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Azerbaijan Report: April 12, 2002


12 April 2002
NEWS BRIEFS
Iran's Foreign Minister Visits Azerbaijan
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kherrazi paid an official visit to Baku on 11 April. He told journalists that he would focus attention on four issues in meetings with Azerbaijani officials. The first issue is "the rapid development of events in the region," which he said was the reason his visit was taking place a week earlier than planned. He also said the two sides would discuss energy issues and the status of the Caspian Sea. The last topic is developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East. According to him, these developments affect both interstate and intrastate issues.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said that Iran's position on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was fair. Iran recognizes Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and defends its rights in the UN.

Guliev said the visit of his Iranian counterpart would have a positive impact on relationships between the two countries. He thinks that Iran must participate actively in resolving the Karabakh conflict. According to the minister, the conflict poses a threat not only to the security of Azerbaijan, but to the whole region.

Iran's foreign minister also met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. The president stated at the meeting that Iranian-Azerbaijani ties should not be compared with Iranian-Armenian ties, because Iran and Azerbaijan have great history joining the two peoples and countries, as well as a common religion. President Aliyev said in the meeting that he would visit Iran in the near future. (Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Caspian Summit To Be Held In Ashgabat
A summit of the heads of state of Caspian littoral countries will be held on 23-24 April in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The summit will be devoted to discussing plans to resolve the Caspian's legal status. Azerbaijan, Russia, and Kazakhstan are in favor of dividing the Caspian's resources based on coastline, while Iran wants all five states to split resources evenly. Turkmenistan's position is somewhat unclear.

Experts disagree about how much can be achieved at the summit. According to some analysts, the summit is a purely formal exercise designed only to ease the tension over the Caspian. But some experts are optimistic, saying significant changes will take place in Iran's position. Azerbaijani officials also say that the summit will lead to substantial changes. Political scientist Zardusht Alizade says that usually the heads of state do not meet until the sides have already reached a decisive agreement. Therefore he supposes that the sides have reached an agreement.

According to Mubariz Ahmadoglu, head of the independent Political Innovation and Technologies Center, such meetings must certainly produce results. He says the mere fact that the meeting has been arranged is itself an accomplishment, and that therefore it is not right to regard the Ashgabat summit as a meeting with no results. As for practical results, Turkmenistan is one of the countries impeding the final determination of the Caspian's status, he said, adding that holding the summit in Ashgabat will pay a political dividend for the host country. Ahmadolgu says Turkmenistan will try to obtain significant results at the summit. He assumes that the position of the remaining four littoral states will get closer in the future. According to Ahmadoglu, a means of pressure on Iran will be found and Tehran will be obliged to change its position. As for the tension over the Caspian legal status, Ahmadoglu says it has already been eliminated.

Unlike Ahmadoglu, Caucasian Studies Center head Khaleddin Ibrahimli says that the summit is primarily a formal exercise, but that such meetings can contribute to a rapprochement. Ibrahimli does not believe that the conflicts will be settled in the near future because the littoral states have major differences resulting from geopolitical confrontations. The expert says there are unclear elements in Azerbaijan's position which should be clarified. (Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Azerbaijani Oil Workers Hit By Tuberculosis
Since early this year, 51 cases of tuberculosis have been discovered among employees of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), according to a statement from SOCAR President Natig Aliev. But the Committee for the Protection of Oil Workers' Rights disputes the official figures, saying that the United Hospital for Oil Explorers has identified 189 oil workers with tuberculosis, one of whom has died. Committee co-chair Mirvari Gahramanli said that their committee was the first to spread information about tuberculosis at SOCAR. Gahramanli claims that the information was first denied but later confirmed by SOCAR's leadership. Interestingly, SOCAR First Vice President Ilham Aliyev said he had no information about the outbreak.

Gahramanli said the 51 patients named by Natig Aliyev are showing the worst signs of tuberculosis. Gahramanli says the rise of tuberculosis among oil workers is due to the infrequency of medical examinations, the lack of proper medical care for them, and their lack of essential, quality food. Gahramanli claims that the oil workers also lack drinkable water and were obliged to drink sea water for one day. She also alleges that the tanks in which drinking water is brought to oil workers are in poor condition and that drinking the water they contain can cause a number of problems.

Gahramanli says that when an oil worker gets ill it is complicated for him to get medical treatment. Treatment in the United Hospital for Oil Explorers is free for oil workers but must be paid for by others. Therefore, the hospital prefers to treat citizens other than oil workers, even though SOCAR pays the hospital to treat oil workers. She said oil workers have to wait in hospital corridors because they have no money.

Gahramanli also referred to the small amount of funds allotted for oil workers' daily meals and salaries. She recalled a visit to Statoil's platforms in the North Sea two years ago, stressing the incomparable differences between them in terms of material support, food, clothes, and working environments.

Gahramanli says there must be an improvement in the oil workers' social conditions. She also suggests that people who got rich at the expense of these workers' labor should think of them and do something to ease their conditions. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

Ecological Problems Persist In Azerbaijan
Nobody in Azerbaijan is concerned about ecological problems, according to Kamran Mahmudov, head of the non-governmental Ecological Studies Center. Speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service after a press conference devoted to these problems, Mahmudov said that there is no refinery for domestic waste in Azerbaijan, so it is burned as a rule. The burning emits some 70 toxic substances, the most dangerous of which is dioxin. Dioxin is a known source of cancer.

Mahmudov also said that the discharge of sewage into the Caspian continues. At present, there are only four water-purifying facilities in Baku. Only one of them works, he said, and it is outdated.

Mahmudov says that one of the main ways to resolve ecological problems is ecological education, which he says does not exist in Azerbaijan. Without education, he says, even if environmental work is done it will have no practical results. (Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

PRESS REVIEW
The newspaper "525" says that the Council of Europe has increased efforts to regulate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

M. Huseinov begins an article titled "Kherrazi's Unexpected Visit" in the newspaper "Zerkalo" with brief information about the visit. Then he comments on a number of dark moments during the visit. According to the author, the Caspian status issue occupies one of the key places in bilateral relations, but the Iranian side shows no progress in the issue. As for Iran's position on the Karabakh conflict, the author says that Tehran has tried to join the Minsk Group and has pushed for a Russian-Azerbaijani agreement like the one between Russia and Armenia. The author says that many people think much depends on President Aliev's upcoming visit to Iran for normalization of ties between the two countries. Both sides claim that the official documents to be signed when he visits have been agreed on, though the trip still has not taken place.

Ferhad Mammadov writes in the article "Iran's Foreign Minister in Baku," published by the newspaper "Azadlyg," that Kherrazi's unexpected visit to Baku took place on the eve of the Caspian summit to be held in Ashgabat and coincided with a period of increasing Western military-political interest in the South Caucasus. According to the author, Kherrazi was probably referring to increased U.S. activity when he said "rapid development of events in the region." The author argues that Tehran is against any interference of the West in regional processes and thinks that regional countries (Russia, Iran, Turkey) must directly ensure security in the South Caucasus. The U.S. has declared Iran to be part of an "axis of evil" and said that they will not passively observe Iran's efforts to exert pressure on Azerbaijan.

The newspaper "Ekho" also carries an article about the Caspian. The author of the article "50 Percent of the Caspian Belongs to Iran" says that when the Caspian's legal status was discussed in the Iranian parliament, parliament member Kazem Jelali declared that his country will struggle for 50 percent of the Caspian. He also stressed that the remaining 50 percent must be distributed among the other four littoral states. The author, who signs himself only as Bagirov, stresses that while discussions are being held in the Iranian parliament Foreign Minister Kherarzi is holding talks with the Caspian littoral states.

The local press continues carrying articles about Azerbaijani parliament chairman Murtuz Alasgarov. Kamal, in a commentary headlined "The Loneliest Person" carried by the newspaper "Hurriyyet," writes that assaults on the speaker have intensified recently. His fellow party members have attacked him over his personal life, as he is accused not only for his political activity but also his morality. According to the author, the speaker faces pressure from by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party's parliament members, the government, and the opposition. The author claims that the pressure is only slightly connected with the younger generation he belongs to, his personal activity, and his personality. Even though Alasgarov is distinguished by his strict radicalism against the opposition, he is less active in corruption, tribalism, and plundering. The author then poses a question: How can the assaults on him be explained? He answers the question himself: The speaker receives the blows due to the post he is in.

Ankara has launched an initiative to hold a trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. Political scientist Zardusht Alizadeh, in an interview with the newspaper "525," comments on this issue. According to the political scientist, Turkey is not Armenia's enemy. If the two countries have not established normal ties so far, it is because Armenia has occupied Azerbaijan and this policy is contrary to Turkey's interests as well as Azerbaijan's. Turkey is interested in a fair solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and establishment of normal ties with Armenia, because Turkey is concerned about the existence of Russian forces in Armenia.

Aziz, in the government newspaper "Khalg," writes that there is concern in the opposition camp due to divisions within the movement. According to the author, in addition to major splits, there are minor ones and interorganizational contradictions in the opposition camp. Despite that, four or five parties behave as if there is a great force behind them. The author claims that Musavat, the Azerbaijan Democrat Party, the Azerbaijan National Liberation Party, and other parties cannot have influence on the opposition.

Aligismet Badalov, in the article "In Search of a New Bloc" carried by the government newspaper "Azerbaijan," says that Musavat party members led by Isa Gambar, the party chairman, have begun searching for a new bloc to join Musavat. A new bloc could help them by obtaining grants from foreign supporters. The same author in another article, "Musavat is Split," claims that the Musavat party has split into three parts.

The government newspaper "Khalg" carries an article titled "Kerimli Threatens Again" that criticizes the statement addressed to the government from Ali Kerimli, head of the reformist wing of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party. The article claims that Kerimli's statement is aimed at distracting attention from the shortcomings in his political career.

The newspaper "Hurriyyet" carries an article claiming that SOCAR owed some 60 billion manats to the state budget in the first quarter.

Gabil Abbasoglu, writing in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," says that the dismissal of the editors in chief of the state newspapers "Khalg" and "Azerbaijan" hints at future steps the government is going to take. In his commentary "The Government Began Changes," the author says that by changing the heads of media outlets the government is implementing its plans and the public will soon witness certain changes as a result. The author expresses confidence that the changes the government is implementing in the media signal a serious project is on the horizon.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)

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