ArmInfo’s interview with Avaz Hasanov, the director of the Society for Humanitarian Research in Azerbaijan
by David Stepanyan
According to the latest poll conducted by RUH, 89% out of 93 polled mass media outlets called President Ilham Aliyev a Friend of the Press.
The formal attitude of Ilham Aliyev to our press is not so much bad. He introduces himself to journalists from rather good sides. Naturally, when having contacts with the press, he tries to be as tactical as possible. Over the presidential race before the election when he was elected the president for the third time, Aliyev gave the known journalists a many-storeyed building with apartment houses. Of course, this played a great part when Aliyev was recognized as "Friend of Press". On the other hand, several journalists were sentenced for many years during Aliyev's tenure. Many others were beaten during rallies and lawsuits were filed against them. They became objects of violence by the law-enforcement agencies. By the way, no police officer has been brought responsible for beating journalists yet.
To be short, a stick and carrot policy is applied regarding journalists…
Sure, Aliev knows how to give joy to people. He presents journalists with flats, the Press Council –with a new office. There is a special fund that issues grants to the press. It was the PressCouncil that defined Aliyev as a Friend of the Press.
What has changed in the human rights field in Azerbaijan since the beginning of Aliyev's third term in office?
The situation has become a little better. In Baku they are well aware that last presidential election were fraudulent. For this reason, the authorities started the dialogue with political parties and the president with journalists. There has never been such a situation even during Heydar Aliyev's tenure. That is to say, all these improvements are not at all evidence of the true changes in the local policy. Azerbaijan still has many problems linked with democracy, and the last presidential election deepened them more. International institutions criticized Azerbaijani authorities for that.
Do you anticipate any fundamental changes in the Karabakh peace process after Armenia's accession to the CU?
In Azerbaijan they are concerned over Armenia's upcoming accession to Russia-led Customs Union. In Baku they used to blame Russia for supporting Armenia. Now, there are indications that after Armenia's accession to the CU, Moscow will get even more solid levers of influence on the Karabakh conflict's resolution. In Baku they are seriously concerned over possible deployment of Russian peacekeepers on the line of contact of the conflicting parties. This will become a strong argument for Moscow to increase pressure on Azerbaijan.
What dangers will deployment of Russian militaries lead to?
Moscow will get an additional mechanism of pressure on both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is widely believed that Armenia is joining the CU to finally gain a foothold in Karabakh at the cost of its sovereignty.
Quite lately, Arif Ragimzade, the head of the Azerbaijani Parliament Committee for Regional Affairs declared that Azerbaijan could more actively involve in establishment of the Eurasian Union, but for Armenia’s decision to join it. Don’t you think that Azerbaijan could prevent 'Armenia's final establishment in Karabakh' by participating in Putin's projects?
The CU is economically unviable for Azerbaijan. Nearly 95% of Azerbaijan's export is oil, which is delivered to Europe and not to Russia. Over 45% of Azerbaijan's investments are in Turkey and Georgia. Only 2%-3% of Azerbaijan's investments are in Russia. From the political point of view, in Baku they are well aware that even if Azerbaijan joins the CU already tomorrow, Moscow will hardly 'help' it get back Nagorno Karabakh.
We are well aware that Russia is interested in the status quo in our region. Making curtseys to Moscow, Azerbaijan will not get Karabakh as part of it. Consequently, Baku sees no benefit from participation in Moscow's Eurasian projects.
Despite its participation in the "Eastern partnership" project, Azerbaijan was not going to develop it through initialing of the Association Agreement with the EU. By conducting "the policy of non-alignment" Aliyev keeps the distance both from Moscow and Brussels. What phobias such policy is based on?
Since the last events in Ukraine I have started understanding Ilham Aliyev’s caution regarding Azerbaijan's participation in various integration projects. First, President of Azerbaijan understands very well that any sharp step towards Moscow or Brussels will result in activation of the opposition in Azerbaijan and split the society into two parts. It will be rather hard for him to keep the power in such a situation. Therefore, caution is the basis of Aliyev's tactics. He understands very well that Azerbaijan is in the periphery of different interests. And its any sharp step may irritate Russia, Europe, Iran, Turkey, the USA, Georgia and Armenia. For this reason, Aliyev is forced to tack and go slowly. Such a policy is dictated by the fear of the Azerbaijani society too.
Your statements run contrary to many radical and aggressive statements Aliyev has made against Armenia. A new war in Karabakh is the most radical step Azerbaijan may make in its foreign policy…
Numerous radical statements by Ilham Aliyev about the readiness "to take Karabakh back" are directed at local users. In fact, he says it only when making a speech for the local audience. This rhetoric is an interior actions plan. He sees numerous omissions and lost opportunities of Azerbaijan over the negotiating process, and it is hard for him to agree to losing Karabakh once and forever. This is the reason of the reaction linked with purchasing of new armament and the appearance of Turkish and Israeli military consultants in Azerbaijan.
They do that to raise mood in the society and demonstrate that the project of Karabakh returning is still relevant today, and it is in the center of the power's attention. Aliyev does not abandon the negotiating process, as he understands that in case of abandoning meetings with Sargsyan, he will be forced to take another step. Caution is Aliyev's credo. He understands that any sharp step is not in his interests.
The situation around Iran has rapidly changing. What consequences Iran's change from America's enemy No.1 to a loyal partner may have on its neighbors?
Until recently our authorities were afraid that a conflict over Iran might cause an inflow of Azeri refugees to Azerbaijan. Now this sword of Damocles seems to be no longer hanging over u. As a partner of the United States and Israel, Azerbaijan could not refuse them to use its capacities, and this annoyed Iran. Now that the Americans have come to terms with the Iranians through the agency of the Russians, we can take a sigh of relief and can no longer fear that the Iranians may wish to discredit us.
But this has a reverse side: Azerbaijan has only 1% of the world's oil, while Iran enjoys almost 10%. Azerbaijan was regarded as attractive just because there were no relations with Iran. Now the Americans may lose interest in us. We do not want to integrate into any alliance. We just want to finish our infrastructure and energy projects. The new Iran will inevitably reduce the world's interest in Azerbaijan's oil and gas. Formerly the best house in the village was ours, now it is they who are building the best house. So, very soon we will have to reduce our ambitions.