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Azerbaijan Report: August 12, 2003

12 August 2003
On 9 August leading opposition parties held a sanctioned protest and marched from the 20 January metro station to Galaba Square, protesting against the course of the elections and the "dynastic political transition process in the country." Democratic Party (ADP) activist Gurban Mamedov was first to speak on the current political status of President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham. He said that the people expect the opposition to take resolute steps after Ilham Aliev's appointment as Prime Minister on 4 August. Mamedov also added that this appointment should not be considered as an ordinary assignment, but rather as an affront to the people of Azerbaijan.

Touching on Ilham Aliev's appointment, the National Independence Party (AMIP) chairman Etibar Mamedov noted that the possible transition of power from Heydar Aliyev to his son, Ilham Aliev, would result in a tragic fate for the people.

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar, for his part, pointed out that Ilham Aliev's appointment to the post of Prime Minister was the end of President Aliev, regardless of his health condition. He also added that the opposition's struggle is now with a much weaker opponent. Gambar noted that these latest events must also be seen as the government's attempt to engineer a confrontation between the Azerbaijani people and brotherly Turkey and the democratic world. Gambar added that the government realizes any forces that support Ilham Aliyev will be met with hatred from the democratic opposition. The Musavat Party believes that the government intends to benefit from the situation by presenting Turkey and the United States as supporters of its "succession plan." Gambar said that the people's victory in this conflict depends on several factors. First of all, the struggle must be spread throughout the country and secondly, the real unity of all political forces needs to be achieved. The third and main condition is the individual struggle of each citizen.

Parliament deputy Ali Kerimli, head of the People's Front Party (AXCP), considered Ilham Aliev's appointment as the establishment of a monarchy in Azerbaijan, adding that the people must unite and protect the country's republican form of government.

"We are not the family's personal property, that the father can bequeath us to his son," Kerimli said.

The resolution adopted at the end of the rally calls for the United States and international organizations to keep their promises about holding free and fair elections in Azerbaijan. The document also demands that all presidential candidates be registered, and that Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev resign. The third point calls for the cancellation of his candidacy, since according to opposition parties, his nomination for presidency contradicts the Election Code.

(Babek Bekir and Natig Zeinalov)

On 8 August the opposition National Independence (AMIP) and Democratic Party (ADP) activists held sanctioned protests in front of the Turkish and U.S. embassies in Baku, demanding free presidential elections and expressing discontent at Ankara's and Washington's attitude toward "the dynastic political succession processes in the country."

The protesters remarked that Ilham Aliev's appointment as prime minister is a violation of the country's constitution. They called on Ankara and Washington to structure their relations with Azerbaijan on the basis of democratic principles and to express their official attitude toward "the seizure of power" in addition to ensuring democratic presidential elections in the country.

(Kebiran Dilaverli)

On 8 August the Civic Unity Party (VHP) at its emergency congress adopted a decision to merge with the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP). Negotiations on the merger had been going on for some time, but they had always proved futile due to VHP secretary-general Sabir Hajiev's opposition. VHP secretary Ali Sadikhov pointed out that all obstacles to the merge were eliminated during a meeting of the party's Supreme Council prior to the congress. Hajiev and his five supporters were expelled from the party at that meeting.

VHP chairman Ayaz Mutallibov, a former Azerbaijani president now living in exile in Russia, noted that the merger had been implemented with his consent. He said that by conviction he is close to the left wing, adding that the reputation of social democrats throughout the world had helped win support for the merger. Mutallibov noted that the current social and political situation in Azerbaijan requires that all political forces that are close to one another should unite.

Touching on the ban on his participation in the election campaign, Mutallibov charcterized it as the wilfull disregard for the wishes of the people of Azerbaijan. But he has no intention to accept this injustice against him and will continue to fight for the restoration of his violated rights.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijani newspapers have been focusing on President Aliev's health, Ilham Aliev's appointment as Prime Minister and the activities of the opposition.

Touching on President Aliev's health, the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" quotes Azertag news agency as saying that "the president's treatment is continuing at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Since his admission, the president has improved and he is resting comfortably in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine."

In an article entitled "It is dangerous to entrust the Karabakh issue to him" appearing in opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Rasim points out that after the president's son Ilham Aliyev secured the post of prime minister, he stated unambiguously that he would continue his father's policy in all spheres. The continued political course will prove itself in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as well. But observers point out that the continuation of the government's current political course in the settlement of the conflict and especially its implementation by the president's son could result in the final loss of the country's occupied territories. The author focuses on Heidar Aliev's policy on the Karabakh problem and how it has dealt a great blow to the country's national interests, adding that President Aliyev has turned Karabakh into the target of political trade in his negotiations with Armenian President Kocharian. Encouraged by this, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev stated that Baku is prepared to conduct direct negotiations with the Karabakh separatists. Russia also endorses Nagorno-Karabakh's participation in the talks as an independent side of the conflict. The author writes that according to observers, the continuation of the government's political course on Karabakh by Ilham Aliyev could lead to the definitive loss of the occupied lands.

Azad comments in his article �"Doomed to lack of prospects" published in the pro-governmental newspaper "525" about the opposition's activities and writes that "in fact, specialists who are watching these processes take place are aware of the reasons why the people do not support the opposition. During the year when the opposition was in power and the following decade, the opposition has turned into a terrible force in the people's eyes, bringing anarchy, chaos and confusion to the country." He adds that it is indisputably the government which has prompted such a negative formation of the opposition's image. On the other hand, the opposition's behavior has played a significant role in creating such ideas among the people. The opposition's one-year laughable and deplorable rule, as well as its methods of working that produce the impression of a cartoon is the main reason why it cannot still get rid of the syndrome of hopelessness and antipathy, the author concludes.

In an article entitled "Erdogan is the opposition's target" in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" Kabuter writes that the fact that Heydar Aliyev is feeling well is a disappointment to the opposition. The plans of the opposition, which intended to confuse the people and thus make progress, have failed. Moreover, the head of state signed a decree on Ilham Aliev's assignment to the post of prime minister. The positive reactions from neighboring countries and the United States have sparked sanctioned and unsanctioned opposition protests. The opposition expected these countries to protest or at least to keep silence. Kabuter points out that Ilham Aliev's appointment has galvanized the opposition. It even displayed its muscle by holding a protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Baku. The author notes that when the Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer sent a congratulation letter to Armenian counterpart Kocharian on his re-election to presidency, the opposition did not raise its voice, since it hoped to enlist Turkey's support in the upcoming presidential elections. The other side of the matter is the opposition's strong relations with the family of Uzan, who is known for his radical opposition to incumbent Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Ali Kerimli, who is chairman of the People�s Front Party (AXCP), denied the allegation that the opposition made a statement on the role of foreign oil companies, operating in the country, specifically BP, in bringing Ilham Aliyev to the post of Prime Minister. "We have not made such a statement," Kerimli said. The statement, which was made on behalf of the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), condemns neither BP nor other foreign oil companies. The statement came from a representative from a public organization at a common meeting of the MKM with non-governmental organizations, newspaper, editors and intellectuals and is independent of any political influence. "Because the government wants to bring the opposition into the confrontation with the business world, and with oil companies, including BP, it has presented this in the close mass media as the MKM document. This is a naive game," Kerimli concluded.

In Mahmud's article "Has the opposition once again deceived the refugees?" published in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" he writes that the opposition camp is under pressure. The opposition, which has long fixed its eyes on the West, has been reduced to pessimism by seeing no support from the West against the background of recent events. Touching on the Karabakh problem, Mahmud notes that contrary to the opposition's claims, the incumbent government has made significant steps towards resolving the conflict. In order to attract attention from the West, opposition leaders say that if they come to power, they will try to solve the Karabakh problem peacefully. But Heydar Aliev's policy is based on this as well, although up to now opposition parties have talked about war. The author writes: "But is what these gentlemen say new? These gentlemen simply want to present old statements as a new idea. But the people are not as naive as before. The people know that on all occasions the opposition will achieve nothing except revolving in the political orbit created by Heydar Aliev."

Former Prime Minister Rahim Huseinov in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" said that at present Azerbaijan is faced with two problems. One of them is the economy, as this is the root of solving most problems, even cultural. There have never been ministries of culture in the United States and Japan. But they are the most cultured countries. Therefore, the people's social and economic development has always been the number one concern. Should these issues be resolved and the people satisfied, then cinema and theatre will be remembered. It is not difficult to achieve this, he added, referring to some sectors of economy that are easy to revive. �We have cotton, tea. A ton of cotton costs $3,000, while grain costs $120. 32,000 tons of tea was produced in 1992, but in 2002 this figure amounted to 600 tons.� But the revival of such spheres as machine building and machine tool construction presents difficulties, since the damage that has been done in these sectors is greater.

Hijran Hamidova in the article "The dollar rate of exchange has increased" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" points out that dollar shortages have been experienced for some days in exchange offices. The sale of US dollars has been stopped in most exchange bureaus for the second time within one month. The US dollar has risen in price by 15-20 manats over the last year. The dollar shortage gives the grounds to predict that the rate of exchange will continue to rise in the near future. Although according to the government's obligations to international financial institutions the US dollar rate must be kept at the current level, 4,900-5,000 manats. So any divergence from this rate must have weighty causes. Specialists at exchange bureaus blame this on current political factors. According to them, the current uncertain political situation in the country in connection with the head of state's illness has accelerated the outflow of foreign currency abroad.

Nijat, in the article "Repression against Azerbaijani monuments in Iran" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" notes that Tabriz is a town of monuments. The monuments situated in this city have for many centuries drawn attention as part of the living history of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the often-changing regimes and political systems in Iran are united in one thing: to destroy the monuments that reveal Azerbaijani history and as a result form an inaccurate opinion about the descent of the South Azeri Turks. Although the regimes and the methods which they rely on vary, everything has been mobilized to promote the interests of Persian chauvinism. The author writes that the changed regimes have brought with them a sense of hatred towards Turkic monuments and Azerbaijani history. "They believe that if these statues are destroyed, Azerbaijan will also be destroyed. Therefore, the first thing that they did after coming to power was to dismantle our monuments and expunge them from history. In that way they have gradually fulfilled the plan of usurping Azerbaijani history.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)