Media Clampdown in Azerbaijan

by Nathan Hamm on 11/30/2006 · 1 comment

isgeqqh25301106004721photo00.jpgLast week, Azerbaijan’s government stepped up its campaign against independent media and opposition parties by evicting the Popular Front party, the Azadliq newspaper, and Turan from their offices and deciding not to renew the license of ANS.

Back in October, Denise of neweurasia speculated about the reason for clamping down on the press, arguing that it could be a result of power struggles within the government or lack of criticism from the West. Liz Fuller notes in her article on the crackdown that the timing is strange considering recently-signed agreements with the European Union, and she points to evidence that the crackdown may in fact be a result of a split within the government and perhaps designed to discredit President Aliev.

The online daily on November 28 quoted police who participated in the forced eviction of “Azadliq” and Turan from their editorial offices as saying they were acting on orders from the country’s top leadership.

But if true, that admission does not necessarily preclude the possibility that one faction within the leadership may be out to discredit a rival faction, or even President Aliyev personally.

On November 29, ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova publicly called on President Aliyev to allow ANS to resume broadcasting, reported. She argued that the channel’s closure reflects badly on the country’s image.

Whether her statement is corroboration of a split within the leadership, or is part of a broader campaign intended to create the impression that the threat to freedom of speech is not as draconian as some independent journalists fear, remains unclear, however.

Regardless, Denise is right to draw attention to the role Western governments may be unwittingly playing. The US response is little different from the countless other expressions of concern that get released every day. ICG, who regularly does make specific policy proposals, unfortunately does not do so in this case (yet, anyway). And while I am becoming increasingly convinced of the inability of diplomacy to quickly yield much in the way of democratization, it can serve as a tool for better behavior. And there certainly is leverage with Azerbaijan. It certainly leans west, and it has much to gain from pipelines supplying energy to Europe and a closer relationship in general with the West that strengthens its position in relation to both Russia and Iran. It would not be hard to put some actual pressure on Azerbaijan before it really starts looking like the Uzbekistan of Transcaucasia.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

johnnie b. baker November 30, 2006 at 11:35 pm

A message from the embassy –

Warden Message: Possible Disturbances Downtown

A local court has ordered the eviction of the tenants of the Azadlig newspaper building at 33 Khagani Street, in the Baku city center, by Saturday, November 25, at 11:00 AM. Due to the consequent potential for public disturbances or demonstrations, American citizens are urged to avoid the area of 33 Khagani Street.

American citizens are reminded that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of potential demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any planned or unplanned demonstrations.

Unfortunately I was out of the country and couldn’t go, but a friend of mine did and he said the demonstration wasn’t much of anything.

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