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Azerbaijan Report: April 19, 2002

19 April 2002
Commission Admits Voting Irregularities, But Observers Say Announcement Only Scratches Surface
Following allegations of irregularities during 12 April parliamentary by-elections in Azerbaijan, the Central Election Commission has recommended that results from several precincts be thrown out. The commission announced on 17 April that there had been "serious problems" at seven polling stations, two in Salyan's Ali Bayramli district and five in Baku's Narimanov constituency. Voiding the returns from those seven precincts will not change the overall results, landslide victories for ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party candidates. The three winners claimed victory with support ranging from 62 percent to 85 percent of the vote. But international monitors say that the problems identified by the Central Election Commission only scratch the surface.

British Ambassador Andrew Tucker said bluntly that "these elections suffered from the same problems as before" and that Azerbaijan still needs to do more to bring its elections up to international standards. Foreign observers reported seeing a range of abuses from ballot stuffing to police intimidation of local monitors. One observer claimed that voter turnout was significantly lower than official results indicated. The observer said that turnout was "at best 10 to 15 percent," below the 25 percent margin required for elections to be valid. The same observer said election officials refused to review the voter-registration list before beginning to count ballots, as required by law. Another observer said there were police officers present in polling stations, despite a law requiring them to stay at least 100 meters away.

Several international monitors said that police harassed and intimidated local observers. Opposition politician Ali Kerimli, head of one wing of the People's Front of Azerbaijan Party, began to allege vote fraud in Baku's Narimanov district even before the polls had closed. The Yeni Azerbaycan Party quickly denied the allegation, and there were reports that the Central Election Commission declared the results valid on the day of the election, although by law candidates have seven days to file protests. But on 17 April, the commission said there had been irregularities.

That announcement came a day after the British Embassy, which fielded four teams of election monitors, submitted its report on the election to the commission.

One international observer who asked not to be named suggested that the commission's decision to void results at a few polling stations could have been intended as a face-saving gesture. The British Embassy's public stand on the election was deeply critical, and its private report to the commission is likely to have been even more so.

(Richard Allen Greene)

Azerbaijanis Are Accused Of Participating In Georgia's Pankisi Gorge
An Azerbaijan military court began hearing evidence on 15 April against seven young people accused of participating in illegal armed units and receiving military training at a secret camp in neighboring Georgia's tense Pankisi Gorge.

Prosecutors allege that the seven defendants were being trained to fight alongside Chechen separatists in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya. The defendants, who were arrested earlier this year, are charged with creating illegal armed formations, and helping with the financing, training, and hiring of illegal units intended to be used in military conflicts. Some of the defendants, who served in the Azerbaijani military, also face charges of desertion.

According to prosecutors, the group received training at a special camp in the village of Duisi in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, a sparsely populated patch of rocky mountains bordering Chechnya.

Alirza Babaev, a former senior lieutenant in the Azeribaijani military, told the court that he was receiving military training last year at the camp in Duisi, but he denied that he was being trained to fight on the side of Chechen separatists.

Two other defendants -- Eldaniz Gasanov, a veteran of the Karabakh war, and Emil Alieva, a former soldier -- denied that such a training camp existed.

In January, the Azerbaijani military court found 12 Azerbaijani citizens guilty of participating in illegal military units that fought alongside Chechen separatists. The convicted men were sentenced to terms in prison ranging from one to five years.

Azerbaijan And Pakistan Sign Military Cooperation Pact
Azerbaijan and Pakistan agreed on 15 April to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism, officials from both nations said.

Pakistani Defense Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan signed a cooperation agreement with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Safar Abiev, during the start of a two-day visit to the Azerbaijani capital Baku.

The document says that the two nations will exchange opinions about international and regional security issues, further develop bilateral relations, and coordinate efforts to train military personnel. Abiev said after the document's signing that 19 military cadets from predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan would be sent for training in Pakistan's military academies.

The leaders of both Azerbaijan and Pakistan have supported the U.S.-led antiterror campaign.

Azerbaijani And Armenian Envoys Will Meet In Prague
The personal envoys of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents will meet in Prague on 13 May to discuss resolving the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev told the press in Baku.

He said the meeting, the first between the newly appointed envoys, would be for them to get acquainted with each other after a meeting of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen in Prague on 8 May.

The agreement on the meeting of the personal envoys was reached during a visit of the Minsk Group co-chairmen to the region in early March. Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov is the personal envoy of the Azerbaijani president to the negotiations.

Azerbaijani Publishing Houses Refuse To Publish The Magazine "Monitor"
The publishing house that prints the controversial magazine "Monitor" has refused to continue printing the journal. "Monitor" was suspended in February 1998 after a court ruled that one of its articles distorted Azerbaijani history, but it was allowed to begin publishing again on 6 April 2002.

The "Express" publishing house, which published the first issue of the magazine after 6 April, refused to continue the work. Elmar Husseinov, editor in chief of the magazine, says the publishing house did not explain its action. He claims that pressure was exerted on them not to publish the magazine. The magazine then appealed unsuccessfully to other private publishing houses in the city. Those publishing houses also refused to publish the magazine, he says. "Monitor" received the same answer from the government publishing house "Azerbaijan." Husseinov says he has appealed to all publishing houses and that none agreed to print the journal.

Faced with this problem, Husseinov says that freedom of press is not guaranteed in Azerbaijan. The editor in chief claims that the Ministry of Justice reviewed the lawsuit that closed the journal four years ago, but could not find any legal basis to shut it down and so began exerting pressure directly on publishing houses.

Azer Hesret, chairman of the Journalists' Trades Union, said he regrets the occurrence of such cases after President Heidar Aliyev received the heads of Azerbaijani media outlets in late December. Hesret said the publishing houses' step is contradictory to what the head of state said with regard to freedom of the press and expression. Hesret said that the union has decided together with other journalists' unions to investigate who instructed the publishing houses not to publish "Monitor." If they cannot find out, he said, they will appeal to the Council of Europe and other international structures. Journalistic unions are also due to meet heads of publishing houses.

Hesret said a publishing house can refuse to print a publication, but only when its quality does not meet their requirements or the contract between the publisher and publication expires.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijani President Plans To Meet With Entrepreneurs
On 25 April, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev will meet with Azerbaijan's local entrepreneurs, according to official newspapers. The meeting has been discussed in the official, independent, and opposition press for two days. Official newspapers put an optimistic slant on the news, running articles and interviews asserting a high level of local entrepreneurship and foreign investment in Azerbaijan. Commenting on foreign companies leaving Azerbaijan, Minister for Economic Development Ferhad Aliyev said that investors attribute it to a decrease in profits and small markets. According to him, foreign companies are satisfied with the country's tax regime. But experts claim the contrary, saying that conditions are intolerable for both local entrepreneurs and foreign companies. They link the flight of foreign companies with corruption and bribery.

Independent economist Azer Mehdiev thinks that the president's meeting with local entrepreneurs will be very serious. According to him, the government may have its own political goals in arranging the meeting. The economist says that basic principles of free entrepreneurship are not followed now in Azerbaijan. He says these principles are inviolability of property, protection of property rights, establishment of a free and independent court system, and the creation of equal conditions of competition for all citizens. Mehdiev says that the law prohibits state employees from engaging in private business, but that the governing family and its entourage have seized all business spheres in the country. They hold a monopoly on local business, he says, and no conditions have been created for development of free entrepreneurship.

Economist Ali Hajiev from the pro-government Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party evaluates the president's meeting with local entrepreneurs positively, although he notes that the event has been delayed a little. He says the future development of the republic toward a market economy is connected with development of entrepreneurship. Therefore the government should promote entrepreneurship, which, he says, has not yet reached satisfactory levels. According to him, until entrepreneurship develops in production, the sphere cannot be evaluated positively.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

According to the 19 April issue of the newspaper "Zerkalo," President Heidar Aliyev is due to visit Turkey at the end of April. The Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan says some regional security issues will be discussed during the visit.

Fekhri Kerimli in the article "Turkey strengthens positions in South Caucasus" in the 19 April issue of the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" writes that Turkey's becoming active in the region has caused concern to some neighboring states. Ankara has engaged in unprecedented political activity in the post-Soviet territory. The author says that Georgia and Azerbaijan attach great significance to their ties with Turkey. The relationships with Ankara mean they have ties to a NATO member in the region and help guarantee their security.

The 19 April issue of the independent newspaper "525" carries an article devoted to Azerbaijani-Pakistani relationships, saying that Azerbaijan has a significant role in Pakistan's access to Europe.

Economist Sabit Baghirov, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," says that Iran will be forced to give up its position in the Ashgabat summit on the status of the Caspian Sea. Iran favors dividing the sea's resources equally among the five littoral states, while Azerbaijan and others want to split the sea based on coastline.

Historian-scientist Alisa Nijat in an article entitled "To deceive" carried by the 19 April issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that Southern Azeris have been deceived. According to him, the 30 million Southern Azeris living in Iran were deceived by the liberal promises of President Mohammad Khatemi in the 1997 presidential elections and voted for him en masse. But there were no changes from when Hashemi Rafsanjani was president. Asserting that "Khatemi was re-elected with the help of Azeris," the author writes that naive Iranians forget that even though a dictatorial regime does not exist in Iran, an ideological dictatorship reigns there. According to the author, regardless of who comes to power in Iran, he will not be able to overcome pro-Persian chauvinism in the country and will not be able to resolve Southern Azeris' problems even if he wishes to.

Galib Arif, in the article "Lawyers will not be able to conceal their real faces" carried by the 19 April issue of the government newspaper "Khalg," criticizes lawyers who allege that Azerbaijan holds political prisoners. He writes that those lawyers are ready to call all criminals in Azerbaijan political prisoners in order to collect the "alms" they receive in the form of grants. It makes no difference whether the prisoners have killed a person, sold Azerbaijan's lands to enemies, embezzled the people's property, or committed a coup d'etat. The main thing for the lawyers, he says, is to earn money for the work they carry out. The author names the lawyers Arzu Abdullaeva, Leyla Yunusova, and Eldar Zeynalov, claiming that they are bargaining with their foreign supporters and domestic clients. Their job is also an easy one, he says: They earn money easily.

Goundouz Kamiloglu in the article "Why are we afraid of foreign 'religious investors?'" in the 19 April issue of the independent newspaper "525" writes that since Azerbaijan gained independence, its society has been faced with serious problems. One of them is connected with religious missionary activity in the republic. "If we think Muslim missionaries can do only harm, then why is their activity not restricted?" the author asks, arguing that it is high time to refuse the help of both Muslim and Christian foreigners in religious issues. The author concludes that if we restrict foreigners' activity in our country and propagate our religion ourselves, then we will not be faced with the problems of either Wahhabism or extreme Shiites or fanatics crucifying themselves for Jesus.

The Azerbaijani press debates the recent scandal in Azerbaijani football, where some clubs have refused to play in the championship because they say the contest is fixed. The 19 April issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that there is a conflict between AFFA (Azerbaijan Football Federations Association) and the Ministry for Youth, Sport, and Tourism.

The 19 April issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" also carries a commentary about developments in Azerbaijani football. The author, Elshad Pashaev, writes that those who support the succession of Ilham Aliyev even use the success of our sportsmen to promote their aims. Our wrestlers gain victories through great effort, but Ilham Aliyev is praised in the end. The author adds that he does not intend to defend AFFA President Fuad Musaev. On the contrary, he accuses Musaev of depriving the country of the chance to enjoy the success of Azerbaijani football. According to the author, the truth is that Azerbaijan is led by one tribe, and those who own the whole wealth of the country must also settle its problems. The author says the victory of our wrestlers should not be linked with Ilham Aliev's name, and Fuad Musaev should not be punished for the disgraceful state of our football. The author asks whether it is possible for the government to render financial assistance to AFFA to save it from the world football "blacklist."

The 19 April issue of the government newspaper "Khalg" carries an article entitled "The Adalat party is to declare war against Musavat" listing reasons for divisions within the opposition.

Boyukagha Aghaev in a commentary entitled "Aliyev of the post-Aliyev period" carried by the 19 April issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlyg" writes that propaganda promoting Ilham Aliyev as his father's successor has recently intensified not only in the capital but also in remote districts. But according to the author, there is still uncertainty as to whether the plan will be successful or not. The author notes that there are factions in the government that oppose the idea of allowing President Aliyev to name his own successor. Aghaev says it remains to be seen in the post-Heidar Aliyev period whether government officials are loyal to the Alievs or not. The true faces of those politicians will be seen then. It is therefore impossible to consider Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alasgarov's latest statements as oaths certain to be implemented. The author thinks that Heidar Aliyev will choose a successor other than his son in the end. The recent pro-Ilham propaganda is simply a result of the president's goal of preventing intra-governmental conflicts and massive groups splitting from the government.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)