I wasn’t sure if I was going to post about this, but I’m sufficiently shocked to do so.
I was in Washington for most of last week. Most of the areas I cover for my work have a certain degree of consensus between the Administration and the “broader policy community”; Balkans, Georgia, Moldova, even Ireland. On Azerbaijan there was a sharp divide. The White House and to a lesser degree the State Department were fully behind the Aliev government, where dad Heidar Aliev has just handed over as President to son Ilham Aliev, in an election where the son got (officially) 80% of the vote. But two ex-US Ambassadors I spoke to, now outside the administration, were both certain that the election was completely rigged, and both thought it probable that the opposition leader Iso Gambar (who officially got 13%) should have won.
Obviously as this is a public forum I can’t describe how I got most of the details. But I had mobile phone conversations with people actually in polling stations watching the ballot boxes being stuffed. An American diplomat, sent to observe the election, was beaten up, probably by the police. And on Friday many of Gambar’s supporters were arrested ostensibly for provoking the previous day’s riots.
That in itself perhaps isn’t so surprising; dodgy elections happen all over the place. What I find stunning is that Western reporting of all these incidents has been limited to a paragraph or two in the print media; the BBC has barely covered it, let alone CNN. I’m used to the American press being crap, but the Western Europeans normally have a bit more backbone. Neither Washington nor Moscow (nor, frankly, any government in between) has any interest in disturbing the rule of the Aliev family in their oil-rich fiefdom. The father was in power from 1969 until last week. The son’s first statement as President is that he will hold the opposition leadership personally responsible for any political violence.
I know a lot more about Azerbaijan than I did a week ago. And I think I will have to learn a good deal more.