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Azerbaijan Report: May 21, 2003

21 May 2003
NATO Secretary-General Makes One-Day Visit To Baku
NATO will provide recommendations for the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline but will not guard it, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told reporters in Baku during a press conference on 15 May.

Robertson said that at present the alliance has not been involved directly in any security measures for the BTC, adding that the collective defense guarantee is given only to the alliance's members. NATO however provides general recommendations on pipeline security.

The secretary-general would not comment on any possible future role for NATO in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Robertson said that the OSCE and United Nations are now engaged in the settlement of the problem. Therefore, he could say nothing about whether these institutions will involve NATO in this process or not.

Robertson also spoke to the Milli Mejlis (parliament) during his visit. Responding to deputies' questions about NATO's role in a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Robertson emphasized that NATO does not intend to participate in the solution to the Karabakh problem, adding that the alliance prefers to act in postwar areas.

In response to comments that Armenia ignores the four UN resolutions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, Robertson noted simply that he is not the UN secretary-general.

Robertson recalled that he met with the Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, as well as the interior and defense ministers.

Robertson expressed the hope that Azerbaijan would continue to follow the road of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. He said that Azerbaijan is one of the most active participants of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program.

Robertson did not meet with President Heidar Aliyev during his visit. "I know that the president returned from hospital not long ago," Robertson said. "If I myself had returned from hospital recently, I wouldn't have received a NATO secretary-general either. But I hope that I will be able to meet with him during my next visit to Azerbaijan."

Touching on whether the South Caucasus countries could join NATO, Robertson pointed out that at present all three Caucasus countries participate in the NATO plan for membership. But there is no concrete date for their admission and making such a decision does not depend on him.

Robertson said that in general, Azerbaijan is a partner of the West and NATO. This pleases the alliance. NATO is trying to ensure security for the Euro-Atlantic region and work more closely with its partners in this direction.

Robertson also told parliament deputies about the chief principles for military cooperation. He said that this plan would indicate what reforms Azerbaijan must take and what it should do for further rapprochement with NATO.

Robertson pointed out that at present NATO assists Azerbaijan in guarding its borders. Regarding conflicts in the South Caucasus region, Robertson said that a solution to the conflicts here fall to the countries themselves.

He also touched on Azerbaijan's relations with Russia, saying that the alliance appreciate all efforts to improve these relations.

Talking about the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan, Robertson expressed the hope that the people would truly vote for persons whom they trust. And these elections are also interesting for the world as well as Azerbaijan, as they will affect Azerbaijan's image.

(Natig Zeinalov and Zerkhanim Ahmedli)

Opposition Continues Baku Protests
The Opposition Coordination Center (MKM) is continuing its series of protests in Baku, calling for free elections and the resignation of President Aliev.

On 18 May some 10,000 people marched from the 20 January Metro Station to Galaba Square.

No clashes between the police and demonstrators were observed during the officially sanctioned protest. However many protesters complained that the police kept their circle of delimitation too tight. But after organizers spoke openly about the restriction, the police stepped back.

Serdar Jelaloglu, secretary-general of the Democratic Party, was first to speak. He said that the incumbent government is collapsing, adding that President Aliyev may even resort to provocation. But the government must realize that such maneuvers will not help it.

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar spoke of the post-Aliyev period, which he described as "bright." After Aliev's demise the people will live in prosperity and all Armenian-occupied territories will be returned, Gambar predicted. Also important, Gambar added, Azerbaijan would then occupy a worthy place in the world.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the People's Front party, also spoke optimistically about life without Aliev. He pointed out that the president's resignation would result in the elimination of bribery, corruption, and limits to free association.

A resolution adopted at the end of the protest demanded that the election code be changed and equal conditions be created for all candidates.

(Babek Bekir)

Opposition NGOs Call For Changes To Draft Election Code
On 16 May the Election Monitoring Center, a grouping of nongovernmental organizations, issued its suggestions regarding the government's draft election code, which is now in its third and final reading in the Milli Mejlis (parliament).

The center is endorsing recommendations made by the OSCE Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as well as the Venice Commission.

The center does not conceal its concern regarding the parliament's indifference to international organizations' recommendations. In addition, it expressed regret that international institutions are not doing more to urge parliament to recognize the concerns they have raised.

The center's statement also listed its complaints about the draft code, noting that formation of commissions, as well as participation of mass media and nongovernmental organizations in elections are of great importance. The authors of the document suggest that nongovernmental organizations must also participate in the Central Election Commission. This could be effected by giving them the seats reserved for "nonpartisans." Such a suggestion, it said, would resolve the deadlock between the opposition and the government over these seats.

The opposition charges that allocation a third of the election commission seats to "nonpartisan" or "independent" seats in reality favors the government as most nonaligned deputies in fact support the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP).

The statement also argues that Articles 40, 74.5, and 88.8 of the draft must be changed, since they impose restrictions for mass media and nongovernmental organizations. If parliament fails to resolve these issues, then the nongovernmental organizations will resort to mass protests.

However, YAP has stated that it isn't interested in the Election Monitoring Center's suggestions. Husein Pashaev, the party's press secretary, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the government is more interested in holding democratic elections than the opposition and nongovernmental organizations.

Pashaev noted that most organizations of the center are known to be close to the opposition. These organizations are, in fact, interested in an opposition victory in the upcoming election and thus their suggestions serve this goal.

Pashaev also pointed out that international organizations, in fact, recognize nonpartisan members' participation in commissions as necessary.

(Babek Bekir)

Journalists Protest Interference In Sales Of Opposition Newspapers
On 12 May the Editors Union and other local journalists held a sanctioned picket in front of the Baku Police Headquarters against police obstruction to the circulation of the opposition press.

Ganimet Zahidov, chairman of the Azad Soz (Free word) Journalists Union, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the police are pursuing ordinary citizens who earn a living for their families by selling newspapers. The end result is that media outlets are deprived of their chief income source -- from sales of their papers. As a result of persecution by the police and other state institutions, the activities of alternative media-distribution systems have been paralyzed.

"Sixty percent of newspapers are sold through street vendors, but police pressure has put this system out of action," said Zahidov.

At a meeting after the demonstration, the Editors' Union decided it would hold four other protests in front of Baku executive authority, Milli Mejlis (parliament), the Ministry of Health, and the offices of the Baku Metropolitan.

Journalists Trade Union Chairman Mushfig Alesgerli told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the heads of these state institutions have been given instructions to prohibit the selling of opposition newspapers in areas under their administration.

Alesgerli noted that the Editors Union is determined to continue protests until obstacles to press distribution have been removed. Journalists even intend to hold a nationwide protest, he concluded.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Intellectuals Discuss Fallout of Authoritarian Regime
Intellectuals, political leaders, and others gathered on 14 May to discuss how to avoid a brewing political power crisis.

The theoretical and practical conference brought together prominent professors and heads of human rights and political organizations to discuss the current social and political situation in the country. Saleh Memmedov, a former finance minister, noted that during the 10 years of President Aliev's government an "authoritarian regime" has been established in Azerbaijan. Given such a regime, now that the president is ill, people at all levels who normally await orders from above are now in a position of some difficulty and a power crisis has ripened.

Memmedov noted that at present the Azerbaijani public has been divided on a class, societal, and ideological basis and turned into forces that do not accept each other. It cannot be ruled out that if the president remains unable to fulfill his duties for some reason or another, these forces could collide.

Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, noted that some steps must be made to avert a power crisis. She said that Azerbaijani intellectuals and active political groups should appeal to law enforcement bodies, calling on them to think carefully about future decisions. Moreover, groups must also be alert to any possible violation of the cease-fire at the front and take measures to prevent it.

Representatives of political parties and intellectuals emphasized that under existing conditions the opposition forces must put up a united front.

A resolution adopted at the end of the meeting suggests that considering the conflicting intransigence in the country, opposition forces and the government must sign an agreement, determining both sides' duties and responsibilities. Control over the implementation of the agreement is to be entrusted to a monitoring group, composed of representatives from the Council of Europe, OSCE, UN, and the U.S. Embassy. Moreover, considering the president's health problems, the participants at the conference called for the president's resignation and the holding extraordinary presidential elections, as well as the inclusion of international institutions' representatives in the Central Election Commission.

The meeting's participants suggested creating a public monitoring committee with participation of elders, well-known intellectuals, and specialists in order to assess the government's work.

The resolution proposes to appeal to the Gulhane Military Hospital on behalf of the conference's participants for information about the president's health and his ability to work.

(Natig Zeinalov)

An author writing only as Orujov in the article "The defense minister's U.S. visit has been postponed" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" notes that Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev was to go to the United States on 19 May. But his visit was postponed once again. Ramiz Melikov, head of the Defense Ministry's press service, said in an interview with the newspaper that the postponement of the visit is connected with the unavailability of some document. According to experts, this visit will take place sooner or later, since the American side intends to see Abiev there in the near future. What agreements are to be signed with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? Orujov says that issues related to the sending of Azerbaijani peacekeepers to Iraq and development of bilateral cooperation in the military sphere must be solved first of all.

Under the headline "Azerbaijan's membership in NATO is a reality," the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that Azerbaijan's membership of NATO is not merely a political issue, an entire complex of problems must be solved before it becomes a reality. The military infrastructure of a candidate state must correspond to the alliance's standards and, moreover, its economic potential and, of course, the level of democracy must meet requirements. NATO Secretary-General Robertson stated during his recent visit to Baku that NATO is also an organization of values. But for the moment Azerbaijan continues to move toward the Euro-Atlantic space.

An author writing only as Aranli in the article "It is necessary to go away" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh continues to become more unclear. Chances for the settlement of the conflict by peaceful means and through the mediation of international organizations have been exhausted. NATO Secretary-General Robertson's visit to Azerbaijan has put an end to the existing hesitations about this matter. And the Russia factor is becoming more important. It is known that whatever the circumstances, resolving the Karabakh issue depends on Russia's regional interests. Neither the United Nations, nor the Council of Europe or NATO is interested in getting involved in these interests. "While the country's politicians are occupied with the preparation campaign for the presidential elections, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue seems to have disappeared from the agenda. It is true that Karabakh and possible solutions to the Karabakh issue are much talked about at all protests, meetings, and roundtable discussions. And always a solution is linked with power and who is in power. But what is now clear is that Aliev's regime could achieve this."

Under the headline "Intellectuals demand an inquiry into the president's health," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" recalls that the Amal Intelligentsia Movement has adopted a resolution on behalf of intellectuals who demand the president's resignation. In an interview with newspaper screenwriter Eldeniz Guliev, one of the document's signatories, noted that the demand for the president's resignation is becoming more and more like a show. "At a time when the president's health is bad, such a stand in fact reveals the opposition's weakness. But if the matter concerns the head of state and his health, then the people have the right to be informed," Guliev concluded.

The newspaper "Ekho" cites the president's son Ilham Aliyev as saying that his father will return to work in two or three weeks. The newspaper also comments on the dispatch of Azerbaijani peacekeepers to Iraq, noting that the sending of 150 peacekeepers to Iraq has been postponed. In an interview with the newspaper, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson says that the only reason for this delay is U.S. organizational procedures. "We hope that Azerbaijani peacekeepers will be sent to Iraq by the end of May," Wilson says. As for the financial aspect, Wilson notes that the United States would assist Azerbaijani peacekeeping activities in Iraq. But in any event, this issue must be discussed. America must determine what sources it will use.

David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijani International Operating Company, says in an interview with the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that bringing Iraqi oil back on the world market will not impact on the competitiveness of Caspian hydrogen resources. "The restoration of the Iraqi oil industry will take a long time.... During this period the world's need for oil will increase, and therefore interest in oil projects will never drop." As for the BTC project, Woodward points out that the construction of the Georgian sector of the pipeline has begun as well.

Under the headline "The BTC Iraqi problem," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet" writes that speculation is increasing that interest in Azerbaijani oil, as well as large projects regarding it, will drop. Bringing Iraqi oil back on the world market has recently been shown as one of factors that are blocking the BTC's realization. At present the process of restoration of the Iraqi oil sector is ongoing, albeit slowly. But there is no doubt that the United States will introduce order in this sector soon, and after that Iraq will be able to offer the world about 6 million barrels of oil per day. Most analysts link Iraqi oil to the hesitation of international financial institutions in allocating credits for the BTC's construction. The leadership of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) is still optimistic and doesn't think that the Iraqi factor could delay the BTC's construction. But the fact remains. World financial organizations, which are to finance the BTC, still hesitate. Of course, their attitude toward the current Azerbaijani government apparently plays a special role in this hesitation.

Ahmed Oruj in the article "Is the idea of a common candidate needed by everyone?" in the pro-government newspaper "525" writes that discussions about a common opposition candidate again dominate the political agenda. The idea of a unified candidate is raised by various circles for different reasons. The public widely endorses unconditionally the idea of a common candidate and opposition cohesion. Oruj notes that opposition forces have a different attitude toward this idea. Under existing conditions, some forces within the opposition are against even discussing the idea. Some parties realize that since their leaders are out of the country, their candidates would be discounted as soon as debates began for a unified candidate. But other opposition parties oppose discussion of this issue because their leaders now have a chance to be a common candidate. A serious discussion of the common-candidate idea diminishes the importance of these parties. Oruj points out that ruling political parties are also interested in keeping this idea on the agenda and thus attempt to fuel contradictions within the opposition.

An author writing under the name of Aziz in an article entitled: "The destructive opposition loses its remaining image by taking the way of lies and slander" in the government newspaper "Khalg" writes that less than five months remain until the presidential elections. But the opposition knows even now that it will lose this ballot that is of great importance in the country's existence. After the 1998 presidential elections, "the opposition could unite its forces in one, two, three centers, liven its ideological activities thanks to new ideas, win the sympathy of one part of the people by pursuing its interests and adjust its election strategy with this. Four and a half years have passed, but none of these goals has been carried out. Moreover, the opposition has preserved its 1998 stance. Today, it can be said that the opposition has descended to the level of 1992-93." Aziz points out that there is not one among the "forwards" in the opposition camp who could be a real opponent to President Aliev. Aliev's victory in the upcoming elections is "inevitable." "At present one dangerous lie of the opposition press is about the government's crumbling from within. These allegations, which the destructive opposition attempts to spread, are nothing but nonsense."

The government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that under a presidential decree, the wages of educational institution workers will be increased by 50 percent from 1 June.

The independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" in the article "Wages of teachers have been increased by 50 percent" points out that with such a step the government hopes to win the vote of the 300,000-strong "army of teachers." The government as early as last year promised to raise teachers' wages by 1 January 2004, but it did not happen. And there was money do it because the world oil price was much higher than the government had planned. But the newspaper writes that "the state budget that depends on oil revenues could face problems in the future. The government will have to provide high wages in 2004 as well. And should oil prices drop to $15-$18, then the government will not be able to pay wages and must seek additional financing sources. In this case the government will have to either get loans from the International Monetary Fund or draw from the State Oil Fund. Azerbaijan should prepare for this risky future and benefit from the current high oil prices as much as possible. In other words, additional revenues, which Azerbaijan earned thanks to the rise in oil prices, must be left for the future years." The paper also notes that in any case, wages and pensions of other government workers will also be increased on the threshold of the presidential elections, since the government, which has pledged the raise, cannot afford to lose the vote of 1 million pensioners.

Vagif Bairamov in the article "Azerbaijan is open for foreign investment" in the newspaper "Khalg" notes that "one year has passed since President Heidar Aliev's meeting with foreign entrepreneurs." During that period the government has increased attention to the formation of a democratic environment, strengthened the essential legal basis and created all conditions for economic reforms to enter a new phase. Bairamov also notes that Azerbaijan's bilateral relations with foreign countries are developing rapidly as well. To date Azerbaijan has established trade relations with 128 countries and signed bilateral agreements with more than 30 countries in various spheres. During the past five years foreign trade turnover came to $14.14 billion, including $3.8 million last year. This is 2.4 times more than in 1997.

Nijat Vagifgizi in the article "Infectious illnesses began in Neftchala" in the newspaper "Azadlig" points out that the situation in the flooded regions remains serious. Although the level of water in the Kur River is going down, there is no progress in eliminating the consequences of the flooding. Ikinci Garali, and other villages in the Neftchala district are entirely flooded with mud and water. The danger of malaria exists because sanitary regulations are not observed. It is impossible to pass by flooded homes and trees without protection. There is a plague of mosquitoes and flies. Vagifgizi also points out that international organizations are expected to help Azerbaijan after the authorities calculate the amount of damage done to the flooded regions. The Asian Development Bank intends to provide $22 million in assistance. But it is still unclear how much money the World Bank will allocate.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)