screengrab from interview with Senator Cardin

Members of Congress Speak with RFE/RL in Azerbaijan

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq conducted separate interviews with U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Ben Cardin and Representative Chris Smith, in Baku this week as members of the U.S. delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), speaking with them about human rights, U.S.-Azerbaijan relations and stability in the region.

Senator Cardin noted Azerbaijan’s “strategic partnership” with the United States and important role in dealing with international security issues, but stated that Washington will continue to raise human rights problems with the Azerbaijani government “as a friend, trying to get the kind of improvements we think would be beneficial to Azerbaijan.”

Human rights were on the minds of Senator Wicker and Representative Smith as well. Both men expressed grave regret and concern over the imprisonment of Azeri bloggers and journalists following the country’s 2013 presidential election.

When asked what message should be delivered to the families and friends of those arrested, Representative Smith said, “It’s important that we raise these issues by name to let the [Azeri] government know we care about these individuals, and there needs to be justice for them, which means freedom.”

Senator Wicker said that, although Azerbaijan is still a relatively young republic with significant regional security concerns, the rule of law, transparency of elections, and the promotion of democracy should not be mutually exclusive with security, and that the US is committed to aiding our ally in ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights.

Wicker also spoke about stability in the region and described Russia’s actions in Ukraine as having a “familiar ring from the 1930s.” Wicker said it is unacceptable for Russia to violate the borders of a sovereign nation “under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians.”