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Azerbaijan Report: September 30, 2003

30 September 2003
NGOs Call On Government For State Program
"There are numerous problems, but their solutions lie in the adoption of a state program," said Azai Guliev, head of National NGO Forum at its fourth congress. Guliev noted that a corresponding draft has been drawn up and has been submitted to the presidential administration, as well as to the parliament. Some people warn that if a state program is adopted, the third estate may fall under government influence. But the forum's vice president, Sabit Bagirov, disagreed, pointing out that in many countries NGOs are financed by the state. He said that what is needed is to involve citizens, the third estate's representatives, in the solution to serious problems, but not to increase the number of state institutions. And the state budget must finance nongovernmental organizations in addition to the government.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Newly Formed NGO Plans To Announce Early Election Results
On 26 September a number of local nongovernmental organizations founded a new organization called the Transparent Elections Monitoring Center. The center's chairman, Arif Hashimov, said at a press conference that this organization, which includes more than 100 NGOs, intends to observe the upcoming presidential election and prepare reports on its transparency. But the chief goal is to make preliminary results of the vote public within one hour after the polling stations close. In order to achieve this, the center's representatives will conduct exit polls of around 5,000 polling stations throughout the country on 15 October, the date of the election. These initial results will be based on a survey of the voters as they leave the polling stations.

Touching on the question of whether the center will act as an alternative vote-counting commission, Hashimov pointed out that the center does not doubt the Central Election Commission's work and its intention to hold a democratic election. The newly created organization simply wants to make an early prediction of the results based on information from the voters.

"The votes will be counted by the Central Election Commission," Hashimov said. "We cannot open the ballot boxes. Our center will simply hold polls around the polling stations and attempt to assemble a preliminary result."

Hashimov added that the "Transparent Elections" Center does not intend only to announce the outcome of the election based on its findings. According to him, this organization will prepare a final report on the course of the election process, as well as an observation of the transparent principles, and send it to local and international organizations.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Tourism On The Rise In Azerbaijan
"Over 300,000 tourists came to Azerbaijan in 2002 and some 400,000 people from Azerbaijan went abroad as tourists. The majority of tourists coming to Azerbaijan originate from Turkey, other CIS nations, and European countries," Minister of Youth, Sport, and Tourism Abulfaz Garaev said. Garaev was attending the international conference "Opportunities for Tourism in the BSEC Region," held on 25-26 September in Baku. He told media representatives that the conference is of great importance for Azerbaijan in terms of familiarizing foreign specialists with its tourism potential. The minister noted that in comparison with the first half of 2002, during the first six months of 2003 the number of tourists in Azerbaijan increased by 30 percent-35 percent.

According to Garaev, the amount of funds in the 2004 draft budget allocated for the promotion of tourism increased by 250 million manats ($51,000).

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

The independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" is analyzing the meeting of the parliament chairmen from the so-called "Caucasian Four" -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia -- held from 29 September to 1 October in Moscow. Under the headline "The Speaker's Moscow Meeting," Farid expresses a knowledgeable opinion on the issue. The experts do not predict that the discussion between the Azerbaijani and Armenian parliament heads at the meeting will lead to positive results, referring to the impossibility of such cooperation. The sentiment of war prevails between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Therefore it seems impossible that the parties will make any step in this direction. In short, local experts do not expect significant results from this meeting.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi," parliament deputy Fezail Agamali, chairman of the Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, said that he has watched all of the presidential candidates' speeches, and noted that the radical opposition candidates advance populist slogans.

Arif Hashimov, director of the Monitoring Center, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "525" that the attitude of international organizations to the events taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the fate of some 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons, is obvious. According to him, the people have largely lost their confidence in most international institutions, as they do not recognize Armenia as an occupant and cannot hear Azerbaijan's voice of truth. Hashimov noted that "international organizations consider their participation in our elections as observers as being simply an obligation. After returning to their homes or workplaces, most of these international observers will probably forget our elections and go to another country to teach 'democracy.' But we will have to live for the next five years under the president who will come to power following the elections."

In the article "Until 15 October..." published in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman," Nesimi Pashaev says that the situation in the country is seen from a strange perspective. Everybody has fixed their eyes on 15 October or, rather, 16-17 October. "We expect that something extraordinary will happen following the elections. The people still hope that the government which has been bringing disaster on the country for 10 years and falsified all elections during this period, will hold these presidential elections democratically. In fact, nobody doubts that the outcome of the elections will be falsified."

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission is dissatisfied with the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry has issued a statement on Armenia's intention to forge the history of the Azikh cave, one of the most ancient places of civilization, which is situated in the Armenian-occupied territories.

In an article titled "Azerbaijan In a State Of Uncertainty," published in the opposition newspaper "Baki-Kheber," it is pointed out that the current development of events in the country is unclear. It was determined that Heidar Aliyev would not participate in the elections, but it is also unclear who will be the candidate from the ruling regime. Government officials themselves have repeatedly confirmed that Ilham Aliyev would not be the ruling team's single candidate in the October elections. In this case, it still remains unclear what steps those officials, who have no another candidate, but do not support Ilham Aliev, will make on 15 October, if the elections take place. Meanwhile, without these officials' endorsement, Ilham Aliev's position has grown weak during his father's absence.

Under the headline "Ilham Aliyev Has Returned Secretly," the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that lies told by governmental officials have been once again been exposed. The paper recalls that, not long ago, the president's son Ilham Aliev, presidential administration head Ramiz Mehdiev, as well as others, said that President Aliyev will soon return to Azerbaijan. But this time their lies have been exposed. Ilham Aliyev has already returned from the United States. However he has not provided information about his father, who has not returned to Azerbaijan.

Writing in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Zohrab Ismail comments on the government's draft budget for 2004. He writes that although the government plans to enlarge the volume of the budget by some 1 trillion manats, the wages of people working in budget-financed institutions and pensioners are not expected to increase. In an interview with ANS TV, Finance Minister Evez Alekberov called the presidential candidates' pledges to triple salaries "baseless," adding that an increase in allotments from the oil fund to the budget could lead to hyperinflation.

Vagif Bairamov in the article "Dynamic Development Of Azerbaijan's Economy Under Way" in the government newspaper "Khalg" points out that the constant increase in budget revenues affects the decline of inflation. In comparison with the corresponding period of 2002, in the first half of 2003 budget revenues increased by 38.8 percent and amounted to 2.7 trillion manats.

Writing about the country's electric power stations, the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" notes that the largest electric power stations in the Caucasus are in Azerbaijan, which possesses the strongest energy system in the region. In the article "There Are 3,000 Foreign School-Age Children Residing In Azerbaijan" run by the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Aibeniz writes that since 1995, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun registering international refugees who are seeking asylum in Azerbaijan or who want to use it officially as a transit country. Among those who want international refugee status are Turkomans, Kurds, Afghans, Chechens, Arabs, and others. As for the education of foreign school-age children, UNHCR spokesman Vugar Abutalibov notes that even though over 400 foreign underage children have been registered to be accepted in schools, these children were not able to attend the first day of school. The reason is ongoing repair work in schools, as well as the unavailability of documents required from these children.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)