The United States and European Union appear to be taking a stronger stance against Azerbaijan over Baku's poor rights record. Recent US and EU criticism is bolstering the resolve of local critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's administration, even though there are no immediate signs that Western leaders and institutions will follow up on their words with actions.
Highlighting the challenge of forging a lasting political settlement to the 26-year-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, officials and experts in the two countries are offering starkly different views on the heavy fighting that erupted around the territory in late July and early August.
Azerbaijan in recent months has launched a clear assault against various civil-society activists and non-governmental organizations. While rough treatment of critics is nothing new in this energy-rich South-Caucasus country, one question remains unanswered: Why pick up the pace now?
Even in the best of times, the Azerbaijani government is not a talkative bunch. But their stone-wall silence after northern neighbor Georgia triumphantly confiscated roughly $175-million worth of liquid heroin on the Georgian-Azerbaijani border has sparked questions about the reasons for their reserve.
Baku is gaining international recognition as a center of cutting-edge architectural design thanks in part to a major award given recently to London-based architect Zaha Hadid for her Heydar Aliyev center. The Azerbaijani capital’s new look has plenty of local fans, but also some detractors.
Russia is putting the moves on Azerbaijan, as the South Caucasus country’s two neighbors, Georgia and Armenia, prepare to formalize partnerships with rival unions. But ever the pragmatic belle, Baku is resisting Russia’s advances.
Amid growing concern about its treatment of government critics, Azerbaijan on May 14 assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the 47-member Council of Europe, the continent’s main human-rights body.
There are few outward signs to indicate the Azerbaijani city of Sumgayit, a Soviet-era hub for the petro-chemical industry, is a seedbed of Islamic militancy. Shops and restaurants sell alcohol, and residents dress casually.