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Azerbaijan: Baku Implicates Armenian Intelligence In Alleged Coup Bid

(RFE/RL) Azerbaijan's Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 4 August the arrest of Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the opposition youth movement Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), on charges of plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership at the instigation of Armenian intelligence operatives. Those allegations, which the Armenian National Security Service and Bashirli's fellow Azerbaijani oppositionists have both rejected, highlight Azerbaijan's ongoing suspicion and hostility toward Armenia and call into question Baku's commitment to creating a "level playing field" for all parties wishing to participate in the 6 November parliamentary election.

Bashirli was arrested on 3 August and charged with plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership at the instigation of Armenian intelligence agents with whom he allegedly met in Tbilisi on 28-29 July. Bashirli allegedly accepted $2,000 from one of the Armenians who promised to provide him within days with a further $20,000.

A second Yeni Fikir member, Osman Alimuradov, who accompanied Bashirli to Tbilisi, said he rejected pressure to co-opt him and subsequently denounced Bashirli to the Azerbaijani authorities, Turan and reported. Bashirli is said to have told the Armenians that he has received explicit instructions from the U.S. National Democracy Institute to prepare for a "revolution" in Azerbaijan.

But two deputy chairmen of Yeni Fikir, Said Nuriev and Fikret Faramazoglu, gave a different account of Bashirli's encounter in Tbilisi at a press conference in Baku on 5 August, reported. Nuriev said that Bashirli was offered the $2,000 by representatives of Georgian and Armenian "democratic forces." They said he was drunk at the time, and hypothesized that his drink may have been spiked.

They said that Bashirli returned the money the following day. Legal expert Tofig Guliev told the same 5 August press conference that none of Bashirli's actions were unlawful and that there was no talk of seizing power in Azerbaijan. Bashirli's current whereabouts are not known.

This is by no means the first time that the Azerbaijani authorities have accused Armenian intelligence services of co-opting Azerbaijani citizens to commit criminal, or even terrorist acts. In April 1996, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry claimed that Armenian intelligence recruited and trained Armenian members of the Daghestan-based Lezgin separatist organization Sadval who subsequently perpetrated a bomb attack on the Baku metro in March 1994 that killed 14 people.

Azerbaijani opposition politicians fear that Bashirli's arrest may be part of a campaign to discredit opposition in the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary election. In late July, Deputy Interior Minister Vilayat Eyubov alleged that the opposition has at its disposal an armed formation that is preparing a coup d'etat. Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP), which is one of three prominent opposition parties aligned in the Azadlyg (Liberty) election bloc, denied that allegation, Turan reported on 25 July.

And on 4 August, Kerimli told Turan that the charges of plotting a coup brought against Bashirli are slanderous and "a routine attempt to discredit" Yeni Fikir. Kerimli explained that there is no connection between Yeni Fikir and the AXCP, and that the activities of the former are directed exclusively towards ensuring that the parliamentary ballot is free and fair. The AXCP released a statement late on 4 August demanding Bashirli's immediate release and appealing to the international community to intervene on his behalf, reported.

Armenia's National Security Service issued a statement on 5 August dismissing as "ridiculous" allegations by the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office that it recruited Bashirli to spearhead a revolution in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement questioned the professional qualifications of recently appointed Azerbaijani National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov and likened the accusations against Bashirli to the trumped-up charges of espionage brought against potential rivals by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s.

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