Azerbaijan is a country located in the region of Western Asia. The Azerbaijani regime under İlham Aliyev (Əliyev) remains extremely authoritarian and shows no signs of softening, despite repeated protests from a number of international organizations. After a fiercely criticized parliamentary election in 2015, the regime has continued to imprison opposition and silent critical media.
İlham Aliyev took over the presidency after his father Heydar in 2003 and has been re-elected in 2008, 2013 and 2018. None of the elections that took place in Azerbaijan since Aliyev came to power in 2003 have been internationally approved as free and honorable. The new parliamentary elections held in February 2020 reinforced President Aliyev’s party’s strong position in Parliament, but were boycotted by many opposition parties and criticized by international observers (see Calendar).
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Azerbaijan, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Like his father, İlham Aliyev leads the country with an authoritarian hand. The opposition has very limited opportunities to reach out with its messages, since the media is controlled by the state apparatus. In public protests against political repression or, for example, manipulated election results, the police always strike hard and resolute and many people are arrested.
The 2015 election was preceded by such a harsh political climate that the European Security and Cooperation Organization (OSCE) found no sense in sending any observers, since it was clear that they would not have been able to carry out their mission properly. All major opposition parties boycotted the election, which, as usual, ended with a big victory for the presidential support party of New Azerbaijan. Formally, the party gained just over half of the seats, but in practice the government maintained the same total control over Parliament as it had since 2010, as all remaining mandates were allocated to small parties or individuals who were all more or less loyal to the regime.
Following the 2015 parliamentary elections, the systematic arrests and detention of human rights activists, opposition politicians, journalists and bloggers have continued. However, several long prison sentences have, after a while, been shortened and converted into conditional sentences. Since the regime has full control over the judiciary, it manages the prison judges as part of a frightening propaganda and political markings. No relief from the repression did not mean the releases, as the UN Human Rights Reporter noted in a report describing conditions in the country as the most difficult since independence in 1991.
Basic changes favor Alijev
In September 2016, the president’s already firm hold on power was strengthened through a series of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum. The Azerbaijanis, among other things, agreed to extend the president’s term of office to seven years, introduce a new post as vice president with great influence, give the president the right to announce new elections and dissolve parliament. According to the proposal, the minimum age for a presidential candidate would be lowered to 35 years, which prompted one of the president’s three children to eventually succeed him.
A month after the referendum, Parliament adopted a law that made it criminal to insult the president on the internet. Defamation on the internet was already prohibited, but previously no insult to the President had been mentioned explicitly.
In February 2017, Aliyev appointed his wife as first vice president. “She is professional, well-educated, experienced, principled and magnificent,” the president motivated the appointment. Opposition leader Isa Gambar made another assessment with the comment: “This throws Azerbaijan back to the medieval feudal empire.”
The President and his wife have lifelong legal immunity from all possible charges for such actions during their term of office. İlham Aliyev has often been accused of exploiting his power to build up a large personal wealth. He has been identified as probably one of the most corrupt leaders in the world, with ownership interests in most profitable Azerbaijani companies.
The widespread corruption within Azerbaijan’s power elite was exposed in 2017 in a major investigation by an international network of burgeoning journalists. It described how billions of euros were spent on bribing European politicians, lobbyists, journalists and businessmen.
Domestic Islamic groups are regarded with suspicion. In 2015, the police conducted a raid on the village of Nardaran outside Baku where several Islamist groups base their lives. Six people were killed when police arrested members of the Muslim Unity Movement who do not have permission to operate. The deaths triggered widespread protests. The arrested were arrested for planning to overthrow the government in cooperation with Iran.
A headache for Azerbaijan, as well as for neighboring states, is the growing number of domestic Islamists who fought for the Islamic State extremist Islamist group in Syria and who have now begun to return home with the mission to carry out attacks on “the unfaithful”.
There is also concern that the radical uprising against the Russian central power that is ongoing in neighboring Russian Dagestan should spread to Azerbaijan.
FACTS – POLITICS
Azərbaycan Respublikası / Republic of Azerbaijan
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President İlham Aliyev (Əliyev) (2003–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Ali Asadov (2019–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
New Azerbaijan 70, Other and Independent 55 (2015)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
New Azerbaijan 72, Civic Solidarity Party 3, Parent Party 2, Partisan 48 (2010)
55.7% in the 2015 general election, 74.5% in the 2018 presidential election
presidential elections 2025, parliamentary elections 2020
MR activist is beaten
Civil rights activist İlgar Nasibov is being abused by government supporters at a seminar on corruption at the University of Nachichevan.
Bloggers are imprisoned for sweeping reasons
The two bloggers are sentenced to two and a half years in prison, formally for mistreatment in a pub quarrel they are believed to have been provoked.
Bloggers seized for satire
Two bloggers, Adnan Hacızade and Emin Milli, have been arrested since publishing a regime-critical satire. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt visits Azerbaijan as a representative of the EU’s country of presidency and protests with President Aliyev against the arrests.
Great support for controversial constitutional changes
A referendum is held on several constitutional amendments. Among other things, the president must be able to be re-elected an unlimited number of times, departed presidents are guaranteed a number of privileges and in wartime no general elections should be made. More than 90 percent of voters are said to agree to the changes. According to the authorities, turnout is over 70 percent, but according to the opposition only 15 percent. It also circulates a lot of information about cheating. According to the Council of Europe, the constitutional changes contravene the rules of the organization.
Opposition is apprehended before a referendum
Several prominent members of the opposition parties Müsavat and the People’s Front are arrested as they try to organize protests against the referendum to be held in March.