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Azerbaijan Report: February 4, 2003

4 February 2003
Opposition Bloc Back at Table
Political parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM) agreed on 30 January to participate in a roundtable meeting on the unified election code, provided it can be assured of participation of the presidential administration and members of the Milli Majlis. The MKM released a memorandum stating that it met with representatives of embassies of EU states in Azerbaijan and discussed new possibilities for holding roundtable discussions on the draft law. Under the suggestion, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-initiated roundtables could be held with the participation of the eight parties which overcame the 1 percent barrier in the 2000 parliamentary elections, the presidential administration, members of the Milli Majlis, as well as experts from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. Should there be a disagreement between the government and opposition, these international experts could introduce their legal recommendations.

The opposition parties' memorandum blames the government for the failure of the 23 January "contact meeting." It states that the MKM originally agreed to participate in the OSCE-sponsored contact meeting. It pulled out of the meeting after it learned from the OSCE office in Baku on 22 January that the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) had refused to participate. The MKM then appealed to the OSCE, asking for clarification on who was to participate at the meeting and when it was to be held. The office never responded, the MKM said.

But parliament deputy Bahar Muradova, who is a deputy executive chairwoman of YAP, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service blamed the opposition for the failure of the contact meeting. She added that their refusal to discuss the draft law on elections would not adversely affect the democratic adoption of the code.

The government's draft election code has been open for public discussion since November 2002. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission have pledged to organize at least two roundtable discussions on the document. However no dialogue between the government and opposition on the bill has ever been held.

Meanwhile, the independent local newspaper "Avropa" writes that considering the failure of a dialogue between the government and the opposition, international organizations suggest holding initial meetings abroad, in Strasbourg, and with the participation of not political parties' representatives, but experts. But Ulvi Akhundlu, media and political assistant at the OSCE office in Baku, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that he has no definite information about any such meeting.

Ilgar Memmedli, an activist of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP), said that it would be better if all issues concerning Azerbaijan, including discussions on the draft law on elections, are held in Azerbaijan. But he added that AMIP does not oppose holding debates abroad if it promotes an agreement between the sides. In addition, AMIP would also support an initial discussion by experts if such meetings would be effective.

Aidin Mirzazade, who is a member of the YAP Political Council, said that he could not support discussion of the election issue abroad. Mirzazade pointed out that despite the tension, all problems would find their solution in the near future. Therefore, there is no need for the government and opposition to go abroad at citizens' expense, he concluded.

(Natig Zeinalli and Maarif Chingizoglu)

IMF, Government, Move to Resolve Oil Fund Impasse
The Azerbaijani government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have come to an interim agreement on the expenditures of the State Oil Fund (SOF). Under that agreement, the government agreed to make changes to the law on the state budget and include SOF expenditures in the total budget.

Vusal Gasimov, president of the Center for Economic Technologies, told RFE/RL that at first sight it seems that the government has made concessions to the IMF and the organization has dictated its recommendations. The initial agreement between the government and the IMF specifies that parliament will also participate in determining the Oil Fund's revenues and expenditures. Gasimov noted that after amendments to the budget law, the president would have to consult with the parliament on the SOF. In the past, the government has tried to avoid such a situation and keep the SOF under its strict control.

But Azer Mehdiev, president of the Association for Economic Development, says that the latest agreement between the government and the IMF cannot be considered a "serious change." First of all because the parliament has still no serious powers. The parliament's approach to this issue is well known: it does not bother to debate the budget and simply approves what has been drawn up by the presidential administration.

The SOF, which was created by presidential decree in violation of to the constitution, is subordinated to the president, Mehdiev said, adding that oil funds exist in other countries, such as Norway, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and the management mechanisms of these institutions are different. But in all cases public control over them is an indispensable condition.

(Almaz Nasibova)

Activist Launches Antiwar Campaign
Public protests against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq are also gearing up in Azerbaijan. Activists of the New Opposition Movement (YMH) noted at a 31 January conference that Azerbaijan would also incur losses from possible U.S. military actions against Baghdad.

YMH activist Nezir Memmed Garamanli said that neither the Azerbaijani nor Turkish governments should support military operations against Iraq. If Iraq breaks up as a consequence of military actions, Azerbaijan, especially the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, will be in danger. In order to avert this danger, Azerbaijan must send additional military forces to Nakhichevan.

The YMH also adopted an appeal to the Kurdish populations of Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. The documents states that "while the Soviet Union pitted the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] only against Turkey, the United States today is pushing the Kurds to an endless confrontation with the whole region.... The YMH calls on the Kurdish population to resist rising in opposition to the region's and Islamic interests...."

Meanwhile in a statement addressed to the Iraqi ambassador in Azerbaijan, independent journalist Aziz Rzabeili stated that he has launched a public and political antiwar campaign called "live wall." Rzabeili, who condemns the anti-Iraq campaign, calls a possible war against Baghdad "wrong," pointing out that the UN weapons inspectors could not present indisputable proof of Iraq's suspected weapons programs. During the campaign, Rzabeili intends to collect Azerbaijani citizens' signatures in support of Iraq.

(Natig Zeinalli)

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation is coming to Baku on 10 February. The delegates, led by Georges Clerfayt, will meet with the government and members of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE. They will also visit several prisons, including the one in Gobustan.

Parliament deputy Gulamhusein Alibeili, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that Ilham Aliev's new posting at the Council of Europe was not awarded to one person, but to all of Azerbaijan.

Under the headline "The opposition's 'PKK campaign,'" the government newspaper "Khalg" notes that "scandalous and preconceived" articles about the "PKK danger" published in some opposition media outlets are the part of the "enemy campaign" against the Azerbaijani people.

Azerbaijani newspapers also provided articles on the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia.

Under the headline "Historical monuments in Balaken are being destroyed," the independent newspaper "Uch Nokta" talks about the poor state of historical and cultural monuments in Balaken.

Azer Aihan in an article entitled "Changed place of meeting" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the theme of negotiations between the government and opposition has entered a new stage. It has been suggested that a meeting between the two camps be held abroad, in Strasbourg. At first sight, the opposition's stand on the issue is simple. It says that it would be better to hold such a dialogue in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, it notes that the venue isn't really important for the negotiation process with the government. Thus, the opposition does not resort to any pretext and proves that it accepts the idea. But the government's position remains unclear. Neither the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) nor government officials have yet expressed an opinion on the suggestion. It is clear that serious intentions stand behind the government's silence. Aihan cites an opposition leader as saying that the government wants to win time in the negotiation issue. The government's main aim at present is to stall for time and submit the draft election code for the parliament's consideration in March.

The opposition Musavat Party's Chairman Isa Gambar answered questions posed by the independent newspaper "Tezadlar." He said that there is a 100 percent probability that the government wants to falsify the results of the presidential elections. But the probability that it will be able to do so does not exceed 1 percent. "Nothing can be 100 percent implemented. Because there is nothing absolute in the world, except for God. But they will not succeed in falsifying the elections."

Ahmed Oruj in his article "Great problem!" in the independent newspaper "525" writes that that as the presidential voting in Armenia approaches, presidential candidates make extreme statements about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In other words, candidates make statements against Azerbaijan to prove that they are suitable for the presidency. The main criterion of the current Armenian ideology is to demonstrate a harsher stance against Turks. Armenian President Robert Kocharian has also made a statement on the issue and said that "Armenians and Azerbaijanis are not ethnically compatible." Oruj notes that the election campaign in Armenia has once again proved that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem was a crucial factor. All candidates have unanimously stated that they would not recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and release occupied Azerbaijani territories. The author also points out that although the Nagorno-Karabakh problem has become a serious issue, it is the opposite in Azerbaijan. The government tries to deceive the people on Nagorno-Karabakh. "While Armenian politicians attempt to instill their new claims in the public psyche, our 'world-famous' government and 'all-powerful' opposition party leaders are engaged in the problem of roundtable talks on the draft unified election law. The OSCE and foreign embassies in Baku have been involved in a solution to this issue, but the problem has not been solved to date. What a great problem!"

Parliament deputy Nizami Jeferov, a corresponding member of the Azerbaijani National Academy, in an interview with the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" talked about the importance of the law on "Legal Protection of Folklore Artifacts." "We must protect our historical and modern folklore," he said, adding that there is one problem that cannot be regulated by the law. The matter concerns the protection of Azerbaijani folklore on the international arena. "More than 50 million Azerbaijanis live in the world. Four-fifths of them live abroad. Their folklore art is not highly developed. Nevertheless Azerbaijani folklore is now developing in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Georgia, and Daghestan [South Russia]," Jeferov said.

Pakistan's ambassador to Baku, Faiz Mohammed Hos, in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," commented on Azerbaijan-Pakistani relations. He said that Azerbaijan faces the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, while Pakistan suffers from the Kashmir one. Despite the fact that the United Nations adopted several resolutions on the issues, none of them has been fulfilled. The ambassador also noted that Pakistan has always supported Azerbaijan's position and acknowledged Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Both the Nagorno-Karabakh and Kashmir conflicts must be resolved peacefully because Pakistan and Azerbaijan are peace-loving peoples, the ambassador concluded.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)