Azerbaijan’s Government Attacks European Principles of Parliamentarism

Illustrated with a charismatic picture of an Azerbaijani civil servant, the Azerbaijan press agency APA reported on 22.2.2017 on a new case for them. Plese see the original text of this press agency release here:

———————————————————————

Prosecutor General’s Office: „A criminal case was launched against members of the European Parliament“

Azerbaijan has announced an international arrest warrant for European Parliament members (EP) Frank Engel (Luxembourg), Eleni Teoharus (Cyprus) and Jaromir Stetin (Czech Republic) for the monitoring of the „referendum“ in Nagorno Karabakh, spokesperson of the Prosecutor General’s Office Eldar Sultanov told APA.

Azerbaijani General Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings against the foreigners who have committed an illegal visit the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, also sent a corresponding request to Interpol for their announcement on the international wanted list, said on Wednesday the press service of the Prosecutor General.

“A criminal case has been launched against the members of the European Parliament under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code for repeated illegal visit to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, in particular, on suspicion of illegal visit to Nagorno Karabakh to participate in the so-called “referendum” as the “observers” on February 20,” Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

In addition, the accused European parliamentarians charged for conducting propaganda of seperatist entity called „Nagorno Karabakh Republic“, illegal participation in the activities organized in those territories, and presenting illegal entity in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan as an independent republic.

“The court decided to arrest F.Engel, E.Teoharus and J. Stetin and they have been declared internationally wanted through Interpol,” the report says.


This constitutes an incredible attack on European parliamentarism. Three Members of European Parliament went as observers to a referendum. There were around 100 international observers at the constitutional referendum in Nagtrono-Karabakh from 20.2.2017, according to the result of the referendum now called Artsakh, which should regulate the circumstances how the people there live in the future. Artsakh is not recognised by any other country, but it works together with institutions all over the world (like e.g. Kosovo  in a phase of its history) and, in a strong contrast to Azerbaijan itself, it can be considered to be, in grosso modo, a democratic community, which in the region maight be topped only by Georgia. This is a positive sign, but for the Azerbaijan government it seems to be a bad sign: They do not let their people live in a freedom like it is the case in the disputed territory of Artsakh. There no state harrassment is known to bloggers, critical journalists, opposition members etc., as it is the case in Azerbaijan, who even has managed institutions in the EU to have compiled a list of their political prisoners. Azerbaijan, after all, is not only the most corrupt regime among the Council of Europe Member States, but it is also the most repressive, where it seems to have doubled now Belarus. Only their brother state Turkey has has imprsoned more journalists at present, but it has also more than 10 x the population.

What can the EU do?

The three arrtest warrants are, of course, ridiculous. They also include that the accused European parliamentarians [are] charged for conducting propaganda of seperatist entity called „Nagorno Karabakh Republic“. This is a propaganda notion like e.g. in Turkey  „terrorism“ is used for opposition members, or as it was used in Soviet times, but definitely not in an open society. And it should be reminded that OSCE was compelled to cancel their own observer mission for the Azeri parliamentary elections in autumn 2015 (see also  http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan/181611).

The warrants might be enforced by states who „just want to do a favour“ towards Azerbaijan. Belarus did so some weeks ago in the case of the Russian-Israeli blogger Lapchin who was extradited to Azerbaijan (…just to have some conversations with the police…“). This would be an incredible violation of free parliamentarism. Any European parliamentarian, and not only in the EU parliament, has the right to observe whatever  election or vote may be held anywhere in the world, if he was invited (which was the case). I have to add, also if not. To observe an election or a general vote like a referendum is a good tradition among democracies or not-so-advanced democracies, anyway it is a good sign for popular vote and people’s power. That this is attacked under the pretexts used by the Azeri government is an incredible attack on free parliamentarism. This should be solved under political auspices only, by discussions, debates, parliamentary actions. The fact that Azerbaijan reduced their actions to criminal procedures shows only the nervousness of a regime who cold not do anything – due to their commitment to gas and oil extracrtion only and a lack of economic diversification – against an economic and monetary downturn, and who did not really manage to overcome the disparities between the capital and rural  areas. Instead of this, it buys arms by the billions (euros) from Russia and exercises regularly a belligerous language aganist their neighbour. It is the European country with the worst state branding policy, with a too transparant „caviar diplomacy“ and corruption towards third countries as well – see the present investigation in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly member Volonté who is under suspicion to have got 2,4 mill. euro from Azerbaijan sources.

The EU could – and should – after all, besides a clear resolution by the European Parliament, first suspend all talks with the Azeri government until the arrest warrants would be withdrawn formally.

If necessary, it can approach all third country governments and ask them whether they will follow to implement this international arrest warrant by Azerbaijan. This should be confirmed by any other government, as it is not clear if legal procedures will be correct in some of these states – see the extradition of Lapchin from Belarus. This should be launched in an official diplomatic note. It is a chance to enhance EU common foreign policy – and also European parliamentarism, which cannot be forced to meet the level of what is consicdered as parliamentarism by Azerbaijan.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

 

 

As Election Observer in Nagorno-Karabakh – Now it is the „Solidarity of Democrats“ in the EU which is required

Democracy is precious, and its tools and instruments like elections should become precious, too, wherever they are held. In the week around the 19.7.2012 I seized the occasion in being a part of the Presidential election observation mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, the long embattled piece of land with approx. 145.000 citizens, and its capital Stepanakert (54.000 pop.). I was embedded in an observer mission of the European Friends of Armenia (EuFoA), a Brussels-based organisation (www.eufoa.org) which has also a branch office in Yerevan/Armania. The observer mission was composed of eight people including one Cypriot Member of European Parliament, and under the gentle conduction of Dr Michael Kambeck, the Secretary General of EuFoA. I am not amember of EuFoA, nor was ever partisan for one of the conflict camps, and I worked as government advisor in all three South Caucasus countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

Just for the memory: Nagorno-Karabakh has often changed its rulers in the last centuries. It was another strange decision by Stalin to leave the territory populated mainly by Armenians to Azerbaijan, and this one day after he decided that it should be attached to Armenia. Since 1988 there were concrete problems between Azeris and Armenians which culminated in a referendum that the region should be tending towards Armenia. A cruel war followed, which concretely was started by Azerbaijan, and which cost ten thousands of lives. The Azeris‘ first success in this war led to Armenian resistance, and since a ceasefire in 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh lives in relative peace, except several border skirmishes evidently provoked by Azeri troops where several soldiers from both sides have been killed at the ceasefire line and at the border. But this is not about the histroy, bt about a possible end of this conflict. Since then, the OSCE (Minsk Group) tries to bring both sides to a peaceful settlement. Armenia is ready to the Minsk Group’s proposals.

To make it short: Despite minor shortcomings which may lead to some improvements of the Election Law, e.g. on the sealing of ballot boxes etc., this election was held in an excellent and free and fair athmosphere. The incumbent president of NK who was elected with about 80% some years ago was reelected with 66,7%. I spotchecked people on the streets and was even able to predict this result (2/3 vs. 1/3). This time as a first there was an alternative who gained 32,5%, and a third candidate got 0,8%. The proceedings in the polling stations were extremely well organised, as well the counting where a part of us was present during the whole counting procedure. All which was said against the elections was in one complaint of a voter who did not show his – compulsory – passport to the polling station staff but its photocopy, and was therefore refused to take part. There was no „voting carrousel“ bringing by bus mainly soldiers or likewise from one polling station to the next …, there were lists of all voters outside all polling stations and a voter could vote only there. There is no correspondence vote in NK, which for sure will be discussed in the future. All in all, these elections have been a full democratic success, not only for formal reasons, but also as the electorate could really choose between different policies, approaches and persons.

The next step is the solidarity of democrats. In the EU, we do not yet recognize NK diplomatically. There may be for some EU Member States subjective reasons for it, but it’s clear and proven at the latest now that NK is a democratic community, sharing  the values of Europeans, as stipulated e.g. in article 2 EU Treaty or the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is in sharp contrast to the system of Azerbaijan where President Ilham Aliev who obtained this post from his father was responsible for the giant flop of marching the police against peaceful youth demonstrators just some days before the Eurovision Song Contest. There is no month in the last years where there is not a press release of OSCE against the Baku government, demanding the release of journalists, bloggers, youth NGOs, demonstrators (against the expulsions from homes needed for the ESC Palace) etc. Sometimes one of them is released, but we know authentically and directly from reports of youth NGOs that they were and are often haunted by plainclothes policemen who threaten and intimidate them. This is no democracy, and if the Council of Europe would act it should freeze the membership of Azerbaijan – or exercizes influence on the government and administration of this country, which by the way is probably the most corrupt one within the Council of Europe Member States.

I’m sorry that this country – with the income of its oil and gas industry -buys also heavy arms in an unprecedented way. Only recently, the Azeri President boasted in a 25.6.2012 address at the national Higher Military School’s graduation ceremony: „Military expenditure is our biggest budget item. Over the past few years our military spending has increased more than 20 times”, adding that the current armed forces budget of $3.6 billion is 50 percent more than Armenia’s total expenditure. These contexts have to taken into account of the European Union, and while Armenia cooperates excellently with the EU in the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, this is by far not the case with Azerbaijan. And in this situation, the Karabakhis vote in a picture book way a president and give an example to all other Caucasus election systems.

For all details, please see the original report on the election observation mission: http://www.eufoa.org/newsroom/179/51/Interim-conclusion-of-the-Electoral-Observation-Mission-of-the-Nagorno-Karabakh-Presidential-Election . There will also be reports about Nagorno-Karabakh in „European Union Foreign Affairs Journal“ and about the election observation mission on the homepage of LIBERTAS – European Institute (www.libertas-institut.com). We already published an article by Fazil Zeynalov in EUFAJ 2/2010, p. 40, about „The conflict in Nagorny-Karabakh and the fundamental principles of international law“, from an Azeri point of view, see http://www.libertas-institut.com/de/EUFAJ/no2_2010.pdf).

For once, the European Union should show its teeth. The EU is a global player and should sometimes let others feel its soft power. We have European values, and those who are in European organisations must comply to the rules. Otherwise they should take into account the fate of Belarus which is not in the Council of Europe, because of its undemocratic policy. Nobody can afford in today’s globalized world to remain isolated anymore. Nagorno-Karabakh has delivered, and now it is the Europeans’turn.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka,

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal