British MPs have been getting cosy with The European Azerbaijan society (TEAS). It doesn’t sound that alarming. Fostering links with other nations is a good thing, right? On first glance TEAS seem like a pretty innocuous bunch. They are a UK registered organisation whose mission statement is “to raise awareness of Azerbaijan and fostering closer economic, political and cultural links between that country and the nations of Europe.” They recently arranged a charity football with Mo Farah to raise money for internally displaced people in Azerbaijan.
It’s just a shame they don’t arrange similar events for those fighting the country’s autocratic dictator Ilham Aliyev and his repressive regime – oh wait that’s because the European Azerbaijan Society is working on behalf of that repressive regime.
TEAS was created in 2008 by Tale Heydarov. His father is Azerbaijani Minister for Emergency Situations, a key member of Aliyev’s ruling elite. A leaked US embassy cable described Heydarov as
possibly more powerful than the president himself… Heydarov controls more visible assets and wealth within the country than the president
Aliyev and his ministers are the beneficiaries of a very corrupt system. Thanks to the country’s huge fossil fuel wealth they have become extremely rich with vast property empires around the globe. In Azerbaijan many people cannot afford healthcare and basic infrastructure, such as roads, is often inadequate. The fossil fuel wealth which should benefit everyone is being squandered by the very few.
People who speak out against Aliyev suffer the consequences – there are currently over 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. And that includes some of the internally displaced people TEAS claim to be so concerned about. When I was in Azerbaijan in April I met Idrak Abbasov who lives in the town of Sulutepe on the outskirts of Baku. This Soviet-era suburb houses many refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Lots of the migrants have again found themselves forcibly evicted when the state oil company SOCAR (another extension of the regime) destroyed their homes without warning or compensation. Idrak and his family were persecuted when Idrak wrote about what was happening in his village. Idrak’s parents, son and brother were all attacked. Idrak was so badly beaten that he now suffers permanent tinnitus and kidney damage. TEAS are yet to organise any charity matches for the people of Sulutepe.
TEAS have, however, been funding lots of UK political groups. They founded the “Conservative Friends of Azerbaijan” which has 25 Tory parliamentarians in it and aims to promote awareness of Azerbaijan as a democratic country which subscribes to the Helsinki Principles. They also donated £7500 to the Labour pressure group Progress.
In addition TEAS provides secretarial support to the Azerbaijan All Party Parliamentary Group, framing the discussions they have and ensuring human rights and democracy are not on their list of considerations. Former chair of the APPG, Tory MP Mark Field, was recruited as a member of TEAS advisory board in 2011, and paid £6000 a year for the role. TEAS have also covered Field’s expenses on multiple trips to Azerbaijan including one in May 2011 when he laid a wreath at the feet of a Heydar Aliyev statue. Current APPG chair Christopher Pincher has been taken on two all-expenses paid trips to Azerbaijan – which cost at least £6,575, and attempted to silence UK Parliamentary criticism of the repression LINK. Revenues from oil and gas, which should belong to the citizens of Azerbaijan, are buying the silence of UK MPs.
Of course as long as Azerbaijan has large quantities of fossil fuels – Aliyev has plenty of ways to keep European MPs on side. First it was Azerbaijan’s oil Europe was after, now it is the nation’s gas they want. If built the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline would transport gas over 4,000 kms from the Caspian Sea to Italy. Maintaining good relations with Ilham ALiyev is key to ensuring this piece of fossil fuel infrastructure gets built. President Barroso recently welcomed Aliyev to Brussels praising the country’s democratic ‘progress’ despite every indication that the Presidential elections this October will be as fraudulent as previous ones – opposition candidates have already been put in jail prior to the vote. In return ALiyev promised Europe 2 trillion cubic meters of gas to be delivered via the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline.
It’s about time our MPs said no to money from the Aliyev regime, and spoke out about Azerbaijan’s political prisoners – of which there are over 80. We are using Twitter to expose their shameful links with TEAS. So please tweet this page address to two of the worst offenders Mark Field @markfieldMP and Christopher Pincher @ChrisPincher Ask them why the Azerbaijan society isn’t pressing for the release of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners? Tell them to stop taking TEAS funded trips to Azerbaijan. Or ask them not to put fossil fuels before human rights. We want to shame them into supporting the citizens’ demands for democracy and break their cozy links with TEAS.