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Azerbaijan Report: April 17, 2001

17 April 2001
Aliyev In Baku, Succession Issue At The Top Again
Judging from commentaries published in the Azerbaijani press after President Heidar Aliev's return to Baku on 14 April from his trip to the United States, it appears that the Azerbaijani press and political parties rather than Azerbaijan's leadership are again raising the old question: Who is going to be Aliev's successor? Since no one has a simple answer to this question, everyone is trying to do his best in guessing. Guessing is part of political life in Azerbaijan. And guessing is also an essential part of the life of ordinary people in Azerbaijan, since most Azerbaijanis are poor citizens of a country that is wallowing in corruption while proudly declaring itself an oil-rich democratic state. The subject of the "guess" here is obvious - the incompatability of oil riches and extreme poverty, the incompatability of an extremely rich tiny minority and the extreme poverty of the vast majority.

Azerbaijan has been under a cloud of "guesses" since Heydar Aliyev came to power. Like ordinary citizens, every political party has its own guess in line with that party's desires and aspirations. Every political party has its own scenario which subsequently, in a thorough analysis, turns out to be the product of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is also part of everyday life in Azerbaijan.

The circle of candidates to replace Heidar Aliyev when he departs from power is narrowing. At present we have a circle with two personalities in it: Aliev's son Ilham and his chief of staff Ramiz Mehdiev, according to the local press. The opposition newspaper "Hurriyet," in a commentary published on April 17 and entitled "The successor will be Ramiz Mehdiev," follows the old pattern of guessing. But this guessing is not of a sort to be called wishful thinking. It has some essence in it, in that it comments on the latest events within Heidar Aliev's inner circle, especially the rise of Mehdiev.

That rise started during parliament elections last year and is still continuing. The newspaper claims that if Ramiz Mehdiev continues his political offensive, a conflict between him and Ilham Aliyev is unavoidable. Is it true? One can only guess. Again, Azerbaijan is under cloud of guesswork: Heidar Aliyev is firmly in power, newspapers are busy commenting on possible successors, and the opposition is waiting for "X" day (Aliev's departure from power) and keeping silence. When "X" day will be is, of course, not known. Aliyev has no intention of ceding power. His son declared recently that Heidar Aliyev will stay in power until the year 2007. So if Ilham Aliyev is right, the guessing will continue in Azerbaijan at least for a while.

(Mirza Xazar)

Reactions to Karabakh Talks
Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that it is too early to say anything about the results of the negotiations in Florida. As for the new proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group, the mediators have determined the common principles of the new proposal but they have not informed the sides about them yet. Asked what the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyyet" meant when it wrote that Azerbaijan "faces the danger of losing Karabakh," Guliyev said that we already lost Karabakh de-facto during 1988-1994. Today our goal is to return it. "If we are not able to return Karabakh by peace negotiations we will free our occupied territories by military force. Azerbaijan will not move from this position to lose Karabakh de-jure," the minister said.(Natiq Zeynalov)

Etibar Mamedov, chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, does not expect any positive changes in the Karabakh peace process in the near future. Commenting on the Key West negotiations, he said it was only a process whereby the Bush administration became acquainted with the Karabakh issue. In contrast to earlier negotiations there were some new approaches. It was the first time that mediators made some demands of Armenia. As for Kocharian's optimistic statements after returning to Yerevan, Armenia is obliged to retreat from its main principles because all the mediators recognize territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Etibar Mamedov said.

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, told an RFE/RL correspondent on April 16 that the only positive moment in the Key West negotiations was that U.S. State Department recognized Armenia as the aggressor before the beginning of the talks. According to Kerimov, the OSCE Minsk Group mediators demonstrated that they are ready to take a real part in settling of the conflict. At the same time he does not believe the mediators are preparing proposals to the benefit of Azerbaijan. All the proposals prepared by the Minsk Group earlier were against Azerbaijan's interest and meant the independence of Karabakh inside Azerbaijan. Ali Kerimov thinks the new Minsk Group proposals will not differ from the earlier ones.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, assessed the Key West negotiations as positive. In spite of confidential character of the negotiations, observations show that there was great pressure on Armenia. According to Gurbanli, the new OSCE Minsk Group proposals will be on principle different from the earlier ones.

(Samira Gaziyeva)

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and a deputy of the Milli Mejlis, demanded during a parliament session on 17 April that the government inform the public about the results of the Key West talks. According to Kerimov, the confidential character of negotiations and absence of any concrete information triggered a discussion in the media of the idea of a territorial swap and the principles of a "common state." Parliament deputy chairman Arif Ragimzadeh replied that it is not expedient yet to inform the public about the results of the negotiations.

Mais Safarli, head of the Jurddash Party, reported during the parliament session that an Azerbaijan-Russia Friendship Society has been created in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second city. Communist Party member and Milli Mejlis deputy Rafig Gurbanov, who took part in a session of this organization, proposed that Azerbaijan should join with Russia. Arif Ragimzadeh pointed out that such a statement contradicts Azerbaijan's Constitution.

(Zarkhanym Ahmedli)

Political Prisoners In Gobustan Prison
Asaf Kuliev, a political prisoner at the Gobustan strict prison, has been taken to hospital due to his worsening health. Kuliev, the chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front's Nakhichevan branch, was arrested in 1993 after Heydar Aliyev came to power and accused of creating armed formations. Asaf Kuliev is seriously ill. According to his lawyer, the authorities had no reason to send him to Gobustan prison, where prison conditions are harsher than in other prisons. In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent, Saida Kocamanli, head of the Human Rights Department in Baku, described conditions in Gobustan as comparable to "concentration camp" conditions. She protested the prison authorities' harsh treatment of Asaf Kuliev and other political prisoners.

(Zhala Mutallimova)

The independent newspaper "Alternative" cites the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Azerbaijan but not Armenia as evidence that Azerbaijani-Russian relations are improving. It further claims that Putin has never had a face-to face meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian since his election as president. The paper writes that Armenia is going to move closer to France but not to Russia. At the same time, Moscow is not interested in the deterioration of relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. There are some shifts in the U.S. position to the benefit of Azerbaijan, the commentator writes. The first blow to Armenia was the statement by the U.S. State Department recognizing the occupation of Azerbaijan lands by Armenia. President George Bush's appeal to Congress to increase aid to Azerbaijan and to cut aid to Armenia was the second blow. According to the author, the international community is beginning to understand who is right and who is guilty in Karabakh issue. At the same time, the author does not thinks that the improvement in relations between Azerbaijan and Russia will help resolve the conflict to the benefit of Azerbaijan. It can only help in settling of the conflict.

"Ekho" pointed out the activation of the U.S .in Caucasus region. Firstly, the tension in Near East and the Persian Gulf causes the U.S. to increase its attention to alternative oil sources. Secondly, President Putin's intention to restore Russia's influence in the Causasus makes the U.S. strengthen its positions in this region. The possibility of unexpected developments in Iran also compels the US to be active in Caucasus. According to the author, the regional conflict in the Caucasus prevents the integration of the countries of that region into the world community. At the same time these conflicts are a means of pressure on the countries of the region.

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" is pessimistic about the outcome of the Key West talks. The paper claims the government is going to cede Karabakh to the Armenians. The paper recalls President Aliev's remark about the opposition made at the Baku airport after returning from U.S. and notes that the impression is being created that there is not a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but there is a dispute between Aliyev and the Azerbaijan opposition. Aliyev needs to prepare public opinion to sign the "capitulation" agreement. As to Aliev's statement that "we are ready to war if it would be necessary," the paper calls it pure propaganda.

(Samira Gaziyeva)