This wasn’t only a good weekend for Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey; Azerbaijan’s ruling New Azerbaijan Party also won big in that country’s parliamentary elections yesterday, taking a majority of the seats in the parliament. New Azerbaijan (Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası in Azeri, a close-ish linguistic relative of Turkish) is the party of President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the country since 2003 on a staunchly pro-“Ilham Gonna Get Ilham’s” platform:
The President of Azerbaijan has been compared to a mafia crime boss in US diplomatic cables, and is referred to as a dictator by many analysts. What is clear is that the Aliyev family has been systematically grabbing shares of the most profitable businesses in the country. This year, investigative reports by OCCRP and Radio Free Europe revealed for the first time well-documented evidence that his family has secret ownership stakes in the country’s largest businesses including bank, construction companies, gold mines and phone companies. They also secretly amassed property abroad in places like the Czech Republic.
While Erdoğan’s victory, or at least the size of it, came as a surprise to many people who pay attention to Turkey (me included), nobody should be surprised that New Azerbaijan won handily. That’s what happens when your country’s main opposition parties decide to boycott the election, mostly because state TV is in the habit of giving the ruling party free airtime while charging every other party for comparable services. Azerbaijan under Aliyev is a human rights black hole, routinely jailing opposition figures, journalists, and pretty much anybody else who gets under Aliyev’s skin. Even international election observers, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has never certified a single one of Azerbaijan’s elections since it became independent in 1991 as “free and fair,” decided to boycott this vote after Aliyev’s government refused to allow them to bring in enough observers to actually do their job. This makes this insistence by state media outlet Trend News Agency kind of darkly funny in its own way:
After an ocean of negativity, which once again poured stinking puddle over the pages of the Western media in anticipation of election in Azerbaijan, the country has replied to all the spiteful critics with facts, which was often the case.
Here are the facts – all observation missions from the EU, US, Russia, Israel, CIS countries, TURKPA (the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries), the GUAM (Organization for Democracy and Economic Development), as well as other countries, unanimously agreed that the election was absolutely democratic, transparent and fair.
Yes, all the observation missions who didn’t refuse to observe the vote because they were blocked by the government from doing so properly agreed that everything in this election, in which the opposition wasn’t allowed to have free TV time like the ruling party was, and so eventually wound up boycotting, was just swell. Ah, democracy!
Azerbaijan’s economy is struggling, thanks to low oil prices. Corruption is high, as you might expect in a country whose president has been in office for 12 years and reportedly owns millions of dollars worth of luxury real estate all over the world (wait, no, he doesn’t own that real estate; his 11 year old son does). And Aliyev has a disturbing habit of rattling his saber about war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region whenever he needs a little political boost.
Ethnic conflict, including alleged ethnic cleansing, between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is ~95% ethnically Armenian but is considered Azerbaijani territory, flared up in 1988, when both nations were still Soviet republics, and carried on through the breakup of the USSR (when it became a full-blown war) and into 1994, when it was sort of frozen in place by a Russian-led ceasefire. In 1991, the people living in Nagorno-Karabakh voted in a referendum to secede from Azerbaijan and become part of Armenia, but that obviously went nowhere. The precarious status of the region has never really been addressed, and today it exists as a de facto independent region inside Azerbaijan. There’s a lot of pressure in Armenia to annex the place, while Aliyev insists he’ll never allow that and, like I said, periodically threatens military action either internally, to bring the area back under his control, or externally, against Armenia, or both. It would not be at all surprising to wake up one morning and find out that another Armenian-Azerbaijani war had broken out overnight, so that’s why Azerbaijan’s repressive and therefore unstable political situation bears watching.
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