Elmar Chakhtakhtinski: Ruling Regime Has Been Hiding Behind the
Karabakh Issue For Too Long

WASHINGTON DC. March 30, 2011: Azerireport interviewed Elmar
Chakhtakhtinski, chairman of Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy
(AZAD), to clarify the issues related to AZAD's recent protest action
in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy to the US and AZAD's position on a
number of political issues which drew public attention both in the
United States and Azerbaijan.

- On March 19, 2011 AZAD organized `Free Azerbaijan' rally in front of
Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC.
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What was the purpose of the rally and how it was expressed?

- Our main purpose was to express our protest at the continuing
violation by the Aliyev regime of the most elemental rights and
freedoms of Azerbaijani citizens. Several young activists and
journalists have been arrested, reportedly beaten and tortured,
peaceful protesters have been violently attacked by police and
government agents in civilian uniforms.

These repressive policies and uncivilized tactics lead us to the only
possible logical conclusion that the current corrupt dictatorship
ruling Azerbaijan has no intentions to reform and in order for
Azerbaijan to make any real progress on the path to democracy this
regime will simply have to follow the fate of similar authoritarian
governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

The slogans and posters at the rally, as well as the use of satire,
graphics and some humor, typical of protest rallies, reflected these

- The Azerbaijani media and representatives of the government often
state that the main problem facing Azerbaijan is the Karabakh conflict
and that is where the primary focus should be in both the domestic and
international arena. You also used some posters at the rally related
to Karabakh conflict, can you elaborate on that?

- Indeed, the ruling regime has been hiding behind the Karabakh issue
for too long. What we have here is an attempt to use the genuine
tragedy - invasion of native Azerbaijani lands by Armenia - both as a
distraction and a cover for the corruption and repression perpetrated
by the authorities in Baku. To the outside world, they say that the
presence of refugees and Armenian invasion, along with `existing
political mentality' in Azerbaijani society, impedes the democratic
development. Internally, they use this subject to question the
patriotism of dissidents who `during a war time turn against their own
government' and thus `aid the enemy'.

I would like to ask this question: how does exactly the presence of
refugees or the prevailing political culture in society lead to the
specific decisions by Ilham Aliyev regime to use force against
peaceful demonstrators or to keep in jail the journalists and
activists? And what the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia
has to do with the president's teenage children owning $74 million
dollar villas in Dubai and the ruling family controlling some of the
country's biggest private banks? If the `political mentality' is a
culprit in all this - that seems to be the mentality and culture of
the ruling top officials, not the general population.

However, there is some link between the issues of democracy and
Karabakh, but in the exactly opposite cause-and-effect direction from
the one claimed by the Azerbaijani government and its apologists. The
pervasive corruption and lack of democratic governance is the primary
factor that impedes the solution for Karabakh or any other major
problem facing Azerbaijan today. After all, how can the regime, so
corrupt to the core and so disrespectful towards the fundamental
rights of its citizens, be effective in its diplomatic efforts in
front of the world opinion or in building strong economy and military
to defend against foreign aggression?

Therefore, some of our posters reflected this reality: the 18 years of
abusing Karabakh problem for its own self-interest by the Aliyev
regime and failure to produce any tangible progress in diplomatic
negotiations indicates either it's utter incompetence, at best, or
it's actual interest in prolongation of this conflict to use it as a
convenient excuse, at worst.

- A director of an Azerbaijani-American organization USAN, Bedir
Memmedli, suggested that you choose different methods of expressing
concerns with the policies of Azerbaijani government and questioned
the sincerity of the participants of this rally due the lack of their
involvement in other Diaspora activities. Can you respond to these

- AZAD's leadership always appreciates feedback from the public,
especially from other Azerbaijan-Americans. Of course, AZAD, as an
organization, has a specific purpose and all of its events are related
to its mission: advocating support for democracy in Azerbaijan.
However, Bedir Memmedli's statement is flat-out wrong: many
participants of our rally have also been involved in other events of
Azerbaijani-American community at numerous occasions.

Many of us, including myself, have participated individually in other
community events such as Khojali commemoration rallies; some
individuals were among the organizers and sponsors of Azerbaijani and
Turkic events in greater Washington area, such as Turkish Festival in
DC or fundraising events for an Azerbaijani-American candidate in
local elections. Some of those who helped to organize AZAD's `Free
Azerbaijan' rally also assisted with Azerbaijani Novruz celebrations
just a day earlier, which was attended by about 80 community members.

But the real question is the following: what the participation in the
community events has to do with the topics raised at AZAD's March 19
rally? Criticism of our protest action based on unrelated and untrue
facts sounds very similar to the distraction tactics of the
Azerbaijani government that I described in the answer to the previous
question. I hope that this is an honest oversight by someone who
claims to share our concerns about the lack of democracy in

It is also very telling that the recommendation made by Mr. Memmedli
is exactly the same as the one given to us by the first secretary of
Azerbaijani Embassy before our first rally in front of the embassy
back in December of 2008: he advised us then to opt for a meeting in
the Azerbaijani Embassy and express our concerns to the embassy staff
inside the embassy, rather than holding public protest action which
can `damage the country's reputation'. Again, I hope these parallels
between the USAN director's statements and the position of an
Azerbaijani government representative are only unfortunate

I would also like to add that if the representatives of the
Azerbaijani Embassy in DC or any other Azeri government officials
would like to discuss the issue of democracy and human rights with
AZAD, we would gladly welcome such an invitation. In fact,
representatives of the embassy were invited to AZAD's April 16, 2010
forum on the role of democracy in the US-Azerbaijani relations but
chose not to attend. However, any such meetings and discussion can not
be seen as a substitute for public protest actions to express our
concerns and raise awareness about these topics (Azerireport).

From: A. Papazian