AZAD Forum in Washington Blasts Azeri Government, Calls US to Focus More on Democracy
WASHINGTON. April 18, 2010. On April 16, Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD) held a forum titled “Broken Pillar: Democracy in US-Azerbaijani Relations” at John Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Speakers included Senior Transatlantic Fellow at US German Marshall Fund, former Assistant US Secretary of State David Kramer, Washington Director of Reporters Without Borders Clothilde Le Coz, University of Richmond professor Dr. Uliana Gabara, AZAD Chairman Elmar Chakhtakhtinski and AZAD Vice-Chairman Gorkhmaz Asgarov.
Officials from the US Department of State, representatives of US Congress Helsinki Commission, National Endowment for Democracy, National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, foreign embassies, Azerbaijani-American Diaspora and other guests attended the event.
Speakers were sharply critical of Azerbaijani government’s record on free speech and human rights and expressed concerns about the state of US-Azerbaijani relations and insufficient attention to the democratic development in Azerbaijan. AZAD’s leadership has called for financial and travel sanctions on Azerbaijani officials implicated in serious violation of rights and liberties of citizens and corruption scandals.
Neglect of democracy
David Kramer: "The goal is to raise the issue of democracy to the level of security and energy cooperation."
David Kramer, the former US Assistant Secretary of State, currently working as a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the US Marshall Fund, began his speech by mentioning the recent events in Kirgizstan and warning about the consequence of US foreign policy focusing solely on maintaining good relations with an authoritarian regime at the expense of support for democratic development.
Noting that Azerbaijan has been an important US ally in the energy and security areas, he emphasized that the support for democracy has been neglected. “The goal is not to bring down the existing cooperation in these areas, but to raise the issue of democracy to the level of security and energy cooperation”, said Mr. Kramer. He also quoted the recent negative statements by the Azerbaijani president's administration directed at the United States as a sign of a decline in US-Azerbaijani relations...
Clothilde Le Coz: Government's charges against Azerbaijani journalists are nonsense.
Clothilde Le Coz, Washington Director of Reporters Without Borders, started her speech by pointing out that Azerbaijan placed itself on 146th place among 155 nations on the international ranking for the tolerance to free speech. "That is very bad," said Le Coz, and continued her speech by analyzing the repressive policies of the Azerbaijani government with respect to the representatives of the independent media in the country. The speaker mentioned Eynulla Fatullayev, Ganimat Zahid, Mirza Sakit, Agil Khalil among the journalists who suffered from the repression of the regime in Azerbaijan.
She also pointed out that the same repression hit the youth activists, the bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli. Le Coz said the charges brought against those bloggers were open nonsense: "Those charges are... just nonsense, an open nonsense," said the speaker.
Bloggers Case and Moral Responsibility
Dr. Uliana Gabara: US universities have a sense of moral responsibility to defend the rights of alumni members who struggle for ideals of freedom in other countries.
Dr. Uliana Gabara, the professor of University of Richmond, noted that one of the arrested bloggers - Adnan Hajizade- was the student of that university. The speaker said that after the news about the arrest of Adnan Hajizade reached the University of Richmond, there was an overwhelming sense of moral responsibility. Here was a student who studied the democratic values in his political science studies at the University of Richmond, and he simply tried to put to practice what he learned during his studies. Here is the case of a person who took the things taught to him at the university seriously and he was punished for cherishing values which were instilled to him during his studies at a US educational facility.
Dr. Gabara noted that the university newspaper itself, spearheaded by activist international students, put a pressure on the university to stand up for its alumni. Dr. Gabara spoke about the initiative of 16 professors of the University of Richmond to appeal to the Azerbaijani government to release the bloggers from jail.
Speaking about the hooliganism charges against the bloggers, Dr. Gabara pointed out that hooliganism was "catch-all," "gotcha" charge typical for the communist dictatorships during the Cold War era. The speaker told that she knew that because she had a background of living in one of such countries in Eastern Europe during the Cold War era. Dr. Gabara expressed her surprise to the fact that the regime in post-Communist Azerbaijan had still not changed the labeling practices of its communist predecessor and was following an all too familiar line to arrest the political dissidents. "Don't they have some American lobbyist advisers to tell them not to do that?" asked the speaker.
Elmar Chakhtakhtinski: "The true national interests of the world’s strongest democracy should not be held hostage by a corrupt dictatorship"
On behalf of his organization, AZAD’s Chairman, Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, proposed a more consistent and increased pressure on Azerbaijani government in regards to human rights and democratic development. Mr. Chakhtakhtinski said that the US government, Congress, media and public organizations can play a big role in this process by keeping democracy on top of US foreign policy agenda towards Azerbaijan.
He suggested that the US Congress should consider imposing financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the Azeri officials implicated in serious violations of human rights and corruption scandals, similar to the ones imposed by the EU on Belarus government, and the top US and other Western officials should avoid expressing positive opinions and high profile contacts with Azeri leadership...