WASHINGTON – The name of Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseinov is on the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial near Washington. He is among more than 1,500 journalists from all over the world who have been killed in the line of duty since the middle of the 19th century. Huseinov was an editor of the leading opposition newspaper in Azerbaijan and was gunned down in his apartment in 2005.
Huseinov's death became one of the first in the range of events in 2005 after which Azerbaijan's news media was labeled as “not free,” according to a report by Freedom House,an international human rights organization.
This situation was discussed Thursday at a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Azerbaijan was discussed along with Cuba and Egypt.
Rep. William Delahunt,D-Mass.,the subcommittee chair,said these three countries are examples of regimes from different parts of the world that lack freedom. He pointed out that in all these countries power is inherited within families.
Azerbaijan is ruled by Ilham Aliyev,a son of Heydar Aliyev,who ruled Azerbaijan for about 10 years. Although Ilham Aliyev won the 2003 presidential elections with more than 70 percent of the vote,local representatives of the civil society and small opposition parties said it looked like the son inheriting power from his father.
Ilham Aliyev became the president of one of the Caucasus region's fastest growing economies,due to its oil and gas industry.
But for the last 20 years it has had a conflict with neighboring Armenia. Both claim land that amounts to about 20 percent of what Azerbaijan recognizes at its territory.
After Ilham Aliyev became Azerbaijan's ruler,several events happened that international organizations claimed were human rights violations.
In October 2005,before the November parliamentary elections,a number of former and current senior officials were detained in response to what the regime claimed was a coup attempt. Some experts say it helped Aliyev to consolidate his position among the country's ruling elite.
During the same period,police beat people who were participating in a peaceful demonstration opposing the government. No officers were punished.
Aliyev's party won a majority in the Azerbaijani parliament,known as the Mejlis. After these events,Aliyev met with President Bush in the White House. Some in Azerbaijan and at the hearing interpreted this as the U.S. protecting the ruling regime.
The photo of this meeting was shown during the hearing,along with other photos of Bush's meetings with other controversial rulers,including those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Delahunt said he keeps a collection of such photos in a cabinet. He said they help him to remember how the White House supports such “authoritarian regimes” because of their oil and their support for U.S. policies.
Freedom House pointed to some of the same type of problems.
Its report said Egypt recently held its “most democratic and transparent presidential and legislative elections in more than half a century.” But when “real political competition” emerged,President Hosni Mubarak's government adopted new measures to suppress opposition and imprisoned an opposition presidential candidate.
The U.S. has “retreated” from pushing Egypt toward “its forward leaning policy” because of fears of terrorism,the report says.
Calling Cuba “one of the most repressive regimes in the world,” the report says that human rights activists deserve support from the international community as power is transferred “in a post-Fidel environment.”
Azerbaijan is one of the main partners of the U.S. in energy politics. It sends oil that ends up all over the world through the Baku-Tbilisi-Jeihan pipeline that the U.S. supported politically and with financial guarantees. A future project will deliver gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
Azerbajan is important as it has a common boarder with Iran. This Muslim country is considered as an important ally for the anti-terrorism politics of the U.S.
Morton H. Halperin,a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and former Clinton administration official,said during the hearing that human rights activists in all three countries want the U.S. to support them.
But he said U.S. support can encourage repressive governments in such countries as Iran and Cuba to take measures against the activists.
In addition,he said the U.S. should support countries that have good human rights records.
“In Azerbaijan,we should say that if you improve the situation with human rights,you will get more economic donations,” he said.
In each of the last five years,Azerbaijan has gotten an average of about $73 million from the U.S. government,according to the Congressional Research Service. About 16 percent of this supports democracy assistance.
“We are interested in improving the situation with human rights in our country,and it is the principal position of the top leadership and politicians,” said Araz Azimov,the Azerbaijan deputy minister of foreign affairs,during a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Center the day before the hearing.
“The progress in the human rights is the evolutionary process. It takes many components – economic development,stability in the country,stability of the government,responsibility of the government. All these issues are interrelated.”
Azimov said the situation will improve with the passing years.