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Azerbaijan Report: January 7, 2003

7 January 2003
The Media in 2002: A Few Steps Backward, a Few Forward
How did journalism in Azerbaijan fare in 2002? With this question RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service has addressed leading media organizations engaged in the protection of journalists' rights. Eflatun Amashov, the head of the Ruh Journalist Defense Committee, said that 2002 was marked by both failures and successes. He noted that in 2002 his organization conducted a regular survey of the media. The study found that 2002 could be divided into the first nine months and the last three. Amashov said the first nine months of 2002 could be called a "calm period" for the media, while the deluge of lawsuits against the media in the last three demonstrate that the situation can turn against journalists.

Touching on the successes of the media in 2002, Amashov pointed out the government's cancellation of a part of all newspapers' debts to the state publishing house, the president's meeting with a number of heads of leading newspapers and his issuance of a decree granting preferential loans to the media. But the corresponding state structures did their best to slow the procedure of allocating these loans, which led to a worsening of newspapers' situation during the summer period. Rashad Mejid, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "525," said that the economic situation for Azerbaijani newspapers has deteriorated. Political processes in the later months also affected newspapers' situations.

Rovshan Hajiev, editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," for his part, noted that unlike previous years, in 2002 his newspaper had no serious problems. Hajiev recalled that financial difficulties in 2001 sometimes prevented the paper from coming out, while this year the paper faced financial difficulties only once. The work of the newspaper was not interrupted, but the number of pages were reduced.

Hajiev also noted that although the president pledged in December 2001 to take steps to develop the media, little was seen in 2002. "Some measures in this direction were taken, of course," he said. "But the main issue concerned granting credits to newspapers, and no final solution was found in a difficult 2002. At the end of 2002, the situation improved a little and some newspapers did get these loans, while some others were promised credits in 2003."

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Experts: Little Progress in Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process in 2002
As the end of the year is traditionally a time for summing up and reflection, RFE/RL went to a number of experts to learn their opinions on how 2002 impacted the 14-year Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Vafa Guluzade, a former presidential adviser who frequently represented Azerbaijan in the negotiation process with Armenia, notes that the peace process for Nagorno-Karabakh remained stalemated in 2002. He pointed out that the numerous meetings between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, as well as between their representatives didn't really count for much. "The issue does not depend on Armenia and Azerbaijan. It depends on Russia�s policy toward the Caucasus," Guluzade concluded.

Elkhan Mehdiev, the head of the nongovernmental Center for Peace and Conflict Settlement, told RFE/RL that nothing concerning the Karabakh issue moved in Azerbaijan�s favor in 2002. "Armenia, which sees the indifference of the Azerbaijani government regarding the problem, has achieved some success in garnering world recognition for the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic and in attracting foreign investment to the region," Mehdiev said.

On the other hand, Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, considers 2002 to have been an "active and eventful" year. The presidents held a number of meetings and appointed their personal representatives for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmen were changed several times and the Council of Europe drafted a statement that Armenia had occupied Azerbaijani lands and adopted it as a document of the organization.

Past pledges to ensure the return of Azerbaijanis to their homes in and around Karabakh have today become wishes and holiday toasts. Guluzade notes that the current cease-fire has gone on for 10 years; every year the refugees are told that the problem will be solved next year. "As far back as when I was a member of the government, I said in an interview with a newspaper that the refugees should be provided for because no settlement was foreseen in the near future. So why must these unfortunate people live in mud in such a cold weather?" he asks. Mehdiev suggests that the refugees themselves must find a way to return to their homes.

Ahmedoglu expressed hope that in 2003 some of the refugees will be in a position to return to their lands.

(Natig Zeinalli)

German Ambassador Supports EU's Karabakh Peace Plan
A solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict exists, said German ambassador to Azerbaijan Klaus Grevlich at a 3 January press conference. According to him, this solution is based on the opening of a rail corridor between Azerbaijan and Armenia in exchange for liberating five Azerbaijani districts situated on the border with the Nagorno-Karabakh region. However, Grevlich gave no indication which districts would be returned and how the status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be resolved after that.

Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the nongovernmental Center for Peace and Settlement of Conflicts, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the ambassador was proposing what the European Union suggested in mid-2002. This possibility, however, is already unworkable. Despite receiving the approval of the Azerbaijani president, the Armenian president has vetoed it. Mehdiev added that although Baku agreed on the EU suggestion, it does not correspond to the national interests of Azerbaijan.

Parliament deputy Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), notes that if even a small part of the occupied Azerbaijani lands could be liberated without a war or bloodshed, Azerbaijan must continue to take the necessary steps toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

(Natig Zeinalli)

The independent newspaper "525" cites Ali Hasanov, chairman of the state committee for refugees, as saying that the Islamic Republic of Iran, which maintains close economic relations with Armenia, could pressure Armenia in order to achieve a fair solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Azerbaijani newspapers give wide coverage to the Baku visit of Turkey's Racep Tayyib Erdogan, chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which begins on 7 January. According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," a number of opposition parties hope that Erdogan will meet with them. Even if such a meeting is held, it must be considered not as negotiations, but as a sincere gesture.

Elkhan Shahinoglu in an article entitled "What policy is Erdogan coming with?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that irrespective of power changes in Turkey, Ankara supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and emphasizes the necessity of the immediate liberation of occupied Azerbaijani lands. No doubt that Erdogan will remain true to that policy.

Sabir Hajiev, secretary general of the Civil Unity Party (VBP), said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that the party's chairman Ayaz Mutallibov would come Baku to participate in the presidential elections in the autumn of 2003.

Araz Alizade, cochairman of the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP), in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" expressed his intention to run in the presidential elections. Alizade said that despite the fact that the results of the voting will be falsified, it is important to struggle even in such a situation. He noted that the West got everything it wanted from the current government. But power changes in Azerbaijan cannot change oil contracts. The West does not want to be bound to a corrupt regime. For the first time the US State Department announced that it would not accept any falsified voting in Azerbaijan and would not cooperate with a president elected in such a situation. It shows once again that the government could face serious international sanctions should it refuse to hold free and fair elections.

Editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" Asif Mirzeli, who not long ago returned from Moscow, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that Azerbaijanis living in Russia, indeed, face difficulties. The militia stops "black" people at every corner to examine their documents. Russians openly demand that Azerbaijanis leave Russia. The main reason for such hatred against Azerbaijanis is that these people are engaged in commerce and earn good money. Mirzeli says, citing an investigation by a Russian newspaper, that each of the 2.5 million Azerbaijanis living in Russia sends $100 home every month. Azerbaijanis are discontented that Azerbaijan�s ambassador to Russia, Ramiz Rzaev, is not interested in their problems, Mirzeli concludes.

An author writing only as Rovshan in an article entitled "Iran is preparing for extradition of Mahir Javadov to Azerbaijan" in the newspaper "525" writes that Mahir Javadov, former prosecutor of the Khatai district of Baku, will be extradited in the near future. Javadov, who also the brother of OMON (special-purpose police detachment) commander Rovshan Javadov, who was killed during the 1995 coup attempt, has, in fact, become a prisoner in his home in Iran, where he has been living, as he is under the control of Iranian special forces. After he left Azerbaijan, he managed to get Austrian citizenship, but since that passport has expired and the Iranian government has seized his documents, Javadov is in no position to leave Iran. The author notes that at present it is impossible to come across Javadov's interviews in newspaper, although before he used to phone leading newspapers in Azerbaijan from his home in Iran to inform them about his activities. Rovshan recalled that on the eve of the Azerbaijani president's visit to Tehran in the middle of 2002 Javadov stopped publicly criticizing the Azerbaijani government. Experts at the time linked it with the president's visit. In other words Javadov, who was under the influence of the Iranian intelligence, was ordered to "keep silent." But the fact that Javadov has not resumed his condemnations after the visit gives occasion to draw certain conclusion.

An author writing only as Mahir in an article entitled "Nakhichevan is emptying" in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that the government, which has deprived all districts and towns of electricity, gas and heat, is taking an unjust position toward the people of Nakhichevan too. Mahir writes that the government's hostile attitude toward the other regions of Azerbaijan is understandable. But what is surprising is that the president does not draw a distinction between Nakhichevan and other towns and districts. Despite the fact that it was Nakhichevan that heartily greeted Heydar Aliev's return from Moscow, where he was driven out, and supported him afterward. Nakhichevan elected him chairman of the Supreme Council of the autonomous republic and thus rehabilitated him politically. If it had not been for Nakhichevan, things would be difficult for Aliev, who had dedicated most of his life to the Communist Party. Mahir writes that Aliyev ought to be grateful to Nakhichevan that he is still alive and can tell the people that "I will be re-elected again." Therefore, the government's alien attitude toward the inhabitants of Nakhichevan is incomprehensible.

An author writing only as Garakhanli in the article "Azerbaijan made progress in protection of human rights in 2002 too" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that international organizations appreciate the government's reforms toward building civil society in Azerbaijan. The author especially points out an annual report of the U.S.-based Freedom House on the state of human rights in the world, where the organization deeply appreciates the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan.

Shahbaz Shamioglu in an article entitled "The tenth winter of the opposition" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that 2003 will be significant with a pre-election struggle and the holding of presidential elections. Both the government and opposition will face serious tests. The task of the government is to ensure democratic elections and to come out a victor. Strong legal bases must be formed for that. Important tasks are also in store for the opposition, but unlike the government it must accomplish a wide variety of tasks. Observations indicate that it will be difficult to cope with these tasks. For example, it is doubtful that the opposition parties will be able to come to an agreement on a common presidential candidate. Shamioglu notes that the opposition is in its tenth winter, and losing this struggle for power would have a fatal end for it.

An author writing only as Rasim in the article "Iranian parliament calls for using force in the Caspian" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" notes that one of the unsolved national problems of Azerbaijan is the issue of the status of the Caspian. The stance of Tehran on this issue remains unchanged. This means that it is unlikely that the status of the problem will be solved in 2003 either. As a result, Azerbaijan will have to heighten its diplomatic efforts directed at the division of the southern part of the Caspian on the median principle. But according to political observers, irrespective of how strong Azerbaijan's diplomatic activities are, Tehran will not agree to this principle, unless international pressure is exerted. Rasim writes that the Iranian parliament intends to take control of the negotiation process on the Caspian; 48 members of parliament have even demanded that foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi give an account to the parliament regarding the matter. In general, MPs criticizing the foreign policies of the Iranian government are claiming that Iran could not assert its rights in exploitation of oil resources in the Caspian.

An author writing only as Alieva in an article entitled "Intellectual support of the people and state" in the newspaper "Azerbaycan" comments on the activities of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences. Alieva notes that political processes since the end of the 1980s, as well as the government's indifference to problems of the sciences have led to a "brain drain." In 1988 alone, some 14,000 Azerbaijani scientists left for foreign countries, while in 1990-93 this figure reached 15,000.

Professor Kamal Abdullah said in an interview with the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that the only assistance that the government can render to literature is that it must create an environment for writers. In other words, it must encourage more readers and contribute to readers' culture, as well as open new universities and ensure quality education in order to bring up robust and bright citizens. Once it creates such conditions, then there will be people who will appreciate writers.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)