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Azerbaijan Report: February 21, 2003

21 February 2003
Khojaly Massacre Commemorated
In the run-up to the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, where more than 600 civilians were brutally killed by Armenian troops, organizations at home and abroad are planning a number of events to publicize the brutality of Armenian actions during the 1988-94 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

On 19 February, the Karabakh Freedom Organization (KFO) held a round-table discussion on the subject of "February: The bloody pages of the Armenian terrorism" with the participation of local political parties' youth organizations. Participants of the meeting emphasized that the month of February "occupies a special place in the chain of terrorist acts committed by Armenian terror organizations against the Azerbaijani people since 1986." They said that on 23 February 1993 and one year later, on 1 February 1994, Armenian terrorists blew up passenger trains between Russian city of Kislovodsk and Baku. The first incident left 11 people dead and 18 injured, while the second terror act killed 18 passengers and wounded more than 20 others.

On 17 February 1992, speakers at the meeting claimed, 28 innocent civilians were killed with particular brutality in Garadagli village of Nagorno-Karabakh, and on 18 February 1990 Armenian terror groups blew up a bus traveling between the Azerbaijani cities of Yevlakh and Lachin, injuring 18 passengers.

On the night of 25-26 February, Armenian armed forces gunned down the people of Khojaly and then mutilated their bodies, partiicpants said. According to a government investigation, 613 people, including 63 children, 106 women and 70 elderly were killed; eight families were wiped out completely; 25 children lost both their parents and 130 lost one of their parents; 487 people, including 73 children were wounded; 1,275 people were taken hostage while 150 people were declared missing.

On 22 February the KFO, the Congress of World Azerbaijanis and the Union of the CIS Azerbaijani organizations intend to hold mass actions and rallies in more that 30 countries on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre. KFO chairman Akif Nagi said at the meeting that all preparatory works for those actions have been completed.

Neriman Gurbanov, chairman of the Publicity, Analytical Analysis and Information Department of the State Committee for Work with Azerbaijanis Abroad, said that Azerbaijani organizations in 28 countries will mark the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre. The scheduled seminars, meetings and various actions are aimed at focussing international attention on the bloody events in Khojaly.

The roundtable participants appealed to international organizations to condemn what they termed Armenian organizations' terror acts against the Azerbaijani people since 1986. According to the appeal, Nagorno-Karabakh, which is at present under Armenian occupation, has become a base for a number of Armenian terror ist organizations such as ASALA. Meeting participants called on international institutions not to ignore all these facts and to recognize Armenia as a terrorist state and impose serious sanctions on it.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Prisoners Launch Hunger Strikes
On 17 February Fahmin Hajiev, who headed the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry forces in 1992-93, began a hunger strike at the hard labor prison in Gobustan. Hajiev's brother Elman Hajiev told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that on 30 January his brother, who is considered by local rights groups but not the Council of Europe to be a political prisoner, was tortured. The next morning he was put into solitary confinement for three days. In response, the former commander resorted to a hunger strike, demanding an end to the pressure on him and reconsideration of his legal case, Elman Hajiev said.

Niazi Memmedov, chairman of the Chief Department for Execution of Court Rulings, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service confirmed the information about the hunger strike, but noted that the allegations regarding pressure and torture are not true. Hajiev was moved into solitary confinement because he opposed the legal demands of the prison's administration, Memmedov said.

Fahmin Hajiev was arrested on 23 May 1994 on charges of surrendering Khojali to Armenian armed forces in February 1992 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Hajiev also went on a hunger strike in April 2001, protesting violations of his rights in prison and demands to be allowed to meet with journalists, human rights activists and lawyers.

Natig Efendiev, who headed the Ganja police from October 1994 to September 1996, also recently went on a hunger strike, after he was moved from his cell at Gobustan�s prison to solitary confinement. The presumed reason was because he spoke with Andreas Gross, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe�s monitoring group that visited Azerbaijan February 10-13.

Efendiev, who is considered a political prisoner by the Council of Europe, was arrested in 2000 on charges of attempting a coup and in 2001 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

According to the article "To determine the 'political prisoner' issue is the court's task," carried in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan," the courts do not rule on the basis of somebody's political motivation.

Chinese ambassador to Azerbaijan Chyan Siyun said in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that China's interests in the Caucasus are not aimed at deriving benefit. China is ready to cooperate with Azerbaijan for a just solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The ambassador noted that Chinese companies are showing interest in such sectors of Azerbaijan's economy as communications and the construction of new electric power stations. "China welcomes the project of restoring the Great Silk Road. At the same time China expects concrete suggestions from Azerbaijan regarding the TRACECA project." The ambassador also pointed out that at present some 100-150 Chinese citizens live in Azerbaijan. Of them 46 are students, 30 are engaged in the construction sector, and 21 are officials of the embassy. On the other hand, 19 Azerbaijanis are studying in China within the framework of education cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Under the headline "Armenians did not express confidence in Robert Kocharian," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" comments on the results of the presidential ballot in Armenia on 19 February. President Robert Kocharian failed to secure reelection and now will go into a run-off with Stepan Demirchian on 5 March. The paper writes that the second round will make clear whether such developments are the result of international organizations' pressure or if the government staged them to portray a more democratic image. Today's events in Armenia indicate that the Armenian population is tired of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. There is no need to read the commentaries of Armenian analysts in the media to understand this because it is still well known from the Soviet period that Yerevan's Armenians consider the population of Nagorno-Karabakh as "third-class people." Armenian ideologists have long ago sacrificed Karabakh's population for the "Greater Armenia" ideology. Perhaps for this reason Kocharian has taken revenge on behalf of Karabakh's population. It is still unknown whether he will be able continue this mission for another five years or not. What is clear is that Armenia's people wants to see only a native of Armenia as the head of their state.

An author writing only as Rashidoglu in an article entitled "Aliev's visit to the United States: on which side will the scales come down?" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that a visit to the United States on the threshold of the presidential elections is essential for Heydar Aliev. Being received by the American president will dispel the belief that "the West has turned its back on Aliev." "Thus at the end of the month Aliyev will be outside Azerbaijan. According to official sources the chief purpose of the visit is to meet with President George Bush. But opposition parties are trying to link his visit with reports that he has again fallen ill, although the president's team states that he is in excellent physical form." Rashidoglu suggests that Aliyev will pursue two main goals on this visit: first, to meet with the U.S. president and discuss with him the Iraqi issue, as well as the prospects for mutual relations between the two countries. Second, to sound out Washington's attitude toward Aliev's "successor scenario."

Boyukaga Agaev in the article "Who will fulfill Aliev's duties?" in the independent newspaper "Azadlig" points out that it is interesting to learn who will execute the president's duties during his absence. According to the latest amendments to the constitution, these duties must to be transferred to Prime-Minister Artur Rasizade. But it is well known that Rasizade cannot even manage the duties of prime minister. Therefore, the question remains open. But Agaev notes that according to one hypothesis, Aliyev has already decided to dismiss Rasizade from the prime minister's post and to entrust this post to National Security Minister Namig Abbasov.

An author writing only as Aziz in an article entitled "Unions created by non-constructive opposition are doomed to collapse" in the government newspaper "Khalg" writes that inactivity is observed in the opposition camp prior to the upcoming presidential elections. It cannot conceal a crisis in the general situation, although opposition parties sometimes express their remarks on the draft election code to show the opposition still exists. Aziz notes that the crisis within the opposition can be explained by the fact that until now the opposition has created successive artificial unions based on individual personal interests. The latest such union is the Opposition Coordination Center. Although it was created only less than six months ago, it has already tied the hands of its representatives.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)