Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thrown down the gauntlet in the face of criticism from the European Union, accusing the bloc of being "anti-Azerbaijani" and mocking European values amid the ongoing refugee crisis.
During a joint press conference with visiting Czech President Milos Zeman in Baku on September 15, Aliyev blasted a recent European Parliament resolution that condemned his country's human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners and imprisoned journalists.
"The resolution is groundless, biased, and it is a political provocation based on lies," Aliyev said of the September 10 resolution.
The nonbinding resolution, passed by a vote of 365 to 202, with 72 abstentions, decried the "unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan."
The resolution demanded that Azerbaijan end its crackdown on civil society and human rights work and suggested that the EU's negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement with Azerbaijan be suspended as long as Baku "fails to take concrete steps in advancing respect for universal human rights."
Speaking earlier on September 15 at the opening ceremonies of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country's youth to stay away from "foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share."
"Look at the horrific developments taking place in Europe and the abuses the miserable people fleeing a war are facing there. Are those in fact European values? Are those actually the values they have been talking about for years?" Interfax quoted Aliyev as asking.
"Where is the tolerance? Where is multiculturalism? Where are their virtues and mercy? Nobody sees it there," he continued. "What we see is religious and ethnic hostility, discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia, fascism, and racism. We do not need this kind of values. Let them have those."
Aliyev's offensive came after Azerbaijan's parliament responded to the EU parliament's action by adopting a resolution of its own on September 4. The counter-resolution announced that Baku had initiated procedures to suspend its membership in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly -- a forum that brings together the European Parliament and the national parliaments of the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
The document also said that Azerbaijan may quit the Eastern Partnership program, an EU initiative that regulates the bloc’s ties with the six post-Soviet states.
Aliyev said during his joint press conference on September 15 that the Azerbaijani parliament's decision was "right."
"The Azerbaijani parliament, surely, suspends its activities in Euronest. That is the Azerbaijani parliament's sovereign right. In addition, as you probably know already, the cooperation between the European parliament and the Azerbaijani parliament has been suspended as well," Aliyev said. "Those are results of the dirty campaign being held against us. Azerbaijan has always reacted adequately and will be reacting in such a way to every step directed against us."
Zeman said during the press conference that Azerbaijan's exit from the Eastern Partnership would negatively affect the program.
Zeman called the Eastern Partnership "a useful mechanism" and said it would lose a key component if Baku left.
The September 10 European Parliament resolution called for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned activists and journalists, including investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who was sentenced in early September to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges including libel, tax evasion, and abuse of power.
It also called for the release of activists Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus, a married couple who in August were sentenced to 8 1/2 and seven years in prison, respectively, on charges of economic crimes. The couple, who are suffering from deteriorating health, deny guilt and contend that the charges against them are politically motivated.
The resolution also called for a prompt investigation into the death of journalist Rasim Aliyev, who died in a Baku hospital in August after being attacked by supporters of a popular soccer player Aliyev had criticized.
Several journalists and rights activists in Azerbaijan have been sentenced to prison terms in recent months on charges that include tax evasion, illegal business activity, and hooliganism.
Their cases are widely seen as part of a government-led crackdown on dissent in the oil-producing former Soviet republic in the South Caucasus, which Aliyev has ruled since he succeeded his father as president in 2003.
With reporting by apa.az and trend.az