Azerbaijan Finds The Washington Post, and Washington, Hard to Read

Baku, Azerbaijan (EAN) – Looks like someone needs to tell Azerbaijan that The Washington Post is not Pravda. Getting the concept of free media straight might, if nothing else, spare the Azerbaijani government lots of hard feelings about American foreign policy.

On August 16, Azerbaijan’s main pro-government news services trumpeted an anonymous essay, published a few days earlier by the Azerbaijani legislature’s newspaper, that had proclaimed that The Washington Post is allegedly “violating a ceasefire” between the US and Azerbaijan.

No such formal “ceasefire” exists, of course. The issue is that Baku believes recent meetings with US officials — in particular, visits by Special Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein — signal that Washington is willing to drop the criticism of Azerbaijan’s civil right record and focus on the hydrocarbons that bind the two countries together.

But then the Post, apparently seen in Baku as one of the US government’s “main mouthpieces,” comes along and slams the trial of prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, conflict analyst Arif Yunus, as a “travesty of justice.” And the newspaper Azerbaijan, which is, indeed, an official mouthpiece, claims it can’t make head or tail of the criticism.

A court in Baku on August 13 sentenced the couple to eight and a half and seven years in jail, respectively, on criminal charges of alleged tax evasion and fraud, among other alleged irregularities. Outraged international human rights advocates argue that the couple’s conviction is nothing other than punishment for activism that rubbed President Ilham Aliyev’s government the wrong way.

The State Department said it was “deeply troubled” by the sentences, yet it was the Post’s criticism that really hit home with Azerbaijan’s resolutely pro-government mainstream media. Clearly, Washington just can’t kick the big-brother habit, the Azerbaijani essay’s logic goes.

But this is not just the case of a writer who has never heard of Watergate or the Pentagon Papers, and thinks US media is a docile appendage to the State Department. With the Azerbaijani government indeed using lapdog media to spell out its views to local and international audiences alike, op-eds like this show what a shaky grasp the country’s elite has of the workings of independent media. And for this reason, Baku finds Washington hard to read.

Washington, in the meantime, may not even have been aware that it was perceived to be on a war footing with Baku, let alone progressing toward rapprochement.

And it is not just the case of the US. The essay posits that Downing Street has got to be coordinating somehow The Guardian’s critical coverage of the Yunus case or of the Azerbaijani government’s response to the fatal attack on sportswriter Rasim Aliyev.

Annoyed, Azerbaijan newspaper claimed it’s keeping a running tally of such coverage. Now it has another editorial to add to the list.  The Yunus couple is doomed “to rot in jail at the whim of a ruthless autocrat,” another Washington Post editorial argued on August 16.

Washington Post Image Source: Esther Vargas, Flickr, Creative Commons

Washington Post
Image Source: Esther Vargas, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Post should expect to receive a diplomatic note soon from Azerbaijan’s pro-government media.

Written by Giorgi Lomsadze.

Originally published by EurasiaNet.org