1 July 2003
PACE Gives Baku Two Months to Resolve Political Prisoner Issue
On 26 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) postponed the adoption of a draft resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan and gave Baku until September to demonstrate its willingness to resolve the problem or face another debate and possible sanctions. In an interview with media representatives, Ilham Aliev, head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, estimated the Council of Europe's decision as a success for his delegation.But Secretary General Walter Schwimmer said that the council had given Azerbaijan one more chance on the political prisoner issue.
According to human rights activist Leila Yunus, head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, in general Azerbaijani officials have disseminated selective and misleading information. The real truth is that they have been defeated in a very influential institution in the pre-election period. First of all, it should pointed out that despite the delegation's efforts, George Clerfayt's report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan was not amended.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service, Yunus said that the debate was postponed at Clerfayt's own initiative. Yunus considered this as the last warning, suggesting that if political prisoners are not released and ex-speaker Rasul Guliev and former president Ayaz Mutallibov are not allowed to return to Azerbaijan in the next two months, the country's delegation will be suspended from voting in the Assembly.
Yunus recalled that 212 of the 716 persons on the list presented to the Council of Europe are still in prison. Moreover, after Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe, 56 names were added. The government's refusal to acknowledge the political problem is "laughable," Yunus said, since it confirms the existence of this problem by its obligations before the Council of Europe.
Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Center for Political Innovations and Technologies, agreed with Yunus, saying that Azerbaijan's government complicated the situation when it told the Council it would resolve the political prisoner issue. And now Baku is forced either to release the prisoners named on the list, or at least reconsider their cases. If the Council of Europe's recent recommendations are not met, sanctions will be inevitable. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani delegation's activities should not be forgotten. The two-month delay before possible sanctions is, indeed, a success for the delegation. Had it taken a passive stance, forces interested in exerting pressure on Azerbaijan would have been assured of a complete victory.
(Babek Bekir)Police Stop ADP Protest in Town Center
On 29 June the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP) tried to hold an unsanctioned protest in front of the Narimanov Cinema to demand that equal conditions be created for all presidential candidates, and the party's chairman, Rasul Guliev, be allowed to return to contest the presidential elections scheduled for 15 October. Guliev, a former parliament speaker, currently lives in the United States and is wanted in Baku on embezzlement charges. Police blocked protesters, who attempted to reach the cinema, forcing them to turn back and disperse. But some time later a group of protesters clashed with police about 300-400 meters away from the cinema.
A police lieutenant-colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that this could not be called a "protest." "This is simply hooliganism [on the part] of several people," he said. ADP press secretary Shahin Nejefov reported that the police detained 16 of its members, of whom nine were later released.
(Rovshen Ganbarov)AXCP Complains of Intimidation Tactics
The June 26 arrest of the cousin of the head of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) is another attempt to pressure the party in the runup to the presidential elections, said representatives from the party's committee for the protection of arrested members. The arrests of Ingilab Kerimov, the cousin of party chairman Ali Kerimli, and of other party activists can be linked to Kerimli's activities and his participation in the election campaign, said AXCP press secretary Isaq Evezoglu. He noted that three other members--Rafig Dashdemirov, Etibar Guliev and AXCP deputy chairman Rafig Tagiev--were detained earlier although they had not violated any law. Evezoglu noted that Kerimov is charged with tearing down posters displayed in various places of Baku in connection with the presidential elections, and with instigating others to do the same.
The committee's members, who have appealed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), noted that the names of the arrested AXCP activists have been included in the list prepared by rapporteur George Clerfayt of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Moreover, the party's activists have decided to begin protesting to demand the release of their members.
Newspapers comment on the nomination for president by a group of voters in the Nakhichevan State Dramatic Theater of Ilham Aliev, the president's son. Pashaev in the article "Playing at candidates" in the independent newspaper �Yeni Zaman" writes that there are a number of possible reasons for the move. First of all this could have been done to end fighting within the government. It is well known that the government's sole candidate is Heydar Aliev. But problems with the president's health, in other words the possibility of his non-participation in the upcoming elections, also could have prompted the nomination. YAP couldn't nominate Ilham Aliyev while the president is able to function. On the other hand, President Aliyev thinks of preserving his team by announcing his candidacy. The head of state knows well that various groups within the government would put an end to his family's power by nominating their own candidates. It is no secret that not all members of the top leadership support Ilham Aliev. But the continuation of power is most important for the family. Therefore President Aliyev wants to keep the command in his hands, on the one hand, and to bequeath the presidential post to his son, on the other. Pashaev notes that it is possible that by nominating both Heydar and Ilham Aliyev for the elections, the government tries to portray itself to international public opinion as democratic. Of course, in the government's view, international organizations would accept the nomination of two candidates from the one family as a real democracy. But it forgets that democracy is measured by not nominating two candidates from the one family, but by holding unrigged, free and fair elections.
Zohrab Ismail in an article entitled "An official sign of the end of the Heydar Aliyev era" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that "the participation of the president's son in the election marathon can primarily be considered as an official sign that President Aliev's era has reached its end. It is also known that Aliyev is unable to campaign in his current health condition." The author notes that promoting Ilham Aliev's presidential ambitions while the president is still alive has an essential political value. But the participation in the election marathon of two candidates from the present leadership does not bode well for the ruling circle. In other words, the government has adopted this tactic out of despair. On the other hand, the nomination of Ilham Aliyev could create confusion within the ruling team. Some groups consider this nomination as a refusal by the president to continue his activities. But this means new problems are rising from new interests.
Newspapers also continue discussing the outcome of the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as PACE rapporteur Andreas Gross's upcoming visit to Baku. In the article "Andreas Gross is coming to us" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," Rashidoglu points out that PACE rapporteur on Azerbaijan Andreas Gross is coming to Baku on 15 July. This time the Azerbaijani government will receive him as its "worst enemy." Everybody has seen that each of his visits to Baku is accompanied by attacks and criticism of the government. Rashidoglu recalls that Gross did not touch on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during his speech at the PACE summer session. The author acknowledges that the rapporteur's opinion is indeed not completely clear. Gross either bases his opinion toward Baku wrongly or prepares his reports irresponsibly. The government accuses him of pro-Armenian bias. But it is not expedient to accuse him simply of this. The author thinks that replacing Gross by other rapporteurs is not of fundamental importance, since irrespective of who is rapporteur, the government is forced to work and cooperate with him. Instead, it would be better if the government meets its obligations before the Council of Europe. Rashidoglu points out that during Gross's last visit, President Aliyev criticized him, adding that "he does not want to acknowledge Gross." Opposition representatives, for their part, oppose all these charges. But for all that, it can be said nothing will change. In other words, the government will give Gross a hostile reception, while the opposition will support him.
Aziz in the article "The opposition tries to distort what it sees and hears" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" analyses the outcome of the recent PACE session, noting that Ilham Aliev's successes at the session have given the opposition a shock. Aziz writes that opposition leaders, who are ambitious to govern the country, "wanted to bring the activities of our delegation to PACE to nothing by trying to form a negative image about our country."
Newspapers gave wide coverage to the recent political processes in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Gunduz in an article entitled "What should Azerbaijan's attitude be toward the developments in Iran?" in the pro-government newspaper "525" writes that some insist that the Iranian regime is collapsing. Therefore Azerbaijan must be prepared for this process. First of all, it must not remain indifferent to the fate of our compatriots to the south. But others claim that processes taking place in Iran are linked with the United States.In other words, Washington is trying to use various people, including Azeris living in Iran, to achieve its goals vis-a-vis Tehran. The other point at issue is connected with Baku's attitude toward these processes. Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev stated that, unlike Iraq, Iran has legitimate state institutions elected by the people. Therefore the situation that arose with Iraq cannot be repeated in Iran. The author asked political scientists' opinions on the matter. Hikmet Hajizade noted that under international legal norms, Azerbaijan cannot interfere in Iran's internal affairs. But Baku could express its attitude toward human rights violations in Iran. But Eldar Namazov points out that "Iran is our neighbor where millions of our compatriots live. The escalation of the situation within Iran would exert a negative influence on Azerbaijan. Therefore, Baku must adhere to the opinion that the development of weapons of mass destruction in this country must be ceased, and all problems should be solved by a democratic way."
In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," political scientist Aslan Khalid, head of the South Azerbaijan Initiative Group, said that foreign states attempt to establish a society based on democratic values. If a democratic government is created in a country named Iran, then the majority's position will be considered, which means that Turks will have a chance to be represented in the parliament and the Turkic language will obtain official status. Khalid claimed that Iran's official press falsifies the Iranian Turks' history. He also noted that the designation of Iran as a terrorist state by the United States is a correct position.
Ilgar in the article "Armenians fear that they could be forced to vacate Fuzuli and Gubadli" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" points out that there is adequate information that the United States intends to continue its anti-terror operation in Iran following Iraq. But if Tehran was disturbed about Washington's policy in the region in the context of the Iranian regime's security, Yerevan was afraid of a possible unwanted effect of this process on the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, forcing Armenia to release the occupied Azerbaijani lands. Such a concern is valid, of course, since this process first of all serves not the two Caucasus countries' interests, but also those of the United States. This means that neither the Armenian lobby in the United States nor pro-Armenian countries in Europe are able to affect the events taking place in the region. Ilgar writes that although pro-governmental media in Armenia prefer to ignore this issue, the opposition press, especially the newspaper "Aravot," does not hesitate to draw the Armenian public's attention to the existing situation. This newspaper writes: "According to information from the United States, NATO forces, which are to be transferred to Azerbaijan, are planned to be stationed in this Nakhichevan, Gubadli and Fuzuli regions." Ilgar also emphasizes that anti-terror operations throughout the world and Baku's stance in this issue, as well as a correct evaluation of the situation surrounding Iraq by the president has resulted in forming a favorable climate. Armenians themselves realize that should the process develop further in this direction, Armenia would be forced to free Fuzuli, Gubadli and other adjoining districts and derive no benefit.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)