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Azerbaijan Report: April 5, 2003

5 April 2003
Courts Sentence Nardaran Villagers, Mutallibov Supporters
There were no jokes being played on April 1 for two groups of people who went before courts in Azerbaijan for crimes ranging from riot organizing to coup planning. On 1 April the Court for Serious Crimes passed sentences on 15 residents of the vvillage of Nardaran who were detained following a clash between villagers and police on 3 June 2002. Two of them--Alikram Aliev, chairman of the Islamic Party, and Jabrail Alizade, head of the civic organization Union of Baku and Villages--were on trial for organizing the villagers' violent response to the police crackdown, while the others were tried for their participation in the events and resisting police. The incident left one resident of Nardaran dead and dozens injured on both sides.

The court gave 11 villagers suspended sentences and released them from the jail where they had been held since shortly after the June riot. The remaining four were given prison time. Aliyev was sentenced to nine years and Alizade to eight years in prison. The two others--Hikmet Veliev and Etibar Zakiev--both received five-year sentences.

After negotiations between village elders and government representatives, Nardaran's residents had hoped for the release of all those arrested. Nardaran elder Hajiaga Nuriev called the court's ruling "unjust," but added that the negotiation process would continue. Several villagers have said that they will resume protest if the court does not reevaluate its sentences, local media reported. But the lawyers say that they will at first appeal the sentences to a higher court and, if necessary, they will address the European Court of Human Rights.

On the same day the Nasimi District Court sentenced five supporters of former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutallibov. Adil Memmedov, Henife Hesenov, Mubariz Ibadov, Abulfet Huseinov and Yashar Ibishov were charged with not informing law-enforcement bodies about an attempted coup aimed at bringing Mutallibov back to power. Teylor Fetishoglu, who identified himself as Mutallibov's former press secretary, again testified that the defendants were aware that some of Mutallibov's supporters were planning a coup.

The court sentenced Memmedov to one years and Hesenov to six months imprisonment, while the three others--Ibadov, Huseinov and Ibishov--were fined.

(Kebiran Dilaverli and Natig Zeinalov)

Azerbaijani newspapers ran items on President Heydar Aliev's 3 April meeting with local authorities in Sumgait, during which he dismissed Tavekkul Memmedov from his post as the head of the Executive Committee of Sumgait. Zaur Shakiroglu in the article "Sumgait clan" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that Aliev's meeting in Sumgait clarified a number of issues. First of all, the president acknowledged the existence of various power groups within the government. This was the first time the president has gone in person to sack the head of an executive power, indicating that he is ready to clean house when clans within the government show open insubordination. Shakiroglu writes that the president himself said that local officials are not providing him with true information. He once again demonstrated that groups within the government have created an atmosphere of distrust and are attempting to benefit from it.

The author Zeinalov in an article entitled "Election bloc-making within the opposition" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that since only six months remain until the presidential elections, political parties vying for the presidential post are showing their unification by banding together and announcing a single candidate. It is not excluded that at the beginning of the election campaign alliances or groups within the opposition will turn into election blocs. The first step in this direction was made last weekend when the "pro-Musavat" Democratic Congress nominated Isa Gambar for the presidential ballot as its candidate. In addition to the large opposition parties, smaller ones are also increasing their election activities. Zeinalov hopes that at the end of the bloc-making process the opposition's ambitious leaders will be ready to discuss together how to contest the elections.

Araz Alizade, cochairman of the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP), said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that his party will not join the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM). "Generally I do not accept the MKM," Alizade said. "On what basis are these seven or eight parties identifying themselves as the MKM?" Alizade noted that at the end of April the ASDP intends to hold a protest. In the same month it will hold its congress. As for the upcoming presidential elections, Alizade noted that the opposition parties that make up the Azerbaijani Forces Union (AQB) will have their own candidate.

Ali Rza in the article "Nazim Ibrahimov is again on trial" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes that state institutions have been also involved in President Aliev's propaganda campaign and writes that the State Committee on Work with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad is the first step in this direction. When this committee was created and Nazim Ibrahimov was appointed its chairman, it seemed that it would be engaged in enlisting support for Aliyev from Azerbaijanis living abroad rather than in fulfilling its formal functions. Some observers even predicted that the committee would generate a split among Azerbaijani diaspora organizations throughout the world. These forecasts and conclusions seemed to be coming true. Ibrahimov's committee has showed the first indications of that. Rza points out that as the presidential ballot approaches, the number of support statements to the president from state institutions will increase, of course. And Ibrahimov's committee has begun this marathon.

Conflict specialist Elkhan Mehdiev in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" commented on the U.S. State Department's human rights report on Azerbaijan for 2002. He said that this report would not affect the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But the report can be considered to be a positive change in Azerbaijan's favor. According to previous reports, Azerbaijan lands were occupied by Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. But the department's latest report uniquely stresses that Azerbaijani territories have been seized by Armenian armed forces.

Ross Wilson, U.S. ambassador to Baku, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that the ultimate aim of the war against Iraq is to restore democracy and human rights in Iraq, as well as throughout the world. "Although it is now hard to predict how long the war will continue, I don�t think it will last till fall," Wilson noted. Touching on the U.S. State Department's human rights report on Azerbaijan for 2002, Wilson pointed out that "our report on human rights practices speaks for itself. So I do not see a need to comment the paper," the ambassador said. "Because having read it, the Azerbaijani citizens will see that we indeed suppose that there are serious problems in Azerbaijan. And this concern has found its reflection in this paper. The dialogue policy and aid programs that we have conducted during the last 12 years have been aimed at improving the situation with democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan," Wilson concluded.

Galib-Abd Husein, Iraqi Ambassador to Azerbaijan, in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" noted that at present he does not have concrete statistics on the number of ethnic Armenian Iraqi citizens who have left Iraq. But Baghdad insists that "irrespective of nationalities, Iraqi citizens must move within the framework of state policy, laws and norms defined by the Iraqi government. The Iraqi state policy does not recognize the formation called the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Iraqi citizens must respect this policy." Nevertheless, Husein did not exclude the possibility of settling Armenians from Iraq in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region at the incitement of extremist groups. The ambassador pledged that Iraqi authorities will examine the issue. Husein also pointed out that the number of ethnic Armenians living in Iraq amounts to 3,000-4,000. Iraq has the smallest Armenian minority of any Arab state, he said.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)