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Caucasus Report: January 13, 2006


13 January 2006, Volume 9, Number 1

DEMORALIZED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION IN DISARRAY. Two months after the 6 November parliamentary elections in which, according to official returns, Azerbaijan's opposition won a mere 10 of the 125 mandates, the cohesion of the opposition Azadliq election alliance is threatened by disagreements over future strategy, while two major opposition parties are riven by internal dissent. Whether those disagreements will result in total fragmentation, or whether former rivals might join forces in a new opposition alliance, is as yet unclear.

The disagreements among Azadliq's three members -- the Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) -- focus on whether the handful of opposition candidates who won their respective races should participate in the workings of a parliament the opposition considers lacking legitimacy; whether they should field candidates in the 13 May voting in the 10 constituencies in which the results of the 6 November ballot were annulled; and whether the opposition should propose candidates to serve on the new Central Election Commission (MSK).

On 1 December, Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court formally endorsed the results of the 6 November election from 115 of the total 125 constituencies, having annulled the results in a further six constituencies, in addition to the four where the MSK had already invalidated the outcome. The Constitutional Court's ruling deprived Ali Kerimli, chairman of the AHCP's progressive wing, of his mandate, leaving the AHCP with one deputy and Musavat with five (not including its chairman Isa Qambar); the DPA failed to win representation. Kerimli told journalists on 2 December that he intended to propose at his next meeting with fellow Azadliq party leaders and the leader of the National Unity Movement that the four organizations refrain from either participating in the work of the new legislature or from fielding candidates in the repeat elections, zerkalo.az reported on 3 December.

The DPA initially endorsed that tactic, and National Unity's chair Lale Sovket-Haciyeva subsequently announced that she would not take up her mandate. But although Musavat party leader Qambar similarly pledged that neither Azadliq as a bloc nor Musavat would participate in the working of the new parliament, he subsequently retreated from that position, telling a 17 December meeting of Musavat's Mejlis (council) that while the Azadliq participation in the new parliament "will not change anything," the bloc would gain nothing from a boycott. (It should be borne in mind that Musavat was excluded from the 1995 parliamentary election and ended up with just one parliament deputy in the 2000 ballot.)

Musavat Deputy Chairman Rauf Arifoglu told journalists on 7 December that he has the legal right to participate in the repeat vote in the constituency for which he sought representation in the 6 November ballot. He added that he hopes opposition candidates will do likewise in the nine other constituencies where the results have been annulled. Arifoglu dismissed warnings from other Musavat party members that he risked expulsion if he failed to abide by the bloc's decision to boycott both the work of the new parliament and the repeat elections.

Some senior Musavat members present at the 17 December meeting advocated participating in the work of the new parliament, while others supported the proposed boycott. The meeting finally endorsed a decision by the party's top leaders not to participate in the work of the parliament for the time being, and to postpone a decision on whether or not to field candidates in the 13 May repeat voting until after a party congress scheduled for February 2006, according to zerkalo.az on 20 December.

Moreover, Musavat First Deputy Chairman Vurgun Eyyub and Deputy Chairman Sulheddin Akper both openly questioned the expediency not only of either prolonging the existence of Azadliq, which was conceived purely as an election bloc, or of transforming it into a new "national movement," but also of continuing to cooperate with the AHCP. Akper accused Kerimli of making an "unforgivable mistake" and of "dealing a major blow" to the opposition as a whole by his apparently spontaneous decision to launch a sit-down protest following the two-hour march and demonstration organized by Azadliq on 26 November to protest the election outcome, day.az reported on 19 December. Kerimli's decision -- in which he was backed by Sovket-Haciyeva -- triggered a vicious police assault on the dispersing demonstration participants in which dozens of people were injured. Akper proposed instead that Musavat should establish closer ties with the DPA, the conservative wing of the AHCP, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), and the tiny Vahdat party, according to zerkalo.az on 20 December.

At a meeting of its top leadership on 24 December, Kerimli's wing of the AHCP reaffirmed its decision to boycott both the work of the new parliament and the 13 May repeat elections, echo-az.com reported on 27 December. Nizami Quliyev, who represented the party in the outgoing parliament, argued that the opposition has a duty to boycott the new parliament as a way to focus the attention of the international community on that body's shortcomings. But day.az on 27 December quoted Quliyev as saying that in the issue of whether or not to participate in the repeat vote, including in the Gyadabey constituency where according to the official (later invalidated) returns he lost to a candidate from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), he will be guided by the final decision of the Azadliq bloc as a whole, rather than of that of the AHCP.

Like Musavat, the DPA too has retreated from its initial declaration of support for a boycott of parliamentary proceedings: DPA press spokesman Nureddin Ismailov told echo-az.com on 27 December that since no DPA candidates won election, it would not be ethical for the party to pronounce on the issue.

The newly elected parliament convened for the first time on 2 December and elected a new speaker and deputy speakers. Six representatives of five different opposition parties (including Azadliq's Djamil Gasanli) are participating in its work. Parliament statutes set the minimum number of deputies needed to establish a formal faction at 25; they must, moreover, all be elected from the same political party or bloc. Only such factions have the right of legislative initiative. Umid party chairman Iqbal Agazade, one of the six opposition deputies, was quoted in a 29 December interview with echo-az.com as saying that the "group of six" will endeavor to coordinate its activities.

Whether that will prove possible remains unclear, however: on 10 January day.az reported that the minority parties represented in parliament (Civic Solidarity; Civic Unity; Great Creation; Democratic Reforms; Musavat; Ana Veten; Social Welfare; National Unity; Yeni Siyaset, or New Policy; both wings of the AHCP; Umid; and the breakaway United Party of the Azerbaijan Popular Front) have been unable to reach agreement on nominating six candidates to the new MSK. That body comprises 18 members, six each nominated by the majority party (YAP), by other parliamentary parties, and by nonaligned deputies.

Following a 6 January meeting of the heads of the three Azadlyq constituent parties and National Unity, Kerimli told journalists the following day that while the AHCP progressive wing refuses to participate in the work of the MSK unless its composition is amended to give the ruling party and opposition parties equal representation, he cannot speak for the other parties, day.az reported. But newly elected deputy parliament speaker Ziyafet Asqerov was quoted by day.az on 30 December as ruling out any such major restructuring of the MSK. Earlier, Asqerov warned that deputies who fail to attend more than 30 parliament sessions without a valid excuse will be stripped of their mandate.

Speaking to journalists after the same 6 January meeting of Azadliq's leaders, Kerimli sought to play down the tactical differences between them, denying rumors of a split, echo-az.com reported on 7 January. He said the three discussed the bloc's future program, and that he unveiled a draft proposal on continued cooperation between Azadlyq, National Unity, the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP). AMIP Chairman Ali Aliyev raised in December the possibility of AMIP quitting the Yeni Siyaset (YeS) election bloc and aligning with Azadliq. But that stated intention by Aliyev, who was elected AMIP chairman in two successive ballots last year, precipitated a major standoff between Aliyev and his predecessor Etibar Mammadov, who now holds the honorary title of AMIP "leader."

Mammadov has always regarded the leaders of Azadliq's three parties with a degree of coolness, if not outright hostility, according to zerkalo.az on 16 December. Aliyev's increasingly intemperate and insulting criticisms of Mammadov and his supporters within the party culminated in its split into two rival groupings on 8 January.

Similarly rent by internal dissent is the DPA, whose First Deputy Chairman Sardar Calaloglu is engaged in a power struggle with Aydin Guliyev, chief editor of the newspaper "Baky khabar," in which both men claim the backing of the party's exiled chairman, Rasul Quliyev.

Quliyev left Azerbaijan nine years ago after a major disagreement with then-President Heydar Aliyev, and headed the DPA from his U.S. exile since that time. He has announced several times his intention to return to Baku despite the fact that a warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges on large-scale embezzlement. In the wake of his most recent, abortive attempt to return, in mid-October, the Azerbaijani authorities arrested up to a dozen senior officials on charges of conspiring with Quliyev to stage a coup d'etat. Some Azerbaijani analysts have suggested that Quliyev's repeated failures to make good on his announced intention to return to Baku have discredited him to the point that the DPA would be unwise to risk proposing him as its candidate in the 2008 presidential election, according to zerkalo.az on 21 December.

On 20 December, zerkalo.az published an article entitled "Musavat and Azadliq Divorce," accompanied by a photo of Qambar and Kerimli side by side but visibly estranged. The paper suggested that in the event that Azadliq does collapse, Kerimli stands to "inherit" the more radical "protest" voters, while Qambar and Quliyev might remain aligned in a "rump" Azadliq. (An alliance between Kerimli, one of Azerbaijan's most charismatic politicians, and National Unity's Sovket-Haciyeva, one of the opposition's most politically sophisticated thinkers, could prove a force to be reckoned with.) At this juncture, however, any such speculation about putative realignments within the opposition camp remains premature. (Liz Fuller)

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS OF 'ECONOMIC COST' OF VOTE-RIGGING. Vartan Oskanian made a case for Armenia's democratization in televised interview broadcast late on 28 December, warning that the country risks paying not only a political but also an economic price for its culture of electoral fraud. He specifically warned that the Armenian authorities will miss out on multi-million-dollar assistance from the United States if they fail to ensure the freedom and fairness of the next elections.

"Democracy is the main guarantee of Armenia's continued economic development," Oskanian told the private Kentron television. "We are now in a situation where any step away from democratization and a repeat of electoral fraud would have an economic cost. And I can name that cost: $235 million," he added, referring to the amount of extra U.S. aid to Armenia that was approved this month as part of Washington's Millennium Challenge Account program.

A U.S. government agency administering the scheme made its allocation conditional on "corrective steps" that would improve Yerevan's human-rights record and rule out voting irregularities in the future. The Millennium Challenge Corporation expressed concern about reports of serious fraud that marred the recent constitutional referendum in Armenia.

According to Oskanian, the proper conduct of the next parliamentary and presidential elections, due in 2007 and 2008 respectively, is also vital for Armenia's relations with the European Union, another major donor. The EU too has criticized the conduct of the 27 November referendum, openly questioning Yerevan's commitment to democracy.

"We cannot afford to find ourselves in a similar situation after the next elections," said Oskanian. The West now has "higher expectations" from Armenia that cannot be fobbed off by claims that reported voting irregularities did not affect election results, he said.

Oskanian addressed his warning to "those individuals who resort to violations" of the electoral law, but refrained from naming any of them, saying only that the country must not suffer "for the sake of some people's political careers." The Syrian-born former U.S. citizen went on to urge the authorities and the Armenian opposition to embark on a "dialogue" on the issue. That the referendum was accompanied by serious irregularities is also admitted by other government officials and pro-establishment politicians. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, for example, said earlier this month that Armenia's leadership should "draw appropriate conclusions so that such actions are not carried out during the next elections." (Emil Danielyan)

OPPOSITION LEADER SUGGESTS ARMENIANS 'NOT RIPE' FOR REVOLUTION. People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian further distanced himself from his more radical allies on 26 December, saying that Armenian society is not yet ready for the popular "revolution" they have promised. Demirchian also admitted that his Artarutiun (Justice) bloc may fall apart in 2006 due to growing tactical differences between the HZhK and other parties making up Armenia's largest opposition grouping.

"If certain parties affiliated with the alliance find it necessary to pull out of the alliance, that will be their business," he told RFE/RL in an interview. "I will just say that the HZhK can operate separately, while cooperating with reliable partners. There will certainly be regroupings in 2006 within both the government and opposition camps. Nothing is perpetual in this world."

Some of the Artarutiun factions, notably the radical Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party, are increasingly at odds with Demirchian over how to deal with the Armenian authorities. They, as well as several other opposition parties, are currently in the process of setting up a new umbrella structure that will coordinate their continuing efforts at a popular pro-democracy movement. They have already tried unsuccessfully to use the disputed 27 November constitutional referendum stir up an anti-government revolt.

The new opposition coalition is expected to be modeled on the famous Karabakh Committee that led the 1988 movement for Karabakh's reunification with Armenia. Demirchian said that idea is "good" but not realistic. "I am against hasty decisions and think that issues must be solved in due course," he said. "You can't achieve results with artificial format changes. Everything must be natural."

Pointing to poor attendance at the postreferendum opposition rallies in Yerevan, Demirchian said Armenians are "not ripe for a revolution" at this juncture. But he denied that this means he has lost hope of effecting regime change before the next national elections due in 2007 and 2008. "We must do everything to ensure that a legitimate government is installed as soon as possible," he said.

The radical opposition, meanwhile, plans to resume its regular street protests in Yerevan on 27 January. Demirchian reiterated that he and his party will not take part in them. (Ruzanna Stepanian)

YOUNGER GENERATION RALLIES BEHIND KABARDINO-BALKARIA PRESIDENT. On 13 October, less than one month after Moscow-based businessman Arsen Kanokov was confirmed as president of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), youthful militants launched multiple attacks on police and security agency targets in Nalchik in a demonstration of their rejection of corruption among the republic's leadership, appalling social and economic conditions, and the systematic and indiscriminate harassment by local police of practicing Muslims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 October 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 November 2005). Since then, Kanokov has reached out to the younger generation in a bid to win support for his efforts to eradicate the corruption and poverty that have fuelled anger and alienation among young Muslims.

Within days of his confirmation as president, Kanokov was arguing the need to revitalize the economy, attract investment, create new jobs, end what he termed the "war" between the republic's senior Muslim clergy and young believers, and promote transparency within the government apparatus as a means of precluding cronyism and corruption. Shortly after the Nalchik raid, he gave an interview to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in which he deplored the total absence of dialogue between the authorities and the population at large. (The very fact that Kanokov agreed to talk to Politkovskaya, whose fearless reporting of abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya has almost cost her her life on at least one occasion, sets him apart from both his predecessor Valery Kokov and many of his fellow heads of North Caucasus regions.) In a bid to promote such dialogue, Kanokov appealed to both parliament deputies and government officials to "go out and talk to people," annews.ru reported on 5 November. He reasoned that without doing so it is impossible to tackle the festering problems that helped trigger the Nalchik raids.

Kanokov delivered a similar message three weeks later at a meeting with heads of the republic's media outlets, his website (http://www.prezident-kbr.ru) reported on 25 November. Kanokov said on that occasion that not only the state-controlled media but privately owned media outlets should give the maximum coverage to the workings of the republic's government, which should in turn make the maximum of information available. The media should, in turn, provide "feedback" from the population in the form of criticism and suggestions. Then in early December, Kanokov convened a meeting to discuss setting up a presidential consultative council that, in Kanokov's words, would serve as a "bridge" between the republic's leadership and the public, rian.ru reported on 7 December. And in December a confidential telephone hotline went in to operation that citizens may use to inform the presidential apparatus of suspected criminal offenses or abuses of office by bureaucrats, Interfax reported on 15 December. During the first week the line was operational, the presidential apparatus fielded a total of 437 complaints, 75 percent of which were about delays in payment of wages; only 2 percent focused on instances of corruption.

The Youth for Kanokov movement emerged in late November, and launched its own website (http://www.kanokov.org), which reportedly registered 540 visits on its first day and an average of 150--200 visits per day on subsequent days, kavkazweb.net reported on 29 November. The movement already has branch organizations in Nalchik and 10 districts. It is unclear, however, whether it reflects a spontaneous initiative, or whether it was the brainchild of the presidential apparatus. (Having been based in Moscow for several years prior to his appointment as president, Kanokov does not have a power base in Nalchik.) The fact that persons wishing to attend the founding congress of Youth for Kanokov, which took place in Nalchik on 17 December, were required to e-mail their names beforehand to the organizers is likely to have precluded the participation of many of the impoverished and alienated rural residents. Most members of the organization are students; they also include businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and social workers. To judge from photos of the gathering posted on the movement's website, however, practicing Muslims are by no means excluded: one of the participants is a young woman wearing the hijab.

Much of the analysis of the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria in the wake of the October Nalchik attacks focused on perceived opposition to Kanokov within the republican leadership, especially the "power" ministries, which have reportedly engaged in systematic reprisals over the past couple of years against anyone suspected of sympathizing with, or of contacts to, Islamic radicals. Those reprisals are believed to have contributed in no small measure to the emergence of the djamaats that constitute the underground opposition to the regime. But the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament, too, is now flexing its muscles, having proposed separate amendments to Russian legislation that would toughen the penalties for "terrorism" and "religious extremism," according to Interfax on 30 November and regnum.ru on 1 December. Whether the police and prosecutor's office would go so far as to adduce that legislation in a future crackdown on isolated members of Youth for Kanokov in a bid to discredit the entire organization remains to be seen. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "If Georgia wants to have normal chances for development, [President Mikheil] Saakashvili must be its last president. The presidential system of government has not justified itself. We need a parliamentary republic, even a monarchy is better than presidential rule." -- Georgian economist Niko Orvelashvili, quoted by Caucasus Press on 14 December.

"For any politician, the worst danger is vanity and a belief in his own eloquence." -- Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in "The Spectator," 7 January 2006

"Nagorno-Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan, de facto or de jure. I can promise you that." -- Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, quoted by Noyan Tapan on 14 December.

"One can make concessions to a friend, but not to an enemy. If you face an armed opponent who can open fire tomorrow, it is natural that you will not make any concessions to him." Ibid

"The [governing] coalition resembles a marriage where the parties go home at night but spend the rest of the day engaging in the holy business of cheating on each other." Editorial published in "Chorrord Ishkhanutiun" on 24 December.

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