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Caucasus Report: March 23, 1999


23 March 1999, Volume 2, Number 12

Is Mahir Djavadov A Free Agent? Four years ago, in March 1995, Rovshan Djavadov, the commander of Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry Special Purposes Militia (OPON), was shot dead by Azerbaijani army troops, ending what the country's authorities claim was an attempted coup d'etat. Djavadov's brother Mahir fled Azerbaijan shortly after those events and was granted political asylum in Austria. Since late last year, however, Mahir Djavadov has been in Tehran, where he announced the creation of a political party named after the OPON. He has told journalists that the aims of that party are to restore Azerbaijani control over Nagorno-Karabakh and to oust the present Azerbaijani leadership. He has repeatedly criticized President Heidar Aliev, whom he accuses of ruining the country's economy and failing to regain control of the territories lost to Armenia.

Djavadov's statements have provoked widespread speculation in the Azerbaijani media, focusing on which opposition political parties and figures in Azerbaijan might make common cause with him, how great his chances are of enlisting support from among Iran's large ethnic-Azerbaijani minority, and what interest the Iranian government has in tolerating his presence on Iranian territory. Some Azerbaijani observers have suggested the possibility that Djavadov may be able to count on support from ex-President Ayaz Mutalibov and others in Moscow, where Mutalibov took refuge following his ouster by the Azerbaijan Popular Front in May 1992.

On 1 March, the conservative Iranian newspaper "Resalat" published a lengthy interview with Mahir Djavadov in which he discussed the emergence of the OPON and its role in the Karabakh conflict, and explained his opposition to Aliyev and his policies.

Djavadov claimed, somewhat improbably, that the OPON existed prior to the collapse of the USSR in the form of private police forces that received their orders from the people, were financed by private individuals, but acted under government supervision. He said that initially the OPON acted as "impartial observers" in the Karabakh conflict but subsequently evolved into "a defense and military group" that succeeded in halting the Armenian advance. He offered no explanation of how the original OPON were co-opted by the Interior Ministry, but he claimed that despite the crackdown on its members that followed the March 1995 standoff, OPON detachments continue to carry out "covert operations" in Azerbaijan. He even claimed that the OPON are the strongest opposition force in Azerbaijan, dismissing as ineffective such figures as former President Mutalibov, former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev.

Djavadov explained his opposition to Aliyev in terms of the latter's alleged "abuse of the rights of the Azerbaijani people." He said Aliyev "illegally acquired the presidency" by means of "treason and treachery." He also accused Aliyev of violating the Azerbaijani Constitution by appointing the governors of the country's various raions. The constitution stipulates that they should be popularly elected. Djavadov predicted that Aliyev would facilitate his son Ilham's succession to the presidency, initially by naming him head of the "Yeni Azerbaijan" party that controls the parliament and forms part of Aliev's power base.

Djavadov criticized both what he termed "U.S. infiltration" of Azerbaijan, which he blamed on Aliev's "greed and love for money," and Azerbaijan's close ties with Turkey. He said that the proposal currently under discussion, that Azerbaijan and Turkey should create a confederation, is not in Azerbaijan's interests because "Azerbaijan does not share common borders with Turkey." As for Iran, Djavadov declared that "the two nations of Iran and Azerbaijan are actually one nation," and said that contacts betwen the two should be "so free that people on both sides of the borders can feel that they are one nation, but under two separate governments."

At the end of the "Resalat" interview, Djavadov repeated his desire to "serve his country" and to return to Azerbaijan. But whether he can muster the support to do either is questionable. A spokesman for former OPON members told journalists in Baku last week that most of them have no intention of joining forces with Djavadov. Djavadov's criticism of Aliyev and accompanying populist promises to create a just society in which everyone will have employment and enough to eat have nonetheless earned him support, especially among the impoverished strata of Azerbaijani society, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. At present, Djavadov is a political symbol of widespread discontent; whether he becomes a major political force will depend partly on how the domestic political situation in Azerbaijan develops, and partly on how the Iranian leadership evaluates and responds to those events. (Liz Fuller)

Georgian Parliament Passes 1999 Budget. On 19 March, the Georgian parliament finally adopted the state budget for 1999 by a vote of 120-9. The budget envisages revenues of some 922.5 million lari and expenditures of 1.23 billion lari. The deficit thus amounts to 309 million lari. Those figures are based on an assumed exchange rate of 2 lari to the dollar. The current exchange rate is 2.3 lari to the dollar.

Several factors contributed to the delay in adopting the budget. The government had prepared the first draft in early fall 1998, prior to the steep drop in value of the lari, leading parliament to call in mid-December for major revisions (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 November 1998). At that time, parliament budget committee head Zaza Sioridze expressed the hope that a new version, which would include the government's 145.9 million lari backlog in unpaid wages and pensions for 1998, would be adopted in February 1999.

The International Monetary Fund objected strongly to the projected 334.3 million lari deficit projected by the first draft. An IMF mission arrived in Tbilisi in January to discuss both the draft budget and conditions for the disbursal of the final $39 million tranche of an ESAF loan. The IMF representative in Georgia, Hunter Monroe, was quoted by the Georgian press as stating that the draft budget provided for a deficit that was 100 million lari higher than the maximum stipulated by the Fund. Parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania rejected that claim, saying that the true figure was only 40 million lari, while Finance Minister Davit Onoprishvili said the discrepancy was 75 million lari and that the IMF was therefore demanding that expenditures be slashed by that amount. Monroe, for his part, said in an official statement issued by the IMF on 12 February only that the draft budget "departs " from understandings reached between the Georgian government and the IMF team.

Zhvania predicted in late February, on the eve of the debate on the amended budget, that its passage through parliament would be stormy, as deputies were demanding that no expenditures be released until last year's wage and pension arrears had been paid. Among the top priorities, he listed defense, security, and health spending. Onoprishvili explained that reductions in expenditures would affect in the first instance the bureaucratic apparatus, whose personnel is to be cut by 20 percent and funding by 40 percent by 1 May. (One prominent victim of the cuts is the Georgian Foreign Ministry: Deputy Minister Valerii Chechelashvili told Caucasus Press that 1 million lari of the ministry's total 2.4 million lari budget will go just on membership fees for the UN and the Council of Europe. He predicted that the budget crunch could result if not in the closure of some embassies abroad, then at least in delays in opening any new ones.)

Monroe last week said that implementation of the final version of the budget will depend on increasing tax revenues by 33 percent, largely by abolishing "privileges" that enable some of the country's biggest businessmen to avoid taxes. Monroe told participants at a workshop devoted to the National Bank of Georgia's new credit policy that "today Georgia has to choose either the criminal or the legal way of development." Caucasus Press quoted him as observing that "there is no such thing as a market economy in Georgia," and that "in any normal country a businessman who refuses to pay taxes is declared bankrupt, his property is sold and the money obtained is transferred to the state budget." (Liz Fuller)

Quotation Of The Week. "[Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov is a calm, well-balanced person, ready for compromises, but there are many people in Chechnya who are against compromises of any kind. Maskhadov really could unite the people of Chechnya for achieving positive goals. Opposition emerged because the agreement with Russia signed by Maskhadov was not working. The assassination attempt will not affect Russian-Chechen relations. The future depends on how eager the Russian Federation is to establish positive relations with Chechnya." -- Rafael Khakimov, advisor to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, quoted by RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 22 March.

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