Category: Caucasus Land of Azerbaijan


February 21, 2017

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan’s president on Tuesday appointed his wife as the first vice president of the ex-Soviet nation — the person next in line in the nation’s power hierarchy. Ilham Aliyev, 55 named his wife Mehriban, 52, to the position created after a constitutional referendum in September. Mehriban, who married her husband when she was 19, graduated from a medical university. She has served previously as a lawmaker and headed a charity.

The constitutional amendments approved at the referendum introduced the positions of two vice presidents, one of them the first vice president. The first vice president takes over the presidency if the president is unable to perform his or her duties. It doesn’t describe the first vice president’s duties, but it’s expected that they will include overseeing the Cabinet.

Aliyev’s critics say the September referendum that also extended the presidential term from five to seven years effectively cemented a dynastic rule. In 2003, Aliyev succeeded his father, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.

Aliyev and his wife have two daughters and a son. Aliyev has firmly allied the energy-rich Shiite Muslim nation with the West, helping secure his country’s energy and security interests and offset Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian Sea region. At the same time, his government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Azerbaijan’s leader has cast himself as a guarantor of stability, an image that has a wide appeal in the country where painful memories are still fresh of the turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

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September 26, 2016

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Amid international criticism, Azerbaijanis held a referendum Monday on proposed constitutional changes that would extend the presidential term and powers in the ex-Soviet republic.

The proposals, which include raising the presidential term from five years to seven and granting the president the right to dissolve parliament, have been criticized by a European constitutional law watchdog and international human rights groups. Azerbaijani authorities have dismissed the criticism as unfounded and politically driven.

Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov said early Tuesday that with about 72 percent of the ballots counted, over 90 percent of the voters supported the extension of the presidential term.

Turnout was high at nearly 70 percent, according to election officials. Some opponents say the changes would cement what they see as effectively a dynasty, as President Ilham Aliyev is the son of the previous leader. They see the proposed measures as a mechanism for extending his rule in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation that has come under frequent criticism from abroad for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

Last week, the Venice Commission, a watchdog body of constitutional law experts based in France, released a preliminary report saying that extending the presidential mandate “cannot be justified” and that other proposed legal changes would upset the balance of power.

The commission expressed concern about a measure limiting public gatherings and said a measure giving the president the power to dissolve parliament would weaken political dissent. The Venice Commission experts are part of the Council of Europe, a rights authority whose 47 members, including Azerbaijan, have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a statement before the vote, Amnesty International said the constitutional amendments would give more authority to the already powerful president and grant the government even more power to interfere with freedom of assembly, in violation of international standards. It added that preparations for the vote were marked by arrests and intimidation of critics of the proposed constitutional amendments.

The Azerbaijani government has rejected the criticism and insisted that the proposed changes are aimed at streamlining the government and promoting economic reforms. “One of the main reasons for the referendum is the need to conduct fast economic reforms … to improve the efficiency of the government and cut the red tape,” Aliyev aide Ali Hasanov told reporters Monday.

Leyla Abbasova, a 53-year old school teacher who cast her ballot in the capital, Baku, said she voted for the proposed amendments and voiced hope that “they will bring positive changes.” Camilya Abdullayeva, 23, also said she voted ‘yes,’ adding that by removing minimum age limits for officials and legislators the proposed changes would “encourage young people to engage in politics.”

Officials say the referendum results will be announced by Oct. 21.

March 28, 2016

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A court in Azerbaijan has ordered the release of a human rights activist who spent the last two years in jail. Intigam Aliyev was convicted last year of economic crimes that critics have dismissed as retaliation for his work.

His lawyer, Fariz Namazly, said the Supreme Court of this former Soviet republic issued a ruling Monday converting Aliyev’s seven-year prison sentence into a five-year conditional one, meaning his immediate release.

The ruling comes amid a flurry of other court decisions that triggered the release of 16 activists and journalists this month who have spent years in prison. The Caspian Sea nation has come under criticism for a crackdown on human rights, with journalists and activists hit with charges they say are retaliation for their work exposing official abuses.

September 01, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A court in Azerbaijan convicted an investigative journalist on Tuesday of several financial crimes and sentenced her to 7½ years in prison, in a case widely criticized by human rights organizations.

Khadija Ismayilova and her supporters say the charges were retribution for her reports on alleged corruption involving President Ilham Aliyev and his family in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. Several other journalists and rights activists also have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan in what has been widely seen as an effort by the authoritarian government to stifle dissent.

The Baku court convicted Ismayilova of embezzlement, illegal business activity, tax evasion and abuse of power, but found her not guilty of inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The case against her was initiated when the colleague filed his complaint, but he later withdrew the accusation.

The prison sentence was slightly less than the nine years requested by prosecutors for 39-year-old Ismayilova, a contributor to U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Khadija Ismayilova’s trial has been a farce, yet the consequences for her, and for all Azerbaijani journalists, are gravely serious,” Nina Ognianova of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. She called on Azerbaijan to overturn the conviction on appeal and “for Baku’s international partners to stop turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights abuses.”

Azerbaijan is holding at least seven other journalists in jail, CPJ said. Other rights groups also condemned the verdict. “The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders — indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice,” Denis Krivosheev of Amnesty International said in a statement.

In August, a prominent rights defender and her husband were convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison terms of 8 ½ years and seven years, respectively.

Baku, Azerbaijan (UPI)

Oct 7, 2011

Azerbaijan is expected to acquire 60 small Israeli-designed unmanned aerial vehicles built under license in the oil-rich former Soviet republic that’s moving closer to the Jewish state as the Baku government modernizes its military.

The burgeoning military and intelligence alliance between the countries is causing growing concern in Iran, Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, and in nearby longtime rival Armenia.

The Israeli Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAVs are being manufactured by Baku’s Azad Systems Co., a joint venture between Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry and Aeronautics Defense Systems of Israel.

That’s the country’s third largest UAV manufacturer after Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.

Around 70 percent of the components are produced in Israel, the rest in Azerbaijan.

Sixty of the drones are to be delivered to Azerbaijan’s armed forces by the end of the year, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Azerbaijan’s military already operates Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and IAI’s Searcher reconnaissance drones, as well as some of Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Aerostar and Orbiter craft.

Azerbaijan Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov told the Azerbaijan Press Agency that Baku is considering the production of missile-armed UAVs within the next two years, a development guaranteed to deepen Iranian and Armenian concerns.

The UAV deal with Azerbaijan allows Israeli manufacturers to pick up some of the slack that appeared when Israel’s strategic military alliance with Turkey collapsed in 2010.

APA reported that Aeronautics Defense Systems beat out several Turkish defense firms, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, for the UAV venture set up in March.

Azerbaijan, which lies in the energy-rich Caspian Basin, has oil reserves of more than 1.2 billion barrels as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is one of Israel’s largest suppliers of crude oil.

Last Sunday, Israel’s air force marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of its first UAV unit, Squadron 200 at the Palmachim Air Base on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv from where IAI satellites are launched.

The squadron was equipped with a drone named the Scout, built by what was then Israel Aircraft Industries, and became operational in October 1981. The Scout made its combat debut in the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

That campaign evolved into a counter-terrorism conflict that has dragged on to this day, even after Israeli withdrew from its last foothold in south Lebanon in May 2000.

In the years since the Scout took to the skies, but particularly after 9/11, Israel has become one of the world’s leading UAV manufacturers, second only to the United States.

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s defense export and defense cooperation arm, known as SIBAT, says Israel’s export of counter-terrorism systems, including UAVs, has risen from $2 billion a year 10 years ago to nearly $7 billion.

Defense experts expect the export of counter-terrorism systems to increase.

“The threats aren’t getting any smaller,” SIBAT Deputy Director Itamar Graff told Bamahane, the armed forces’ magazine.

“We constantly cope with terrorist threats ?The world’s moving in the direction of dealing with terrorist threats.

“On issues such as home front protection, shore security and missile defense, people from around the world come to learn from us,” Graff said.

“We’re dealing with a variety of possible threats and we’ll continue to be a dominant and significant factor in the world.”

The Scout was retired in 2004. It was replaced by, among others, IAI’s Searcher, which carried advanced navigation, communication and sensor systems and is in service with 10 countries.

IAI has since developed the long-endurance, 1-ton Heron that can operate at altitudes of 30,000 feet and can loiter over targets for 24 hours.

The Heron Turbo Prop, known as the Eitan, introduced into military service with Squadron 210 in February 2010, is the air force’s largest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial system.

Its takeoff weight is 5 tons and can carry payloads of 2,200 pounds. It has a wingspan of 84 feet, about the same as a Boeing 737. It can stay airborne for 24 hours and has a range of around 650 miles.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Azeris_get_Israel_UAVs_built_under_license_999.html.

June 12, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A journalist jailed in Azerbaijan has criticized the country for corruption and human rights violations on the day the first European Games get underway in the capital, Baku.

Khadija Ismayilova was imprisoned last year after investigating corruption allegedly involving President Ilham Aliyev. Activists say the jailing was part of a wider crackdown on opposition ahead of the games, the continent’s version of the Olympics.

“The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse,” says Ismayilova’s letter, released Thursday by the PEN organization. “As those at the top continue to profit from corruption, ordinary people are struggling to work, struggling to live, struggling for freedom.”

The organization said her letter was smuggled from prison in pieces. “I am carrying on my struggle here, from jail. My investigations into corruption continue, thanks to the help of dedicated colleagues,” wrote Ismayilova, who worked for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I have been punished for speaking out from jail, placed into solitary confinement, and prevented from seeing my family and lawyers.”

Ismayilova was convicted of libel and accused of tax evasion and inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The cases have been dismissed by critics as an attempt to intimidate independent journalists. Protests against Azerbaijan’s human rights record took place in cities around the world Friday in the hours leading up to the opening ceremony for the European Games, the largest sports event ever held in the country.

In the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, where demonstrations against the government are subject to numerous restrictions, opposition groups did not announce any protests ahead of the opening ceremony.

May 19, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijani officials say 16 people have died and more than 50 have been injured in a fire at an apartment building in Baku, the capital.

The massive fire quickly engulfed 16-story apartment building Tuesday and took hours to contain. Azerbaijan’s chief prosecutor, Zakir Garalov, said the bad quality of plastic paneling covering the building contributed to the fire and a criminal probe has been launched to determine the fire’s cause.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has taken personal control of the investigation. A similar fire erupted in Baku earlier this month, but there were no injuries.

December 26, 2014

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A radio station funded by the U.S. government says its office in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku has been raided by prosecutors who claim to have a court decision to shut it down.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted the director of its Azerbaijani service saying that the office has been locked down since early Friday morning by prosecutors and armed police. Two RFE journalists could not be contacted by The Associated Press.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told the AP the search was conducted to investigate a “grave crime” but would not elaborate. The station’s top reporter Khadija Ismayilova was jailed earlier this month pending a trial on charges of driving a man to suicide, which critics dismissed as an attempt to gag an influential journalist.

December 06, 2014

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan has detained a prominent investigative journalist whose reporting has often featured the business dealings of top politicians in the country.

A court in Baku, the capital, ordered the jailing on Friday of Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the United States government. She must remain behind bars pending a trial on charges of driving a man to suicide, a crime that carries up to seven years in prison.

The treatment of Ismayilova — who also has reported on alleged corruption and human rights abuses, including the persecution of opposition figures in Azerbaijan — has sparked widespread condemnation from rights groups abroad. Amnesty International condemned it as a “move to silence independent media voices in the country.”

Nenad Pejic, the editor-in-chief of Radio Free Europe, said: “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.”

Ismayilova has been targeted for her reporting before. In 2012, after a series of damaging articles on the ruling family’s role in lucrative construction projects, she was warned in a letter that her reputation could be compromised, and later a video of her having sex with her boyfriend was published online.

On Thursday, the Azerbaijan government released a lengthy memo criticizing the modern-day “colonialism” of the United States and accusing journalists at Radio Free Europe’s local service of working to promote foreign interests in the country. Azerbaijan has been a staunch military ally of the U.S. and contributed troops to missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment on the specific case, but said Friday that the United States is “deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan.”

Many activists and independent journalists in this energy-rich Caspian Sea nation have been jailed since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, including two rights activists in August.

AP correspondent Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.

Baku (AFP)

Nov 28, 2014

Azerbaijan’s parliament on Friday approved a 2015 budget that sharply boosted military spending in apparent response to rising tensions with neighbor Armenia over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

The oil-rich Caucasus country’s defense outlays will rise by 8.6 percent to more than 1.78 billion Azerbaijani manats ($2.3 billion, 1.8 billion euros).

The budget also expects the economy to expand by 3.6 percent this year and 4.4 percent in 2015.

Azerbaijan is locked in a long-simmering conflict with Armenia over Karabakh.

Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan had seized control of the territory during a 1990s war that left some 30,000 dead, and no peace deal has yet been signed.

An unprecedented spat of violence has erupted this year with the arch-foes’ forces regularly exchanging fire across their border and along the Karabakh frontline, sparking fears of a major escalation in the conflict.

Baku, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has threatened to take back the region by force if negotiations fail to yield results. Armenia, which is heavily armed by Russia, says it could crush any offensive.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Azerbaijan_boosts_army_spending_as_Armenia_tensions_soar_999.html.