Azeri leader rejects Western criticism over rights, Karabakh

BAKU (Reuters) - Azeri President Ilham Aliyev hit back on Monday at his Western critics after resolutions criticized his country’s human rights record and handling of its conflict with neighboring Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev speaks during a news conference at the 2014 Tbilisi Summit May 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Energy-rich Azerbaijan, governed by Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003, has been courted by Western countries because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.

However, various European bodies and human rights groups have accused Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges Baku denies.

“Those (critical) resolutions are just pieces of paper for us. Therefore no one will ever implement them. Let the Azerbaijani people and the ones who drew up those ugly resolutions know it. No one can dictate to Azerbaijan,” Aliyev told a government meeting.

Among resolutions he condemned was one last month from Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, which accused the mainly Muslim country of restricting religious freedom and discriminating against its non-Muslim citizens.

The resolution also says the overall human rights situation in Azerbaijan has declined markedly since a 2013 presidential election and urges the German government to continue pushing for the swift and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

“Is the German Bundestag master of the world, ruler of the world, should everyone obey them? ... We don’t want anything from them, while they, on the contrary, need our gas, contracts, oil and our activity in this region,” Aliyev said.

Azerbaijan ranks 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 world press freedom index.

Aliyev also cited what he called an “anti-Azeri” resolution from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s (PACE). Its final text stated that “the assembly is aware of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” instead of original wording that said “the assembly is aware of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories”.

Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by its majority ethnic Armenians, broke out in the dying years of the Soviet Union and has killed about 30,000 people.

The breakaway region has run its own affairs with heavy military and financial backing from Christian Armenia since the war. Armenian-backed forces also hold seven Azeri districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed, despite mediation led by France, Russia and the United States.

Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Gareth Jones