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Azerbaijan Report: June 4, 2003

4 June 2003
Experts Downplay Speculation on Azerbaijani Role in Possible Iran Invasion
Ross Wilson, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, denied a report in the Russian press that the United States administration plans to use Azerbaijan and Georgia as a launch pad for incursion into Iran. "We have no such plans," Wilson said, adding that the United States' attitude toward Iran remains unchanged.

The Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reported on 29 May that the Pentagon had prepared a plan for military actions against Iran, which also provides for the using of American troops stationed in Azerbaijan and Georgia. The paper also noted that Pentagon and the Azerbaijani government had agreed on the quartering of American troops in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev called the report "baseless," adding that the Azerbaijani government has not given consent to the quartering of American troops in Azerbaijan. He said that spreading of such fiction in Russia's media serves the interests of separate political forces and further complicates the situation in the region.

Most local experts agreed that the Russian report has little if any factual basis. Political scientist Rasim Musabeyov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Iran and Azerbaijan have certain problems in their relations, but these problems would not go so far as to involve the military. He is sure that both Azerbaijani officials and the public have no desire to see a further escalation of the U.S.-Iran conflict.

Former Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov said that "Many newspapers in the world publish everything on orders," adding that in general, such articles should be ignored.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, also played down the report. "Since Washington is not interested in disrupting stability in the Caucasus, it would attempt to keep the region's countries as far away from the [U.S.-Iran] issues as possible,' he said.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi and Zhale Mutallimova)

Journalists Continue Protests in Support of Opposition Media
On 30 May a number of newspapers, new agencies and journalist unions staged a sanctioned picket in front of the Ministry of Health, protesting the health minister's alleged banning of reading and selling of opposition newspapers at medical institutions. The picketers demanded that Health Minister Ali Insanov withdraw the directive, which they called illegal and aimed at suppressing the opposition media. They also called on the president to react to the minister's violation of human rights.

A resolution read at the end of the protest demanded that governmental officials and the president's relatives to stop insulting individual newspapers and journalists and eliminate obstacles to the selling of opposition newspapers.

On the same day the journalists held another protest in front of the Baku Consumer Department. The participants, who said they were protesting the beating of street newspaper vendors and the seizure of newspapers, were met with portraits of President Heydar Aliyev in the building's windows. Eldeniz Yusifov, member of the Defense Committee of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," said that in effect the people standing behind those windows were smothering the independent media.Clashes between the protesters and police were not reported.

(Natig Zeinalov)

UN Report: Infant Mortality Down, but Economic Pressures Increase on Children
The U.N has estimated that Azerbaijan ranks 48th out of 193 countries on infant mortality, said League of Protection of Children Rights chairman Yusif Bekirov at a press conference, devoted to 1 June International Children's Day. Bekirov noted that Azerbaijan ranks the highest of the Caucasus countries in terms of infant health; neighboring Armenia is in 94th and Georgia ranks 104th.

Some 350,000 children--10 percent of Azerbaijan's children--have been displaced from their homes as a consequence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Bekirov noted that the highest infant death figures in Azerbaijan fall on these children -- many of whom still live in refugee camps, tents and railcars in difficult ccnditions. He added that economic difficulties have also had their impact on Azerbaijan's children too. Today more children live on the street and suffer from child exploitation. To speak about the protection of children's rights is meaningless, Bekirov added, and linked it with Azerbaijan's nonparticipation in international conventions.

Bekirov pointed out that the League of Protection of Children's Rights has prepared an appeal to the U.N., OSCE and other international organizations in connection with the harsh conditions of refugee children. Moreover, on 20 November--the day of the adoption of Children's Rights Convention--the league is going to organize protests by children in front of international organizations and embassies in Baku.

(Kebiran Dilaverli)

On 2 June the president signed the recently approved the Election Code into law; however, opposition parties continue to challenge it.

In an interview with the newspaper "525," parliament deputy Mubariz Gurbanli, who is deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), decribed the opposition's current position on the election code as "kicking up a fuss after the train has pilled out of the station." "We, as a ruling party, have voted in sufficient compromises in this version of the election code. Although some of our deputies protested, we have agreed to this version in order to leave the opposition without pretext." Gurbanli said that the approved code will ensure democratic elections in Azerbaijan. The opposition's displeasure with this version and protests against the code indicate that it has taken a biased position on this issue.

OSCE Baku Office Head Peter Burkhard in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" expressed his opinion of the election code. He said that the final assessment of the code will be given by the OSCE Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. Burkhard noted that the Venice Commission's suggestions were accepted with some amendments. Touching on the row between the opposition and government, he pointed out that even the most ideal law does not guarantee democratic elections, if violations of the law and mutual distrust exists. Elections are a technical procedure. Therefore, the public mood impacts on this process.

Former parliament speaker Yagub Mammadov in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" comments on the recent events in the parliament, as well as the adoption of the election code. Asked "who is responsible for the escalation of the situation in the parliament?" Mammadov said that it was a consequence of the current government-opposition relations. Such relation between political forces are inadmissible. Confrontation in these relations in the end results in insults and disgrace. On the other hand, such things happen because of the parliament leadership. Touching on the opposition's nonparticipation in parliament sessions, Mammadov noted that in a normal parliament such a situation could lead to negative consequences. But nobody listens or attaches any importance to the opposition in Azerbaijan.

Elchin Yusifoglu in an article entitled �What does Heydar Aliyev think?" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that numerous civic groups attempt to hit the same target, but are ruled from various centers. For example, let's consider groups within the government itself. Officials who are anxious about the head of state's health know well in what direction processes will flow. They are distrustful of any event which is likely enough to happen, and at the same time they do not endorse the succession of Ilham Aliev, the president's son. The existence of such groups--which have already determined their future leaders--within the government is, undoubtedly, a great blow to Heydar Aliev. Moreover, protests demanding a solution to social problems may start again. This is highly probable. On the other hand, while journalists have begun successive protests, opposition parliament deputies refuse to participate in parliament sessions, leading international organizations to criticise President Aliev. "Where does Heydar Aliyev go with such a multitude of unsettled problems? What does he think?" the author asks. "It is possible to predict with certainty that Aliyev has left everything to the mercy of fate. He is forced to do it, because of his weakness. He is already alone before everybody. Even his son is not with him."

One year has passed since the 3 June events in Nardaran, when police forces raided the village, causing clashes with the residents and leaving one villager dead and dozens injured. Shahla Abusattar in the article "Nardaran Tragedy I" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" recalls in detail the incident and comments on the current situation in the village. Referring to the villagers' opinion, the author writes that the current calm in Nardaran means nothing. Nardaran, which is demanding its right, has fulfilled everything that was required of it. But what about the government? For the moment it has closed its eyes to the villagers' demands, and therefore the current calm in Nardaran can be compared to the calm before the storm.

4 June marks the 1993 revolt of Surat Huseinov, who let a military unit to mutiny against the government.Hamlet Gasimov in the article "The AXC-Musavat government bears the legal and moral responsibility for the events in Ganja" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" notes that not only Ganja's residents, but all of Azerbaijan will never forget 4 June 1993. On that day the city's inhabitants woke up to the sound of shots. Armed people in military and civilian clothes were running here and there, shouting and creating unprecedented trouble in Ganja. Afterwards it turned out that brother had fired upon brother, tens of people had died, in short, a civil war had begun in the country as a result of the confrontation between the AXC-Musavat government and Surat Huseinov. Gasimov writes that centuries will pass, but the period of the AXC-Musavat government will never be forgotten, the people will recall that period with bitter grief.

Javid Jabbaroglu in the article "The anniversary of the tragedy" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" points out that 4 June is the second date after 28 April 1920, which brought the Azerbaijani people great disaster. According to experts, Aliev's government has thrown Azerbaijan back at least 50 years, considering the blow it has dealt to the Azerbaijani economy, the scale of corruption and bribery. 4 June was a revolt--everybody acknowledges this. It was directed against the weakening the country's statehood--nobody denies this. The rebels wanted to prevent Azerbaijan from developing and integrating into the West, and thus return to Azerbaijan to Russia's and Iran's sphere of influence--of this there is no doubt.

Rovshan Murvetoglu in the article "GUUAM has already turned into a formality" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" talks about this organization's activities. In the economic sphere GUUAM countries prefer to cooperate with countries outside the grouping, giving grounds to argue that this organization has turned into a formality. In general, it is a fact that interest in GUUAM is weak even in the member-states. In Ukraine, the leading member of the organization, both the leaders and the population attach little importance to cooperation within GUUAM. But what was the need for the organization's establishment and what are the reasons that prevent GUUAM from achieving its goals? Most experts do not rule out Russia's direct participation here. Since this group within the Commonwealth of Independent States does not coincide with Russia's national interests, Russia will try to weaken it in any way. The consequences of such pressure are now revealing themselves. As Russia has numerous opportunities to pressure Georgia, Uzbekistan and Moldova, these countries are now careful with their moves. The United States' aid to GUUAM is another reason prompting Moscow to act.

Under the headline "Iraqi oil is not an obstacle for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline," the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" discusses the future of the BTC pipeline. The paper notes that the allegation that the BTC will lose its importance as a result of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad and Iraqi oil falling into American hands is baseless. It is true that in the near future oil production in Iraq will be much increased and this increase will result in a drop in oil prices in the world markets. But it must be pointed out that oil demand is predicted to rise 15-17 percent in the next seven or eight years. And some countries' oil resources are shrinking, causing concern in the United States and Europe. Therefore, they are now seeking other ways to satisfy future increases in demand. In this context, the West is interested in exploiting Caspian oil and its transporting to the West via the BTC pipeline.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)