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Azerbaijan Report: April 2, 2002

2 April 2002
NGO Head Issues International Plea For Protection
Elchin Behbudov, head of the non-governmental organization Committee Against Violence and a former employee of the Counter Intelligence Department, has appealed to international organisations in connection with alleged pressure on him. Behbudov claims that earlier this week when he was returning home from work, a car without licence plates made an attempt to run him down. He says the incident was not the first of its kind.

Behbudov says that he has no option other than appealing to foreign embassies in Azerbaijan. He says that when he appealed to the police, he was told that they would not be able to find the owner of a car without licence plates. Behbudov claims that if he had been killed three days ago in the middle of the road, the guilty party would not be found.

Behbudov says he has been subjected to pressure and insults before. Anonymous callers have allegedly phoned his home, threatening to kidnap him. Behbudov says the pressure increased after he appealed to the European Court last year claiming he had been exposed to physical pressure.

(Babek Bekir)

U.S. Lifts Embargo on Weapons Sale to Azerbaijan and Armenia
The United States embargo on the sale of weapons to Azerbaijan and Armenia has been repealed, U.S. State Department official Philip Reeker announced on 30 March. He said the repeal of the embargo on the two countries is related to U.S. state interests and security. Reeker said this step will contribute to the expansion and deepening of military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as to the establishment of peace and stability in the Caucasian region. According to Reeker, the sale of all weapons to these countries will be carefully observed and monitored by the American government. The sanctions were imposed in 1993 due to the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

What is the aim of America's step in the current conditions and what will the repeal of the embargo mean for Armenia and Azerbaijan? Military expert Azad Isazadeh told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Azerbaijan and Armenia are mainly supplied with Russian weapons. However, both states need to modernise and upgrade their armed forces. Azerbaijan's navy and air forces need help first of all. The repeal of the embargo imposed in 1993 will expand opportunities for developing Baku's military strength.

As for Armenia, Isazade noted that Yerevan has obtained military assistance, military equipment and weapons from Russia to date. He said America will aim to make Armenia less dependent on Russia in the future and to encourage Armenia to cooperate more closely with the U.S. in the political sphere. He said the U.S. intends to change the political situation in the South Caucasus, and concluded that the repeal of the embargo is beneficial for the American government most of all.

Caucasian Studies Center director Khaleddin Ibrahimli said that the decision is aimed at developing strategic cooperation with the South Caucasian countries. He said the U.S. is seriously interested in security of the Southern Caucasus and one of the key factors for insuring security in the region is the supply of weapons. Ibrahimli said that such weapons will not enable the regional countries to use them against each other.

(Abdulla Huseinoglu)

Iran Concerned About U.S. and Turkish Support for Azerbaijan
Rza Asefi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Press Service, has said it is not appropriate for any state not involved in the Caspian region to interfere with discussions regarding the status of the Caspian. According to the press service, such interference will not contribute to resolving the problem -- on the contrary, it will complicate the position of the littoral states in determining the Caspian's legal status.

What is the reason for Iran's concern? Which countries does Tehran mean by "some states"?

Caucasian Studies Centre director Khaleddin Ibrahimli says that Tehran cannot reach agreement with other littoral states to determine the Caspian's legal status and has an antagonistic attitude to the position of other littoral states. But determining the Caspian legal status cannot be delayed further and must be resolved soon. Iran aims to foment intrigue among the Caspian littoral states and delay a decision determining the sea's status, he argues.

Ibrahimli said the support of the U.S., Turkey and other Western countries for Azerbaijan should not be considered to be interference. He observed that Baku is located on the coast and the city was always attacked from the sea. He also emphasized the importance of the major oil fields in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian. Given these factors, he says, Azerbaijan should insist on dividing the Caspian into national sectors.

Expert Rasim Musabeyov in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service said the U.S. and Turkey support Azerbaijan, but Iran opposes it. According to Musabeyov, the U.S. and Turkey's support for Azerbaijan cannot complicate the process of determination of the Caspian legal status. Foreign countries' support for Azerbaijan hinders Iran's pressure on Azerbaijan, and naturally, Iran is dissatisfied.

(Abdulla Huseinoglu)

Revolt In Reformatory
Lawyer Shahriyar Rasulov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that prisoners rebelled in a reformatory 15 on 31 March. The prisoners protested the conditions in which they are kept, claimed that the colony heads and security guards exceeded their authority, and demanded improvement of their conditions.

Lawyer Saida Gojamanli says that there is only limited information about the conflict in the colony, and that she has not yet obtained any official information. She said that Niyazi Mammadov, head of the Ministry of Justice's Department on Implementation of Court Rulings, hung up on her when she requested an official statement and did not respond to future calls.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Today's newspapers focus on the day of occupation of the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan by Armenia. The newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" carries an article entitled "The Capitulation of Kalbajar was an act of treachery by the APF-Musavat government." It claims that the government of the day decided to convince the world that Armenia was an aggressor by temporarily losing Kalbajar.

Sultan Lachin in the newspaper "Tezadlar" claims that former defence minister Dadash Rzayev and Najmaddin Sadigov were irresponsible in defending Kalbajar. The author cites military tactical experts as having reached that conclusion. The newspaper "Azadlig" carries an article devoted to the current conditions of Kalbajar refugees in Baku.

Svante Cornell, an expert at John Hopkins University in the U.S., in an interview with the newspaper "525" says that a solution to the Karabakh conflict is not yet in sight. He predicted that the cease-fire cannot last indefinitely. He claimed that the key obstacle to resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is that Russia does not want peace and will not allow Armenia to sign a peace treaty. Russia has great political and economic influence over Armenia, he says.

The newspaper "525" carries an article devoted to the Caspian status issue. It says that on the eve of the planned Ashgabat summit on the matter, there may be a certain softening in Turkmenistan and Iran's position.

Garabalov in the newspaper "Zerkalo" studies the predictions of experts regarding the decisions to be taken at the Ashgabat summit, scheduled to be held on 23-25 April. According to Rustam Mammadov, sector head of the presidential office, the heads of littoral states are due to take part in the summit at which Iran and Turkmenistan must compromise. He says the Russian side is working to achieve Iran's consent to do so.

The newspaper "Khalg" refers to the opposition's unsanctioned action staged on 23 March and writes that the opposition tried to place its "illegal actions" in an "international context" but could not achieve its goals.

Sabir Rustamkhanli, chairman of the Civil Solidarity Party, notes in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" that in order to unite the people, the opposition parties should unite as well. The people should be aware of their sincerity. Rustamkhanli says that the process of splitting is continuing in parties and is apparently not yet.complete. The counter-process will take place after the separation ends. He says there are enough professionals in the opposition but they can also become divided.

Hikmet Sabiroglu in the commentary "Man's job" carried by the newspaper "Azadlig," writes that the question of reunifying the divided People's Front has again brought the party into the limelight. He points out that it is worth withstanding torture in order to unify the Front. The significant factor is whether the sides will agree to real compromises or not.

Azer Aykhan in a commentary entitled "Aliyev changes the political agenda" carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that every time the opposition takes the initiative, the government decides to change the political agenda. In summer of 1998, the opposition opted for active political action, which made the government retreat. But after the 1998 presidential elections, the regime could neutralise the opposition and society, and over these years Heydar Aliyev has managed to overcome any dangerous situation that threatened his government. The author also argues that the opposition has determined the country's political agenda over the past month. The author refers to the United Opposition Movement's protest action staged on 23 March as an indication that society is becoming active.

Emin Huseinzade in an article entitled "Why do banks go bankrupt?" carried by the newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes: "The economic situation in Azerbaijan causes the decay of working enterprises and other economic agents." The author argues that like all spheres, the financial sector also suffers and some laws have not been adopted. The newly enforced Law on Banks and Bank Activity does not reflect real financial operations, he says. Generally, the laws are not in compliance with existing conditions in every sphere in Azerbaijan. He names as one of the reasons for the bankruptcy of banks that the demand for their activity is low and it is declining from day to day.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)