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Azerbaijan Report: July 29, 2003

29 July 2003
Ruling Party Seeks To Sanction Opposition Media
The ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has appealed to the Justice Ministry and the recently formed Press Council to undertake appropriate measures against opposition newspapers "Azadlig," "Jumhuriyyet," "Ulus," "Yeni Musavat," "Mukhalifet," "Hurriyyet," "Yeni Zaman" and others, accusing them of insulting the president's honor and dignity.

The appeal accuses the papers of publishing articles full of libelous statements and unsubstantiated rumors, and says the papers are the megaphone for political forces that attempt to undermine the country's social and political stability.

YAP press secretary Husein Pashaev said that these newspapers have recently published articles full of obscenities and lies that intended to humiliate the presidents and that violate ethical and moral values. Pashaev said that such abusive expressions can be found in almost every article published in the daily issues of these newspapers, and that their appeal to the Justice Ministry and Press Council is aimed primarily at stopping this.

Genimet Zahidov, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," noted that no article has been published that could insult the head of state's honor and dignity. He said that due to the lack of official information about President Heidar Aliev's health condition, both "Azadlig" and other media outlets refer to news spread by various sources.

Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition "Yeni Musavat," in an interview with his own newspaper denied YAP's charges, adding that his newspaper has always tried to observe certain limits. He noted that the issue of honor and dignity is more often violated by the ruling party.

Musavat Party secretary-general Vurgun Eyyub, for his part, charged the pro-governmental and governmental media with insulting political opponents. He suggested that YAP wants to prohibit articles discussing the president's state of health. Eyyub added that the opposition has no need to use inappropriate methods to discredit Heydar Aliev, since Aliyev has himself achieved this by his activities over the last 10 years.

Meherrem Zulfugarli, deputy chairman of the National Independence Party, cited the Newton's third law, according to which "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." "If media outlets that are known for their intimacy with the government had not offended opposition activists, the opposition camp would have not reacted in such a manner," Zulfugarli said. He added that it would be better for the ruling party to stop the insults and blackmail instead of relying on trying to punish the opposition press. "The opposition is interested in holding elections in free and fair manner," Zulfugarli said. "Because if the elections are held without falsification, Heydar Aliev's defeat is inevitable."

According to Zulfugarli, it is actually the government that is responsible for any instability in the country, since by concealing the truth about the president's health it is promoting numerous rumors.

(Babek Bekir and Maarif Chingizoglu)

Road Police Detain Opposition Members, Journalists
Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the biggest opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," was temporarily detained by the State Road Police on July 26, which he alleges is for his newspaper's harsh criticism of President Heydar Aliev. Several other persons accompanying Arifoglu, including Mehman Aliev, director of the Turan news agency, Arif Aliev, chairman of the New Generation Journalists' Union, Aflatun Amashov, head of the Press Council, Asif Merzeli, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Tezadlar," were also detained. Several hours later the police released the detainees without explaining the reason for their arrest.

At a press conference following the incident, the media representatives said that they had been informed in advance of the police plans. Arif Aliyev said that early on 26 July Arifoglu phoned and told him about this plan. This is why he and his counterparts decided to go to Arifoglu's home and accompany him to the office. Aliyev said as soon as they had gone out, high-ranking officials from the traffic police stopped their cars and roughly took them to a police station without giving any reason.

Aflatun Amashov, for his part, called all these events "moral terrorism," adding that the Press Council's lawyers are now preparing to appeal to the court.

Nevertheless, in an interview with local television channels high-ranking police officials said that the media representatives were detained because of violations of traffic regulations, as well as for scuffling with police. Earlier similar police operations had been conducted against some opposition party leaders. On 14 and 16 July, police stopped cars carrying Musavat chairman Isa Gambar and Ali Kerimli, head of the Popular Front Party (AXCP), detaining the people accompanying them.

Local newspapers continue focusing on President Aliev's health. Parliament deputy Ilham Aliev, the president's son and vice-president of the State Oil Company, told local media representatives that the president feels well and will return to the country in the near future.

Leila Alieva in an article entitled "When hope is lost" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that the government is not providing the public with clear information about the health of the president, who has been undergoing medical treatment at Gulhane Military Hospital since 8 July. Since there is no information, only "unknown moments" can be reported. Foreign as well as some local press write that the president has died or his heart is about to stop working. They have also reported that he has been put on a respirator and his all organs have stopped functioning. What is interesting is that the spread of such information is encouraged by the lack of official statements. The country's high-ranking officials, who accuse the foreign and local media of publishing incorrect, unethical information, are themselves now making statements that contradict each other. The country's population has gone more than 20 days without any clear official information about the head of state's health. All this gives the ground to suppose that information about his physical death is true.

Namig, in the article "A coup d�etat in a new format" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that Artur Rasizade is prime minister and according to the country's Constitution he should now discharge the president's duties. But in fact the situation is quite different. Under existing conditions when President Aliyev has been out of power for a long period, it is not the prime minister, but President Aliev's family that rules the country, yet constitutionally the family has no respect for supreme state power. Namig cites circles closely connected with the government as saying that political decisions are made by ruling family representatives. But these decisions are implemented by Interior Minister Ramil Usubov. In other words, the prime minister, who has the constitutional right to govern the country, has been artificially removed from the government, while family representatives, who have no respect for the supreme power, try to keep power under their control by using the interior minister as their "tool of enforcement." This has only one name--coup d�etat! A coup that is carried out quietly. The author notes that even the higher echelons of power realize that such an abnormal situations is temporary. There are at least two factors that point to the temporary nature of the family's illegal hegemony. The first is that there is no other talented figure after President Aliev, who could control the complicated political situation following the president's removal from power. The second factor that makes the family's "purple coup" temporary is linked with the personal qualities of the interior minister.

Nazim Mustafa in the article "The provocative show of the destructive opposition" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" notes that as the presidential elections approach, interest in the country is also increasing. A number of international Gallup organizations have conducted opinion polls to estimated the pre-election situation and determine the top presidential candidates. In all these polls President Aliyev is predicted to win at least 60 percent of votes in the election in October. (Editor's note: the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, a democracy-building NGO conducted one poll in February using Gallup and determined that Aliyev would win by 60 percent) Mustafa writes that all this has reduced the opposition parties to hysterics. Their time in the political arena has expired. They can see their future and are trying to disrupt the elections at any price. One way is by provocation. First, all opposition newspapers write that the government is allegedly preparing a provocation against some party leader. But some days later it is written that the provocation has been prevented, and the danger is over. Local readers have already gotten used to such misinformation and do not treat it seriously.

Behmen Faziloglu in the article "Lazy voter" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the election campaigns that have been conducted since the country gained independence have mostly been based on abuses and insults, rather than criticism of the government's mistakes and wrong policies. Insults hurled by politicians, officials and media representative against each other have corrupted their relationships into biased ones, filled with hatred and revenge. Threats like "You will see what we will do with you when we come to power" have prevented normal election campaigns from being conducted, election campaigns are only confrontational. As a result, the election platforms of parties and candidates, their political position, as well as their capabilities to solve problems have been set aside. Faziloglu notes that the early stages of the election campaign are full of abuses and insults and lead to the country's political history being negatively colored. Specifically, articles and opinions regarding the president's health condition lay the ground for a dangerous practice. For example, a similar situation could be met during 2005 parliamentary and 2008 presidential elections.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," Adalat Party chairman Ilias Ismailov commented on his recent visit to the United States. Ismailov said that he met with some congressmen in New York, including Congressman Gary Ackerman, the ranking Democrat of the International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, adding that in the U.S. the interest in the upcoming presidential elections is great. The Americans are interested in why the opposition does not nominate a single candidate. According to Ismailov, the U.S. wants the opposition to participate with a single candidate. He noted that the United States wants stability in the Caucasus and is interested in development of Caspian energy resources. At the same time, of course, such issues as democracy, human rights and freedoms are also in the limelight.

Former KGB head Vagif Huseinov, who at present lives in Moscow, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Zaman" that it is meaningless to speak about democratic elections in the country during President Aliev's regime. Touching on the current situation surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Huseinov noted that although mediators, including the United States and Russia support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, there is no prospect for a solution to the problem. In his opinion, Baku is gradually ceding its position on this issue. Asked "What are Russia's interests in Azerbaijan and in South Caucasus generally?" Huseinov said that "Azerbaijan plays the chief role in Caspian, since a number of European and world countries are depend on oil. The increase in Western influence on Azerbaijan constricts Moscow's circle of interests in the region. And this could lead in the future to a conflict between Russia and Azerbaijan and its allies. The result of this could be very negative for Russia's interests. One of the important areas of mutual interests is the exploitation of Caspian resources. In recent years both Russia's political and business circles have treated this issue pragmatically," Huseinov concluded.

The pro-governmental newspaper "525" cites Ziyafet Asgerov, parliamentary vice-speaker and head of the parliamentary commission on defense and security, as saying that Russia does not take an active part in the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to him, as the co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia should promote a peaceful solution to the problem. "We wish for Russia's active participation in this process. But unfortunately this is not taking place. If Russia had been interested in a settlement to this conflict it would have not sold Armenia arms worth $1 billion."

In an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Echo," Haji Vagif Gasimov, a resident of the village of Nardaran, said that if the arrested villagers are not released by 1 September, Nardaran's residents will again take to the streets. Vagif considers the detained elders as political prisoners. And the whole world knows this. "If the government does not free Haji Alikram Aliyev and Haji Jabrail Alizade, we will resume our protests in the [main] square [of Nardaran]." Even the village's population warns that if these people are not released, they will not allow their children to return to school and all pupils will participate in the protests.

Elbrus Jeferli in the article "The first half year was memorable for the banking sector" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that during the first six months of 2003, credit investment in the country's economy has amounted to 2.9 trillion manats (more than $592 million). This could be considered as an index of the economy's rate of development. Since during the first half of 2003, the increase in credit investments was about 12 percent. According to the author, the same period is also remarkable for the banking sector in the context of development tendencies. During this period the number of organizations licensed for financing has reached 94.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)