Ilgar Mammadov - Victim of a Political Chess Game

Ilgar Mammadov

Ilgar Mammadov

Society forgets about the best people kept behind bars.

November 4 will mark three years to the day from the start of the trial of Ilgar Mammadov, former candidate to the post of President of Azerbaijan. On March 17, 2014, the leader of the Republican Alternative (ReAl) civil movement was sentenced to seven years in prison. Since that time, despite an exculpatory resolution from the court in Strasbourg, and calls from international organizations, the Council of Europe and popular opinion, Mammadov has remained behind bars. On several occasions he has been beaten up in prison by guards and other inmates, and he has been placed in solitary confinement. But the prison wardens haven’t managed to extract an apology or pleas for mercy from Ilgar.

In her article on repression of journalists in Turkey, which was published in the Washington post, the Turkish journalist Asli Aydintasbas wrote: “One of the things that happens to people living under the conditions of an authoritarian system is a numbing of all feeling.”

In Azerbaijan, opposition figures are arrested and tried under false accusations so often that we really are unintentionally forgetting about Ilgar. He was remembered by an out-of-favor Azerbaijani diplomat, a forced émigré, Arif Mammadov, Azerbaijan’s former ambassador in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. He wrote on his Facebook page: 

“Today, like many of you, I am deeply worried by the excesses taking place in the country, the sentence pronounced for Qiyas Ibrahimov. I remembered Ilgar Mammadov. Unfortunately, I don’t see a mobilization of our society, of international organizations, for the freedom of this outstanding, competent politician. I believe that we need to pester international organizations on a daily basis, until we secure Ilgar’s release. Sometimes it seems that Ilgar being behind bars suits many people, and not only those in power.

I first got to know Ilgar in 2007, when I was re-appointed ambassador to the EU; I met Mammadov in Strasbourg. He was director of the Azerbaijani representative of the Council of Europe School of Political Studies. These schools were created by the Council of Europe in all the organization’s member countries. 

Among the directors of schools from other countries, Ilgar always stood out not only because of his intelligence and originality of thought, but also his openness. This was so clear that Ilgar’s role was specially noted by the leadership of the Council of Europe. When I found out that employees of most of the country’s government institutions were represented in this school, I was very surprised. I asked Ilgar, wasn’t he was afraid that all the minutes from discussions in the school would straight away be placed on the desk of the leadership of the presidential administration. He replied that he wasn’t afraid. He said that his goal is the development of democratic values in the country, to attract competent, capable people to the school, regardless of their persuasions and affiliations. He had nothing to hide. This was a completely new approach which was not intrinsic to our mentality. Ilgar could have given the school a closed structure, working on his political career, as was done by the directors of other Council of Europe schools. But he thought otherwise. Ilgar was different from others in that he was capable of thinking ‘outside the box’.

In tossing Ilgar in prison, the government committed an enormous crime against our people, denying civil society such an individual as Ilgar. Ilgar Mammadov, Fuad Qehremanli, Qiyas Ibrahimov and others that we consider prisoners of conscience. The greatest sons and daughters of the country, the most competent, orderly, honest citizens of the country are locked up today. In reality, it’s not totally correct to consider them prisoners of conscience. They cleared their consciences and are locked up with a clean conscience. They are physically imprisoned, but today the real prisoner of conscience is our society, you and I. The conscience of ministers and deputies who, understanding all the injustice, defend the regime; the conscience of judges that read out sentences; the conscience of diplomats that, in meetings with their Western colleagues and human rights activists, speak about how we have no political prisoners, while hiding their eyes; the writers who write about goodness and conscience, but in reality keep quiet in the face of injustice, hoping to receive yet another title or prize. 

Look at the faces of Ilgar, Qiyas, Guad and many others during their trials. Their faces are smiling, their eyes are bright, because, while physically imprisoned, their conscience is clean, they believe in the future of their people and the country they love so deeply. And look at the faces of our judges, deputies, ministers. They are in constant mourning for their souls, which are awaited by the most severe punishment,” writes Arif Mammadov.

Radio Liberty contacted Arif Mammadov, who is living with his family in Brussels, and asked him to answer our questions. 

- You spoke out about efforts underway to free Ilgar Mammadov from prison. Tell us more, please.

- In September we also raised his issue to the Council of Europe. Then the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted yet another decision regarding Mammadov’s release. The only possibility remaining is to exclude Azerbaijan from the Council of Europe, which they don’t want to do. This is also not a solution. If we are excluded, then our citizens lose the possibility of appealing to the European Court. The image of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe is taking a beating as Baku officially ignores the opinion of the Council of Europe. Everyone understands that the country should be excluded, but on the other hand, the party that truly suffers will be the Azerbaijani people.

- Why are sanctions not brought against Azerbaijan and its representatives?

- The Azerbaijani government is paying enormous sums of money to the American company Podesta to neutralize the possibility that sanctions are introduced. Podesta leads a lobbying organization in the USA, which defends the interests of the Azerbaijani government in Washington. They have serious ties inside the White House and Congress. Maybe something will change after the coming presidential elections in the USA. It seems to me that the US Department of Defense and Department of State don’t want sanctions to be put in place just yet, since President Aliyev supports their strategic goals. 

- The USA trumpets a commitment to freedom of speech, etc., but is in close cooperation with the UAE, Kuwait, and other dictatorial regimes for the sake of the military and economic interest of the USA. Will the same thing happen with Ilgar Mammadov that has happened with others who’ve been imprisoned, like former Minister of Health Ali Insanov? The government is obviously extending his imprisonment, though the term to which he was sentenced by the court has expired. 

- Unfortunately this is the case. Many in Azerbaijan ‘had their wings singed’, believing in the US commitment to democratic principles. This includes Ilgar Mammadov, Farhad Aliyev, and others. Ilham Aliyev advances the strategic goals of the USA in the region. The obligatory consideration of US interests is clear even in the question of pressure on Armenia. I don’t doubt that the April military campaign was also agreed upon in Washington. The USA achieved an anti-Russian sentiments in Armenian society. But I think the Americans have lost again. Russia has gained even more strength in Armenia, selling them modern armaments. The chess match continues, and the people suffer.

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