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Azerbaijan Report: May 26, 2003

26 May 2003
Russia's Statements On Caspian Division Could Create Problems For Azerbaijan
At a press conference in Moscow on 19 May, Victor Kalyuzhny, Russia's special presidential representative for the Caspian, called for a fall meeting at the ministerial level of the Caspian littoral states. In the run-up to that meeting working groups are convening in Moscow and Ashgabat. But it was comments Kalyuzhny made regarding Iran's position in the negotiation that caused the biggest stir. Kalyuzhny called Iran's suggestion of dividing the Caspian into five equal sectors "unrealistic." The sides must attempt to negotiate real issues rather than submitting unrealistic proposals, he said. Moreover, Kalyuzhny called on Iran to conduct negotiations with Azerbaijan on the principle of the "modified median line."

Commenting on the Russian representative's statement, local political scientist Rasim Musabeyov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that even now Iran realizes that its unconstructive stand on the Caspian issue is unacceptable. At the same time Iran's contradictions put its representatives in a difficult situation in negotiations. However, irrespective of the internal processes in Iran, Musabeyov said, the issue must be solved.

"As a result of an agreement between Azerbaijan, Russia, and Kazakhstan, some 66 percent of the Caspian has been divided between the three countries. The remaining 34 percent is a concession for Iran and Turkmenistan. If an agreement is reached in this direction, it would be possible to sign a document on the Caspian division and achieve progress on this issue," Musabeyov said. Nevertheless, he added, everything depends on what happens in Iran.

Khaleddin Ibrahimli, head of the Caucasus Research Center, disagrees with Musabeyov, adding that there was no change in Russia's position. Kalyuzhny's statement, he said, does not work toward a resolution of the problem; on the contrary, it serves to further deepen the confrontation between Iran and Azerbaijan. (Shahnaz Beilergizi)

One Year On, Nardaran's Residents Remain Frustrated
Protests could begin again in the seaside village of Nardaran, some 35 kilometers northeast of Baku. Violence in the village, long known for its devout adherence to Islamic traditions and its history of protests, culminated in a riot with police on 3 June last year, which left one villager dead and dozens injured on both sides. Dozens of people were arrested after the incident, including some of the village elders. The arrests prompted the residents -- who up until then had protested the poor living standards that arose after the fall of the Soviet Union -- to begin making political demands.

In early February the police forces again raided Nardaran. Eight villagers were detained and 10-17 injured, according to villagers' accounts. The government reported that the clash left 10 civilians and six police officers wounded. On 9 February, Azerbaijan's highest-ranking Islamic clergyman, Sheikh-ul Islam Haji Allahshukur Pashazade, met with Nardaran's elders in an effort to mediate between the government and village. Pashazade assured the residents that the police would no longer raid their village.

The villagers hoped those arrested would be released. But on 1 April the Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on 15 residents of Nardaran, who had been detained following the 3 June clash. The court gave 11 villagers suspended sentences and released them from jail. But four of them -- including Alikram Aliev, chairman of the Islamic Party, and Jabrail Alizade, head of the civic organization Union of Baku and Villages -- were given prison terms. This stirred up anger among some of the villagers, who warned that protests would resume if the court does not reevaluate the prison sentences. This month the Milli Mejlis (parliament) approved the president's amnesty law, but the four imprisoned Nardaran residents were not included in the amnesty list. Residents have also complained that the government has failed to fulfill its obligations to improve living conditions.

On 20 May, Pashazade called for the Nardaran villagers to be patient. He pointed out that some of the villagers' demands have been satisfied, adding that it would be wrong to think that the mediators have done nothing. He said that he is doing everything in his power to achieve the release of the imprisoned villagers.

Khanlar Ismailov, acting chairman of the Union of Baku and Villages, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that if all of the villagers' demands are not met, responsibility would fall on the cleric. Ismailov said that once again Nardaran's inhabitants risk being deceived. He recalled that the villagers boycotted both the constitutional referendum and the municipal elections. He added that if the imprisoned villagers are not released, residents will similarly boycott the upcoming presidential election.

Telman Hagverdiev, deputy chairman of the pro-governmental Ana Vatan (Motherland) party, agreed that the people of Nardaran have been deceived, but not by the government, but by political forces that have drawn them into a confrontation. Hagverdiev said that Nardaran's villagers must now have patience. (Babek Bekir)

Intellectuals Complain Of Harassment Following Call For President's Resignation
One month after a group of prominent intellectuals called for the resignation of President Heidar Aliev, they have claimed that they have been the targets of harassment, and some have even been forced out of their jobs. Ilgar Altai, chairman of the protection committee for the Amal Intelligentsia Movement, told journalists on 21 May that after the 22 April statement calling on the president to resign, the 123 signatories are now pressured at work, and their children and close relatives have been dismissed from state institutions.

"The son and son-in-law of prominent poet Musa Yagub were dismissed on the same day," Altai said. "The Oil Academy is examining the activities of the signatories. Khalid Alimirzayev, the chairman of Amal, has been pressured at Baku State University where he works." Film director Sheikh Abdul Mahbudbeyov, a member of Amal, said in his speech that such intimidation tactics will not change the minds of the intellectuals. After the government began its pressure campaign, 32 more intellectuals have signed the document. And 52 more intellectuals have joined the movement.

Appeals to the leadership of local institutes of higher education adopted at the end of the meeting called the pressure a violation of the signatories' human rights. The committee also appealed to international donor organizations, asking them to take into consideration the human rights situation in institutes of higher education when they are evaluating the institutes' grant projects.

Altai also noted that if pressure against the movement's members continue, the committee will be forced to begin protests. But Bairam Huseinzade, head of the Education Ministry's public relations department, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that it is possible that some of the signatories could be dismissed for legitimate reasons and that these intellectuals are simply trying to deceive the public. (Natig Zeinalov and Babek Bekir)

Ganimet Zahidov, writing in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," points out that there is a dearth of information about the health of President Heidar Aliev. According to some sources, he is already in Nakhichevan. But according to other rumors, negotiations are underway to send Aliyev back to the Cleveland Clinic in the United States. What is known is that the president is unable to return to work. So who is ruling Azerbaijan? Zahidov writes that a serious confrontation within the ruling elite began around May 1999. The ruling elite is searching for various possibilities in the post-Aliyev period and there are a number of differences developing. It would be naive to think that the country is governed from any common center today when the president's health is critical. It is true, Zahidov writes, that the pro-government press says that the president is in a position to govern the country. But is anyone convinced by this misinformation? Under some suppositions, the country is now being ruled by the president's son, Ilham Aliev, since only he has permanent and consistent contact with the president. Zahidov thinks that the loss of Aliev's abilities to lead the country do not pose a significant threat to the public, because Aliev's regime itself is the greatest and constant source of danger for the people. What is dangerous for society, he adds, is the creation of a power vacuum.

The independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that Ali Hasanov, head of the public-political department within the presidential administration, said during a speech at Western University that the president's health is improving day by day. "During the day, all governmental officials connect with the president. The head of state is completely governing the country, but not from the presidential apparatus, but from the presidential residence. Those who assert the reverse are damaging Azerbaijani interests," he wrote.

The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" has argued that the water level in the Kur River is not going down. Elshad Memmedov writes that in the last two days, television channels reported that the level of the Kur is falling. In fact, governmental circles, which are used to lying to the people, newspapers, party leaders, and others, are now lying about the river, he writes. Memmedov cites some inhabitants of the Salyan and Neftchala districts as saying that a fall in the water level has not been observed. On the contrary, the water in the river has even risen further over the last two-three days. Memmedov points out that the misinformation serves to prevent the people from criticizing the state, which cannot cope with the flooding.

Writing in the pro-government newspaper "Azerbaycan," Rustam Garakhanli comments on the upcoming fall presidential elections. Garakhanli writes that these elections are an event of regional importance, since Azerbaijan has become a fully independent regional player.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" focuses on the Azerbaijani peacekeepers sent to Iraq. The paper writes that the delay in sending the peacekeepers, as well as the postponement of Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev's visit to the United States can be explained differently. Georgian and Ukrainian media had written that the reason for the delay of the visit was linked to financial issues. But on 21 May, Ramiz Melikov, head of the Defense Ministry's press service, said in an interview with the newspaper that the visit was postponed because of the unavailability of a document. He added, though, that he was unaware what document this was. The newspaper suggests that Azerbaijani peacekeepers will go to Iraq only after Abiev visits Washington.

The pro-government newspaper "Khalg" points out that the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline will be completed by the end of 2004. At the beginning of 2005, the first oil, extracted from the Azerbaijani field, will be transported through the pipeline; 25 million tons of crude oil is expected to be exported in the first year. That figure will rise to some 50 million tons in later years.

An author with the byline "Faig", writing in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi," notes that Azerbaijan, which has regained its independence from the Soviet empire, is again facing danger. Thanks to the opposition's mistakes, he writes, international organizations are trying to determine the country's domestic policy. What is interesting is that Azerbaijan is the only country in the South Caucasus where international institutions are trying to keep the election process under their control and exert pressure on the government to agree with the opposition's suggestions.

Nardar Bairamli, writing in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," points out that as the presidential elections are approaching, political parties are making their preparations. In particular, the opposition is directing all its efforts to this goal. It is interesting that, unlike the ruling party, opposition forces are struggling with each other. The Musavat party has taken the lead in this struggle. Isa Gambar, who according to the author sees himself as "the opposition's common candidate," has already started his pre-election campaign and begun negotiations with certain opposition parties. The Our Azerbaijan bloc is made up of parties that support Gambar. Importantly, the author writes, Gambar is succeeding in attracting the support of small parties. Other leading opposition parties, such as the People's Front (AXCP) and the National Independence (AMIP) parties are also supported by smaller parties. Thus, AXCP and AMIP are following in the footsteps of the Musavat chairman.

In an interview with the pro-government newspaper "525," Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist faction" within the AXCP, said, touching on the issue of improving the draft electoral code, that the government has retreated a little on this matter. The code, which the government is now going to adopt, differs, although not significantly, from the code that it wanted to adopt before. The opposition's interests have been taken into account in this code to a certain extent.

Sultan Lachin, writing in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," points out that local intellectuals are offered money to toe certain party lines. Intellectuals are also people, he writes -- they have personal, material, and physiological needs, families and children. But if an intellectual has assumed this title, he is obliged to preserve its holiness until the end. This is a tall order. But unfortunately, Lachin writes, there are those who use the "intellectual" tag to advance their own personal careers.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)