- - Monday, October 14, 2013

Azerbaijan, an important, strategic ally and friend of the United States, held democratic presidential elections Wednesday. Shortly after the election, the U.S. State Department criticized how the elections were held.

According to the international observer of the Central European Group for Political Monitoring from Lithuania, Arturas Mankavichius said, “The provisions of Azerbaijan’s electoral code met international standards.” He stated this at a news conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Oct 8. He also said, “The transparency of the election will be assured in the case of voting day, and the counting of votes is guided by the provisions of the electoral code.”

When I was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Europe and Eurasia subcommittee, and as a private American citizen, I have had the opportunity to visit Azerbaijan on several occasions and met with current President Ilham Aliyev and with his predecessor, Haydar Aliyev, his father.

These presidents have successfully led Azerbaijan from control and dominance by the Soviet Union to an independent democratic nation in only 22 years and created a free society enjoying a prosperous economy as a democratic republic.

Today in Azerbaijan, there is a population of 9 million people. The unemployment rate is less than 2 percent, and the government is run so effectively as to be able to boast a budget surplus in excess of $50 billion.

In virtually any election, particularly for such a young country, there are technical mistakes, occasional confusion over managing the polls and criticisms thrown by each political party at the other. No doubt some of these circumstances are likely to happen in a democratic country as young as Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan deserves to be congratulated for its progress, not criticized. It should be encouraged for the advancements it has made since it was freed from the old Soviet Union. They are now a democratic force in the Caucasus. Iran is doing everything it can to undermine Azerbaijan because of Azerbaijan’s alliance with America and the free world.

The State Department’s critical comments of the elections in Baku plays right into the hands of Iran as Iran strives to destabilize Azerbaijan and expand its influence in the region. The State Department making the kind of irresponsible statements it made about a friend and ally such as Azerbaijan not only plays right into the hands of Iran, but long term, it may create problems not only for our friends in that part of the world, but for the United States as well.

DAN BURTON

Former U.S. representative

Chairman, the Azerbaijan America Alliance

Washington