Friday, July 31, 2009
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
It's a cynical and shameless maneuver - not the defense of anyone's honor.
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
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
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 email@example.com
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
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
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.
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
Thursday, July 9, 2009
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."