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Azerbaijan Report: May 31, 2002

31 May 2002
Former Interior Minister Goes On Trial
The retrial of former Azerbaijani Interior Minister Iskandar Hamidov continued on 29-30 May. The retrial was long requested by the Council of Europe, which considers him a political prisoner. Hamidov was convicted of plundering state property and abuse of power and began serving a 14-year sentence in 1995. Hamidov, who served as interior minister under President Abulfaz Elchibey from 1992 to 1993, has claimed the charges against him were politically motivated and insisted that he wants to leave jail with a "clear conscience and legally."

Hamidov, who headed the "Gray Wolves" political party, appealed to the court to move the proceedings from the Gobustan high-security jail to a regular courtroom and to allow additional witnesses to testify. Judge Rasim Mirzoev turned down the request to move the trial and did not respond to the other appeal.

According to Hamidov's lawyer Yaver Husseinli, no serious change took place in the retrials on29-30 May. The court hearing discussed only the applications and the lawyers objected to what they called the court's illegal actions. According to Husseinli, the court had declared at first only that some of the appeals were denied, but stated later that all of them were denied.

The lawyer originally said Hamidov would testify on 30 May, but his appearance was postponed till the next hearing due to long-lasting discussions and other cases. The judge has declared a break until 5 June.

Media representatives, members of the Council of Europe AGO Monitoring Group, and parliament deputies from the opposition are taking part in the process.

In addition to retrying Hamidov, the Council of Europe also urged Azerbaijan to reconsider cases against two other officials: Alikram Gumbatov, a pro-Iranian warlord who formed a self-proclaimed "republic" in southern Azerbaijan, and Rahim Gaziev, a former defense minister. Gumbatov's retrial began on 14 May. No date for Gaziev's retrial has been set. Azerbaijan has been a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body, since January 2001.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

According to the 31 May issue of the independent newspaper "Echo," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists that Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking forward to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's visit to St. Petersburg in June.

An opposition politician criticized the amnesty decree issued by the Azerbaijani president on 28 May. Professor Adil Geybulla, a member of the Musavat Party who is presently under arrest, told the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that he is a political hostage of the government. According to him, his being "in exile" is a crime sanctioned on a high level. The professor says that when pardoning somebody, one's heart should have mercy.

In an article entitled "NATO-Russia Council" carried in the 31 May issue of the independent newspaper "525," Goundouz writes that some political commentators claim the NATO-Moscow rapprochement is good news for Azerbaijan. Political scientist Eldar Namazov told the author of the article that the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council helps create a new situation in the world. According to him, from now on, Russia will not impede NATO expansion to the east. Political expert Mubariz Ahmadoglu, on the other hand, thinks that it would be naive to construe the NATO-Russia Council as the settlement of all the problems between NATO and Moscow. He also points out that the sides have not changed their fundamental positions. According to Ahmadoglu, Russia will continue to resist NATO expansion to the east.

According to the 31 May issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo," Yerevan has proposed that the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic participate in Armenian-Azerbaijani talks about the status of the territory. According to the newspaper, it could become unavoidable that the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists participate in the negotiation process.

In an interview with the 31 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Great Britain's Ambassador to Azerbaijan Andrew Tucker comments on a number of issues including what he called obstacles created for British companies. As an example, he cited the long period between a company's being registered and its getting a license. In order to begin work, a company must get permission from a number of organizations. But when it begins to work, different officials come and begin to construe laws as they wish, which creates problems. The ambassador also said that despite some positive changes in the sphere of tax laws, officials demand taxes in advance. If the government takes positive steps to resolve these problems, then both sides will benefit, he said. The ambassador could not give the exact number of British companies that have left the country. He said that since he was appointed in 2000, three or four British companies have been encouraged to direct investments into Azerbaijan and only some of them answered positively.

The 31 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" carries articles about the Kurdish nationalist PKK. Sulheddin Akbar, deputy head of the Musavat Party for political issues, told the newspaper that the Azerbaijani leadership fears possible blackmail from the PKK. He says that is why it is not beneficial for the Aliyev regime to recognize the organization as terrorist one. Musavat and the government have accused each other of links with the Kurdish nationalist organization. Each side denies the other's allegation.

In an article entitled "Absurd statements of radical opposition" carried in the 31 May issue of the government newspaper "Khalg," Aziz writes that the "destructive" opposition uses the Nagorno-Karabakh problem in order "to violate stability and create chaos and anarchy in the country. Destructive forces intensify their subversive activity and begin spreading absurd rumors that a capitulatory peace agreement will be signed immediately after a step is taken toward resolution of the conflict." The author says that since such an agreement has not been signed, the creators of the rumors keep silent. The author also points out that most of the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands took place when the Azerbaijan Popular Front and Musavat were in power. They are responsible for the occupation of other districts as well. The author says that the opposition's rumors about Nagorno-Karabakh are "stupid," and reminds readers of President Heidar Aliev's statement that Azerbaijani lands will be absolutely liberated.

Gasham Najafzadeh writes in the independent newspaper "Adabiyyat" that a strong inclination to meet foreign standards is being felt not only in education, trade, medicine, and other spheres but in literature as well. According to the author, writers must absorb foreign influences, then reflect them in their works. Regrettably, he says, some young readers are deceived by form and overlook the content. The author writes that Azerbaijan and its literature contain the world. According to him, the extreme inclination to foreign literature should not lead one to forget one's own literature.

An article in the 31 May issue of the independent newspaper "525" reports on the desire of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to get free education. The article says that this year there has been a 60 percent drop in the number of IDPs applying for higher education.

In an article entitled "Children are our future" carried in the 31 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Gabil Babaev describes how street children live. He says that it would be naive to expect a happy future for children who live in the street, going to "slave markets" -- where they can be hired as day laborers -- instead of going to school and getting an education. According to the author, street children should not be blamed for the way they live. Babaev says not the children themselves, but society is responsible for children living in such a way. Not only the children but also the adults of this society are in the "slave market," he says.

The soccer World Cup began on 31 May. The same day's issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" carries Azerbaijani politicians', artists', and football players' predictions with regard to the championship.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Kazimova)