REPRESENTING AZERBAIJAN AS TOLERANT COUNTRY ̶ FACT DISTORTING REALITY AND PAST HISTORY: Hayk Torosyan
YEREVAN, MAY 30, ARMENPRESS. On May 17, 2014, an interview with the Israeli expert in international relations Arye Gut was published on the website of the Azerbaijani newspaper Baku Post, where he claims that Azerbaijan "is the most tolerant country in the world and a true model of intercivilizational and interreligious dialogue".
This statement by the Israeli expert does not correspond to reality and the policy pursued by the Azerbaijani authorities not only in relation to some of its neighboring countries, but also to its own citizens. This is evidenced by a recent interview with the US Ambassador in Baku Richard Morningstar given to the Radio Azadlig, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the policy of the state authorities for the "violation of human rights, suppression of democratic freedoms, harassment of civil society in Azerbaijan". The US Ambassador criticized the Azerbaijani leadership for litigations, appellate proceedings and attacks on journalists, inspections and oppression of people working in NGOs. Mr. Morningstar urged not to "pull the plug" on civil society, since such a policy increases the likelihood of recurrence of Maidan, if not right now, then in five or ten years.
The numerous reports of authoritative international organizations is another example refuting the statements about tolerance in Azerbaijan. According to the international human rights organization Freedom House, Azerbaijan is a not free country, where people are being persecuted for participating in anti-government rallies, and journalists are attacked with impunity and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of drug trafficking, ethnic hatred, treason and hooliganism. Another authoritative organization Reporters Without Borders claims that Azerbaijan is the Land of Repression that takes the 160th place out of the 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index, and President Ilham Aliyev is a "predator" of the press freedom, who eliminated almost all pluralism in the country. "No fewer than ten journalists, like many bloggers are in prison, and on May 15 a journalist and human rights activist Parvez Hashimli was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges of "receiving" and "illegal sale of arms". "The statement of the organization also reports on the correspondent of the independent Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo Rauf Mirkadirov who on April 18, 2014, was arrested on charges of spying for Armenia, and deported to Azerbaijan from Turkey, where he has settled down in the last three years. After a search was conducted by an investigation team on the case of Mirkadirov in the house of his parents, the journalist’s father Habibulla Mirkadirov, who was 84 years old, unable to withstand the stress in connection with the arrest of his son and the search degrading his dignity, suddenly died.
In relation to the case of Mirkadirov, human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were detained on April 28 at the Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku before boarding the plane right near the ramp, despite the fact that the Yunus spouses were being escorted to the airport by the Ambassadors of France and the United States. The detention was carried out during the departure of the Yunus couple abroad for attendance to an EU event in Brussels. As a result of the arrest Arif Yunus, whose mother was Armenian, was brought to a pre-heart-attack condition, and many hours of search of the Yunus family’s apartment according to the public video statement of Leyla Yunus posted on YouTube was accompanied by an unprecedented in the civilized societies in its ferocity watch kept by the police by the toilet while the lady was in the bathroom, and with promises in response to her complaints to the Chief of Baku’s Yasamal district Police Department to "kill Armenian women and drink their blood”.
The intolerance of the Azerbaijani state is proved not only in the given episode, but also in the policy of xenophobia carried out against the Armenians. The instigation of anti-Armenian sentiments among the Azerbaijani people recently takes more open misanthropic forms. To achieve its goals, the Azerbaijani leadership pursues a policy of massive bribery of foreign experts by financing anti-Armenian actions and fomenting armenophobic sentiments with public declarations of the world Armenians as enemies of Azerbaijan and by the praise of the Azerbaijani state. A symptomatic example of intolerance and Armenophobia is the phenomenon of heroization of Ramil Safarov, who on ethnic grounds at night with cruelty beheaded his sleeping Armenian course mate with an ax during the NATO "Partnership for Peace" program in Budapest on February 19, 2004, and was awarded for this brutal murder by President Aliyev, which caused outrage and condemnation of the leaders of a number of states and international organizations. Particularly, the fact of heroization of the Azerbaijani ax- executioner was denounced by the US President Barack Obama, and the European Parliament adopted a special resolution condemning the decision of the Hungarian authorities to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan, as well as the pardon and praising of the killer in his homeland.
Other examples of intolerance of the Azerbaijani society are facts of burning by the crowds of the Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli’s book "Stone Dreams", and mass demonstrations with the calls to cut the ears of their compatriot for telling the truth about the Armenian children and women doused with gasoline on the streets of Baku in 1990 and set on fire to the applause of the rioters, which were throwing feeble old men and women from the upper floors of the high-rise buildings of Baku, in order to seize their apartments and property.
Also hardly may the manipulative attempts ‒ to involve the Jewish Diaspora in instigating anti-Armenian sentiments by presenting graves of the slaughtered in 1918 Armenians with the burial of the Jews massacred by the Armenians – be considered as a manifestation of tolerance. While residents of Guba in accordance with the Turkish sources became victims of military expedition in 1918 of the Caucasian Islamic Army of Nuri Pasha with the engagement of the Turkish troops and the Caucasian Tatars’ (nowadays Azerbaijanis) gangs, which resulted in the seizure of Guba, then primarily populated by non-Turkic peoples of different faiths, and the subsequent massacre of thousands of the Armenians in Baku.
It should also be noted that as a result of intolerant and armenophobic policy of the Azerbaijani authorities, numbering about 300 thousand by 1990 the Armenian community of Baku, which cohabited peacefully with all the national minorities of the city and played a prominent role in the economic and cultural life of Azerbaijan, due to the massacres ceased its existence.
Summing up, it should be emphasized that against the background of the growing anti-democratic and repressive policy of the Azerbaijani authorities against the political opposition and civil society of the country, xenophobia in its extremely misanthropic manifestations – the publications by foreign experts praising the tolerance of the Azerbaijani authorities not only further reduce the level of democracy in the country, but also undermine efforts of the international community to promote peace and stability in the region.
Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Ministry of Defense, Republic of Armenia, PhD in Political Science, Master of Global Journalism, MAGJ ‒ Örebro University, Sweden