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Azerbaijan Report: November 18, 2003

18 November 2003
Ajar President Makes Unexpected Visit to Baku
With street protests ongoing and the two most prominent opposition groups strident in their demand for his resignation, the leader of Georgia's Ajar Autonomous Republic, Aslan Abashidze, arrived in Baku on 12 November, following a visit to Armenia.

In an interview with journalists at Bina airport, Abashidze said that the purpose of his visit to Baku was to congratulate Ilham Aliyev on the occasion of his election as president. But Georgian opposition representatives consider such a statement improbable. The newspaper "Free Georgia" quotes the Georgian opposition as saying that with this visit President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abashidze seek to consolidate the opinion in Yerevan and Baku against the Georgian opposition.

According to Kamal Muradkhanli of the Georgian opposition National Movement, Abashidze came to enlist the support of Baku against the background of the falsified elections in Georgia. Muradkhanli pointed out that not only the recent elections are at issue. Shevardnadze considers Abashidze as his successor as president post and is trying with him to obtain a majority in the new parliament.

Some Azeri experts too cast doubts on the reason for Abashidze's visit to Baku. Political scientist Vefa Guluzade suggested that Shevardnadze realizes he has been defeated in the struggle with the opposition and therefore is trying to hand over power to Abashidze. But political scientist Rasim Musabekov is against seeking for ulterior motives behind the visit. He suggested that Caspian oil is exported to the world markets via Ajaria and that Adjaria and Azerbaijan traditionally maintain close relations. In light of these economic relations, there is a genuine need for Abashidze to come to Baku and meet with the new president.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Court Rules to Evict Musavat From Rented Palace
On 13 November the Sabail district court satisfied the Baku municipal authority's suit against the opposition Musavat party and decided to evict Musavat from the palace the party has rented in the center of Baku since 1992. The court referred to the relevant decree, according to which the building, where the Musavat headquarters were located, is of historical and architectural importance and the use of this kind of buildings is forbidden. The court ruled that Musavat must move into a building in the settlement of Darnagul, which is outside the center of Baku.

The Baku authorities had earlier set a deadline of1 November for Musavat to vacate the building, but when the party rejected this demand, officials decided to settle the dispute in court.

(Babek Bekir)

Supreme Court Releases Nardaran Residents
On 14 November the Supreme Court ruled to release Alikram Aliev, head of the outlawed Islamic party, and Jabrail Alizade, head of the civic organization Union of Baku and Villages. The two men were detained following the clash in Nardaran between the villagers and police in summer 2002. Both were convicted for organizing riots and the villagers' violent response to the police crackdown. The court gave them suspended sentences and released them from prison.

On 11 November Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakh-Shukur Pashazade, spiritual head of Muslims in the Caucasus, delivered to President Ilham Aliyev an appeal of a group of Nardaran residents to release Aliyev and Alizade in the Muslim holy period of Ramadan because of their poor health.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Musavat Calls Its Activist's Arrest Biased
"After Rauf Arifoglu's arrest, the newspaper 'Yeni Musavat' is facing pressure in its activities," according to Gabil Abbasoglu, who is the opposition newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief. At an 11 November press conference, Abbasoglu pointed out that "Yeni Musavat" is currently continuing its activities at the editorial office of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," while the state-owned publishing house has refused to print the newspaper and the number of lawsuits against "Yeni Musavat" continues to rise.

But according to the Office of Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General, Arifoglu was arrested in his capacity as a deputy chairman of the Musavat party, not as a journalist. Arifoglu, the editor-in-chief of "Yeni Musavat," was detained on 27 October in the wake of the post-election riots in Baku and sentenced to three months in prison.

(Kebiran Dilaverli)