By Emil Danielyan
Armenia on Friday flatly denied any role in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow Azerbaijan’s government which claims to have foiled it with the arrest of a young Azerbaijani oppositionist announced the previous night.
The National Security Service (NSS) in Yerevan dismissed as “ridiculous” Azerbaijani allegations that it recruited Ruslan Bashirli, the arrested leader of the Yeni Fikir (New Thinking) youth movement, to foment a violent coup d’etat in Baku.
A statement issued by Azerbaijan’s Office of Prosecutor-General late Thursday said Bashirli secretly met Armenian security agents in Tbilisi last week and was paid $2,000 to stir up trouble ahead of the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections slated for November. Azerbaijani state television aired footage, allegedly shot in the Georgian capital, of Bashirli accepting cash from three men. The oppositionist was consequently charged with attempting "to take power by force."
“We knew that the new head of Azerbaijan’s special services is not a specialist,” the NSS said in a statement, tartly referring to Eldar Mahmudov’s police background. “But hardly anyone would predict that he will cast his subordinates in negative light.”
The NSS chief, Gorik Hakobian, compared the case with trumped-up espionage charges leveled by the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin against his potential rivals. “My advice is this: You can’t solve Azerbaijan’s internal political problems with the long-forgotten methods that were used in the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s,” Hakobian was quoted as saying in the statement.
The Armenian security agency avoided any comment on the specifics of the Azerbaijani accusations, though.
According to the Azerbaijani authorities, Bashirli and a member of his organization, Osman Alimuradov, were in Tbilisi on July 28-29, meeting with three “Armenian agents” that offered to “render comprehensive assistance for carrying out a revolution in Azerbaijan.” The “agents,” one of them identified as a Georgian, allegedly offered to supply the Azerbaijani opposition with weapons in order to spark violence in Baku.
The statement by the Azerbaijani prosecutors also claimed that the cash handed to Bashirli was an advance payment and that the Armenians promised to add $20,000 a few days later. The Yeni Fikir leader was arrested by Azerbaijani security services after they were tipped off by Alimuradov, it said.
The statement also implicated the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. non-governmental organization promoting political reform across the former Soviet Union, in the alleged plot. It quoted Bashirli as telling his alleged Armenian recruiters that Yeni Fikir received "specific instructions from representatives of this organization to prepare a revolution in Azerbaijan."
The NDI did not immediately react to the charges denied by Azerbaijani opposition leaders. "This is yet another one of the authorities' games, this event was organized by the Ministry of National Security," Bashirli’s deputy Fikret Farmazogly told AFP.
Yeni Fikir has repeatedly called for the ouster of President Ilham Aliev. The arrest of its leader could further heighten tensions in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the November elections. The United States and European organizations are increasingly pressing Aliev’s regime to ensure their freedom and fairness.
The case is also the latest in a long series of Armenian-Azerbaijani spy scandals that result from the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. As recently as on June 28, a Yerevan court sentenced a Russian-born citizen of Armenia to twelve years in prison for spying for Azerbaijan and helping its security services plot an attempt on President Robert Kocharian’s life.
In Azerbaijan, meanwhile, authorities reportedly purged the Ministry of National Security of employees who have ethnic Armenian parents or other relatives. “We live in Azerbaijan and the presence in the MNS of individuals of Armenian descent or with Armenian relatives is therefore impossible,” the “525ci Gazet” daily quoted a ministry spokesman as saying on June 15.
(RFE/RL photo: Gorik Hakobian.)