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Azerbaijan Report: July 19, 2002

19 July 2002
Opposition Parties Protest Over Village Violence
Two opposition parties held a sanctioned demonstration to protest violence by state authorities against inhabitants of the village of Nardaran last month. The political parties of the Azerbaijani Forces' Union staged the rally on 17 July with the permission of Baku municipal authorities. Some 500 people marched from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to the Galaba cinema, both of which are outside the center of Baku. In addition to the often-heard demands of "Jobs, Bread, Karabakh," the protesters called for the release of inhabitants of Nardaran who were arrested in June, and the cancellation of a proposed referendum on changes to the constitution. Some of the demonstrators also shouted the Islamic slogan "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great).

The protest continued on Galaba Square. Araz Alizade, a co-chairman of the Social Democrat Party, was first to speak. He said that security forces opening fire on the inhabitants of Nardaran who were protesting against poor social conditions, and the imprisonment of 16 villagers, was "the greatest crime committed by the present leadership against its own citizens." He said the inhabitants of Nardaran had been arrested for no reason and therefore must be released from prison immediately.

Two leaders of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan were among those arrested following the 3-4 June confrontation and remain in prison. The party's first deputy chairman, Rovshan Ahmedov, addressed the 17 July demonstration. He thanked the demonstrators for coming despite the hot weather and spoke about "sufferings inflicted by the present leadership" on the nation. He argued that power must belong not to one person but to the whole nation as per the constitution. According to Ahmedov the leadership's position on the Karabakh conflict conflicts with the national interest. A government that wants to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should possess a strong army and reject any agreement that constitutes a threat to the integrity of Azerbaijan's lands, he said.

The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, which did not participate in the 17 July demonstration, plans to hold a protest on 20 July to demand the resignation of the president. Hasret Rustamov, the party's secretary for organizational issues, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the party requested permission to hold the protest but received no answer from Baku municipal authorities. Rustamov said that the demonstrators would demand the release of the people arrested during the Nardaran confrontation as well as the resignation of the president, and would oppose the proposed constitutional changes.

(Chingiz Maarifoglu)

Opposition Organizes Against Constitutional Referendum
A group of 22 opposition parties has called for the date of a referendum on dozens of changes to the constitution to be delayed for a month. In a joint statement on 14 July the parties argued that under the circumstances it is not possible to hold a fair referendum that could express the will of the people. Therefore the parties demand the date of the referendum be put back a month from the planned date of 24 August, that some proposed changes be pulled from referendum and that the electorate be entitled to vote for each alteration individually.

The strongest objections are to changes that would eliminate proportional elections to parliament and would transfer executive authority to the prime minister, rather than the speaker of parliament, in case the president is incapacitated. In order to guarantee a fair referendum, the parties suggest making changes to the laws on the Central Election Commission, referenda, and elections to the Milli Majlis (parliament). They also propose reconsidering rules regarding the formation of district election commissions and the allocation of free broadcasting time to political parties. The parties have given the authorities 10 days to fulfil their demands. Otherwise they will call on citizens to boycott the referendum and will organize joint monitoring of the voting.

(Natig Zeynalli)

Human Rights Monitor Visits Azerbaijan...
Andreas Gross, special rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe, arrived in Baku on 16 July to monitor the trial of former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov and former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev at the Gobustan high-security prison. (The Council of Europe considers both men to be political prisoners, a charge the government of Azerbaijan rejects.) The following day Gross met with national minorities and nongovernmental organizations in the northern Guba and Khachmaz districts.

On 18 July Gross held a separate meetings with the chairmen of three main opposition parties -- Musavat, Democratic, and National Independence -- at the Baku office of the OSCE. According to Serdar Jalaloglu, the secretary-general of the Democrat Party, his meeting with the special rapporteur lasted about an hour. Jalaloglu said he informed Gross about the political situation in Azerbaijan. The Musavat and National Independence parties did not comment on the meeting.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

...And Discusses Nardaran With Activist
The head of a committee established in response to violence against residents of the village of Nardaran met international human rights monitors in Baku on 18 July. Fuad Hasanov, the chairman of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of People Suffering from Official Violence, discussed Nardaran with Andreas Gross and members of the committee. (Until 17 July Hasanov's human rights organization was called the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Nardaran's Inhabitants. The committee says it changed its name because it aims to extend its human rights activities.)

After the violence in Nardaran, Gross issued a strong statement criticizing the authorities for taking up arms against the inhabitants of the village. Hasanov said he hopes that now the Europeans have enough information about the clashes for the Council of Europe to demand an explanation from the Azerbaijani leadership. Hasanov added that during the half-hour meeting the participants also discussed proposed changes to the constitution and some obligations undertaken by Azerbaijan when it joined the Council of Europe in January 2001. Hasanov said the meeting has increased the hope that the problems would be solved in the near future.

(Babek Bekirli)

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that Azerbaijani human rights activists have presented Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross a new list of political prisoners that includes 193 names.

An article entitled "Development of enterprise is one of state's strategic duties" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg" argues that the government should create conditions that will promote the development of private enterprise and prevent capital from flowing to the illegal sector of the economy.

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," the head of the Iranian Security Council said that his country would keep a watch on Russian military exercises in the Caspian.

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" in the article "Confidential negotiations with Tehran" warns that alleged secret talks between Azerbaijan and Iran could lead to Baku's losing control of disputed oil fields in the Caspian.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" comments on the opposition decision to boycott the referendum on constitutional changes. The paper writes that the opposition has gotten into the habit of changing its decisions so often that its statement on the referendum looks like a soap bubble.

The newspaper "Zerkalo," citing the Turan news agency, writes that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents plan to meet in the near future to discuss the Karabakh conflict. In an interview with the newspaper, former Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov says that at present the parties are considering two ideas. The first is the so-called step-by-step solution because of which former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian had to retire. The second is the exchange of territories. According to Zulfugarov the mediators are now discussing the step-by-step settlement of the conflict. He also added that the superpowers of the region, in particular Iran, oppose a territorial exchange. Zulfugarov says that Armenia would never support the exchange option.

The article "How counterfeit medicines are increasing" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" alleges that everything sold in Azerbaijan is counterfeit. It argues that the state and public consumer-protection institutions do not pay enough attention to the problem. According to the author, who signs the article only as Sabir, at present it is difficult to get information about the origin of most medicines. Products being sold at grocery stores have no information about their ingredients or manufacturer, which is a legal offense. The author claims that in Baku's Khatai district alone there are several underground workshops producing cooked meat. As raw materials, these shops use the meat of sick animals and spoiled meat, he says. Meanwhile, some underground workshops produce sour cream and yogurt without listing ingredients or date of production. Sabir says that unsound food products are not as dangerous as false medicines. An investigation carried out in the capital showed that the drugstores are full of false medicines, he concludes.

Azer Aihan in the article "Opposition time" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the political temperature within the state is continuing to increase. The author says that the opposition needed a lot of time to react to changes taking place in the country. Despite pressure on the government from the Council of Europe, for a while the opposition failed to protest effectively against issues that could prevent the future democratic development of the state. But now the opposition, which is tired of government pressure and persecution, is stirring up its activities. Aihan claims that if the opposition shows wisdom it can take power, and time is on its side.

Nijat Daglar, in the commentary "Silence will be broken soon" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," writes that the leadership, which he says has deceived the people and pursued its own interests for the past nine years, has no right to remain in power. Writing before the protest planned by the Democratic Party on 20 July, Daglar says the main condition for improving the well-being of the people is the resignation of President Heidar Aliyev and his government. The authorities claim that the opposition is not able to bring people into the streets. But the author says there is no need to bring people into the streets because they are already there trying to find a way to earn a living. At present all the people think about is what to do in order not to die of hunger. Such a situation cannot last long, he says: Someday the people will rise and demand their rights.

Former U.S. Ambassador in Baku Richard Kozlarich, in an interview with the newspaper "Ekho," notes that after the 11 September terror attacks on New York and Washington the U.S. administration is serious about fighting terrorism as well as the development of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan. According to Kozlarich the current U.S. ambassador, Ross Wilson, is actively working toward that aim. It is meaningless to speak about the security of the South Caucasus, and Azerbaijan in particular, without developing democracy in the region, Kozlarich says. As to the planned referendum on changes to the constitution, the former ambassador says much will depend on how the referendum is held.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)