Is Azerbaijan a rich country

How does the "Azerbaijan System" work?

The allegations are huge. Several times, members of the German Bundestag have apparently benefited from good relations with Azerbaijan in various ways. The current focus is on MPs Axel Fischer (CDU), whose offices and living quarters were searched at the beginning of March on suspicion of corruption, and MPs Mark Hauptmann (CDU). Fischer's immunity was last lifted to allow an investigation. Hauptmann, who is also said to be involved in mask business, resigned under public pressure on March 11th.

It has been known for several years that Azerbaijan is trying to influence MPs in the Council of Europe. The German Karin Strenz (CDU) was able to prove that she had received around 22,000 euros from Azerbaijan through an intermediate company. She still sits in the German Bundestag today, and in 2019 a fine was imposed on her - because of the late public reporting of donations from Azerbaijan. Ex-MP Eduard Lintner (CSU) is also said to have received funds from Baku a few years ago. The Frankfurt am Main public prosecutor is currently investigating both of them.

Mark Hauptmann (CDU) resigned after allegations

Image cultivation of a family clan

But what drives the authoritarian state in the Caucasus? What does the relatively small country, with a population of ten million, hope to gain from giving presents to German and other European MPs? "It's not about economic relations or that Germany should invest more. It's about polishing up the image of Azerbaijan and washing it clean," says Stefan Meister, head of the South Caucasus office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation based in neighboring Georgia. "Here an attempt is being made to paint a good image of the country through important international people. This is intended to legitimize Azerbaijan's politics."

The politics of Azerbaijan in the post-Soviet country are above all the politics of the family clan of President Ilham Aliyev. He had already taken over the office from his father in 2003, and in 2017 he appointed his wife as Vice President. The country is repeatedly criticized not only because of the personality cult surrounding the president, but above all because of ongoing human rights violations and an extremely poor situation in terms of freedom of the press. Amnesty International criticizes, among other things, unfair trials and unsolved deaths in police custody. And the organization "Reporters Without Borders" ranks Azerbaijan just 168 out of 180 in their "Freedom of the Press Ranking". The organization complains on its website: "Azerbaijan authorities are brutally attacking independent bloggers and journalists. Anyone who does not bow to the constant pressure of harassment, thugs, extortion or co-optation will be sentenced to imprisonment on absurd accusations."

Nagorno-Karabakh point of contention

Another reason why Azerbaijan is trying to influence members of parliament is the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It had only led to a war with Armenia again last autumn. "The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is about getting support for the Azerbaijani position in the Bundestag, buying support," said Stefan Meister.

First Lady and since 2017 also Vice-President of Azerbaijan: Mihriban Aliyeva, here at the 2020 elections

The "image cultivation" of Azerbaijan happens in different ways. On the one hand, the country, which has become rich through gas reserves, is investing in large, international events that take place in Baku - for example the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, the European Games 2015 or regular Formula 1 races. Games of the 2021 European Football Championship will also take place in Baku. The influence on politicians is more inconspicuous. It's not always about big cash payments. Smaller material assets such as trips to Azerbaijan, invitations to events with a meal or gifts are also used to influence decision-makers. The fact that the value of gifts is not always immensely high is part of the system. "It is a type of indirect and minor corruption in which the hurdles to accept are low. The MPs who are addressed may also be those who otherwise do not have so many privileges," says Stefan Meister.

Do small gifts keep friendship alive?

Obviously the tactics are caught. Again and again, German MPs have campaigned for Azerbaijan, especially in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), of which Azerbaijan is also a member. There was even talk of a "caviar diplomacy" in 2017. Karin Strenz and Eduard Lintner are said to have behaved pro-Azerbaijani here. For example, when Strenz spoke out against the release of political prisoners. Individual members of election observation commissions of the Council of Europe who were sent into the country are also said to have made surprisingly positive comments about the course of the elections in the past - including Lintner. The recently resigned MP Mark Hauptmann is accused of having placed advertisements for trips to Azerbaijan and pomegranate juice from Azerbaijan in the small newspaper "Südthüringen-Kurier", which he published, for which he collected up to 16,000 euros. However, Hauptmann denies that the advertisements had any political influence on him. The fact is: in 2018 he organized the "1st German-Azerbaijani Business Dialogue" together with the Azerbaijani ambassador.

Formula 1 should also bring shine to Baku every year - here at the 2019 Grand Prix

Widely branched braid

This event shows how ramified the Azerbaijan network is: The speaker at this event was the State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics, Thomas Bareiß, who, according to the editorial network Germany (RND), has been accused since March 12 of shortly after the emergence of the Corona -Crisis 2020 put pressure on a German medical technology company. The aim was allegedly to have ventilation machines delivered preferentially to Azerbaijan. In January 2019, according to the RND, Bareiß traveled to the Azerbaijani capital Baku with a business delegation and was received there by the head of state Aliyev, among others. He himself says that he did not exert any pressure, otherwise he justifies his commitment to Azerbaijan as "humanitarian aid".

Now, when there is public outrage and immunity, as in the Fischer case, is lifted or a mandate is resigned, as in the Hauptmann case, does the dubious commitment to the autocracy on the Caspian Sea end? The expert Meister doubts that: "There are a number of organizations. German-Azerbaijani societies, professorships, a network of cultural and economic institutions. I don't see that the governing parties are systematically taking action against it. Only if the media play it up, then one reacts. " The small country in the Caucasus is likely to remain an important player in the future.