Delivered in Plenary - June 9th 2005
Azerbaijan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but has lost 16% of its previous territory in a short-lived war over the ethnic Armenian territory of Ngorno Karabakh with neighbouring Armenia and must now support some 570 000 internally-displaced persons.
Corruption is endemic in Azerbaijan and the promise of wealth from its oil reserves is, as yet, unrealised. It suffers from terrible ecological problems in the Caspian Sea as a result of DDT and toxic defoliants used in cotton farming. It enjoys close military and political links with Turkey, and the EU has strong interests in securing the energy corridor that supplies Western countries with its oil and gas, and also maintaining Azeri cooperation in the fight against international terrorism in the face of recent allegations from Russian sources that Azerbaijan has supported Chechen separatists.
President Aliyev was elected in October 2003 in a contested and deeply-flawed election condemned by international observers. But Azerbaijanís President has committed himself now to holding free and fair parliamentary elections this November. The 4 June opposition rally went peacefully, as just two weeks previously police had beaten back opposition protestors who tried to hold a rally in Baku despite an official ban, and dozens were arrested. The final decision regarding the location of the rally was taken after negotiations between the Baku mayor and opposition leaders, who have now warned of dire consequences if falsification is used again in the November elections. Some observers even predict that Azerbaijan will eventually see an uprising similar to those that occurred in the toppled regimes of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
The recent unsolved murder of Monitor Magazine editor-in-chief, Elmar Huseynov, has raised accusations of government involvement and a relative of the exiled former speaker and opposition figure, Rasul Gouliev, the UK citizen Almaz Gouliev, has been arrested on the allegedly trumped-up charge of a pistol being found in her bag, apparently in order to deter Mr Gouliev from returning for the elections.
Azerbaijan is clearly far from being a model democratic and stable Council of Europe state and the EU must now do everything possible to promote democracy and human rights there.