Call for peace sparks violence.
Azerbaijan has reached a deal with Israel to buy the Iron Dome air defense system, a senior Azerbaijani government official has announced. But questions remain over how useful the celebrated system really is for Azerbaijan and whether it would be worth the cost.
Over the last couple of months, there have been a number of reports that a deal like this was in the works, and last month this blog featured a post on how those reports probably weren’t true. There are technical reasons that the Iron Dome won’t do what Azerbaijan wants. And the state-of-the-art system would be a budget buster for Azerbaijan, which has been forced by falling oil prices to slash expenditures, not least on the military.
Cursing the president online has become a criminal offense in Azerbaijan, an ex-Soviet republic that is big on energy, but, critics say, short on freedom. On November 30, the Azerbaijani parliament amended the country’s criminal code to protect the long-serving President Ilham Aliyev from online insults, defamation and trolls.
Azerbaijan already had a ban in place against online defamation, but, ever solicitous about the country’s 54-year-old ruler, the general prosecutor’s office apparently felt the need to prohibit the online “defamation, and derogation of honor and dignity” of the president as well.
Violations of the new amendment will be subject to a fine of up to 1,000 manats ($570) or two years of community service or two years in prison, depending on the instance.
With an array of new, domestically produced weapons, including sniper rifles, machine guns, armed drones, and armored vehicles, Azerbaijan is showcasing its arms industry amid growing tensions with neighboring Armenia.
Much of the attention on Azerbaijan’s growing military has focused on the country’s weapons purchases from abroad, notably from Russia and Israel. But the country also has been steadily building up its indigenous production capabilities. The new wares were on display at the country’s defense exposition, ADEX-2016, at the end of September.
“Today, the Azerbaijani army is one of the strongest armies in the region,” the country’s Minister of Defense Industry, Yavar Jamalov, said at the expo’s opening. “Today’s event is a good example of that.”
When it comes to the spat between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his one-time ally-turned mortal rival Fethullah Gulen, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev long ago decided it was best to observe the rule that my best friend’s enemy is my enemy, too.
And following a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 that Erdogan argues Gulen organised, this means the days of Gulen-linked institutions in Azerbaijan are effectively finished.
The gradual phasing out of organisations inspired by the controversial Islamic theoretician and educator in the South Caucasus country began at least two years ago, after once-friendly relations between Gulen and Erdogan suddenly soured dramatically.
When Armenia joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2015, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan justified the decision in part by asserting that membership would enhance Armenia’s national security. But, as the early April flare-up in fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory showed, such security benefits are more theoretical than real.
Armenia is ostensibly Russia’s closest strategic ally in the South Caucasus. Yet the intense fighting in Karabakh helped focus public attention on an issue that has rankled Armenians – Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. Armenia officially lost 92 soldiers in the four days of fighting. The fact that Russian-supplied arms played a role in those deaths has become a source of bitterness for Armenians.
“It is naturally painful for us when Russia, and not only Russia, but other CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) member states, sell arms to Azerbaijan,” Sargsyan said in early April while on a visit to Germany.
Two days before her 40th birthday, Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was released from prison on May 25. Questions persist about the Azerbaijani government’s motivation for the release, and whether it portends a loosening of restrictions on civil liberties at home and improved relations with the United States and European Union.
International critics and Ismayilova herself, an internationally celebrated freelance journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the anti-corruption watchdog OCCRP, had maintained that her imprisonment was politically motivated, retribution for her investigations into shady business practices by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family.
In a country like Azerbaijan, where the judiciary does not have a reputation for independence, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court’s ruling to free Ismayilova is widely seen as coming at the behest, or at least with the blessing of, the government. On appeal, the high court suspended the journalist’s seven-and-a-half-year sentence on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement, and placed her on three-and-a- half-year probation for alleged illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion.
Azerbaijani authorities are using spurious drug charges to pursue long prison sentences against two youth activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The charges apparently are in retaliation for painting graffiti on a monument. The authorities should immediately free them and investigate credible allegations that they were ill-treated in police custody.
Giyas Ibrahimov, 22, and Bayram Mammadov, 21, were detained on May 10, 2016. On May 12, the Khatai district court ordered them held in pretrial detention for four months. The men were denied access to their lawyer until shortly before the May 12 hearing. During the hearing, the men described abuse and ill-treatment in police custody and the court agreed to investigate the allegations. If convicted they face up to 12 years in prison and confiscation of property.
“Azerbaijan has a sad history of fabricating drug charges against youth activists to intimidate them and deter others from following suit,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “Ibrahimov and Mammadov are the latest blatant examples of this government tactic to suppress dissent.”
Three high-ranking Armenian military and defense officials have been fired amid growing recriminations about the performance of the country’s armed forces in what has come to be called the “four-day war” with Azerbaijan earlier this month.
The officials included a top Ministry of Defense procurement official, as well as the head of intelligence at the general staff and the head of communications at the MoD. Part of the reason: the officials were believed to be using budget funds meant for military procurements for their own personal use, reported the newspaper Zhoghovurd, citing the president’s office.