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posted May 26, 2006

Stand Up to Your Words

An Appeal to President George W. Bush from Azerbaijani Youth

The following open letter to President George W. Bush was sent by the coordinator of "Maqam" Youth Civic Movement in Azerbaijan in advance of Ilham Aliev's visit to the White House on April 29. This was the first visit of Mr. Aliev to the White House, although he has been received by Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other high government officials prior to November 2003 presidential elections and November 2005 parliamentary elections, both of which were widely criticized by domestic and international organizations for widespread fraud, intimication and falsification of results.

Open Letter

April 27, 2006

From: “Maqam!” Youth Civic Movement in Azerbaijan
Emin Huseynov, Coordinator

To: President George Bush
United States of America 

Respected President Bush,

The last time I appealed to you was on May 10, 2005. At that time, on Freedom Square in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, I stood 10 meters away from you. On that day, I came to the square at 6 in the morning to acquire a spot close to the stage so that the chants and cries of Azerbaijan’s youth would reach you. The weather was clear and hot. Until 1 in the afternoon, for 7 hours, I waited for you under the scorching sun. Finally you, Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, and the first ladies arrived to the square with your entourages. First M. Saakashivili spoke, but during his speech the microphone was working improperly and I couldn’t really understand anything he said. You, however, spoke clearly, concisely and inspiringly. Even people standing on the furthest edges of the square could hear your speech. 

If you recall, among the people standing in front of you was one youth holding an orange placard. This youth was me. On the placard was written, “President Bush, please help democracy in Azerbaijan,” while another placard contained the words “Youth of Azerbaijan for free and fair elections!” Georgia’s Security Service ordered me to put away the placards and threatened to arrest me; while the people behind me yelled, because the placards obstructed their vision. I, however, kept the placards on display throughout the duration of your speech. When your translator spoke I held the placards even higher, because at this time you looked at the people in front of you and waved to us. It was exactly at this time that you read my placard. This was clear, you even greeted me. I looked in your eyes, listened attentively and engraved these words on my brain, “Now, across the Caucasus, in Central Asia and the broader Middle East, we see the same desire for liberty burning in the hearts of young people. They are demanding their freedom -- and they will have it.” Later you said, “We are living in historic times when freedom is advancing from the Black Sea to the Caspian to the Persian Gulf and beyond. 

As you watch free people gathering in squares like this across the world, waving their nations’ flags and demanding their God given rights, you can take pride in this fact: They have been inspired by your example and they take hope in your success.” You said these things Mr. Bush, and I felt sincerity in these words. These words inspired me and my generation to continue our non-violent struggle for our God given right to a free and fair election. After returning to Azerbaijan we continued our struggle to achieve the conduction of free and fair elections on November 6, 2005. Our group was non-violent and not in any way in contradiction with Azerbaijan’s Constitution and other legislation.  Our demands were freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, improvement of the election process, respect for human rights, and the conduction of free and fair elections. Of the demands listed above, we were not able to obtain any of them. In Azerbaijan the government doesn’t take into account the opinions of the country’s citizens and as result of this we were left with only one road; to appeal to the international community. And precisely because of this, because the realization democracy and human rights cannot be achieved through internal mechanisms, I once again appeal to you, the president of another country. Ilham Aliyev doesn’t listen to us. 

Of course the fact that you didn’t stand by your word to support our democratic demands dispirited me and the other youths of the Caucasus.  In Azerbaijan, Europe and America, numerous people accused you of having double standards. They said that you were closing your eyes to human rights violations because of this country and other countries’ oil and energy resources. Perhaps there is some truth to this. The Hollywood movie Syriana illuminates these kinds of actions. But Azerbaijan’s younger generation is more pragmatic, we rely on the proverb “A sinking man must save himself.” Despite the fact that in Azerbaijan 70 percent of voters voted for the opposition, the opposition and the people must defend their own vote. But the situation is such that even to the very end they chose peaceful and non-violent methods. The entire world witnessed Azerbaijan’s falsification of the elections results. Great Britain’s BBC TV Channel and France and Germany joint TV venture ARTE both even shot documentary films about this. One of the films, “How to Plan a Revolution,” was already shown on BBC and will soon be shown in the United States. Then, you and other citizens of the United State will be able to see the realities of Azerbaijan. 

On November 25, 2005 in Baku nearly 50,000 people gathered for an opposition rally. These people were demanding rerun, fair elections, but without any warning Azerbaijan’s government used brutal force against the women, children and other people who assembled. Water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs, body-building bandits, and other cruel and unusual methods were used against the rally participants. Even after this disgrace, US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish gave a statement in which he said the US was prepared to work with Azerbaijan’s new parliament, even though the ambassador and others knew that this parliament did not represent the will of the people. 

Mr. President, on this day you are receiving someone. This person has made his own people and the international community many promises: democracy, free elections, a fight against corruption, a fight against monopolies, fair distribution of the oil profits, an improved investment environment, human rights, etc, but he has not fulfilled any of these promises, all made during the run-up to the 2003 and 2005 elections. According to real results of the 2005 parliamentary election, it became certain that Ilham Aliyev is not supported by the majority of the population. Only by relying on police strength and a dictatorial regime, Ilham Aliyev remained in power. He has strengthening the oppressive regime of his father, former president Heydar Aliyev. 

Mr. President, taking into account the fact that you are the leader of a country founded on democratic principles, and promises you made in your second inauguration speech in front of U.S. citizens and the world, I again request that you assist with the creation of true democracy in Azerbaijan.  I know that you as president can call on the leaders of this and other countries to observe human rights and other democratic values. 

It’s known that on April 28 you will receive Ilham Aliyev in the White House. I request that when you speak with Ilham Aliyev, that you call for him to observe human rights, ensure freedom of assembly and freedom of the press -- particularly for television and radio media sources, improve the election process, fulfill responsibilities to foreign investors and make the oil sector more transparent. I also request that assist in getting “Yeni Fikir” Youth Movement leaders Ruslan Beshirli, Ramin Tagiyev and Sayid Nuri, former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev, his brother AzPetrol President Rafik Aliyev and other high ranking officials, all who have been accused of plotting a coup d’etat, released from prison. 

Mr. President, call on Ilham Aliyev to abstain from oppressing his political opponents and declare a political truce. I request you bring to Ilham Aliyev’s attention that there are two possible roads of development that Azerbaijan can take – like Norway or like Nigeria.  The people of Azerbaijan do not want the Nigerian version, but everyone knows that no people can endure injustice, eventually the population’s patience will run out. If this occurs, neither the democratic opposition, nor western-oriented youth groups will be able to change this dangerous situation or confront the radial feelings that will arise. Azerbaijan’s rival countries could assist in this process; they will create chaos and try to cause a civil war among citizens. If Azerbaijan’s becomes unstable, the entire region will also fall into instability. And this is exactly what alarms the youth of Azerbaijan so much. 

Despite all of these disappointments, the progressive youth of Azerbaijan are advocates of expanding cooperation with the USA in the areas of energy, communication and security, as well as with regards to the fight against terrorism.  To address this, during your meeting with Ilham Aliyev, we want you to call on Aliyev to implement democratic reforms. Also we ask that you assist in resolving the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict while maintaining the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. You, along with other politicians, understand that peacefully resolving the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict could lead to the beginning of peaceful and harmonious development in the Caucuses’ three countries of the Caucasus, and become the impetus for the establishment of democracy in Azerbaijan. 

If these democratic principles are formed, Azerbaijan, as a Muslim and country and with oil and gas, we can integrate harmoniously and peacefully into both the East and Europe, and be an example for the whole world of how in one region Christian and Muslims can peacefully coexist. 

Taking into consideration what is written above; I request that you make every effort to help solve Azerbaijan’s serious problems. 

Emin Huseynov
“Maqam!” Youth Civic Movement Coordinator
Baku, Azerbaijan
(+99 450) 398-4838 

* This letter was sent to the White House, Vice President Cheney, and US Embassy officials in Azerbaijan. It was also disseminated through Azerbaijan’s local media, and sent to local and international NGOs, and numerous representatives of the international media, including Voice of America and the following major US newspapers: The Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, San Francisco Examiner and St. Petersburg Times. 

** “Maqam!” (It’s Time!) Civil Movement was created in February of 2005. The movement was created with the following goals: 

(1) to increase the number of citizens supporting and participating in and free and fair elections 
(2) to fight corruption in education and other sectors
(3) to defend the rights of youth and students
(4) to create a real community of active citizens in Azerbaijan 

“Maqam!’s” mission in 2005 consisted of increasing the level of interest and participation in the parliamentary elections.  Our basic principal is to create and show a nonviolent civil opposition.  “Maqam!” is not a group under the direction of one person; all decisions are made by a board consisting of nine members. “Maqam!” has 200 members. Fifty members are activists, 50 members carryout tasks related to the internal affairs of the group, and the remaining 100 people are general members. Since the day that “Maqam!” was created we have been funded through the membership fees of 50 people. Up to this point in time “Maqam!” has conducted many educational trainings and seminars for youth. Besides this we translated a book about the process of democratization and distributed it for free among students. During the recent parliamentary elections approximately 100 members of “Maqam!” acted as election observers. After the elections we prepared a special report about the election.  In the period since the elections “Maqam!” has intensified their work with relation to students’ rights.  “Maqam!” also has defended students who have been unjustly expelled for universities in Azerbaijan and has extensive experience in this area. In July and December2005/January 2006 our members participated in hunger-strikes (lasting 7 days and 23 days), and successfully achieved the reinstatement of students back into their universities after their where expelled for their political views. 

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