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23.2.14

Not Pure Teaching


Sebastian Erb and Bernd Kramer
Translated by Vartan Matiossian
The government of Azerbaijan funds a professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin who will make advertisement for the country. Does the University make PR for a criminal state? 

In German science there may be a niche to deal with Azerbaijan; for Eva-Maria Auch is a life issue. The historian had five years in the seventies following Oriental Studies in the Azerbaijani capital and later, after graduation and promotion, she qualified as a professor of East European History. Her topic: German -Caucasian relations. Auch initiated research projects and held teaching positions and a total of four professorships. She also led a firm that advised about business and travel in the Caucasus. In the fall of 2010, the now 58 -year-old, then at the Berlin Humboldt University (HU), was appointed professor of "History of Azerbaijan." Now finally she had managed to establish her field of research.The problem is that it is not the university, i. e. the German state, that pays for Auch’s professorship, but the embassy of Azerbaijan. Companies or foundations that finance chairs have long been common and, despite some criticism, widely accepted. But the fact that a foreign state does this is unusual. Especially since we are talking about a state that human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused of blatant lack of democracy and violations of human rights.
Azerbaijan is considered a criminal state. Demonstrations are violently suppressed and critics of the government are intimidated and persecuted. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the press, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the country are severely limited. On the ranking of press freedom worldwide, Azerbaijan is ranked 156. The country in the South Caucasus, located on the Caspian Sea, has large oil and gas reserves, and the related companies are controlled by a small power elite. Corruption is widespread. On the corruption index of Transparency International, the country ranks alongside Mali and Pakistan, ranked 127th. 
The authoritarian government of President Ilham Aliyev is conducting an intense lobbying, also in Germany. It spares no effort to hold politicians and other decision-makers on their side. The European Stability Initiative (ESI ), a think tank for South Eastern Europe funded by foundations, revealed in 2012 that members of the European Union Parliament were repeatedly invited to travel to Baku and rewarded with exuberant guest gifts, including caviar and silk carpets. A special term was coined for it: caviar diplomacy. The regime wants to bolster its image in the West. This should obviously help Eva-Maria Auch.
The historian has taken over as the editor of the German edition of the magazine IRS-Erbe.(*) It is part of Azerbaijani public relations. It's about music, art and nature. But also about politics - one-sided and beautifully colored. The magazine, says Auch, was a sore point. She would have loved to have made her own magazine, but there would have been no money. Some statements in the journal even caused her stomach ache. 
Eva-Maria Auch receives in her small office at the Humboldt University. She gives a jasmine tea and friendly answers to questions. She presents herself as a scientist that burns for her subject and is ready to make compromises for it. However, she does not want to see published afterwards most quotes, with which she explained her actions and also justified them.
The visiting professor has been enlisted by
history professor Jörg Baberowski, who is qualified to teach about Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani ambassador approached him with the offer. "I have made it very clear that we will not accept any professor, who, instead of to work on science, must create a better image of Azerbaijan above all," says Baberowski. In the six-party cooperation agreement is stated, however: the professor should contribute, in addition to research and teaching, to "the awareness of the history of Azerbaijan."  "The ambassador is given an opportunity to make suggestions for the contents of the work of the visiting professorship."
(**) After all: "Freedom in research and teaching, however, must not be touched by this." Embassy Counselor Rizvan Nabiyev insists when questioned: "We have no expectations geared to the professorship."

"Die Zeit Online," February 22, 2014  

(*) This journal is published in 12 languages (English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, German, Turkish, Italian, Arabic, and Czech). The editor-in-chief is Musa Marjanli. Five issues have been published in German since 2012 ("Armeniaca").
(*) A communique in German issued on February 22, 2014 by the Armenisch-Akademischen Vereins 1860 (Armenian Academic Association 1860, AAV), with headquarters in Bochum, and entitled "Humboldt University: Science Corrupted," states that "the Humboldt University installed a propaganda nest for a criminal state." Azerbaijani deposits of oil and natural gas are "apparently enough reason to tolerate such a disaster of science." It adds that, "quite obviously, political and historical misdeeds are smoothed and thus the image of the country is polished."
"The AAV wonders how the chair will reinterpret, for example, the massacres that have raged in 1988 in the Azerbaijani industrial city of Sumgait, as murder gangs brutally executed the Armenian population. Murder gangs, which in preparation had been equipped by the City Council with mailing lists of the Armenians," notes the texts and ends with the following: "The Humboldt University, to the AAV, embarks, with this professorship, upon an resolvable conflict of interest between scientific integrity and political PR."



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