"Orwellian" Azerbaijan has certainly passed beyond the pale of norms and principles of international law and fundamental human rights.

War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Those familiar with George Orwell’s book 1984 recognize these slogans or, better say, anti-slogans. The fiction describes a suppressed society under despotic system that rules through state propaganda, falsification of history and reality, as well as keeps its society under permanent state of war and in atmosphere of fear.

Publishing his book in 1949, Orwell most probably had drawn inspiration from totalitarian systems like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, many concepts described in his fictional state of “Oceania” have reached our days. Authoritarianism based on despotic power, re-writing of history and distortion of reality, violation of basic human rights, intolerance and xenophobia do exist today in non-fictional states.

The Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the most vivid examples of how countries follow the concepts of “Oceania”. The oil-rich Azerbaijan with its quasi-monarch ruler Ilham Aliyev is known as one of the most corrupted states and regimes.[1] Its human rights records are as bad. Consistently assessed by global human rights organizations as a “non-free” state,[2] Azerbaijan is “characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights”.[3]

In best traditions of “Oceania”, Azerbaijan’s official rhetoric attempts to misrepresent the reality. “All fundamental freedoms are provided in Azerbaijan – freedom of assembly, association, freedom of expression, media freedom”, says the Azeri president.[4] However, the same “freedom-provider” has recently cracked down on local and American NGOs, including IREX and NED, forcing them to cease operating in Azerbaijan,[5] and detained and jailed human rights activists and reporters.[6] Here, Aliyev’s regime was especially tough on those involved in Track II peaceful diplomacy efforts on Nagorno Karabakh conflict,[7] and towards the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)—the bureau was raided just days after U.S. State Secretary John Kerry personally expressed his concern over continuing persecutions in Azerbaijan.[8] Indeed, “freedom is slavery” is very applicable.

Another slogan of the Orwellian state, “war is peace”, perfectly corresponds with Azerbaijan’s behavior regarding the Karabakh conflict. Inspired by the flow of easy oil money, Aliyev’s regime keeps itself and the neighborhood under a permanent threat of war in order to cover his own shortcomings and reinforce his grip on power. Continued bellicose statements[9] and permanent tension along the frontline via subversions and other violations of the 1994 ceasefire agreement, co-signed by Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, are called to facilitate Aliyev’s stance. The same logic applies to Azerbaijan’s rejection to pulling out snipers from the Line of Contact and implementing other de-escalation measures repeatedly proposed by international community.[10].

Aliyev’s regime spares no efforts to instigate anti-Armenian hatred.[11] The country continues its military buildup, re-writes its own and the region’s history, and distorts the essence of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict by misrepresenting the case of self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh as Armenia’s territorial claim against Azerbaijan.

State-controlled media help maintain anti-Armenian sentiments in the society at a dangerously high level. Be it burning books of Azeri writer Akram Aylisli, whose Stone Garden novel dared to be somewhat neutral towards Armenians and recounted Azeri bloody atrocities against local Armenian population,[12] or pardoning and glorifying Safarov, who had axed a sleeping Armenian officer in Hungary in 2004 and was illegally released after extradition,[13] or series of hate-speech tweets and statements by Aliyev calling all Armenians enemies of Azerbaijan,[14] the regime’s behavior demonstrates the highest level of intolerance and hatred within Azerbaijan towards Armenians.

“Orwellian” Azerbaijan has certainly passed beyond the pale of norms and principles of international law and fundamental human rights. Aliyev’s regime must be held responsible for its stance. Otherwise, the world risks seeing further misbehavior and more opportunities for greater regional instability. An appeasement policy that turns a blind eye on aggressive behavior only encourages dictators to think that “ignorance” is really “strength” and might lead to another regional catastrophe.


[1] Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “OCCRP Names Aliyev “Person Of The Year”, December 31, 2012: https://occrp.org/occrp/index.php/en/ccwatch/cc-watch-indepth/1772-occrp-names-aliyev-qperson-of-the-year-q-

Also read: “Offshore Companies Link Corporate Mogul, Azerbaijan’s President”,  RFR/RL, April 04, 2013:  http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-aliyev-family-offshore-businesses/24947900.html?fb_action_ids=508187335906797&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%22508187335906797%22%3A481670968554894%7D&action_type_map=%7B%22508187335906797%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D;

See also: “Pricey real estate deals in Dubai raise questions about Azerbaijan’s president”, The Washington Post, March 5, 2010: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/04/AR2010030405390.html

Read also: “The Corleones of the Caspian. How Azerbaijan’s dictator woos the United States and Europe”, Foreign Policy, June 10, 2014: http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/06/10/the-corleones-of-the-caspian/

[2] Freedom in the World 2014/Azerbaijan: https://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2014/azerbaijan#.VNP-qmjF8b4

[3] Freedom House Report, “Nations in Transit 2014/Azerbaijan”: https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/NIT14_Azerbaijan_final.pdf

[4] Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the Inaugural Plenary Session of the 23rd Annual Session of the OSCE PA, 28 June 2014: http://en.president.az/articles/12353

[5] “Azerbaijan cracks down while chairing Council of Europe”, BBC, 12 October 2014: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29559009

[6] Reporters Without Borders: http://en.rsf.org/azerbaijan.html; Also see: “Azerbaijan: Support jailed journalists and human rights defenders”, Index on Censorship, 23 December, 2014: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/12/azerbaijan-support-jailed-journalists-human-rights-defenders/

[7] Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2015/Azerbaijan”, January 2015: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/azerbaijan

[8] The New York Times, “Azerbaijan Snubs the West” by Joshua Kucera, January 8, 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/opinion/azerbaijan-snubs-the-west.html?_r=0

[9] Collection of war threat statements by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and other Azerbaijani officials: http://www.eufoa.org/uploads/AliyevWarThreats.pdf

[10] Azerbaijani Defense Ministry: “We won’t withdraw snipers from the front line, unless war ends”, 17 September, 2013: http://en.apa.az/news/199602 ; Read also: http://armenpress.am/eng/news/640485/  Read also: http://asbarez.com/94262/osce-chairman-calls-for-immediate-withdrawal-of-snipers/

[11] “Anti – Armenian propaganda and hate dissemination carried out by Azerbaijan as a serious obstacle to the negotiation process”; Publisher: Armenia, 7 October, 2008: http://www.osce.org/odihr/34195?download=true

[12] “Azerbaijani Party Leader Offers Reward For Writer’s Ear”, RFE/RL, November 2, 2013: http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-novelist-reward-cutting-off-ear-aylisli/24899021.html

[13] Safarov Case, EuFoA: http://www.eufoa.org/newsroom/187/31/Safarov-crisis-Europe-in-full-solidarity-against-Azerbaijan-s-anti-Armenian-xenophobia—provocation-to-escalate-Karabakh-conflict-should-receive-clever-response/?cntnt01currentpage=1&cntnt01orderby=item_date+DESC

[14] “Our main enemies are Armenians of the world…”, Extract from speech of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, February 28, 2012 http://en.president.az/articles/4423