Azerbaijan: pipeline opens, political space closes

What ironic timing. An official visit by the US Energy Secretary to Azerbaijan to mark the opening of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was immediately preceeded by violent repression of pro-democracy protests there. From the May 29 New York Times:

Washington – Samuel Bodman, the new secretary of energy, led the United States delegation to Azerbaijan last week to celebrate a huge moment in America’s effort to diversify its sources of oil: The opening of a pipeline that will carry Caspian oil to the West, on a route that avoids Russia and Iran.

Mr. Bodman delivered a message from President Bush: “As Azerbaijan deepens its democratic and market economic reforms, this pipeline can help generate balanced economic growth, and provide a foundation for a prosperous and just society that advances the cause of freedom.”

Just a few days earlier, the Azerbaijani police beat pro-democracy demonstrators with truncheons when opposition parties, yelling “free elections,” defied the government’s ban on protests against President Ilham Aliyev. Mr. Aliyev is one of President Bush’s allies in the war on terror, even though he won a highly suspect election to succeed his father, a former Soviet strongman.

See our previous coverage of the growing US military presence in Azerbajian, US-Russian sabre-rattling over the Caucasus region, and the role that shifting regional alliances played in the recent unrest in Uzbekistan.