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Progress in Azerbaijan

Saturday, July 23, 2005; Page A16

Jackson Diehl’s July 4 op-ed piece concerning Azerbaijan noted the strategic importance of that country and the need for free and open elections this fall, but it did not accurately portray the great strides in election reform in the two years since Ilham Aliyev was elected president. It suggested that only those opposed to the Aliyev government were committed to democratic principles, which is false.

Despite opposition allegations of a lack of progress in revising or reforming the election process, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently praised Mr. Aliyev’s executive order on improving election practices as well as efforts to prepare for parliamentary elections in November. Reno L. Harnish III, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, welcomed the executive order, and the European Union’s special representative to the South Caucasus expressed his strong belief that Azerbaijan’s leadership wants to hold free and fair elections. Furthermore, in a recent speech in that country, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright said that all the people there she’d met were “committed to organizing free and fair elections in November.”

Opposition leader Isa Gambar, whom Mr. Diehl quoted, continues to make unsubstantiated charges, such as asserting that he won the 2003 presidential election. In fact, he received only 13.9 percent of the vote, a number described as “credible” by the OSCE and the State Department. Regrettably, then, as now, he has advocated violent revolution.

Since becoming free of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has remained independent, which is remarkable considering that it has only 8 million people and is surrounded by Russia, Georgia, Iran and Armenia, all of which covet its oil and gas. In fact, an attack by Armenia killed nearly 1 million rural Azeris and created nearly 1 million refugees. Moreover, Azerbaijan is the only Muslim country in the region to practice religious tolerance and encourage its women to get university educations. Rather than simply accepting the allegations of the opposition, a more balanced review would show that Mr. Aliyev and the leaders of Azerbaijan deserve praise and encouragement for their progress so far and their goals for the future.



The writer heads a consulting firm that represents a group of educators and businessmen in Azerbaijan.

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