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Azerbaijan Report: January 28, 2003

28 January 2003
PACE Representative: Municipalities Weak in Minority Areas
Although there is no serious problems with national minorities in Azerbaijan, local governance structures are weak, special rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Martinez Casan said during a 24 January press conference. Cassan met with Udins, Avars and other minorities in the north of Azerbaijan in order to acquaint himself with their problems. He said that the ethnic groups consider themselves to be full Azerbaijani citizens, and that they receive essential assistance from the government to preserve their national identities, cultures and languages.

Cassan also met with officials from Azerbaijan's Internal, Foreign and Justice ministries and from the Presidential Apparatus. He said that although there have been important advances in development of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan, the situation is far from "ideal." Although Azerbaijan has fulfilled some of its obligations undertaken before the Council of Europe, some problems remain unsolved. But on the whole, the processes in Azerbaijan are aimed at solving these problems, he concluded.

As for the media in Azerbaijan, Casan said that he discussed this issue in detail with Justice Ministry and Presidential Administration officials. Those officials assured the PACE delegation that legal actions against some media outlets have been brought not by the government, but by private companies, and that executive bodies do not exert pressure on these trials. "During the meeting with the minister of justice, I asked him, at least from now to the fall presidential election, to keep legal procedures against the media, opposition parties and activists under serious control," Cassan said.

Cassan also noted that the Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer has appealed to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev over the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat." President Aliyev is expected to respond to the appeal in the near future.

(Natig Zeinalli)

ADP Launches Presidential Campaign With Protest
On 25 January the opposition Democratic Party (ADP) held a sanctioned protest and march from the 20 Yanvar metro station to the Galaba Cinema, demanding the resignation of President Aliev, the holding of free, fair and democratic presidential elections and providing equal conditions for all presidential candidates. The protesters also called for an end to the legal action against ADP chairman Rasul Guliev, who is now living in exile in the United States, and the removal of all obstacles to Guliev's return to Azerbaijan.

The protest continued at Galaba Square. Former parliament deputy Mahir Asadov was first to speak. He talked about the ADP's desire to form a democratic government in Azerbaijan and noted that it is impossible to hold fair presidential voting without the participation of the ADP and its chairman. "The Azerbaijani people needs fair and free elections," Asadov said. "Only a leader elected in such a way will be able to solve Azerbaijan�s all problems."

Zemine Dunyamalieva, an adviser to the party's chairman on Nagorno-Karabakh, called upon President Aliyev to resign voluntarily. She said that the ADP's protest could be considered as the launch of the opposition's election campaign. Dunyamalieva also expressed hope that 2003 would be a peaceful year and released two white doves into the sky as a symbol of peace.

Hesret Rustamov, the party's secretary for organizational issues, emphasized that the government implements various plans with the aim of falsifying the results of the upcoming fall presidential election. "But regardless of all the government's steps, the opposition and the people, in general, will come out a victor in the struggle," Rustamov said. A resolution was read at the end of the demonstration. No clashes between the protesters and police were observed.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Ilham Aliev, head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has been elected one of the organization's vice-presidents. Azerbaijani newspapers gave wide coverage to this event.

Under the headline "Karabakh must be taken under control," the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" points out that Azerbaijan has long sounded the alarm that Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh has become a nest of international terrorism, drug trafficking and the illegal weapons trade.

Khalid Kazimli in an article entitled "One of 19" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the news that Ilham Aliyev has been appointed a vice-president is, in fact, good, but at the same time, it depresses some people. "While we here are giving our lives in the struggle against Aliev's regime, Europe is raising the despotic son of the despotic president to high positions." This paradoxical situation exerts a negative influence on the people, of course. If someone other than Ilham Aliyev were elected to this position, then the essence of the fact would change and deserve positive attention, as an indication of the organization's great confidence in Azerbaijan. But considering that the president intends to make his son president after him, it becomes clear that the PACE's choice is inopportune. Because all people are acquainted with the strength of Aliev's propaganda machine. Touching on Ilham Aliev's new post, Kazimli notes that it is not of great importance to be one of 19 PACE vice-presidents. That means that this position is a formality. It is on the same level of importance as that of Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who holds the post of deputy speaker in Russia's parliament.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in the article "Securities and the price of bonds" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" talks about the people's interest in securities and noted that citizens' attitude towards state financial institutions, national currency and the government's financial policies now equals their attitude toward securities. It is difficult to say that these relations are based on mutual confidence and trust. The fact that in 2002 the amount of income from the issuing of domestic bonds was lower than predicted proved it once again. The Ministry of Finance predicted that in 2002 the state budget would earn 20 billion manats (some $4.1 million) from the sale of domestic bonds. But the real amount of revenues was only one fourth of that. Gudretoglu also writes that most companies avoid the domestic stock market because of the lack of transparency of economic activities in it. Stockholders continue to complain to the State Securities Committee (SSC) about violations of their rights. Company chairmen, who haven't even the slightest idea about the stock market, continue to speak with ministries in the language of bribery. Until these problems are solved, most of the SSC's efforts will be for nothing, the author concludes.

Eyyub Kerimov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "Femida," said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" that each time presidential elections approach, the government begins to think of serious measures against the media. Kerimov opposed hunger strikes but emphasized that when methods for civil struggle are exhausted, a revolt and revolution can also be considered a struggle. When the media appeals to the president, he says that he does not interfere in the work of the courts. "But we never ask the president to interfere in legal procedures, we tell him that the trial is over, but the court has passed a wrong sentence."

Political scientist Fikret Hajizade answered questions posed by the independent newspaper "525" about the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Hajizade said that it is unrealistic to think that Iran will make a rational decision on the status issue, since there are various forces with different opinions in Iran that are trying to benefit from the Caspian issue. Even Iranian deputies have begun to voice populist opinions. Therefore, one can only hope that after the current regime in Iran falls, the problem will be solved quickly. In other words, a quick solution to the problem between the two countries will not bring benefits to Azerbaijan. Therefore, it is more expedient to take a wait-and-see attitude. Hajizade said that Azerbaijan must not make concessions to Iran on the Caspian issue.

An author writing only as Aziz in an article entitled "The opposition's failure in the upcoming elections is predictable" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that opposition parties realize their defeat in the fall presidential elections is inevitable and their desire to unite is natural. But such blocs still have not produced any result. The so-called United Opposition Movement (BMH) has been substituted for the formula of "10." Then four opposition parties came together. But the destructive BMH put the "fours" out of action. Now the opposition is united under the Free Election Center. Despite the fact that each party has proclaimed its leader a candidate in the presidential elections, in fact, each of them pursues its own ends. Aziz notes that some opposition parties adopt a destructive stand toward the government. The destructive wing of the opposition uses such tactics as slander. Although opposition parties continue their debates on a common opposition candidate, there are deep contradictions between them. Therefore it requires courage to argue that the opposition should field a common candidate in the fall presidential election.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)