3.2. Maidan plans devised for Baku fail…

Certain forces were attempting to destabilize the 2013 pre­ and-post election stability in Azerbaijan in an attempt to trigger the Ukraine-style “Maidan” anti-government protests in Baku. One of such directions, aimed at undermining stability in Azerbaijan, was to claim discrimination against various ethnic groups – citizens of this country.

In this context, we should underscore the event “Azerbaijan’s Presidential Election: What future for the Land of Fire?” organized by the Euronest PA Bureau member Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, in the European Parliament on 3 October 2013, just six days prior to the vote.

What were peculiarities of the event, organized by Gerben­ Jan Gerbrandy, was that mostly the opposition officials and representatives of ethnic minorities, chanting separatist slogans, were invited. The event voiced absurd claims about the alleged discrimination against ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan.

In general, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy-hosted event was mainly aimed at destabilizing public order, provoking ethnic confrontation and unrest in Azerbaijan. As is known, Azerbaijan is a country, where numerous ethnic and religious groups live peacefully; neither ethnic, nor religious confrontation has ever occurred in this country throughout its history. For own national, ethnic, religious tolerance, Azerbaijan is among exemplary countries worldwide. Therefore, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy’s efforts were doomed to fail and did not reach the target.

Another provocative step was taken in the European Parliament after the presidential election. A resolution on the European Neighborhood Policy was passed in the European Parliament on 23 October 2013. Item 23 of the resolution noted that the 2013 presidential election in Azerbaijan did not meet the OSCE standards.

It was inconceivable why the resolution contained such a claim on the 2003 presidential election in Azerbaijan, though the European Parliamentary observation mission positively assessed the election. In their joint statement on the outcome of the 2013 election, the observation missions of the PACE and the European Parliament noted that “the election was free, fair and transparent in accordance with the standards of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and progress was made towards democracy”.

However, the European Parliament demonstrated disrespect for and distrust in the assessment of its observation mission on the election and took a decision based on the results of another institution. Taking such a decision was a shameful and unprecedented event in the practice of the international institutions, including the European Parliament. It was the decision which cast a doubt on the independent decision-making capacity of the European Parliament. And the same decision indicated that under the influence of external forces, the European Parliament will not be capable of pursuing an unbiased policy towards Azerbaijan in future.

A moment worth of attention is that the members of the European Parliament, who were unaware of the Azerbaijani presidential election, played a crucial role in the adoption of item 32. It seems that as a result of the efforts of the anti-Azerbaijani forces, angry about the positive assessment of the 2013 presidential election by the observation mission, the leadership of the European Parliament included a provision in the item 32 of the draft resolution, claiming that the election was not held in accordance with the OSCE standards and did not meet the requirements of the OSCE. The leadership of the European Parliament and MEPs forgot about the positive assessments of the OSCE Chairperson, Leonid Kozhara, the EP, the PACE, the OSCE PA, as well as other international observation missions dated from 10 October. Perhaps, this positive assessment made them angry.

However, the European Parliament should take into consideration that the ODIHR is the only of the numerous institutions of the OSCE. Though three of the four international institutions – the European Parliament, PACE and the OSCE PA that observed the elections, presented positive assessments, the approval of the biased resolution of the observation missions of OSCE/ODIHR made up of low-ranking officials, demonstrated disloyalty to the mission of the EP members, and as a whole, great damage, discredit and distrust to the EP, PACE and the OSCE PA.

The fact-free report of the OSCE/ODIHR pursued a single aim: to fulfil the instructions of high-ranking officials, to serve the interests of power centers with regard to Azerbaijan, to form a negative image of Azerbaijan in international arena, and through libels and slanders oblige Azerbaijan to give up the territories under occupation for over 25 years. However, these forces did not realize an obvious reality that irrespective of pressure and threats, the Azerbaijani state will continue its independent policy, and as now, it will retain its leading role as a driving regional force.

Despite Azerbaijan’s strict insistence and resolute demands, the European Parliament and other international institutions still deceive the people of Azerbaijan and the international community with unimplemented resolutions that have not applied any sanctions against Armenia for retaining our territories under occupation for more than 25 years.

Responding to my letter from 11 July 2013, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz wrote that “this complicated issue should be resolved by Azerbaijan and Armenia them­ selves”. It was hypocritical response.

Despite the abovementioned facts, a while after the 2013 presidential election in Azerbaijan, the head of the EP election observation mission, Pino Arlacchi, drew up a final report on the election in Azerbaijan and submitted it to the European Parliament. In this report, the EP election observation mission once again confirmed that the presidential election in Azerbaijan were held in a democratic, free and transparent environment and in accordance with the OSCE and the Council of Europe standards. Thus, the activities of the official election observation missions in Azerbaijan came to an end. The European Parliament delegation was made up of the head of delegation, Pino Arlacchi, with delegation members Filip Kaczmarek, Joachim Zeller, Evgeni Kirilov, Norica Nicolai, Fiorello Provera and Milan Cabrnoch.

I would also like to draw your attention to the facts that along with the members of the official election observation mission of the European Parliament, a number of MEPs also observed the 2013 presidential elections in Azerbaijan as members of the other international observation missions. They observed the elections as part of the delegations of international NGOs, in other words, they had been the members of the unofficial observation missions. Advisory Committee of the European Parliament invited them to the hearing on 11 February 2014 and accused them of violating the Code of Conduct.

I should say that the Advisory Committee of the European Parliament began functioning after the adoption of the Code of Conduct of the EP members in 2012. The Committee consists of 5 permanent and 2 alternate members. At that time, permanent members were Carlo Casini (EPP, Italy), Evelyn Regner (SD, Austria), Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, Sweden), Gerald  Hafner (Greens, Germany) and Sajjad Karim (ECR, United Kingdom), with alternate  members Jiri Mastalka (UEL, Czech Republic) and Francesco Speroni (EFD, Italy).

As the outcome of the hearings at the Advisory Committee with regard to MEPs, who violate the Code of Conduct, the committee can appeal to the EP President with suggestions either to demand the acquittal, or the punishment of MEPs. It should be noted that an MEP, who violates the Code of Conduct, can be subject to punishments, such as the suspension of salaries, deprivation from some activities in the European Parliament and exclusion from the MEP office.

The MEPs, who observed the presidential election in Azerbaijan in the observation mission of the international NGOs, were invited to the hearings of the Advisory Committee on 11 February. The MEPs, who visited Azerbaijan as part of the unofficial observation missions, were groundlessly accused of being funded and receiving expensive gifts. Although four months have passed since the election, making such allegations indicated that a number of world power centers had an intention of continuing exerting pressure on Azerbaijan in a new format and content.

Thus, as an outcome of the 9 October presidential election in Azerbaijan, those power centers were trying to introduce Azerbaijan as an authoritarian country with illegitimate authorities. However, their malicious wishes did not come true and the people of Azerbaijan made their choice and except one mission, all other international election missions, confirmed that the presidential election in Azerbaijan were held democratically and transparently.

One of the main objectives of the power centers with unending pressure on Azerbaijan is to inflict damage on Azerbaijan’s international standing, presenting it as an authoritarian country, engaging the Azerbaijani public with similar issues and by making continuous biased claims, distracting its attention from the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts under Armenian occupation for over 20 years. All these overt and covert activities were to make Azerbaijan to give up the territories under occupation. On the other hand, by projecting a negative image of Azerbaijan, those power centers are trying to guarantee their own interests in the country.

In my view, one of the key factors behind the emergence of such claims was to make Azerbaijan to join the Association Agreement under duress, otherwise, to send out a signal to Azerbaijan that the unfolding developments in Ukraine might also occur in Azerbaijan.

What was regretful was that the European Parliament never avoided from damaging reputation of own members in order to achieve its goals. Though it considers Azerbaijan a partner of the European Union by word of mouth, in reality, it was implementing filthy plans against Azerbaijan.

I believe one of the factors behind the claims against the EP members observing the elections in unofficial capacity was to deprive Azerbaijan of foreign support after being sure that power centers would not be able to destabilize domestic situation in Azerbaijan and to isolate it from international community.

By supporting pressure exerted on the MEPs with objective attitudes towards Azerbaijan, the power centers were obliging loyal friends of Azerbaijan to reconsider their positions. Thus, putting forward allegations against the MEPs, who observed the elections in unofficial missions, and holding hearings in the Advisory Committee to this end should be assessed as part of de-facto persecution campaign against parliamentarians, as well as foreign public figures loyal to Azerbaijan in order to deprive Azerbaijan of international support.

On 11 February 2014, the day when the Advisory Committee of the European Parliament was holding hearings, Russia’s influential newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a sensational article, titled “West is preparing Maidan in Baku”.

The article said that western human rights defenders included the pressing problems on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan on their agenda. Ahead of the first European Games of historic importance for Azerbaijan, local experts warned in advance that the local NGOs collaborating with Western institutions would intensify their activities.

The article underscored that a high-ranking visit to Sochi during the winter Olympics was not a coincidence as Baku is diligently studying the experience in the conduct of the games. Thus, Azerbaijan will host the first European Games, and at the moment, the country is preparing for hosting European guests, as well as for the grandiose opening  and dosing ceremonies of the European  Games.

At the same time, Nezavisimaya Gazeta draws attention to the likelihood of some countries and international institutions to continue turning sports into the hostage of politics. In her interview to Radio Freedom, Rebecca Vincent, Executive Director of International Human Rights Club, noted that during the Winter Olympic Games the world’s attention would be focused on Sochi, adding that “the preparations for and the conduct of the Olympic Games and cases of corruption were in the spotlight. The attention will be shifted to Baku after Sochi. There left almost 500 days till the beginning of the first European Games to be held in Baku for the first time in history.”

The newspaper said that Rebecca Vincent was an employee of the U.S. embassy to Azerbaijan. However, she stopped working on human rights issues in Azerbaijan after quitting the State Department. She was actively helping local NGOs.

Quoting the local media, Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed that ahead of the 2015 European Games, Rebecca Vincent in concert with foreign intelligence services was working on a new strategy against Azerbaijan. According to the newspaper, she did not deny it herself, adding that international focus would be on Baku ahead of the Games and that they would spotlight human rights situation  in Azerbaijan. In her words, this time Azerbaijan’s problems will not be scrutinized from far away, and from this point of view, it would be necessary for the international community to make important steps.

The article read that it was possible to suppose what measures Rebecca Vincent had in mind. Thus, the conduct of protests ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as attempts to foment a revolution on Facebook in the run up to the 2013 presidential elections is not a remote history. Referring to local analysts, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that then a number of European countries as well as the U.S. were extensively funding local NGOs that could create problems for the Azerbaijani government to realize their strategic interests.

Thus, insistent appeals to rely on the OSCE/ODIHR without paying attention to the assessment of unofficial observation mission of the European Parliament, the punishment of the observers, who were the members of the unofficial international missions in 2013 presidential election, was an integral part of the sabotage and unrest plans against Azerbaijan. It seems that after the positive assessment of the elections, they were very frustrated that the sabotage plans, such us creating the next Maidan events in Azerbaijan, as well as, turning the country into the situation unfolding in Syria and Livia failed.

However, the European Parliament continued its isolation campaign against Azerbaijan even during the 11 April 2018 presidential election. Thus, the European Parliament did not send an official observation mission to Baku. However, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament was invited to observe the elections. The delegation composed of 3 members, namely, Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki and Mr. Kosmo Zlotowski (Poland), and Mr. David Campbell Bannerman (United Kingdom). On 10 April 2018, they arrived in Baku and issued a statement on 12 April. ln the statement, the ECR delegation noted that “the election was held in a professional and legal manner and in a peaceful, free and transparent environment”.

Co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group of the European Parliament David McAllister and Linda McAvan sent a letter to the leadership of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and to the Europe­ an Parliament on 13 April2018, saying that “a clear and unanimous decision was taken against sending an official European Parliament delegation to observe the elections, given the worsening democratic environment in the country. A statement was released, confirming that the European Parliament would not be sending a delegation and none of its members was mandated to observe or comment on the process on its behalf”.

By pointing on sending delegation following the invitation for observation of the elections in Azerbaijan, co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group of the European Parliament said that “while acknowledging the right of any political group to send a delegation to third countries during elections, we consider the act of sending “observers” to countries, in which the EP explicitly stated it would not observe elections, is extremely detrimental to the image of the European Parliament”.

They noted that “such “fake” missions undermine the integrity of the European Parliament and irreparably damage its credibility as a highly-respected actor in the field of the election observation”. The letter especially highlights that “the effusive remarks by the ECR Group delegation members on the management and running of the elections are blatantly contradicted the preliminary findings of the OSCE/ODIHR mission composed of internationally recognized experienced, professional and independent experts and observers, who have been present on the ground throughout the country and the entire electoral campaign, follow a rigorous methodology tested many times over the last decade”.

Later, the co-chairs drew attention to the following decision, made by the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group: “We are writing to inform you that Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki, Mr. David Campbell Bannerman and Mr. Kosma Zlotowski will no longer be allowed to take part in any further official European Parliament election observation delegations for the remainder of this mandate. This decision is with immediate effect”.

So, it is clear that the members of the ECR delegation – Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki, Mr. David Campbell Bannerman and Mr. Kosma Zlotowski – were punished for observing the presidential election in Azerbaijan. “It is said that the contradiction between the thoughts of the ECR delegation members and preliminary findings of the OSCE/ODIHR mission” is taken as a major cause for their punishment. And the adoption of the decision on their punishment for observing the presidential election in Azerbaijan was circulated in the world media at lightning speed.

Nevertheless, the opinion in the letter, expressing that the OSCE/ODIHR mission was made up of internationally-recognized experienced, professional, independent experts and observers, is surprising and disappointing. Thus, it is known that the mission of the OSCE/ODIHR usually consists of low­ ranking and less independent officials. Therefore, at least, it is not comprehensible that the European parliamentarians with a large number of voters and accountable to them were punished for their opinions that contradicted the position of the OSCE/ ODIHR mission comprised of low-ranking officials.