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Azerbaijan Report: July 22, 2003

22 July 2003
PACE Reps Evaluate Media Situation
Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs Andreas Gross and Martinez Casan, who visited Azerbaijan last week to prepare a further report on the situation there, met on 17 July with members of the Press Council and Editors' Union to discuss the local media situation in the pre-election period.

Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that one of the main issues that concerned the guests was to determine to what extent the mass media in Azerbaijan are capable of impartial coverage of the upcoming presidential election. Amashov said that the PACE representatives also discussed court rulings against the media, as well as artificial obstacles to the publication and distribution of print media. He noted that the local media outlets are not able to pay the huge fines imposed by courts.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Opposition Alleges Interference In Regional Election Committees
The formation of district election commissions in rural areas is accompanied by violations of the law, according to the Central Election Commission secretaries who represent the opposition. Representatives of the executive authorities openly meddle in the work of district election commissions and appoint activists from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party to these commissions. Central Election Commission Chairman Mezahir Penahov, for his part, asked for information in writing about these irregularities and said that the issue will be investigated.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

France Pushes For Resolution Of Karabakh Conflict After Election
Armenian President Robert Kocharian said after meeting with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac last week that the peace negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh problem will resume after the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. President Chirac said that he also favors the resumption of negotiations on the Karabakh issue and a settlement of this conflict on the basis of fair principles.

Commenting on recent developments concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, former Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov said that the current situation forces France to lobby more actively for a solution of the conflict. He said that the United States and Russia agreed to promote a resolution to the conflict following the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and France does not wish to be sidelined. Zulfugarov noted that although the agreement between Moscow and Washington does not provide for the determination of Karabakh's legal status, renewed talks could lead to a breakthrough in the peace process.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Ambassador: German Business Hesitant To Invest In Azerbaijan
"German companies show an interest in investing in various sectors of Azerbaijan's economy. But not all of them dare begin work, since they cannot find a response to three main questions," German Ambassador to Baku Klaus Grevlich said at a press conference on 17 July. "They are interested in the level of protection of investment from corruption, the population's purchasing power, and the chances of entering regional markets. In practice, businessmen face great difficulties."

Grevlich noted that German companies in Azerbaijan are mainly represented in the trade sphere. Two of them work in the oil sector. German companies would also like to invest in such spheres as medical technology, food industry, construction, and others. Some of these companies still operate in Azerbaijan, but others have left the country forever. "They cannot get an answer to their three questions. First, they ask whether the government will protect our rights here and whether someone will protect us from corruption. Then they are interested in the local population's purchasing capacity. They ask whether our products will be bought by the population. Of course, it is too difficult to act in a country where 50 percent of the population live in poverty, and their purchasing capacity is weak." The third question is linked with the settlement of regional conflicts in the Caucasus.

"But unfortunately they cannot find answers to these questions," the ambassador said. "There are good laws on paper, but in fact businessmen encounter great obstacles. The import of products to the country is fraught with problems with customs and other agencies.... Providing and acquiring licenses is a difficult matter. Businessmen must be sure that if they appeal to the court, the court will issue an independent ruling. But unfortunately the judicial system in the country is not independent enough...."

Commenting on the German ambassador's statement, economist Azer Mehdiev said that although Azerbaijan occupies the first place among the CIS countries in terms of the volume of foreign investment, 85 percent-90 percent of this investment is directed toward the oil sector. By contrast, investments in the non-oil sector are in a sad state. It is impossible for foreign investors to operate in Azerbaijan without the incumbent government's permission and consent.

Mehdiev said that President Heidar Aliev's meetings with local and foreign investors are intended only for propaganda. In fact, since the government's attitude toward the development of business and entrepreneurship remains unchanged, nothing new has happened.

(Kebiran Dilaverli and Almaz Mahmudgizi)

22 July is National Press Day in Azerbaijan, and local newspapers gave this event wide coverage. In an interview with the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan," independent parliament deputy Rizvan Jabiev says that in no other country in the world is the press so politicized, and in no other country have such basic principles as impartiality, neutrality, and equality been violated as frequently as they are in Azerbaijan. This has resulted in the appearance of immoral and unethical articles in the press, which cause serious discontent among the public. Unfortunately, nongovernmental organizations and political parties are playing a significant role in this. But experts from the Council of Europe often maintain a one-sided position without taking into consideration the local situation or investigating deeply the reasons for their complaints. This works against the development of the country's media rather than in favor. Jabiev, who is optimistic about the future of the local press, notes that it is wrong to compare the young, frail Azerbaijani press and courts with those in Europe, which have been developing for centuries.

Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov says in an interview with the governmental newspaper "Khalg" that a new free press is a historical achievement for the Azerbaijani people. Despite numerous problems, the present situation in Azerbaijan is widely reflected in the press, and the demand of most groups for press freedoms are satisfied. To date more than 500 newspapers and magazines have been registered. But no more than 150 of those are published and reach readers. There is a strong and modern printing sector in the country. But newspapers and magazines do not have a wide circulation, since most are based in the capital. Not all of the population can keep up with the periodical press. Government and opposition newspapers have more readers than independent ones, whose positions are still weak.

Aliyev in an article entitled "Aliyev has been connected to an artificial respirator" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," writes that according to information leaked by the Turkish government, President Heidar Aliyev has being connected to an artificial respirator since last weekend. Turan news agency reports that last weekend the president's health deteriorated sharply. The author points out that the country's ruling elite have detailed information about the president's health. Therefore tensions among intergovernmental groups are becoming more obvious. Some high-ranking governmental officials are beginning to transfer cash abroad. According to unconfirmed reports, the Interior and National Security ministries have intervened in some cases.

Arif Alizade in the article "Unsuccessful propaganda efforts or election pathology" in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that "one of the chief elements of Aliev's policy is to create a deliberate condition of uncertainty in the country. This uncertainty is now turning against the regime. The simultaneous nomination of both Heidar and Ilham Aliyev for the presidential elections is a factor that proves the technology of vagueness. These political tactics, in fact, mean the end of Aliev's regime, which is also presaged by serious problems with the president's health, the obvious struggle of various groups within the government and the turning of the opposition into a serious political force." Alizade notes that if Aliyev had wanted, he could solve a part of the country's vital problems and win political dividends for Ilham Aliev, by linking all these works with the name of his son, as his successor. But these wishes have not been realized. Alizade concludes that Aliev's regime has turned into a source of great menace to the country, people, and public, and they now seem to all be hostages of the regime.

Nasimi Pashaev in the article "Justified concern" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" points out that when Heidar Aliyev came to power in 1993, he campaigned on the issue of Karabakh and stability. "He promised that he would provide stability in the country and take back the occupied territories. But the result is obvious. It is said that stability reigns in the country. Of course, these are official statistics. During the cease-fire period our army has suffered the loss of more than 6,000 soldiers. It is meaningless to speak about the police terrorism that rages throughout the country. There is no one in the country, whose rights have not been violated.... As you see, neither have the occupied lands been returned nor has stability has been provided. On the contrary, we provide martyrs under the name of a cease-fire."

Aidin Sadig in an article entitled "Opposition" in the pro-governmental newspaper "525" notes that since the last presidential elections the opposition's positions in the political arena and in the public estimation have further weakened. Internal confrontations have radically undermined some parties and the rivalry between the opposition parties has made the creation of any serious unity impossible. Sadig writes that "the current opposition is not a united front, it is toothless and weakly represented at the parliamentary level; it has no activity in social and political life, its legislative initiatives are null." At present, Sadig writes, the opposition's actions are of interest only to opposition party activists, close relatives, officials of the former AXCP government, and fanatics who are deprived of common sense and ready to commit illegal actions and even risk their lives to bring someone to power.... Nor is it an accident that the opposition's protests have lost momentum. This is a positive step, since it points to a collective sobering up. Sadig points to two other main qualities that characterize the current opposition: political incapacity and a refusal to face up to the truth.

Commenting on the argument that the Central Election Commission needs to be reorganized, Asif Memmedov, who represents the People's Front Party (AXCP) on the commission, told the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that a change in the Central Election Commission's composition, first of all, provides for amendments in election legislation. The mechanism of the commission's formation is reflected in the Election Code. Therefore, the election law needs to be reconsidered. The parliament is to convene and discuss these amendments. Memmedov argued that the government should meet its obligations to the Council of Europe and adopt a democratic election code.

Mahir Hamzeoglu in the article "There are 3,000 foreign companies" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that such negative trends as the use of local citizens by foreign companies as "cheaper manpower," payment of lower wages to them in comparison with foreigners and other violations of the local population's rights continue to be observed. Foreign companies' interest in earning money from their activities in Azerbaijan is understandable. But this interest must not be satisfied at the expense of the lowest wages and the cheapest labor force. Every company must observe the local population's social rights in accordance with its image. But unfortunately, most companies working in the country do not do so. Some of them even benefit from the cheapness of the local labor force to boost their own profits. Hamzeoglu writes that since Azerbaijan depends on foreign investment, it has to endure such actions by foreign companies. Even high-ranking officials suggest that if appropriate measures were taken in this direction, it would lead to a decrease in foreign investment in Azerbaijan. It should be not forgotten that unemployment remains a serious problem. While structural reforms in state institutions deepen and many more state enterprises are privatized, the number of unemployed is increasing. The author concludes that independent trade union organizations must be created within each company to protect the rights of ordinary employees. But foreign companies are aware of this and therefore resort to various means to prevent the creation of such organizations.

Under the headline "In 2009 Kazakhstan will join the BTC," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Kazakhstan must have a new export oil pipeline by 2009 in connection with the exploitation of oil resources in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian. Kazakh Energy Minister Shkolnik told journalists, "It is obvious that this will be the Aktau-Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline." At present Kazakhstan is able to transport yearly 310 million barrels of oil and 5 billion cubic meters of gas by the current export pipelines.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)