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The Real Price of Azerbaijan’s European Games

Azerbaijan -- Editorial cartoon on the Baku European Games From Meydan TV (Image: Meydan TV)

On June 12, the first-ever European Games will kick off in Azerbaijan -- a sporting event of Olympic magnitude, featuring 50 nations competing in 30 sports over two weeks. The host government has spent at least $10 billion preparing for the games, building sports facilities, conducting controversial (sometimes deadly) beautification efforts, and pledging to pay the tab for more than 6,000-plus participating athletes.

Yet as world leaders gather to celebrate the games, their host Azerbaijan remains one of the ten most censored countries in the world and continues a brutal crackdown on dissent. Azerbaijan has nearly 100 political prisoners--journalists, activists, and human rights defenders jailed on politically motivated charges--including investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who marked her sixth month in pretrial detention just days before the games are set to begin.

On June 10, RFE/RLive gathered several experts and observers to consider whether the glitz of the European Games will overshadow the many costs being incurred by the Azerbaijani government to stage the event.

RFE/RLive: The Real Price of Azerbaijan’s European Games

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Washington, D.C.--11:00 a.m. / Prague--5:00 p.m. /Baku--8 p.m.


Kenan Aliyev is the Executive Editor of "Current Time," the joint RFE/RL-VOA Russian-language television news program serving Russian speakers in the countries bordering Russia. Until early 2015, Aliyev was also Director of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2004, Aliyev worked in Washington, D.C. as a broadcaster for Voice of America and was also a regular contributor for BBC World Service. Aliyev served as a Baku-based reporter for RFE/RL’s Russian Service and for the local "Azadliq" newspaper before he immigrated to the United States in 1997.

Arzu Geybulla is an Azeri blogger and journalist who runs a live blog on the case of jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova and has written extensively about Azerbaijan for local and international media. She is a 2015 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow with RFE/RL and co-director and managing editor of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, a Washington D.C.-based NGO. She has been featured in Al Jazeera English, The Economist, Global Voices, and Huffington Post Live.

Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich served as the top U.S. diplomat in Azerbaijan from 1994-1997 and in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1997-1999. Amb. Kauzlarich is currently an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University and Director of the school's Center for Energy, Science and Policy. From 2011-2013, he was Deputy Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason. After leaving the Foreign Service in 2002, Amb. Kauzlarich served as Director of the Special Initiative on the Muslim World at the United States Institute of Peace, and from 2003-2011, as National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Europe on the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

David Kramer is the Senior Director for Human Rights and Democracy at The McCain Institute. Before that, he served as President of Freedom House, and as a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Kramer served eight years in the U.S. Department of State, including as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs as well as regional non-proliferation issues); Professional Staff Member in the Secretary’s Office of Policy Planning; and Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary for Global Affairs. Kramer has been an Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School for International Affairs at The George Washington University.

Brian Whitmore (moderator) is a Senior Correspondent in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom, covering European security, energy, and military issues and domestic developments in Russia. He also writes The Power Vertical blog. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2007, he worked for eight years for the Boston Globe, first in the Globe's Moscow bureau and later as Central and Eastern European correspondent based in Prague. He was also a political correspondent and columnist in Russia, where he worked for the English language St. Petersburg Times and its sister publication, The Moscow Times.