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Azerbaijan: Expert Decries Energy Shortage

  • Michael Lelyveld

Former Azerbaijan presidential candidate Vafa Guluzade called the country's energy shortage a "big scandal," echoing allegations of corruption against electricity and gas officials. RFE/RL's correspondent Michael Lelyveld was at the Harvard University briefing where Guluzade spoke and filed this report.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, 9 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Vafa Guluzade asserts that it is corruption -- not bad planning nor a downturn in Caspian oil discoveries -- that is the source of Azerbaijan's problem.

He told an audience of regional specialists at Harvard that, " it is a scandal that in an oil-producing country like Azerbaijan such an event happened."

Guluzade resigned last October after a long career in Azerbaijan government affairs. The crisis he referred to was electricity rationing imposed last month due to shortages of gas and fuel oil. The problem has suddenly turned Azerbaijan from an oil exporter into an oil importer, although the country cannot afford to pay world market prices for fuel.

Guluzade cited President Heidar Aliev's decision to dismiss officials of Azerbaijan's state-owned gas and electricity companies amid charges of oil thefts. He contrasted the allegations with the plight of some 650,000 refugees who are living in tent cities in Azerbaijan.

He said, "In such a situation, to steal oil and make money ... it's a big scandal."

But Guluzade turned away from a question about the duration of the shortages and whether they may mark a turning point for Azerbaijan. Despite media attention since the first foreign oil contract was signed in 1994, only one consortium has produced commercial amounts of oil in Azerbaijan's Caspian offshore fields.

Other ventures have found higher concentrations of gas, but these have yet to be developed. In the meantime, Azerbaijan has found itself unable to meet its winter needs for fuel. It remains to be seen whether the crisis will extend beyond the cold season.

Much of the session at Harvard was devoted to Azerbaijan's strategic position, its hopes for peace with Armenia and its security in an unstable Caucasus.

Guluzade blamed the region's instability on Moscow, which played a "double-game" by alternately supporting Armenia and Azerbaijan during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh between 1988 and 1994. He said Azerbaijan now stands in the way of Russia's efforts to recreate a Soviet-style dominance in the region.

Guluzade appeared to confirm reports that Aliyev would come to the United States next week, suggesting that the president might visit the Cleveland Clinic for an annual checkup following his open-heart surgery last April. According to Iranian reports, Aliyev has also agreed to visit Tehran this month.

Another former Aliyev aide, Eldar Namazov, also attended the Harvard seminar, although he did not comment. Both Guluzade and Namazov are affiliated with the Caspian Geopolicy Research Foundation, an independent research institute.

Namazov, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament, also resigned as a presidential adviser shortly before Aliyev met with Kocharian at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's security summit in November.