The National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), a collection of Azerbaijani opposition groups, held a rally on October 28 in a stadium in the capital, Baku. Approximately 1,000 people attended the government-sanctioned demonstration, for which the slogan was “No to Robbery.” The rally is the latest in a string of events which have upset the positive image Azerbaijan and its president, Ilham Aliyev, seek to project abroad.
The NCDF primarily used the rally to highlight the perceived corruption of the 14-year rule of Aliyev, who became president shortly before his father’s death in 2003. They accused the president of not using “oil revenues efficiently [which…] deprives Azerbaijanis from benefiting from oil billions.” The opposition’s longstanding accusations were given additional heft earlier this year when the Guardian uncovered a £2.9 billion ($3.8 billion) trail of money allegedly used to purchase luxury goods and secure influence with members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The government of Azerbaijan has largely ignored the criticism.
Azerbaijan’s international good-will campaign was further damaged by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which passed a resolution stating that it is “concerned about the increasing number of reports of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms… in Azerbaijan.” In an interview with Russian state-owned news organization Sputnik Azerbaijan, Alyiev denied the allegations, saying, “All democratic norms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan without exception.”
The drama continues, as only a few days after Alyiev’s Sputnik interview, allegations emerged that Azerbaijan had abused Interpol’s alert system. According to Radio Free Europe, Azerbaijani authorities issued an alert via the system which declared Furket Huseynli, an Azerbaijani opposition journalist in self-imposed exile since 2006, guilty of “fraud, falsification of documents, and illegal migration.” Ukraine’s Border Guard Service voluntarily obeyed this alert and arrested Huseynli as he boarded a flight to Germany. Though a Ukrainian judge later released him on bail, Huseynli’s arrest prompted PACE and other human rights organizations to denounce it as an abuse of Interpol.
It remains to be seen whether the increase in international attention towards the situation in Azerbaijan will affect the lengthy, stable rule of Alyiev. Leading Western nations have hesitated to criticize Alyiev for fear of driving him even closer to Russia and further polarizing the Caucasus region, which lies between Western and Russian-aligned countries.