My Statement Before the U.S. Helsinki Commission

The full unedited statement of Ramis Yunus before the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

On June 11th, in Washington, under the chairmanship of senator Cardin, the assembly of Helsinki Commission of USA Congress took place, during which the situation with human rights in Azerbaijan was discussed. The representatives of USA State Department – Deputy Assistant in the Bureau of Democracy, and Human Rights Thomas Melia and Eric Rubin Deputy Assistant Secretary in European and Eurasian Affairs made their speeches based on their reports. Besides them Miriam Lanskoy from endowment for democracy fund (NED) and Brenda Shaffer from Georgetown University made their speeches during the assembly. By taking under account increased interest of USA officials towards Azerbaijan and current events in Azerbaijan, the famous politologist Ramis Yunus was invited to the assembly, whose statement to participants of hearing was spread in capacity of official document, which we are bringing to our readers’ attention.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me thank the organizers of this hearing, which is very important for both Azerbaijan and the United States in terms of understanding exactly what is happening in this country, which we want to consider as our partner in this strategically important region. So let me give you brief information about what is going on in Azerbaijan today and the reasons behind the new repressions that swept the entire country.

I would like participants of today’s hearing and all the other officials of the Congress and the U.S. administration, as well as our allies, to know that the Aliyev’s regime in Azerbaijan is fully pro-Russian. When former Azeri KGB General and ex-President, Heydar Aliyev, father of the current President Ilham Aliyev, decided to put his son in power after him, he personally received help in this “rotation” from his KGB colleague, Colonel Putin. In Baku, in 2003, Isa Gambar, former Speaker of the Parliament and the leader of the party “Musavat” won the election but Aliyev’s regime falsified election results. As a result of that, there were massive clashes between opposition and the government, a lot of people died during demonstrations and mass arrests have followed after that. During these times, I emigrated to the U.S.; otherwise, I would be sitting in a prison and who knows where I would be today and what would have happened to my family as well. Quite naturally, Ilham Aliyev fulfills Putin’s will all these years in power.

It is important to note here personal interests of Ilham Aliyev: he has two daughters; they are citizens of Russia, whom he married off to the sons of the richest oligarchs in Russia, who are very close and loyal to Putin. Aliyev’s family has multibillion-dollar business in Russia and will defend it both politically and economically as well. All this talk of the partnership with the West by the dictatorship Aliyev’s regime is a total farce, which was used the same way by Yanukovych in Ukraine and today we can clearly see how it all ended for Ukraine. The curtain opened and everyone realized how Yanukovych and his team were entirely pro-Russian politicians. This tactic of flirting with the West was used by Putin himself when he nominated Medvedev for the presidency. They use these games in order for the U.S. and Europe to stop pressing them hard on the issues of democracy and win the time to strengthen their authoritarianism in Russia, as well as in Azerbaijan. But unlike Yanukovych, who was in power for only 3.5 years, the Aliyev’s regime is in power for 20 years and over these years has strengthened the position of Russia significantly on all fronts: political, economic and social life as well. As a result of that, today 90% of public opinion in Azerbaijan is on the side of Russia. Interests of the U.S. and its allies are only locked around oil and gas.

Everything else, including many ideological questions and issues are given out to Russia, which is powerfully using their propaganda machine through the mass media in modern Azerbaijan. A given fact that Russian TV channels operate in Azerbaijan at full capacity, there was not even a single protest against the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, home to the Crimean Tatars, ethnically close to Azeris.

As someone who personally knows Ilham Aliyev for many years, his mentality and his outlook on life, I can say with confidence that the President Aliyev and his entourage, which consists entirely of the former Soviet nomenclature and employees the former KGB, were and are shaping their foreign policy with the strict accordance with the Kremlin’s interests. At the same time, in meetings with representatives of the U.S. and EU, Azeri authorities are trying to convince the West in their desire to integrate into Europe.

In addition, it is important also to note that all this is happening against the background of the frequent number of official visits to Baku of highly ranked Russian government officials. It is clear demonstration of the alliance between Russia and Azerbaijan. And the recent aggressive statements against Richard Morningstar, the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, from Azeri government officials do not need any special comments. Here you can add the statements in the Azeri Parliament of pro-government deputies on how to return Russian military bases in Azerbaijan and very interesting statement of Oktay Asadov, Speaker of the Parliament, which he did on June 5 in Moscow: “We are closely watching the situation in the south-east of Ukraine, we understand the aspirations of Russia, we see it all. I believe that we, as strategic partners in the OSCE, will also stand on one platform.”

Therefore, events in Ukraine scared Aliyev’s regime and a new wave of arrests have started again. Not only been arrested representatives of political parties of pro-Western sense, but today it is already affecting non-governmental organizations which are also working with Europe and the United States by protecting Western values in Azerbaijan, promoting the benefits of European integration for the future of Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, there were all these years political forces that advocate for European integration of Azerbaijan, stand on the protection of democratic values that were and are regularly under the pressure of reprisals by the regime and which, unfortunately, are now almost no longer valued because Azeri authorities banned all rallies, pickets, or any form of public dissent so people in general cannot be gathering in large numbers for their activities.

The charges for all of them are the same: the coup attempt, spying for Armenia or Iran or they will just “throw in” narcotics in order to damage your reputation and put you in prison as soon as possible. The recent arrests of Anar Mammadli, Rauf Mirkadirov, my brother Arif Yunus and his wife Leyla Yunus, known human rights activist, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor, and many other activists are all inspired by the Kremlin, which demands from Baku to minimize the risk of recurrence of similar events in Ukraine. Today, according to Amnesty International in Azerbaijan, officially are 130 political prisoners and that list was given to them by Leyla Yunus. For that, Aliyev’s regime is trying to silence her together with my brother Arif in order to stop them.

As a person who worked for many years in the highest echelons of power in Azerbaijan today and being the U.S. citizen, I consider it my civic duty to bring it to your attention that today it is very important to protect those politicians and representatives of civil society, who advocate for the European integration of Azerbaijan since Azeri society is very closely watching the reaction of the U.S. and its allies in Europe. If you protect Ukraine and along with those in Azerbaijan, who are for European integration, then our struggle will continue. However, if you let Aliyev’s regime to execute the order of the Kremlin, then Azerbaijan will be lost and given fully to Russian and Iranian interests. It may be the case as it happened in Iran in 1979, when the deposed Shah Pahlavi’s corrupt regime was replaced by religious dictatorship that came to power in Tehran. It is necessary to increase the pressure on the regime in Baku by all means possible for the protection of human rights, strengthen the role of non-governmental organizations and influence administration in the White House, so that they will not forget about the image of the United States and give up that image entirely to the energy priorities in our region. As noted by the distinguished Senator Cardin: “There can’t be energy security in the country with no democracy in the first place.”

Respectfully from,

Ramis Yunus, political expert, former Chief of Staff of Government of

Azerbaijan and former Chief of Staff of Parliament of Azerbaijan.

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