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Azerbaijan Report: March 18, 2003

18 March 2003
Journalists Create Print Media Watchdog
Some 400 journalists, government representatives, and members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia and international community gathered on 15 March to create the country's first press council.The participants at the all-day event adopted the council's charter, a code of ethics and nominated and elected members of the council, composed of nine print journalists and six representatives from the public. Aflatun Amashov, chairman of the "Ruh" Committee to Protect the Rights of Journalists, was elected chairman of the council. The council, created as part of Azerbaijan's obligations to the Council of Europe, currently has no legal authority; however, the government has indicated that it may grant it official status later.

Prior to the 15 March congress, some media representatives announced that they would not participate, claiming that the press council's draft charter needed to be discussed more. They also claimed that the procedure for selecting delegates to the congress was not transparent.

One of the journalists who boycotted the congress, Shahbaz Khuduoglu, editor-in-chief of the independent magazine "Law" (Qanun), said at a 13 March press conference that they refused to participated because of irregularities during the preparation for the congress; however, they support the idea of a press council. He claimed that close to 60 percent of those invited to attend the congress represented non-existent media. "It is impossible to create a real media council by such ways," Khuduoglu said.

Another journalist who boycotted the congress, Khoshgedem Himaetgizi, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," said that some members of the journalism community had attempted to exert unfair control over the council. "Well-known heads of journalist unions and newspaper editors are attempting to be represented in the council," Himaetgizi said at the 13 March press conference. "But there are many ordinary journalists who would make this council a true media organization."

Aidin Guliev, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," is also dissatisfied with the organizational committee's work. He said that the current public and political situation in Azerbaijan does not permit the unbiased formation of a national press council. Therefore, this council must be recreated at a journalist congress that should be held after the presidential elections.

"I have to confess that my newspaper is also politicized. Today the Azerbaijani media is under either the government's or the opposition's influence. Therefore, I think that a national media council should be established after the political situation in the country changes," Guliev concluded.

(Natig Zeinalli)

More than 10,000 March in Opposition Demonstration
On 16 March the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), a grouping of nine of the largest opposition parties, held a scheduled sanctioned protest. Some 10,000 people were observed marching from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba square. The opposition claims that 20,000 were present, while government sources say 5,000 turned out. They called for free elections, freedom for Nagorno-Karabakh and the resignation of the president.

Serdar Jelaloglu, secretary-general of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP), was the first to speak. He said that the people must never separate the liberation of Karabakh from the free election issue; it is impossible to achieve the former without solving the latter.

Panah Huseinov, chairman of the People's Party, noted that at this election the opposition is determined to fight using all ways and means allowed by the Constitution and international law until victory is achieved.

Tereggi Party chairman Teyub Demiroglu suggested that it would be better to direct all efforts toward making Aliyev resign rather than struggle for free elections. Aliyev will never give up his old habits.

Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar said that "the Azerbaijani people have the right and means to live happily." The chief issue at present is to continue the struggle and intensify it day by day.

The resolution adopted at the end of the meeting demanded that the draft election code be reconsidered and election commissions be taken out of the government's control. No clashes between the police and demonstrators were observed.

(Babek Bekir)

U.S. Ambassador Announces Post-Election Karabakh Intentions
Once Armenia and Azerbaijan finish their presidential elections the United States intends to assist the OSCE Minsk Group in preparing new suggestions on a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said Ross Wilson, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, at a 13 March meeting at the Baku Slavic University. Wilson said that after the presidential election in once Azerbaijan the United States plans to offer a new basis for the Karabakh issue with the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, as well as the Minsk Group.

At the end of 2002, Azerbaijani experts predicted that the Karabakh negotiations would be stalled until after the elections in both countries. Incumbent President Robert Kocherian won the Armenia ballot in an election strongly criticized by international observers, including the United States, while Azerbaijanis will go to the polls in October.

Khaleddin Ibrahimli, chairman of the Caucasus Research Center, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the United States' new efforts could be in Azerbaijani national interests. American officials' negative attitude toward the recent presidential ballot in Armenia, as well as Washington's intention to strengthen its position in the Middle East, are the grounds to suggest that the United States feels the need for a strategic cooperation with Azerbaijan. "I think that America is now inclined to exert pressure on Armenia in order to take it out of the Russian sphere of influence," Ibrahimli said.

But Elkhan Mehdiev, head of nongovernmental Center for Peace and Conflict Settlement, called the American ambassador statement "a game of words." He noted that in 2000 when Wilson was appointed ambassador to Baku he also promised that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue would be solved in the near future. Mehdiev is sure that the Karabakh issue will be solved not by any foreign countries' plan but Azerbaijan's own determination. He said it would be wrong to connect the settlement of the Karabakh conflict with the presidential elections and democracy, adding that such arguments are put forward by foreign countries merely to ensure their own interests.

(Natig Zeinalli)

International Football Bodies Rally Behind AFFA
FIFA and UEFA have once again voiced their support for Azerbaijani football authorities. FIFA president Joseph Blatter has sent Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev a message calling on him "to do everything necessary" to end pressure on the national football association, AFFA, and ensure the integrity of this organization. At the same time, Blatter expressed regret at the latest events with regard to AFFA and the disparaging attitude of Azerbaijani first division football teams toward the agreement signed in Zurich on 20 September 2002 with the mediation of FIFA and UEFA.

"We do not accept this situation since the promises made to the supreme bodies of world and European football were deliberately broken and inadmissible external pressure was exerted on members of the AFFA executive committee," the letter read.

Blatter was referring to, among other things, the recent audit of AFFA's books by the Tax Ministry, which included the seizure of several computers.

At the end of the letter, Blatter expressed his and UEFA President Lennart Johansson's willingness to meet with Aliyev to "discuss and make an appropriate decision for the sake of Azerbaijani football."

The crisis in the Azerbaijani football emerged in April 2002, when the major league's football teams boycotted the domestic championship alleging bias on the part of referees, and demanded the resignation of AFFA president Fuad Musaev. In order to overcome the crisis representatives of FIFA, UEFA, AFFA, two national football teams and the ministry of sport met in September 2002 for an emergency summit in Zurich, Switzerland.

The parties agreed to restart the championship under the sole control of AFFA, draw up new AFFA statutes and national championship regulations, as well as to hold an AFFA congress to approve new statues and elect the president and members of the AFFA�s executive committee. The election was to be held in accordance with the new statutes. But afterward the teams refused to fulfil these conditions.

Letif Novruzov, press secretary of the national football association, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Blatter's message shows well "who is who." Earlier international organizations also sent such messages. Forces that are driving Azerbaijani football to brink must wake up, Novruzov said, adding that the resumption of the domestic championship depends not on AFFA, but on football teams.

Ragif Abbasov, press secretary of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism, noted that the government also supports fulfillment of the Zurich agreement. The sooner the championship is restarted and problems are solved, the better. Meanwhile, Abbasov denied the allegation that AFFA is under undue pressure, adding that the government does not interfere in the association's work.

As for the FIFA and UEFA presidents' willingness to meet with the Azerbaijani president, Abbasov said that most likely there will no problems in arranging such a meeting. The Azerbaijani government is also interested in a civil and legal settlement of the issue, he concluded.

(Babek Bekir)

Terri Davis, the PACE rapporteur on Nagorno-Karabakh, will visit Azerbaijan and Armenia on 25-26 March. Davis will meet with Nagorno-Karabakh's Azerbaijani and Armenian communities in Baku and Yerevan.

Gultekin Hajieva, the PACE rapporteur on Azerbaijan, said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that Davis's meeting with the two communities is the right thing to do. Hajieva also noted that the PACE has repeatedly stated its position on the matter and called on Armenia to release occupied Azerbaijani territories.

According to the Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," the second meeting of the security councils of the "Caucasian Four"--Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia--is expected to be held on 19-20 March in Moscow.

The independent newspaper "525" cites the Trend news agency as saying that in 2002 some 1,700 tourists from more than 60 countries visited Nagorno-Karabakh--17.9 percent more than during 2001. Of foreign tourists, 39 percent were American, 15.5 percent French, 6 percent Canadian and 4.4 percent German. 92.2 percent of the tourists' visits were listed as personal ones, while 7.8 percent were on business matters. The newspaper also says that at present 12 hotels there can accommodate a total of 370 people. Jahangir Huseinov, a member of the parliamentary commission on nation-building and legal policy, said in an interview with the governmental newspaper "Khalg" that the government's draft on the unified election code will allow for a democratic presidential ballot. Huseinov expressed regret that some opposition parties are jealous of the draft code. From the first days of the debates, the opposition has suggested that the Central Election Commission be formed on an equal participation of all political parties that passed the 1 percent barrier during the last parliamentary elections. So even those opposition parties that are not represented in the parliament lay claims to seats in the commission. This is quite wrong, Huseinov said, adding that there are over 100 political parties and political organizations and more than 40 of them have been registered. Most of them consider themselves to be in the opposition. "The Central Election Commission must not be set up by party affiliation. Elections are the key to democracy," he concluded.

Eight years have passed since the 13-17 March 1995 events in Baku when OMON (special police detachment) headed by deputy interior minister Rovshan Javadov rose up against the government. OMON was dissolved and its members were arrested after the failed coup, during which Javadov was killed. Under the headline "Vague side of the 13-17 March events," the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that Rovshan Javadov fell victim to "envy and jealousy."

But under the headline "The March 1995 events are also a test history for Azerbaijan," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" notes that thanks to Heydar Aliev's determination based on the people's will, the Azerbaijani state and people have come out of this difficult situation with credit.

Sahib Aliev, a member of the newly formed press council�s executive committee, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that he is still not satisfied with the journalists' congress held on 15 March. "What dissatisfied me most is the strong inclination toward regionalism and anti-regionalism."

Khalid Bahadir in an article entitled "The press council is 'finished'" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that a number of former KGB agent, who have become "outstanding figures" of Azerbaijani journalism tried to achieve the government's goals at the congress. If secret agents among the opposition are sent to such an open struggle, it means that an end to the current government is approaching. Bahadir also notes that the congress, which was accompanied by numerous irregularities, also ended in a violation of the law. Aflatun Amashov was "elected" a chairman of the media council, although there was no quorum, since most participants had left the meeting in anger. This fact is enough to consider the congress's results and even the meeting to be illegal. "So the government did what it wanted� and realized its 'press council' project by means of force and pressure."

Under the headline "Events at the journalists' congress were a real disgrace," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that only 129 people participated in the elections of the media council's chairman. Most participants left the congress before the vote.

Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" noted that a possible war against Iraq could spill over on to the territory of other countries. First, if military operations are correctly planned from an operations point of view, Saddam Husein will attempt to broaden the war's geography. International terror organizations will also have a great role in it. Second, the war can also spill over the Turkish and Iranian borders. The United States would be interested in spreading the war to Iran, while Iraqi Kurdish groups would promote moving the conflict to Turkish territories. Asked how a possible war against Iraq can affect Azerbaijan, Akber said that changes in the world oil market should be watched seriously. There is a need for economic analysts and experts here. Second, the government must prevent a refugee flow into Azerbaijan and control carefully who is allowed across its borders. Of course, there will also be terrorists among refugees and therefore security measures must be increased.

Political scientist Gabil Huseinli said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that the outcome of a possible U.S.-Iraqi war would be too favorable for Azerbaijan. A war against Iraq could contribute to forming a new geopolitical situation in the region.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)