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Azerbaijan Report: February 25, 2003

25 February 2003
President Aliyev Leaves for U.S.
On 23 February Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev set off for the United States at the invitation of U.S. President George Bush. The presidents are scheduled to meet on 26 February. It is assumed that they will discuss a number of topical issues, including international tension around Iraq, the struggle against international terrorism and problems of regional security, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Presidential Administration has yet to say when Aliyev will return; however, they have denied reports in one of the opposition papers that the president will undergo medical treatment at a U.S. hospital.

Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the president has fallen ill twice this month. For that reason, he will again go to Ohio, where he underwent heart bypass surgery at The Cleveland Clinic in April 1999 and received treatment for prostate cancer in 2002.

(RFE/RL Azerbaijani service)

Thousands Commemorate Khojaly Massacre in Rallies Worldwide
In the run up to the 11th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, organizations at home and abroad are holding commemoration demonstrations. On 21 February the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) held a protest meeting in Galaba Square together with nongovernmental organizations and pro-governmental political parties.

Parliament deputy and YAP executive secretary Ali Ahmedov said during the rally that on the night of 25-26 February 1992 Armenian armed forces with support from the Russian 366th motor infantry brigade located in Khankendi (Stepanakert) completely destroyed the second-largest Azeri town in Karabakh. As a result 613 people were killed, of whom 63 were children, 106 women and 70 people over the age of 70; eight families were exterminated completely; 150 people are still unaccounted for. Of the 1,275 people taken hostage, 700 are still in captivity, Ahmedov said. "What concerns us is that the world community and international organizations do not want to realize the essence of the Khojaly tragedy and evaluate it as a genocide," Ahmedov said.

He added that although the chief initiators of the massacre were Armenian nationalists, then Azerbaijani president Ayaz Mutallibov and the National Front activists are also responsible for these events. "It should be admitted that Mutallibov regarded his duties with indifference and did nothing to ensure the security of the population. The National Front, which had real opportunities to affect the course of events, did nothing as well,�"he said.

Elman Memmedov, then-head of the executive power of Khojaly, also blamed the then Azerbaijani government for its indifference to Khojaly. Memmedov noted that although the government conducted an investigation of the events in Khojaly, only one of those found guilty, Fahmin Hajiev, commander of Interior Ministry forces in 1992-93, was tried in court.

At the end of the meeting, the demonstrators appealed to the United Nations, the OSCE, members of the Council of Europe and international court organizations to recognize the Khojaly massacre as genocide and bring to trial a number of Armenian officials as well as those Azerbaijanis responsible for the lack of any organized response to the attack. The participants also called on international organizations to officially recognize Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan, to ensure Armenia's compliance with the U.N. resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and to impose to sanctions on Armenia.

On 22 February the Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) also held a sanctioned demonstration in Galaba Square with participation of most opposition parties. Despite the heavy snowfall, several thousand people marched from the 20 Yanvar metro station to Galaba Square, carrying signs reading "Either Karabakh or death," "No to Armenian terrorism," "Freedom to Karabakh" and "The assassins of Khojaly must be tried."

QAT chairman Akif Nagi said that protests were also held in Sabirabad and Nakhichevan. "The Congress of World Azerbaijanis and the Union of the CIS Azerbaijani organizations are holding mass actions and rallies in more than 60 foreign cities on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre," he said.

Although the demonstrators called Armenia and Russian nationalists "the main perpetrators of the tragedy," they also accused the current Azerbaijani government of not providing any political assessment of the events and not taking seriously measures to liberate Karabakh.

Opposition parliament deputy Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist faction" of the People�s Front Party (AXCP), said that the Azerbaijani people must demand that the government provide an account of what it has done to resolve the Karabakh problem.

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar called for participants at the rally to shout "istefa" (resign). "We all must say 'resign,'" he said. "I believe that the nation's democratic forces will succeed in holding democratic elections in the country and will come to power this year."

A resolution was adopted at the end of the demonstration demanding the immediate fulfillment of the UN resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh, bringing Armenian President Robert Kocharian, leader of the break-away Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Arkadii Ghukasian, former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian and other Armenian leaders to trial before the International Court and recognition of the Khojaly events as an act of genocide. The demonstrators also demanded the genocide issue be submitted to the Milli Majlis (parliament) and given a political and legal assessment. The resolution also demanded the resignation of President Heydar Aliyev because of his inability to ensure the country's territorial integrity.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Analysts Vary on Reasons for Numerous Meetings with Moscow Officials
As Dmitri Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, ended his visit to Azerbaijan, Russian Security Council secretary Vladimir Rushailo landed in Baku to meet with a number of Azerbaijani officials. Rushailo discussed the current situation and prospects for closer Azerbaijani-Russian relations, as well as international and regional security issues, according to government statements.

While meeting with Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, Rushailo discussed the fight against terrorism and gave Usubov a list of organizations deemed to be terrorist by Russia�s Supreme Court. Rushailo said he appreciated the substantial assistance of Azerbaijan's law-enforcement bodies in the struggle against organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking.

Heydar Aliyev received Rushailo on 21 February. Aliyev expressed satisfaction with the level of relations established between the security councils of the two countries. The two men expressed the need for further development in bilateral relations and doing more to counter international terrorism. At the end of the visit, a cooperation plan for 2003-04 between the two countries' security councils was signed.

Meanwhile, some local experts link Russian officials' numerous visits to Baku with the softening in the Azerbaijani government's stance toward Russia. Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the nongovernmental Center for Political Technologies and Innovation, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that it is more advantageous for Russia to cooperate with Azerbaijan than with Armenia or Georgia. Therefore, Russia puts Azerbaijan in a priority position where its Caucasus policy is concerned. Ahmedoglu predicted that during the year, Russia will attempt to increase its activities in order to achieve a solution to regional conflicts.

Hikmet Hajizade, a former Azerbaijani ambassador to Moscow, linked the intensification in relations with the Iraqi issue. "The Kremlin is unaware of what steps the United States will take after Iraq," he said. "Therefore, Russia is attempting to strengthen its position in the South Caucasus, particularly in Azerbaijan."

(Almaz Nesibli)

Azerbaijani media carry articles on the Azerbaijani president's official visit to the United States, the victory of 15-year-old Azerbaijani grand master Teimur Rejebov over Garry Kasparov and the 11th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre among other stories.

Under the headline "Heydar Aliev"s visit to the U.S. is linked with the Iraq issue," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" cites the American media saying that U.S. President George Bush is expected to meet with the presidents of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Bulgaria. The purpose of these meetings is to enlist the support of more countries.

According to the independent newspaper "Tezadlar," Tehran is strengthening its borders with Turkey, Iraq and Azerbaijan because of the possibility of U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

An author writing only as Tahir in an article entitled "Heydar Aliev's call to the United States is in the opposition's favor" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that if the Azerbaijani pro-Russian stand on the Iraqi issue is discussed at the Aliev-Bush meeting, it will respond to the democratic forces' interests in Azerbaijan. The democratic opposition has been alone in its support for the U.S. policy toward the disarmament of Iraq. If, after the upcoming meeting with the American president Aliyev takes an anti-Iraq position, he will be following the democratic forces' line in the foreign policy. But if Aliyev continues to stick to the pro-Russian stand, it will strengthen the alliance between the Bush administration and the Azerbaijani democratic opposition. The author also points out that in any case either the Azerbaijani president is expected to return from the Unites States speaking about "just elections," or he will take "a softer stand on Saddam's fate." In other words, Aliyev is expected to get a stern message from the States about the need to hold fair elections.

Ahmed Oruj in the article "Two Khojalies" in the independent newspaper "525" points out that in comparison with previous years, this year�s commemoration actions devoted to the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre are more systematic and organized. Commemoration actions abroad have proved once again that there is a strong Azerbaijani diaspora. "Today we are organized by our disasters and tragedies," the article read. Azerbaijanis' aspiration to unite abroad and assist the motherland is noticeable, of course, but what is disappointing is the government's commemoration of the tragedy. While throughout the world actions are aimed at uniting people, the government's measures have had a dividing and polarizing character.

Elbrus Jeferli in an article entitled "Armenia--a country moving to begging" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that although the first round of the presidential elections is over, the masses refuse to recognize the results of the ballot. That means that the people, who must now deal with substantial social problems, are inclined to toughen their demands. The Armenian people have not seen much of the social welfare which the government has pledged for almost six years. Therefore Armenia's population does not intend to step toward the "bright light" that has reappeared on the horizon with their eyes closed. This indicates that people's confidence in Kocharian's government has expired. Meanwhile, the government talks about the effect of economic reforms in the country and tries to convince the people that its next economic program will lead toward "social progress." Jeferli notes that it is difficult to find a concrete way out of the crisis for Armenia, which has stood apart from the regional economic projects. The socioeconomic policy followed by the incumbent government has driven Armenia to the verge of a "social explosion."

Elkhan Shahidoglu in the article "Who is Azerbaijan with?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the fact that during the Azerbaijani president's visit to Washington he will also touch on the Iraq issue proves once again that Azerbaijan remains a member of the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition. If it were not so, then the meeting between the two presidents would have made no sense. But Azerbaijan must follow Turkey's example and demand compensation for its support to Washington. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Ankara incurred great losses in return for gratuitous support to the United States. Afterward it could not make Washington compensate it. But today Ankara put forward its military, political and financial conditions before going to war, demanding Washington approve them. "Gratuitous support in policy makes no sense. Azerbaijan backed America in its anti-terror campaign against Afghanistan, but could it get what it wanted?" It is true that George Bush has waived Section 907, but his interest in a just solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not increased. On the contrary, the White House has not prevented Congress's financial aid to Nagorno-Karabakh's separatists. And if the United States is expecting something from Azerbaijan prior to a war against Iraq, "we must make the White House say 'no' to the separatism and 'uncontrolled zones' in the South Caucasus."

Rovshen Jeferli in an article "Azerbaijani villagers' credit problem" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" complains about the lack of state funds allocated toward agriculture in Azerbaijan. The 2003 state budget provides for 278.9 billion manats ($57.5 million) for the agricultural sector. In itself this figure seems large, but it, in fact, it amounts to 4.5 percent of the state budget's total expenses. For a country with a formed, but weak agrarian sector, this is too small a sum, of course. Even developed countries' experience indicates that in order to ensure stable development of the agrarian sector without state aid and protection, state funds allocated to this sector must be increased. Jeferli notes that 99.1 percent of agricultural products produced in Azerbaijan come from the private sector. But it does not mean that Azerbaijan can cover its food needs by only local production. The author also emphasizes that there is a need for a strong financial institution to satisfy Azerbaijani farmers' needs for loans.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)