Category Archives: Azerbaijan

UK Companies ‘Linked to Azerbaijan Pipeline Bribery Scandal’

Jamie Doward reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Azerbaijan pipeline bribery scandalFour British companies are alleged to have played a key part in a multimillion pound bribery scandal involving a leading Italian politician.

Luca Volontè, a former member of the Union of the Centre party in Italy, has been accused of helping quash a human rights report criticising Azerbaijan, one of the world’s most authoritarian countries. The Observer has also established that one of the UK companies was allegedly linked to a scandal involving Russian organised crime.

Volontè, who is also president of the European People’s party in the Council of Europe, is being investigated by the Milan public prosecutor’s office for allegedly accepting €2.39m in bribes.

It is claimed that Volontè received the money in exchange for persuading the People’s party to vote against a 2013 report by the council, Europe’s leading human rights organisation, that highlighted the plight of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. He denies any wrongdoing.

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How Liam Fox Got Into Bed with Azerbaijan’s Kleptocrats

Nick Cohen reports for The Guardian:

In 2013, Dr Liam Fox – he insists on the “Doctor” – published a book on the challenges of globalisation, which read as if he had dictated into his phone between meetings. Rising Tides was a meandering work. It took a long time to say little and did as abysmally as you would expect. Nielsen International, which monitors book sales, told me the English edition had sold a mere 1,723 copies in the UK and 1,876 copies in the English-speaking foreign markets it watches. (Most were probably in the US, where Dr Fox has a small following in America’s raging right wing.)

In 2014, Dr Fox received news that he was the beneficiary of a stroke of good fortune. Our new secretary for international trade may be hopelessly unqualified to deal with the dangerous pass he helped bring Britain to by agitating for Brexit, but he can trade on his own account.

The register of MPs interests shows that the oil-rich dictatorship of Azerbaijan, via its London lobbyists, paid Dr Fox £5,700 for the right to translate Rising Tides into an Azerbaijani Turkish edition. The generosity of Azerbaijan’s rulers did not stop there. On 1 February 2015, the regime flew him and an aide to Istanbul to launch the book and put them up in a luxury hotel. . The cost of the four-day trip was £3,579.94.

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What Triggered The Conflict In Nagorno-Karabakh? Interview with Daniel Hamilton, Sergey Strokan and Marcus Papadopoulos

In this episode of Inside Story presenter Martine Dennis talks to Daniel Hamilton, political commentator on eastern European and South Caucasus affairs, Sergey Strokan, political commentator at the daily newspaper Kommersant, and Marcus Papadopoulos, editor of Politics First magazine, about the long-standing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Al Jazeera English)

Nagorno-Karabakh: Azeri-Armenian Ceasefire Reportedly Agreed In Disputed Region

Shaun Walker reports for The Guardian:

A ceasefire has been announced in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after four days of intense fighting that has left dozens dead and threatened to degenerate into full-blown war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Karabakh is technically part of Azerbaijan but has been run by an ethnic Armenian government ever since the Soviet Union collapsed. Azerbaijan said 16 servicemen were killed in the past 48 hours, while the separatist Karabakh authorities said 20 of its troops had died and also reported civilian casualties.

The ceasefire announcement on Tuesday came amid diplomatic pressure to stop the fighting, with fears the localised clashes could spiral into a wider conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and possibly even a proxy war involving Russia and Turkey.

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If Azerbaijan Is A Democracy, Why Were We Imprisoned For Our Views?

Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli write for The Guardian:

Ilham Aliyev, the president of our country, Azerbaijan, is in Washington DC, attending a meeting with democratic leaders from around the world. But our country is not a functioning democracy.

We are now home with our families, but that was only a recent development. Two weeks ago, all three of us were behind bars with sentences of between six and seven-and-a-half years, prosecuted under trumped-up charges. Two of us were pardoned in the amnesty of Novruz holiday on 17 March, when 12 other political prisoners were also set free. A third, Inti gam Aliyev, had his sentence reduced to five years on probation on 28 March.

We were not the last political prisoners. Many journalists, politicians, activists and bloggers are still behind bars. The most prominent, Khadija Ismayilova, investigated the personal wealth of Aliyev and his extended family. She was detained in December 2014 and is now charged with embezzlement and abuse of power, and is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence. She is locked up, but not broken: her mother says she is singing opera arias and she has translated Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani into Azeri. Ilgar Mammadov is also in jail for seven years for daring to be a candidate in the 2013 presidential election. He is head of the Republican Alternative opposition movement. His wife says that his spirits are high and indeed he continues a blog from behind bars.

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Baku games organisers “blame government for barring media”

AFP reports:

Russia's Emil Zinnurov attempts to pass the ball during the men's water polo Group A preliminary round match against Ukraine at the European Games in Baku on June 13, 2015‘The final say on whether foreign journalists attended the inaugural European Games in Baku lay with the Azerbaijan Government and not with the organisers, officials said on Saturday.

The barring of a noted journalist from English newspaper ‘The Guardian’ — who was due to fly in on Friday — caused a furore but Azeri Sports Minister Azad Rahimov said his case was not an isolated one.

“The Baku European Games Organising Committee (BEGOC) issued accreditation for the journalists, more than 1,500 for them,” said Rahimov.

“We just issue accreditations. The government within the framework of its laws itself has the right to give or refuse accreditation.”‘

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The Guardian to focus on political rather than sports side of Baku Games after reporter “banned”

William Turvill reports for Press Gazette:

The Guardian has been “banned” from entering Azerbaijan to cover the inaugural European Games, which start today. (Baku venue pictured, Reuters)

As a result, head of sport Ian Prior said the newspaper will focus on the political and human rights side of the games rather than the sport.

The newspaper today reports that its chief sports correspondent Owen Gibson applied for accreditation in January and that flights had been booked and media village accommodation confirmed by the organisers.

But The Guardian said it was contacted by the head of press operations for the games on 5 June and told the accreditation application, which also acts as a visa for entry into the country, was still pending.

The newspaper said that it was informed yesterday morning – three hours before his flight – that Gibson’s application had been turned down.’

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Baku 2015: Sport Cannot Ignore Human Rights

Nils Muižnieks, Michel Forst and Dunja Mijatović write for Open Democracy:

‘On 12 June the first European Games begin in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. More than 6,000 athletes from 50 countries will run, fight and jump for medals, igniting the passions of millions of Europeans. We hope they will also stand up to halt the crackdown on human-rights defenders occurring in the country.

In recent years, and particularly during the last 12 months, expressing dissent or scrutinising the powerful has become a very risky business in Azerbaijan. A great number of journalists and human-rights activists have been under immense pressure and lost their freedom at the hands of a political system intolerant of criticism.

Three cases help understand the magnitude of the repression. The most symbolic is that of Rasul Jafarov, the head of a non-governmental organisation. He made a name for himself by organising a campaign called ‘Sing for Democracy’ in the run-up to the holding of the Eurovision Song contest, which Azerbaijan hosted in 2012. He had planned to organise a new campaign called ‘Sports for Rights’ ahead of the European Games to support democracy through sport. Instead, he has spent the last ten months in detention on charges that defy all credibility. In April he was sentenced to 6.5 years of imprisonment for tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority.’

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10 Most Censored Countries

Committee to Protect Journalists published a preview of their annual Attacks on the Press report, which released on Monday, 27 April:

Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide, according to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted. The list is based on research into the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access.

In Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki has succeeded in his campaign to crush independent journalism, creating a media climate so oppressive that even reporters for state-run news outlets live in constant fear of arrest. The threat of imprisonment has led many journalists to choose exile rather than risk arrest. Eritrea is Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars-none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime.

Fearing the spread of Arab Spring uprisings, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, limiting the possibility of access to independent information. Although Internet is available, it is through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

In North Korea, 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, a number that excludes access to phones smuggled in from China. In place of the global Internet, to which only a select few powerful individuals have access, some schools and other institutions have access to a tightly controlled intranet. And despite the arrival of an Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang in 2012, the state has such a tight grip on the news agenda that newsreel was re-edited to remove Kim Jong Un’s disgraced uncle from the archives after his execution.

The tactics used by Eritrea and North Korea are mirrored to varying degrees in other heavily censored countries. To keep their grip on power, repressive regimes use a combination of media monopoly, harassment, spying, threats of journalist imprisonment, and restriction of journalists’ entry into or movements within their countries.’

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US-funded radio station in Azerbaijan raided by police

The Associated Press reports:

‘A radio station funded by the U.S. government says its office in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku has been raided by prosecutors who claim to have a court decision to shut it down.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Friday quoted the director of its Azerbaijani service saying that the office has been locked down since early morning by prosecutors and armed police.

Two RFE journalists could not be contacted by The Associated Press.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told the AP the search was conducted to investigate a “grave crime” but would not elaborate.

The station’s top reporter Khadija Ismayilova was jailed earlier this month pending a trial on charges of driving a man to suicide, which critics dismissed as an attempt to gag an influential journalist.’

SOURCE

Uruguayan football club rejects Azerbaijan sponsorship over racist terms

Editor’s Note: Advertising for autocrats. Glad to see some football clubs standing up and not allowing themselves to become part of a public relations campaign for a totalitarian ruler and his unpleasant family. Learn more about Azerbaijan and the Aliyev family here.

News.am reports:

‘[…] One of the conditions that the Azeri officials imposed on San Lorenzo was that “there couldn’t be ethnic Armenians” in future executive committees of the club in exchange for a lucrative contract with the club. The issue gained importance in Peñarol since some of the candidates are members of the Armenian community.

The current president of Peñarol seeking for a re-election Juan Pedro Damianisaid that in the event of a similar proposal “we will act the same way as San Lorenzo” and stated that “it strikes me that Atletico Madrid could accept this sponsor.”’

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The new ‘Blair rich project’: Pushing the Trans-Adriatic pipeline against Italians’ objections

Claudio Gallo writes for RT:

Trans Adriatic Pipeline (Image from wikipedia.org by Genti77)‘[…] Yo, Blair – what are you doing this time? He is pushing a huge global project in the name of some big guys who care less than nothing that the local people don’t want it.

The scheme is, as always, a case of powerful elites against ordinary people, and guess which side he is for? He is gazing now at Puglia’s southern coasts in his capacity of facilitator of Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, nominated in 2012 for Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the TAP consortium of energy, Trans Adriatic Pipeline, formed by British oil giant BP (20 percent), Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR (20 percent), Norway’s Statoil (20 percent), Belgium’s Fluxys (16 percent), France’s Total (10 percent), Germany’s E.ON” (9 percent) and Switzerland’s di Axpo (5 percent). It’s a 2,000-mile pipeline transporting gas from Shah Deniz-2, the biggest Azeri gas field in the Caspian Sea, across Turkey, Greece and Albania to Italy.’

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Amnesty warns some Euro 2020 host cities may use tournament for image laundering

World Soccer reports:

‘Some of the cities chosen to stage knockout matches at Euro 2020 may use the tournament for image laundering, Amnesty International has warned… It is the choices of Baku in Azerbaijan and St Petersburg in Russia that have caused concern for the human rights organisation.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, said: “The European Championship is the second highest grossing football tournament in the world and one of the most prestigious on the planet. But some of the winning cities are in countries with appalling human rights records which could well use the prestige of Euro 2020 as a means of image-laundering through the world’s media, a way of diverting attention from some of the uglier things going on. And it can get very ugly.”‘

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U.N. torture inspectors say barred from Azerbaijan jails

Reuters reports:

‘A United Nations human rights team looking into complaints of torture in Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had cut short its investigations because it had been stopped from visiting some government detention centres.

In a statement issued in Geneva, the five-person group said the action by the authorities in the former Soviet republic had come despite assurances that the team would have unrestricted access to all places where prisoners were held.’

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While the World is Distracted, Azerbaijan Cracks Down on Human Rights Activists

Rachel Denber reports for Human Rights Watch:

‘With the world’s attention fractured by so many simultaneous crises, including in nearby Ukraine, it’s no surprise the Azerbaijani government would try now to deal a decisive blow against its critics. The United States and European Union, which usually engage Baku on human rights, are distracted.  Perhaps the Kremlin’s assault on Russian independent groups was irresistible inspiration.

But the timing is also sadly perverse. Azerbaijan holds the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, Europe’s intergovernmental human rights body. The makers of this crackdown must be laughing themselves all the way to its headquarters in Strasbourg. They might also think the country’s hydrocarbon wealth and geostrategic location will shield them from any political or diplomatic consequences.’

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Baku 2015 chief insists Azerbaijan is ‘incredibly free’

Jonathan Brown reports for The Independent:

‘The former head of the British Olympic Association now charged with running the first European Games in Azerbaijan has described the country as “an incredibly free society” and a “wonderful place to live” despite mounting international condemnation over the oil-rich state’s escalating crackdown against human rights activists in the run up to the event next year.

Simon Clegg has revealed how British companies and technical know-how are preparing Baku for staging the inaugural Games in 2015. He told The Independent that “hundreds” of British firms had already reaped “millions of pounds” worth of government contracts from public relations to catering and medical services.

Mr Clegg, who is one of the most powerful figures in British sport, took up his post as chief operating officer of Baku 2015 three months ago. He said he had 112 British staff currently working in the Azeri capital alongside dozens more international employees from the now defunct organising committee for London 2012.’

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Azerbaijan: Human Rights Plummet to New Low

Shahin Abbasov reports for EurasiaNet:

‘Azerbaijan in recent months has launched a clear assault against various civil society activists and non-governmental organisations. While rough treatment of critics is nothing new in this energy-rich South-Caucasus country, one question remains unanswered: Why pick up the pace now?

Some observers link this behavior to two causes: The February resignation of Ukraine’s ex-President Alexander Yanukovich in response to mass protests, and the Azerbaijani government’s keen desire for a protest-free 2015 European Games, a Summer Olympics for European countries that is a pet-project of President Ilham Aliyev.

And so, in the best of Soviet traditions, the cleanup has begun… The fact that these events are taking place during Azerbaijan’s six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the continent’s primary human-rights organ, seems to pose no contradiction for the government.’

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Azerbaijan’s president threatens war with Armenia via Twitter

Enjoli Liston  reports for The Guardian:

‘Azerbaijan’s president has threatened war with Armenia via Twitter, after dozens were killed in clashes over a disputed area of land that both countries lay claim to. In a lengthy series of tweets, President Ilham Aliyev said several Azeri lives had been lost in clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, and pledged to restore what he said was his country’s “territorial integrity”. The two sides began fighting over the mountainous region in the final years of the USSR. Armenian forces took de facto control of Nagorno-Karabakh, where some 90 per cent of the population is ethnic Armenian, but it remains part of Azerbaijan under law.

A Russia-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994 after six years of fierce fighting, which claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 people. The dispute has become one of the world’s ‘frozen conflicts’, and dozens are killed in clashes along the highly-militarised ‘line of contact’ each year. Tensions erupted last weekend, leaving at least 14 people dead in the bloodiest violence the area has seen for years. Both sides blamed each other for sparking the clashes, and details of exactly what took place remain unclear. ‘

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Azerbaijan’s sponsorship of Atlético Madrid proves spectacular success

Editor’s Note: Advertising for autocrats. I can see the Atlético shirt becoming a trendy piece of must have soccer wears, much like the Barcelona shirt has been in recent years. By wearing it though, you also become part of a public relations campaign for a totalitarian ruler and his unpleasant family.

Owen Gibson writes for The Guardian:

Azerbaijan's sponsorship of Atletico Madrid‘Atlético’s extraordinary season, which could yet see them lift the Spanish title and the Champions League, has meant increased exposure for an incongruous sponsor: the oil-rich eastern European country of Azerbaijan. Wednesday’s semi-final victory, against a club owned for more than a decade by a Russian oligarch and played out in front of Gazprom advertising hoardings, was just the latest example of the shifting nature of sporting politics and investment over that time.

The slogan “Land of Fire” that is emblazoned on the front of the shirts sported by Diego Simeone’s team is part of a wider push by the country to raise its profile that has also taken in the Eurovision Song Contest, an Olympic bid and preparations to host the inaugural European Games in 2015. It is a model of using sport as an arm of diplomacy also being pursued by others including Qatar, through its purchase of Paris Saint-Germain and Qatar Air’s sponsorship of Barcelona, and Abu Dhabi, through Manchester City. But this season it is Azerbaijan that has come up trumps for a fraction of the cost.’

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European human rights body concerned about abuses in Azerbaijan

From Reuters:

Council Of Europe slams  Azerbaijan on human rightsHuman rights are deteriorating in Azerbaijan, a European watchdog said Wednesday, calling on the authorities to uphold regional standards and expressing concerns over what it says is a “worrying pattern” of abuse. Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim former Soviet republic, has been governed by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003. It has been courted by the West because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.

Rights groups accuse Azerbaijan of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges the government denies. Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the 47-nation nonexecutive Council of Europe, said he had seen no progress toward greater freedom of expression since he published his previous report in August 2013.

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Azerbaijan sentences opposition leaders as crackdown on critics eyed

Nailia Bagirova and Margarita Antidze report for Reuters:

Azerbaijan sentenced the deputy head of the biggest opposition party and the leader of a human rights group to prison terms, a court spokesman said on Monday, in a case that critics say highlights a government-led crackdown in the oil-rich country. Azerbaijan, a largely Muslim former Soviet republic in the South Caucasus, serves as a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well as the source of energy supplies destined to Europe. The country is governed by strongman Ilham Aliyev, whose rule is often lambasted by international rights organizations for curbing public dissent and freedom of speech.

Tofig Yagublu, deputy head of the opposition Musavat Party, and Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the rights group Republican Alternative (ReAl), were sentenced to five years and seven years, respectively, according to the court spokesman. The two were arrested in February 2013 on charges of organizing and taking part in January demonstrations in the northern town of Ismailli, where thousands had protested, demanding the resignation of a provincial leader.

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Azeri police beat, detain demonstrators after vote protest rally

From Reuters:

Police beat and detained demonstrators in the capital of Azerbaijan on Saturday after a protest against a disputed presidential vote that gave President Ilham Aliyev a third consecutive term in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

Reuters witnesses saw police kick and thump protesters as scuffles broke out following the rally, which drew thousands in protest at the election dismissed by international monitors and government critics as unfair.

News agency Interfax-Azerbaijan reported that around 10 people were arrested. Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the number.

Billions of dollars in oil revenues have flowed into the strategically located South Caucasus country, boosting living standards and its international clout, since Aliyev succeeded his father a decade ago. Official results show Aliyev won with 85 percent of the vote.

But a gaping divide between rich and poor, and allegations that the authorities carried out a pre-election crackdown on dissent that doubled the country’s number of political prisoners, have attracted criticism at home and abroad.

Around 4,000 people gathered at the sanctioned protest, accusing the government of vote fraud and demanding a new poll.

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Oops: Azerbaijan released election results before voting had even started

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev votes in Baku on Wednesday. (AFP/Getty Images)From The Washington Post:

Azerbaijan’s big presidential election, held on Wednesday, was anticipated to be neither free nor fair. President Ilham Aliyev, who took over from his father 10 years ago, has stepped up intimidation of activists and journalists. Rights groups are complaining about free speech restrictions and one-sided state media coverage. The BBC’s headline for its story on the election reads “The Pre-Determined President.” So expectations were pretty low.

Even still, one expects a certain ritual in these sorts of authoritarian elections, a fealty to at least the appearance of democracy, if not democracy itself. So it was a bit awkward when Azerbaijan’s election authorities released vote results – a full day before voting had even started.

The vote counts – spoiler alert: Aliyev was shown as winning by a landslide – were pushed out on an official smartphone app run by the Central Election Commission. It showed Aliyev as “winning” with 72.76 percent of the vote. That’s on track with his official vote counts in previous elections: he won (“won”?) 76.84 percent of the vote in 2003 and 87 percent in 2008.

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Report: U.S. Plans NATO Base In Azerbaijan

photo_1375742400114-1-0From Armenpress:

The seven-day visit of the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Safar Abiyev to the United States of America except for the military issues included also political elements. As reported by the Yeni Musavat newspaper, “the sides discussed issues related to the military and technical cooperation between the two countries, security in the Caspian Sea, training of marine military officers, increase of antenna and military navy ships in the Sea, US assistance to the State Border Service and the Ministry of Emergency Situations, transport of American troops withdrawn from Afghanistan, via Azerbaijan, the Iranian issue, as well as the presidential elections to be held on October 9”.

[…] In the interview given to the Yeni Musavat newspaper, Azerbaijani military expert Uzeir Jafarov stated that the most important agreement made during the visit of the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Safar Abiyev to the United States of America is the establishment of a NATO military base in Nakhchivan. “The issue of passing the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan to Turkey’s guardianship to protect it is in the agenda. It is possible that during the next year Turkey will establish a military base in Nakhchivan or open a military representative unit. The entrance of Turkey to Nakhchivan is also provided by the NATO presence in that territory”, said Azerbaijani military expert Uzeir Jafarov.