Friday, August 29, 2014


Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani Opposition Leader Seeks Support In Washington

Rustam Ibragimbekov
Rustam Ibragimbekov
By Richard Solash
WASHINGTON -- Azerbaijani opposition leader Rustam Ibragimbekov has met with U.S. State Department officials in Washington this week to seek support ahead of the Caucasian country's presidential election in October.

The 74-year-old, who is known across the former Soviet Union for his work as an award-winning screenwriter, told RFE/RL, "I came to Washington and met with key representatives of the U.S. administration and Congress in order to familiarize them with our declaration, our program, our intentions, and to receive their comments."

"I hoped that our initiatives would be supported here, and that is exactly what happened," he added.

Ibragimbekov said he met with Uzra Zeya, the acting assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, among other department officials.

He also said he met with U.S. Senators Benjamin Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) and Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi), as well as with staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and U.S. Helsinki Commission.

"It was promised that they would support not us, but rather, would support the development of democracy and the chance for equal conditions for elections," Ibragimbekov said.

"If the elections are fair and [President Ilham Aliyev] is reelected, we would support and accept the choice made by the people. The important thing is that the elections are honest. It is not our goal to overthrow anyone. Our task is to ensure the elections honestly reflect the right of the people, the right of the people themselves, to elect their authorities."

While energy and counterterrorism issues often dominate relations between Washington and oil-rich, strategically located Azerbaijan, Ibragimbekov expressed confidence that his message was well-received.

"Without broad international support, it is impossible to conduct the upcoming elections [in Azerbaijan] in a more or less democratic, clean fashion," he said. "It is this kind of international support that our National Council is seeking in the United States, in Russia, in Turkey, and in Europe."

Ibragimbekov was named the chairman of Azerbaijan's opposition coalition, the National Council for Democratic Forces, on June 7. He had officially launched the coalition just days before.

Popular among Baku's intelligentsia and the Azeri diaspora in Russia, Ibragimbekov has brought new prestige and unaccustomed unity to the country's opposition elements. 

While President Aliyev is widely expected to secure a third term in office this autumn, Ibragimbekov is considered to be the strongest potential challenger.

He has said that he will contest the election if named the opposition coalition's candidate and has warned that supporters could take to the streets if the vote is rigged.

Ibragimbekov told RFE/RL that if the opposition did manage to win in October, its candidate would remain president for just two years to oversee constitutional reforms before calling fresh elections.

Since the early 1990s Azerbaijan has not held an election that was judged free and fair by international observers.

A controversial 2009 constitutional amendment abolishing term limits allows Aliyev to potentially stay in office indefinitely.

When asked whether he was afraid to return to his home country, Ibragimbekov responded, "What's the meaning of the word 'afraid'? I'm 74 years old and at that age a person should not be afraid of anything."

"We're talking about what I can do to help develop democracy in Azerbaijan. What would be more effective -- my being abroad or being in an Azerbaijani prison? Speaking from a purely pragmatic point of view, it would be right for me not to return to Azerbaijan quite yet."

Ibragimbekov said he plans to soon visit the Council of Europe and the EU Parliament.

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