How the ruling clan in Baku maintains power – without caring about admonitions from Europe.
Berlin – Protests demanding the dissolution of parliament and new elections erupted in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on Saturday. Earlier, an opposition demonstration in the center had not been authorized. After more than 100 arrests, some of them in the run-up, the German government’s human rights commissioner, Markus Löning, called on the regime to allow peaceful demonstrations “anytime and anywhere.”
The trigger was a secretly recorded video: Two women and a man argue over how much the bribe should be for a seat in Azerbaijan’s parliament: $500,000 or $1 million? The deputy Gular Akhmedova demands the money, but the man is supposed to pay: Elshad Abdullayev, rector of the now closed, private International University in Baku, is no innocent either. He has taken the trade in academic titles so far that students have complained. The people of Azerbaijan, often called a kleptocracy and ranked low on the corruption index, are used to a lot.
Abdullayev, who has since fled to France, posted the video online. In it, the name of Ramis Mehdiyev, the head of the presidential administration and “gray eminence” of the regime, is mentioned. President Ilham Aliyev rules, Mehdiyev governs, they say. As a second video indicates, Abdullayev should probably recognize Mehdiyev as his new patron, having previously conducted his business with Agil Aliyev, the brother of the late President Heydar Aliyev. The latter’s son and successor Ilham Aliyev is also pointed to by Akhmedova’s words in the video that while there were many interested parties for a parliamentary seat, there was “only one voter.”
During the European Song Contest, Europe looked at Azerbaijan and focused on human rights. What has happened since then?
As recently as May, an explosive expertise by the European Stability Initiative institute was published. It deals with Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy towards representatives of the Council of Europe. According to the report, Azerbaijan’s “friends” received about one pound of caviar (price per kilo up to 1400 EUR) before each meeting. Later, at invitations to Baku, the gifts were even more generous: valuable silk carpets, gold, silver, even money. In addition, several quotes from Aliyev such as “We have excellent relations with Europe and I don’t care about the Council of Europe.” And: that “we will probably never be able to build a democracy like in Western Europe.”
In June, the Council of Europe demanded that Baku conduct a rule-of-law review of the sentencing of nearly 90 people, including some 50 political prisoners. In August, a report by the British organization Tax Justice Network was presented. According to it, some $48 billion was moved abroad between 1994 and 2010. “Without the control of the top authorities, this would be impossible,” said Center for Economic Research Chairman Gubad Ibadoglu. Much of the key industry is owned by the presidential family and ministers who are also oligarchs – or vice versa.
Akhmedova has resigned from her post. She warns that if certain party members’ accusations against her do not stop, she will spill the beans. At the last parliamentary session, an opposition-free zone in Azerbaijan, her case was not allowed on the agenda. The prosecutor’s office in charge of the investigation is paralyzed. In the authoritarian-ruled country, everything is waiting for a word from President Aliyev.
Two weeks ago, the second Baku International Humanitarian Forum took place. Distinguished personalities such as ex-presidents and Nobel laureates discussed, among other things, issues of international law, the protection of human rights in a festive setting. All expenses such as flight, five-star hotel and excursions were borne by the host. Co-founders of the forum are two proven experts on the subject: the presidents Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, this “humanitarian Davos of the world,” as one keynote speaker called it, was deserted by its chairman: Ramis Mehdiyev (74) needs medical treatment after all the excitement and has traveled to an EU country – presumably Germany.