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Azerbaijan Report: March 7, 2003

7 March 2003
Unregistered AXCP Faction Leader Wins By-Election Seat
Two opposition party members and the editor of a pro-government newspaper won the three vacant parliamentary seats in the March 5 by-election.

Despite the relative insignificance of the event, 115 international observers as well as local ones monitored the ballot. According to the Central Election Commission there were no serious irregularities during the voting.

According to the commission's initial results Algish Musaev, editor-in-chief of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," Shadman Husein, former deputy chairman of the National Independence Party [AMIP] and Gudret Hasenguliev, head of a breakaway People's Front Party [AXCP] faction, won the vacant seats.

Hasenguliev, head of one of the three AXCP factions, is the most controversial of the three new deputied. In January the Justice Ministry cancelled registration of the AXCP faction led by Ali Kerimli and registered Hasenguliev's faction. But nine days later a presidential decree reversed the Justice Ministry�s decision.

Before the election, Hasenguliev was quoted in the local media saying that he intends to take President Heydar Aliyev to court over the re-registration issue.

But Hasenguliev said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that although he considers the president's decision illegal, he was misquoted. He said that if the Justice Ministry goes along with the presidential decree and changes its decision on his faction's status, he will sue the ministry.

"Journalists have not reflected my opinions correctly. Indeed, the cancellation of the ministry's decision by the president contradicted the Constitution, under which a party's registration can only be canceled via a court ruling. As I understand, the ministry intends to reinvestigate the AXCP registration issue. If the ministry does not register our party, I will appeal to the court,' he said.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Issue of Political Prisoners Spotlighted in Media
The statement by a Justice Ministry official that political prisoners are manipulating events to garner media and international sympathy has sparked the ire of local rights activists.

Aidin Gasimov, chairman of the Chief Department for the Execution of Court Rulings, recently told local media that the recent statements about the difficult conditions under which convicts at the hard labor prison in Gobustan are forced to live are baseless.

"Those who consider themselves to be political prisoners face neither violations nor human rights abuses," Gasimov said. He explained that the prisoners break prison rules just before the visits of international monitors. They are punished for their violations, and then they complain to the observers that their rights are violated and they are suffering torture., GAsimov claimed

However, human rights activist Saida Gojamanli told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that based on the information they have, the situation in prisons is quite different. "Gasimov cannot speak otherwise. He remains true to his opinion, we to ours," she said.

Gojamanli noted that prisoners' parents have told them of incidents of bribery on behalf of prison employees. What is more, every time human rights activists appear on television and radio to talk about the situation in prisons, the attitude of the prison officials toward prisoners becomes tougher, she said.

Gojamanli pointed out that 25 political prisoners are seriously ill and need permanent medical observation. The list of sick convicts has also been submitted to the Council of Europe.

"We are not the enemy of our country. We publicize such information in order to avoid graver consequences and appeal to corresponding bodies to take appropriate measures," she said.

Lawyer Genire Isgenderli confirmed that in no prison, including the Gobustan one, are conditions acceptable.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Azerbaijani newspapers focused on President Heydar Aliev's hernia operation, processes within the ruling command, the outcome of the presidential elections in Armenia among others.

Under the headline "There will no be problems in financing the BTC project," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that President Aliev�s recent visit to the United States proves it once again.

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen, who are scheduled to meet in Washington on 7-8 March, will submit new suggestions regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Vafa Guluzade, former state adviser, said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that he expects nothing from the co-chairmen's visit to Washington.

Under the headline "The unluckiest candidate" the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that even international organizations and democratic states sometimes indicate their desire to abandon the Azerbaijani "forged government."

Under the headline "It is now impossible to shape readers' opinion with wrong information," the governmental newspaper "Khalg" notes that the opposition newspapers' articles on the Azerbaijani president's visit to the United States have nothing to do with reality.

Shadman Husein, one of the winners of the 5 March parliament by-election to the parliament, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that today's opposition position does not suit him and, therefore, his political cooperation with these forces is impossible.

Ehmed Oruj in an article entitled "Two-sided society" in the independent newspaper "525" compares the Azerbaijani and Armenian societies. Although the two countries are situated in the same geographical area and in the epicenter of the struggle between superpowers, and are bound by a common Soviet history, some principal points show that it would be wrong draw any parallel between the two countries on the issue of forming power. First of all, there are serious differences in the national issue. The attitude to this issue in Azerbaijan is on the "Azerbaijanship" and citizenship level. Most Azerbaijanis are not interested in the nationalities of those who they are friends with and consider asking such questions is in contradiction with social practice. But in Armenia the national approach is based on nationalism. Oruj notes that in today's Azerbaijani and Armenian societies there are ideological differences in power and opposition issues. Bearers of the national line--Levon Ter Petrosian and Robert Kocharian--are in power successively. But the bearers of the Azerbaijani national democratic line were in power only for one year. The forming and monitoring of power in Armenia and Azerbaijan is quite different. "There is also a difference in superpowers' possibilities to influence countries. The Russian influence on Armenia is far greater than the U.S. influence on Azerbaijan." The author concludes that pro-governmental media outlets attempt to draw a conclusion from Kocharian's victory in the Armenian presidential election, forgetting that victory was due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict factor.

An author writing only as Ilgar in the article "Will Kocharian be able to rule Armenia?" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" notes that the Armenian population, which was seen to be passive and pessimistic in the first round of the election, could increase its activity and experience by the second round. If Armenians can preserve this activity for the near future, then it would be wrong to consider Demirchian's chances as hopeless. He can at least create instability in the country by exerting pressure on the government, which could eventually lead to Kocharian's ouster. Ilgar writes that the best way to prevent the current tension in Armenia, in other words to make the opposition give up its struggle, is through Russia's direct interference. If the Kremlin exerts even a little pressure on Demirchian, the situation would certainly stabilize. But does Russia want to do this? Not only the analysts, but also Kocharian is likely interested in this question because Demirchian is also a pro-Russian politician, and if he comes to power, no change is expected in relations between the two countries. As for Russia, it is more interested in stability in Armenia than the victory of one or another candidate because Armenia is the only country of the South Caucasus still under Russia's thumb.

Nadir Azeri in the article "The Co-chairmen have started moving" in the newspaper "Uch Nogta" points out that the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmen have started working again. Azerbaijan's just position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is expected to be reflected in their latest suggestions. But it is unclear what the Armenian reaction will be to it. What is clear is that Armenia does not want to abandon its occupation claims. The fact that Yerevan's stand on the matter remains unchanged proves once again that Armenia is an aggressor. According to some observers, irrespective of who will win the presidential election in Armenia, this country will not abandon its occupation of Azerbaijani territory. In that case, the future development of events will depend on the co-chairmen's position. In other words, if the co-chairmen demonstrate fidelity to their principles and recognize Armenia as an aggressor, that could bring a certain positive influence on the solution to the conflict.

Lawyer Reshid Hajili, director of the Media Rights Institute, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that the purpose of establishing a Media Council is to create a bridge and understanding between the public and the media. In some countries the media itself shows interest in establishing a council, in other countries it is the public which shows the initiative. The Media Council must not act on behalf of the government, and its decisions are limited to broadcast media, not newspapers. Newspapers' founders can choose whether or not to fulfill such a decision. Unfortunately, considering the regulations it has become clear that there are obvious attempts to ensure the council's influence by administrative methods.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in an article entitled "Farmers' credit problem" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that entrepreneurs continue to face problems in getting loans. Things are now so bad that even a number of ministers have begun to criticize the banking system. And it is the farmer who suffers the most. Agriculture Minister Irshad Aliyev has charged banks with creating artificial obstacles for granting loans to farmers. Meanwhile, landowners in most regions are forced to rent their lands out because of a lack of capital. Gudretoglu also points out that the amount of funds required for farming is much lower than that needed for launching a business in industry or trade. But farmers experience difficulties in obtaining even small loans.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)