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Azerbaijan Report: June 10, 2003

10 June 2003
Opposition Leaders to Visit Washington
A U.S. democracy-building organization's recent invitation to three leading opposition members to visit Washington has prompted much speculation in the local press about the motivations for such a visit during the runup to the presidential elections.

Last week the National Democracy Institute invited the leaders of three leading opposition parties�Ali Kerimli of the Azerbaijan People�s Front Party, Isa Gambar of Musavat and Etibar Memmedov of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party to the United States. NDI's Azerbaijan representative David Sip stated that if the three leaders visited Washington simultaneously, the institution would be able to organize meetings with officials from the U.S. Administration and Congress.

The Azerbaijani press has construed the invitation as preparation for the presentation of a unified opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Center for Political Innovations and Technologies, a local think tank, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service one possible topic of discussion during the U.S. visit could be ways the opposition could participate in the ballot with a single opposition candidate. Ahmedoglu said that U.S. non-governmental organizations have recently advised the local opposition parties to prepare a concept paper of the country's development and how a participation with a common candidate would be achieved. But he predicted that the Washington meeting could also exacerbate problems within the opposition.

"Inviting only three parties could lead to jealousy and contradictions between opposition organizations," Ahmedoglu said. "On the other hand, relations among the invited parties aren't too smooth either. I do not think that discussions on a common candidate issue will be successful."

Ahmedoglu pointed out that at present the United States is uneasy about any political changes in Azerbaijan. President George Bush's administration has repeatedly expressed its goodwill toward Heydar Aliev.

"Looking at letters sent from Washington and U.S. diplomats' statements on Azerbaijan, it is possible to suggest that at present the U.S. administration maintains good relations with the Azerbaijani government," he said.

Independent political scientist Zardusht Alizade said that the invitation of all three opposition leaders to Washington does not mean that the United States endorses them. At present the U.S. doesn't feel a change of leadership is urgent, since Aliev's government creates no problems for Washington and satisfies the United States' economic interests.

"Aliyev has given Washington as much oil as it wanted, and he does not protest against U.S. military bases in Azerbaijan. I think that the United States takes everything it wants."

Alizade noted that the invitation is a common procedure corresponding to the United States' foreign policy. He said that promotion of democratic principles is a constituent part of U.S. foreign policy, directed at supporting its economic interests. Therefore, the intention of U.S. representatives, who want stability and democratic elections in Azerbaijan, to hold discussions with the three opposition parties cannot be considered as an expression of Washington's support for them.

"These leaders are known as protectors of Western interests in Azerbaijan. At the same time they are participants in the struggle for democratic elections. The meetings of U.S. representatives with them are fully natural," Alizade said.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Court Reduces Nardaran Villagers' Prison Terms
The Appeals Court has commuted the punishment of four villagers of Nardaran, who had been sentenced to prison. On 1 April, the Court for Serious Crimes passed sentences on 15 residents of Nardaran who were arrested following the clashes between the villagers and police on 3 June 2002. Two of them--Alikram Aliev, chairman of the Islamic Party and Jabrail Alizade, head of the Union of Baku and Villages civic organization--were found guilty of organizing a mass disturbance. The others were tried for their participation in the events and resisting police.

The court gave 11 villagers suspended sentences and released from the jail, while the remaining four were given prison terms. Aliyev was sentenced to nine years and Alizade to eight years imprisonment. The other two--Hikmet Veliev and Etibar Zakiev--each received five years in prison. According to the Appeals Court's ruling, the punishment of Zakiev and Veliev has been commuted to suspended sentences and they were released from prison. Aliev's nine years in prison was reduced to six, in consideration of his diabetes. Alizade's imprisonment term has not been changed.

Aliev's lawyer Fazil Memmedov told the court that his client was not in Nardaran when the clashes between the residents and police broke out. He said that authorities have detained both Aliyev and Alizade in order to give political overtones to the villagers' social demands.

After the trial, lawyer Aidin Nezerli expressed his intention to protect Alizade's rights till the end. He said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The families of Aliyev and Alizade are very unhappy at the court's ruling. Before the court hearing, Nardaran's residents demanded the release of all the imprisoned villagers. They did not rule out staging new protests if all four were not set free.

(Rovshan Gemberov)

Council of Europe Criticized Azerbaijan on Political Prisoners Issue
On 5 June the Council of Europe Legal and Human Rights Committee discussed the degree to which Azerbaijan has implemented its commitments regarding the situation of political prisoners. Georges Clerfayt, the committee's rapporteur for Azerbaijan, delivered a report on political prisoners in which he criticized Baku for failing to carry out its obligations regarding democratic reforms and release of political prisoners.

Moreover, the report charged Ilham Aliev, head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE and vice-president of the Parliamentary Assembly, with avoiding cooperation with the Assembly on the political prisoner issue.

"To my great surprise, Mr. Ilham Aliev, Chair of the Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation and Deputy President of the Assembly, repeated to us on 8 May 2003, in the presence of numerous other members of the delegation, who remained silent, that there were no political prisoners in Azerbaijan," the report said. "Statements of this sort are a challenge to the Assembly and to the Council of Europe. Such challenges represent a lack of loyalty and good faith with regard to our organization." Parliament deputy Semed Seidov, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, told local television stations that new figures have "appeared" in the Council of Europe, regarding the number of political prisoners in the country. He said that previously the Council of Europe had a list of some 200 political prisoners, but at the last meeting 72 people had been added to the list. Seidov interpreted this as pressure on Azerbaijan on the threshold of the presidential elections.The problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan is also on the discussion agenda for the PACE session on 26 June.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service, opposition parliament deputy Gulamhusein Alibeyli, another member of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, suggested that Azerbaijan could face strict repercussions because of its noncompliance. He suggested that Azerbaijan could be warned, its right to vote could be frozen or it could be expelled from the Council of Europe.

As for the Council of Europe's new list of political prisoners, Alibeyli said that although the number of political prisoners has diminished, thanks to various pardons and amnesty decrees, it perpetually returns to its original figure with new arrests. Chingiz Ganizade, a member of the Monitoring Group of Human Rights Organizations, pointed out that the list submitted by them to the Council of Europe, included 220 people. But according to the Human Rights Organizations Federation, which also provides the Council with a list of political prisoners, its final list would most likely include some 500 names.

(Natig Zeinalov)

An author writing only as Anar in the article "Heydar Aliev's versions�" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that today it is possible to predict who the opposition's presidential candidates will be. But it is not so clear who will be the candidate from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). Indeed, the governmental media claim that Heydar Aliyev will contest the ballot. The head of state himself has repeatedly said he will do so. But considering his health condition, Aliev's participation in the elections is unrealistic. On the other hand, even the Constitution does not allow him to contend at the next elections. Anar writes: "Probably, Aliyev will try to get his candidacy accepted and participate in the elections, regardless of the Constitution and laws. But it's no secret that Aliev's health does not allow this. He can't even make a speech before the public. On the other hand, although the head of state intends to be reelected, he will be met with protests not just by the political opposition, which is interested in building a democratic government, but also by the people, who live in destitution thanks to the incumbent government's policies of the last 10 years." The author notes that as the second variant, the head of state could try to bring his son Ilham Aliyev to power. But this tactic will not benefit the ruling clan because the population does not accept Ilham Aliyev as a politician.

An author writing only as Turgut in the article "The Alievs' election tactics�" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that in the published version of the newly approved election code there is an article that allows for the declaration of extraordinary elections during the presidential election campaign by interrupting the campaign, should the head of state be unable fulfill his duties for any reason. Turgut writes that in this way the government's ideologists have insured themselves against any unwanted events during the election campaign. Therefore they have decided on Heydar Aliev's candidacy with certainty. The chief issue here the internal decision made by the president. It seems that Aliyev intends to participate in the election marathon by relying on the mentioned article in the code. If something goes wrong before October, then Aliev's team will have three months to nominate its new candidate.

Sirus Tebrizli, chairman of the parliamentary standing commission on human rights, links the recent statements on the president's resignation made by a group of people who call themselves intelligentsia, as well as their participation in opposition protests, to unsolved problems in society. In an interview with the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" Tebrizli said that although the term "intelligentsia" has no concrete definition, this word has generally accepted social and ideological criterion. But a group of people who have turned the name of intelligentsia into a hostage of political adventurer, does not meet these criteria. Every graduate cannot be considered an intellectual. But persons whose name, scientific activities or activities as an intellectual is not known to the public are speak on the people's behalf and make decisions instead of the nation.

An author writing only as Mirzabeili, writing in the government newspaper "Khalg," notes that "not only now--on the threshold of the 2003 presidential elections--but generally always since the beginning of the opposition movement there has been no party or person that keeps the national interests above personal ones. If there were such people who wanted to serve the nation, promote the development of the statehood, immortalize the country's independence or to increase national and moral values, then the opposition would not have cooperated with unfriendly outside organizations, politicians or persons, who are known on the international arena as adventurers." Mirzabeili then cites Zardusht Alizade as saying that "There is no person in the opposition who would be able to keep national interests above personal ones," adding that the current situation proves that "an opposition that does not constitute a serious political force" would win, at best, one percent in the upcoming presidential ballot.

Ahmed Oruj, writing in the pro-government newspaper "525," points out that today Washington's attitude toward those who want to come to power is as important and significant, as Moscow's opinion in the past. Of course, Washington's and Moscow's view on the country differs radically, but local politicians' views do not. Old communists and members of the Komsomol, who hoped for Brezhnev's paternal care, today ingratiate themselves with U.S. President George Bush. Yesterday they accused each other of "bourgeois ideologies" in order to discredit opponents in Moscow's eyes. But today the same people try to curry the West's favor by charging each other with being pro-Russian and pro-Iranian.

The independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" ran an interview with Etibar Memmedov, chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party. Asked "How can foreign forces' interests be insured at the presidential elections?" Memmedov said that national interests are above all. The interests of the nation and its citizens are more significant. "We are proceeding from this. Naturally, Azerbaijan does not live in isolation. It is inside the world." Memmedov noted that the Election Code does not meet modern standards and the commitments undertaken before the Council of Europe. "The OSCE Baku Office has stated that election commissions must not be under the control of any political force. The second condition is that political parties outside the parliament must also be represented in election commissions. This condition has been insured by halves. But in general the commissions continue to be under the one party's supervision. Six out of the 15-member Central Election Commission are the ruling party's members, three independent commission members are also the protectors of the ruling party's interests."

An author writing only as Elbrus in the article "Support for entrepreneurs from Arab banks" in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" notes that the government not only renders financial aid to promote the development of small and medium entrepreneurship in the country, but it also intends to solve problems in this sphere thanks to outside financial sources. The Cabinet of Ministers and the Economic Development Ministry have begun negotiations with Arab funds for crediting priority projects. The Islamic Development Bank, Abu-Dhabi Fund and OPEC Fund plan to provide financial support to the country's entrepreneurs as chief donors.

As a result of the rising of water in Kur and Araz rivers, some riverside districts face the possibility of flooding. According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sherifov, head of the State Emergency Commission, stated that the recent flooding has caused $60 million in damage.

An author writing only as Javanshir in the article "Clashes have begun in South Azerbaijan" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that preparation on a global scale for the regime change in Iran has stirred up the national independence movement in South Azerbaijan. The struggle in South Azerbaijan has already caused serious inconvenience for Tehran. Specially as the anniversary of Babek (an Azeri national hero) approaches, attacks from the Iranian clergy on the national movement have begun to increase.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)