The informal Olympics creed of “Not to win, but to take part” is exactly what Caspian-Sea energy power Azerbaijan wants out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
All four of Azerbaijan’s Olympic team members – alpine skiers Gaia Bassani Antivari and Patrick Brachner, and ice-dancing pair Alexei Sitnikov and Yulia Zlobina -- are naturalized foreigners; the only such team in the Games.
As the Syrian civil war nears its third anniversary, Azerbaijanis fighting for militant Islamic groups increasingly feature among those reported killed. While such reports are unsettling to officials in Azerbaijan, non-governmental observers in Baku believe the implications are limited for domestic stability.
Nearly 20 years after a ceasefire brought a halt to all-out warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani government is still grappling with the challenge of accommodating the country’s 600,000 Internally Displaced Persons, without encouraging them to forget their former homes.
Public anger is building in Azerbaijan over Russia’s rough treatment of an ethnic Azeri accused of murder. The incident likely will scuttle any chance, however remote, that Baku will join the Moscow-led Customs Union.
The US embassy in Baku is finding itself in an awkward situation following Azerbaijan’s October 9 presidential vote as it faces unprecedented claims from both the presidential administration and Ministry of Defense that the US allegedly “advised” the government how much of the vote should be “given” to President Ilham Aliyev.
The claims, emphatically denied by both the embassy and Washington, follow outspoken criticism from the US State Department and international observers about the conduct of the election. Main opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli will continue the focus on the elections when he visits the US next month.
Some analysts claim that the official criticism apparently sparked Azerbaijani officials to turn their anger from the opposition toward Washington, and to add some spicy disclosures to the mix.
On October 11, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry fired what proved to be the opening salvo when it released a statement that cited US Ambassador Richard Morningstar as allegedly telling Defense Minister Safar Abiyev in a meeting that “Criticism in connection with the results of the presidential election does not affect their results. Ilham Aliyev is the winner.”
In response, the US embassy asserted on October 14 that the get-together “was a private diplomatic meeting” and, while “constructive,” the “statements attributed to Ambassador Morningstar were not accurate.”
Azerbaijan's incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev, may have gained a land-slide reelection victory on October 9 (with 84.73 percent of the vote, according to official data), but international observers argue that the election fell far short of the democratic standards the country has pledged to uphold.
In an October 10 statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) international observation mission, which dispatched 30 long-term observers to Azerbaijan, said that the elections were "undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates."
Particularly when it came time for the count. “The counting was assessed in overwhelmingly negative terms, with 58 percent of  observed polling stations assessed as bad or very bad, indicating serious problems,” the OSCE/ODIHR mission's preliminary statement reads. "In 15 observed counts, [observers] reported manipulation of voter list entries, results or protocols, including cases of votes being reassigned to a different candidate."
The problems started from the get-go, the group said. Nearly 20 percent of the 125 polling stations observed got negative marks for their opening procedures -- another sign of much amiss, the report found. The voting process itself scored poorly in 11-percent of the observed polling stations, with “clear indications of ballot box stuffing in 37 polling stations and a number of other procedural violations.”
By contrast, Central Election Commission Chairperson Mazahir Panahov
The only unanswered question heading into Azerbaijan’s presidential election October 9 was whether it would be perceived as the country’s first-ever “free-and-fair” vote. The suspense didn’t last long, as a torrent of reports about irregularities began pouring in long before polling stations closed.