Azerbaijan blog

Azerbaijan was rewarded without playing the game. Why name Azerbaijan a “reliable partner”?

EU and Azerbaijan flags

Zhala Bayramova

In July 2022 the European Union named Azerbaijan a “reliable partner” and increased gas imports from the state. Some civil society members have criticized that decision and consider it unethical to reward Azerbaijan with a new contract. 

In today’s blog, an independent civil society representative and Baku-based human rights lawyer Zhala Bayramova shares her opinion on the situation. 

While the European Union has its reasons for engaging with Azerbaijan, calling it a reliable partner is unnecessary. 

As seen from the various reports from international human rights organizations, Azerbaijan’s record has long been marred by authoritarianism, high corruption rates, and numerous human rights violations. 

Azerbaijan is not a member of the EU and has struggled to agree with the union on political relationships for a long time. The EU, which was established on the principle of human rights, prioritizes “respect for human rights” when considering economic and political relationships. Since the EU has been determined to protect its reputation regarding high human rights standards, it has exercised caution in its relations and agreements with Azerbaijan. 

However, Azerbaijan has a wealth of natural resources and is considered an appealing alternative to reducing EU energy dependence on Russia. Until it is ready to increase its use of renewable energy, the EU will suffer energy challenges without importing gas and oil. These reasons have led the EU to import gas from Azerbaijan. 

Why a “Reliable Partner”?

Even though Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev has never been a reliable partner in terms of upholding human rights treaties and political promises, he is called a reliable partner when it comes to business deals. 

We can speculate that being called a reliable partner was a special requirement of the Aliyev regime. 

We can clearly see the trend of the Azerbaijani government’s manipulation of public opinion and foreign media to be seen as a reliable business partner. President Aliyev and his family are frequently featured and praised in European media. This type of media coverage is a part of foreign public diplomacy to build up the country’s reputation and image abroad. 

By calling Azerbaijan a reliable partner, the EU is advertising Azerbaijan as a business partner to the world. Azerbaijan greatly benefits from this designation in considering possible future contracts with other countries and can use the designation to demonstrate itself as a “fair” player in the economic sphere. 

Azerbaijan Benefits from International Treaties and Institutions 

Azerbaijan’s image in the international arena has benefited from being a partner of the Council of Europe and by following the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments. However, the country has a low implementation rate of verdicts and has many violations of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) and election cases. Still, almost all measures regarding individual compensation in the reports of the Council of Europe and ECHR are implemented.

In addition to improving its public image, another reason why Azerbaijan follows through with its commitments to ECHR is to obtain protection from Russia. Regardless of how close the Azerbaijani government is to the Russian government, protecting its independence will always be a priority. On many occasions, Russian MPs have threatened Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, dreaming about the re-establishment of the Soviet Union. To protect its sovereignty from either Iran or Russia, Azerbaijan has to rely on strong partnerships with European governments.

The benefits Azerbaijan receives from being a part of the Council of Europe outweigh any concrete systematic changes it is required to make.

Similarly, until 2017 Azerbaijan was a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). One of the benefits of this membership was easier access to financial support from the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development because of the transparency ratings EITI afforded the country. Azerbaijan was not a member of EITI because it had interest in protecting human rights, but because it wanted to be seen as a reliable business partner of the EU for gas and oil exports.

Azerbaijan has never been a fair player in the field of human rights and continues making false promises to the international community. But, as the EU has discovered, dictators like Aliyev can make for reliable partners in exploiting the world’s oil and gas resources for financial gain.