Angela Merkel in Azerbaijan: unfulfilled expectations
Photo: ANDREAS RINKE/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid an official visit to Azerbaijan on 25 August as part of her tour of the South Caucasus countries.
Merkel met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, followed by a joint press conference. The conference was closed to independent journalists.
The Chancellor also met with representatives of civil society and visited the Alley of Martyrs, a place dedicated to those who fell in the struggle for independence and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
“From a political and economic point of view, we consider Azerbaijan a heavyweight in the region,” reads a statement issued by the German government before the start of the tour.
Merkel’s visit was wrapped up in high expectations. The government in particular hoped for an agreement in principle on the export of Azerbaijani gas to Germany and further to other EU countries. This topic, along with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, were the main ones on the agenda.
The agreement was not signed, though, according to Deutsche Welle, Merkel made it clear that Europe would like to diversify its energy market in order to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.
Beginning in 2020, Azerbaijani gas in the amount of 10 billion cubic metres per year will be supplied to Europe through the southern gas corridor. The corridor consists of three gas pipelines.
By design, gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz 2 field will reach Turkey, then part of it will pass through an 800-kilometre stretch that will extend from the Turkish-Greek border to northern Greece, cross Albania and the Adriatic Sea, and reach the shores of Italy.
The Karabakh settlement
Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Merkel said only that Germany will promote its peaceful resolution.
Freedom of speech and human rights
The opposition and civil society of Azerbaijan, including the government, were looking forward to Merkel’s visit as she was expected to raise the topic of political prisoners (which Azerbaijan’s government denies exist) during the course of her visit.
On the eve of the tour, the international human rights organization Reporters without Borders urged Merkel to demand the release of convicted journalists from Ilham Aliyev, and raise the issue of freedom of speech in the country.
“Azerbaijan is one of the countries where the largest number of media workers are in custody: eight journalists and two bloggers are now imprisoned because of their work,” said Reporters Without Borders on 22 August.
However, expectations went unfulfilled as Merkel did not demand the release of political prisoners.
She did touch upon the topic during her meeting with civil society representatives, which included independent investigative journalist and former political prisoner Khadija Ismayilova.
After the meeting, Ismayilova posted on her Facebook page that she described the situation with corruption, democracy and freedom of speech in Azerbaijan and asked candid questions of the Chancellor.
“I got the impression that Chancellor Merkel understands the difficulties and mechanisms of the autocratic regime. She said that our problems are important, and some of them were brought up at the meeting with President Aliyev. I hope to hear more from her,” Ismayilova concluded.
Angela Merkel spent a total of six hours in Baku.
Merkel’s visit caused a scandal long before it began. She was initially meant to be accompanied by, among others, Albert Weiler, a Bundestag member from her party. However, Weiler was denied entry as he had visited Nagorno-Karabakh in 2014 and 2016.
“The position of Azerbaijan is regrettable as it does not contribute to the promotion of a dialogue on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” said Steffen Seibert, an official representative of the German cabinet of ministers.
Nevertheless, Germany excluded Albert Weiler from the delegation in the end as, Merkel herself stated, negotiations in Baku were more important.