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Six Dead In Shooting Incident On Azerbaijani Military Base

Azerbaijani troops march during a Republic Day parade in Baku. While military spending has increased, conditions among the rank and file of the conscript army remain poor.
Azerbaijani troops march during a Republic Day parade in Baku. While military spending has increased, conditions among the rank and file of the conscript army remain poor.
(RFE/RL) -- Two Azerbaijani soldiers today shot and killed four officers, including their unit's commander, before turning their weapons on themselves.

Two other servicemen were wounded in the incident, which took place at a military base in Azerbaijan's western Dashkesan region, near the border with Armenia.

It's not clear what provoked the incident. But the shooting is the latest in a series of troubling events in the Azerbaijani military, including a similar shooting on a military base in May 2009, and the assassination of the country's air force commander that February.

Ilqar Mammadov, a Baku-based political analyst, says the shooting will likely lead to criticism and sharper scrutiny of how the armed services are managed.

"This is a very sad incident. And it most likely reflects problems in the military administration," Mammadov said. "These kinds of attacks happen occasionally on military bases, where sometimes emotions run high."

Military Impunity

Today's shooting comes just days after President Ilham Aliyev awarded Defense Minister Safar Abiyev one of Azerbaijan's highest state honors for building up the country's armed forces.

The armed forces have seen their budget grow steadily in recent years, as Aliyev seeks to prove his country's military superiority to neighboring Armenia, with whom it has an ongoing dispute over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Military spending has reached a substantial $1.5 billion, but little has been done to reform rank-and-file conditions in Azerbaijan's poorly paid conscript army, where the International Crisis Group said in a 2008 report that corruption, nepotism, and mistreatment were common.

Many Azerbaijanis consider the Defense Ministry to be one of the country's most corrupt institutions, and today's shooting is likely to prompt criticism of Abiyev, who has served in his post since 1994.

Few details are available about the shooters or the victims. Speaking to French news agency AFP, Temur Abdullayev, a Defense Ministry deputy spokesman, said only that two soldiers had opened fire, killing four servicemen and wounding two others before killing themselves.

Officials at Baku's Military Hospital say they are under strict orders not to disclose any information about the dead or wounded. The Military Prosecutor's Office says it has launched an investigation.

Uzeir Jafarov, a military analyst and retired lieutenant colonel in the Azerbaijani Army, says he is skeptical that the military will address the potential underlying causes of the shooting, such as hazing, widespread corruption, and poor living conditions for conscripts.

"We have been demanding that the army leadership be replaced. But instead, they are honored with the highest awards, and have reached a level of such self-confidence that incidents like this one have become ordinary," Jafarov says.

"There is a state of impunity in the Azerbaijani Army."

Jafarov notes that following the May incident, when a soldier, Orxan Safarov, killed four officers at a base in Seyfali, "even the trial was held behind closed doors."

Safarov, whose parents say he was a victim of hazing, received a life sentence.

In February, General Rail Rzayev, the commander of Azerbaijan's air force, was shot and killed near his home in Baku, in circumstances that remain unclear.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA
January 29, 2010 14:50
So much for the brave Azerbaijani Army whose invisibility the country's Muslim oil dictator Ilham Aliyev loves to trumpet.

by: Hamik C Gregory from: Reno, NV USA
January 29, 2010 19:07
Terrible human tragedy! Hazing, rites of passage, is associated with verbal and physical abuse of new military recruits until they have matured as soldiers. Who are the thoughtless incompetent generals who are allowing this kind of behavior in Azeri Army? Hazing rituals are demoralizing. If not stopped, they can destroy an army!

by: RD
January 30, 2010 12:28
Ilham Aliev should concentrate his country's eventual fleeting wealth on the country's infrastructure and improving the social welfare of its citizens instead of wasting his country's wealth on his military to play a came of who blinks first with Armenia. Resolve your problems diplomatically instead of wasting billions on your military. Only ones who win are the countries supplying you with arms.

by: Lucy Smith from: London
January 30, 2010 22:17
I wonder whether this is the army that will defeat the Armenians. Shut up, Baku, your threats are empty talk. The Baku state is doomed.

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