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Are European leaders turning blind eye to Azerbaijan's human rights record?

Irish-produced film asks question as Eurovision 2012 hosts put under the lens for corruption and alleged human rights abuses.

Image: A still from Amazing Azerbaijan! via Liz Mermin/Youtube

THE HIGHEST PROFILE the nation of Azerbaijan has had in Ireland in recent years was when it hosted Eurovision 2012. Pop twins Jedward travelled with their song, Waterline, to Baku, the Azerbeijani capital on the Caspian Sea.

When the glitter and Europomp of the contest faded away, however, so did the spotlight on the country. A new film from Irish producer Aisling Ahmed and director Liz Mermin explores the importance of the country to Europe – and how that relationship might be influenced by Azerbaijan’s potential to provide an alternative to Russia as a major world supplier of oil and gas.

Screening as part of the Ireland on Sunday series at the Irish Film Institute tomorrow at 1pm, Amazing Azerbaijan! spends an hour investigating attitudes towards the country – from within and without the nation. The film claims that the country is frequently refracted through two lenses:

One, the tolerant, Eurovision-winning, secular democratic republic that the government proudly puts on display for visiting journalists and dignitaries; the other a repressive and corrupt oligarchy with little respect for democracy or human rights.

One of the main characters in the film is an investigative journalist, Khaija Ismayilova, who probes corruption in Azerbaijan. She hosts a daily current affairs radio show on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and has exposed unethical business dealings of certain members of the Azerbaijani president’s family – including the hidden interests of the first family in the construction contract for the multi-million euro venue for Eurovision 2012.

Ismayilova says she moved into investigative reporting after a prominent investigative journalist in Azerbaijan, Elmar Huseynov, was murdered in Baku in 2005. (Another Azerbaijani journalist, Rafig Tani, was murdered in 2011).

She has won international awards for her reporting but has also suffered blackmail and concerted smear campaigns within her home country, including the placing of hidden cameras in her home – taking video footage of Ismayilova with her boyfriend in her bedroom. This video was later posted online and had to enlist friends and supporters to guard her apartment from threats of violence.

This clip from the film shows the discovery of the secret camera:


via Crow Hill Films/Vimeo

The makers of the film say that the film “focuses not so much on holding Azerbaijan accountable but more the European institutions that chose to stay silent on it”.

Amazing Azerbaijan! will be shown at the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street, Dublin at 1pm tomorrow – see here for tickets. A panel after the screening will feature producer Aisling Ahmed, directoro Liz Mermin and Chairman of Human Rights Club Azerbaijan, Raul Jafarov.


via Liz Mermin/Youtube

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