Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev could celebrate another landslide victory. For the third time, he was elected leader of the oil-rich country. 84 Percent voted in his favor, six Percent went to the opposition leader. The European Council described the elections as free, fair and transparent, although it is well known Aliyev rules with an iron hand. “Impossible”, says Mammad Mamadzadeh, Human Rights activists in the former Soviet republic.
The real story
Mammad works for the NGO “Election Monitozing and democzatic studies Centez” in the Caucasian country, promoting democracy. The political science student knows that Azerbaijan is far away from an ideal democracy. “In this moment, we have more than 100 political prisoners. The regime has no respect for human rights. It grants people the freedom to have Facebook-domains, but once they express their opinion, they get silenced and thrown into prison”, explains the activists Azerbaijan’s devastating human rights record. Fear of the regime’s henchmen prevents youth from voting and taking part in democracy work. In former times, human rights defenders fought for the imprisoned, but even they got arrested several months ago.
What possible reason may have fooled the European Council into believing in free and fair elections in Azerbaijan when suppression was so obvious? “Kaviar-dimoplacy”, speculates Mammad. It cannot be said for sure, but Azerbaijan is an oil-rich country and European corporations, such as Stratoil, Total, and BP, have important business interests there. “Oil and gas is a problem for democracy. It supports the government with millions and millions in revenues. Human rights are of second-rank”, continues Mammad. There is a conflict of interest within the Council of Europe. Big oil, employment rates and revenues on the one hand and the moral obligation to make a stand for human rights, on the other hand.
Hope for change
With the ceasing support of the European council Azerbaijan’s human right defenders stand with the back against the wall. Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Oil and gas assets will decrease. This is what the government is realizing. It now tries to find alternative ways to lead society into the future. We will see what happens”, says Mammad confidently, despite all the struggles activists have undergone and will possibly undergo. One thing becomes absolutely clear while he is describing his goals in life. This man will not rest until he succeeds. With clenched fists, he proclaims: “I have a strong believe in freedom of expression. I will take part in defending it. I have a deep desire to help society develop new ways to move away from gas and oil. I believe in democracy and will take part to improve social standards.”