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Azerbaijan Report: January 14, 2003

14 January 2003
Aliyev Extends Newspapers' Debt Freeze to 2005
On 9 January the president signed a decree postponing payment of media debts to the state publishing house to 31 December 2005. The president had already signed a decree in December 2001 to postpone the media's debts for a year. Once that period expired the state publishing house began demanding its money, and many editors and journalists' unions complained that this was a form of pressure on the media.

Reshad Mejid, editor-in-chief of "525," a paper which today owes the state publishing house some 60 million manats ($12,000), told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that at the end of 2002, newspaper editors met with the publishing house's management and discussed possible solutions, one of which has been realized by the presidential decree. Mejid added that he is confident that the papers will be able to pay off their debts in that time.

Besti Ismailova, deputy chief director of the state publishing house, expressed the hope that the debt postponement will not have any serious effect on the company's work. But the publishing house would refuse to let papers incur additional debts. She said that more than 100 media outlets owe the publishing company money. She did not reveal their names.

Arif Aliev, head of the New Generation Journalists Union, expressed appreciation of the presidential decree but noted that Azerbaijani newspapers are still facing numerous issues that cannot be solved by one decree, such as the relations between the courts and media and difficulties in granting newspapers preferential loans and in gathering information from official sources. "Special court reforms are needed in order to regulate court-media relations," he said.

Aliyev noted that in the past relations between media representatives and the government have sometimes been strained, sometimes not. "If the government's measures directed at improving the media's situation continue, the presidential decree postponing the media's debts can be considered a 'successful start'," he concluded.

After considering appeals by newspaper editors and nongovernmental organizations, the president also issued a decree to release Adil Geibulla, head of the Musavat Party's medical commission. He was imprisoned for recklessness in causing a traffic accident in 2001.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Fewer Than 500 Suffer from AIDS in Azerbaijan
The total number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, amounts to 487, according to Galib Aliev, head of the National Center for the Fight Against AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome); 34 percent of HIV-infected persons are 29 to 30 years old, while 42 percent are from 34 to 39.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Aliyev said that the FSU has exercised control over the infection since 1987. Laboratories identifying HIV-infected people were opened in Azerbaijan at that time. From 1987 to 1997 more than 3 million people have been examined in the Republic and seven men were found to be infected.

Aliyev noted that there were a number of HIV-infected people who refuse to register with the appropriate bodies, and thus have contributed to the spread of the illness. "Although the official number of HIV-infected exceed 400, [the actual number] is twice that, if not more," he said.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Azerbaijani newspapers continue to give wide coverage to the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia.

According to the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" the bodies of two more Azerbaijanis were brought from Russia on 13 January.

Under the headline "Atomic bomb put under Armenia," the governmental newspaper "Khalg" points out that the Medzamor nuclear power plant in Armenia presents a great danger for the whole region.

Under the headline "Power change in Armenia is possible only through a coup," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that by appointing Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sargisian head of his election headquarters, President Robert Kocherian has already guaranteed a presidential post for another five years.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" in an article entitled "Azerbaijani students studying in Iran face numerous problems" cites Rafig Aliev, chairman of the State Committee on Work with Religious Associations, as saying that the government must render assistance to these students.

Newspapers also gave wide coverage to the events regarding the People's Front Party (AXCP). On 13 January the Justice Ministry cancelled the registration of the AXCP headed by Ali Kerimov and registered another organization headed by Gudret Hesenguliev as the AXCP.

Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" expressed his unhappiness about the ministry's decision. "This is the continuation of the government's policy toward the opposition aimed at breaking it apart," he said.

An author writing only as Abbasbeili in the article "Azerbaijan's problem of Azerbaijanis" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that there is still no mechanism that allows Azerbaijanis living abroad to gather together. Azerbaijani embassies in foreign countries are not in a position to fulfill this work. At the same time, the Azerbaijani Embassy in Russia is limited in its ability to improve the situation of Azerbaijanis in Russia. Abbasbeili notes that most migrant workers from the South Caucasus are Azerbaijanis. The author appreciates the creation of the State Committee on Work with Azerbaijanis living abroad, but emphasizes that its work is ineffective. The committee's officials are sent out only after an incident occurs.

Elshad Miralem in an article entitled "Armenia cannot overcome its political and economic crisis" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" notes that Armenia is preparing for the next presidential elections. Despite President Robert Kocharian's advantageous position compared with other candidates, it is impossible to predict the outcome of this crucial political event. The political situation in Armenia is critical, and there are serious problems in the economic sector that have yet to be solved. During Kocharian's tenure, political and economic crises have worsened. The author writes that the economic recession is affecting both the political situation and the standard of living of the population in Armenia. In fact, the number of people now living in Armenia does not exceed 2 million, and corruption is deeply rooted in all branches of the government. Moreover, the government has been unable to create a favorable environment for development of business and entrepreneurship in Armenia.

Ahmed Oruj in the article "Experts tomorrow and today" in the independent newspaper "525" looks at annual results both during the Socialist era and today. "Summing up" the year's achievements and failures has changed little over the years. The "Man of the Year," or singer, or dancer, etc. are determined by polls and experts' opinion. And as during the Soviet period, this kind of summing up is based on falsity. In civilized countries such inquiries are conducted to learn the public's opinion. This is not the case in Azerbaijan. In order to determine in advance who would win, it is sufficient to know only the names of those who are conducting the polls. On the other hand, if one wanted to test the accuracy of a people's choice award, it would be enough to compare the results of two separate polls.

Yagub Memmedov, former speaker of the Milli Majlis (parliament), answers questions in the independent newspaper "Uch nogta" on the political situation and upcoming presidential election in Azerbaijan. Asked "Is the Azerbaijani intelligentsia in a position to affect the political processes in the country?" Memmedov said that "if the intelligentsia is organized and has an impartial view on the processes, we can make progress in a solution to our problems. Indeed, certain intelligentsia groups have been created. But all of them are connected with political parties. The people are tired of listening to and seeing them." Asked "Do Azerbaijani men consider Azerbaijani women, taken prisoner by Armenians in Khojali, to be theirs?" Memmedov said that "we, in fact, must consider Azerbaijani captives our mothers and sisters. But unfortunately, it is true only in words. Azerbaijani newspapers often publish articles about Azerbaijani women in Dubai. But such articles remain without an answer. Our morals are being corrupted. If nothing is changed, in 10 or 15 years we will completely lose our national identity."

Konul Valieva in an article entitled "Where are gifts received by Heidar Aliyev kept?" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" talks about the international practice of presenting gifts to heads of state. There is such a practice in Azerbaijan too. It has been raised to such a level that individuals familiar with the president's inclination for presents also offer him personal gifts. As for what happens to them, they are simply taken by the president. However, Valieva notes that under international norms, gifts presented to heads of state are later transferred to certain funds.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)