US Should Apply Sanctions against Azerbaijan's Aliyev Regime

US Should Apply Sanctions against Azerbaijan's Aliyev Regime

Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy Calls for Freeze in US Diplomatic Relations with Baku, Sanctions

Washington, DC / On December 26th, the Azerbaijani authorities raided and sealed the Baku offices of the US Congress funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). This comes at the heels of the arrest of RFE/RL's award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, closure of local offices of US organizations and Western-backed NGOs, and jailing of leading civil society activists, opposition members and media representatives.

Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy calls for a reconsideration of US policies and application of robust, tangible actions by the United States government against the regime in Baku.

Friendly persuasion, back-door talks and even stern verbal rebukes seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The engagement by its Western partners failed to stop the Azerbaijani government from continuing destruction of pro-democracy institutions and free media. Granting the corrupt and repressive Aliyev regime a status of a strategic US ally and putting it on the international stage at par with real democracies only emboldened it to further pursue totalitarian policies at home.

Appointment of the latest three successive US ambassadors from the energy-related circles, perceived to be favorable to the Aliyev regime, sent the wrong message. The speedy confirmation of the current Ambassador Robert Cekuta, without extensive questioning on human rights and against the backdrop of unprecedented crackdown in Azerbaijan, was not helpful either.

The policy of "engagement", long-pursued by the US administrations towards the Azerbaijani leadership, was only met with the total war on civil society, backed by an increasingly hateful anti-American ideological polemics coming from top officials in Baku. This underscores the urgent need for change of course and adoption of concrete, tough measures.

We call on the US government to take the following steps:

1) Freeze diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan until its government stops attacks on RFE/RL, frees political prisoners and starts undoing its repressive policies. Specifically, Azerbaijan's "smooth-talking" lobbyist Ambassador Elin Suleymanov should be asked to go home and Ambassador Cekuta's departure for Baku should be delayed until the above conditions are met.

2) Apply the full package of economic and diplomatic sanctions. This would be similar to the "Magnitsky Act" measures against Russia and sanctions applied to Belarus and other countries. Compared to many of those nations, Azerbaijan has a discernibly worse human rights record.

The US approach to Azerbaijan has long been said to be based on three equal pillars: security, energy and democracy. And there might be some who would, once again, argue against the above steps citing other US interests. Paraphrasing the famous quote from one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, let us state that those that can give up the principled support for democracy in favor of security and energy will end up saving neither of the three.

So, let us go on the record by warning that the failure to act and the continuation of the current approach will belie US claims to championing freedom and human rights in Azerbaijan and elsewhere. It will do an irreparable damage not only to the prospects of democracy in that country, but also to America's reputation and influence in that region and around the world. Such developments will deal a severe blow to vital US interests.

And let those who think and advise otherwise be also on the record.

Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD)
December 26, 2014
Washington, DC

Media Contact:

Elmar Chakhtakhtinski
202-596-2923
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