Ny Tid's columnist from Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan: We are oil hostages

Foto: Orkhan Aslanov | Dreamstime.com

In Azerbaijan a corrupt regime is thriving. Western countries could have been a driving force for democracy in the region. Instead, they focus on their own oil interests.

04.02.2010 15:50 - Av Malahat Nasibova, journalist and human rights activist from Azerbaijan. In 2009 she was awarded the Rafto prize for her courageous and unwavering struggle. She writes exclusively for Ny Tid.

Every Friday some of the world′s leading advocates for freedom of expression write for Ny Tid. Our columnists are: Parvin Ardalan (Iran), Nawal El-Saadawi (Egypt), Irshad Manji (Canada), Elena Milashina (Russia), Orzala Nemat (Afghanistan), Marta Roque (Cuba), Blessing Musariri (Zimbabwe) & Tsering Woeser (Tibet).

Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan:

In 1991, Azerbaijan gained both its independence and its liberation from the Russian empire. We fought for our liberty with the hope that after independence everything would improve, but it did not. We thought that the financial, moral, social and scientific opportunities inherited from the Russian empire would allow us to solve all of our problems quickly. You may ask what prevented us from doing that. Although Azerbaijan managed to shake off its dependence upon the totalitarian Russian empire, it was still unable root out people with a communist way of thinking who used to serve that empire. A tough authoritarian regime took root in Azerbaijan after former communist H. Aliyev came to power in 1993, and continued when his son Ilham Aliyev came to power in 2003. We do not have the free and democratic society of which we dreamt. The country's authoritarian regime destroyed an independent court system, and serious forms of bribery have been developing in education, healthcare and other spheres. All problems originated from these roots.

I would like to provide some information about my native land, Nakhchivan. Geographically, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (AR) exists in an isolated blockade, making it very difficult to live and to work in this region. Compared with other regions, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is a land where corruption prospers and human rights are violated most of all. It is very difficult and very dangerous to represent a free press and to protect human rights in this region.

The "Democracy and NGO Development Resource Center" of the Nakhchivan AR, which I lead, recently conducted a poll in Nakhchivan's universities as part of a project designed to reveal the level of corruption. Our representatives were subjected to physical pressure and insult by bribe-taking teachers. Resource Center representatives Ilgar Nasibov and Vafadar Eyvazov were seriously injured and appealed to police. The police did not conduct a fair investigation and the pair were not allowed to be examined by doctors. It is a sad reality that in Nakhchicvan, just as in all other regions, the law-enforcement agencies and health-organizations are subservient to executive political orders. This is yet another example of why serious measures are needed to protect the rights of human rights defenders.

Let us return to the situation in Azerbaijan.

The political power in Azerbaijan is seriously persecuting the small number of independent and free press organizations writing about corrupted senior officials. Members of the independent press are arrested, sometimes they are murdered, or forced to emigrate. The authorities try to suppress the free press by all means. Those who oppose such oppressive measures are blackmailed, placed in hospitals for the mentally ill, and labeled " mad." It has become impossible to live under such conditions. People in the regions are forced to migrate to Baku, or to other countries. The cases of suicide due to the difficult financial situation faced by many people have increased. Old and middle-aged people think life was much better during Soviet times.

Azerbaijan is a Caucasian country with rich oil and gas resources. The energy interests of most of the leading powers meet here. Azerbaijan, more than Iran and Russia, serves Western countries' energy interests.

Therefore, some who support democracy in Azerbaijan think that Western countries do not sufficiently uphold human freedoms here, and give preference to their oil interests; and some Azerbaijanis even think that democracy is only a game, and that everyone pursues his own interests. Those expressing such thoughts are mainly poor and simple people. While they believe in democracy, they absolutely do not want to accept the "Azerbaijani-way democracy," and continue to appeal to religious radicalism, which may bring about a dangerous situation in the future. This means that people do not think of resolving problem in the framework of democracy, but rather prefer to improve the situation by the use of force.

The authorities controlling political power in Azerbaijan use corruption as one means of retaining power, as during soviet times. After being involved in corruption, most senior officials begin to work by taking orders. Some ministers in Azerbaijan even have a wide business network. Almost all spheres of the state economy are in the hands of state officials. As a result of unhealthy competition, small and medium-sized businesses are forced out. Now it is the oligarchs' turn. As a result of corruption, the property of rich people is gradually being confiscated, and those who protest are arrested or evicted. Of course, such a situation frightens foreign investors. An example is the case of Huseyn Arabul, a Turkish businessman who had invested large sums in Azerbaijan's energy sector. His property was confiscated, and he was arrested and held by the authorities for two years. Although the real reason for Arabul's arrest was his demanding his money back, he was arrested under corruption charges. But some companies come to an agreement with bribe-taking officials and invest in Azerbaijan.

The long-lasting policy of embezzling oil and millions in this country will cause serious problems for our future generations. Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas as well as other resources, but almost 90% of the population lives in poverty, as hostages of oil. Oil brings billions to Azerbaijan's authorities, but not to its impoverished population.

What do Azerbaijan's economic experts think?

In Transparency International's 2009 Annual Report's corruption level ranking, Azerbaijan ranks 143rd out of 180 countries. This is the worst ranking among South Caucasian countries: Georgia ranks 66th, while Armenia ranks 120th. Experts think that mainly the legal organizations, executive power organizations, heath and education sphere organizations are involved in corruption. In the report, Azerbaijan is among such backward African countries as Kenya and Zimbabwe. The expert stated that it has become a tradition that Azerbaijan always ranks the last in such reports. Economic Innovation Center head Mahammad Talibli believes that Azerbaijan's ranking as one of the most corrupted countries among the South Caucasian states demonstrates that, unlike Georgia and Armenia, large-scale reforms are occurring in the country to improve its rank. Despite adopting a state program and national strategy against corruption, Talibli thinks the sad situation in this sphere is explained by the absence of concrete mechanisms against corruption, which make these programs meaningless: "Despite anti-corruption documents adopted under pressure by international organizations, it is not possible to speak of practical results. Additionally, businesses have many problems in Azerbaijan, and interference in this sphere is evident. Business is one of the ways corruption is increased in Azerbaijan." Talibli further notes that increasing income from oil in Azerbaijan is increasing the level of corruption, and these funds are appropriated either by the Oil Fund or by the state budget. It is noted that the State Customs Committee, the Transport Ministry, and the State Buy-and-Sell Agency are responsible for the increased corruption in Azerbaijan. M. Talıblı notes that the incidence of corruption is higher in the Transport Ministry because it is involved in many projects realized through the state budget.

Talibli considers it very important to pay attention to such reports, whose goal is to eliminate factors which keep a state from developing. "Such reports show which indicators hamper development. It is surprising that official state organizations do not pay serious attention to such reports. There is no progress on any reported index on Azerbaijan. On the contrary, Azerbaijan again is among such countries as Nigeria, Bangladesh, and South African countries. In such reports we are very close to such countries as Afghanistan and Somalia. "

At the end of this article I would like to inform you of the opinion of Azerbaijani opposition members regarding the relations between the West and Azerbaijan.

Contrary to his father, Ilham Aliyev does not practice imitation constructive "dialogues" with representatives of press and publicity. President does not want to distance from suppression of the freedom of speech, demonstrating by it his personal interest in neutralization of such institutes of "fourth power" as pluralism of opinions, freedom of speech and independent press. President and his team are enjoying the sadomasochistic game on suppression of the freedom of speech and provoke indignation against them. The criticism by the West irritates our ruling regime, but it does not work, because the authorities of the country have adapted to conjuncture troubles of the game, and at required time they can lift the tension by some steps in the oil democracy. Because freedom and democracy are not priorities for the West in its political interests in this region, these priorities will hardly be prior for the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan. This is the root of the problem. If it continues this way, then all talks of our authorities with the West about freedom and democracy is nonsense. When it becomes impossible to agree oil geopolitical interests and western democracy, something must be victimized. In this case it is not profitable to victimize oil geopolitical interests. Unfortunately, these are today's realities.


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