28 September 2002
Opposition Claims Low Referendum Turnout in Final Report
Four leading opposition parties that organized a boycott of the 24 August Constitutional referendum issued a final statement on the results at a press conference on 25 September.
According to the National Independence, Democrat, Musavat and reformist wing of the People's Front parties, which monitored voting in the referendum, only 20.3 percent of the electorate turned out to cast ballots. Earlier, on 19 September, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the official results of the referendum, according to which 83.36 percent of the electorate voted and 96 percent of voters supported the proposed changes. The question of participation is crucial, since a majority of voters must cast ballots for a referendum to be valid under Azerbaijani law.
In addition to differing over turnout, the authorities and the opposition disagree about the number of voters and polling stations in Azerbaijan. At the opposition press conference Eldar Ismailov, the chairman of the non-governmental organization For the Sake of Civil Society, which helped coordinate the opposition monitoring effort, charged the CEC with falsifying the number of polling stations. Ismailov noted that before the referendum official figures put the number of polling stations around 4,800, but after the voting the number was increased to 5,000. Ismailov said the actual number was around 4,500.
Moreover, the opposition parties claim that the commission refuses to disclose information on the exact number of voters in Azerbaijan. According to officials, the number is an important state secret and therefore the commission has no right to reveal it.
Opposition figures at the press conference also detailed numerous cases of what they called falsification and irregularities during the voting. The opposition parties once again emphasized that they consider the referendum invalid and its results illegal.
(Natig Zeinalli)Karabakh Liberation Organization Pickets OSCE
The Karabakh Liberation Organization (KLO) held a sanctioned protest in front of the Baku office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on 26 September. The demonstrators accused the OSCE Minsk Group, which is mediating the Karabakh conflict, of adopting a pro-Armenian position. Minsk Group negotiators are currently visiting the region.
Professor Asif Memmedov, a member of the Elders' Council of the KLO, said the present authorities' policies are leading the Azerbaijani people to defeat. The government attempts to make the people forget Karabakh on the one hand, and sells national wealth to foreigners on the other, he charged.
Karabakh war veteran Firidun Memmedov said that at a time when the governments of Russia, the U.S. and France � which co-chair the Minsk Group � refuse to recognize that Azerbaijani territories are occupied, it is meaningless to expect the Minsk Group to find the right solution to the conflict.
A resolution was read at the end of the protest. According to it, the conflict resolution process developed by the Minsk Group is not in the national interest of the Azerbaijani people. Therefore the government must no longer pin its hopes on the organization, the statement said.
The organizers of the protest then tried to present the resolution to the leadership of the OSCE office. OSCE officials there, however, suggested that they submit the resolution to the Baku office of the Minsk Group � which is separate from the main OSCE headquarters � since the Karabakh conflict is not part of the main office's mandate. The OSCE's refusal to take the document escalated tensions. The leaders of the KLO eventually succeeded in calming the protesters.
After an hour the OSCE officials agreed to accept the resolution. Peter Burkhard, the head of the office, said that he understood the protesters and pledged to deliver the resolution to the members of the Minsk Group.
The Azerbaijani media comments on the 26 September meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, during which the organization heard reports regarding how well Azerbaijan has fulfilled the obligations it undertook when it joined the Council.
The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" in an article entitled "Last warning to Aliyev from the Council of Europe" writes that at the PACE meeting, rapporteur Andreas Gross urged the Azerbaijani authorities to keep open a dialogue with the Council. British Member of Parliament Mike Hancock, for his part, said that the Council's ongoing dialogue with the Azerbaijani government should not be interpreted to mean that the Council would close its eyes to irregularities regarding democratic norms and human rights. Hancock said this was the last warning and an attempt to make clear to the Azeri authorities that the present situation can not continue. Ilham Aliev, the head of Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, earlier said that the report was based on prejudice and did not reflect Azeri reality today. In reply, Andreas Gross said: "I understand the delegation's concern. But take into account that we here, in the Council of Europe, feel shock at the events in Azerbaijan."
In a separate article, "Sanctions against Armenia have not been imposed," "Azadlig" writes that despite the expectations of some Azerbaijani deputies, the Council of Europe did not impose sanctions against Yerevan. Instead, the organization expressed the hope that the Armenian government will continue to cooperate with the Council of Europe and effect radical internal reforms.
The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," for its part, writes that for the first time since the beginning of the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict, Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani land will be reflected in a final resolution of the Council of Europe, which the paper calls a victory for Azerbaijani diplomacy. "Zerkalo" writes that it is also a success for Andreas Gross, whose report backed Azerbaijan's position. Given his stance, it will be difficult for the Azerbaijani authorities to charge him with adopting a pro-Armenian position, the newspaper concludes.
According to the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," Ilham Aliev, the head of Azerbaijan's delegation to PACE, considers the present round of discussions to be better and more constructive than previous ones. He says that Azerbaijan is not interested in a confrontation with the Council of Europe. "Relations with the organization are important for us," Aliyev says.
The independent newspaper "525" in an article entitled "Mediators want Aliyev and Kocharian to continue meetings" writes that Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the Russian Minsk Group co-chairman, expressed his satisfaction with the recent meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Trubnikov says the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is moving forward in compliance with agreements reached during the negotiations in Paris and Key West. Trubnikov adds that the presidential elections in Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2003 will certainly affect the peace process. The newspaper also notes that the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group intend to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh problem with officials from the European Union.
Zahid Oruj, the deputy chairman of the pro-governmental Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, says in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg" that the recent opposition appeal to the U.N Human Rights Commission, PACE and the OSCE is an immoral deed. In the appeal, the opposition complains about the alleged violation of human rights and democratic principles in Azerbaijan.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)