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Azerbaijan Report: August 15, 2003

15 August 2003
On 14 August 150 Azerbaijani peacekeepers (14 officers, 16 ensigns and 120 soldiers) flew to Kuwait en route for Iraq, according to the Defense Ministry's press secretary. The peacekeepers will be attached to the American contingent and serve for six months in Iraq. Defense Ministry spokesman Ramiz Malikov refused to say exactly where in Iraq Azerbaijani peacekeepers would serve. He would only say that the peacekeepers would first fly to Kuwait and then walk to the town of Ar-Ramadi, about 50 miles from Baghdad, where the American contingent is situated. The decision about where to send them would be made there, Malikov said.

Earlier it had been reported that Azerbaijani peacekeepers would serve in the predominantly Turkmen towns of Kirkuk, Mosul or in Karbala and Najaf, which are Muslim sacred sites.

The Azerbaijani peacekeepers' mission in Iraq will cost $3.5 million and the United States have agreed to bear most of the cost. The peacekeepers were to travel to Iraq in May, but their departure was postponed because of "technical problems," the U.S. State Department said at the time. (Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Preventing the creation of non-governmental organizations in the country has turned into a state policy, according to a number of people present at a conference dedicated to the improvement of the NGO situation in Azerbaijan on 12 August. Aslan Ismailov, head of "Tolerans" human rights organization which organized the conference, pointed to the fact that the government does not pursue a positive policy in registration of non-governmental organizations, referring to the Justice Ministry's refusal to register hundreds of NGOs.

According to Branislav Solovic, human dimension officer at the OSCE Baku Office, people's freedom to assemble is of great importance to the OSCE and no country has the right to take it away. But Subhi Kazimov, deputy chairman of the Justice Ministry's department for registration of juridical persons, noted that most documents submitted to the ministry for registration do not meet the country's legislation. According to him, NGOs are mostly created for political purposes. He also added that 70 non-governmental institutions have been registered this year.

Intigam Aliev, credited as an expert on the issue, suggested that blocking the creation of NGOs has become state policy because the government does not want the formation of a civil society in the country and the people's enlightenment.

Conference participants agreed that it is time to take more serious measures against pressures on free assembly. Unregistered organizations are planning to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as to hold protests in front of the Baku Executive Authority. (Kebiran Dilaverli)

On 14 August about 20 members of the Democratic Party (ADP) again attempted to stage an unsanctioned picket in front of the Central Election Commission. But police detained 17 members, including three women, the party said in a statement.

The ADP has been staging repeated protests against the Central Election Commission's rejection of party chairman and former speaker Rasul Guliev's registration for the presidential elections, planned for 15 October. Demonstrations began in early August.

Also on 14 August, National Independence Party (AMIP) members marched in front of the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that Baku City Hall had not approved the protest, AMIP succeeded in submitting their resolution, although they were under police pressure. The resolution demanded proof that the signature on the president's decree nominating his son, Ilham Aliyev to the post of prime minister is not forged, citing numerous reports that President Heidar Aliyev was in no state to sign anything. The document also called for the suspension of Ilham Aliev's duties as a prime minister, considering that his tenure of this office as a presidential candidate contradicts the Election Law.

The People's Front Party also attempted to hold an unsanctioned picket in front of the Constitutional Court with the same demands, but police blocked it. Officers tore the protesters' resolution out of their hands and did not let them approach the court building. (Natig Zeinalov)

Local newspapers have been focusing on the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 15 October.

In an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," "Karabakh house" chairman and a former Azerbaijani ambassador to China Tamerlan Garaev expressed his attitude toward the upcoming president elections on 15 October. According to him, events currently taking place give grounds to say that the 2003 elections will differ from the previous ones. In this context, international observers will be earnest about these elections. And if these elections are held freely and democratically, there will be a turning point in the life of the country. Garaev suggested that the holding of free and democratic elections mainly depends on the government.

In an article entitled "The role of civil coalitions in elections: international practice" published in the pro-governmental newspaper "525," Meherrem Zulfugarli writes that one of the fashionable themes in the run up to the presidential elections is coalition building. By coalition people are referring to the cooperation of political parties. But there are also other forms of coalitions peculiar to other organizations, which are usually created during elections. One of such coalition is a civil coalition. These coalitions ensure citizens' direct involvement in social and political works. The study of international experience regarding the activities of civil coalitions, in other words coalitions of non-governmental organizations, is of great importance for the country along with other issues. Zulfugarli notes that the first steps have already been made in the country in the sphere of creating civil coalitions. Although various proposals were voiced during the discussion of the election law regarding the inclusion of NGOs' representatives in the composition of the Central Election Commission and some international organizations supported them, these proposals were ultimately rejected. But the recent attempts of NGOs have begun to produce results. The Monitoring Center of non-governmental organizations has been formed to organize the observation of the presidential elections. The author concludes that the study of international experience will closely promote the development of civil coalitions in Azerbaijan.

Samir Elmanoglu in the article "Why do presidential candidates from the opposition conceal their incomes?" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" points out that the issue of how and from what sources opposition political parties are financed is one of the urgent themes that has been constantly in the limelight. The people of Azerbaijan are interested in knowing what financial sources the opposition party leaders live on, considering their luxurious live styles. According to the author, it is important for the party chairmen, who aspire to the presidential post, to provide more transparency regarding their financial sources. The issue must be considered not only in the context of transparency, bur also the country's national interests. A hired party chairman, who receives grants from foreign organizations that are under the influence of the Armenian lobby, or who is financed from abroad for his espionage activities against the motherland, should not just be barred from running for president, but from engaging in any political activities. This could have grave consequences. The securing of transparency in this area is more urgent as the election nears. Under the existing Election Code, a presidential candidate must submit detailed information about his financial sources along with other essential documents.

In an interview with the governmental newspaper "Khalg," Fuad Alesgerov, head of the Law Enforcement Bodies Department of the Executive Administration of the President, said that those who have forgotten democratic means of coming to power and realize that they will achieve nothing in this way see the way out in building their power on lies and slander, and by sacrificing democratic principles, statehood and the people's interests to their purposes. They imagine democracy in this form. The fate of a government built on such principles became known during 1992-93 events. They were punished by the people in 1993. According to Alesgerov, now everybody sees clearly that tomorrow, as today, the country is in firm hands.

Former Parliament deputy Zalimkhan Mamedli, who is deputy chairman of the People�s Front Party (AXCP) "conservative faction," said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that every citizen must make his presence felt in the settlement of national and state problems. "Today a radical polarization is being observed in our society. The turning of this polarization into a confrontation meets the interests of all forces, except for the people of this country." Touching on how much the current bloc-making process affects the loss of political parties' image, Mamedli noted that the political bloc-making has been intended for a certain period, until the 15 October presidential elections.

In an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," former president and the Civil Unity Party (VHP) chairman Ayaz Mutallibov said that the reason his party merged with the Social-Democrat Party (ASDP) was to achieve political legitimacy and to strengthen the social basis that has lately weakened a little. "The government does its best to not register VHP." Mutallibov pointed out that the process of merging with the ASDP has in fact begun and he would chair the social democrats. The former president also noted that the incumbent government has never held democratic elections and never will. "They have declared beforehand the results of the elections, and they will falsify these elections in accordance with this figure. Therefore it is meaningless to vote for somebody or enter into alliance with somebody."

Under the headline "Ilham Aliyev failed in making his first government change," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that Ilham Aliev, whom the ruling nomenclature has made prime minister, seems now to be eager to assume presidential duties, having been inspired with his recent success. The paper claims that some days ago the new prime minister attempted to put in a new head of the Executive Committee in one of the northern districts. But his initiation was prevented. It is said that Ilham Aliyev wanted to appoint someone close to him through a decree prepared on behalf of his father, the president. Therefore, he gave an ultimatum to the acting executive head about his imminent removal from office. But later the executive head got into touch with Ramiz Mehdiev, the head of the Presidential Executive Administration, to make clear at what governmental level this ultimatum is supported. After this Mehdiev talked with Ilham Aliyev to learn the reasons for the new prime minister's initiative. Mehdiev, who warned Ilham Aliyev against such moves, met with a strong resistance and as a result the confrontation grew character. But the struggle ended with Ilham Aliyev backing down. The paper also notes that much earlier, when the executive heads of Sumgait and Ganja were replaced by persons from "Ilham Aliev's team," rumors abounded that similar changes were expected in other cities and districts as well. But the sudden deterioration of President Aliev's health condition interrupted the process. Ilham Aliev, it seems, wanted to complete this work on his father's behalf, considering himself the country's real leader. But Mehdiev, the well-known Administration power broker, put Ilham in his place.

In the article "Azerbaijan may be deprived of its right to vote" published in the independent newspaper "Ayna," Ahmedov notes that autumn is approaching. Since the first month of this season marks the end of the presidential campaign, it will be interesting in terms of political tension. But the other event to take place in September could add even more fuel to the fire. The matter concerns the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) autumn session. On the agenda is Azerbaijan's fulfillment of its commitments to the PACE. The issue of political prisoners will once again be raised, adding to potential criticism of the government. In addition, the PACE will look at government harassment of the media and the opposition as well as the "convoy game," in which police tail opposition press and leaders around town. All this harassment could ultimately come back to hit the government like a boomerang. But it is impossible to express a firm opinion that this boomerang will benefit the people of Azerbaijan. In other words, the PACE discussions will certainly promote a solution to the political prisoner issue, result in a much more benign attitude toward the opposition press, and help to put the election process and vote on the right track. As with other great countries and influential institutions, the Council of Europe does not always rely on pressure to settle current problems. Sometimes this pressure is exerted for the sake of geopolitical interests and economic benefit. (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)