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Azerbaijan Report: May 28, 2002

28 May 2002
United Opposition Movement Stages Protest
The Baku police blocked a planned protest of the United Opposition Movement and other large opposition parties on 26 May in Azadlyg Square. Prior to the protest, Maharram Aliev, head of the Baku police, declared through independent media channels that the meeting was not sanctioned and urged people not to participate. Aliyev said the police intend to bring charges against Musavat Party head Isa Gambar and the Azerbaijani Democratic Party leaders Serdar Jelaloglu and Nureddin Mammadli for their regular attempts to call people to the unsanctioned protests.

The protest nonetheleses began at the declared time - at approximately 15:00. Some 300-500 people began to move toward Sahil metro station from the University of Languages. Another group moved from the Narimanov metro station toward the National Bank. According to the organization committee, their goal in moving in different directions was to increase the effect of the action and counteract the police. But the police used extreme violence to suppress the protest. Picketers were beaten with batons, and one protester was run down by a motorbike and forced into car along with dozens of others.

Despite police interference, members of the Musavat party, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and some other parties continued to yell, "Resignation!" Police blocked them from entering Azadlyg Square so they voiced their demands elsewhere the city, stating afterward that the action taken place as planned.

(Babek Bekir and Maarif Chingizoglu)

Conference Devoted To Nagorno Karabakh Conflict
Representatives from across the country attended a one-day scientific practical conference on 24-25 May entitled, "Nagorno Karabakh: Yesterday, today and tomorrow." Akif Naghi, chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, told journalists at the Irshad center in Baku that different opposition parties, as well as separate experts expressed their views at the conference about the conflict's historical roots and about how to resolve it. Government officials were invited but did not take part. During the conference, representatives established a working group which will take into consideration all standpoints and proposals, Naghi said, adding that neither politicians nor public representatives are satisfied with the current process of negotiations.

According to Naghi a solution to the problem is not entirely the responsibility of the government, but speakers at the conference suggested that if Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev admitted the difficulty of the current situation, then he must look not to intentional organizations, but to the Azerbaijani people for assistance.

Speakers at the conference claimed that international organizations will not defend the interests of the Azerbaijani people in resolving the conflict. They said the Azerbaijani government must convince the international community of the urgency of taking strict steps. According to Naghi, the working group will prepare a common concept and submit it to the Azerbaijani government and international organizations. The key goal in it will be to warn the Azerbaijani people of the need to act quickly.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijani President Signs Decrees On Solving Refugees' Social Problems
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev signed a decree on 13 May to improve the social situation of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), Ali Hasanov, deputy Prime Minister and head of the State Refugee Committee, announced at a press conference at the headquarters of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party on 24 May. The decree envisages construction of new houses for 3,719 families now living in camps. 1,211 families will be placed in Harami, in Fizuli District. A tender has been declared for construction of the houses, with some 40 construction companies taking part in the tender, Hasanov said. Money for the construction will be allotted from the State Oil Fund.

Hasanov said that another presidential decree deals with the supply of some 157,000 refugees with food, and the State Oil Company has allotted 2.52 billion manats ($518.457) to this end. A number of international humanitarian organizations have ended their food programs, leaving a number of IDPs with no food supply, he said. For instance, the international nongovernmental organization, ADRA, ended its programs this year, which supplied food to some 140,000 IDPs. The president has signed the decrees in order to fill gaps in this sphere.

Hasanov said that reports in the Azerbaijani press that ADRA was engaged in missionary activity was the reason it left the country, and he urged the press to be careful in their articles about other humanitarian organizations. He says the Turkish Red Crescent Society has also stopped its activity.

Hasanov said that the UN World Food Program has been working in Azerbaijan since 1992 and donated food to some 140,000 refugees in the country. The program was set to end in 1999, but its term was extended for three more years at the request of the government.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

The 28 May issues of the Azerbaijani newspapers carried articles and commentaries about the Azerbaijani president's amnesty decree on pardoning 83 prisoners. The independent newspaper "Alternativ" reported that under the decree, some 73 prisoners were released from the remaining part of their sentences. Ten prisoners had their sentences reduced by half. Sixty-five of those pardoned were convicted of participation in crimes against the independence and territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani Republic.

Some newspapers claimed before the decree that the president's son, Ilham Aliev, sent the pardoning commission a list of prisoners to be pardoned. In a commentary entitled "Ilham Aliev's new image" carried in the 28 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Boyukagha Aghayev ironically writes that when he saw the report on television that the pardoning commission had considered the list submitted by Ilham Aliev, he was assured of the humanism of both the president's son and of Nizami Khudiyev, head of Azerbaijan State TV Company. According to the author, the "successor's humanism" also indicates the humanism of the AzTV chairman as well as of the employees of that company, because after Aliev's list is adopted, it is this TV and radio company that deserves the credit for the major part of the propaganda in Aliev's favor. According to the author, it is sure that starting on this day, the pardoned prisoners will pray through the voice of the TV announcer for the president's son and wish him long life and good health.

In an interview with the 28 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Murad Sadeddinov, chairman of the Fund for the Protection of Human Rights and Development of Democracy, called the amnesty decree "weak," as the decree "does not resolve" the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

On 28 May, Azerbaijan celebrated the 84th anniversary of its independence. Local newspapers carried articles and commentaries about the history and essence of this day. The 28 May issue of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" carries the responses of Azerbaijan's leading political figures to the question "What has independence given Azerbaijan?" According to political commentator Rustam Mammadov, independence has produced hope in Azerbaijani people's future and enabled Azerbaijan to form its state and policy. Besides, because of independence, the mother tongue has been revived, Azerbaijan's ethnic roots have been clarified and the Azerbaijani people as a nation will not be cleansed from history.

Azer Aykhan, in a commentary entitled "The essence of 28 May" published in that day's issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" criticizes the government's negative attitude toward opposition members and nationalists. According to the author, after 4 June i1993, national forces were faced with the threat of expulsion, and officials of the Azerbaijan People's Front found a way out through Heydar Aliev's rise to power. But his coming to power ignited a battle between Communist and Musavat forces. The author claims that Heydar Aliyev took advantage of an opportunity 9 years ago and wanted to erase his political rivals -- Musavat members and nationalists -- from the political arena. According to the author, conditions for doing so were favorable, but Aliyev was confronted by Isa Gambar, who had just resigned from the speaker's post. The author concludes that God presented independence and freedom to the nation twice in one century.

According to the 28 May issue of the independent newspaper "Echo," the meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, scheduled for 25 June, on the sideline of the summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization in Istanbul will not take place as Armenian President Robert Kocharyan is planning to visit the Baltic states at that time.

The 28 May issue of the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" carries an article entitled "The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict: The Karabakh Liberation Organization's standpoint in resolution of the conflict". According to the article, stability and peace can be established in the region after the conflict is settled fairly.

According to the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan," Pope John Paul II was assured by his visit that religious tolerance exists in Azerbaijan, and it can also be a example for other countries.

In an article entitled "Baku-Ceyhan- the bridge of friendship between the South Caucasus and Europe" carried in the 28 May issue of the independent newspaper "525," Yusif Gunaydin writes that the imminent construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export pipeline once more proves that the historical significance of Azerbaijan's economic development and the state independence is damaging to Armenia's higher goals in the Karabakh conflict. The author recalls the arguments against Baku-Ceyhan, noting that Armenia declared it would not allow the pipeline to be built. According to the author, after the campaign against Azerbaijan's oil strategy was blocked, new methods arose to discredit the Baku-Ceyhan export route. Those blocking forces claimed that the pipeline had political goals. The author completes the article on an optimistic note, saying that we will soon see the fruits of the Baku-Ceyhan project.

The 28 May issue of the governmental newspaper "Khalg" carried an article entitled "This incident was more like children's hooliganism than political action" criticizing the 26 May protest by the United Opposition Movement. According to the author, the party leaders could not find people to take part in the action, and they could not enter Azadlig Square. The author says that opposition leaders see that they cannot attract people to their actions, and that their illegal actions are collapsing from day to day. Therefore, they complain that people are indifferent to them and blame people for not joining and backing them. According to the author, the opposition wants to use children's support now, after having failed to use women and the elderly.

In an interview with the 28 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Serdar Jelaloglu, Secretary General of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, said that Heydar Aliyev came to power through bloodshed and will be ousted in this way.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Kazimova)