What You Need To Know:
Mehriban Alieva, the wife of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliev was recently appointed as the country's Vice President–a position created by the referendum in 2016;
"People do understand that this is not a democracy;"
Azerbaijan's constitution has been changed three times in the last fifteen years to ensure that power stays in the family;
"The world has been tolerating all these anti-democratic moves of the government...So why would Ilham Aliev not do that if the world is silent?"
Mehriban Alieva, the wife of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliev was recently appointed as the country's Vice President–a position created by the referendum in 2016. While some citizens have protested the de jure monarchy in the country, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova says that citizens are scared and therefore accept what is happening in their country. "There is no room for the activity of civil society...People do understand that this is not a democracy," she explains.
Azerbaijan's constitution has been changed three times in the last fifteen years. "The referendum served to cement the power of the Aliev family," says Ismayilova. Aliev Jr. and Sr., together with Mehriban Alieva, are making sure that power stays in the family: "We are not speaking about the ruling team in Azerbaijan, we're speaking about the ruling family."
Ismayilova says that the international community is partially responsible for accepting the referendum results and not imposing sanctions on Ilham Aliev for his continuous violations of political and human rights. "The world has been tolerating all these anti-democratic moves of the government...So why would Ilham Aliev not do that if the world is silent?"
Hromadske's guest host Maxim Eristavi spoke to Khadija Ismayilova, investigative journalist via Skype during The Sunday Show on March 5th, 2017 in Kyiv.
For a lot of foreigners abroad, the appointment of Mehriban Alieva is, I think, very similar to some kind of 'House of Cards' plot. But at the same time, a lot of people keep asking whether or not there is a base, a popular base for this appointment and whether or not the country, in general, accepts this move, which is described as a first step to building a monarchy by some critics.
In fact, there is a monarchy in Azerbaijan, because the power has already been inherited from father to son. They are just making a de-jure monarchy. Do people accept it? Actually, do people have a choice? 01:08 People are scared here, and they don't believe in any result of any protest in this country. There were some protests in regions, in Baku city regarding the social problems before each election, before the referendum. Even the sanctioned rallies have been suppressed and dozens, even hundred have been arrested after each rally. People are very scared and basically, there is no room for the activity of civil society. The stagnation in the civil society results in the silence to this move.
Yes, Mehriban Alieva has been doing some charity, but people also understand that source of the money for these charity actions were corruption. People do understand that this is not a democracy, a democratic development. But do they have a choice? That's a question.
Would you please help us to understand a bit of background of this situation because this appointment comes right after the constitutional referendum; it has actually allowed this to happen. The question here is whether or not this appointment and constitutional referendum help to strengthen the regime or is that a sign that the regime is so scared of internal or external development, so they try to grab as much power as possible?
Our Constitution had been changed three times in the past 15 years. Every time, the referendum served to cement the power of the Aliev family. In 2002 they changed the referendum to make sure that the Prime Minister will get the power if the president gets ill or somehow is absent. Within a year, Heydar Aliev got sick and he appointed his son, the PM, after not being seen alive for weeks. The order came from the hospital in Turkey, that Ilham Aliev had been appointed as a Prime Minister. Then Ilham Aliev became a president after the 2003 elections. He was welcomed by world powers, including the US. It worked well. Then, in 2009, they changed the Constitution lifting the limits for the presidential terms, which allowed Ilhan Aliev to run for the presidency for the third time. Now they lifted the age limit and introduced the Vice President position to make sure that power stays in the family. So Aliev senior, Aliev junior and now with Mehriban Alieva are making sure that power stays in the family, which means that we are not speaking about the ruling team in Azerbaijan, we're speaking about the ruling family.
There is no one else beyond the family they could trust the power. That's what we have here. Even the corruption investigations show that the most of the wealth in the country is concentrated within one family. It shows that Aliev's family are not ready to share either power or the wealth of the country even with the inner circle of power.
You've been targeted by the Azerbaijani state yourself, you've been imprisoned. Now this week, we have horrible news about other prominent journalists and blogger Mehman Huseynov, who is now imprisoned for the defamation charges. The thing that strikes the most is that there is a lack of attention or even international condemnation when it comes to all those continuous violations of not only human, political rights, but also when it comes to the questionable referendum last year. Why do you think that the EU or the Council of Europe are not so vigorously active condemning those acts or even talking about possible sanctions or any instruments of influencing the increasingly authoritarian regime?
That's very relevant question because there is a revolving door of the prison in Azerbaijan. They release one and they arrest two, they release more and arrest even more. And that's because the world tolerates the system that imprisons people for their views and for their criticism. The world has been tolerating all these anti-democratic moves of the government. We haven't seen much response from the executive powers. We have seen some from the US Congress, congressmen called for enforcing Magnitskiy act globally, including Azerbaijan. But then we have executive powers, the State Department and the White House being in best case silent about the issues in Azerbaijan, including the referendum. When the referendum has passed, the State Department reaction was that that was a will of the people.
There was no voting here. There were no debates here regarding the referendum. The mild reaction of the world democracies and that was Obama's period. Now we have fewer expectations. So why would Ilham Aliev not do that if the world is silent if he's still welcomed in Europen clubs, he goes to Europe, he is welcomed by the European politicians? They are discussing world affairs with him. oil pipelines and so on. So why wouldn't he do that? What would stop him? Now we are facing the situation in the world when the world is facing similar problems to Azerbaijan. That's the key - when you tolerate authoritarian regime in your neighborhood that you get immunity to that and it becomes a part of your lifestyle. You embrace this method and then you shake hands with dictators and then you have a dictator on your own top.