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Azerbaijan Report: March 28, 2003

28 March 2003
Azeri Muslims May React Strongly to Attack on Karbala, Say Theologians
Local theologians say they are anxious about the possible impact of the war against Iraq on Islamic sacred sites there. Religious scholar Vasim MemmedAliyev in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" predicted that should these sacred places, especially Karbala, be bombed, the entire Islamic world might rise up. MemmedAliyev noted if Karbala is subjected to bombardment at the time in the Shiite Muslim holy calendar when Shiites are mourning for Imam Husein, a martyr of Karbala, there could be a much stronger reaction than expected.

Haji Sabir Hesenli, rector of the Islamic University, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that damage to Iraq's sacred sites could lead to increased Islamic sympathy throughout the world. "Military operations in Iraq are causing concern in Azerbaijan. God forbid if sacred relics are damaged there. I would assume the worst, but if sacred places are bombed, there will be serious protests in Azerbaijan," Hesenli said.

Religious scholar Neriman Gasimoglu agreed that the desecration of shrines could cause protests in Azerbaijan. But massive protests are not expected. "Azerbaijani citizens aren't used to using protest as a means of expression. Therefore, small protests are possible. But I don�t believe there will be massive protests in Azerbaijan," he said.

Meantime, a number of radical religious groups have stated their readiness to go to Iraq to aid their fellow Muslims. Haji Abdul, chairman of the "Tovbe" (Sacred Vow) society, said that some 300 Azerbaijani volunteers are ready to defend Iraq.

Azerbaijani officials also say they are concerned about possible damage to sacred Islamic monuments in Iraq. Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev said in an interview with local media representatives that the coalition forces should take great care to protect Iraqi Muslim shrines from damage. These monuments belong not only to the Islamic world, but also to all of civilization. Guliev also expressed regret at the destruction of the presidential palace in Baghdad.

Islamic researchers point out that Baghdad--now under intensive bombardment--was long the center of the Caliphate. Famous Islamic caliphs reigned from this city.

Hesenli noted that Iraqi cities of Karbala, Samarra and Al-Kazimiyah occupy a prominent place in Islamic history. He said that the grave of Imam Moosa-e-Kazim is in the town of Al-Kazimiyah near Baghdad, while Imam Ali's grave lies in Al-Najaf. Many Azerbaijani Muslims also go on a yearly pilgrimage to Karbala. The graves of Imam Husein and Imam Abbas, as well as the Azerbaijani poet Mohammed Fizuli are in this town.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Local Environmental Groups Worry About Radar Station's Impact on Population's Health
The Gabala radiolocation station is working at full capacity, thanks to the war in Iraq, say Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations, adding that it's now even more dangerous for locals. According to them since the beginning of the war in Iraq 23 people have died of such illnesses as cancer, heart-related illnesses. The Azerbaijani parliament has also considered the issue. Some deputies demanded the matter be clarified.

Parliament deputy Alimemmed Nuriev claimed that the radiolocation station is surrounded by radiation. He suggested that a special commission be created to investigate the station's health impact.

Adil Geribov, director of the Institute for Radiation Problems at the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed that the radiolocation station has strengthened its activities because of the Iraqi crisis, but said that he is unaware of the station's current power or how many radioactive particles are emanating from it. "Neither my institute nor other corresponding organs have such information. This is Russia's state secret. Azerbaijan knows nothing about the station's power, its wave-length and other parameters."

Telman Zeinalov, head of the Center for Ecological Research, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the radiolocation station might strengthen its activities due to the war against Iraq. He believes that the station does cause serious damage to people living in surrounding areas. But there are no concrete statistics. Therefore, it is wrong to link the death of people with the radiolocation station.

Mehdi Mehdiev said the death of 23 people within six days is improbable. However he does believe that infant deaths have increased as a result of the station's operations over a long period of time. The Soviet-built Gabala radiolocation station was leased to Russia for 25 years at the beginning of 2002. The station has significant importance for Russia due to its abilities to track inter-continental ballistic missiles launched across the Southern Hemisphere.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Defense Ministry spokesman Ramiz Melikov told the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that U.S. planes have yet to use Azeri airspace so far.

The independent newspaper "525" cites the Trend news agency as saying that President Heydar Aliyev intends to participate in next CIS summit to be held on 29-31 March in Saint-Petersburg.

Under the headline "The non-oil industry cannot emerge from stagnation," the opposition newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" notes that economic growth is due only to the oil sector.

According to the government newspaper "Azerbaycan," the production of electricity in Azerbaijan has increased by 14.9 percent in comparison with the same period of last year.

Under the headline "Opposition parties are not ready for political polemics," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that that despite the efforts of OSCE democratic institutions, opposition parties are refusing to discuss the unified election code with the government.

Under the headline "Buildings have been flooded in Yevlakh," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the situation in Yevlakh is becoming worse thanks to the incessant rains of the last few days.

Political scientist Khaleddin Ibrahimli said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that if the United States wins the war against Iraq, it would increase Turkey's and Azerbaijan's status in the region. It would be the beginning of the formation of a new world order. But Washington's defeat in this war could lead to disorder and even chaos for a certain period. Ibrahimli noted that the United States is the chief supporter of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export pipeline. The BTC pipeline is needed not only by Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also by the United States. To prevent this project under various pretexts is impossible. The war in Iraq will not hinder the realization of this pipeline.

Konul Shamilgizi in an article entitled "Karbala sympathy" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that no human being wants war, bloodshed, infant death, tears or destruction. "Of course, not only Muslims, but every child of civilization is against bombardment and destruction of sacred sites. Naturally there are no good wars, and America is also wrong to wage a war�. But I personally do not consider Shusha, Lachin, or any of Karabakh to be less sacred than Karbala and Al-Najaf. When these sacred centers were under more intensive bombardment by Armenian and Russian terrorists, we did not see any reaction to it from Muslim Iraq and Muslim Iran, or from anyone else. On the contrary, we were witness to their support of Armenia. And now our prominent religious men are stating that 'should Karbala be bombed, all the world's Muslims, including Azerbaijan, will rise up.' But where were these Muslims when Shusha and Lachin were being occupied, monuments of prominent personalities, as well as our fathers' graves were being desecrated?" Shamilgizi asks.

An author writing only as Sabina in the article "Loans allocated to the agriculture" in the pro-government newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that the loans given to agriculture, as the one of the most significant sector of the country's economy, are increasing. But there are certain problems in attracting credits to profitable areas. Sabina notes that this problem is, in fact, originating from the lack of organizations that could facilitate the purchase and sale of land and property. In more developed countries, organizations play a great role in satisfying farmers' need for investment. It should be pointed out that at present the agrarian sector, one of the potentially profitable sectors of Azerbaijan, is experiencing a period of revival. But it is possible to accelerate the development of this sector. The government plans to take certain steps in this direction. But there are a number of problems that prevent development. One of the current problems is linked with the proper use of credits allocated to the agriculture and their repayment. Therefore the chief blame is attributed to bank-creditors. These banks and other financial institutions do not effectively evaluate business plans presented to them by individuals wanting loans.

An author writing only as Zeinalov in an article entitled "The government will also need democratic election conditions" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" points out that the presidential election is approaching, but uncertainty persists surrounding the legislative basis that will regulate this campaign. Some five months have passed from the moment the draft election code was publicized. But this period was insufficient for the government and opposition to agree on the final draft of the law. Even international organizations' efforts to bring the main political camps' representatives together failed. Zeinalov writes that at first sight the escalation of the situation around the draft election law was expected. But adoption of the law without considering the opinions of major political forces could exacerbate the current tension. It is now difficult to predict whether the government's ideologists will take this factor into account or not. Anyhow, the government will need democratic election conditions, at least, to guarantee the ballot, Zeinalov says.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)