fibulation, that is the Karabakh in the Transcaucasus. An Armenian enclave located in Azerbaijan, the Karabakh is claimed by both countries and rivers of blood have been spilt contesting the issue.
We were now approaching the Batumi-Baku line where former Soviet territory ended. To one side now appeared a tributary of the Caspian Sea, lending to our consciousness of being on a different continent. While Georgia, on the fault line between Asia and Europe, is eagerly trying to get to the West, Azerbaijan, once the possession of Iran, is proud to be purely Asian.
Far in the distance, a city began to take shape against the bare brown mountains. Cypresses, evergreens and other tree varieties appeared, but the scene was not aesthetically beautiful. The close-together houses were grey and dark yellow, many made of stones. Ugly high rises sprouted myriad satellite discs and smoke stacks puffed against a grey sky. Run down houses lined the track, squeezed between which were tiny, unkempt gardens that seemed to be struggling for air.
Then, in enormous contrast, came the sudden appearance of clean new buildings and huge and imposing skyscrapers. The Baku train station at which we arrived was absolutely immaculate, bearing a portrait of former President Heydar Aliyev. Although his son, Ilham, is now the country’s ruler, it is the late President Heydar’s face that is ubiquitous throughout Bacu.
The taxi ride which took us through Baku, gave us an opportunity to get a closer look at the Azerbaijan capitol. The architecture varied from Soviet to Eastern, and the wealthier part of the city was quite beautiful. There were lovely parks, posh, internationally known designer shops, and modern buildings often constructed with blue or green glass.
A secular Moslem country, Azerbaijan is in most ways a cookie cutter dictatorship. Yet it is happily free of Taliban types. Women can freely walk the streets without dressing like black ghosts and are able to work alongside the men. Modest displays of female flesh are not punished. Even the head scarves, the hijabs, are missing except when female worshippers enter the mosques
Although the country is almost completely Moslem, three quarters of it are Shia as in Iran, another quarter or so Sunni. Generally, they get along with each other as well as with the very small number of Orthodox Christians and Jews. Almost all of them practice a moderate form of Islam and the government is determined to keep it that way. Recently some of the Sunni mosques have been closed down and a new law prohibits anyone from preaching who wasn’t born in the country. The overall fear appeared to be of infiltration by the Wahhabi form of radical Islam, particularly from neighboring Dagestan.
Ahmed and the Institute for Reporters´ Freedom and Safety
On September 23rd, we had our first meeting with our primary host in Azerbaijan, a swarthy, handsome young man who spoke excellent English, and whose name was furnished to us by our friend, Zaza Gachechiladze, the editor of the Georgian Messenger. We will call him Ahmed, which is not his real name.
The member of a group dedicated to the freedom and safety of Azerbaijan reporters, he informed us that freedom of the press was virtually absent in Azerbaijan, as were the usual human rights. The editor of another opposition journal was assassinated in 2005 during parliamentary elections for taking a stand that wasn‘t appreciated. A man who wrote about it was still in jail. What particularly struck us was when he mentioned that the Azerbaijan people have some nostalgia for the USSR because “at least in those days they had some rule of law.” Rule of law under the Soviet Union?
When asked about his group, Ahmed described it as a young organization of about thirty people which, among other things, provided financial support to those arrested for their views as well as their families. They were very much in touch with Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the International Freedom of Information Exchange, Freedom House, the Soros fund and the National Democratic Foundation, and had obtained not only grants, but funds from the U.S. State Department. They were also cultivating Jewish groups in their country.
Ahmed further enlightened us about the curious lack of advertising signs on the roads. There is no market competition in Azerbaijan, thus, no marketing is necessary. The government is run by ten or so “barons,” each over lording a different industry or commodity; e.g. transportation, taxation, customs. They also oversee the prices of commodities such as bananas. All this exists without anything being formally legalized. They reject the bugbear of a market economy because, as he put it, “someone else might have power and control.” Everything, he told us, was controlled by this circle and its monopolies, “Which is why prices are five times as high as in Moscow.” He added that the ruling barons routinely steal from the people through their control of customs and that all new building was based on bribe-taking.
Since the September 11, 2003 attack on the U.S. World Trade Tower, he told us, the guidelines for obtaining money from foreign banks had also become more difficult. This was a problem because the bigwigs didn’t like putting money in Moslem banks anymore; institutions which would oversee what was being done with it and wouldn’t automatically trust those doing it. At present they only held 20% of their money in indigenous banks. Another 50% was in Eastern banks and 30% in Chinese and foreign Arab banks.
Although no injury was visible, Ahmed told us how he had been beaten over the head by the police some years earlier and left with a permanent disability. It had happened in the wake of the country’s elections, where he had been supporting the opposition. Subsequently, he was arrested with a score of other people for attending a movie presentation to which the police objected. He added that one of the activists he knew had initiated a law suit against the Minister of Justice, maintaining he had been arrested without cause. He lost, of course, and “all kinds of tricks were played on him in jail.” There are lawyers, Ahmed told us, “but the court system is not independent. They obey political orders.”
Describing the leadership in Azerbaijan, Ahmed appeared to think that Heydar, in his heyday, was a more able politician than his son. “He played with everybody,” was how Ahmed put it. The son in his view was “too emotional” and “lacks the power of his father.” He was also not exactly popular. Contrasting Russian Ilham Aleyiv wih Russia´s Vladimir Putin, he told us that Putin did think about his people somewhat and held press conference. He did not believe Aliyev had ever had a press briefing stated that he ignored public opinion. “The system is based on the fact that what the people want doesn’t count.” Moreover, “Even if he wants to change the system,” he has to deal with criminal oligarch types who could even kill him.”
He did admit, however, that Aliyev Junior had at least managed to change the Azeri Constitution on March 18, 2009. Trailblazing the path for Chavez and other Latin American satraps saddled with elections, he had done away with term limits and arranged for his own perpetual re-election.
Ahmed was naturally well aware of how Russia has been using the conflict with Armenia over the Karabakh to pressure both countries. Each side, of course, was hoping that Russia would decide in its favor. He confirmed what Zaza had told us and what Gorbachev had admitted in his memoir. As both sides acknowledged, the conflict over the territory was stirred up by Soviet officials in the perestroika years (1988-89) to distract from the problems of the regime. Like our friend, Zaza, Ahmed felt that Gorbachev himself was initially behind that conflict. To ease the situation, Gorbachev had finally made the Karabakh an autonomous republic, but the conflict had persisted, and in Ahmed´s view, it was Russia that held the key to its final outcome.
He was also frank that a lot of Armenians were killed in the Azeri-sponsored pogrom that took place in 1988, but he felt the number had been exaggerated. He pointed out there had also been a pogrom against the Azeris living in Armenia and an exodus of thousands of Azeri people as the Armenians undertook their own ethnic cleansing. He also stated his concern that the Azerbaijan oil industry could be paralyzed by one rocket from the Karabakh.
Noting Russia’s disinclination to decide the Karabakh issue in favor of either Armenia or Azerbaijan, he explained that Russia had other moves it could make in his country. For example there was Aliyev’s daughter, presently married to one of Russia’s Oligarchs. Conceivably, she could be held hostage if Azerbaijan demonstrated too much insouciance to Russia. Then there were other autonomous republics, including the Avars in the north, folks very similar to the Chechens, all of whom could be stirred up if need be. We thought of Zaza‘s similar comment regarding Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Perhaps all these autonomous republics could backfire on Russia as it pursued its deadly divida empira.
Interview of Our Azerbaijan Specialist
Through Ahmed‘s auspices, we were given the name of the expert we had asked for, a political specialist who could hopefully enlighten us further on Azerbaijan and its Transcaucasus neighbors. We shall call him Kamal. An earnest, highly articulate man in his forties, he spoke both English and Russian fluently.
He told us he was working with the School of Political Studies of the Council of Europe, explaining that there are 16 such schools in various countries including Russia. They have set up a network of potential politicians, including some they might train as a team in 2010 depending on circumstances. He was also a member of the Soros Foundation and a member of the Revenue Watch Institute, a global civil society dealing with oil rich countries.
He confirmed what Ahmed had told us about the country; also advising us that the Azeris have independent newspapers as such, but because of the political environment, they are either officially censored or self-censored. Ten years ago they had less repression, he mused. “Now we are a dictatorship that has become totalitarian.”
The Two Flows of the Caucasus and Five Scenarios
Then Kamal laid out for us the giant chess game that Russia is playing in the Caucasus with the goal of getting back the parts of the empire it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It was in that turbulent period that Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, the nations of the Southern Caucasus, had through various revolutions won their independence.
“Let us look at the broader South Caucasus,” told us. “It is just a transit corridor for two flows: One is oil and gas flowing from East to the West and the other is the political and military influence of NATO, which flows from West to East. The corridor for these two flows consists of two states, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Armenia, he believed to be under the total control of Russia. (We later met Armenians who disputed that view). “If Russia has two of the three countries involved,” told us, “it can block both flows.” He then made certain comments about both Georgia and the peculiar position of Azerbaijan.
He obviously admired democratic Georgia, and also had tremendous admiration for pro-West, then Georgian president, Sakaashvilli, whom he called, “the greatest politician of our times.” He described him as “a man of talent and vision; a rare visionary who understood the future.” He noted that public opinion in Georgia was extremely anti-Russian and said it was a mistake to think that this was Sakaashvilli’s doing “Saakashvilli is reflecting what the people want.”
As for Azerbaijan, it was neutral but in a peculiar position. Six years earlier, in 2003, Aliyev had perceived that war with Armenia was war with Russia. Without Russia‘s help, Armenia could not occupy the Karabakh. Thus, Aliyev performed a tremendous service to Russia. He allowed it to renew its soft power; to upgrade its reputation within the country. However, while maintaining his neutral stance, Aliyev also understood that if he allowed Georgia to be conquered, he would no longer be independent. He would have to share his oil revenues with Russia. Thus, during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, he gave a lot of discrete military assistance to Georgia.
As he also saw it, Georgia was not of strategic value to Russia as long as Azerbaijan was independent and Azerbaijan alone was nothing. Only together could Georgia and Azerbaijan be strategically strong. In his ’’own view, Azerbaijan would be well advised to join NATO.
The question of Armenia’s role in the chess game raised the issue of the status of Armenians living in Georgia. Kamal was mostly concerned about the possibility of an Armenian uprising in Georgia which has a large Armenian population. He said there were about 300,000 Armenians living in Georgia, as well as a half million Azeris. If the Armenians were to start an uprising in Georgia, it would be of great help to Russia (for obvious reasons.) This reminded us that Zaza had mentioned how Shevardnadze handled the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict during his rule. He had called them in and told them,” if you continue fighting, I will expel all of you. Take it to the Karabakh. There will be no fighting in Georgia.”
So far as Russia is concerned it has four options; to block the Georgia-Azerbaijan corridor in order to control the flow of oil: 1. Put their own man in Georgia, which so far is not working. 2. Destroy Georgia by dividing it and causing chaos and destruction. 3. Escalate the Nagorny Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia would surely be supported by Russia, so if there is renewed fighting, Russia will hit the energy pipelines (in Azerbaijan). 4. Be friends with Baku and persuade it to close the corridor.
The most active options, he added, were the second and fourth. He also told us another move the Russians were considering -- a land corridor between Russia and Armenia. “They don’t have land connections right now and have to use air. If they get the land corridor they will have a clear road to Ossetia.”
If Russia grabs the South Caucasus and achieves its goal of blocking the two flows, it does more than destroy Georgia. Azerbaijan has no way to go but back to Russia and both Azerbaijan and the remains of Georgia will be forced to join the new WTO. (Name?). Putin also gets Central Asia -- Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan, etc., all of which would return to the Russian fold. “It would mean,” he said, “the effective restoration of the USSR. Only the Ukraine and Moldavia would be left.” Checkmate.
After laying out these contingencies about the Southern Caucasus, Kamal offered the lachrymose view that violence would continue as long as the Northern Caucasus does not find a place for itself in Russia.
He further advised us he had briefed the U.S. Embassy (at their request). He told them there were no new developments that would immediately affect Azerbaijan. He did not feel that Russia was strong enough yet to act. He also told them that the Russians were complaining the West hadn’t kept its word about NATO’s expansion. Despite our present concern with Russia, he believed it to be a backward country, unlikely to succeed in its designs. He described a conversation he had with (former Russian prime minister) Gaider the previous summer. Gaider was optimistic about Russia’s future, urging his country to be incorporated into a global, financial arrangement.
Kamal had told Gaider that Russia was oil-based, not admired by the world and not civilized in his opinion. Yet, growth in Russia had begun even before the rise of oil and it was still within Russia’s power to divest itself of its economic problems and achieve a glorious victory.
Jiri felt someone should bring it to Aliyev’s attention that the recognition of Georgia’s new, break-away republics by Venezuela and Nicaragua was very significant. They were the only members of the world community other than Russia to do so. This reflected a new political situation for Aliyev and should have raised the question, “Do we need hemispheric powers here?”
The Role of Turkey
There was other discussion on how Azerbaijan’s foreign policy has been “more or less consensual” (not explained). Yet there were signs within the county’s political system that they were tracking foreign policy issues and one of these was the subject of renewed Turkish-Armenian relations. Some in Azerbaijan thought it a good idea and others didn’t -- approaches which were mutually exclusive.
As far as the post Ataturk Turks are concerned, they were presently reconsidering their country’s role in the entire global arena. Turkey is part of G-20 and could play a greater part it chose. Fifteen years earlier, its interest in the Caucasus had not been seen as legitimate. That had changed. The Turkish situation was also complex due to new pipelines that may go from Russia to Turkey to Israel. He confirmed Zaza’s comment that Israel had been training Georgian soldiers.
Kamal hoped that both Armenia and Turkey would open their borders and pursue diplomatic relations. He believed (perhaps not correctly) that the Russians were against this happening and would likely try to create an obstacle. It is was a big issue. Turkey fully supported Azerbaijan on the Karabakh issue. If Turkey opened its borders with Armenia, it would have a strong hand in Armenian affairs.
According to Kamal, the Nagorny Karabakh conflict started in 1987. Gorbachev’s then economic adviser, Abel Aganbegyan published an interview in a French paper, Humanity in which he suggested transferring Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan to Armenia. Inspired by this article, Armenian nationalists began to expel Azerbaijanis from Armenia. The area called Zaigazut was populated by 300,000 Azeris and they were expelled in 1987. There was no international or Soviet coverage of this.
The Azeris were not allowed to go to Baku, but only to Sumgait. The oldest people went there, but when they failed to find shelter, they began to attack about a dozen Armenian families, and eventually the conflict escalated into a full scale war. According to , this was the first conflict actually reported, but the conflict actually started earlier. Gorbachev then took the Karabakh from Azerbaijan, made it an autonomous republic, and appointed a ruler.
The Ukraine, in Kamal’s view, was an effective democracy, but he had a dim view of the upcoming elections. He thought that then Ukrainian president, Yuchenko, was viewed as weak and had insufficient support. He also felt that one of his two opponents, Yanukovich, would be very different than he appeared if elected and that this was critical. “He is pro-Russian and there would be internal conflict.” He did not comment on the third candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko.
There is an Eastern and Western Ukraine, he explained, and they have almost a different identity. We were well aware of it and have described it elsewhere as a “cultural fault line.” Historically, religiously and culturally, the Western Ukraine is closer to the West. In Kamal’s view, the European Union had in fact, great leverage with the Ukraine, should have sent a message that it had an interest in the country. If the Ukraine saw that it had a European future it would strengthen the West-oriented party. The more Russia was in trouble, the weaker the Eastern bloc.
A new Russian law, which virtually allowed it to go in anywhere to protect Russian citizens, seemed to indicate that if Russia got stronger, it would incite a provocation where needed. For this reason, he felt the U.S. should strengthen the Ukrainian military. They have good personnel, he told us, and many have strong technical abilities. They were the best part of the old Soviet Union. A couple of good brigades stationed in the Eastern Ukraine could also help.
Following the war in Georgia, there were fears that the Eastern and Western parts of the Ukraine might undergo their own civil war. Kamal associated this with the expansion of NATO, very irritating to the Russians. If the Ukraine could not be a buffer, he believed, they would try to create such a buffer at least in the Eastern Ukraine. He indicated that the Russian military was so powerful in Russia there are even speculations that it was not Putin and Medvedev, but the Russian generals who sought to attack Georgia. There is a saying in Russia, “If the military is not in action for long they begin to rot.”
The dimensions of this chess game in the Caucasus were staggering we could see that this was also a game with unique rules. Obviously Russia was a queen -- a red one. Armenia was a bishop and Azerbaijan a knight. Georgia was a king threatened by two red pawns, Ossetia and Abkhazia. Turkey and the Ukraine were both rooks. The white queen was the U.S. and NATO -- far away and perhaps not strategically posed. The unique quality of this game, however, was that the knights, the bishops and the rooks were of indeterminate colors and could easily change colors during the course of the game depending how it was played.
After our interview with Kamal, Ahmed came to pick us up and take us back to our hotel. He was parked far away so we had to walk some distance. As we walked, we noticed Bulbul Street not far away was being repaved and a television team was recording the event. We gave a short interview to the TV crew at their request, playing tourists who were just thrilled with the city. Afterwards, Ahmed told us privately that it was the fifth time the street was being repaved. One of the ministers was making a lot of money.
Dr. Jiri Valenta with Zardust Alizade
Our Second Specialist
Our next interview was with another leading expert and human rights advocate, Zardust Alizade. He had extensive experience in oriental sciences and had worked as an advisor and interpreter to the Soviet Embassy in a Middle Eastern country before 1970. A dark skinned, bald man whose English was difficult to understand, he reminded us of the actor, Ben Kinglsey.
He told us that immediately after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, his group had invited Georgian and Azerbaijani colleagues to a round table with the intent of building bridges between Georgia and Russia. He had agreed with Kissinger’s statement, the U.S. will win the war against the USSR not through the power of democratic ideas but the power of nationalism. “It was nationalism,” he said, “that destroyed the Soviet Union.”
He also had an interesting historical take on Armenia’s relationship with Russia. He said that shortly after Gorbachev came to power in 1985, a friend of his from the Oriental faculty said to him, “Do you know that Gorbachev was created by the Armenians?” The friend thereafter described to him how a very close friend of his mother’s was Armenian and that the Armenians had paid a huge amount of money for Gorbachev to become First Secretary of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, he said, was supported by Armenian shadow businessmen who backed payoffs to him.
One month after his election as General Secretary, there was an earthquake in Armenia and Aganbegyan, Gorbachev´s Armenian economic advisor, began to support Armenia against Azerbaijan. On three occasions in the past, Armenia had tried to decide the Nagorny Karabakh issue by writing to Russian leaders. The first time had happened after WWII. An Armenian leader wrote to Stalin and the Central Committee asking intervention on Armenia’s behalf. Stalin asked an Azeri leader for his opinion The man said, “We want part of Armenia, the majority of which is in Azerbaijan. Stalin sent the letter of the Azeri to the Armenian leader and asked, “What is your opinion?“ The Armenian never bothered to reply. He believed he would have lost the most of Armenia for his country.
When Khrushchev came to power, the Armenian wrote to him, again, asking for help to join the Karabakh to Armenia. Khrushchev told him what he was willing to do: “I can send you a thousand lorries for taking the Armenians out of the Karabakh and sending them to Armenia.”
A fourth attempt to decide the issue of the Karabakh came under Gorbachev. Aganbegyan presented to him an article published in a French newspaper, suggested that Nagorny Karabakh be given to the Armenians. As of this writing, the issue is still not settled.
Azerbaijan Human Rights Highlights
February 20, 2017
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
Lawmakers in Azerbaijan Propose Legal Regulation of Online Media
The issue of legal regulation of online media has yet again been brought up in Azerbaijan. Such a proposal was put forward by Press Council Chairman MP Aflatun Amashov during the first meeting of the spring session of Milli Meclis (Parliament) held on 1 February. During the discussion of the legislative work plan of the spring session, Amashov took the floor and stressed the importance of determining the status of online media. Read More
Institute for Reporter's Freedom and Safety | firstname.lastname@example.org | Grand Rue 10 | Geneve 2016
PRESS CONFERENCE BY DR. JIRI VALENTA
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, Baku
Roundtable Conducted on the theme "Azerbaijan Bertween Russia and the USA
Press Release by the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety
Today, 25 September, 2009 in the press center of the Institute for Reporters freedom and Safety, a roundtable was conducted on the theme "Azerbaijan between Russia and the USA, where American Political Scientist, Doctor of sciences Jiri Valenta participated.
J. Valenta opened the event and said that he has been monitoring the incidents in the Caucasus closely and the aim of his visit to Azerbaijan is to learn about the situation here. Nothing that other world countries have their own economic, political, diplomatic and strategic interests in the South Caucasus, Valenta said that Russia's intervention into the internal affairs of the South Caucasus is dangerous. He talked about Russia's intervention in Georgia's internal stability and in its territorial integrity, and recalled that the independence of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia was recognized by Venezuela and Nicaragua. Talking about the Ukraine, Valenta added that there is some danger for Azerbaijan as well.
J. Valenta emphasized that many things should be done in the area of human rights for these countries. Then the guest answered questions from the journalists and other event participants.
"RUSSIA’S CONTROL OVER GEORGIA WILL BRING ISOLATION TO AZERBAIJAN"
Strategic concession towards Russia is inadmissible. The USA must return to the doctrine of 40's of last century and to have tough policy towards Russia, American expert and permanent member of the Council for foreign relations Jiri Valenta told a press-conference held in Baku.
Lately Russia has been putting into life so-called “Putin’s Doctrine,” which is some kind of continuation of “Brezhnev’s Doctrine.” The discussion is about the policy of military interference into the affairs of neighboring countries, as took place in August last year in Georgia. He also mentioned the new legislative initiative by the leadership of Russia to provide military interference (ed. in another country to protect Russian citizens). “Russia wants to split Georgia and to change the leadership of this country. Recognition by Moscow of the independence of separatist formations in South Osetia and Abkhazia by Nicaragua and Venezuela testifies to the seriousness of Russia’s intentions,” Valenta said.
According to him, certain forces in Russia plan to restore a Soviet Empire, and much attention is paid to the establishment of control in the South Caucasus, through which the energy corridor from central Asia to Europe passes, and from which democratic values come from Europe in the backward direction. “Therefore, if Russia manages to fulfill its plan in Georgia, the next victim will be Azerbaijan. Establishment of Russia’s influence in Georgia will mean isolation of Azerbaijan,” Valenta said. He believes that Russia can influence Azerbaijan by inciting new ethnic conflicts in the north of this country. Therefore, Azerbaijan must support Georgia.
Valenta said that Azerbaijan must help Georgia and the Ukraine in their integration within the European-Atlantic space. Russia wants to establish a pro-Moscow regime in the Ukraine too, and therefore it is ready to incite provocations against this country. Valenta is sure that contrary to what happened in Georgia, Russia will not dare to undertake military interference in the Ukraine.
Concerning the Karabakh conflict Valenta said that the conflict cannot be solved only by Russia. “I used to talk with the late Yeltzin who wanted resolution of this conflict," said Valenta. "But representatives of forces and ministries wanted the conflict to remain unsolved.” .
Speaking about the USA’s foreign policy, Valenta said that even in 1970, the USA rejected Monroe Doctrine which provides for military interference in the American continent. “Despite its strategic significance, the USA turned down control over the Panama Canal."
Although the American expert did not comment on the military operations of the USA in Afghanistan and Iraq, he approved Russia’s actions “on the fight against terrorism” in Chechnya.-06C—For photos of the Valenta's conference in Azerbaijan with the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) click the following link.
Emin Husaneyev (third from the left) is the present chairman of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety.. His predecessor, as we were told, was murdered by unknown parties.
Editor's Note: In 2009 these writers visited Baku and were hosted by Emin Husenyov, the youthful director of the Institute of Reporter's Freedom and Safety. Fluent in English, he served as our guide part of the time. The name of the organization indicates the status of the press in Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country where women work alongside men in clothes of their own choosing. The country, however, is a dictatorship. Emin and others in his organization introduced us to several analysts who described the then situation in Azerbaijan with respect to politics and geopolitics.
Through him we also gained important insights on the ongoing tension with regard to Nagorny Karabach, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan and the source of repeated conflicts.
Most recently we received the reports below which are self-explanatory.
Joint Statement / Free Azerbaijani Journalist Mehman Huseynov
Emin Huseynov [email@example.com]Sent: Tue, 11:05 pm
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated across the globe on May 3, we, the undersigned organizations, cannot forget the untenable price journalists pay for government criticism in Azerbaijan. The case of Mehman Huseynov is emblematic. Huseynov is a popular journalist and blogger in Azerbaijan who is known for his hard-hitting exposés of alleged corruption by senior Azerbaijani officials. In March 2017, a Baku court sentenced him to two years in prison on charges of defaming an entire police station, after he gave a statement in front of the courthouse in which he described the abuses he had suffered at that police station.
On January 9, a group of plain-clothes officers attacked Mehman Huseynov, blindfolded and gagged him with towels, forced a bag over his head and took him to the Nasimi district police station, where police used an electroshock weapon on his groin, and punched him, bloodying his nose. The next day, officers took him before a court that found him guilty of disobeying police orders and fined him 200 manat (US$120).
Mehman Huseynov remained defiant, went public about the abuses he suffered at the station, and filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The authorities formally opened an inquiry into Huseynov’s allegations, but swiftly closed the inquiry claiming the allegations were groundless. On April 27, an appeal court upheld the prosecutor’s decision to shut down the investigation.
While authorities refused to conduct a credible investigation into Huseynov’s torture allegations, the Nasimi police chief brought a criminal lawsuit against him for defamation. After just two hearings, a court found Huseynov guilty and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Mehman Huseynov has been targeted by the government for years, since the authorities brought bogus criminal charges against the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), founded by his brother, Emin Huseynov, who was forced to flee the country for his own safety. Since 2012, Mehman Huseynov has been under a travel ban and has been repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the police.
The imprisonment of Mehman Huseynov is another step by the Azerbaijani authorities to retaliate against him for his critical journalism and defiance, but also to deter others from seeking justice for police abuse, a persistent and well-documented problem in Azerbaijan. At least 5 other journalists and bloggers are currently in prison on politically motivated charges in Azerbaijan.
On a day when the world commemorates the fundamental importance of press freedom, we call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mehman Huseynov and hold to account those responsible for the torture and other ill-treatment he was subjected to. This would mark an important step towards ensuring press freedoms and guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Civil Liberties
Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Civil Rights Defenders
Committee to Protect Journalists
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Golos Svobody Kyrgyzstan
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights Club
Human Rights First
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Watch
International Media Support
International Partnership for Human Rights
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Moscow Helsinki Group
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
People in Need
Regional Center for Strategic Studies
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
2 May 2017
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