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Azerbaijan Report: February 18, 2003

18 February 2003
Expert: National Minorities in Azerbaijan Better off Than Azerbaijanis in Russia
Ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan live with no real persecution, while Azerbaijanis in Russia face an increasingly harsh reality, said the head of a local migration organization on 14 February. Azer Allahverenov, coordinator of the Hayat Migration Resource Center said there are no serious problems with national minorities in Azerbaijan. He referred to the report compiled by Martinez Casan, special rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), who visited a number of national minorities in January. Allahverenov added that the Azerbaijani government even creates the basic conditions for the development of these minorities.

Touching on the situation with Azerbaijanis living in Russia, however, Allahverenov said that the bodies of 30 Azerbaijanis were brought from Russia to Baku in the first month of this year. At present more than 2 million Azerbaijanis live in Russia, Allahverenov said, referring to Russian sources, and some Russian authorities who are concerned about this figure, try to deport Azerbaijanis from the country in a number of different ways. The use of migration cards is aimed at the deportation of Azerbaijanis, he said.

Allahverenov noted that the Russian government has claimed that the deaths are the result of Azerbaijanis in Russia killing each another. Even if that were so, it signifies that Russian law-enforcement bodies cannot cope with their duties, he added.

Allahverenov condemned the Azerbaijani government for its indifference to the situation of Azerbaijanis in Russia. The government should create a reliable information network to get timely information about the situation of Azerbaijanis living in Russia and provide training for Azerbaijanis in that country. He also noted that by distorting the situation with national minorities in Azerbaijan, Russian media outlets are trying to perpetuate the idea that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh can no longer live within Azerbaijan.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Prisoner Moved to Solitary after Talks with PACE Delegation
After visiting with Council of Europe monitors, prisoner Natig Efendiev has been moved into solitary confinement, apparently for no reason. Natig Efendiev, considered by local rights groups as well as the Council of Europe as a political prisoner, was moved from his cell at the hard labor prison in Gobustan into solitary confinement, apparently for talking with Andreas Gross, part of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe�s (PACE) monitoring group, said Saltanet Efendieva, Efendiev�s wife. She told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the prison administration refuses to explain the reasons for his punishment. Efendiev has begun a protest hunger strike, she said, adding that she will appeal to all human rights organizations, including PACE human rights rapporteur Martinez Casan.

Gross, along with Georges Clerfayt and Soren Sondergard arrived in Azerbaijan on 10 February to get acquainted with the situation of political prisoners and investigate whether the government is fulfilling its commitments to the Council of Europe on the issue. During the visit the PACE representatives held a number of meetings at different levels, visited the hard labor prison in Gobustan and met with several men the Council of Europe has designated as political prisoners.

Niazi Memmedov, chairman of the Chief Department for Execution of Court Rulings, said that he comment on the Efendiev issue only after obtaining more specific information.

Natig Efendiev, who headed the Ganja police from October 1994 to September 1996, was arrested in 2000 on charges of attempting a coup aimed at bringing former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev to power. In 2001 he was sentenced to life in prison.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Anti-War Sentiment Growing Among Azerbaijanis
While disputes among the major powers over Iraq continue, the Azerbaijani government treats the issue with caution. Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev stated last week that Azerbaijan advocates solving the problem in accordance with the UN resolutions. He said that that Baku supports U.S. efforts to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and hopes that they will find a quick resolution to the current crisis.

The number of those who oppose a war against Iraq in Azerbaijan is substantial. Last month independent journalist Aziz Rzabeili began a "live shield" campaign, collecting signatures in defense of Iraq. Moreover, the New Opposition Movement, a local social and political organization, holds regular press conferences, warning about the negative impacts a war in Iraq would have for Azerbaijan. Of eight citizens RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service spoke with on 14 February, all said they are against a war on Iraq.

(Maarif Chingizoglu and Natig Zeinalli)

The 18 February issues of Azerbaijani newspapers carry articles on the upcoming presidential election in Armenia, to be held on 19 February. Under the headline �Presidential elections in Armenia could change many things,� the independent newspaper �Tezadlar� writes that �the presidential vote in Armenia is the best way to get rid of the illegal regime.� The independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that there is a need for small hydroelectric power stations to meet the population's need for electricity.

Under the headline "Who got loans?" the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that out of 3 billion manats that the government has allocated as preferential loans, 1 billion has been already granted. But to date only two newspapers have acknowledged getting credits.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" cites the Turan news agency as saying that the Russian Security Council secretary Vladimir Rushailo will pay an official visit to Azerbaijan on 19-21 February.

Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman off the Musavat Party, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that President Aliev's stand on the Iraqi issue is "wrong" and "unprofitable." He recalled that during the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan Azerbaijan took a similar stand. Aliyev expressed a specific opinion only after Russia made an open statement on the issue. This is wrong, Akber said, noting that Azerbaijan should make its strategic choice and support the U.S.-led global anti-terror operations because Azerbaijan itself is a country that has suffered from terrorism. A part of its lands is under Armenian occupation and a war against us has been accompanied by terror. Asked "Will Azerbaijan's support for the United States affect its NATO chances?" Akber pointed out that it would be a significant step toward integration with the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in the article "Development of U.S. intervention in Iraq in Azerbaijan�s economy" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" notes that the current situation in the world oil market and the level of prices is favorable for oil-producing countries. Azerbaijan, as well as other oil countries, is concerned about a possible fall in oil prices and as a result a reduction in revenues to the state budget in a post-war period. Gudretoglu says that the allegation that a war against Iraq would have a negative impact on Azerbaijan's economy and budget is far from the truth. In the 2003 state budget, oil price are estimated at $19.5 per a barrel. Considering that operations against Iraq are being delayed and that a postwar reconstruction period in Iraq will take some time, it is meaningless to anticipate a sharp price change. On the contrary, during a military operations oil prices are expected to increase by $5 per a barrel. In other words, oil prices in 2003 will be higher than is indicated in the budget.

Meherrem Zulfigarli, a member of the National Independence Party (AMIP), said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that division into "parties" has become a painful issue within the opposition. It is unclear what ideologies some parties embrace. Zulfigarli noted that "one-man parties" are never in a position to gain popularity among the people, adding that some forces are interested in establishing such parties. Today these parties and their chairmen create numerous problems within the opposition camp. Zulfigarli complained of a lack political culture and ethics within the opposition, but pointed out that a moral code and other documents cannot make the opposition to observe ethical norms. For that, opposition activists must have a normal educational and cultural level.

In the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" Doctor of Philosophical Sciences Ramiz Mehdiev in an article entitled "National statehood in the 21st century: democratic development and opposition" comments on the essence and social and political roots of the opposition. Mehdiev says that opposition parties and groups are an integral part of legal states and democratic, civil societies. There is a simple definition to opposition: "a party that opposes the majority's opinion or a party or a group that opposes the ruling opinion." But Mehdiev notes with regret that there is no a scientific approach for realizing the political structure of the Azerbaijani society, an exact classification of parties on their political and ideological orientation has not yet been worked out. Therefore, some people have got into the habit to only those parties, which act within the framework of "the Four," or "the Ten" formulas, are the real opposition parties. On the other hand, almost all opposition parties pass themselves off as "democratic ones." Although they widely use neo-Bolshevik, ultra-nationalist and other undemocratic ideologies. [Editor's note: Ramiz Mehdiev is also the name of the head of the Presidential Administration; however, there is no indication he and the author of this article are the same person.]

Ahmed Oruj in the article "Everybody's problem" in the independent newspaper "525" writes that Azerbaijan today faces numerous problems such as the occupation of its territories, problems in providing the population with natural gas, electricity, unemployment, lawlessness in the courts, corruption and so on. The opposition holds protest actions demanding the resignation of the government, the population of some regions stages protests, but cannot force the government into retirement. Oruj notes that it is no secret that today's level of national income should allow for an improvement of the living standards of the population. But such is not the case. It is the current government's method to keep the people down and not to let them to think about something besides their own social problems. "One interesting point is that every village and group that wants to solve its problems, initially states that politicians stay out of its problems that are related to social, not political. But when the government put its 'torture machine' into action, the village will condemn politicians for not protecting them."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)