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08BAKU972 2008-10-14 04:34:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baku
Cable title:  

AZERBAIJAN: DEPUTY SECRETARY DISCUSSES DEMOCRATIC

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM AJ 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: On October 2 and 3 Deputy Secretary
Negroponte and Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza met with
representatives of the international community and with local
NGOs working in Azerbaijan. Representatives of the
international community agreed that it is unclear whether
democratization is moving forward or backward in Azerbaijan,
given the "monopolization" of the political space by the
ruling party. They disagreed, however, on the effects of oil
revenues on the society at large, citing both positive and
negative effects. Local NGOs presented concerns about
increasing Islamization in Azerbaijan, and about the lack of
freedom of expression and assembly. These meetings suggest
that strengthening Azerbaijan's democratic institutions will
require time and sustained effort by the GOAJ, civil society
and international partners alike. Raising our level of
successful engagement with Azerbaijan on democratic reform to
that of our cooperation on security and energy should
continue to be a key focus in U.S.-Azerbaijan relations after
the presidential election. END SUMMARY

DEPUTY SECRETARY MEETS WITH INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS


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2. (C) On October 2 Deputy Secretary of State John
Negroponte and Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza met
with representatives of international organizations and
international NGOs working in Azerbaijan to discuss the
political situation in Azerbaijan ahead of the presidential
elections. Participants included Ambassador Jose-Luis
Herrero Ansola of the OSCE, Veronika Kotek, Head of the
Council of Europe office in Azerbaijan, Dan Blessington of
the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES),
Jake Jones of the International Republican Institute (IRI),
and Arjen de Wolff of the National Democratic Institute (NDI).



3. (C) After a short explanation of the work done by the
organizations represented, Ambassador Herrero began the
discussion of the upcoming presidential election by reminding
the group that no election in Azerbaijan's history has met
international standards, but that the international community
hopes for an improvement in the conduct of the election this
year. Despite these technical improvements, however,
Ambassador Herrero explained that it is clear that the
current President will win massively. The key questions, he
stated, are whether there will be violence in the
post-election period, which seems unlikely at this point, and
whether the turnout will be very low.



4. (C) Ambassador Herrero further explained that there has
been a slow monopolization of the political space in
Azerbaijan by the ruling party. This includes not only
within official politics, but also in print and especially
television media. He believes it is unclear at this point
whether Azerbaijan is moving towards democracy or not. Jones
believed that the boycott of the elections by the traditional
opposition parties is an indicator of increasing radicalism
within the opposition. He does not believe this radicalism
will lead to instability in the short term, but worries that
it may in the long term. Blessington pointed out, however,
that these opposition parties have little public support. In
response to DAS Bryza's question about what would happen if
there were more freedom in Azerbaijan, Jones replied young
people would create new parties, rather than join the older
ones.



5. (C) There was also discussion of how the new money
flowing into the economy from oil will affect the country.
De Wolff and Jones felt that oil revenues had a negative
effect, as they are concentrated in the hands of the ruling
elite who have no interest in increasing transparency.
Blessington agreed that there is increasing disparity in
wealth in the country. Ambassador Herrero, however, remarked
that the oil revenues are moving to the general society,
albeit very slowly, and that there has been a large decrease
in poverty.



6. (C) The conversation concluded with the question on what
model Azerbaijan is following. Kotek reported that she hears
often from GOAJ officials that they chose to move toward

BAKU 00000972 002 OF 002


Europe willingly, but Europe should not push too hard or they
will move the other direction. Blessington agreed that in
recent years the GOAJ has begun to push back on Western
institutions and claim that these institutions have "double
standards." De Wolff felt that Azerbaijan does not want to
be Europe, but wants balance. Deputy Secretary Negroponte
expressed the hope that the U.S. could improve relations with
Azerbaijan in a way that moved democracy forward, not
backward.

DEPUTY SECRETARY MEETS WITH LOCAL CIVIL SOCIETY


--------------------------

--



7. (C) On October 3 Deputy Secretary Negroponte, DAS Bryza,
and the Ambassador met with representatives of Azerbaijan's
civil society. Participants included Novella Jafaroglu of
the Association for the Protection of Women's Rights, Saida
Gojamanly of the Bureau of Human Rights and Law Respect,
Sadaat Benanyarly of International Service for Human Rights,
Mehman Aliyev of Turan Information Agency, and Fuad Aliyev of
the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.



8. (C) The participants discussed at length the growing
influence of Islam in Azerbaijan. Jafaroglu stated her
concerns about Iranian influence creating radicalization in
Azerbaijan, while at the same time GOAJ arrests of pious
Muslims creates more confrontation. Mehman Aliyev stressed
the continuance of Azerbaijan's tradition of religious
toleration. Fuad Aliyev, however, expressed concern about
the split between traditional secular civil society and
religious organizations, stating that each group does not
accept the validity of the other's views.



9. (C) Benanyarly stated that this increasing radicalism
stems from the more basic problem of the lack of freedom in
Azerbaijan. She felt that the increasing corruption, lack of
an independent judiciary, and absences of freedom of speech
or assembly led people to join religious groups. Gojamanly
agreed, citing widespread disenchantment with life in
Azerbaijan, leading many to leave the country for Europe,
Turkey, or Russia. Mehman Aliyev concluded the discussion by
explaining the GOAJ's monopoly over media, including all TV
stations and the provision of internet connections.

COMMENT


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10. (C) The visit of the Deputy Secretary was a good
opportunity to assess the state of democracy in Azerbaijan
just two weeks ahead of the presidential election. The
continued "monopolization" of the political space by the
ruling party is a long-standing problem and will be the
primary obstacle to further democratization in the
post-election period. It is this obstacle that will be the
most difficult for the U.S. to negotiate while balancing the
need to advance democracy in the region and the sensitive
nature of the bilateral relationship, and an issue that will
need to be addressed down the road as Azerbaijan proceeds
toward municipal and parliamentary elections in 2009 and


2010. END COMMENT.



11. (U) D staff has cleared this cable.
DERSE