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Azerbaijan Report: April 16, 2003

16 April 2003
Study Finds Local Media More Likely To Support Peaceful Solution To Karabakh War
The Baku and Yerevan press clubs, with the assistance of the Open Society Institute, have been conducting public opinion surveys and media monitoring regarding the Karabakh issue in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh since 2001. The two clubs have also polled experts who deal with the Karabakh problem. The Baku Press Club's president, Arif Aliev, announced on 11 April what results they have achieved thus far.

Aliyev said, referring to the initial results of the survey, the Azerbaijani people, in fact, take a passive stance on the Karabakh matter and currently prefer a peaceful settlement to the conflict. However, experts' opinions influence the people and if they call for war, the people may support that as well. Currently the war option is not popular among Armenians either, Aliyev noted.

As for the negotiation format and concessions for a solution to the Karabakh problem, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh's status, the survey finds that people and media in both countries are not well enough informed. Moreover, media stories on Karabakh in both Azerbaijan and Armenia lack official sources and documentation. Media outlets mostly refer to their own sources and the Western press, as well as to news sources of the opposite side. According to the investigation, neither the Azerbaijani nor Armenian governments are interested in revealing much about their Karabakh policies.

Aliyev pointed to Western sources citing the Azerbaijani media as advocating a war in Karabakh. But the study indicates that in fact Azerbaijani media mostly call for a peaceful solution to the conflict. "The media monitoring indicates that contrary to Western sources' allegations, the Azerbaijani media in general call for a peaceful variant," Aliyev said.

Aliyev noted that a report on the investigation's final results, which will be made later this year, will be submitted to state and public institutions dealing with a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Protest Leader Hints At Election Code Agreement
On 13 April the nine opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), together with a number of outside opposition parties, marched from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba Square in a sanctioned protest. Demonstrators called for a number of changes including free and just presidential elections, President Heidar Aliev's resignation as well as fulfillment of the opposition's demands regarding the draft unified election code. The Baku mayor's office approved the protest, but Democratic Party (ADP) activist Gurban Memmedov said during his speech that the police detained about 50 opposition activists who were traveling from Sumgait to Baku in order to participate in the demonstration.

Since the square was filled past capacity, police equipped with shields, struggled to contain the demonstrators. Once those participants who could enter the square did so, the protest was declared open. Almost all speakers called for the demonstrators to chant "Istefa!" (Resignation).

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar compared the current political regime in Azerbaijan that of Saddam Husein's in Iraq and suggested yet another chant: "Heidar, go away! Saddam has gone, do the same!"

Parliament deputy Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist faction" of the People's Front Party (AXCP), also called on President Aliyev to resign because of his inability to liberate the Armenian-occupied Karabakh lands and keeping the majority of the people in poverty. Kerimli also noted that the parliament's laws to raise the wages of certain sectors of workers -- some of which were passed as far back as late December -- have yet to be fulfilled. As the presidential ballot approaches all these decisions will be presented as candidate Aliev's gift to the people, he said.

National Independence Party (AMIP) Chairman Etibar Mammadov announced that the government has agreed to some of the opposition's demands regarding disputable points in the government's draft election code. The public will be informed about it in the near future. "I would like to inform you that thanks to our struggle, the government has already make some concessions," Memmedov concluded.

A resolution adopted at the end of the protest demanded that the draft election code be adopted in accordance with democratic principles and equal conditions be create for all candidates.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Press Council Begins Work Without Office, Official Status
The newly created Press Council appealed to journalists and the people on 9 April for help in resolving the numerous issues related to libel suits currently in the courts. The document states that media representatives must follow the "Principles of Journalists' Professional Conduct" as agreed during the first press congress, which calls for them to respect the citizens' rights and freedoms. The appeal also asks the government to respect the Press Council's decisions and to cease filing libel suits against the media. Moreover, the document calls on authorities and individuals who had brought actions against the press before the council was established, to rescind their suits and start over under the council's supervision.

Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that his organization already receives complaints from citizens living mostly outside Baku. But since the council has not yet registered with the Justice Ministry and has no office, it cannot investigate these complaints."Those who complain about the media are generally ordinary citizens and teachers living in [rural] districts," he said. "But as the council still has no office, it cannot investigate the complaints." Amashov noted that at present the council's members are working on a separate law on the press council. He said that although the Press Council is a public organization, its powers and responsibilities are much wider. Therefore, the law on nongovernmental organizations cannot regulate the Press Council's activities.

But Shahbaz Khuduoglu, editor in chief of the journal "Qanun" (Law), said that the adoption of a law on the press council distorts the nature of this organization. At a time when there are numerous laws regulating the media's activities, adoption of an additional law regulating the Press Council could lead, in fact, to closer participation by the government in the media.

"The law on the Press Council even contradicts the council's charter adopted at the journalists' congress. Because this charter states that the Press Council, as a public organization, is regulated by the law on nongovernmental organizations and public funds. On the other hand, in this case the government takes its regulating functions back from the Press Council," Khuduoglu said.

Khuduoglu also noted that in forming another public organization like the Press Council -- Press Technical Council -- is in process. This organization will unite representatives from newspapers, publishing houses and distributing companies as well as nongovernmental organizations which didn't participate in the journalists' congress. Although the technical council is not considered as an alternative to the existing press council, its purpose is also to solve disputes between citizens and the government before appealing to the court, Khuduoglu concluded.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Azerbaijani Intelligentsia Express Concern Over Fate Of Iraqi Turks
Azerbaijani writers and members of the intelligentsia express their concern about the war in Iraq and the future of Turkomans living there. More than 3 million Turkomans live in the northern Iraq.

Most foreign and Azerbaijani researchers point out that modern Iraqi Turkomans are the descendants of Azeri tribes that populated northern Iraq since the early Middle Ages. Kamil Veli Narimanoglu, head of the Committee for the Protection of Iraqi Turkomans' Rights, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that at present the situation of all Iraqis raises alarm. Touching on the danger of the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, Narimanoglu noted that the rights of Iraqi Turkomans cannot be ignored. Somehow, Turkey always misses the initiative in this issue. The creation of a Kurdish state in this region constitutes a threat not only for Turkey, but also for Azerbaijan, Iran, and even Syria, he said.

Adalat Asgeroglu, head of the Department for Public Relations of the Azerbaijani Writers' Unions, said that civilian casualties and the destruction of cultural monuments resulting from the war in Iraq alarm them too, as well as the whole world. The Writers' Union is also worried about the Iraqi Turkomans' fate. He noted that the union has even made a statement on the matter. In the document, the writers call on the United States, which declares its adherence to democracy and human rights, to protect the Iraqi Turkomans from any pressure and persecution and ensure their rights.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

According to the independent Russian-language "Ekho," Iraqi Ambassador in Azerbaijan Galib abd Husein will not seek political asylum in Azerbaijan.

Under the headline "Will Iraqi oil oust our black gold?" the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the exaggeration of the Azerbaijani oil's cost price make it noncompetitive.

Under the headline "Kurdish fighters in Mingechevir," the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has a training camp in the forests situated on the bank of the Kur River.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "525," former parliament deputy Nazim Imanov (AMIP) said that he does not want opposition parties to go to the presidential elections as rivals. The opposition can cooperate even if there are a multitude of opposition candidates, he concluded.

Under the headline "The opposition has neither a concrete program for activities nor conception," the governmental newspaper "Khalg" suggests that the opposition's 13 April protest has proved it once again.

Parliament deputy Fezail Agamali, chairman of the Motherland Party, said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" that the government's draft of the unified election code has been prepared quite professionally.

Behmen Fazyloglu in an article entitled "Forced alliance" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the Azerbaijani government has repeatedly stated its stance toward the war in Iraq and its support of the United States. It was impossible to imagine that Azerbaijan would take any other position, considering its national interests and modern realities. It would be naive to predict that Azerbaijan could take the position of Russia, which has played a great role in occupying Azerbaijani lands, or France, where the position of the Armenian lobby is very strong. In short, Azerbaijan's involvement in the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition is reminiscent somehow of a "forced alliance" in the context of geopolitics. "The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan has also repeatedly noted that should Azerbaijan intend to take back its occupied lands militarily, relations between Baku and Washington will worsen. It is always so. All ambassadors reveal the real truth, or rather threaten Baku when little time remains before their diplomatic missions are over."

Elkhan Shahinoglu in the article "What will Azerbaijan gain?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that Washington cannot disregard the upcoming presidential ballot. Some believe that Washington is going to close its eyes on the government's election fraud in exchange for Baku's silent support of the United States' foreign policy. All real presidential candidates in Azerbaijan have backed Washington's incursion in Iraq and so should one of them take incumbent President Aliev's place there will no problems in supporting the White House's next steps. A leader who will put an end to election fraud as well as accelerate the economic reforms is more suitable for Washington. The United States must now be more interested in free and fair elections in Azerbaijan than in previous years because the war against Iraq forced Washington to avoid double standards. The author also notes that it is unrealistic to think that the United States will refuse to cooperate with Aliyev should he be reelected with irregularities. Armenia's example should not be forgotten.

Sultan Lachin in the article "Terry's sweat" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" points out that Terry Davis, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, has finally visited Azerbaijan after a long interval. "It is said that he is a better man than both Casan and Gross. He is even adhering to our position and will not go to Nagorno-Karabakh, but will go to Armenia via Georgia. Unhappily, Davis will shed much sweat while preparing the next report on the conflicting sides' attitude toward the Karabakh conflict. We will also shed sweat, but not in Karabakh, but in various restaurants and weddings by eating and drinking." Lachin notes that "foreigners are transferring a certain part of their technological successes in the sphere of the fashion, entertainment, culture and art in Azerbaijan and advise our youths to shed their sweat in these spheres. And most our youths properly follow this advice. Sometimes Davis takes the Azerbaijani side, sometimes the Armenian one and sheds sweat for Nagorno-Karabakh. But we are still running after new clips, new cars, new fashion, new drinks and new Internet games." In that case, no time remains even to utter the name of Karabakh, the author writes. "Such men as Bush, Gross, and Casan have released us from the care to sweat for the sake of the motherland.... In that case what should our youth do besides have fun?"

An author writing only as HajiAliyev in the article "The idea of a common candidate will not succeed this time either" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" points out that opposition parties rack their brains over joint participation in the upcoming presidential election, but they cannot come to a consensus. The reason is clear. Party chairmen, ambitious for power, do not intend to make any concessions to each other. As a result of negotiations, the common candidate issue has lead to contradictions between the opposition camps' representatives. The aspiration of these parties to create various blocs on the basis of "ideological" intimacy is in fact only for show. HajiAliyev recalls that just as in the run-up to the 1998 presidential elections, the opposition camp is not going to make tactical changes in its preparations for the presidential campaign. Opposition unions created at that time are now being replaced by other organizations, which do not differ from their predecessors in substance.

According to the independent newspaper "Tezadlar," the people's attitude toward the interior minister's statement during an 11 April meeting with his subordinates is not unique. Retired police lieutenant colonel and expert Mahmud Hajiev said in an interview with the newspaper that if the head of a power structure acknowledge that some of his subordinates smoke drugs, it is meaningless to speak about his abilities as a leader. "If Interior Minister Usubov does not know, I would like to inform that police officers and officials, as well as their children use 'fashionable, expensive' drugs. As for crime detection, it should noted that the minister and his deputies demand that police departments increase the ratio of solved crimes in order to lower their number. And to achieve this goal, departments hide unsolved crimes." Touching on the police struggle with drug addiction, Hajiev notes that the Azerbaijani police begin with the last combat method. "If the police detain a youth smoking hashish, they at once�institutes criminal proceedings against him.... But it is not a crime. Abroad such cases are considered to be administrative violation and a person is not brought to trial because of it. The right combat method is to prevent drugs from passing through custom houses and entering the country, as well as to close the channels through which they are sold," Hajiev concluded.

Elbrus Jeferli in an article entitled "Our country's relations with foreign countries are broadening" in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that significant positive changes in Azerbaijan's economic relations with foreign countries has led to an increase in the country's balance of payments. Azerbaijan, whose trade turnover in 2002 ended with a debit balance, could maintain the same tendency this year as well. The volume of trade operations with foreign countries in the past period of 2003 amounted to some $850 million-$900 million. Imports thus far total some $390 million-$400 million. In the past few months of 2003 Azerbaijan has imported some $500 million in goods.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)