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Caucasus Report: December 3, 2005


3 December 2005, Volume 8, Number 43

TACTICAL DIFFERENCES EMERGE WITHIN AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION. The cohesion currently demonstrated by Azerbaijan's generally disparate opposition parties in their protest over the perceived falsification of the results of the 6 November parliamentary elections was in stark contrast to their disinclination to form a single opposition alignment to contest that ballot. But despite that solidarity, significant divergences with regard to tactics and strategy persist, and emerged clearly at the 26 November protest that was dispersed by police with what one Azerbaijani journalist described as "unimaginable cruelty." At the same time, the opposition is increasingly embittered by the international community's failure to persuade the Azerbaijani authorities to revise the election outcome.

The first mass protest in the wake of the 6 November ballot brought together the leaders of the three opposition parties aligned in the Azadlyq bloc -- Ali Kerimli of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party's (AHCP) progressive wing, Isa Qambar (Musavat), and Sardar Djalaloglu (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, ADP) -- together with Lala Shovket Gadjieva of the National Unity movement. Eldar Namazov, one of the co-founders of the opposition bloc Yeni Siyaset (YeS), expressed support for that protest.

At the second and subsequent such protests, the Azadlyq leaders were joined by Iskander Hamidov (whose National Democratic Party failed to win representation in the new parliament); Mirmakhmud Miralioglu, chairman of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, joined them on the podium at the fourth (26 November) rally, which was also attended by Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, imam of the now closed Djuma Mosque, zerkalo.az reported on 29 November. But while Azadlyq moved from demanding a revision of the preliminary election results to demanding their annulment and the holding of new elections, Hamidov rejected the latter proposal, reasoning that the authorities would almost certainly falsify the outcome of the repeat vote too, according to echo-az.com on 22 November.

The Umid and Civic Solidarity parties, which are widely regarded as fulfilling the role of a "tame" opposition, distanced themselves on 25 November from a statement, allegedly signed by 800 failed would-be parliamentary candidates, affirming that the 6 November ballot was free and fair, according to echo-az.com on 26 November. Umid Chairman Iqbal Agazade rejected the claim by Gusein Pashaev, a spokesman for the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, that he was one of an unspecified number of candidates from Umid, the AHCP, Musavat, and the Communist Party of Azerbaijan who signed that statement.

But the opposition remains divided both over tactics and external support. The disagreement over tactics surfaced on 26 November, when, as at the preceding rally on 19 November, some participants carried banners calling for establishing a tent camp on Gelebe Square, the rally venue.

Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) head Ali Aliyev (no relation to President Ilham Aliyev) appealed to rally participants to remain on the square and not go home "until victory," according to zerkalo.az on 29 November. AHCP Chairman Kerimli asked participants, "Are you ready to fight to the end and stage a sit-down protest?"

But Musavat's Qambar made it clear that he did not consider "such forms of protest" appropriate. (Musavat Deputy Chairman Rauf Arifoglu subsequently told zerkalo.az that the party wanted to wait to hold a sit-down protest until 10 December, which is International Human Rights Day. He said Kerimli's appeal for a sit-down protest "was damaging to opposition interests," according to echo-az.com on 29 November.)

At the end of the two-hour protest, Qambar and Miralioglu immediately left the podium, while Kerimli and Gadjieva demonstratively sat down on the square. At that point, most rally participants left, leaving only a few hundred people grouped around Kerimli and Gadjieva, both of whom were targeted when police attacked demonstrators between five and 10 minutes later.

ADP First Deputy Chairman Djalaloglu told journalists on 28 November that Azadlyq plans another rally on 3 December, but he stressed that it will not take the form of a sit-down protest, zerkalo.az reported on 29 November. Instead, he said it is hoped that the rally will attract a larger number of participants than ever before. That hope may prove utopian insofar as many of those injured on 26 November may think twice about whether to risk a second beating; but the decision not to proceed with a sit-down protest could equally be dictated by the desire not to endanger rally participants.

But in the absence of strong international backing, the opposition's options remain limited to peaceful protest, unlawful protest, and the "constructive dialogue" with the Azerbaijani authorities that Qambar continues to advocate.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders are clearly disappointed that the international community has not been more vocal and effective in its support. Qambar told journalists in Baku on 25 November that the opposition is no longer counting on support from the West, although opposition leaders will continue to hold what he termed "working meetings" with Western ambassadors, echo-az.com reported.

But AMIP leader Aliyev advocated refraining for one week from any contacts with those Western diplomats whose stance with regard to the election outcome is "not objective," according to zerkalo.az on 24 November. ADP First Deputy Chairman Djalaloglu was quoted on 25 November by zerkalo.az as accusing the West of "betraying democracy [in Azerbaijan] at the last minute."

The online daily commented that the international community's failure to exert greater pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to annul the election results in more constituencies where opposition candidates won, but were not officially acknowledged the winner, is likely to fuel both anti-Western and, specifically, anti-U.S. sentiment.

Commentator Farkhad Mamedov, writing on 29 November in echo-az.com, argued that the outcome of the ballot may undermine people's faith in "democracy," which, he continued, is a "Western concept, some aspects of which conflict with the norms and values of Azerbaijani society."

Echoing statements made several months ago by young politicians close to President Aliyev who advocated a "new model of statehood" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 July 2005), Mamedov called for a concept of statehood that would encompass such attributes as a market economy and "social solidarity," and that would be oriented towards human rights and freedoms and the needs of the individual. (Liz Fuller)

NATO SAYS 'THE DOOR IS OPEN' FOR GEORGIA. Meeting in Brussels on 28 November with visiting Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the "door is open" for Georgia's eventual membership in the alliance. Noghaideli was said by officials to have reiterated his country's ambition to be among the invitees to join NATO likely to be announced in 2008. De Hoop Scheffer told reporters after meeting Noghaideli that Georgia's eventual membership is assured, but at the same time he made clear that Georgia has "a long way to go" before its military can be expected to meet NATO standards.

"Needless to say that NATO's door is open. Needless to say that NATO will support Georgia wherever it needs assistance in implementing those difficult, difficult reforms. We realize there is a long, long way to go, but NATO is ready to assist," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Officials say there is widespread support within NATO for Georgia's membership -- and that, most importantly, the United States appears to support the idea. However, they say, it is far too early to speak of timing. De Hoop Scheffer similarly said on 28 November there are "no dates or timelines" as yet, adding that everything depends on the speed of reforms in Georgia.

Noghaideli appeared content on 28 November with the broad support he received at the meeting with the 26 NATO ambassadors. He said: "It was a very important day for us we have presented our policies to NATO council. The door to NATO is open for us, that's the most important thing. It has also been mentioned that no third country should be allowed to veto Georgia's NATO aspirations and that's another very important thing for us."

Officials at NATO headquarters have always made clear that the decision to offer membership to any country is a political one, made by the allied governments -- and this is where Georgia, in this instance, must focus its lobbying effort. The role of NATO headquarters in Brussels is to guide applicants in their reforms. De Hoop Scheffer indicated on 28 November that defense reforms in Georgia still face a "long and winding road."

Georgia's reform program is currently conducted within the framework of an Individual Partnership Action Plan. The country is eager to proceed to the next level and become the beneficiary of a Membership Action Plan as early as next year. However, Georgian politicians acknowledge that apart from defense reforms, the unresolved conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia also present a formidable obstacle.

De Hoop Scheffer repeated on 28 November the alliance's long-term position -- that it has no plans to get involved in efforts to resolve either conflict. "As you know NATO is not looking for a role in that process. I, we, discuss South Ossetia, it is the OSCE, and I know that the prime minister has presented proposals to the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna. NATO is following this, of course, with interest, but NATO is not seeking a direct role in the process," he said.

At the same time, de Hoop Scheffer repeatedly praised Georgia as an "exporter of security," referring to the country's participation in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosova, as well as in Iraq. He also confirmed that Tbilisi has offered to make as yet officially unspecified contribution to NATO's Active Endeavor naval operation in the eastern Mediterranean. (Ahto Lobjakas)

WILL CHERKESSK BE THE NEXT NALCHIK? Cherkessk, the capital of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), is likely to be the next Nalchik, a place where popular anger at the authorities and Islamic militancy appear set to combine to produce an explosion of violence, according to a leading Moscow observer of the region.

On the one hand, Ivan Surkov writes in an essay posted online last week, Karachaevo-Cherkessia closely resembles Kabardino-Balkariya. Like the latter, it unites two nationalities, has a relatively large ethnic Russian community, and Islamic activism emerged there only relatively recently.

And on the other, divisions within the dominant Karachai community, increasing tensions between it and the Cherkess, and the rise of radical Islamic groups with close ties to the Chechens make its capital an obvious target for the same kind of violence as erupted in Nalchik in October (http://www.apn.ru/?chapter_name=advert&data_id=761&do=view_single).

If the global similarities between the two republics have frequently been noted, Surkov's analysis makes a genuine contribution to our understanding of the North Caucasus by his careful and detailed description of the three factors that appear likely to transform a tense situation into a truly explosive and violent one.

First, Surkov describes the way in which an ongoing court case involving the son-in-law of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev has divided the dominant Kabardian community to such a degree that no matter what the verdict, the Karachais will be weakened, and other groups, ethnic and religious, will seek to take advantage of that situation.

The case, which has been going on for more than a year, involves a struggle over the control of a key industry in the republic that led to several killings. At present, Surkov argues, Ali Kaitov, the man at the center of the case, may soon be acquitted, an outcome that some hope might quiet things in Cherkessk but in fact could set them ablaze.

Second, the relations between the dominant Karachais and the generally subordinate Cherkess have worsened over the past year, with members of the latter group objecting to the increasingly highhanded way in which the Karachai president and members of his administration have behaved and thus reaching out to other Circassian groups for support.

Earlier this fall, Surkov notes, the Cherkess Stanislav Derev, a former Cherkessk mayor who was defeated in the 1999 KChR presidential election and now heads a major industrial concern, organized a congress of the Circassian ethnic communities -- a group that includes the Adygei, the Cherkess, and the Kabardians -- that many there saw as an effort to promote Adygei unity and thus a direct challenge to the current state of affairs.

While the meeting failed to develop into the radical forum some had expected, it did lead to Derev's dismissal from his post as an adviser to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak. That dismissal has angered at least some members of the Cherkess community.

And third, although Karachaevo-Cherkessia was historically not a center of Islamic activism, it has become one over the last 15 years. A great deal of money has flowed into the republic from the Middle East, the Islamists have established close ties with the Chechens, and the official Muslim Spiritual Directorate has lost all influence.

According to the KChR Interior Ministry, there are more than 200 radical Islamists in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Surkov reports, but he adds that there may in fact be as many as 2,000, and their ranks are growing. Some of them have trained and fought in Chechnya, and in many places, the Islamists dominate the community.

These communities or "jamaats" are "network organizations," and consequently, when officials attempt to "neutralize" them by the arrest of one or another key figure, they are able to replicate themselves, sometimes under new names, but invariably driven by increasing hostility to the political authorities. Indeed, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia at the present time, Surkov continues, there are many "'unofficial' mosques [Islamic communities not registered with or subordinate to the spiritual directorate, which has close ties to the government] which 'official' imams are even afraid to approach."

In these circumstances, almost any event, even one superficially inconsequential, could trigger an explosion in a republic that Russian officials have sometimes described as "an island of stability." And there is one event on the horizon, Surkov says, that could easily light the fuse.

On 25 December, there will be a referendum on the creation of a new district for the Abaza, another ethnic group in the region. Both that and the as yet unscheduled vote on the creation of a district for the Nogai, another small ethnic community, challenge the existing territorial-administrative structure in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and thus threaten stability there. (Paul Goble)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Normal states can be created only in conditions of democracy and freedom. Before the Rose Revolution, Georgia was a defective state, and today all the world knows it as a democratic, successful country." -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, speaking in Tbilisi on the second anniversary of the Rose Revolution (quoted by "The Moscow Times" on 23 November).

"The overthrow of an oppressive regime and a system of widespread corruption does not automatically create a fully-fledged democracy; it only creates the conditions within which genuine democratization can take place." -- Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Rene Van Der Linden, in an address to a Tbilisi conference to mark the second anniversary of the Rose Revolution (quoted by Caucasus Press on 24 November).

"Why is freedom and democracy not a top priority in Azerbaijan? Is it because we are not Christian? Or is it because we have oil?" -- Opposition National Unity movement leader Lala-Shovket Gadjieva (quoted by "The New York Times" on 27 November).

"A group of criminals has stolen Armenia from us and is driving our country to the brink of a precipice." -- Academician Rafael Ghazarian, one of the 11 original members of the Karabakh Committee formed in 1988, speaking on 28 November at the rally to protest the alleged rigging of the previous day's referendum on constitutional amendments (quoted by Noyan Tapan).

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