US Spy’ Rhetoric and Journalist Arrests in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s pro-government media has been expressing strong anti-U.S. sentiment, with the government considering banning USAID’s activities. Azerbaijan’s refusal of Western mediation in peace talks with Armenia has led to the arrest of a fourth media manager, indicating a preference for regional powers for conflict resolution.

The U.S. embassy in Baku canceled a meeting with Azerbaijani U.S. university alumni due to allegations of spying during their studies. The embassy did not address the allegations, but stated that it aimed to celebrate the anniversaries of its two flagship educational and cultural exchange programs and highlight the achievements of the Azerbaijani community of US-educated graduates. However, many in Azerbaijan are not taking the allegations seriously, with some arguing that many current government officials have studied in the U.S. and that these accusations are baseless and ridiculous.

Azerbaijan’s government has been accused of offending the Biden government and expressing resentment in a low form, with the opposition camp accusing the government of being offended. However, arrests of independent media managers have continued amid the pro-government media’s campaign of painting independent content creators as “U.S. spies.” On November 27, police arrested Aziz Orujov, the chief of Kanal13 internet television, and searched his house.

A criminal case was launched against him on charges of illegal construction, and he was placed in pretrial detention for three months. A photo of Orujov saying goodbye to his daughter during his arrest went viral on social media, symbolizing President Ilham Aliyev’s policy to make Azerbaijan more like Central Asia. Orujov’s arrest follows those of the senior management of the investigative news outlet Abzas Media, who were charged with smuggling after law enforcement claimed to have recovered 40,000 euros of cash at Abzas’ office in Baku.

Three journalists, including AbzasMedia, were detained for four months. criticized the media for allegedly being funded by the US. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry criticized AbzasMedia for illegal financial operations with US, France, and German organizations. The attacks began after deteriorating relations with the US due to disagreements on peace negotiations with Armenia.

This support is aimed at helping Yerevan pivot away from Russia and accommodate the 100,000-some Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan’s offensive in September. President Ilham Aliyev’s senior advisor on foreign affairs, Hikmat Hajiyev, criticized USAID administrator Samantha Power’s criticism of Azerbaijan’s military operation. On November 28, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Aliyev agreed to allow high-ranking officials to visit each other’s countries.

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