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Azerbaijan Report: December 1, 2003

1 December 2003
How Will Regime Change In Georgia Affect Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijani experts do not think that the latest developments in Georgia will profoundly affect that country's relations with Azerbaijan. According to Khaleddin Ibrahimli, head of the Caucasus Research Center, both countries are moving toward integration with Euro-Atlantic structures. Those coming to power in Georgia are pro-Western forces and therefore a change in Georgia's pro-Western policy is improbable. Political scientist Eldar Namazov suggested that Azerbaijani officials should not interfere in Georgia's internal processes.

Nevertheless, prior to the coup in Tbilisi, the Azerbaijani government expressed its support for President Eduard Shevardnadze. Ibrahimli did not agree that this would make life more difficult for Georgia's Azeri minority. According to him, it is unrealistic that the new Georgian government, comprised of democrats, will pursue discriminatory policies toward ethnic minorities. Ibrahimli said that the Georgian opposition's behavior in the latest processes would be a mirror in which Azerbaijani oppositionists can see their own mistakes. Unlike their Georgian counterparts, the Azerbaijani opposition could not close ranks and as a result failed in the recent elections.

Mikhail Saakashvili, head of Georgia's opposition National Movement, recently denied that ethnic Azeris living in Georgia will face serious difficulties after Shevardnadze's resignation. According to Saakashvili, Shevardnadze's rule protected the constitutional rights of neither Georgians nor Azeris.

Kamal Muradkhanli, an Azeri member of the National Movement, agreed with Saakashvili, adding that Azeris together with the rest of Georgia's population will soon witness positive changes. Zumrud Gurbanov from the Georgian-based Azeri Popular Movement Geyrat said his organization supports Georgia's statehood but not its political forces. Gurbanov acknowledged that the deportation of Azeris, which was initiated by ex-President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was halted during Shevardnadze's rule. In addition, abductions of Azeris decreased significantly. But there were numerous problems as well and the Georgian government was constantly informed about them. According to Gurbanov, it makes no difference to Georgian Azeris who governs the country. What the local Azeris want is a solution to their accumulated problems.

Meantime, Azerbaijan state oil company President Natig Aliyev stated that "changes in the political situation in Georgia will not affect the implementation of the BTC [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline] construction." At the same time, Aliyev did not rule out that the latest developments in Georgia might affect the pace of the construction of the BTC. (Rovshen Ganbarov, Kebiran Dilaverli and Babek Bekir)

Imprisoned Opposition Leaders Begin Hunger Strike
The imprisoned opposition leaders, arrested in the wake of the 15-16 October events in Baku, are going on hunger strike on 1 December. This was stated during a 28 November roundtable discussion, the participants of which founded a committee for the protection of the detainees' rights. Lawyers and human rights activists said the leaders were going on strike because of the biased nature of the criminal investigation and the hard living conditions of the prisoners. After the 15 October presidential elections, the United States and the Council of Europe called on Baku to investigate the alleged cruel treatment of citizens by police during the postelection clashes.

According to Interior Ministry press secretary Ehsan Zahidov, the national police Internal Investigation Department has conducted an investigation and submitted its findings to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. But to date no police officers have been brought to trial. Nevertheless, at a 28 November meeting, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov praised the work of the police during the 15-16 October events. Usubov noted that to date 107 people have been detained, while 17 are on the wanted list. (Rovshen Ganbarov and Asef Guliev)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)