By Elmar Chakhtakhtinski mid=48
May 31, 2012

An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD)

Dear Secretary Clinton,

On June 6th you will be visiting Baku and meeting with the leader of
Azerbaijan's ruling regime, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. It is understandable that
sometimes the US need to work with even the most corrupt dictatorships
on the pressing matters of national interest. However, I respectfully
suggest that a visit by the top US diplomat should have been preceded
at least by some positive steps from the Azerbaijani leadership on
democracy and human rights, such as the release of all political
prisoners, for example.

In the past, Mr. Aliyev and his government have given you, other
world leaders and the Azerbaijani people many promises. But each
time, emboldened by the respect and acceptance they received at the
international stage, they ignored their obligations and continued on
the path towards totalitarianism and corruption.

During your last trip to Baku in July 2010, you stressed the importance
of democratic development and respect for human rights.

Within the two years since your last meeting with Mr. Aliyev, his
regime did nothing to improve its record on these issues. Below are
some of the developments that happened in Azerbaijan during that time:

- The parliamentary elections held within few months after your trip
in 2010 were marred by wholesale fraud, as was every other election
under the Aliyev regime. A new parliament was formed without a single
representative from the political opposition. Currently, there is
not a single branch of government in Azerbaijan at any level that
can claim to be formed by free expression of people's will.

- Media reports emerged with documented evidence that links the ruling
Aliyev family to large-scale corruption involving secretive ownership
through offshore companies of the country's largest banks, phone
operators, industrial complexes, gold mines and other enterprises.

Neither Mr. Aliyev nor any of his officials have ever refuted these
allegations or explained where all this wealth comes from. This might
have been sufficient for the indictment and prosecution of Mr. Aliyev
in any civilized country which, unlike Azerbaijan, is governed by laws.

- A US Congress sponsored Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova,
whose investigative work revealed many of the corruption facts about
the ruling family, was attacked with sexual blackmail and personal
threats coupled with an aggressive dirty PR campaign against her in
the pro-government press.

- Journalist Rafig Tagi, who had been critical of both the religious
extremism and the Azerbaijani leadership, was murdered. The authorities
were quick to point fingers to Iran and its agents, but no one has
been charged with the crime yet. This eerily reminded a 2005 murder of
journalist Elmar Huseynov, the most vocal regime critic at the time,
whose killers have also evaded justice.

- The number of political prisoners has increased. The two bloggers,
personally mentioned by you and President Obama to Mr. Aliyev in
2010, had been released but many others were thrown behind the
bars. From an opposition leader Arif Hajili, one of the people who
signed Azerbaijan's Declaration of Independence from Soviet Empire, to
young Harvard graduate and parliamentary candidate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev,
to local human rights defender in Goychay province Vidadi Iskenderov -
there is a long list of people jailed for speaking out their minds,
professing their beliefs and demanding their rights.

- The regime continued to ban protest rallies in the central parts
of Baku and other cities, with police and government organized thugs
brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.

I could also cite the inhumane demolitions of private homes, non-stop
persecution of political dissidents and independent media on all
fronts, pervasive corruption at all levels, and many other daily
violations of basic rights and freedoms of Azerbaijani citizens. All
these facts are well documented by major international organizations
and the US State Department's own Annual Human Rights Reports.

One thing stands clear from this record: the ruling Azerbaijani regime
has convincingly demonstrated by its past and present actions that
it has no intentions of ever loosening its repressive policies and
conducting the long promised reforms. The twenty years of Aliyev
dynasty in Azerbaijan had been plenty enough for holding at least
one free and fair election, for allowing at least one independent
TV and radio broadcast station, for not having the ruling family
own the nation's biggest companies, for not having journalists and
dissidents murdered, blackmailed, beaten and jailed. These are not
the elements of a mature democracy which might take decades to build:
they are the very minimal steps necessary for any progress towards
open and accountable governance.

Dear Madam Secretary,

The Aliyev regime often uses Azerbaijan's energy resources and
geo-strategic location as leverage, hoping that in return for energy
and security cooperation the United States and other world powers
will accept its legitimacy. But the recent history, including the
events of Arab Spring, revealed the potential dangers of bloodshed
and upheaval awaiting such unelected, oppressive governments, with
all the ensuing uncertainty it brings for the United States and its
allies in the region.

I urge you to use this opportunity to make it clear that America
stands behind its principles and that democracy will not be
perpetually sidelined by other considerations. By publicly demanding
free elections, release of all political prisoners, and respect for
basic rights and freedoms, the United States leadership would show
that it considers the people of Azerbaijan, not just its government,
as friends and allies and this friendship is based on shared vision
of liberty, justice and peaceful development, not only on temporal
energy and security interests.

Sincerely yours,

Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, Chairman Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy