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Azerbaijan Report: March 16, 2004

16 March 2004
The 'Immortalization' Of Heidar Aliyev's Name: Society's Demand Or The Government's Policy To Prolong Its Life?
On 10 March, President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on "immortalizing" the legacy of his father, the late former president Heidar Aliyev, who passed away last December. According to the document, the Baku International Airport and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export oil pipeline, as well as other state and public institutions, will be named after him. Squares and streets in Baku and other cities will also be named after him. Meanwhile, the question how to best immortalize his memory has sparked debate among local parties and experts, as well as within Azerbaijani society. Ali Kerimli, head of the opposition People's Front Party (AXCP), sees nothing strange in the perpetuation of the name of political figures who ruled the country. However, such a campaign does not reflect the wishes of all sections of society, especially at a time when the names of other outstanding national figures are purposely being deleted from the people's memory. Kerimli views this campaign as the continuation of the era of the cult of personality.

Former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutallibov, who is currently living in Moscow in exile, acknowledges Aliyev's merits and sees nothing reprehensible in immortalizing his name. But other deserving persons should not be kept in the background either, particularly those who made a significant contribution to the national interest and the establishment of an independent Azerbaijani state.

"This decree is aimed at the strengthening of the ideological base of the ruling regime," political scientist Zardusht Alizade told the Turan news agency. He considers that the late president's merits listed in the decree are "trumped up and not accepted by most parts of the local population."

Nureddin Mammedli of the opposition Democratic Party Of Azerbaijan (ADP) said that the presidential decree serves the interests of the ruling elite. But the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) activists think quite differently about the matter. YAP Executive Secretary Bahar Muradova said there were numerous proposals from various sections of society after Aliyev's death to perpetuate his memory, while only some of them have been taken into account in the presidential decree.

Some experts are focusing mainly on the likely consequences of the decree. Azer Garachenli of the newspaper "Avropa" recalled the beginning of the 20th century when some newly established counties, for example the Soviet Union, relied on certain political figures. But in civil societies a state is based on democratic institutions, not individuals. In this sense, the presidential decree can be viewed as a step back to the past. Garachenli is not against the perpetuation of Aliyev's memory, but he notes that if the issue is further exaggerated, it will continue to provoke reactions. (Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijan Scores Above Average On Human Development Index
According to the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) annual report, the human development index in Azerbaijan reached 0.767 in 2003 exceeding the average world index of 0.722. Nevertheless, the report also refers to some factors hindering human development in the country, especially in the area of information-communication technologies. "Among the 12 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, Azerbaijan ranks number 8 according to the number of telephones per 100 inhabitants (10.84).... Rates for international calls from Baku are twice as high as those from the average CIS countries. The monopoly is the main obstacle in decreasing the rates of international calls." The document also focuses on the development level of modern technologies. It reads that despite certain progress in the development in the Internet market, "regional access to the Internet is highly disproportionate compared to capital Baku." Only 16 percent of regional schools are equipped with computers, most of which are already outmoded. The situation in Baku is also far from satisfactory. "According to data from the survey, there is one computer per every 164 school children in Baku and 1 per 230 schoolchildren in regions."

The UNDP report is critical about the state of modern technology in the public health. "Public health institutions are not sufficiently equipped with computers nor do they have access to the Internet.... The differences can be detected in how computers are used as well. In the regions they are being used basically as office typewriters. Only in 21 percent of the health establishments were computers are being used for diagnostics. While, in Baku 83 percent of health institutions that were studied use computers for diagnostics."

During the presentation ceremony of the report, Ali Abbasov, head of the newly established Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies, positively responded to the recommendations in the UNDP document. Abbasov agreed that it is necessary to break up the ministry's monopoly in the area of information and communication technologies. The minister thinks that the fiscal policy should be reconsidered in this field, especially in customs duties and taxes. (Rovshen Ganbarov)

Will Local Media Face Increasingly More Fines?
After an interval of several years, the authorities seem to be determined to execute sentences of fines passed by courts on account of suits brought by courts. But this time the pro-government mass media is supposed to be open to attack as well. The Free Azerbaijan radio station has stopped broadcasting, while in some other newspapers, television, and radio stations associated with the authorities this process is accompanied by a decrease in wages.

Several opposition newspapers' bank accounts are reported to have been seized. Speaking concretely, the funds going into these newspapers' accounts have been directed to the payment of the imposed fines. But according to observers, it is the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that faces the most serious problems. The paper's deputy editor, Gabil Abbasoglu, pointed to a drastic fivefold reduction in the wages of their contributors. "As the government is dissatisfied with the impartiality that the opposition newspapers demonstrate, it has decided to clamp down. And it had no option to do this but to resort to the execution of politically motivated court decisions," he said. In 2003, "Yeni Musavat" partly paid its fines, Abbasoglu said, adding that this year the paper is required to pay $150,000. Although the execution of the court rules has resulted in a drop in local newspapers' circulation, the paper does not yet intend to cease publication. "But how much patience must we show in this process?" Abbasoglu asks.

The International Press Institute (IPI) has recently expressed concern about the large number of press freedom violations by the Azerbaijani authorities. "All of the Caucasus republics had elections this year, but the reaction of the Azeri government caused the largest number of press freedom violations during the election period and the October elections were marred by violence," according to the "World Press Freedom Review" in 2003. "The government's campaign against opposition and independent media from 2002 intensified in 2003. The opposition 'Yeni Musavat' newspaper, associated with the opposition Musavat party, has been under a lot of pressure from the government. The newspaper faced several lawsuits from the authorities aimed at closing it and had billions of manats in fines to pay (according to reports, $45 million)," the document reads. (Zhale Mutallimova)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)