Who will decide oppositionist Yagublu’s fate: the Azerbaijani public or external forces?
Politician Azer Qasimli sat down with JAMnews to share his thoughts on the arrest of Musavat Party and National Council member Tofiq Yagublu, as well as the hunger strike he is holding in protest.
President announces reforms, and then…
— Who wanted Tofiq Yagublu arrested in light of the political reform that has been discussed since the end of last year?
— Let’s start by saying that there is no reform in Azerbaijan. The word ‘reform’ means making changes to the system. But we have seen no serious changes in the makeup of the administration. The conditions aren’t right for Azerbaijan to be competitive on either a political or an economic level. They have formed a semi-closed system, and any competition is seen as a threat to this system. There are small transformations, certain changes in the political system; we are currently transitioning from the oligarchic system left over from Heydar Aliyev’s time to a managerial system, i.e. from an oligarchic-authoritarian system to an autocratic family regime.
Overall, we’re not seeing the reforms we want, which would take the form of democratic amendments, transparency in the political system and the political arena in general, competition in culture and other areas. There have been changes, but they are not reforms.
The arrest of Tofiq Yaqublu also indicates that there is no reform in Azerbaijan. If there was, the courts would be unable to make such a decision. All witnesses say that Tofiq Yaqublu was arrested on counts of libel. Before his arrest, President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the new political order and about restricting the activities of some politicians in the country. The president himself announced Yaqublu’s arrest, this is a continuation of a policy and directly contradicts the very concept and philosophy of reforms.
Not enough external pressure
— Despite serious internal disagreements, the opposition parties hold a unified position on the issue of Tofiq Yaqublu. International organizations and embassies also called for his release. Will this be enough?
— It’s not enough, because due to the quarantine in Azerbaijan, the public has a certain energy and inertia. On the other hand, society does not have sufficient resources for serious protests. We saw this in the case of Mehman Huseynov, and we acknowledge that the protests weren’t the sole decisive factor in that issue, because there was also pressure from outside. The authorities were forced to retreat not so much because of protests within the country, but because of protests abroad.
In the case of Tofiq Yaqublu, I do not see any serious protests outside the country. Yes, the local embassies have made statements, and the US State Department released a statement. This is all that is on the surface, but there is still pressure that we cannot see.
I think that this pressure is not enough for the authorities to back down on this issue. If it was, they would have retreated long ago. Our government is primarily wary of foreign pressure. I think this pressure will increase in the future. But a lot also depends on us.
Different positions of politicians
— On September 9, a group of young activists held a protest against Yaqublu’s arrest. Other groups of people are holding hunger strikes in Baku and abroad. How should politicians in Azerbaijan react?
— Politicians must come together and take a stand. They may also think about the protests in this regard. Politicians and political organizations must also have connections abroad. This is different for different parties.
This is not just an issue concerning civil society, the media and the youth. On the one hand, this is a political issue, and on the other hand, it is a person’s life and fate. We must look at the topic from the standpoint of a citizen, regardless of Tofiq Yaqublu’s personality or political affiliations, he is first and foremost a citizen and a person. Today, we are discussing the fate of his life.
In my opinion, politicians should act together on this issue, from a unified position, but I do not see this; I see people with many different positions. They may make a decision to protest, and then the authorities will retreat in light of this decision, as well as the external pressure.
Strength of civil society will bring about change – not recommendations
— What should the authorities do under the current circumstances?
— The authorities are currently acting out of their own interests. Therefore, there is no point in my making recommendations to them. Politicians, ordinary citizens, social and political activists are always trying to give advice to the authorities. But the authorities do not need this advice. In arresting or releasing someone, they act only in their own interests.
Azerbaijan will have to make these changes. In a sense, our society is on the verge of change.
But I want the changes to take place in a peaceful environment and for democracy to be the end result. The authorities in Azerbaijan will step back and start making changes not because they are given advice, but because they see strength and power standing before them. These changes will happen, but we want them to happen peacefully.