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FOR MANY AZERBAIJANI VOTERS, THE ONLY CHOICE IS TO LAUGH

The Azeri Times

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Durna Safarova Apr 10, 2018

Azerbaijani voters go to the polls on April 11 for a presidential election. The outcome of the vote is already known: President Ilham Aliyev will be reelected.

But seven other candidates also are on the ballot, and even if they don’t offer Azerbaijanis a viable choice, they are at least providing a source of humor.

One candidate, Hafiz Hajiyev, is frequently compared to Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky for his vicious, often vulgar attacks on government opponents. Young liberal activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has undertaken a mock campaign in support of Hafiz Hajiyev with the slogan, “Make Azerbaijan Great Again.”

“This election shows that the government is mocking its citizens,” Bakhtiyar Hajiyev told Eurasianet. “So those of us who protest are going to mock it as well.”

In the last presidential election, in 2013, Hafiz Hajiyev won 24,461 votes, or 0.66 percent of the total. He was easily bested by Aliyev, who got nearly 85 percent of the vote.

That was actually a small decline compared to the previous election, in 2008, when Aliyev won 89 percent of the vote. Political analyst Shahin Rzayev, in an essay for the website JAM News, forecasted a record performance in this year’s vote. “My prognosis is that this year he’ll finally break the 90 [percent] threshold because the presidency has become a question of prestige rather than of credibility,” Rzayev wrote.

Whatever the margin, the 56-year-old Aliyev appears a shoo-in to win a fourth term in the office he’s held since 2003, when he took over from his father, Heydar Aliyev.

Aliyev – who called the snap election in February – is not campaigning himself. He does have a slogan, “Forward with Ilham,” but a deputy prime minister, Ali Ahmadov, has been deputized to campaign for Aliyev, including at debates on public television.

But Ahmadov hasn’t been the only one at the debates stumping for Aliyev. Hafiz Hajiyev spent nearly six minutes of a debate praising Aliyev, according to an analysis by the opposition monitoring group Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies.

Another ostensibly opposition candidate, Araz Alizadeh, focused his debate appearances on attacking the country’s embattled opposition. “Disabled people get pensions of 55, 70, 110 manats” (or about $32 to $64 per month), he said at one debate in March. “And let’s look at these people who call themselves the opposition. They take millions out of the bank. Do they spend a manat on these people with disabilities? No, they just spend their money for their pleasure. […] The opposition is to blame for the condition that Azerbaijan is in.”

Zahid Oruj – like Alizadeh, a member of parliament – directly asked his supporters to vote for Aliyev. “He would be elected even if there were thousands of candidates,” he told BBC’s Azerbaijani service in an interview. “Because Azerbaijanis, even those who are suffering, sympathize with Ilham Aliyev. He saved this state from enormous dangers.” Oruj’s campaign slogan is “You Deserve Who You Elect!”

“None of the seven other candidates are really competing against Aliyev,” Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, the activist, said. “It was the first debate that I’ve seen where all the candidates were advocating for the status quo and talking about their opponent’s future projects instead of talking about their platforms. Is that competition?”

Other candidates have distinguished themselves with exotic platforms. Sardar Jalaloglu has proposed Azerbaijan join Turkey in a confederation. “Our friends will be same, our enemies will be same,” he explained at one debate. He also has proposed that Azerbaijan legalize “temporary marriages,” a Shiite practice giving a religious blessing to premarital sex.

The debates focused heavily on Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. One candidate, Faraj Guliyev, advocated for Azerbaijan to either join NATO or to create “a new geopolitical axis of the Turkic republics under the leadership of Turkey.” Another, Razi Nurullayev, called for the country to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan and for the Pakistani military to be deployed to Azerbaijan.

In spite of this apparent diversity of views, some politicians who genuinely oppose the government have been blocked from participating in the election. Potential candidate Ilgar Mammadov, the leader of the ReAL movement, is in prison on charges he and international rights groups believe are politically motivated.

Others have decided that conditions are too loaded against them and have called on supporters to boycott the election.

“These candidates are there to show the imitation of elections,” said Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election and Democracy Monitoring Center, in an interview with Eurasianet. “They are also there to show that for the presidency, there is no alternative to Ilham Aliyev.”

Durna Safarova is a freelance journalist who covers Azerbaijan.

Corruption

UK aims at shady Azerbaijani money – but is it missing the target?

The Azeri Times

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Some have expressed concern that the UK’s first use of the “unexplained wealth order” targeted someone already out of favor with the Azerbaijani government.

The announcement that the wife of an Azerbaijani banker is the first target of British efforts to crack down on foreigners’ illicit wealth was welcomed by good government advocates, but raised concerns that London may only be aiming at figures who are out of favor with their home governments.

On October 10, British media reported that the target of Britain’s first “unexplained wealth order” is Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. The order is a recently introduced instrument allowing British law enforcement officers to demand explanations when a person’s wealth does not correspond to their declared income. It is aimed at cracking down on the vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth – much of it from the former Soviet Union – parked in London.

There is no shortage of dodgy Azerbaijani money in the UK. The investigation into the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” for example, found that shell companies based in the UK played a key role in the Azerbaijani political elites’ money-laundering and influence-buying operations.

The Hajiyevs, meanwhile, had already been cast out of the Baku political elite: In 2015, Hajiyev was sentenced by an Azerbaijani court to 15 years in prison for misuse of funds.

The government-friendly Azerbaijani press – not typically a fan of stories about Azerbaijanis falling afoul of investigators in the West – widely reported the news about Hajiyeva. “All of England is talking about Zamira Hajiyeva,” crowed a headline on Haqqin.az, a news site connected to Azerbaijan’s security forces.

Two days before the news broke in the UK, in fact, Haqqin had already reported that Hajiyeva was the target of the order. The story cited the Telegram channel Banksta – a Russian-language channel covering banking affairs – but a sister website of Haqqin, Azeri Daily, had named Hajiyev as early as July.

That Hajiyeva was targeted, out of the many potential subjects of the order, raised some consternation among observers.

“There is an interesting issue with the case of Zamira Hajiyeva,” tweeted Anar Mammadli, an Azerbaijani human rights activist. “After all, she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, are not the first Azerbaijani civil servants to buy property in London. Will the other official-families’ ‘contributions’ to the British economy be investigated? After all, they are not alone!”

“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”
“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”

“Hajiyev and his wife have already fallen foul of the system in Azerbaijan. I don’t imagine the Azerbaijani regime will be overly concerned to see this investigation. Who knows, maybe they even had a hand in triggering the investigation,” tweeted analyst Alex Nice.

“My take on the UWO is that it looks like a missed chance to send a big message,” tweeted Oliver Bullough, a journalist who has extensively covered post-Soviet wealth in the UK. “Jahangir Hajiyev had already been jailed in Azerbaijan so why not use the standard asset recovery route, as with Gulnara Karimova? UWOs are supposed to be for assets that can’t be seized otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the move was welcomed by good government advocates. “UWOs should now be used more widely to pursue more of the £4.4 billion worth of suspicious wealth we have identified across the UK,” Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, told the BBC.

And some in the region wondered if their oligarchs would be next. “It seems that investigators from the National Crime Agency started from the letter ‘A,’” joked Uzbekistani writer Hamid Ismailov on twitter. “Uzbek ‘nouveau riches’ might think that they are last in the running order:) in between Uganda and Zambia.”

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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Politics

Political émigré who returned home to visit critically ill father arrested on fraudulent drug-related charges

The Azeri Times

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Azad Hasanov, Musavat party member and political exile living in Lithuania, has been arrested during a short return to his home country and charged with drug trafficking.

According to his lawyer, Osman Kazimov, the Khatai District Court sentenced him to four months in detention on drug-related charges. Under Article 234.4.3 (illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or selling of sale of drugs), Hasanov faces between five and twelve years in prison.

On 11 October, Musavat deputy chairman Sakhavat Soltanli reported that Hasanov had disappeared and was likely arrested. He has been a member of the Surakhany Musavat branch since 2003 and had relocated to Lithuania in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

He returned to Baku on 10 October, upon learning that his seriously ill father was about to die.

According to his spouse, Tarana Hasanova, he did not have any problems flying into Baku airport: “His father has been seriously ill and is about to die. He arrived on 10 October during the night. He did not have any problems crossing the border and stayed with his father until noon. He later went to the Mosque to pray. That’s where people in civilian clothes stopped him and forced him into a car. When his brother tried to help him, they pushed him aside and told him they are from the police.”

Hasanov’s fate recalls the case of lawyer Emin Aslan who was forced into a car by people in civilian clothes a few days after returning from his studies in the US. He later was found to be held at the Office for Combating Organized Crime, and spent 30 days in detention for failing to obey a police officer’s orders.

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Society

European film festival in Baku: a Dutch cat, a Hungarian horse and a ‘faceless’ French artist

The Azeri Times

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The 9th European Film Festival has officially begun in Baku.

The event is organised by the European Union in Azerbaijan and will end on 21 October, until which time the public is invited to view 19 European films free of charge.

Here are some of the films we recommend:

The documentary film Wild Amsterdam, accompanied by director Mark Verkerk and producer Ignas van Schaick, will be screened at the festival. The film centres around the animals of Amsterdam, but not in a way you might expect: the story is told from the perspective of a cat, who shows us how squirrels, pigeons and waterfowl live in Amsterdam’s canals and parks.

The directors say that the consultation with ecologists and other specialists took half a year by itself. The film is a viewing wonder, dynamic and modern. For example, one scene depicts the retrieval of bicycles from the bottom of the canal with the help of special machinery. The scene looks as if it has been cut right out of a thriller because of how it traumatises the crabs living on the bottom.

The film Kincsem – Bet on Revenge is from Hungary, and also concerns the fate of an animal – a racehorse who belongs to a broke aristocrat forced to earn money through racing. However, the film is not about horseracing, but rather about competition between members of high-class society in the Austrian Empire. The film’s action revolves around the young aristocrat who becomes involved in a dispute with an Austrian officer, whose daughter later falls for the main character.

Barbara, a film by Christian Petzold, is a drama shot in 2012 which takes viewers back to 1980 when Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall. The main heroine of the film lives in the German Democratic Republic and dreams of leaving. Forced to work in the country and under constant surveillance, she methodically prepares her plan to escape. At first it seems everything will work out and that nobody can prevent her from leaving, including the all-powerful Stasi. However, an inconvenient and unexpected attachment to one of her colleagues jeopardises her escape.

Latvian film Dream Team 1935 by Aigars Grauba was also shot in 2012 and also offers an excursion into the past – to the pre-war period of 1935 when the first European Basketball Championship took place in Geneva. Participation in the championship was a great chance for national teams to go down in sports history. The Latvian team seizes the opportunity, though young trainer Baumanis soon comes to understand that it is far more important to overcome oneself than one’s enemy…

Halima’s Path is the work of Croatian director Arsen Anton Ostoyich, and is dedicated to one of the bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century – the war in former Yugoslavia. The action takes place in the post-war years in Bosnia. A woman by the name of Halima who lost her husband and son (though not biological) dreams of finding their remains in order to give them a proper burial. She is only able to do this with the help of DNA analysis. While she is able to find her husband’s remains, she finds it difficult to do so in the case of her son. Halima must then go through some hardship to find the biological mother of her son in order to find him.

The French film See You Up There is also devoted to war and its consequences. This time, the action takes place during World War I. The story begins in the final days of the war, when two young soldiers – an artist from a wealthy family, Edouard, and a former bank employee, Albert – are forced to go to their certain deaths on the orders of a malicious captain. Edouard, whose face has been disfigured, saves Albert, which firmly binds the two friends together: now Edouard is an ‘invisible’ artist, and Albert his impresario.

In addition to film screenings, the festival includes workshops and discussions with European directors.

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