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August 6, 2005
Azeri Authorities Claim American-Backed Coup Attempt

The authoritarian government in Azerbaijan, which had made some noises about liberalization, has accused an American NGO of fomenting a violent coup and has used this development as an excuse to crack down on political opposition. The Turkish Press reports that the National Democratic Initiative (NDI) strongly denies any such intent, saying only that they wanted to promote free elections in order to transition from autocracy to representative government in a peaceful and legal manner:

Azeri prosecutors announced Thursday they had arrested the leader of a youth group, saying he was plotting to launch a peaceful popular revolution during parliamentary elections in November at the instigation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

"The allegations that we are funding a revolution just aren't true," NDI's director for Azerbaijan, Christy Quirk told AFP.

In a statement the NDI said it cooperates with "all political parties" to promote free and fair voting. ...

The organization, which has faced criticism from regimes in other former Soviet republics accusing it of promoting revolutions that swept Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan recently, did not mention any specific allegations in its statement.

The issues involved probably have little to do with any real coup attempt, but instead represent an effort of the Azeri power structure to block the promotion of democracy. The Turkish press notes that the Azeri government also accused the Yeni Fikr youth movement, whose leader they arrested, of taking money from Armenia for their organization. The two nations have often found themselves at odds with each other and both hold long-lasting enmity with each other over the Nagorno-Karabkh dispute in the 1990s; accusing democracy advocates of being in bed with Armenia would equate to a similar accusation in the US of carrying water for Castro.

Publius Pundit
has plenty of links on this subject, as does Registan, two of the best blog resources on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Publius links to an AFP report from Baku that notes the Azeri regime announcing new crackdowns on political parties in Azerbaijan, putting planned elections in jeopardy:

The authorities in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan said Thursday they would clamp down on political parties, vowing to increase control ahead of parliamentary elections and to crackdown on financing from abroad.

The authorities will strengthen control over the activities of political parties ahead of parliamentary elections, the head of the justice ministrys department for registering parties, Fazil Mamedov, said in televised remarks.

Announcing their intention to "control" dissident political parties sounds like bad news for democratization in Azerbaijan. A public and explicit announcement means that they do not care about the international ramifications of their muscle-flexing at home. They must calculate that few people will concern themselves with the internal politics of Azerbaijan. For the sake of those working to liberalize their government, I hope they get proven incorrect.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 6, 2005 1:57 PM

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