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Azerbaijan Report: May 21, 2002

21 May 2002
Azerbaijan National Independence Party Stages Protest
The Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) staged a sanctioned protest on 18 May in front of the Galaba cinema. In his opening remarks, AMIP member Professor Nazim Imanov said the demonstrators wanted to express demands that they could not express on 4 May, when heavy rain forced the cancellation of their protest. Imanov said everybody is well aware of the Azerbaijani people's mass dissatisfaction with the present government. Imanov said that AMIP leader Etibar Mammadov would answer the famous question "What to do?" in his remarks. Imanov then gave the floor to Mammadov, who delivered a speech claiming that Heydar Aliev's last seven years as president are based on lies and that the president's goal is to plunder the people's wealth and make them poorer. According to Mammadov, the longer the government remains in office, the worse the situation will become. Mammadov said that there is nothing surprising in that, because the more the government tortures the population, the more obedient the people become.

Mammadov said that Aliyev is not the only problem for the Azerbaijani people. Other major challenges are the liberation of occupied lands and the expulsion of aggressors. The people must increase their political activity and national spirit. According to the AMIP leader, the Azerbaijani people can achieve their goals in the near future.

(Babek Bekir)

United Opposition Movement Seniors Stage Protest
The aghsaggals (senior citizens) of the United Opposition Movement staged a protest on 18 May in Galaba square. Prior to the protest, Yasamal district police tried to take away placards reading "Heydar Aliev, you should resign!" but the aghsaggals refused to hand them over. They said that the application they sent to the mayor of Baku requesting permission to hold the demonstration said they would carry the placards, and that there was nothing wrong in voicing the demand.

In opening remarks, Elman Movsumov of the Democratic Party explained why the aghsaggals were holding the demonstration. He said that opinions and advice of aghsaggals have always affected the development of society and therefore they demand that Heydar Aliyev resign.

Murshud Mammadli, a former parliament member and a member of the Musavat Party, said that it is unacceptable for the president to remain in his post. According to Mammadli, Aliyev has made the position of aghsaggals in Azerbaijan very difficult in the past nine years. If the aghsaggals are taking to the streets now to demand the president's resignation, he said, then it is either the beginning of the end of the government or the end of the country.

Bakhtiyar Javadov, father of the late Rovshan Javadov, who was an assistant to the former interior minister Ali Omarov and the head of the OMON special purpose police unit, spoke to the protesters, saying that the aghsaggals in the square including him played a role in Aliev's coming to power.

The protesters also demanded the release of political prisoners, adopted a resolution and cursed those who deprive the people of bread.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijani Women Argue With Government Over Headscarves
When Azerbaijan began to issue passports to replace the old Soviet ones in 1998, a dispute arose between a group of religious women and the government. The government demanded the women take off their headscarves for their passport photos. Even though the courts ruled in favor of the women, the government did not accept it. Passports, of course, are necessary only for going abroad. But now all Azerbaijani citizens must obtain ID cards, the introduction of which has aggravated the old dispute. The religious women do not want to take off their headscarves, but the government says Azerbaijani is not an Islamic state and women may not wear headscarves in such photos. Consequently, the women are going to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The Center for Protection of Religious Faiths and Freedoms of Conscience is helping some 3,000 women with their case. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service contacted Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, a Center official who says that, beginning early this year, the government's attitude toward headscarves became harsher. As result of the dispute, some 300 out of 3,000 women are going to renounce their Azerbaijani citizenship. According to Ibrahimoglu, the Center has helped two women to obtain ID cards with photos in which they are wearing headscarves.

According to Ibrahimoglu, the women are going to appeal to the European Court and lawyers from the Center have already begun to work on the case. But, he says, the women are prepared to suspend their suit provided that the government softens its position on the issue. Ibrahimoglu also says that university students have also appealed to the Center over headscarves. According to him, some university professors demand that students either take off their headscarves or leave the auditorium.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

The 21 May issues of Azerbaijani newspapers carry articles about President Heydar Aliev's official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran on 18-20 May. Pro-governmental newspapers report that the visit was successful but opposition and independent media outlets claim the contrary.

Mubariz Gurbanli, a member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, says in an interview with the 21 May issue of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" that there are historical ties between Azerbaijan and Iran and considers this visit a turning point in bilateral relations. He said there are many ties joining Iran and Azerbaijan. He says Iran is very interested in deepening this cooperation because Azerbaijan plays a very significant role in Iran's ties with other CIS countries.

In a commentary entitled "Aliyev has been faced with serious pressure in Iran" carried by the 21 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Ferhad Mammadov writes that Aliyev was met at Tehran airport only by Iran's Cooperation Minister Ali Sufi and a number of low-ranking officials. According to the author, it was a very low-level reception ceremony for a head of state visiting another country. He says that Tehran had decided to exert psychological pressure on Aliyev at the airport, showing him that he had arrived in a very powerful country. According to the author, the pressure continued in Aliev's meeting with Iranian President Mohammad Khatemi. In the meeting with the Azerbaijani president, Khatemi called the Caspian "Lake Mazandaran" -- the Iranian name for the sea -- which made Aliyev interrupt him. According to the author, Aliev's visit to Iran once more proved that the problems between the two countries result not from the disputes over division of the Caspian, but Azerbaijan's foreign policy course after it gained its independence. However, Aliyev has called the results of his Iranian visit "very successful."

Emin Huseinzade writes in the 21 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" that the main problems between Iran and Azerbaijan remain unsettled. There are settled issues, he writes, but they are few in number. They include the construction of the Vaki-Astara highway, establishment of cooperation in transport and customs spheres and the signing of a contract on export. The author also mentions a number of unsettled issues: construction of two hydro-electric stations on the border, export of agricultural goods from Azerbaijan to Iran, the revival of Iranian entrepreneurship in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the question whether the Caspian is considered a lake or a sea. According to the author, Tehran demands that Baku act in compliance with Iran's interests.

In a commentary entitled "Why is the Baku-Tehran friendship not realised?" carried in the 21 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Zahid Safaroglu writes that Iran has no intention of changing its attitude to its neighbors. According to the author, the Iranian regime has decided which countries are its friends, and the Azerbaijani president's visit to Iran demonstrated that Azerbaijan is not among them. Otherwise, the Iranian officials would declare Azerbaijan an ally at least once. But such statements were not issued either during the visit or before it. The author says that there are very serious problems between Azerbaijan and Iran and that settling them will require both time and a changing of regimes in both countries. The author refers to one more factor: That in addition to being an Islamic country, Iran is a state with its own ideology and interests. Notions such as Moslem solidarity, alliance, friendship and brotherhood are valued only insofar as they do not conflict with national interests.

According to the 21 May issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo," Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev will have another meeting with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian. The talks will be held under OSCE auspices.

In a commentary entitled "Azerbaijan is a reliable U.S. partner in the region" carried in the 21 May issue of the governmental newspaper "Khalg," Kamran Badalov writes that Azerbaijan is very close to implementing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, considered by some to be the deal of the century. According to the author, talks are being held to eliminate some minor impediments to the project's implementation. The author thinks that nobody now doubts that the main export pipeline will bring profit not only to Azerbaijan, but the whole region. The author stresses that America is also determined to support Azerbaijan's steps toward building democracy and a market economy.

In an interview with the 21 May issue of the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan," Rebiyyet Aslanova, deputy head of the Azerbaijani parliament's standing commission on human rights, said that Azerbaijan has surpassed its international commitments in the sphere of human rights.

The 21 May issue of the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" carries an interview with Beshir Sharifov, the announcer on the independent Lider TV program "Movge" ("Position"). The newspaper asks him to evaluate the present state of Azerbaijani journalism. Sharifov says that there are many journalistic organizations in the republic, but they should not all be trusted. According to Sharifov, society does not have confidence in those organizations because sometimes they do the wrong thing. Sharifov says that journalistic organizations must include people who have contributed to the development of journalism.

In an article entitled "Consumer credit is not used often in Azerbaijan" carried by the 21 issue of the independent newspaper "525," Samir writes that it has become very unusual for Azerbaijanis to obtain consumer loans from banks. According to the author, the key reason is that only a small portion of the population has the appropriate standard of living for loans. According to the author, wealthy Azerbaijanis do not need consumer credit, since they can obtain any product without it. But poor people are not able to return the interest on loans, let alone the principal. Additionally, the fact that people's revenues are not stable and transparent makes banks refrain from giving loans. The author points out that consumer credit is not a new notion in Azerbaijan. One of the factors preventing spread of consumer credits among the Azerbaijani population is that interest rates are high. Generally, the interest on consumer credit is higher than on other types of loans.

The 21 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" carries an article saying that the chairman of the State Customs Committee, Kemaleddin Heydarov, is visiting an unnamed foreign country and claims that reason is that he is going to be demoted or fired.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)