The Corner

National Security & Defense

Is Azerbaijan Doomed to Remain a Police State?

Reporting in the bad old days of the Cold War had its particular inbuilt moral problem. Was it right to ring up and arrange a meeting with a dissident when the secret police on the watch was certain to add new entries to the dossier that one day would lead to a prison sentence, quite likely on some such charge as treason? The risk these brave people took just to describe the reality of life under Communism was awe-inspiring, and it bothered the conscience of those of us with a return ticket in our pocket. The dissidents themselves always insisted that the benefit of publicity outweighed any potential penalty.

This moral dilemma recurred towards the end of 2011 when I went to Azerbaijan. Previously a so-called “republic” within the Soviet Union, the country was now supposedly independent. Haidar Aliyev, a classic Soviet apparatchik, a member of the Soviet Politburo from 1969 to 1989, and a senior officer in the KGB, in fact had privatized it, in the process taking the presidency. The huge posters adorning the road from the airport into the capital Baku show his conceited face but have no captions. Once a police state, those posters make the point, always a police state.

Born in 1961, Haidar’s son Ilham is now president, making Azerbaijan an outstanding example of a dynastic republic, that increasingly popular political hybrid. He got his education and a doctorate as well in the Moscow State University of International Relations. In a first election he got 76 percent of the vote, in a second election 88 percent. Come on Ilham, one feels like saying, those aren’t the numbers for a first-class dictator.

Shiite Muslims, the Azeris are not Islamist extremists. Several million live across the border in Iran and would reject the ayatollahs if they could. Hope for peace in the region has to lie in the hands of such secular-minded people, which was what had brought me there to ask questions. I had an introduction to Khadija Ismayilova, the journalist who covers Azerbaijan for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, specializing in exposing wrongs and abuses. In her thirties, she turned out to be extremely jolly, amused and amusing, speaking her mind and in English, too. At her invitation, four or five writers came to my hotel and we talked about writing in a minority language like Azeri. Khadija has translated from Afghan Khalid Hosseini’s wonderful novel The Kite Runner.

Khadija took it for granted that she had freedom of speech. On the several occasions when I asked if she wasn’t afraid of persecution, she laughed it off the way dissidents do. Since last December, she has been held in prison. No trial, needless to say. Her arrest has been extended because Azerbaijan is host to the European games, a sort of cheap-shot Olympics. In a letter from prison Khadija writes, “They didn’t want you to see or hear us and our inconvenient truths.”

Come on, Ilham, you can either go down as a second-class dictator or be the man who at last proves that police states don’t always have to continue to be police states, even or especially if they are Muslim. Let Khadija go.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

Most Popular

U.S.

The Lies We’re Told about the American Story

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from remarks delivered to the annual dinner of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, in California, on October 4. Every American heart must break when lies are told to boys and girls, who then grow up to think the worst about their past: that the American ... Read More
U.S.

The Lies We’re Told about the American Story

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from remarks delivered to the annual dinner of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, in California, on October 4. Every American heart must break when lies are told to boys and girls, who then grow up to think the worst about their past: that the American ... Read More
Elections

Biden Lies Again and Again

Joe Biden is a career liar and he lied some more in the debate, for instance when he dismissed the now well-supported New York Post story about Hunter Biden's business dealing as "a Russian plant." There is zero evidence for this. He offered this line: There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said ... Read More
Elections

Biden Lies Again and Again

Joe Biden is a career liar and he lied some more in the debate, for instance when he dismissed the now well-supported New York Post story about Hunter Biden's business dealing as "a Russian plant." There is zero evidence for this. He offered this line: There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More
U.S.

FBI to Interview Hunter Biden Business Partner

The FBI has asked Tony Bobulinski, former business partner of Hunter Biden, to sit for an interview on Friday, Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told reporters. Bobulinski was initially scheduled to give an interview on Friday to members of various Senate committees regarding his knowledge of business deals ... Read More
U.S.

FBI to Interview Hunter Biden Business Partner

The FBI has asked Tony Bobulinski, former business partner of Hunter Biden, to sit for an interview on Friday, Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told reporters. Bobulinski was initially scheduled to give an interview on Friday to members of various Senate committees regarding his knowledge of business deals ... Read More