Concern over ‘autocratic & kleptocratic’ Azerbaijan’s reputation laundering

A member of the family of Azerbaijan’s autocratic ruler sits on the board of a University of Oxford research center that studies the country, raising conflict of interest concerns for academics, the THES reports:

A body representing Armenian scholars expressed concern that the Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre, founded in 2018 by a £10 million donation from an undisclosed source, could neglect the study of Armenian heritage in the central Asian country, which, they say, the current government is trying to erase. The donation was brokered by Nargiz Pashayeva, sister-in-law of President Ilham Aliyev, who since 2003 has ruled Azerbaijan amid accusations of torture, the jailing of political opponents and corruption.

It was “absolutely correct to question where these funds came from,” said Elspeth Suthers, senior manager for Caucasus Programs at the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has warned about autocratic donations to Western universities.

She said Azerbaijan’s information strategy outside the country “has been focused on making sure that there are competing claims – at least one of which is sympathetic to their position – on any issue they have a vested interest in, rather than in trying to suppress competing narratives”. RTWT

recent report from the NED’s International Forum detailed authoritarian regimes’ use of academic institutions for the purpose of “reputation laundering.”

“The use of kleptocratic-linked funding or other forms of engagement in open societies to blur the illicit nature and source of the donation serves to launder kleptocrats’ reputations, as well as their cash,” the report notes. “This careful cultivation of positive publicity and influence empowers autocrats and their cronies. It also entrenches kleptocrats—and the regimes with which they are associated—in positions of power.”

The regime’s cultural and ‘caviar diplomacy’ reflects what Trevor Sutton and Ben Judah call the “authoritarian and kleptocratic character” of Azerbaijan’s government in a recent CAP analysis. Its endemic corruption was further exposed by 2017’s ‘laundromat’ investigations(above).