Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.


The tyrant’s lobbyist

Emma Hughes reveals the interests behind an influential UK lobby, the European Azerbaijan Society

November 5, 2014
4 min read

Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

  share     tweet  

The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) exists to raise ‘awareness of Azerbaijan’ and foster ‘closer economic, political and cultural links’. In practice, this means representing the interests of the mega-rich and repressive Aliyev regime. Azerbaijan’s ruling elite has used the country’s oil and gas wealth to establish a system where there is almost no press freedom and peaceful protests are violently broken up. In the run up to last year’s elections the regime conducted a systematic campaign of intimidation, putting rival candidates in jail, beating their children and banning rallies. On the day of the vote there were 143 political prisoners in Azerbaijan and videos emerged of ballot boxes being stuffed by the regime.

With the 2015 European Games taking place in Baku, human rights monitors, activists and lawyers are facing increasing repression. Enter the European Azerbaijan Society – its job is to win the regime friends among European decision makers, and it’s very good at it.

TEAS is as close to the regime as you can get without being run by a member of the Aliyev family. It was set up in 2008 by Tale Heydarov, whose father, Kamaladdin, is Azerbaijani minister for emergency situations. A leaked US embassy cable described him as possibly ‘more powerful than the president himself’.

Fronted by lobbying guru and wannabe Tory MP Lionel Zetter, the London-based group has offices in six countries. It founded Conservative Friends of Azerbaijan, and has donated to the Blairite Labour pressure group Progress. It also provides secretarial support to the Azerbaijan all-party parliamentary group – whose remit is framed to exclude any mention of human rights or democracy.

According to the register of MPs’ interests the society has given almost £90,000 to MPs – the vast majority Tories – to pay for trips to Azerbaijan. The list of MPs who have connections with TEAS is extensive. Lord Laird and Conservative MP Mark Field formerly held paid roles with the TEAS advisory board; Field received £6,000 a year. Former Tory defence secretary Liam Fox recently declared that he received £5,700 for translation rights to his 2013 book Rising Tides – a treatise on why Britain should continue attempting to mould the world in its own image.

MPs on TEAS trips do not meet independent civil society groups and instead spend their time talking to the plethora of companies connected with the Aliyev elite. Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil has revealed the vast corruption. Most of the companies involved in it are linked to just three families – the Aliyevs, the Mammadovs and TEAS founders the Heydarovs.

TEAS doesn’t just lobby MPs; it is adept at using Azerbaijan’s rich cultural heritages to promote it as a democratic, open country with which Europe should be doing business. At the UK party conferences TEAS organises jazz receptions; it puts on regular film screenings and events in London; and has arranged charity football matches featuring Mo Farah, Fabric Muamba, Ian Wright and Tony Adams.

TEAS also organises business forums in Paris, Brussels and London. It invites those with business interests in Azerbaijan to become members – and for £10,000 a year will set up high-level meetings.

Azerbaijan has had a ‘special relationship’ with Britain for years, thanks to the country’s oil and gas wealth, with renewed significance now that politicians are looking for alternatives to Russian gas. Azerbaijan is lined up to supply 10 bcm of gas through the Euro-Caspian mega pipeline. This huge piece of infrastructure will run from the BP-operated Shah Deniz II gas field off the coast of Baku all the way to northern Italy, creating militarised strips of land where the pipeline will be guarded with normal civic rights suspended.

Thanks to TEAS, and Azerbaijan’s fossil fuel wealth, our political elite is happy to embrace Aliyev. David Cameron recently welcomed him to Downing Street and according to a TEAS poll 72 per cent of MPs believe he is ‘a reliable partner of the west’.

Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, chair of Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy, argues the most important function of the Aliyev lobby machine is ‘to send a message back home that there is nothing that can be done to remove this family from power… it sends a powerful signal that even the west is behind it’. For democracy activists facing the daily threat of violence, the stories of western support for Aliyev serve to underline their own vulnerability. TEAS provides a crucial weapon in Aliyev’s arsenal of repression.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going