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Azerbaijan Report: May 2, 2003

2 May 2003
International Rights Organizations Condemn Acts Against Activists
"Azerbaijani authorities do not provide any guarantee for Azerbaijani citizens' safety," said Mehdi Mehdiev, executive director of the Human Rights Resource Center, referring to what he calls a pressure campaign organized by the government against local human rights activists.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Mehdiev criticized the police's apathy toward the attacks on the offices of Eldar Zeinalov, director of the Human Rights Defense Center, and Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy.

The government must guarantee their and their families' safety, at least as citizens, Mehdiev said. He said that under existing conditions human rights activists are forced to defend themselves. "No matter, I could find $300-$400 to purchase a pistol," he added.

On 28 April protesters, allegedly acting on orders from government officials, broke the doors and windows of the Institute for Peace and Democracy's office. When Mehdiev asked them to stop, the protesters threatened him saying that their next protest would be held in front of his office.

The protests were a reaction to a recent trip by Zeinalov to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Zeinalov spoke at the Caucasus Forum in Khankendi (Stepanakert). Government papers labeled him an Armenian spy.

Mehdiev said that the Human Rights Resource Center has appealed to international organizations and foreign embassies over the recent events.

On 29 April the International Helsinki Federation responded to their appeal. Moreover, the Moscow-based Memorial Society issued a statement calling for an end to the campaign against the human rights activists.

The authors of the statement categorically condemned last week's pressure on the two human rights activists in Baku. The organization demands that these acts of vandalism and pressure on human rights activists, as well as their families be stopped. The statement concludes that the Azerbaijani government also bears responsibility for the incident.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

In Wake of Iraq War, Iranian Foreign Minister Visits Baku
On 28 April Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Baku as part of a tour of the region. Kharrazi said in Baku that security in the South Caucasus is of great importance for Iran.

Local experts acknowledge that Iran's current attitude toward Azerbaijan fundamentally differs from the past.

Khaleddin Ibrahimli, director of the Caucasus Studies Center, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Iran now pursues a different policy. In the past Tehran followed a policy of arm-twisting regarding the newly independent South Caucasus countries, especially Azerbaijan. But this created certain problems for both Iran and the South Caucasus states, particularly Azerbaijan, restricting opportunities for cooperation. However, Iran has always kept special relations with Armenia. But now Tehran realizes that such a policy only isolates it more.

He added that Iran is now trying to end its superior attitude toward the South Caucasus states because the previous attitude was of no benefit to Iran itself. Now Tehran hopes that by improving relations with Azerbaijan, it will be possible to soften the South Caucasus countries' rigid attitude toward Iran.

Ibrahimli noted that it is well-known that the United States' influence in Azerbaijan is far from weak, and no doubt this influence will gradually increase. With this in mind Iran considers Azerbaijan to be a potential threat to it. Therefore, it is trying its utmost to improve the bilateral relations.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is expected to visit Azerbaijan in the near future. Foreign Minister Kharrazi said that problems regarding the Caspian legal status would be completely solved during Khatami's visit to Baku. Ibrahimli suggested that Iran would soften its position on the Caspian status issue.

Turan news agency expert Zefer Guliev said that certain reasons stand behind the Iranian foreign minister's visit to the region. It cannot be considered a planned visit. It is directly linked with the outcome of the U.S.-led war against Iraq and processes occurring in the international arena. Tehran knows that should it follow its previous political course in the region, it could isolate itself.

He also believes that Iran will likely make concessions in the Caspian legal status issue, Guliev added.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Opposition Party Leader Calls Public's Attention To Dangers Of Concealment
On 28 April Isa Gambar, head of the opposition Musavat Party and Democratic Congress, issued a statement expressing concern about the current social and political situation in Azerbaijan. The statement says that the government's attempts to conceal information about the president's health have prompted widespread rumors that only make the situation worse.

According to such rumors, Gambar writes, "some circles within the ruling regime plan to use the police and armed forces against the people to seize power after Heidar Aliev.... Seeing that it would be impossible to maintain control of the government, some circles could be inclined to prevent the presidential elections."

Gambar notes that such circles that realize that they could not come to power through democratic elections or that are controlled by hostile foreign forces, could influence a certain segment of the population -- who are tired of the Aliyev regime -- to become destructive. Therefore, he calls on the people not to yield to the provocation. In the end, Gambar states that in any case the Democratic Congress and other political forces are ready to assume the responsibility of governing the country by acting according to the constitution.

The ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) labeled the statement "the next adventure." Deputy Bahar Muradova, the party's deputy executive secretary, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Gambar's concern that the presidential elections could be foiled is illogical. The Musavat chairman must realize that he has no influence among the people. He tries to disguise his real purpose by demonstrating his adherence to the elections.

Muradova said that the statement is aimed at misleading the public and Gambar merely wants to benefit from the situation by escalating it. It will lead to nothing, as always.

Touching on the Democratic Congress's readiness to accept responsibility for governing, Muradova noted that despite problems with the president's health, he is still in a position to control the country. Moreover, the state organs realize their responsibilities better than ever and discharge their duties in time. Therefore, there is no need for to make such a statement. The author of such a statement must understand that he cannot go far with deception and fiction. If he doesn't give up his absurd initiatives, he will face a severe response, she said.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijani newspapers gave wide coverage to flooding of local rivers and the threat of waters flowing into nearby towns and villages. Under the headline "The situation in Neftchala and Salyan remains strained," the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the level of the Kur River continues to rise.

Local newspapers also ran articles on the results of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's visit to the South Caucasus.

Governmental and pro-governmental newspapers published articles devoted to the 80th birthday of Azerbaijani President Aliev.

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," parliament Deputy Chairman Arif Rahimzade denied rumors that parliament speaker Murtuz Alesgerov will soon resign.

Under the headline "The government creates civil confrontation," the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the chief goal of the panic-stricken regime is to declare a state of emergency.

New Azerbaijani Party (YAP) deputy Bahar Muradova says in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that the opposition will never participate with a common candidate.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "525" deputy Sabir Rustemkhanli, chairman of the opposition Civil Solidarity Party, comments on some information in the opposition media regarding President Aliev's health, saying that the head of state should always be treated with respect, as he is a symbol of the country.

Vasif Memmedoglu, in an article entitled "Salyan faces a tragedy" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet," notes that the unstable weather conditions in Azerbaijan since December have caused a tragic situation for areas around the Kur River. The possibility of tragedy is highest at Neftchala and Salyan, which are close to the river. According to observers, the river overflowing its banks in this area is a real possibility. Should this occur, there is no doubt that the two districts will be flooded. Memmedoglu writes that some measures, especially building up the banks from loam in Neftchala District, could help to avoid this danger. As for Salyan District, the author cites local inhabitants as saying that an artificial branch of the river known as the "Bala Kur" could be used to divert some of the water and lower the river's level. Memmedoglu says that if Salyan is flooded, the responsibility will be on the government. The situation is gradually escalating. Aid at the national level is needed.

An author writing only as Rashidoglu in the article "Iran's suggestion for mediation" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" cites Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi as saying that Iran wants to promote the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Amir Husein Asadullah Monfared, a specialist on Central Asian and Caucasian issues, says in an interview with the Iranian IRNA news agency that the chief purpose of Kharrazi's visit to the South Caucasus states is to achieve a strengthening of regional security. The Iranian government suggests that the level of meetings with the South Caucasus leaders, especially on the economic and political relations with Azerbaijan, must be increased. As for Iran's offer to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Rashidoglu recalls that as long ago as in 1992 Baku appealed for Tehran's mediation, but as a result it lost Shusha. All this shows that it is meaningless to attract superpowers -- third parties -- to the settlement of the conflict.

Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, in the article "The Heidar Aliev-authored strategy for Azerbaijan's social-economic development is a reliable guarantee for the people's current and future happiness" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan," criticizes the opposition parties' activities. Rasizade says that all opposition party and movement leaders want to become president, not realizing how much of a responsibility it is to the people and the state. In principle, the intention to come to power is understandable, if the person, laying the claim to power, knows what he will do after coming to power. "But our opposition has neither skilled cadres able to rule a country nor an economic program." Rasizade is sure that the Azerbaijani people will re-elect Aliyev in the fall presidential elections.

Emin Aliev, in an article entitled "A new three against Azerbaijan" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," points out that Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian has said that Armenia supports Iran's suggestions for a security system in the Caucasus. Although Kharrazi's suggestion has been met quietly in Baku and Tbilisi, "warm winds" have blown from Yerevan to Tehran. Aliyev writes that Armenia meeting the Iranian suggestions with a smile is not linked to diplomatic orders. This is a sign that the Iranian-Russian-Armenian alliance in the Caucasus is strengthening. On one hand, Yerevan intensifies its military ties with Moscow, on the other hand, it improves its relations with Tehran. It is unlikely that Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as members of the U.S.-led anti-Iraq coalition, will say "yes" to Tehran's proposal. Of course, officials in Tehran and Yerevan realize this as well. Simply, in this game Tehran hopes only for the three, and Yerevan's statement shows that for the moment the "Tehran scenario" is going according to plan. Tehran is strengthening its ties with Armenia by attempting not to harm its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

An author writing only as Sadraddin in the article "15 million Turks do not know Persian" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that after Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi's recent visit to Baku it has become clear that "the Tehran regime plans to render $130 million in assistance to the Azerbaijani economy. We welcome the economic ties and development between the two countries. But this assistance is not due to Tehran's interest in Azerbaijan's economic development. Since Azerbaijan gained independence, Iran has always tried to weaken 'North Azerbaijan' by various means. Therefore the reason for the sudden $130 million in assistance seems to be unclear. If the clerical regime in Tehran is so 'Azerbaijan-loving,' why doesn't it spend these funds for the sake of South Azerbaijan?" Saddraddin points out that "the current regime" in Iran is acting according to a plan dating back to the beginning of the 1990s. Under this plan, the South Azerbaijan liberation movement must be prevented. So, the expenditure of $130 million in assistance as part of this plan is one of dubious benefits.

Nazim Mustafa, in the article "Zeinalov and Yunus are always beloved" in the government newspaper "Khalg," writes that in no country in the world are there human rights activists who are so biased, insincere, and act against the national interests of their country as Eldar Zeinalov and Leila Yunus. There are such nongovernmental organizations in Azerbaijan that do their best to achieve civil confrontation and imposing sanctions against Azerbaijan, as well as blackmailing state institutions. As an example, Mustafa names Zeinalov and Yunus. He also criticizes the activities of international organizations that support these two human rights activists. "It is surprising that international institutions that do not want to see our compatriots' tragedies [referring to Karabakh refugees], are now showing such initiative to protect the self-declared human rights activists' inviolate rights."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)