Speech of the representative of the National Talysh Movement in conference "Azerbaijan: Double Standards and Crackdown of Minority Rights"

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            Dear Chairman, dear members of the European Parliament, dear ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to present the views and perspective of the National Talysh Movement. I will be speaking on behalf of my father, Alikram Hummatov, the president of the National Talysh Movement. Due to language constraints he is not able to deliver the speech himself and has requested me to do so.    
           
I will start off by giving you an overview of the political and economic realities in Azerbaijan, thereafter I will follow up by presenting to you the view of the National Talysh Movement on how to better the minorities’ dilemma in Azerbaijan.  
           
The Republic of Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic country wherein several ethnic people are represented. These ethnic people live compactly together in ‘regions’ in which they have been living for centuries. For instance, the Talysh people are united in one of the Southern regions, which is called the Talysh. Unfortunately, the government of Azerbaijan has deprived ethic people of the opportunity of using their language and developing their culture. 
           
Pursuant to the constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan is a unicameral parliament with a president as the Head of State. Azerbaijan is a unitary republic, meaning that the existing regions in the country possess no autonomy and are subject to the discretionary and unlimited power of the president. We can also say that the power of the president is centralized.  
           
The territory of Azerbaijan is divided into almost 90 administrative formations, which are called the rayons. There are approximately 90 rayons, each of which is governed by a mayor. The president himself orders the selection of the mayors for the rayons at his own discretion. The mayors are not democratically elected and the electoral municipal councils are supposedly elected by the people. In fact, the electoral municipal councils are under the control of the mayors, who in turn, are subject to the power of the president. Therefore, we could say that the rayons are not independent and are subject to the will of the president.  
           
Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan the only legislative power is the unicameral parliament which is called the Milli Meclis, which has been formed pursuant to the majoritarian voting system. In actual fact, the deputies are allocated by the will of the president and there is no such thing as an opposition in the parliament. Due to the lack of a proportional election system, political parties cannot function collectively in the parliament of Azerbaijan.  
           
It is also notable that in Azerbaijan all judges are directly allocated by the president and thus the judiciary is not free. Not one court in Azerbaijan is independent of the power of the president.     
           
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and during the formation of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, the heavy and light industries and the agricultural sector have come to a standstill. This has been due to the inability of the government to economically develop and sustain these industrial and agricultural sectors. Because of this the main source of income in Azerbaijan has come to be predominantly from oil and gas revenues. Up to 75-80 percent of the state budget is comprised of oil and gas revenues. The reliance of the economy on oil and gas exports has resulted in over 30 percent depreciation of the national currency in February this year, which exacerbates the already frustrating situation of Azerbaijan’s citizens. 
           
Heavy and light industrial products and agricultural products are imported by the governmental authorities and sold for higher prices in enterprises owned by them – hence we could say that in Azerbaijan the oligarchic system has prevalence. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2014, released by Transparency International, the Republic of Azerbaijan ranks 126th in the world. Such a situation prevents the development of small and medium businesses in both the country and its regions. Accordingly, small and medium businesses are under pressure of the state-racket system. 
           
Due to land reforms, plantations - such as that of tea, vegetable, citrus and other fruit - which covered large territories in the past, have been divided into small parts by governmental authorities and thus have lost their profitability. This is problematic: the basic economic activity of ethnic peoples in Azerbaijan has historically been agriculture. And so, due to the state agriculture strategy, as well as unemployment, other financial constraints, corrupt state system and political repression, ethnic people emigrate from the region in large numbers to neighboring countries, particularly Russia. For example,  as of today, according to unofficial data, approximately 500 thousand to 700 thousand Talysh people have emigrated to Russia. This has undoubtedly led to the decrease of the Talysh identity in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government authorities seem to intentionally force ethnic groups to leave their lands and then either become assimilated in the broader Azerbaijani environment in the capital region or live outside the Republic of Azerbaijan. The migration and other retrogression in the country, such as the weakening of the healthcare system, have resulted in a rapid spread of AIDS and have increased illegal drug usage in the regions of Azerbaijan.  
           
In 2014, the government announced a state program for the development of the regions, and this year has been declared as being the state year of agriculture. However, there is little action. All these programs are declarative and are not applied in practice. 
           
I would like to draw your attention once again to the political structure of Azerbaijan. In spite of Azerbaijan being a constitutional unitary republic, the constitution also provides that the Nakhichevan Republic, which is a region uniting about 7 to 8 rayons, has the status of a state. Notable is that, unfortunately, the governance of Nakhichevan Republic gives the reins of the government into the hands of the legislative power only. This is arguably not the best form of governance, since it is not based on the separation of power (trias politica): the executive, the legislative and the judiciary branches. Therefore political reform and the decentralization of presidential power is crucial. An aspect within this political reform would be to give the regions the opportunity of selfgovernance. If the Nakhichevan Republic can exist within the Republic of Azerbaijan, then we could argue that indeed presidential power can be decentralized and that there could also be self-governing regions such as Talyshstan, Lezghistan, Avarstan, Kurdistan, etc. This way the existing regions would have the opportunity of creating freeenterprises in social and economic fields and in this way be able to improve and rearrange their economic, social and cultural life. This in turn would lead to the preservation of their ethnic identity in the regions of Azerbaijan and as well as to peace in the Caucasus in the long term.  

Thank you for your attention.

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