STRASBOURG (RFE/RL)—Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has lashed out at European critics of his government’s poor human rights record, saying that they are part of the worldwide “Armenian lobby” acting against his country.
Addressing the heads of Azerbaijani diplomatic missions abroad on Monday, Aliyev specifically attacked members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that have accused him of rigging elections and jailing political opponents.
“Unfortunately, within this organization there is an anti-Azerbaijani group operating for many years,” he said in remarks posted on his website.
“The Armenian lobby is behind them because, as you know, the number one target of the Armenian lobby today is Azerbaijan,” he claimed. “Having joined forces, they are conducting a smear campaign against Azerbaijan.
“They certainly have representatives in the media, government bodies and social structures of other countries. They have taken deep roots and chosen Azerbaijan as the main target, trying to hit us from all sides. But despite this, they have failed to have an impact on our successful development.”
Aliyev addressed senior Azerbaijani diplomats two weeks after delivering a speech at the PACE devoted to Azerbaijan’s presidency of the Council of Europe. The speech was followed by tough questions from some PACE members highly critical of Baku’s human rights record.
“Politicians and journalists have been falsely accused and imprisoned in Azerbaijan and elections have been rigged,” Paul Flynn, a British lawmaker, told Aliyev. The latter angrily denied that, accusing Flynn of lying.
Aliyev’s speech was also met with protests by Azerbaijani activists living in Europe. They came to the PACE session in Strasbourg on June 24 wearing T-shirts with pictures of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and had their mouths covered with black tape.
Several Reporters Without Borders activists held a similar protest in front of PACE headquarters. On June 23, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Council of Europe and PACE to urge Aliyev to stop persecuting government critics and journalists. HRW and other international watchdogs say that there are dozens of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
Aliyev and other Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly blamed “the Armenian lobby” for such criticism occasionally echoed by the European Union and the United States. “The Armenian lobby is the driving force of negative information about us,” the Azerbaijani president stated in April 2012. “Our main enemy is the Armenian lobby,” he tweeted several months later.
In 2012, Azerbaijan also blamed the Armenian Diaspora for its mounting tensions with Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to withdraw its ambassador in Baku. “Some circles as well as groups within the current Iranian regime are repeating the actions of the Armenian lobby and executing its orders,” Mubariz Gurbanli, the deputy chairman of Azerbaijan’s ruling party, charged at the time.