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Azerbaijan Report: January 21, 2003

21 January 2003
Opposition Takes Tentative Steps Toward Draft Election-Law Talks
Opposition parties have tentatively agreed to come to the discussion table on 23 January, in hopes of reaching some kind of compromise on the government's draft of the unified election code. But if no agreement is made on a reconciliation commission, the parties have said they would return to their corners and boycott further talks.

The Baku office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) invited the eight opposition parties that overcame the 1 percent barrier in the last parliamentary elections to hold an initial meeting regarding the draft election code, which needs to be in place before the fall presidential elections. The OSCE intends to plead its case for opposition participation in the roundtable talks.

The first roundtable discussions were held at the end of last year; however, the opposition parties refused to participate in them, referring to the fact that all the opposition's conditions had not been fulfilled, in particular, the creation of a "reconciliation commission," where representatives of the opposition will go over each point of the draft's more than 160 pages with the authors, members of the presidential administration, and those from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). The government has refused, arguing that there isn't enough time and that only key discrepancies should be discussed at the roundtable talks sponsored by the OSCE

The OSCE has suggested creating a contact group to promote common discussion. The opposition refused and called for discussion among the opposition parties, and a representative of the president. But the government called this remark "irrelevant" and said that since YAP is the ruling party, any YAP representative at the discussions can be considered to be the president's representative.

Taking this into consideration, the opposition then demanded that any agreement reached during such discussions be given "official status," to prevent the government from reneging at some point later on.

"This demand has already been fulfilled," said Arif Hajiev, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "But if the issue of a reconciliation commission does not find a solution during the initial contact meeting, the discussion process will be stopped."

But Bahar Muradova, a member of the Political Council of YAP, noted that the opposition, which tries to dictate its demands to the government, has hitherto avoided dialogue. "If [the opposition] continues to take a position that isn't constructive, the meeting, of course, will fail," she said.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are beginning to announce the names of their candidates for the autumn presidential elections.

Zerdusht Alizade, co-chairman of the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP), told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that he would support the candidacy of Ilias Ismailov, chairman of the Justice (Adalat) Party. "We have decided to support Ismailov, and we are sure that he will nominate himself," Alizade said. "Our opinions on most issues coincide with his. Ismailov realizes the nature of the problems in Azerbaijan. The problem is that the laws do not work." Alizade characterized Ismailov as a person for whom the law is of utmost importance.

Ismailov confirmed that he would contest the elections.

(Maarif Chingizoglu and Almaz Nesibli)

More Azerbaijanis Moving to Europe
Migration remains a problem for Azerbaijan, as the number of those moving abroad is increasing, says a local nongovernmental organization. Arif Yunus, head of the Conflictology and Migration Department of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that large-scale migration from Azerbaijan began in 1996. At that time Azerbaijani migrants preferred, in general, Germany and Holland, which can be seen by the existence of substantial Azerbaijani communities in these countries. At present the number of German Azerbaijanis is some 150,000. About 130,000 Azerbaijanis live in France.

But since 2000, Azerbaijani migrants have preferred Sweden and Belgium. But while Azerbaijanis migrate to Germany and Holland directly from Azerbaijan, those currently living in Russia tend to migrate to Sweden and Belgium. Yunus noted that in 2000, 1,250 Azerbaijanis appealed to the Belgian Embassy in Russia for political asylum and 18 applicants were approved.

Yunus pointed out that official bodies of Azerbaijan do not possess statistics on illegal migration. "We, in general, get statistical information from foreign embassies."

Rauf Tagiev, chairman of the Migration Department at the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, acknowledged that the government has no statistics on illegal migration. "We are engaged in legal labor migrants coming to and going out of Azerbaijan." Regarding legal migration, he added that the ministry only had information about Azerbaijanis going to Saudi Arabia.

(Almaz Nesibli)

On the night of 19-20 January 1990, Soviet military units entered Baku to put down demonstrations against the republic's leadership, as a result of which more than 130 civilians were killed and some 700 were wounded.

Historian Gabil Huseinli answers questions of the opposition newspaper "Mukhalifet" on the 20 January events. He says that 20 January was a failed attempt to preserve the disintegrating Soviet imperialistic regime. What is more, some local forces attempted to use it for political ends.

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that those rendered invalid during the 20 January events receive 100,000 manats ($20) as a monthly pension.

Under the headline "Heidar Aliev's self-defense circle is narrowing," the independent newspaper "Ulus" writes that at present the opposition is reinforcing its pressure campaign on the government.

National poet Bakhtiar Vahabzade says in an interview with the governmental newspaper "Khalg" that 20 January is, indeed, the birthday of truth and the day delusion died. Asked, "What has the bloodshed on 20 January 1990 given the Azerbaijani people?" Vahabzade says that this tragedy has unified the people and pointed out the way for salvation.

Sahib Alizade, chairman of the 20 January Society, and witnesses to those events answer the questions of the independent newspaper "525." One of witnesses, Asif Muxtarov, says that the Azerbaijani parliament seldom discusses the problems of 20 January's invalids. "And it happens when we ourselves bring up these problems," Muxtarov concluded.

Tamerlan Garaev, former Azerbaijani ambassador to China, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" comments on the situation within the opposition camp, noting that the opposition is acting within its possibilities. "The opposition does not possess a lot of opportunities. The government does not create conditions for normal opposition activities. In fact, the government and the opposition must have equal opportunity because this country belongs to both the former and the latter. But in Azerbaijan the opposition is oppressed at the state level. Although one of the government's chief duties is to create normal conditions for the people's political activities and render assistance to popular opposition parties. The government must be interested in the development of political parties." Garaev comments on the current integration processes within the opposition camp. "This is a correct political move, of course. But it should be solidified. If the purpose of the unification is to ensure democratic elections, all opposition parties must participate in it. But if this is preparation for presidential elections, the existence of opposing groups here is natural."

Goyturk, in an article entitled "Prices will rise" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nokta," notes that prices of some food products have increased. Although an increase in the wholesale prices of grain has not been observed at present, there are clear signs that this product will run out in the near future. One of the chief factors that cause a rise in prices is an increase in the customs tariffs on imports. As a result, the volume of imports has fallen by 1.37 percent. On the other hand, the increase in customs duties has led to a rise in sale prices of a number of imports to Azerbaijan. According to official statistics, the largest drop among imports has been observed in grain products. Moreover, the government intends to raise the internal price of oil. Of course, that will have a profound effect on prices. The author writes that a local producer, who faces the problems of the foreign market, comes from the districts to the capital Baku, in hopes of selling goods on the domestic market. In doing so he uses local fuel to transport his products. Therefore, if there is even a little rise in fuel prices, it will result in an overall increase in prices.

Elkhan Gudretoglu, in the article "The CIS with and without Azerbaijan" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," notes that Russia's role in the rupture of economic ties between former Soviet republics is, in reality, the greatest. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia linked economic issues with political ones. Such Russian politicians as Gaidar, Chubais, and Chernomyrdin encouraged former Russian President Boris Yeltsin to reinforce economic pressures on post-Soviet countries. But the bitter results of such a step were experienced not only by these countries, but also by Russia. Nevertheless, Russia's current leadership tries to restore former economic relations, which corresponds with the national interests of all the republics, including Azerbaijan. The fact that Azerbaijani products are not yet in a position to be competitive with products on Western markets make the consumer market of former "brotherly republics" attractive.

Rafig Aliev, chairman of the State Committee on Religious Associations, in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" comments on his visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran, at the invitation of Mahmud Muhammedi Eragi, head of the Organization on Culture and Islamic Relations. Aliyev said that in the town of Gum he met with more than 200 Azerbaijani students. He expressed his satisfaction about the level of education. "There is a sufficient educational-technical basis and a rich library," he said. But the uncertainty of the students' situation, difficulties in placement and the invalidity of Iranian private educational institutions' diplomas in Azerbaijan exert a strong influence on their moral and psychological state. The students themselves have to solve such complicated problems as extension of visas, getting new Azerbaijani passports, and marriages.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)