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Azerbaijan Report: August 25, 2003

25 August 2003
Iran Expresses Concern Over Military Exercises In Caspian
Iran has expressed a strong protest against the GOPLAT joint U.S.-Azerbaijani military maneuvers held in the Caspian Sea on 11-20 August. Tehran even criticized Baku for not informing it of the marine military exercises in time.

Hamid Reza Hajbabaei, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told the Iranian Mehr news agency, "Baku is using Washington's presence in the area to force Russia and Iran to accept its views on the establishment of the Caspian legal regime." He added that as long as the Caspian's current legal status is maintained, such marine military exercises are in fact a violation of the sea's legal regime.

Commenting on the issue, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev told the Assa Irada news agency that no military training was being held in the Caspian Sea. "The training is small-scale and is aimed at the future protection of the oil field. On the other hand, since the maneuvers were held in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian Sea, there was no need to inform Iran about the marine exercises. If Azerbaijan ever launches large-scale training, we will inform not only Iran but also all the Caspian littoral states about this."

In an interview, Ministry of Defense press secretary Ramiz Melikov told Assa Irada that the training was of an antiterrorism nature and aimed at protecting drilling rigs, oil and gas platforms, terminals, and other oil-industry facilities. According to him, 18 servicemen from the U.S., 45 servicemen from Azerbaijan, two Mi-8helicopters, and two patrol boats took part in the maneuvers.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Shots Fired At Front Line Thwart OSCE Monitoring
Shots fired by Armenian armed forces on 19 August forced Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) special envoy Andrzej Kasprzyk to suspend monitoring on the contact line between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops in the Tovuz district. In an interview with Interfax news agency, Kasprzyk said that during the monitoring there were some shots fired from one of the areas at the front line. As a result, he decided to suspend the monitoring. "It was difficult to grasp from whose side exactly the shots were fired. During the monitoring, I was on Azerbaijan's territory," explained Kasprzyk. He is going to appeal to Armenia for relevant explanations about the incident during his 22 August visit to Yerevan.

The OSCE chairman's special envoy emphasized that this is a serious incident, especially considering that the sides in conflict must guarantee the security of the monitoring mission. Kasprzyk said this incident will be reflected in a report prepared for the OSCE leadership on the results of monitoring. He pointed out that some co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group have expressed their concern regarding the event as well, adding that the last time a similar incident occurred on the contact line was in 1997.

Kasprzyk did not rule out the possibility that one of the sides could attempt to destabilize the situation on the front line in the future, particularly considering the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan. "The armed forces are still in a state of official armistice, but not peace. It is possible that some unrest could break out. We all are profoundly disturbed," he said. Kasprzyk noted that he intends to continue monitoring between Azerbaijan and Armenia at the end of the August.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Defense Ministry's press service stated that the Armenian side was not responsible for the violation of the armistice on 19 August. But Ilgar Verdiev from the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry's press service told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Armenian troops breached the cease-fire on 19 August by opening fire on Azerbaijani troops who were clearing mines in the area. "This fact has been acknowledged by the OSCE chairman's special envoy Andrzej Kasprzyk as well. He even had to cease the monitoring after this occurred. And this is the obvious example of Armenians' attitude toward international organizations, as well as how much Armenia fulfils its obligations to them," Verdiev concluded.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

According to local newspapers, on 22 August Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev left for the United States. According to information from the presidential administration, Ilham Aliyev is expected to hold some meetings in Washington, although the visit is unofficial. The prime minister also intends to visit the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to see his father, President Heidar Aliev, who has been undergoing treatment there since 6 August.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," political scientist Zerdusht Alizade said that the current situation in Azerbaijan is so complicated and vague, nobody can predict what will happen. He provided an example of this in Heidar Aliyev whom he referred to him as "a great unknown quantity." It is unclear whether he is alive or not, whether he will participate in the elections or not, or whether the family will maintain power or run away, he added. Alizade noted that all the country's resources have been directed towards the New Azerbaijan Party's campaign while the opposition has no money.

According to the political scientist, the people have been living under Heidar Aliev's oppressive reign for 34 years. The people are aware enough of his personality. In this case, the government cannot propagandize Heidar Aliyev as a democrat or as capable of solving the Karabakh problem. Regardless of what is said, the people well know that he is not interested in resolving this problem. In addition, everyone is aware that corruption will not be eliminated either, since he is the father of corruption. Nobody believes that Heidar Aliyev will build a constitutional state afterwards because he has always trampled on the law. In other words, the government's propaganda can be built only on lies. Such propaganda has already begun.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," parliament deputy Igbal Agazade, chairman of the opposition Umid Party, said that the government has in fact disappeared into a vacuum. The Head of State is absent, but his pictures have been placed everywhere. However, Ilham Aliev's propaganda is being spread without confidence and the people are not inclined to accept him. The people have feelings of uncertainty and are filled with questions regarding President Aliev. The full speed propagandizing of a man who has not made a single public appearance in recent months is paradoxical.

In the article "Corruption is their character" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Mushvig Huseinov points out that Heidar Aliev, who is now presented as the guarantor of modern reforms, has achieved this by using modern corruption methods. "Today he is not the same Aliyev whom you saw in the Soviet period." Indeed, serious changes in his character are out of the question, of course. Not long ago, the Austrian daily "Der Standard" wrote, in reference to Aliev's activities during the Soviet era, that he is a bribe taker by nature. In other words, corruption is part of his character. But the Soviet corruption was a little different: predominantly in the form of "perepiska" (correspondence) and bribery. But today "perepiska" is no longer needed, since it is impossible to obtain something by exaggeration. Bribery has been not only preserved, but in addition, other corruption channels have been introduced as well. During the last 10 years Aliyev has been engaged in business and succeeded in concentrating all profitable sectors of the country's economy in the hands of his family. Now the oil and gas sectors completely belong to the family. The author writes that at present, Aliev's son is willing to come to power; with new corruption methods. If Aliyev robbed entrepreneurs of 95 percent of their incomes, his son will likely take 99 percent.

According to newspapers, the debates about the opposition's common candidate will be continued in Europe. People's Front Party (AXCP) head Ali Kerimli, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, National Independence Party (AMIP) head Etibar Mamedov, and Democratic Party Chairman Rasul Guliev are expected to meet in London in the near future.

In an article entitled "Common candidate: who will make a concession?" published in the governmental newspaper "Khalg," Mahir Nebili notes that the opposition camp has been working hard all year toward choosing a "unified candidate." But opposition parties are not even in a position to conduct normal talks, let alone to unite around a common idea. Nebili writes that each of them is ambitious to be the common candidate. The concession of the candidacy would mean rejecting five years of the parties' activities. Neither the party activists nor the possible electorate could forgive the parties for such a concession. It is also impossible to rely on promises that would be given by a possible "unified candidature" to the parties making concession for him, since there is a permanent and sometimes inflammatory hostility between them.

Sabir Elmahoglu, in the article "The opposition's 'common candidate' show" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the parties represented in the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM) have further intensified debates about the idea of a common candidate, adding that it has no prospects. Musavat Chairman Isa Gambar, who earlier claimed that this idea was aimed against the opposition's cohesion, is now arguing the expediency of contesting the elections with a unified candidate. The opposition is even trying to create the impression that the chaotic discussions conducted to this end will produce real results at some stage. According to the author, there is no need to emphasize the fact that at present most people support the government's candidate and are interested in the victory of Heidar Aliev's political course. In this context, the term "common candidate" must not be interpreted in the primitive sense understood by the opposition.

Khanlar Hajiev, the Azerbaijani judge at the European Court for Human Rights, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "525" that in comparison with other countries, Azerbaijan has made too many complaints to the court regarding human rights violations. The country's citizens want to protect their rights. They believe in European institutions and appeal to them.

Ismailkhanli, in an article entitled "The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is harmful to us" in the opposition newspaper "Ayna," writes that Iran has once again stated that it will not accept international nonproliferation conventions. The author notes that development of nuclear weapons by Iran creates conflicts in the national interests of Israel and the West. This is also contrary to Azerbaijan's national security interests. According to Ismailkhanli, Tehran's future pressure on Baku could be harsher: for example, Iran dislikes the recent joint Azerbaijani-U.S. military marine maneuvers in the Caspian Sea. The mullahs demand Azerbaijani officials provide an explanation for this. What is interesting is that a little earlier Russia also conducted similar maneuvers in the northern Caspian, but at that time, Iran was not so agitated. The author concludes that by acquiring nuclear capability, Iran will disturb Azerbaijan more than Israel or the United States. Azerbaijani officials must emphasize this in their talks with their Iranian counterparts.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)