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AZERBAIJAN


  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 7,124 6,090 5,600 102
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 810 710 650 146
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 367 - (26/02/12)

Despite the Azeri government’s fears that the Arab Spring might spread to Baku, President Ilham Aliyev’s position looks safe for now, but a spat with Iran over its alleged involvement in a terror plot against Azari public figures is turning up the heat in the region.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in January says fears that pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world might spread to Azerbaijan have fuelled a crackdown on dissent.

At a United Nations press conference to mark the release of the HRW ‘World Report 2012', the group's UN advocacy director, Philippe Bolopion, said opposition demonstrations held last year in Azerbaijan – which has recently become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council – were met with increasingly harsh measures by the government of President Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijan's human rights record has "deteriorated".

"Azerbaijan is now in the Security Council, and it's one of these countries, I think, where the government has felt very threatened by the Arab Spring – as have many other authoritarian governments around the word," Bolopion said. "But in Azerbaijan, when people started taking their anger to the street, the crackdown was quite swift and, at times, brutal."

Bolopion said that the same thing was happening in many other authoritarian countries where regimes have reacted to the Arab Spring by revoking people's rights.

"There is no doubt many countries have looked at what is happening in the region and have not always taken the right lessons from it," Bolopion said. "Meaning that they think that cracking down is the best way to quell dissent, even though it's not worked for many governments in the Middle East."

Bolopion's comments came two weeks after five opposition parties in Azerbaijan joined forces, signalling a political shift. Leaders of the Classical Popular Front, Aydinlar, the Open Society party, the Liberal Democratic Party and Azadliq – none of which hold any seats in parliament – met on January 12 in Baku to officially create a new Resistance Movement for a Democratic Society.

But the parties' aims differ and it’s not certain that they represent any real challenge to Aliyev. Akmad Oruc, head of Azadliq, is chairman of Union in the Name of Democracy, a consultation body that was founded in 2007. He says the new movement has banded in an effort to reform election legislation and create conditions for holding democratic elections, but former parliamentary speaker Rasul Quliyev, who leads the Open Society Party, says that his and his supporters’ main priorities are resolving the Karabakh conflict and fighting corruption.

Their differences don't stop there. In late December 2010 – two months after elections in which Azerbaijan's mainstream opposition parties lost their tiny handful of parliament mandates – defeated parliamentary candidates decided to create a new Civic Movement for Democracy or Public Chamber. The idea behind the Chamber is to gather opposition groups and figures in order to promote democracy. In contrast to the new Resistance Movement, the Public Chamber brings together several of the largest players among the opposition, including Azerbaijan Popular Front leader Ali Kerimli, former opposition parliament deputy Panah Huseyn, the author of a "road map" for a peaceful transition to democracy, and respected Islamic cleric Ilgar Ibragimoglu.

While Quliyev and the head of the Classical Popular Front Party, Mirmahmud Miralioglu both say they will cooperate with the Public Chamber, Oruc has been disparaging of the Musavat Party, which is one of the most prominent forces within the Chamber.

In early January, Musavat party leader Isa Qambar said that the Chamber might call for the resignation of President Ilham Aliyev, while Kerimli argued, "regime change in Azerbaijan must become our basic slogan."

Given these differences of opinion and political goals it's uncertain whether the Chamber or the Resistance Movement for a Democratic Society will be able to effectively challenge Aliyev.

In the meantime, rogue elements are presenting a security threat to the government and straining the country’s relations with Iran. On January 19, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry (MNS) said that it had uncovered a terror group that was plotting to assassinate public figures. According to the ministry, Azerbaijani citizens Rasim Aliyev, Ali Huseynov, and Balaqardash Dadashov got their hands on firearms and explosives in Iran, where Dadashov lives, and brought them over to Azerbaijan illegally. The ministry also said that Dadashov was in contact with Iranian special servicemen. Azerbaijani security officers detained the two Azerbaijanis, but the Iranian is still in his home country.

Azeri-Iranian relations have long been fraught over the large ethnic Azeri minority in northern Iran and the exposure of this terror plot has created an aggressive standoff. Azerbaijan, which has a secular government, has friendly relations with Israel and the US, and Iran has accused Azerbaijan of helping Israeli assassins. In particular, the government has accused Azerbaijan of allowing the safe passage of Israeli secret servicemen that it claims were responsible for the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.

On 11 January, an Iranian university professor working at a key nuclear facility was killed in a bomb explosion, the latest in a series of assassinations and attempted killings linked by the country's authorities to a secret war by Israel and the US to stop the development of what Tehran insists would be a peaceful nuclear capability.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran, died after two assailants on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to his car, according to Fars news agency.

Iran is reeling and on February 13, Azeri ambassador to Iran, Cavansir Akhundov, was summoned by Iranian officials in Tehran and told that "some of the terrorists linked with the terror of Iranian scientists" had travelled to Azerbaijan and then on to Israel "for co-operation with the spying network of the Zionist regime".

Azerbaijan denied the accusation and Azeri foreign ministry spokesman, Elman Abdullayev, said that Iran’s stance was an "absurd reaction" to Azerbaijan's protest over the alleged plot by Iranian agents to kill Israelis in Azerbaijan.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is caught in the middle of the West’s plans to impose sanctions on Iran. Western governments are trying to isolate the state and starve it of oil revenues, but in doing so, Western companies operating in Azerbaijan stand to lose out.

In recent weeks, British and European Union officials have lobbied US lawmakers to ensure that any new Iran sanctions exempt a $20 billion BP-led Azerbaijan natural gas project – Shah Deniz II – in which Iranian company Naftiran Intertrade has a 10 per cent stake. The Shah Deniz II natural gas project is critical to EU energy security and it looks as though the West won’t be able to impose sanctions on Iran without going out of pocket or looking like a hypocrite.

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