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Azerbaijan Report: March 12, 2002

12 March 2002
OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Visited Azerbaijan
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs Rudolf Perina (U.S.), Nikolai Gribkov (Russia) and Philippe de Suremain (France) visited Azerbaijan on 8 March. The same day, the co-chairs held a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baku. The French co-chair said that their impressions of the visit are positive and that even the meeting with refugees was fruitful because they got acquainted with the living conditions of those people and their opinions. He said they met on 8 March with the foreign minister and president of Azerbaijan.

U.S. co-chair Rudolf Perina said he was highly impressed by his meeting with refugees, which he said contributed to the co-chairs' understanding of the problems the conflict has created for people. Perina told reporters that one of the refugee women told them they do not want a new war but a peaceful settlement of the problem. Perina said Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev said he is satisfied with their efforts to resolve the problem. Perina stressed, however, that the Minsk Group co-chairs are not the decision takers and they can only make proposals. Perina added that they have conveyed new ideas and proposals to President Aliyev and Foreign Minister Guliyev. The discussion of those proposals was very fruitful and the president expressed his opinion. Perina said the co-chairs will convey these proposals to the Armenian president as well.

The Russian co-chair told the journalists that he highly evaluated the meeting with the Azerbaijani president from whose wise opinions he said they learn much. The Russian co-chair expressed satisfaction with Aliyev's positive evaluation of the Minsk Group's activities. He called on media representatives to be meticulous in their coverage of that point because media outlets play a key role in the formation of public opinion. He recalled earlier unpleasant press articles about the Minsk Group.

The co-chairs avoided disclosing details of the new proposals, saying they are not authorized to do so and that it would be more expedient if the presidents disclosed them themselves. They also said statements attributed to them in the foreign press about Azerbaijan's territorial integrity were simply distorted by the media outlets in question.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

What Do Azerbaijani Politicians Think Of The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report?
Chingiz Ganizadeh, Head of the Committee for Democracy and Human Rights, thinks that not all the statements in the report reflect the truth with regard to Azerbaijan. He said the report was prepared on the basis of materials gathered by Azerbaijan's legal defence organisations and the U.S. Embassy. Ganizadeh thinks that the report's emphasis on bribery and corruption, irregularities in force bodies, police violence, the falsification of elections and their being not in compliance with world standards reflect the true situation in Azerbaijan. Ganizadeh regrets that each report includes new facts about Azerbaijan instead of reflecting a decline in negative phenomena.

Ganizadeh also singles out claims in the report with which he disagrees, including the claim, which he says is not true, that the rights of ethnic minorities are violated in Azerbaijan. He also took issue with the statement that some 16 percent of Azerbaijan's territory is occupied, saying the true figure is over 20 percent.

Ganizadeh does not believe that the Azerbaijani government will take positive steps after this report because the opinions expressed in the report are the result of the government's policy.

Azerbaijan National Independence Party deputy chairman Ilgar Mammadov says that the report reflects the true situation in Azerbaijan and describes the political situation in the country very objectively.

Musavat Party Deputy Head Arif Hajiyev and Journalists' Trades Union Chairman Azer Hesret also think that the report accurately describes the situation in Azerbaijan.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Can Iran Launch Exploration Work In The Caspian Unilaterally?
Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh recently stated that his country will begin drilling work in the Caspian at the end of March. He also stated that Iran will not allow any country to work in its 20 percent sector of the Caspian, which observers interpret as a claim by Iran on the Araz-Alov-Sharg fields. Iran has suggested dividing the Caspian into five equal sectors with 20 percent each but Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan do not agree with that proposal. On 21 July last year, an Iranian warship illegally entered Azerbaijan's territorial waters.

The head of the Political Innovation and Technologies Center, Mubariz Ahmadoglu, says that Iran is not capable of conducting technical, drilling or exploration work in the Caspian. He predicted that Iran will not make a scandal and its only wish is that the Caspian should belong to Russia and Iran only. But Russia tries to persuade Iran to agree with the other littoral states. In the event that Iran aggravates its position in the Caspian, the other littoral states can also harden their position.

Caucasian Studies Center head Khaleddin Ibrahimli also thinks that Iran cannot begin drilling operations in the Caspian because the status of the sea has not been determined. As for the Iranian Oil Minister's statement, Ibrahimli says that Iran wants to aggravate the situation in the Caspian basin and the Caucasus. According to him, Iran is concerned about the U.S. strengthening its position in the Southern Caucasus and Iran will continue taking such steps until the Caspian status is legally resolved.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

British Bank Ceases Operations In Azerbaijan
The British Bank officials held a press conference in Baku on 7 March to declare that the bank has stopped its activity in Azerbaijan because conditions for the banking sector are unfavourable. According to recent estimates, the British Bank has deposits from local residents worth $50 billion. Experts say the British Bank is the second after the International Bank in terms of the amount of deposits, and ranks first among foreign banks. During its activity, the bank allotted credits amounting to $30 million. According to bank officials, they have invested some $13 million in Azerbaijan, but its activities did not prove profitable. This information was been included in the bank's 2000 report. Information about the figures for 2001 will be disclosed this April. The bank officials said the bank will return its debts to the people within months. The British Bank is also determined to get back every cent of its credits.

The above facts were taken from the official information about British Bank's ending its operations. Then questions arise. Why does the bank state quite contradictory things while the oil business is developing in Azerbaijan? If there were not favourable conditions in Azerbaijan, then why did the British Bank made so many investments in the republic? It becomes clear that British Bank stopped its activity in Azerbaijan as it went bankrupt. Economist Vusal Gasimov in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service confirmed this. According to Gasimov, this bank works in Armenia as well and the situation in that country is no better than in Azerbaijan. Gasimov says that the state of the banking sector in Azerbaijan is more highly developed than in other CIS states. As for the British Bank's attitude to Azerbaijan, Gasimov says that even though this bank gathered more deposits in comparison with other banks, it has not paid profit taxes and if its activity is studied, numerous instances in which it concealed profits will come to light.

According to unofficial information, the reason for the British Bank's stopping its activity in Azerbaijan was that $50 million worth of deposits belonging to various officials were withdrawn from Azerbaijan within two-three months. According to rumors, the simultaneous outflow of capital made the bank bankrupt.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

The visit to Azerbaijan of the acting chair of the OSCE and the Foreign Minister of Portugal Jaime Gama and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs is the leading topic in today's newspapers.

Kamran Hasanli in newspaper "525" notes contradictions in Gama's remarks. Hasanli argues that the OSCE mediation has produced no results because the OSCE does not regard objectively the reasons for appearance and results of the conflict and because it treats equally the aggressor and the party exposed to aggression. He writes that Gama has again expressed his opinions about the Paris and Key West principles. Up to now, Armenia has tried to prove that these "principles" exist but the Azerbaijani side has denied them. The author concludes that the activity of an organisation whose chairman does not dare to specify that Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan will only give rise to negative emotions.

Garakhanli in the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" refers to the Iranian-Armenian military cooperation noting that today, Iran is Armenia's only access to the outside world. He thinks that Iranian-Armenian military cooperation is directed against Azerbaijan and Turkey. Thus, our friend Iran, "wishing to establish stability in the region," and our enemy Armenia direct their cooperation against Azerbaijan and Turkey. In response to the question "Why does Washington keep silent?" the author terms very surprising Washington's keeping silent at Armenia's establishing cooperation with Iran, which the U.S. has called "the axis of evil." He concludes that Armenia has launched direct military cooperation with Iran and has thus made clear its anti-Western policy.

Acting OSCE chair Jaime Gaima has stated that the talks will continue on the basis of the Paris and Key West principles. Azad in an article entitled "What does the OSCE chairman hint at?" carried by the newspaper "Hurriyyet" comments that these standpoints can be introduced into the agenda as Azerbaijan's granting Nagorno Karabakh the status of a state within a confederation on the basis of Paris principles. Secondly, the territorial exchange, that is an exchange of territories on the basis of joining the Paris and Key West principles and exchange of Mehri and Lachin corridors can become relevant again. He says that although an exchange of territories did not seem realistic in the past, today the possibility of such an exchange has increased.

The newspaper "Ekho" has studied the opinions of political party leaders regarding the OSCE chairman's visit to Azerbaijan and his remarks. ADP Secretary General Serdar Jelaloglu does not consider the meetings of the OSCE chairman serious. Adalat party chairman Ilyas Ismailov says that the OSCE's concern about Azerbaijan's problems is good on the one hand, but on the other hand, it seems that the OSCE cannot do anything concrete and time is working in the Armenians' favor.

The majority of newspapers carry information about the press conference held by Charles Mayson, the British Bank Executive Director for the Near East. The press conference was devoted to the suspension of operations by the bank's Baku branch. The newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that experts have not yet commented in depth on this development, but most of them still think that the reason for the suspension of the bank is the absence of favourable conditions for the development of foreign business in Azerbaijan.

Khalid Kazimli in newspaper "Yeni Musavat" refers to the reasons for the suspension of the activity of the British Bank Baku branch and tries to clarify why foreign companies are leaving Azerbaijan. He writes that foreigners arrived in Azerbaijan to obtain major profits, bringing great projects and millions of investments with them. They established companies and firms and opened offices. According to the author, they pursued major discrimination, preferred foreign personnel to local citizens, gave lower salaries to the latter. But they provided many people with jobs. At first their activity progressed well, then their businesses began to collapse. It became known that Azerbaijan is a corrupt country and there is no state structure free from official bribery.

Musavat party member Arif Hajiyev in an interview with the newspaper "Zerkalo" referred to the protest action scheduled for 23 March. He said that the Musavat party and the Democratic Congress are fighting for legal elections in Azerbaijan, but Ali Kerimli, chairman of the reformers' wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and Etibar Mammadov, head of the Azerbaijan National Liberation Party are hindering them.

Hikmet Sabiroglu in the newspaper "Azadlig" comments on Azerbaijani foreign minister Vilayat Guliev's statement that "the contours of another tragedy are becoming clear." Vilayat Guliyev has drawn this conclusion in the third year in that job. The author thinks that such a high ranking official is only now understanding the fact that OSCE calls on Azerbaijan to capitulate and make peace with the loss of its territory. He notes ironically that the budget money expended on the visits resulted in the foreign minister's seeing the contours of the tragedy.

Fikret Sadikhov in the newspaper "Ekho" refers to Iranian-U.S. ties as well as those between Iran and Azerbaijan. He points out that diplomats have achieved a certain warming in Iranian-Azerbaijani relations. Iran is preparing for the Azerbaijani president's visit. But Iran frequently changes its position regarding the Caspian status, establishes warm relations with Armenia, hinders the opening of an Azerbaijani consulate in Tebriz and creates obstacles for the arrival of Western investors in the Caspian.

Azerbaijan Democrat Party member Nureddin Mammadli in an interview with the newspaper "525" refers to the reasons why the opposition cannot unite, noting that relevant discussions have been held for a long time. Even intellectuals tried to achieve the integration of the opposition. According to Mammadli, those who have obtained and want to obtain a share in the government cannot demand its resignation. Mammadli noted that the government has organised a meeting of the reformist wing of the APFP. Therefore he considers those forces to be in real opposition. Mammadli notes that Azerbaijan National Independence Party and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party belong neither to the opposition nor the Azerbaijani people.

Ismailova in the newspaper "Azerbaijan" refers to the urgent need for stability in the government. The past years have shown that the opposition also makes use of this stability. The more pragmatic politicians are engaged in their own work: they are confident that they will be in the government in 2013 if not in 2008. According to the author, the main precondition for a stable government in Azerbaijan is the establishment of an independent, legal and democratic state in compliance with world standards.

Sabina Avazgizi from the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" tries to clarify why the legal proceedings connected with the death of the late academician Faramaz Magsudov's wife and daughter have not identified the murderer. According to the author, nobody defends the rights of the defendant. There is nobody to be accused. The author concludes that the lack of novelty in the crime, which is under the president's control, proves that the criminal is being protected by a high-ranking official. Otherwise, a crime that was committed ten months ago would have been solvled.

Mirgadirov in an article entitled "Heydar Aliyev is in a hurry" carried by the newspaper "Zerkalo" comments on the OSCE co-chairs' visit to the region and the two sides' approach to their new ideas. The Russian co-chair stated that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents view the new ideas constructively. He said President Aliyev discussed the new ideas with the co-chairs alone, without witnesses. That is, nobody in Azerbaijan except for Aliyev knows the essence of the new ideas. The author concludes that the Azerbaijani side is interested in resolving the conflict this year and that the president is trying to elevate his rating by doing so. The presidential elections are also approaching.

Mammadli in a commentary "The danger of losing Karabakh" carried by the newspaper "Tezadlar" notes that Karabakh is really facing a serious danger. The point has been reached where it is necessary to evaluate the OSCE position in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and its official delegation's visit to Baku. According to the author, when the president of the country rebukes the OSCE official who has to bring peace to his country and Azerbaijan's foreign minister says "The contours of another tragedy are seen," there is no need for further comment.

The newspaper "Zerkalo" carries an article about the Azerbaijani army's getting closer to NATO standards.

Opposition parties continue accusing each other in press. According to the newspaper "Zerkalo", there are rumours that the protest action the opposition plans for near future is organised by the government.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)