In the Spring of last year I wrote a piece for this forum exploring a constitutionally dubious Azerbaijani mechanism requiring universal military service for young men on the one hand (punishable by imprisonment), while at the same time maintaining a legally unenforceable constitutional “right for alternative service” on the other – as a cover providing international legitimacy. Of particular consequence for me personally at that time was the plight of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a former classmate of mine at Harvard, who had been imprisoned under the statute after running afoul of the regime through his work as a high-profile dissident. As of this morning, I am happy two report that, following two years of illegal imprisonment, Bakhtiyar has been freed.
The details of his release make clear that the decision to let him go was largely as a result of political pressuring however and, as such, his case is unlikely to make much difference for the many other Azerbaijanis currently being oppressed in this fashion.
In practice, military service in Azerbaijan is far from universal. Every year over 80,000 Azerbaijani males reach conscription age. And, while the average duration of military service is 18-24 months, the entire Armed Forces of the nation numbers at less than 70,000, including career officers and professional soldiers. Affluent and well-connected Azerbaijani’s can usually purchase or leverage their way out of service provided they have not crossed the government. Eldar Gasimov, half of the victorious duo at last year’s Eurovision Song Competition and a celebrated national hero has himself not completed his “mandatory” military service nor have multiple members of Azeri President Aliyev’s immediate family.
While, unfortunately, the extant provisions allowing for the Aliyev regime to pick and choose among people it dislikes for ad hoc imprisonment under a penal coverall will likely remain in place for the time being. Yet it is heartening that, as pertains to Bakhtiyar at least, justice has been done…