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Azerbaijan Report: June 5, 2001

5 June 2001
Turkmenistan Closes Its Embassy In Azerbaijan
Turkmenistan's surprising decision to close down its embassy in Baku is the focus of discussions both in the Azerbaijani press, and among observers in Baku. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry in a note sent to the Azerbaijani authorities on 4 June said that "the transfer of the residence of the Turkmen ambassador from Baku to Ashkhabad is conditioned with temporary financial difficulties."

But many regard this as the next step in the confrontation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea. In May, Turkmenistan warned the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry that it has the right to turn to the international Arbitration Court to settle its territorial disagreements with Azerbaijan. Nevertheless no one in Baku expected Ashkhabad to take such a drastic step. Did Turkmenistan act alone, or was it provoked to do so? Two leading politicians in Baku gave different answers to this question.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service, Vafa Guluzadeh, former state adviser on foreign political issues, linked the Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement with the "Russian factor." This step is directed against Azerbaijan's independence and sovereignty, according to Guluzadeh.

Some forces are interested in exerting political pressure on Azerbaijan and in a deterioration in relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Guluzadeh said. Guluzadeh considers Turkmenistan's most recent statement is not connected to Ashgabat's claim to ownership of some oil fields in the Caspian Sea which are being developed by Baku. Turkmenistan's move is not an independent one, Russia is behind Ashgabat's ambitions, he noted.

Vafa Guluzadeh said if Turkmenistan will be independent, the relations between Baku and Ashgabat will be excellent. If it continues to depend on Moscow, relations between Baku and Ashgabat will worsen. He added that Russia is helping Turkmenistan to strengthen its military forces in the Caspian Sea.

Political analyst Rasim Musabekov thinks the Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement is connected with Turkmenistan's claims on Azerbaijani oil fields. No country supports this claim on the part of Turkmenistan, and that step is peculiar to the dictatorial nature of Turkmenbashi. Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov is going to put pressure on Azerbaijan in order to reinforce Turkmenistan's claims to the disputed Caspian oil fields, but he will fail, because Ashgabat does not have any legal basis to claim ownership of those oil fields. Rasim Musabekov said Turkmenistan is not able to create a threat to Azerbaijan.

(Samira Gaziyeva)

ADP Staged Third Demonstration in Baku
On June 2 the Azerbaijan Democrat Party made its third attempt within a month to stage a protest demonstration to demand the release of political prisoners. Azerbaijan Democrat Party Secretary General Sardar Jalaloglu told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that 31 participants in the protest demonstration on June 2 were arrested. Seven of them were detained for ten days and one for five days, while the rest were released. Jalaloglu also said 98 participants received physical injuries during clashes with police.

Jalaloglu said the Democratic party is going to appeal to the Court of Appeal. He accused the Baku City Council of not creating the necessary conditions for a protest demonstration. At the same time, he added that such actions will continue until the party manages to achieve its goals. He expressed his regret that the Democratic Congress has postponed a protest demonstration scheduled for June 9. Jalaloglu does not rule out the demands of ADP in the next protest rallies will be more radical.

(Babek Bekir)

Democratic Congress Discussed 4 June Events
On June 4 the Democratic Congress comprising the parties close to Musavat and the "classic" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party adopted a resolution devoted to the eighth anniversary of the 1993 June events that culminated in the flight from Baku of then President Abulfaz Elchibey and the advent to power of Heidar Aliev. The resolution says that the Democratic Congress evaluates the 4 June events as the riot by forces serving the interests of Russia and Iran. After these events the tradition of democratic elections was eradicated in Azerbaijan and Heidar Aliyev has changed the foreign policy course of Azerbaijan and joined the CIS. The resolution criticized the present leadership's foreign and internal policy and stated that in the near future the Milli Mejlis which will be democratically taking shape will give an impartial appraisal the events of 4 June 1993.

(Natig Zeynalov)

"Azadlig" Suspends Publication
Employers of the newspaper "Azadlig" who stopped work on May 31 told a press conference on June 5 that the paper has stopped publication because of financial difficulties. The employers of "Azadlig" have appealed to the embassies of the foreign countries, representatives of international organizations in Baku and the Azerbaijani community and accused a certain group of having a monopoly on the sale of paper and printing technologies in country.

Rovshan Hadgiyev, the editor "Azadlig," said opposition newspapers facing financial difficulties are obliged to stop their activity or to serve the interests of the government. He added the journalists of "Azadlig" have already received such proposals from financial structures close to government. But instead they have taken the decision to suspend publication temporarily.

Political observers suggest the government's intention to bribe independent newspapers and force them to serve its interests is connected with the forthcoming presidential elections which will take place in 2003.

(Natig Zeynalov)

During the Milli Medjlis session on June 5, Jurddash Party head Mais Safarli proposed that the legislature discuss the hard social conditions of population. He said that 2 million Azerbaijanis have emigrated to Russia and hundreds of thousands to Turkey, Iran and Arab countries because of unemployment in their home country.

Safarli demanded that the prime minister and other government members report on social issues to the parliament. He added that the government should stop the emigration of the intelligentsia and labour force from Azerbaijan. Safarli said that if the government does not take measures to improve the social situation, the opposition parties will stage protest rallies. Milli Medjli Deputy Chairman Arif Rahimzadeh rejected Safarli's statements and said that the government is making efforts to improve the social situation in the country.

(Zarkhanym Ahmedly)

Iran's Azerbaijanis Demand More National And Cultural Rights On Eve Of Presidential Election
Iran's ethnic Azerbaijanis or Azeri Turks, numbering between 20 and 30 million, want more recognition for their language and culture and according to Reuters "are pinning their hopes for greater rights on President Mohammad Khatami in Friday's presidental elections."

Although Tabriz, the main Azeri city in Iran, has local radio and television broadcasts in Azeri, schools all teach in Persian and all official business is conducted in the official Persian language. "How is it possible that not only their [Azerbaijanis'] civic rights are forgotten, but also their identity, culture and language are mocked?" a group of Azeri legislators and intellectuals wrote to Khatami recently. They demanded greater language rights in education and broadcasting, which are guraranteed by Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution.

It should be noted that according to Iranian Azerbaijanis interviewed by Reuters, Azeri Turks are not a minority in Iran. "Azeris in Iran are not a minority, but a majority in the population and in the hierarchy of the Islamic Republic," Abbas Maleki, a former deputy foreign minister, told Reuters. This issue is a source of contention among Iranian Azerbaijanis living abroad, and among South Azerbaijani communities in Republic of Azerbaijan. Some of them claim that the fact that Azerbaijanis constitute the largest minority in Iran does not ultimately mean they should have more rights. It is interesting that Iran's Supreme Religous leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom Reuters identified as being himself an Azeri, says that "The Turkic and the non-Turkic peoples in Iran are all brothers, Muslims and devoted to the Islamic system."

The Iranian authorities, fearing separatism, are still sensitive about minorities such as the Kurds, Turkmens and Azeris, and seek to unite these ethnic groups in Islam, Reuters noted. But the reality is contradicting arguments made to Reuters. According to some Azerbaijanis interviewed by an RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent in Baku, the majority of Iranian Azerbaijanis do not support Khatami's candidacy and they demand more national and cultural rights for Azerbaijanis in Iran.

According to a report from South (Iranian) Azerbaijan, some Azerbaijani organisations in Iran are calling for a boycott of the 8 June presidental elections on the grounds that Khatami has not fulfilled the promises he made during his first election to presidency, and has thus disappointed the hopes of many Azeris. This report contradicts a statement made to Reuters by Akbar Alami, an MP for Tabriz. "...The majority of the Azeri people support the reform movement," Alami said, "although Azerbaijan definitely has different tastes and perspectives on reform and political views."

(Elkhan Nasibov)

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Gouliev has expressed regret at Turkmenistan's decision to close its Baku embassy. "Turkmenistan explains this step by citing financial difficulties and says this is a temporary move. Although there are parallels in world practice, we are not happy that Turkmenistan is resorting to this," Gouliev said in an interview published in the independent newspaper "525-gazeti" on 5 June.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Minister denied that Ashgabad's decision is linked with the recent tensions between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over oil and gas reserves in Caspian Sea. But he does not believe in the possibility of resolving these problems by moving embassies.

Ismayil Ismaylov in "Hurriyyet" also comments on the closure of the Turkmen embassy in Baku. He suggests that earlier the Azerbaijan government dismissed Turkmenistan's territorial claims as "rubbish," and therefore now the problem is becoming increasingly serious. Timely made reaction could be helpful to solve this problem in the past. But today Turkmenistan is increasing its military forces on the Caspian and this factor poses threat...and serves as the precondition for future attempts to solve any Azerbaijan-related disputes by force." Ismaylov claims that Russia is interested in regional instability and therefore anytime it can provoke Turkmenistan to begin a military confrontation with Azerbaijan.

"Ulus," which is a semi-independent paper with close ties to the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, writes about the increasing divisions within powerful clans in Azerbaijan. The paper suggests that the struggle which has erupted within certain clans such as the Azerbaijanis from Armenia, could create instability in Azerbaijan. The ruling regime is trying hard to stop this trend, but has no ability to do it, notes the paper. The divisions within the powerful clans in Baku have provoked national minorities, such as the Talyshs, Lezgins and Awars, to create their own organisations. This is dangerous, the paper writes, because this divisions create a basis for potential regional conflicts in Azerbaijan.

"The Azeri authorities haves already has missed the chance to solve Karabakh problem in favor of Azerbaijan," writes independent newspaper "Yeni Musavat." Even recently opinion polls, secretly and directly conducted by the government, show that most of population do not believe in the effectiveness of the government's Karabakh policy. "Karabakh can only be returned if the current authorities are replaced," the paper maintains.

(Rovshan Huseinov, Elkhan Nasibov)