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Azerbaijan Report: February 28, 2003

28 February 2003
Russia, Azerbaijan Initial Defense Cooperation Agreement
On 27 February Russian and Azerbaijani ministers signed an inter-governmental agreement on military and technical cooperation and a plan for military cooperation for 2003. The agreement provides for Russian specialists' assistance to Azerbaijan in the decommissioning or modernization of Soviet-made military equipment, and an interaction of the two countries' air defense systems. After the signing ceremony the two ministers held a press conference.

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev said that Russia has provided Armenia with $1 billion in military equipment, which has been placed in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region. "This equipment can be used against Azerbaijan any time." Abiev also noted that the occupied Azerbaijani lands have turned into a den for terrorist groups and this fact must concern Russia too. The minister also mentioned that if the occupied territories are not liberated peacefully, Azerbaijan's army will be forced to do it itself.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov noted that Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation in the military sphere lags behind such cooperation between Russia and Armenia. He expressed hope that the signed agreement will eliminate this disparity. Regarding deliveries of military equipment to Armenia in 1993-96, Ivanov said the deliveries were undertaken without the control of the Russian government.

Military expert Azad Isazade called the signed agreement between Azerbaijan and Russia "favorable and important." Azerbaijan could only benefit from it, considering that Russia is a military ally of Armenia. Touching on the geopolitical aspect of the issue, Isazade said that Russia intends to strengthen its position in the Middle East and the South Caucasus.

Political scientist Gabil Huseinli said that Russia wants to benefit from the current U.S.-Iraqi confrontation and reinforce its position in the Commonwealth of Independence States, in the Caucasus in particular, and is pursuing diverse courses of action to this end. On the one hand, Russia tries to form a new economic alliance within the commonwealth and to strengthen its strategic stand in the Caucasus, on the other hand, Huseinli suggests that Russia is trying to sell Azerbaijan some of the military equipment it removed from Georgia. Thus, by selling Azerbaijan outdated weapons Russia obtains a profit and at the same time strengthens its position in the region.

Tax Evasion Puts AFFA Offside
In the latest segment of the war over Azerbaijani soccer, officials from the Tax Ministry showed up at the offices of the Azerbaijan Football Federations Association (AFFA) on 24 February for a surprise audit of AFFA's books. The ministry said that AFFA still owes taxes on receipts from tickets and TV transmission of Azerbaijan's 6 September match with Italy. The officials took documents and equipment, including the association's seal. During the inspection process, the officials broke locks off the safe in the room of AFFA President Fuad Musaev, AFFA officials said. The tax officials also went to the apartment and garage of AFFA Vice President Ogtai Zeinalov, and took a laptop computer. Zeinalov was not present at the time. AFFA officials said at a 25 February press conference that they still don't know exactly what the Tax Ministry's employees were looking for.

AFFA's lawyer Anar Aliyev recalled that an inspection was conducted four months ago which led to the federation being charged with tax evasion. The earlier inspection was also related to AFFA's non-payment of taxes for tickets and TV transmission of the Euro 2004 Azerbaijan-Italy qualifier. The ministry fined AFFA 2.3 billion manats (some $480,000). AFFA then appealed the fine in court; however, the government, without waiting for any court judgment, then filed its own suit against the federation and sent in the inspectors.

Aliyev said that these latest inspections and the lawsuit came as a surprise. "Nevertheless, we intend to continue our struggle and complain to corresponding state bodies about the groundlessness of the indictment and offences during the inspection process," he said.

AFFA President Musaev was harsher in his estimation. He said that it is no longer worth complaining to anyone in Azerbaijan. He added that a number of appeals on AFFA's behalf have been sent to the president, but there has been no response. Musaev accused the president and his son Ilham Aliyev of forcing the ministry to commit unlawful actions. Musaev also pointed out that this is not the first time the federation has faced pressure.

Musaev said originally the football clubs were against him and demanded his resignation. Then the national championship was stopped. As this has not had the desired effect, the dissatisfied forces then decided to restrict players from joining the national team.

Musaev said that the forces conspiring against him have gone on an open offensive, the "purpose of which is to disable him." "But the Alievs must realize that they will achieve nothing by this. If their purpose is to humiliate Azerbaijan around the world, then they have achieved their ends," Musaev concluded.

The next game of the Azerbaijani national team within the qualifying round of European championship is against Wales on 29 March. The AFFA president, who has remained without funds, property, documents and seal, says he does not know how he will prepare the national team for this match and send it to Wales.

(Babek Bekir)

Seabed Division Growing Closer
The heads of working groups from the five Caspian states on determining the legal status of the sea gathered in Baku on 24 February to come to an agreement on a convention on the legal status. Khalaf Khalafov, deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan, noted at the meeting that a rapprochement in the position of the five littoral states was occurring; however, that was mostly in the areas of ecology and fishing issues. He pointed out that Azerbaijan has agreed to active dialogue with Iran. He also said that negotiations are being conducted with Turkmenistan for defining the seabed in the Caspian. Khalafov supported the idea of granting wide latitude to the working group. The group could play the role of a political combinative structure for discussing draft agreements on separate cooperation spheres. At the same time, Azerbaijan considers possible a step-by-step settlement of the Caspian status issue, Khalafov said, adding that differences in the littoral states' positions must not hinder them from realizing their sovereign rights in the Caspian and prevent an international cooperation in the sea.

Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, Russia's special envoy for Caspian issues, expressed hope that the parties would reach an agreement on the principles of the draft convention. "We want to start ooperation on the basis of the agreement between the three countries [Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia]," he said. He also noted that Tehran's strict position on the Caspian status will inevitably change, as what Iran wants is impossible.

(Almaz Nesibli)

OSCE Holds Election Code Conference, Opposition Boycotts
"I assure you that all proposals submitted to us will find their reflection in the election code," said Shahin Aliev, the head of the legal department within the presidential administration, at a 26 February conference on the government's draft of the unified election code. The televised meeting was attended by the experts from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the International Foundation for Election Systems, as well as representatives of the government, parliament, and non-governmental organizations. The Opposition Coordination Center -- a grouping of 10 of the largest opposition parties--refused to participate in the conference.

Nikolai Vulchanov, the OSCE representative, said at the conference that the government and the opposition must hold common debates and make a final decision only after that. Otherwise, the country could face the same obstacles as during the 2000 parliamentary elections.

At the end of the meeting, Aliyev said that there is not enough time for an extended discussion. The election code must be adopted in April in order to hold the parliamentary elections in the fall. He noted that the government's draft is good enough; however, the administration has taken 80 percent of international organizations' proposals into account. The rest of the proposals will be considered in the near future and will be reflected in the election code.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Azerbaijani newspapers gave wide coverage to the Azerbaijani president's visit to the United States.

Ali Hasan Jafarin, Saudi Arabia's ambassadors to Baku, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that his country unanimously supports the Azerbaijani position on Nagorno-Karabakh in all international organizations and forums.

Ali Alirzaev, deputy chairman of the parliament commission on economic policy, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that he is against implicit fulfillment of all IMF conditions.

Ali Hasanov, head of the public and political department within the presidential administration, told the governmental newspaper "Khalg" that the opposition parties' radicalism in the discussion of the government's draft unified election code originates from the fact there is a great indifference between their desire to come to power and the people's attitude toward this desire. The opposition wants to come to power as soon as possible. But the public is still far from supporting that aspiration, as is clear from the elections and polls held to date.

Elshad Miralem in an article entitled "A new stage in the strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the U.S. is starting" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that Heydar Aliev's invitation to the United States indicates that Azerbaijan is the most reliable country for the U.S. in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan, for its part, is expecting many things from Washington. In most strategic issues--combat with international terrorism, economic interests in trans-regional projects--the two countries' positions coincide. Apparently, there are serious reasons to call the Azerbaijani president's visit to the United States "quite successful." The two countries prefer to discuss issues of mutual interest at the highest level. This demonstrates the Azerbaijani-American partnership is not based on temporary factors, but on strategic interests. Of course, the United States' importance for Azerbaijan is very great. But Azerbaijan itself is also of great interest of Washington. The current conditions are favorable to widen and strengthen the cooperation between Baku and the White House. It is not accidental that U.S. President George W. Bush affirms his intention to devote special attention to Azerbaijan's problems.

Genimet Zahidov in the article "Khojaly Dead and alive" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" cites the state television's allegations that former governments did not give a proper evaluation to the tragedy. But deputy parliament chairman Arif Rahimzade has told media representatives that there is no need to call a special session of parliament on the Khojaly tragedy. That signifies that even the incumbent government could not give an adequate estimate to the events. It tries to fill this vacuum with mass protest actions. But it is impossible to fill the vacuum created due to the government's mistake with the echo of protest actions. Zahidov notes that under the government's final document, it is prmarily Azerbaijanis themselves who are guilty of the tragedy. The pro-governmental parties' commemoration demonstrations were nothing but an attempt to win public support for articles of the final document.

Elkhan Hesenli in an article entitled "Oil" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that processes taking place in Iraq are closely observed in Azerbaijan. The people's attitude towards a possible war against Iraq is different. Although the Azerbaijani government is forced to support the United States in its hard-line stance on Iraq, it does not conceal its sympathy to the Iraqi president. Pro-governmental television channels and "analysts" attempt to persuade the population that a war with Iraq is against Azerbaijani national interests. According to some experts, if the incumbent Iraqi president is overthrown, Iraq will offer the world more oil, reducing the world price for oil and as a result Azerbaijan will suffer great damage. "If we do not see a profit of even a liter of the oil, the drop in its price must not concern us. Let those who derive profit from the oil be alarmed at the fall in its price." Hesenli also pointed out that in such countries as Iraq and Azerbaijan oil is of benefit to the leaders, but not the people. Iraqis are also more interested in getting rid of the president than oil revenues. "Like the Iraqi people, we too have been living under a dictator who is exploiting all our resources, stealing our votes and driving the people to the precipice. As to a fall in oil price, we need more to live as people do and get rid of injustice."

Ali Aliev, deputy chairman of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP), said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" that presidential elections in Azerbaijan and their possible consequence are a very serious issue. The autumn presidential ballot is more important for the United States than the Azerbaijani government's stand on Iraq. Because the Azerbaijani position on Iraq can be considered to be a small issue for Washington. Aliyev noted that generally no meeting can change the U.S. stand on the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Fair elections must be held to avoid problems during a power change in Azerbaijan.

A member of South Azerbaijan Turkish Revival Organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, comments on the allegation that Iran has stationed additional armed forces along its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey in the independent newspaper "Ayna." "The ruling regime has taken this step to ensure the security in the region and demonstrate its strength. It could also be linked with a possible war against Iraq. If America fulfils this plan, Ankara and Israel will support the United States. Israel is one of Iran�s two enemies in the world," he said. A successful war against Baghdad will also signify the strengthening of the American position in the Caspian basin. On the other hand, significant changes are also expected in Iran itself after Iraq. All this explains the reason for deploying additional forces along the borders with neighboring countries. "The Iranian government has made this step to prevent dangers that could undermine" the country.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)