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Azerbaijan Report: March 25, 2003

25 March 2003
Will War in Iraq Slow Construction of the BTC?
As bombs began falling on Iraq on 20 March, local observers were quick to begin discussions on how it will play out in the region as well as in the rest of the world.

Political scientist Gabil Huseinli said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that it had to happen sooner or later. "Iraq has been a threat to the region, as well as the whole world. Someone was due to react to such behavior from Iraq� Starting the war against Baghdad was the only solution in this situation. Huseinli noted that the United States' efforts for diplomatic solution to the issue ended without result. "The United States was engaged in negotiations since the first Gulf War in 1991, but Saddam Husein wanted to deceive the world� His steps have made the war unavoidable."

Huseinli pointed out that this is neither a war between religions nor civilizations. "This a war based on political and economic interests."

Political commentator Gulu Meherremli said that there were sufficient reasons that made the war inevitable. He noted that it is still difficult to predict how current events will play out, but added that Washington's position will be crucial. Meherremli also noted that at present America faces a more difficult task because the current situation is more complicated than it was before the first Gulf War.

Meanwhile, discussions among local experts about the possible affect of the war on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export pipeline are heating up. Some observers claim that the American-Iraqi confrontation will have repercussions on the BTC. In other words, it could at least delay its construction. But Natig Aliev, the president of the State Oil Company (SOCAR), said in an interview with the Turan news agency that the military operations against Baghdad will not have any serious impact on BTC. At the same time Aliyev noted that pipes for the pipeline have been delivered in Baku from the Turkish port of Iskenderun. However observers note that the arrival of American troops and military equipment to the port may overload its capacity and thus cause future delays.

Vusal Gasimov, head of the Center for Economic Technologies, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that since the area where the pipeline is to pass through, is close to the conflict zone, certain tensions could be observed. Gasimov agreed that the tension created by American troops' deployment in Iskenderun could cause a delay in the delivery of the pipes. But it will not have any serious effect as the financing of the BTC has also been delayed. The World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will not consider the issue of financing the Azerbaijani government's share of the pipeline until after September. So at the current stage it is impossible to continue construction at full speed. Gasimov also pointed out that the BTC is too strategically important for the West, in particular Washington, which has repeatedly stated that it will support this project to the end.

Zerdusht Alizade, co-chairman of the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP) noted that the war against Iraq, as well as Turkey's active participation in it, will not affect regional economic projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export pipeline. Iraqi oil's coming into the world market could lessen interest in Azeri crude and the BTC. But that would also be in Azerbaijan's favor. "Diminishing interest in the BTC will allow Azerbaijan to process and afterward sell its oil at higher prices rather than to offer it as crude," Alizade said.

Khagani Huseinov, chairman of the Center for Conflict Settlement, said the war against Iraq is not expected to be a serious threat to the BTC. Huseinov noted that the Turkish port in Ceyhan was built in the 1980s to transport Iraqi and Arab oil to the world market. "After a solution to the Iraqi crisis I do not see a serious obstacle for delivering Azeri oil to this port," Huseinov concluded.

(Zhale Mutallimova, Almaz Mahmudgizi and Natig Zeinalli)

Analysts Support Sending Turkish Troops to Iraq
On 22 March the Turkish government denied that Turkish troops had entered northern Iraq. Earlier some media reports that more than 1,000 Turkish commandos have crossed the border into northern Iraq in armored vehicles. During the period of hard bargaining, Ankara demanded the right to send Turkish troops to Iraq as a condition for opening Turkish airspace for the United States. But Washington actively opposes Turkish troops in Iraq.

On 20 March, the Turkish parliament approved the government's motion for allowing overflights and sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq to fight Turkish Kurds who are based there. Their goal in sending the troops is to avert a humanitarian crisis in this region, as well as to hold back a flood of refugees into Turkey. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said simply that "there is no need for Turkish troops to enter Iraq."

Nevertheless, some Azerbaijani experts have also pointed to the necessity of deploying Turkish troops across the border in Iraq. Vafa Guluzade, former state adviser on foreign affairs, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that if Ankara does not take such a step, Iraq's Kurds could declare an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. He added that Britain and America may have been more open to such a deployment had Ankara only treated Washington as more of an ally in the beginning.

"[The Turkish parliament] has repeatedly turned down the government's request to open Turkish military bases [for flights] against Iraq," Guluzade said. "This has caused alienation between the two countries. Turkey ought to treat America as an ally. Yet, I think that Turkey's incursion into Iraq will not lead to a protest by the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition."

Zerdusht Alizade, co-chairman of the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP) also considers a Turkish invasion into Iraq necessary. Should Kurds create an independent state in this area, the United States would be the first to acknowledge it, paving the way for a long-term conflict in the region.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Under the headline "Armenian political circles are concerned with the Azerbaijani president's visit to the U.S.," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the Armenian Diaspora in the U.S. considers the transformation of Azerbaijan into the chief American ally in the Caucasus as a great threat.

Araz Alizade, co-chairman of the Social-Democrat Party, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that he would nominate himself for the upcoming presidential elections to be held in October.

Under the headline "Farmers cannot find money to sow seeds," the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" notes that at present the rate of development of the agrarian sector in Azerbaijan does not correspond to its real capacity.

Azerbaijani newspapers gave wide coverage to the war in Iraq. The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" writes that despite the strengthening of the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, 24 Iraqis have recently crossed the border into Azerbaijan.

According to the independent newspaper "525," since the beginning of the American-Iraqi war 56 Armenian families have come to Armenia and 47 of them have been settled in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Under the headline "The war in Iraq influences Azerbaijan's economy too," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" notes that "depending on the further events in Iraq, Azerbaijani economic figures for 2003 will also change. Because oil and oil products account for 90 percent of Azerbaijani all exports."

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar told the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that the overthrow of the Iraqi dictatorship would accelerate the process of democratization.

An author writing only as Orujov in an article entitled "Azerbaijan in the anti-Iraq coalition" in the newspaper "Ekho" cites the Reuters news agency as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has revealed the names of 45 states involved into the anti-Iraq coalition. Three of them wished to remain confidential. The name of Azerbaijan is also mentioned in this list. Orujov also notes that the Azerbaijani government has never considered closing the Iraqi Embassy in Azerbaijan. "The embassy was not closed even during the first Gulf War, and thus it is meaningless to expect it now," Orujov writes. But the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry states that to shut down the Iraqi embassy, the Iraqi government must recall its diplomats.

Political scientist Khaleddin Ibrahimli said in an interview with the newspaper "Hurriyyet" that unlike the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, the war against Iraq could have dangerous consequences. Should Iraq use weapons of mass destruction, Azerbaijan could face a dangerous threat. "Weapons of mass destruction signifies civilian casualties. If these weapons are used� it could have some negative affect on Azerbaijan. At the same time, this factor poses a threat to the Middle East region too." But if chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are not used in the conflict, then there is no reason for Azerbaijan to be concerned, Ibrahimli concluded.

Historian Namig Akhundov in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" comments on American-Azerbaijani relations. Akhundov noted that relations between the two countries are now developing rapidly. Azerbaijan is a strategic ally of the United States and supports it on the international arena. The latest meeting between the presidents proves it again.

Elshad Miralem in an article entitled "Azerbaijan protects its own national interests, but not those of any other country" in the newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that it is wrong to link Azerbaijan's stance on Iraq only with its desire to demonstrate adherence to its strategic partnership with the United States. There are also other factors that most likely forced Azerbaijan to join the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition. Saddam Husein�s regime, in fact, is challenging the world, and it does not comply with the United Nation�s resolutions. For the same reason, Azerbaijan cannot eliminate Armenia's aggressive policy toward it. The U.N. Security Council has adopted four resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but Armenia does not fulfill them. There is a concrete mechanism to realize such resolutions. But unfortunately the international community has never tried to apply it. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry�s statement also emphasized this point. "Azerbaijan calls on Iraq to fulfill completely all requirements originating from the U.N. Security Council's resolutions," the statement says. Miralem also points out that the current results of the war show that a regime that is challenging the world and international law is collapsing. And if the world is just, then the day when the aggressive Armenian regime will suffer the same fate is not far.

Under the headline "Events in Iraq will affect the climate," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes that the military action against Iraq is predicted to cause ecological problems in the region. Azerbaijan can also face new ecological problems. Yusif Hagverdiev of the Azerbaijani National Academy's Geography institute said in an interview with the paper that using chemical and biological weapons in the war would constitute a danger to the region, as well as to Azerbaijan. The emission of chemical pollutants into the atmosphere would lead to the ecological pollution in Azerbaijan�s southern regions.

Ali Rza in the article "It is necessary to rush to the battle" in the newspaper "Azadlig" comments on the ongoing government-opposition confrontation over the government's draft unified election code. The opposition's chief objection is related to the article on how future election commissions are composed. The opposition is pushing for forming election commissions of members of all political parties that passed the 1 percent barrier at the last parliamentary elections. But MPs from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) consider the opposition's criticism to be baseless. "Of course, these deputies have been instructed from the Presidential Administration to vote the election code in such a form." Opinions voiced by them do not differ from that voiced by Ramiz Mehdiev, head of President's Executive Office. Not long ago Mehdiev stated that the government is not going to revise its stand on forming election commissions. Rza writes that in order to maintain their position, the government's representatives seem to be going to struggle against both the opposition and international organizations that expect the Azerbaijani government democratic elections.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that the OSCE Minsk Group's cochairmen are expected to visit the region on 8-10 April. They will prepare new suggestions regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Parliament deputy and political scientist Aidin Mirzazade said in an interview with the newspaper "Khalg" that Azerbaijan is in a position to respond to all unexpected actions from Armenia. Mirzazade noted that the United States acknowledges that Nagorno-Karabakh is an uncontrolled region. If the OSCE Minsk Group's other co-chairmen--Russia and France--have the same attitude toward the issue, it could simplify the problem, paving the way for a solution to the conflict. The fact that one of superpowers has declared Nagorno-Karabakh an "uncontrolled zone" must be considered as an achievement of successful diplomacy. It signifies that "the Azerbaijani truths are being heard throughout the world." So, the international community is ready to accept any variant selected by Azerbaijan for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

Under the headline "Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are expelled from Israel," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Karabakh's Armenians, who have been settled in Israel as Jewish, are now being expelled from this country. But Armenians are anxious not only about the prospect of their expulsion from Israel, but also about their future. Armenia isn't interested in them coming, neither is Nagorno-Karabakh. The newspaper notes that Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians realize that Armenian ideologists need them only to prove that Karabakh is inhabited by Armenian people. Karabakh's Armenians also realize that this region's future under the Armenian flag is depressing. Yerevan is in no position to ensure a normal life here. There is only one solution: to accept Azerbaijani sovereignty.

Nurshen Guliev in the article "Hunting for people" in the newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that while the world's attention is focussed on the war in Iraq, Armenia is continuing its provocations against Azerbaijan. On 22 March Armenians once again broke through Azerbaijani borders and took two schoolboys hostage. It is the fourth such incident in the last three months. Armenians' behavior during the last few months gives the basis to predict that the enemy has chosen a new tactic, which can be called "people hunting." Armenians no longer launch large-scale attacks on Azerbaijan, but take Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians hostage. One of the key methods is a psychological one. Guliev notes that the fact that Armenians sometimes succeed easily in taking "our soldiers and civilians" is a blow to Azerbaijan's image. Armenia thus demonstrates that Azerbaijan cannot guard its borders. The other psychological factor is linked with the effect of such incidents on the Azerbaijani people�s sentiment.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has sent a letter congratulating Armenian President Robert Kocharian on his recent reelection victory. Opposition Musavat Party activist Hikmet Hajizade said in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that this letter was a surprise for him. "First, Armenia has never been a friendly state to Turkey. Second, considering the fact that Kocharian has been reelected through massive voting irregularities, he deserves no congratulation letter."

Political scientist Mubariz Gurbanoglu also noted that he cannot understand the Turkish president's motives. First of all, Sezer has a reputation as an experienced lawyer in his country. In that case, the Turkish president's congratulations to a person the world does not acknowledge as president is illogical. Second, it is no secret that Armenia is a country that constantly disrupts political balance and stability in the region.

The article "Why won't the World Trade Organization accept Azerbaijan?" in the newspaper "Uch Nogta" says that there are a number of unclear points in the Azerbaijani government's stance toward membership in the WTO. On the one hand, the government exaggerates the negative side of the membership in this organization, criticizing it, but on the other hand, it receives a $1,000,000 grant from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for technical aid in preparing for membership in the WTO.

Elkhan Hesenli in an article entitled "Oil revenues" in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that after a recent rise in world oil prices Azerbaijan's oil revenues increased by between $2-3 million. "It is possible to do many things with this money. To increase pensions or free the population from payments for gas and electricity, for example� Our oil revenues have increased, but unfortunately nothing has changed." Hesenli points out that Azerbaijan is also among those countries where citizens' rights are violated, and their wealth has turned into clans' source of income.

Ali Sadigov, professor of the Azerbaijani Technical University, in an article entitled "The danger of a lack of professors in Azerbaijan" in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" notes that if teachers of institutes of higher education were provided with the highest wages during the Soviet period, at present their wages are the lowest. It is well known that the average wage in Azerbaijan is 260,000 manats (about $54), but the minimal food basket is 320,000 manats ($65). In comparison, the wages of professors at higher education institutes are 200,000 manats (about $41). During the Soviet period, a professor got 450 rubles, while a minister got 280-320 rubles. Sadigov writes "I am 65 and has always heard that education and science promote the development of the society more than anything else. There is no need to prove it. But the paradox is that those who teach are paid less that those who learn."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)