By Harut Sassounian,
A delegation led by President of the Equestrian Federation of Azerbaijan, Elchin Gulliyev, presented on May 16 ‘a rare Karabagh horse’ named ‘Shohrat’ (glory) to the Queen of England as ‘a gift’ from President Ilham Aliyev.
Azerbaijan was invited to perform at Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Among the participants in the May 12-15 Windsor Royal Horse Show were Azerbaijan’s cavalry detachment and in national costume the Border Guard Service’s dance ensemble who performed a program called ‘Land of Fire.’ Azerbaijan has been participating in this Show since 2012.
Queen Elizabeth II, 96, holding a walking cane due to her mobility issues, waited in the courtyard of Windsor Castle to personally receive Azerbaijan’s ‘gift.’ The Monarch, who has a lifelong love of horses, said it was a “very kind, very generous” gesture. A similar horse was recently sold at an auction for $17,000. The Queen was also gifted two sculptures of horses, made by Azerbaijani sculptor Faiq Hajiyev. Interestingly, Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, during his visit to the UK in 1956, had also presented to Queen Elizabeth II ‘a Karabagh horse’ named ‘Zaman.’
Making no secret of the propaganda value of the Azeri ‘gift’ to the Queen, the press center of Azerbaijan’s State Border Service explicitly stated, with an obvious distortion of the historical facts, that the UK Horse Show “has become an extremely important platform for promoting the ancient and unique Azerbaijani culture.”
However, the Azeri propaganda backfired when Phil Miller, chief reporter of ‘Declassified UK’ wrote a highly critical article titled: “Anger as Queen Bags ‘Generous’ Gift from Dictator.” The article started with: “As the Queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, she is facing calls to return a horse she recently received from a repressive regime — the third autocracy from which she has accepted such a gift.”
Miller reported: “Republic, a group that wants to abolish the monarchy and replace it with an elected head of state, slammed the Queen for having a ‘cozy relationship where she receives horses from dictatorships.’ Republic spokesman Graham Smith told Declassified: ‘It doesn’t look good for a British head of state to be having these kinds of relationships with people who have very questionable records in office and who are repressing their own people. I think it is distasteful and something that a different head of state might have chosen not to do. I’m surprised the government hasn’t advised her to refuse these sorts of gifts but I assume that it’s something she’s very invested in — horse racing. I think the best thing she could do is return the gifts and ask them not to offer her any more in the future.’”
Miller added: “The Aliyev family network is widely accused of embezzling state funds and acquiring more than $500 million worth of property in London, one of which was sold to the Queen’s crown estate in an $82 million deal.”
Miller quoted dissident Azeri journalist in exile Arzu Geybullayeva: “President Ilham Aliyev is not only notorious for his authoritarian leadership, but he has also successfully managed to corrupt the whole governing system — [putting] cronies, oligarchs, and family members in high government positions.”
On June 2nd, the Armenian National Committees of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom, all four British Commonwealth countries, issued a joint statement titled: “Your Majesty, Beware of Dictators Bearing Gifts!” The ANCs stated that Azerbaijan was attempting to “gift their way to whitewashing an appalling human rights record.” The ANCs called the gift “the latest in a series of cynical attempts by the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan to color their shortcomings in a positive light.” The joint statement also highlighted that “human rights organizations have consistently exposed Azerbaijan’s use of Caviar Diplomacy in several corruption scandals, where they were found to pay their way to enhancing the country’s image amongst the international community.”
The four ANCs reminded that “in 2012, President Aliyev became the inaugural winner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Person of the Year award bestowed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).” The ANCs alerted the Queen that “Freedom House has summarized Azerbaijan’s human rights record as follows: ‘Power in Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime remains heavily concentrated in the hands of Ilham Aliyev, who has served as president since 2003, and his extended family. Corruption is rampant, and the formal political opposition has been weakened by years of persecution. The authorities have carried out an extensive crackdown on civil liberties in recent years, leaving little room for independent expression or activism.’”
ANC-UK Chairperson Annette Moskofian stated: “There is no doubt in our minds that the gift is a deliberate and targeted act by the Azerbaijani regime to glorify its war crimes and cause psychological harm to Armenians in the Commonwealth countries, as well as in their ancestral homeland of Artsakh, who are facing an existential threat and who have witnessed parts of their ancestral homeland be occupied and ethnically cleansed by a foreign dictatorship.”
Sevag Belian, Armenian National Committee’s Executive Director in Canada, added: “We are confident that, upon being fully apprised of the above, Her Majesty should rightly reconsider acceptance of this ‘gift’ and reject Azerbaijan’s blatant and nefarious caviar diplomacy.”
There is little chance that the Queen will return the Azeri horse, unless the British public pressure their government that this ‘gift’ is nothing more than a crude bribe to whitewash the Aliyev regime’s crimes against the people of Azerbaijan as well as Artsakh and Armenia.