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Azerbaijan Report: May 3, 2002

3 May 2002
Azerbaijani Soccer Fans Allegedly Demand AFFA President's Resignation
A group of Azerbaijani soccer fans staged a protest on 30 April in front of the Azerbaijan Football Federations Association (AFFA) to demand the resignation of AFFA President Fuad Musaev. The demonstration followed a similar action a week earlier. Even though the 30 April protest had not been agreed with the Baku Mayor's Office, police did not prevent the picketers from staging it. The fans are not the only ones protesting -- 10 Azerbaijani soccer clubs have refused to participate in the local championship. They intend to establish an alternative structure to AFFA and organize a separate championship. But AFFA has warned that international sanctions could be imposed on Azerbaijan if the rival league is launched, and said that it is ready to make compromises with the dissenting clubs. AFFA has also declared that if the rebellious clubs return to the championship, no punishment will be imposed on them. But AFFA President Musaev has made clear that he does not plan to resign, and it seems that the dissenting clubs are not concerned about possible punishment, only forcing Musaev's resignation.

AFFA Secretary-General Chingiz Ismailov gave an interview to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service after the demonstration, saying that the protesters will not achieve their goals by such methods. According to him, this conflict can only result in the collapse of soccer in the republic. Ismailov claims that the picketers are not soccer fans but factory workers who know absolutely nothing about soccer. According to Ismailov, Ramiz Mirzaev, president of the Neftchi soccer club and director of the Azerneftyagh Production Association, ordered the demonstrators to come to AFFA headquarters. According to the AFFA secretary-general, Mirzaev is simply a participant in the "game" surrounding Musaev.

Ismailov once again asked the heads of the clubs which have refused to participate in the championship to reconsider. He urged them to put aside their ambitions and take into consideration the players' opinions. According to the secretary-general, it is unprecedented in the world for club heads to refuse to allow players to play soccer when they want to play. Ismailov regrets that an exception exists in this country.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijan's Historical Monuments To Be Restored
The Azerbaijani government has signed an agreement with the International Development Association to help restore the country's historical monuments. The World Bank has allotted special funds for the project, which will be handled by a special working group for the protection of cultural heritage. An expert working in the group, Rahman Huseinli, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that some $8.9 million has been allotted for the restoration project. Some $1.4 million of the total will come from the Azerbaijani government, and some $7.5 million from the World Bank.

Azerbaijan has an extremely rich cultural heritage and historical cultural monuments of national significance. Unfortunately, these historical monuments have not been restored or protected sufficiently, and they have not been fully catalogued. The issue was raised in the Azerbaijani parliament some years ago but it yielded no results. According to the available information, a list of the architectural and archaeological monuments has been prepared but not approved yet. The list includes over 100 monuments of world significance, some 35 of which are historical-architectural and the remainder of which are archaeological. Unfortunately, nothing has been done over the past decade to restore them.

There are also over 500 architectural monuments, over 100 archaeological ones, and 22 museums in Azerbaijan's occupied territories which have been vandalized. The Azerbaijani parliament adopted a statement listing the items only two weeks ago.

The restoration project is to be completed in 2004. Husseinli said that the list includes such historical monuments as the Shirvanshah Palace in Baku, the Khan's Palace in Sheki, the Momine khatun tomb in Nakhchivan, and others.

Much is to be done to restore Azerbaijan's historical monuments and not only the Azerbaijani government but also the Azerbaijani people should work to achieve it.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Azerbaijani Expert Comments On The Geopolitical Situation In South Caucasus
The geopolitical situation has recently become more active in the South Caucasus, with developments such as the Caspian summit in Ashgabat, Russia's launching a military training exercise in the sea, and the Trabzon summit of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. According to observers, Russia is very concerned about developments in the region. Russia's military training exercise in the Caspian is a result of that concern. In response to journalists' questions regarding the exercise, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Safar Abiev said that Azerbaijan has the second greatest military strength in the Caspian, after Russia. But according to experts, despite Azerbaijan's military force, it can never compete with Russia. Therefore, they argue, Azerbaijan should not try to keep a navy in the Caspian, and should work toward demilitarizing the sea.

Commenting on the results of the Trabzon summit, Khaleddin Ibrahimli, the head of the Caucasian Studies Center, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the summit demonstrated the need for close cooperation among Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey because the three states have similar problems. According to Ibrahimli, the three states suffer from separatism and terrorism and they also have the same political and economic interests. Ibrahimli says that the Trabzon summit has great significance for Azerbaijan and that the three states must settle their problems together.

The local press has also reported that the presidents of Russia and the U.S. will discuss the results of the Trabzon summit. According to Ibrahimli, Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush have reached some agreements on Caucasian issues such as the fear of terrorism and the Chechen problem. The political scientist says Putin can exert some pressure on Bush to keep the United States from becoming active in the South Caucasus. Ibrahimli says Russia has become active in the region and does not want to lose its hegemony in the Caspian even though it has lost the hegemony in the Black Sea. Because of this, he says, Russia has begun resorting to military actions in the Caspian. The expert says they are a dangerous development and that the Caspian must be demilitarized. But the latest developments show that Russia does not want that, and that Russia's wishes do not coincide with the interests of Azerbaijan. The latter has always been faced with dangers in the Caspian. Ibrahimli says these kinds of problems have always affected the South Caucasus. One of the reasons for Russia's becoming active in the region is the open rapprochement among Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia and the rise of Turkey's influence in South Caucasus. The expert says because of this, Russia has begun using threats and ultimatums again. As for Iran's concern about Russia's military training exercise, Ibrahimli says that the exercise can deepen the conflict in the region, which could mean involving NATO forces.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

The 3 May issues of the governmental newspapers "Azerbaijan" and "Khalg" report that an international conference, "Protection of Azerbaijan's national cultural and natural heritage: National Parks" was held in Baku on 2-3 May.

The 3 May issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" carries an interview with political scientist Rasim Musabeyov, who says that Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Iran Abaseli Hasanov works for the dictatorship in Tehran.

The 3 May issues of newspapers also carry articles about World Press Day, 3 May. The governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" carries the official UN letter on Press Freedom Day. The letter reads that in the past two years, over 50 journalists covering fierce conflicts died.

The 3 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" carries an article entitled "Baku-Ceyhan is a potential threat for terrorists" which argues that impeding construction of the pipeline would damage Turkey's economic, political, and ecological interests.

Vali Ilyasov in the article "The press must be cleansed of racket newspapers" carried by the 3 May issue of the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" charges that some newspapers in the country are using mafia-like tactics. According to the author, such newspapers as "Mozalan," "Gulp," "Azerpeyk," "Radikal," "Interpark," "Bakinskiy bulvar," "Istintag," "Ideal," and others are polluting our pure press. The author argues that racket journalists tour villages, districts, and cities, threatening or toadying to officials, entrepreneurs, and farmers in order to obtain money from them. The author says it is troubling that those swindlers dishonor honest journalists and give rise to negative public opinions about them.

Hikmet Sabiroglu in a commentary entitled "Without money and with party" carried by the 3 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that one should not believe either those who say there is freedom of the press in Azerbaijan or those who claim otherwise. According to him, freedom of the press has been distorted in Azerbaijan and because of this, both sides are equally right. The author says that conditions for newspapers are difficult, and claims that they are all obliged to seek funds from outside. But money is not given for nothing. The author says that if the money obtained from outside can affect the formation of this opinion or that one, then freedom of the press is restricted. The author mentions the opinion that various groupings, both in the opposition and government, "buy" press. According to the author, a journalist with a political affiliation is as serious a problem for journalism as censorship is, because when the interests of the party contradict those of professional journalism, the journalist will be obliged to lie or keep silent.

The 3 May issue of the independent newspaper "525" carries an interview with Rafig Aliev, chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Affairs. Aliyev is looking forward to the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II to Azerbaijan (22-23 May), noting that the pope's influence can contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. According to Aliev, the visit is also significant in that it can draw the international community's attention to Azerbaijan's problems. As for missionaries' activity in Azerbaijan, Aliyev urged them to demonstrate religious tolerance and abstain from pursuing propaganda against the state.

The 3 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" carries Professor (and former Finance Minister) Saleh Mammadov's opinions about the social-political situation in the country. According to Mammadov, it is impossible for the ill and old president to govern Azerbaijan in his condition and it is major blow to the country's social-economic development and international image. Local people do not know what will happen in Azerbaijan in a short period of time. Mammadov also said that neither a market economy nor a normal social-political system has been established in the republic so far. Simply, Azerbaijan's regime is without an analogue anywhere in the world. The backbone of the regime is corruption and lies. The economist thinks that changing from this system to a democratic one will create very serious problems.

Khalid Kazimli in an article entitled "Dragging the cart from the mud" carried by the 3 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the government's antiprotest tactics do not produce any effect. The more pressure the government exerts, the more determined opposition forces become to continue protests. Not only the United Opposition Movement, but other opposition parties as well have decided on active resistance against the government. The author says that it is still problematic for the forces to congregate in public with slogans and demands. There are some political and psychological problems which do not enable opposition forces to gather together. The author concludes that if the goal is the same then it is possible to congregate on the same square. Simply, it is necessary to drag the cart (Azerbaijan) out of the mud, and then the opposition forces can continue on their course.

Galib Arif in the article "The opposition's decay" carried by the government newspaper "Khalg" tries to explain the reasons why the opposition always experiences splits and divisions. The author claims that the process is ongoing in two directions. According to him, parties such as the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and the Azerbaijan Democratic Party are split because they include a number of persons who aspire to become leaders of the party. But such parties as the Azerbaijan National Independence Party experience regular splits because the party head is "far-seeing" and removes those who aspire to lead the party. Therefore nobody wants to compete with the party head.

Ali Kerimli, the head of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, answers questions about processes within the party in a 3 May interview with the independent newspaper "Ekho." He said he supports reuniting the divided party.

The 3 May issue of the independent newspaper "Nedelya" analyses the 27 April protest of the United Opposition Movement, noting that despite Saturday's failure, the opposition is eager to try to stage a protest on Azadlig Square again.

The 3 May issue of the independent newspaper "Ekho" carries the article "Civil society in Azerbaijan" by Rahman Badalov. The author answers questions regarding the essence of a civil society and wonders whether it exists in Azerbaijan. According to him, a civil society consists of citizens, their jobs, the revenues they obtain from jobs, their protecting themselves, and the government's taking them into consideration. A civil society also means that people feel like citizens, know their rights, take responsibility for themselves, and are not made slaves.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)