Earlier this year, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan looked like he was softening his authoritarian grip on his country, note David J. Kramer and Richard Kauzlarich. But since President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in April summit, his regime has intensified its crackdowns on freedoms. Azerbaijan’s rapid, dangerous deterioration demands more decisive action from the United States, they write for The Washington Post:
The government in Baku has increased its arrests and detentions of another dozen opposition figures, peaceful religious believers and civil society activists. Nearly 100 political prisoners are languishing in the country’s jails. Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli was detained at the national airport and prevented from leaving the country. Faig Amirli, financial director of Azadliq newspaper and assistant to the chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was arrested last month. Other opposition politicians arrested in August include Natiq Jafarli, executive secretary of the REAL movement, and NIDA civic movement activist Elgiz Qahraman.
Just a few months ago, authorities in Azerbaijan spent tens of millions of dollars on hosting a Grand Prix auto race, which critics derided as a vanity project that satisfied the leadership’s craving for international attention, but did not produce any tangible benefits for the general population. Now, there are several indicators that government finances are tight and Azerbaijan’s economy could spin out, Eurasia Review adds:
The clearest sign of Azerbaijan’s fiscal vulnerability is the late-August move by commercial banks to suspend the sale of foreign currency, specifically US dollars. In the weeks leading up to the suspension, demand for dollars spiked, thus causing the Azerbaijani currency, the manat, to slide.
The United States should consider recalling our ambassador for extended consultations over human rights concerns as well as the rising anti-American rhetoric of Azerbaijan officials and government-sanctioned media, Kramer and Kauzlarich contend:
We also need to get the Europeans on board with similar measures. These steps should be taken unless and until all the political prisoners are released and the referendum enhancing Aliyev’s powers is voided. Letting Azerbaijan follow through on its threat to form closer ties with Moscow and Tehran without balance from the United States may be a necessary, albeit unpleasant, learning experience for the regime in Baku.
David J. Kramer is senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Richard Kauzlarich is an adjunct professor at George Mason University and former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and to Bosnia and Herzegovina.