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Azerbaijan Report: April 24, 2001

24 April 2001
Heydar Aliyev and Turkey
An attempt by several hundred supporters of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party to hold a protest demonstration in the center of Baku on 21 April was the first opposition protest action since the Karabakh war invalids were forced to stop a month-long hunger- strike in February. Police resorted to brute force to prevent the ADP supporters from holding an unauthorized rally to demand the release of political prisoners, but that does not detract from the implications of the action for the political situation in Azerbaijan.

Isa Gambar, head of the main opposition Musavat party, expressed support for the ADP's protest action in an interview published in the newspaper "Azadliq" on April 24. Gambar added that the Musavat party too is preparing for mass actions of protest. Azerbaijan Democratic Party chairman Rasul Quliev in his interview with "Hurriyyet" on April 24, suggested that consecutive protest rallies will force the present government to resign. One can interpret this suggestion as wishful thinking. But it would be a mistake either to overestimate the strength of the opposition, mainly its ability to unite or to underestimate President Heydar Aliev's ability to deal with such a development.

But we should not forget that the situation in which Heydar Aliyev is forced to operate today is different from similar situations in the past. Heydar Aliyev is now 78 and he is not physically fit. He is in the middle of crucial peace talks with Armenia, and it is not clear what he will sign and how the public and political parties in Azerbaijan will react. He did not manage to convince the main players in Caucasus to support his son, Ilham as his successor. His foreign policy towards Turkey, Iran, Russia and the West is not ideal at the moment. Tensions are mounting between Azerbaijan and Iran. Aliev's recent attempts to restore "fraternal" relations with Russia will demand from him and from Azerbaijan as a state a very high price. Aliev's attempt (in an effort to strengthen his own position) to play a very complicated and contradictory game between Russia and the United States, and his desire to win this game, does not seem to be a very sophisticated and successful policy.

Aliev's relations with Turkey are an obvious example of the failure of such a "twisted policy." Some observers believe that President Aliyev is intentionally creating problems in relations with Turkey in order to gain Russian "kindness." This opinion might prove to be wrong or right. Heydar Aliyev will leave for Ankara on April 25 to attend a summit of heads of states of Turkic speaking countries in Istanbul the following day. Not the summit as such, but relations between the Aliyev leadership and Ankara will dominate his meetings with Turkish officials. Relations between two countries are at the worst point since Suleyman Demirel left office as President of Turkey a year ago. It is not only official Baku that is to blame for the worsening of relations with Ankara. The failure of the Turkish side to accept Turcophone countries as equal partners is also partly to blame for the present coolness in relations with Baku.

The Azerbaijani press is unanimous that Aliyev will face tough questions in Ankara during his visit there. But it is possible that the Turkish side might also face such tough questions from Azerbaijani president. Aliyev with his rich political experience managed to overcome all obstacles and survive in the past 30 years. Will he at this crucial moment of his career be able to overcome not only external pressures but the infighting expected to erupt within his immediate circle in the near future over who is best qualified to succeed him as president?

(Mirza Xazar)

Democratic Party Staged Demo in Baku
On April 21 the Democrat Party staged a protest demonstration in Baku to demand the release of political prisoners. Despite police efforts to prevent the action by using violence, members of Democratic party tried to continue the demo. Party leaders Sardar Jalaloglu, Nuraddin Mamedli and Natig Jabiyev were cruelly beaten during the action, and Nuraddin Mammedli was arrested. Some bystanders who did not participate in the protest were beaten too.

Jashar Aliev, deputy chief of the Baku Police Department said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that about 20 participants in the protest, were arrested, but that the organizers were not among them. Following the action, Democratic Party members convened a meeting at the party's headquarters. Sardar Jalaloglu proposed staging a protest demonstration every Friday to attract world community's attention to the problems of political prisoners. Suleyman Mamedli, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet," told a press conference on April 23 that employees of paper had also been arrested. The paper's founder, Vugar Mamedov, was released after paying a fine. Heydar Oguz was arrested for seven days and Jasur Mamedov for 12 days.

Suleyman Mamedli said they were beaten during the meeting and there were problems in their health. Mammedli said he has brought an action against deputy police chief Jashar Aliyev because he was beaten by him. Democratic Party member Hasrat Rustamov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service on April 23 that about 500 party members received physical injuries during the protest demonstration and 15 members were detained for terms ranging from 10 to 12 days. Twenty members were released after paying a fine.

(Natig Zeynalov, Maarif Akbarov)

Karabakh Liberation Organization Proposes UN Should Deal With the Karabakh Conflict
The Karabakh Liberation Organization hold a meeting on April 24 devoted to the Karabakh war and international rights. Members of organization stated that the government has never officially appealed to the UN in connection with Armenian aggression.

Tahir Kerimli, head of the Vahdat Party, said the conflict should be settled within the framework of the UN, not of the OSCE. He said Azerbaijan should not continue the negotiations with Armenia until the latter recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

The Karabakh Liberation Organization is a public entity, whose members are mainly former inhabitants of the districts of Karabakh now under occupation.

(Babek Bakir)

Political Prisoner On Hunger Strike
Former Interior Ministry forces commander Fakhmin Hadjiyev embarked on an open-ended hunger strike in Gobustan prison on April 24. He is protesting violations of his rights in prison and demands to be allowed to meet with journalists, human rights activists and lawyers. Fakhmin Hadjiyev was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 1996 under the article 57 of criminal Code of Azerbaijan (high treason).

According to Human Rights Department head Saida Godjamanli, Azer Shafiyev, a member of the former OMON (Interior Ministry special detachment) died of cancer in Gobustan prison on April 24. She said human rights organizations repeatedly appealed to the President's Office to amnesty Shafiyev because of his failing health.

(Natig Zeynalov)

Opposition deputies proposed during the Milli Mejlis session on April 24 discussing the fate of political prisoners. Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformists" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, stated that parliament should express its attitude to the events in Sheki, northern Azerbaijan, last fall. Several thousand residents of Sheki held protest demonstrations against hard social conditions in November 2000. According to Kerimov, 800 participants in that protest are under investigation and 380 have been interrogated. On April 26, the trial of 27 participants in those protests will take place in Ganja. Kerimov claimed the authorities are afraid to put them on trial in Sheki.

Parliament speaker Murtuz Aleskerov denied that there are any political prisoners in Azerbaijan. As for the trial of the Sheki protesters, Alesqerov said it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" predicts that President Heidar Aliev's upcoming visit to Turkey will differ from his last visit to Ankara. The paper noted that the Turkish Embassy has submitted a diplomatic note to the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry and predicts that Aliyev will have to answer "non-standard" questions in Turkey.

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo," in a commentary entitled "Ankara Puts Pressure on Baku," claims that Aliev's visit to Turkey will take place in a complicated situation. There have been recent signs of coolness in Azerbaijani-Turkish relations. The Turkish press has criticized the Azerbaijan government for imposing a tax on Turkish lorry drivers and buying meat and milk from Russia. According to the Turkish press, sometimes Azerbaijan does not take Ankara's interests into account. The reactions of Azerbaijan officials to the recognition by France of the alleged "Armenian genocide" has also influenced Azerbaijan-Turkish relations. But this is not the main reason for the deterioration in relations between the two countries, the paper's commentator writes. Ankara repeatedly raised the question of creating normal conditions for Turkish businessmen in Azerbaijan. The paper does not rule out that this issue will be discussed during the meeting between the Azerbaijani and Turkish presidents. It was the first time during last 10 years that Turkish political circles began to discuss the possibility of downgrading Azerbaijan-Turkish relations. "Zerkalo" considers this improbable, but says Ankara will attempt to use that possibility to exert pressure on Aliev.

The daily "Yeni Azerbaijan," which is controlled by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, reported that the Iran secret service prepared for a "provocation" in Baku during Month of Muharram (the Shiite holiday to mark the slaying of the sons of Ali). The paper claims the Iranians planned to hold meetings in mosques as part of a propaganda campaign against Azerbaijan among young people. The paper says one of the mosques earmarked for that purpose was that in a Baku suburb which was recently destroyed on the order of the Baku Mayor. The mosque was illegally built, the paper said.

The opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the issue of transferring the post of president from Heidar Aliyev to his son Ilham Aliyev is under discussion again. The regime has to create internal conditions for that move and ensure the positive reaction to it of the intrenational community. "Yeni Musavat" says the independent press and the democratic opposition are the main obstacles to implementing that plan.

Isa Gambar, head of the Musavat Party, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that his party had not taken part in the protest demonstration organized by Democratic Party because the latter had not officially appealed to his party to do so. Gambar said the Democratic Congress, which unites parties close to Musavat is preparing to organize a protest demonstration.

Exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyat" said that such a protest action will trigger the government's resignation.

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo," commenting on the 21 April protest by the Democratic Party, concludes that although the party has proved its irreconcilable opposition to the government, the small number (some 200) of people who took part in the protest shows that the party does not enjoy widespread support.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" said Iran cannot take part in the settlement of Karabakh conflict. According to him, nobody has proposed inviting Iran to take part in the Karabakh peace process.

(Samira Gaziyeva)

Compiled by Mirza Xazar in Prague and Samira Gazieva in Baku