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Azerbaijan Report: April 25, 2003

25 April 2003
Protesters Pelt Human Rights Activist's Office With Eggs
Eldar Zeinalov, director of the Human Rights Defense Center of Azerbaijan, faced harsh criticism after he recently visited Armenia and the Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, where he made a speech at the "Caucasus Forum" held in Khankendi (Stepanakert).

Independent citizens, political parties, and other organizations have held protests in front of the human rights activist's home and office, demanding an explanation for his visit.

The first such protest was held by the Karabakh Freedom Organization's (QAT) youth department on 23 April, about one hour after Zeinalov's arrival. QAT Chairman Akif Nagi told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the protesting youths met with Zeinalov and demanded that he cease such acts. But Zeinalov stated he would not diverge from his planned course of action. His statement caused other citizens and organizations to get involved in other protests.

On 24 April, Umid, Muasir Musavat (Modern Musavat), and Gudrat Hasanguliev's faction of the People's Front parties, along with the QAT held separate protests in front of Zeinalov's office and home. Zeinalov's refusal to inform the protesters of the details of his visit to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh further escalated the situation, and demonstrators began to throw eggs at the office. According to some reports, Zeinalov's neighbors also supported the protesters. During one of these protests, the Muasir Musavat Party made more serious demands, giving Zeinalov 48 hours to get out of Azerbaijan.

Protests continued on 25 April as well. That day two demonstrations were held, one by the New Azerbaijan Party's youth organization, the other by the QAT youth department.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Zeinalov called the latest events staged clamor. He linked it with the upcoming election campaign and his presenting of a list of political prisoners to the Council of Europe. Zeinalov noted that such events always happen before election campaigns. In 2000 such pressure was exerted against Rauf Arifoglu, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," who was even called a terrorist. Zeinalov mentioned that Armenians would benefit from the events in front of his office by raising protests throughout the world.

Touching on the Muasir Musavat Party's 48-hour ultimatum, Zeinalov said that he does not intend to go anywhere and recalled that some time ago he even actively worked to release the party's chairman, Hafiz Hajiev, from prison.

Zeinalov said that he immediately appealed to law-enforcement bodies in connection with the protesters' actions. The police arrived at the scene of the protests late on the first day; however, they came earlier during subsequent protests and prevented any trouble.

Interior Ministry Press Secretary Ehsan Zahidov said that like other citizens he doesn't approve of the protesters' actions, adding that he is still unaware of what measures the ministry would take regarding Zeinalov's situation.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Many Possible Scenarios In Wake Of President's Health Crisis
While the Azerbaijani public is watching anxiously over President Heidar Aliev's health after he collapsed twice during a televised speech on 21 April, the next day the president received U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson to discuss Azerbaijan's offer to send peacekeepers to Iraq.

Although official sources claim that there are no problems with the president's health, local experts think that the 21 April incident could have serious political repercussions.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Center for Political Innovations and Technologies, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that in fact there are no serious repercussions regarding the president's health. Simply, the illness he concealed from the people has suddenly revealed itself.

Ahmedoglu noted that further developments would depend on the behavior of both the president and his people. Under existing conditions, the government must conduct an information campaign to explain the incident to the people and thus attempt to restore the president's damaged image.

Ahmedoglu pointed out that Armenia is also closely watching the situation surrounding the Azerbaijani president's health. "In any case, the domestic political situation in Armenia is strained. These days we are witnesses to breaches in the cease-fire. By that President [Robert] Kocharian wants to intimidate the Armenian people. Problems with the president's health could encourage some adventurous forces in Armenia," Ahmedoglu said.

Ahmedoglu said that some uncertainty could emerge within the government. But the ruling elite could come out of the situation well through a well-considered information campaign.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Ilham Ismail, the former top-ranking officer in the Ministry of National Security, agreed with the possibility that the cease-fire will be broken even more frequently. Ismail recalled that in 1991-93 Armenia managed to seize some Azerbaijani lands thanks to anarchy in Azerbaijan. In the current situation, Ismail even predicted foreign pressure on Azerbaijan accompanied by provocation. "Sentiment among the public to overthrow Aliev's autocratic government through revolutionary means is gaining strength. I think, the current situation could channel such sentiments into more dangerous ways."

Decentralization within the ruling power, which could lead to anarchy as well, is another dangerous outcome of the recent events, Ismail concluded.

But Ali Abbasov, former director of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy, called the danger of intensive foreign pressure on Azerbaijan unrealistic. There were hostile forces to Azerbaijan even before the president's recent health troubles. But it is wrong to believe that these forces will increase their activities after 21 April.

Generally, under existing conditions, the concentration of power in one hand could have grave consequences for the country. The real problem is not the president's health, but the form of government created by him, Abbasov concluded.

But according to most ordinary citizens interviewed on the streets of Baku, it is an indisputable fact that the president has lost his capacity to work. All efforts to conceal it are now useless. It would be better for Aliyev to move aside in time and cede his post to young forces, say some. Otherwise, the country could face serious problems.

Meanwhile, some people took an optimistic stance on the matter. They said that despite his health troubles, Aliyev is still in position to lead the country. Therefore, there is no reason for concern.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Under the headline "Caressed and blackmailed NGOs," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes that scandals surrounding Eldar Zeinalov, the director of the Human Rights Defense Center of Azerbaijan, are "staged" to divert the public attention from President Aliev's health.

Under the headline "The 'Greater Armenia' plan also embraces the south of Russia," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" points out that Armenians intend to realize their separatist plans even in Russia.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," economist Gubad Ibadoglu explains that monopolist groups are engineering an increase in prices of grain products. Above all, the rise in prices is an indication that official statistics on grain production do not reflect the real situation.

An author writing only as Gulshen in the article "All know Eldar Zeinalov as Edik" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" notes that human rights activist Eldar Zeinalov's speech at the "Caucasus Forum" held in Khankendi (Stepanakert) was met with sharp discontent in Azerbaijan. Gulshen recalls that two months before, when the authorities revealed their plans to transfer an Armenian cemetery in Baku to another place in order to widen the flow of traffic, Zeinalov presented it as a destruction of Armenian graves. Despite the fact that Turks, Russians, and other peoples' representatives were also buried in this cemetery. Moreover, there was nothing illegal and disrespectful in the reburial of these graves. Gulshen writes that the public perceives Zeinalov's actions differently. But the number of those who support him is too small. What is interesting is that law-enforcement bodies do not conduct an investigation regarding his activities.

Elkhan Shahinoglu in an article entitled "The United States' allies and rivals" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that it was in the interests of Azerbaijan to take a place near the United States after 11 September 2001. Azerbaijan at first supported Washington's plans on Afghanistan, then its war in Iraq. It would be difficult for Baku to make another decision. It is true that the Azerbaijani government tried to maneuver before the war against Baghdad. For example, Vladimir Rushailo, head of the Russian Security Council, stated during his visit to Baku that Azerbaijan's position on the Iraqi issue was the same as Russia's. But some days later the Azerbaijani president told his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush that "we are with you." Azerbaijan is now going to send 180 peacekeepers to Iraq. The United States then promised that Azerbaijani companies will be involved in Iraq's reconstruction. Right after that Bruce Jackson, president of the U.S. Committee on NATO, during a meeting with President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan's possible membership in NATO could happen as soon as 2006-07. Prior to this neither NATO's secretary general nor other officials would name an exact date for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani officials themselves could not speak out about their wishes to join NATO. Nevertheless the speedy development of events forced Aliyev to state for the first time that "we want to be a NATO member." Earlier, Aliyev did not want to tease Russia and Iran. Shahinoglu points out that in return for its support for U.S. plans, Azerbaijan expects Washington to attract more attention to a fair solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Under the headline "Azerbaijan's prestige in the international arena is increasing," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" writes that the armed forces of Azerbaijan, which gained independence only 10 years ago, are preparing for its third peacekeeping mission. Azerbaijani soldiers were in Kosovo along with Turkish soldiers, and then in Afghanistan with the international contingent. But the Azerbaijani soldiers' mission in Iraq is different and more important in the context of some factors. First, the composition of the personnel sent to Iraq is wider. Secondly, Azerbaijani peacekeepers will mainly protect Iraqi sacred places and towns and villages inhabited by Turkomans. Finally, the chief factor is that the sending of Azerbaijani soldiers to Iraq could be estimated as the real beginning of the process of Azerbaijan's integration into NATO structures. The fact that the Azerbaijani president has officially stated Azerbaijan's intention to join NATO proves it once again.

Rasim Bairamov in the article "Iran wants to neutralize Azerbaijan" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will pay a two-day official visit to Baku on 28 April. During the visit Kharrazi will discuss a widening of relations and economic cooperation between the two countries, as well as the problem of the Caspian Sea's legal status. According to official sources, the chief aim in Kharrazi's Baku visit is to prepare Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's long-awaited visit to Azerbaijan. Bairamov cites some local observers as saying that Khatami's visit to Baku is in the interests of Tehran. It is mainly connected with current processes in neighboring Iraq that is now under U.S. administration. At present, officials in Tehran suggest that with Baghdad under U.S. supervision, Washington obtained another strategic base to attack the Iranian regime. Bairamov also points out that considering the deterioration of relations with the United States, Tehran is now trying to strengthen its relations with its neighbors and Islamic countries, as well as Russia. Iran is trying to neutralize Azerbaijan as a potential member of the anti-Iran front. Therefore, undoubtedly this point will also be the chief subject of discussions during Khatami's visit to Azerbaijan.

Ahmed Oruj in the article "What is the purpose of opponents of consultation?" in the independent newspaper "525" notes that less than two months remain until the official start of the presidential election campaign. The government wants to have an election code that could allow it to keep election commissions under its control. The visits of the government's representatives to Europe to enlist the support of European democratic institutions have yet to produce an effect. Meanwhile, a certain renaissance can be felt in the opposition camp's processes. After the Democratic Congress announced the "Our Azerbaijan" election bloc, other candidates also began to create their blocs. Oruj writes that both the government and some opposition forces did not expect the Democratic Congress to put up a common candidate. The 10 years of bitter experience, as well as strained relations within the congress, produced an impression that it would not join the election with a common candidate. The fact that parties and political leaders united under the Democratic Congress put all their grievances aside and agreed on the issue of a single candidate has ruined all forecasts. The congress's move in fact will leave its rivals in a difficult situation.

Galib Arif, in the article "The apparent indication of absurdity regarding 'a common candidate' idea in the opposition" in the government newspaper "Khalg," writes that every step made and every agreement signed to resolve the "common candidate" issue is considered in the opposition camp as separatism and a desire to pull on the "cart," and this causes almost everyone's displeasure. The experience proves that even two opposition parties or candidates cannot come together and determine a common candidate. "This example is also the most apparent indication of the absurdity of this idea."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)