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Azerbaijan Report: May 7, 2002

7 May 2002
Azerbaijan National Independence Party Stages Protest
The Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) staged a protest on 4 May in front of the Galaba Cinema but it lasted not for two hours as scheduled, but only for 10 minutes. AMIP leader Etibar Mammadov, the organizer of the protest, decided to cut the demonstration short due to heavy rain. In his opening remarks, Professor Nazim Imanov said that it is no secret that the country is going to see a change, and that the present government will be ousted, paving the way for new persons to lead Azerbaijan. Imanov thanked the picketers for joining them and then gave the floor to Mammadov.

Mammadov said his party's goal is restoration of people's civil rights. He said the government has deprived its citizens of the right to jobs or bread. Then the picketers began shouting "Resignation!" Mammadov responded by saying that the government should be removed and people must not sit and wait, but take concrete measures towards this end. He stressed that the party favors removing President Heydar Aliyev from his post in a civil way. Mammadov called for the people to be determined in their goals and to vote for him as they did in the 1998 presidential elections. He declared that he will not repeat the mistakes he made in 1998. He said he will achieve the people's goals and make every effort to oust Aliyev from power. He then asked the picketers to go home because of the bad weather. He said the picketers' health was important to him, even though he knew that they would continue the picket despite the bad weather. Mammadov said AMIP will inform its supporters when the next protest will take place.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijani And Armenian Presidents' Special Envoys To Discuss The Karabakh Conflict
The Azerbaijani press has recently reported that Araz Azimov and Tatul Margaryan, special envoys of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, will meet on 12 May in Prague to discuss the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The meeting between the deputy foreign ministers is a de facto resumption of the talks held in 1995-1997 between the then-state advisors of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Vafa Guluzade and Zhirair Liparitian. The press reports that the new consultations are being held when the influence of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is pushing for a resolution to the conflict, is weakening. Thus, the Karabakh talks are taking place in a new context.

The OSCE Minsk Group's inability to resolve the conflict has recently been criticized by the Azerbaijani government, the opposition and social organizations. That criticism may have helped encourage the OSCE to push for talks to be resumed. But experts are not optimistic about the talks, claming that they are a mere formality. They say the OSCE wants to promote the idea that negotiations are moving forward.

Azerbaijan's former state advisor Vafa Guluzade said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that in the 1995-1997 talks, his aim was to secure the peaceful withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan and to keep Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. But the Armenian side, Guluzade said, makes every effort to separate Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan once and for all. According to Guluzade, the Armenian side wants to persuade Azerbaijan to give up Lachin and Nagorno Karabakh, after which Azerbaijan's other occupied lands will be liberated. But Azerbaijani officials will not accept that plan. Guluzade thinks that these meetings will not produce any results. He says the new Azerbaijani envoy will demand the liberation of Azerbaijan's lands . Because the Armenian side will not accept that demand, the Azerbaijani delegation will not be able to carry out its task, Guluzade says.

Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the non-governmental Center for Settlement of Conflicts, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that this OSCE initiative shows that its 10-year mission to settle the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has yielded no results. The OSCE wants to create the impression that the talks are continuing at a high level, he said. According to Mehdiev, the OSCE is trying to retain the initiative both in Azerbaijan and in the world. He thinks that such meetings are meaningless because the presidents themselves could not reach an agreement in 19 meetings although they discussed every possible variant. Mehdiev says the presidents' envoys will not be able to do so either. Asked by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service why the Azerbaijani government needs to arrange such meetings, Mehdiev said the leadership wants to extend its term in power and to preserve stability in the republic.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Azerbaijani Journalist Claims to Have Been Insulted By State Official
Natig Javadli, a correspondent for the newspapers "Jumhurriyyet" and "Yeni Yuzil," claimed at a press conference on 6 May that he was insulted and threatened by officials of the Sumgayit City Social Protection Center, which is overseen by the Ministry of Social Welfare. He said his press card was taken away while he was researching a complaint by a group of pensioners. He said that the pensioners had complained that they were not receiving the full amount of their pensions from the postman. According to Javadli, Sevda Mammadli, the assistant editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Jumhuriyyet," ordered him to investigate the issue.

Javadli first contacted the Ministry of Communications, where he was told that pensions are no longer being distributed by mailmen except in Nakhchivan. Then Javadli went to the Sumgayit Social Protection Center, which distributes pensions, where, he says, he was insulted by center head Aghariza Akhundov. According to Javadli, officials at the center even threatened him with arrest. His press card has not yet been returned to him.

Azer Hesret, the head of the Journalists' Trade Union, took part in Javadli's press conference. He said that at present the union is fighting against dishonest journalism and has asked state officials to help them. But on the contrary, he said, officials are fighting honest journalists.

Javadli said that he has appealed for help to Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and Minister for Social Welfare Ali Naghiyev.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

The 7 May issues of Azerbaijani newspapers carry articles about the day when the Azerbaijani city of Shusha was occupied by Armenian troops. Coincidentally, it was 9 May -- the day when Soviet troops defeated fascism.

Newspapers also report and comment on the visit to Azerbaijan of Turkish deputy premier Dovlat Bakhchali and his delegation. The 7 May issue of the independent newspaper "525" writes that members of the party led by imprisoned former interior minister Isgandar Hamidov pin great hopes on Bakhcali's visit to Azerbaijan. They hope that Bakhchali can help free Hamidov, whom the Council of Europe considers a political prisoner.

Zahid Safaroglu in an article entitled "War or peace?" carried by the 7 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that on 8 May Armenians will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Shusha's occupation. He says Armenians consider 9 May the day of the liberation of Shusha, though they know well that they have no connection with the city, Karabakh or the Caucasus. Their only connection is the occupation. Safaroglu says that for this reason, they dare not settle down totally in Shusha or the region. The author thinks that the Armenians must realize that, one day, the real owners of the lands they have occupied will come back. He says one significant factor accelerating that moment is the increasing military-political influence in the Caucasus of Azerbaijan's strategic ally Turkey. He says Azerbaijan can end the occupation by itself. The Armenians know that a future, legitimate government of Azerbaijan will direct all the natural wealth and political-diplomatic, economic-commercial, and intellectual-human potential of the country toward forming a powerful Azerbaijani army, and the Armenians will feel the result. Then not the Azerbaijanis but the Armenians, will be forced to choose between "war or peace," the author says.

In an article entitled "Ukraine considers it stupid not to join the Baku-Ceyhan project" carried by the 7 May issue of the newspaper "525," Samir writes that BP Vice-President for Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Michael Townshend said it was not important that LUKoil has decided not to join the BTC Sponsor Group. According to the author, LUKoil's joining the export pipeline construction group was desirable primarily from a political standpoint, not from an economic one. LUKoil expressed interest in joining the project; its president Vahid Alakbarov declared late last year the company's intention of acquiring a 7.5 percent stake in the Sponsor Group, but LUKoil subsequently announced it would not participate. The author says that the preparation for the pipeline construction is as great as the construction itself and a number of non-oil companies have already expressed readiness to participate in it. The U.S. is particularly active in this project. The author says that Ukrainian officials consider Baku-Ceyhan to be of vital importance. Even a Ukrainian official, he says, has said it would be stupid not to join the project.

Aflatun Amashov, head of the RUH Committee for Protection of Journalists' Rights, comments on the government's plan to grant credits to newspapers in an interview in the 7 May issue of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan." He expresses hope that the government will make concessions on its condition that the media outlets leave deposits in order to obtain loans. Amashov says that it will take time to develop the press in Azerbaijan. The press in developed countries obtains some 70-80 percent of its revenues from advertisements, Amashov says. He adds that he does not believe that Azerbaijani media can achieve in the present conditions, but that they must try to do so in the future. In order to make it possible, the economy of this country should be developed. If it is, citizens' purchasing power will increase. Amashov expressed confidence that long-term loans to the press will play a positive role in developing the media.

The Azerbaijani parliament recently discussed the bill on "Usage and Protection of the Azerbaijani language." Some Azerbaijani newspapers focus on this topic. Mahabbat Hajiyeva in the article "Not only language but also minds must be pure" carried by the 7 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes: "Imagine that everybody can speak Azerbaijani well. What shall we do if their minds do not work like Azerbaijanis'?" She argues that it is better to speak any language you want or to keep eternally silent than to be an Azerbaijani, speaking Azerbaijani but not thinking like Azerbaijanis do. She comments on contemporary poet and parliamentarian Bakhtiyar Vahabzade's concern at the rise of Russian-language schools in Azerbaijan, noting that the number of English-language schools could be even greater. She asks rhetorically which law requires some schools to start teaching English in the first grade and others to begin in the fifth. The author claims that a schoolchild just beginning to learn the alphabet and grammar of his own language cannot learn a foreign language.

Arif Alizade in the article "National security is the key factor of a state" carried by the 7 May issue of the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that national minorities in Azerbaijan have equal rights regardless of their nationality, religion, language, and so on. As for the issue of language, the author says that the republic's state language is Azerbaijani, and its introduction does not mean that the rights or interests of national minorities are being restricted. The author says that foreign companies and organizations are using foreign languages, which shows disregard for the Azerbaijani people, state, constitution and laws. Disrespect has been shown to the mother tongue as a result of the activity of the government and its officials. The author also says that the government forms its national ethnic policy based on ethnic interests. In short, national and ethnic problems are considered a national policy issue.

Ittifag Mirzebeyli in the article "A secret letter to Sulheddin Akbar from Turkey. Is it from the PKK?" carried by the 7 May issue of the government newspaper "Khalg" claims that Akbar, a deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party, held secret meetings with PKK officials some years ago in Turkey. The author says party members have become interested in a letter Akbar received, but could not find out what it said and asked Musavat party head Isa Gambar to investigate the matter. In a separate article, "Those who can find a common language with enemies can do so with the government," Mirzebeyli says that Rasul Guliev, head of the opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party, lives in the U.S. and meets and cooperates with Armenians there. But Guliev criticizes some opposition organizations for not demonstrating radicalism against the government, the author writes. He even blames parties for not conducting subversive activity.

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" asks Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov why there has been a delay in establishing a Ministry of Transport. Sharifov said that Germany's Darni Consulting has prepared a report suggesting several variants for establishing such a ministry. But, Sharifov said, transport is a very complicated sphere and the minister of transport must be able to think of the interests of the state and the nation and to represent the country in international structures. He said there is no candidate yet for this post. There are persons who know separate spheres but no one knows all of them. According to him, transport ministers are meeting now in Brussels and there is nobody to send to the meeting.

In an interview with the 7 May issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo," Ali Ahmadov, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, reiterated the government's opinion that the opposition has a weak social base. According to Ahmadov, the level of the opposition's support will become absolutely clear in the upcoming presidential elections. Ahmadov claims that even if the opposition decides not to participate in the elections, it will prove that the people do not support them. As for the opposition's eagerness to stage a protest on Azadlig square, Ahmadov said that the mayor of Baku allows only national events there. Ahmadov says that the ban on conducting protests in Azadlig square was imposed before Heydar Aliyev came to power -- when the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and Musavat, who now lead the United Opposition Movement, were in power.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)