Friday, July 31, 2009

This smells fishy

Gallup has a new poll out about approval ratings for countries of the former Soviet Union. At the bottom of the list is Ukraine. At the top ...... Azerbaijan. According to the poll, 77 percent of the population approve of the the job that the county's leaders are doing.

I want to know with whom they were talking. What language were they speaking? Did they have a government-supplied translator? I did not do any scientifically valid polling when I was in Azerbaijan, but I did talk to a lot of people. I certainly not say that more than 3/4 of the people I spoke with were supporting the leadership of the country. Of course, people didn't talk loudly about their dissent - but in private conversations they were quite honest about their dissatisfactions.

The recurring theme, however, was that people perceived that no realistic alternatives to the current regime existed.

Will demographics resolve issue of Karabakh?

EurasiaNet Insight has published an interesting article about the dwindling pool of potential conscripts for the Armenian army. One plan to address the problem would remove university enrollment as reason for exemption from military service. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has been growing in military strength.

It makes me wonder. Wouldn't Armenia have been better off negotiating from a position of strength? The country's military position is bound to weaken, given demographic factors and Azerbaijan's continuing petro-dollar fueled investment in military hardware. What sort of agreement will Armenia agree to when its hand is weaker? Or will internal politics in Azerbaijan move its rulers to force the issue? Nothing like a good war to distract people from corruption at the top!

EurasiaNet Eurasia Insight - Armenia: Military Planners Confront Conscript Shortfall, Mull an End to College Exemption

And here is an article about the current stalemate in peace talks.....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A short film about Emin Milli and Adnan Hacizade

This film has just been posted on YouTube. Emin and Adnan now have spent more than 23 days in jail. The government of Azerbaijan is effectively ignoring the protests against the imprisonment of these activists.

Where is this going?

Radio Free Europe has a nice opinion piece today about Azerbaijan's "steady descent into authoritarianism." I have written about this subject repeatedly on this blog. I did not have the perspective that natives of that country have, because I only moved there last year. I did, nonetheless, talk to many Azerbaijanis, and I understood that the repression has steadily increased in recent years.

I continue to be both confounded and fascinated by the question of democratization. Too often, it appears that the rather deterministic views of Carles Boix, Daron Acemoglu, and James A. Robinson have the bulk of supporting evidence. I cannot do justice to their work here. Suffice it to say that they all focus on the impact that economic resources and distribution of wealth have on the democratization of societies.

Azerbaijan potentially has many different sources of wealth, but in recent history its primary source of income has been from petroleum and natural gas. These are resources that are immobile. The oil in Azerbaijan may be depleted, but it will not decide to emigrate because of repressive government policies. When the source of wealth is intellectual, however, the rulers of the country must act more carefully. Factories can be moved. Trading offices can be closed and re-opened easily. If the rulers of a country want to hold onto this type of wealth, they must be careful not to enact policies that will cause the sources of this wealth to move.

Where does this leave Azerbaijan?

Not in a good place. The rulers of Azerbaijan control the wealth of their country. It's not going away quickly. In fact, because of Azerbaijan's delicate position between Russia and the West, the rulers of the country are trying to play a delicate game, flirting with both sides in order to achieve maximum freedom of action within their country, while picking whatever benefits they can from Russia and the West. The winners in the game - so far - are the rulers of Azerbaijan, while the bulk of the population in Azerbaijan loses as the country becomes increasingly autocratic and the distribution of income becomes increasingly skewed.

The sad thing about the analyses of the above political scientists is that even revolution does not change the situation that much. When the wealth is immobile, the succeeding regime is likely to be just as undemocratic as the one it replaced.

Russia is a wonderful example.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The importance of smashing idealism

OL! has a nice little interview with Ziya Aliyev, senior investigator of the Sabail Region district. Aliyev is the fellow supposedly investigating the case of Adnan Hajizadah & Emin Milli Abdullayev. As you recall, the two activists were arrested earlier this month, and were last week sentenced to two months pre-trial detention.

Their sentence came despite the fact that according to witnesses, they were the ones who were assaulted. That's the way it works in Azerbaijan. If you are a critic of the government, you are likely to be assaulted, and then be arrested for committing the assault. It's as logical as the rest of the governance there.

Since the arrest of the two young men, the action of the Azerbaijan government has been condemned by the representatives of the European Union and the United States. But this apparently has not changed the course chosen by the Azerbaijan government. They assume - probably correctly - that the fuss will settle down, and then sufficient punishment will be inflicted on Adnan and Emin to further intimidate the opposition with Azerbaijan. And the people running the country can proceed with their corrupt practices within their long-suffering country.

When I was working in Azerbaijan, I observed that corruption is useful to the authoritarian rulers in at least two ways. Most obviously, corruption personally enriches them. A huge chain of corruption has been built, and the top representatives of the government are the greatest beneficiaries. But secondly, corruption works to sap the strength of any opposition. If corruption is all pervasive, then even the opponents of the government can be snared in the sticky web. For this reason, true idealism - which is found most often in the young - can be the greatest threat to such a regime.

The persecution of Adnan and Emin may seem to be completely disproportionate to their offenses or the threat they posed - but their persecution is not directed at just two individuals. The rulers of Azerbaijan are intending to teach all young activists a lesson. To all those idealistic youths who took to the streets this spring, the Masters say, "Look at Emin and Adnan. This fate could be yours. Behave!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Here's what really happened, according to Azerbaijan government

In case you wanted to read how the case of Emin and Adnan is being presented in the official press, here's a link to the Azeri-Press Agency (APA). Amazing. In this account, Emin and Adnan are depicted as ruffians, drinking and swearing in a restaurant. Babek Huseynov and his associates were just some peaceful guys who wanted some peace and quiet, so they approached Emin and Adnan, asking the guys to quiet down. You can read the rest of it in the article. The fact that Emin and Adnan were pro-democracy activists is not mentioned in the article. Of course.

Now, I have never met Emin or Adnan personally and I was not in that Lebanese restaurant that night. I have, however, eaten in that very restaurant. It was noisy when I ate there. I find it incredible that Emin and Adnan were being that much noisier than anyone else. So much noisier that these fellows came over to ask them to quiet down. Why did these fellows have to take matters into their own hands? If Adnan and Emin were so out of hand, would the management allow them to be so disruptive? Perhaps if Emin and Adnan had been well-connected government officials, this might be possible. But they are not and the scenario described here is completely implausible.

No, the story published here doesn't smell right at all. It isn't even logical. But logic has never been an essential ingredient for government propaganda.

Of course, the primary reason for not believing this account of the incident is because it is the official line of the government of Azerbaijan. If the official word is that something is blue, you can be nearly certain that it is any color but blue.

By the way, just for the record, the APA, established in 2004 is "an independent, private information agency." That's according to its website.

Independent. Right.

Appeal of bloggers rejected

The news via Twitter is that the appeal of Emin Milli & Adnan Hajizade has been rejected. Not many more details available at this point. On the Facebook pages this morning - expressions of disgust & frustration. The natural regret for hoping against hope that an undemocratic government would respect human rights. But the face of the Azerbaijani government is unmistakable. It is not democratic. It is not concerned with human rights. It is not concerned with fairness or justice.

One question was posed: What now? Someone suggested that the voting rights of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe could be rescinded. I am by no means an expert in this - but this seems technically possible. Politically possible? That's another question. The government of Azerbaijan still seems to be successfully using its position between Russia and the West to its own advantage. Of course, also using its power as an energy exporter. While the government in Azerbaijan uses all its tools to cling to power, the people of the country endure a rule that is undemocratic and increasingly harsh.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Compilation of dissent

Here is a new site that's been set up to advocate freedom for Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli. I should have posted this earlier. It's a nice collection of articles from around the word that address this issue. (Thanks, Ali!)

Does this international publicity help their cause? The experience of groups such as Amnesty International shows that such publicity, in fact, can put pressure on governments. If attention is really turned to the actions of Azerbaijan's government, plenty of more offenses against the people of Azerbaijan will be seen.

Speaking of publicity, there is a strong editorial in the Washington Post today about the murder of Natalya Estemirova. The Russian government apparently believes that such crimes carry no consequences for itself. This belief is mistaken. The Russian people as a whole suffer as their government conducts or condones brutal repression against crusaders for justice and human rights.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending his honor?

I just read in an article that Ramzan Kadyrov will sue Pamyat because of the leader of that group alleged that Kadyrov was behind the murder of Natalya Estemirova. I think defending his honor has little or nothing to do with it. Instead, this is a wonderful opportunity for the president of Chechnya to further intimidate and oppress those who care about human rights in the country.

It's a cynical and shameless maneuver - not the defense of anyone's honor.

Shameful scene at funeral shows who holds power in Russia

While Russian President Dmitri Medvedev expressed indignation about the murder of Natalya Estemirova, his outrage has a hollow ring. Actually, I would like to think that he is a decent man, but he does not really control the government. The reins of power - to the extent that they function - are still in the hands of Vladmir Putin.

If there was any doubt about this, the scene yesterday in Grozny should have been sufficient evidence about the real dynamics of the situation. Police broke up the funeral procession for Estemirova - because the mourners did not have a permit! The police, I'm sure, were just following orders from their superiors in the government. It is not in the interest of the thugs running Chechnya to grant a respectful burial ceremony for the murdered human rights activist. After all, while Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov may not have ordered the killing, it certainly could not happen unless the killers knew that they would be shielded by him. And Kadyrov cannot hold his position without the support of Putin.

As the old Russian proverb states: A fish rots from the head. And Putin is still the head of the Russian government, no matter the results of last year's sham election.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two Germans back opposing plans for European gas supplies

This appointment was interesting, and as the Italian analyst noted - a little ironic. In his new position, Fischer will be facing his old boss ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Fischer’s appointment makes sense, as the author of the RFE article point out, for a variety of reasons. One important point is that he has consistently supported Turkish membership in the the EU, and Turkey’s participation in Nabucco is absolutely essential.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is being noncommittal about favoring one option or another, as a previous article by Pannier points out. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Azerbaijan under its current leadership align itself more closely with the Gazprom. The Russian government is less likely to raise bothersome questions about human rights and democracy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York Times following our discussion!

As it happens, the New York Times posted a video on its site that is relevant to the little "conversation" we had here about the value of Facebook for democracy activists. Interesting discussion. Both parties make good points and the final word has certainly not been said!

Support for Adnan and Emin spans the globe!

The support for Emin and Adnan takes a new form as bloggers make videos to support their colleagues in Azerbaijan. Here are the instructions included with this video:

What can you do?
1. Take a camera
2. Introduce yourself: My name is ... I am from...
3. Send your support message to Adnan and Emin
4. Finish your video with the words: I call on Azerbaijani government to end this lawlessness.
5. Upload this video to Youtube with subject Support to Adnan and Emin
6. Send the link of the video to

Bike Polo

While polo played on bikes is considerably cheaper than equestrian polo, the players become just as tangled. There is also an element of risk, although I don't think it's nearly as dangerous as equestrian polo. (Now I can say that I have photographed both variations.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Free press, gas pipelines, and jailed activists

I came across a provocative post on this blog today, following a link from Facebook. You can read it for yourself, but the author states her position clearly in the headline: Why Facebook Hurts Democratic Movements. She objects to the recent activity on Facebook, as sympathizers protest the arrests of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada.

I have to disagree respectfully with the author. I believe that in the struggle to improve democratic governance and safeguard human rights, every peaceful tool should be used. It appears that the author of the post believes that the activists of the Internet are not incurring enough risk to validate their activist credentials. In fact, as we can see the young people who are using the Internet to discuss democracy in Azerbaijan do incur significant risk.

Every peaceful tool should be used if we are to effect political change. We don't know which ones will be most effective. Also, not everyone has the same tools to use. For some people, attending a demonstration in Baku is possible. For others, circulating information about the human rights abuses in that country is a more feasible action.

In other news, I was glad to hear about this agreement being signed, even though many of the details remain to be ironed out. I am a supporter of democrats in Russia, and so I am all for creating some competition to Gazprom. Azerbaijan pay provide gas for the pipeline. It is one of the many details for Nabucco.

Finally, I expect to be reading this report tonight. The report was produced by Free Press, a media reform group started in 2002 by media scholar Robert W. McChesney. The article that John Nichols and McChesney wrote for the Nation earlier this year was thought-provoking and well argued. I expect that the new report will contain some similar suggestions.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Case of Emin and Adnan gets attention of bloggers

I'm not sure it will help, but I don't think the publicity about the case of Emin and Adnan will hurt. Among the websites carrying information about this case are OL!, Elites TV, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights House.

In other news, a businessman was convicted in U.S. court of conspiring to pay bribes to late President Heydar Aliyev and other government leaders. What is unusual about the case is that it actually went to trial! Will the case have any repercussions in Azerbaijan? I doubt it.

Victims jailed and the guilty parties walk

Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada have been sentenced to two months "pre-trial investigative detention." Presumably this is for investigation into the incident where they were both assaulted and seriously injured. Confused? You should be.

There is a movie called Absurdistan. Azerbaijan is perceived to be the model for the fictional country. It is such incidents that cause such perceptions. Yes, if you are assaulted in Azerbaijan, you will be jailed and your assailant will go free.

Of course, this is the case if you are a trouble-making activists like Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada. Emin Milli was agitating on the Internet, using Facebook to get the word out about protests and the conditions in Azerbaiajan. Adnan Hajizada was one of the founders of OL Youth group. This group also used the Internet to publicize the problems that young people in Azerbaijan face. Radio Free Liberty has an article about the case. Global Voices and Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines write about the case as well.

Officials from the US Embassy & the Norwegian Embassy are objecting to the persecution of the activists - but I don't hold much hope that external pressure will change things. To me, the case is a reminder that even authoritarian governments are not monolithic. Within the power structure, there may be different elements that have different agendas. Some people in Azerbaijan breathed a sigh of relief last month, when legislation concerning NGOs was not as restrictive as feared. As it was - it is plenty restrictive - but perhaps it was less than some hard liners wanted. Here is an example of the hard line elements in the government taking off their gloves - and showing human rights activists - and the populace in general - that they better not make noise about the thieves who are running their country.

Friday, July 10, 2009


This little resident of a pond in North Carolina - photographed by me last week - now gets to travel around the world!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Emin Milli and Adnan Haji-zadeh at Police Station

Here is the ANTV clip that shows an interview with one of the two activists beaten by thugs in Baku a couple of days ago. No charges brought against the people who beat them. Of course, the activists who were the victims are the ones who are presumed to be guilty. As one of my friends in Baku remarked, "Nothing new here."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Azeri vs. Azerbaijani

I came across this video today - which confirms what I had been told by an Azerbaijani friend.