Azerbaijan is considering changing the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Baku and has threatened to expel the US-run National Democratic Institute.
It was not immediately clear which aspect of the work by the OSCE, Europe's key peace and democracy-promoting body, had caused Baku's disgruntlement, but an organization representative, speaking from the OSCE's headquarters in Vienna, confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that the organization's mandate in Azerbaijan was under discussion.
In Baku on March 15, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier declared in a released statement that ". . .I am confident that the OSCE will continue its co-operation with Azerbaijan.” He denied reports of government inspections of the OSCE office or other worries.
The OSCE representative in Vienna said that Azerbaijani officials in the past have complained about the OSCE’s record in a range of areas, but that any change in the mandate will not affect the peace negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which are handled by the Minsk Group.
Activities touching on this October's presidential election, in which President Ilham Aliyev will seek a third term, might come to mind as one of the most likely bones of contention. The OSCE in the past has criticized Azerbaijan for poor handling of the electoral process and crackdowns on political dissent. All OSCE-monitored elections in Azerbaijan have fallen short of the organization’s standards.
Whatever the focus of the Azerbaijani government's complaint, the US mission to the OSCE has expressed hope that it will reconsider. “We believe it is in the best interest of the Government of Azerbaijan to continue in good faith and respect the terms of the agreed mandate,” the US mission wrote in a March 14 statement published on its website.
OSCE Secretary-General Zannier commented only that "our joint work has made an important contribution to Azerbaijan's reform efforts."
The OSCE's chief of mission in Baku, Ambassador Koray Targay of Turkey, however, went still further, and, in a chipper interview with AzerNews, declared that "the truth is that the government is on a good path in every aspect."
The "aspects" cited by Ambassador Targay included democratization, rule of law, fighting corruption and trans-border crimes such as human trafficking.
He offered particular praise for the police's way of handling unauthorized protests. "To our satisfaction, we see good results at the police forces and in rapid deployment forces – they are very successful,” he said, in reference to OSCE trainings.
And also lauded the government's "good understanding" about the need "to increase the quality of human rights in the detention centers, in prisons, and also the quality of legal services provided at the courts."
As of this week, several more individuals are now in a position to hope that the ambassador accurately assessed that understanding.
Another activist brought in for questioning and later released, Ruslan Asad, is employed at the Baku office of the National Democratic Institute, a Washington, DC-based international organization that works on democratic development projects. On March 15, presidential chief of staff Ramiz Mehdiyev warned that the government may expel NDI from Azerbaijan if it finds evidence that the group’s local head, Alex Grigoriyev, participated in the March 10 rally in Baku, as reported by local media outlets.
"We are continuing our observations and investigations. For now I don't consider it worthwhile to name other organizations which today are violating the demands of Azerbaijani legislation," Interfax.az reported Mehdiyev as saying. "But if they do not draw the appropriate conclusions, then we will compel them to respect the laws of Azerbaijan."
His imprisonment has been widely denounced by international human and media rights organizations.
Meanwhile, what the government no doubt sees as its clean-up work continues. On March 15, a local municipality chief and an official, two local TV producers and a gas station owner and his nephew were handed down sentences of two and a half to five years for allegedly provoking massive riots against a local governor in the northern city of Guba last year.
The journalists, pursued after having posted online footage of insulting remarks by the governor, were sentenced to three years each, on probation.
Guba was widely seen as a precursor to the rioting that broke out in the provincial town of Ismayilli this January -- also the result of anger over excesses by local officials. For now, however, the government does not appear fazed by any chance for more unrest. In April, 21 government ministers and senior officials will be sent into the regions, to "go to the people," Contact.az reported, citing the government-run Khalk Gazeti.