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Azerbaijan Report: July 8, 2002

8 July 2002
Azerbaijani Leadership Takes on Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Gross
Tensions are escalating between the Azerbaijani leadership and Andreas Gross, special rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe. The first problems emerged during discussions on the issue of political prisoners. Other issues that caused tension included President Heydar Aliev's decision to run for a third term and the recently announced referendum on changes to the Constitution.

The Azerbaijani delegation has refused to work with Gross and has called for his dismissal from the monitoring committee. But Gross has said that despite the Azerbaijani delegation's opposition, he will remain on the committee. He also added that there is nothing unusual in the constitutional amendments, but he objects to the way in which the voting will be held.

According to Gross in no state are 25 articles of the Constitution change dat once. This process, he believes, should be implemented in several stages. In addition, he has clashed with the Azerbaijani delegation over their accusations that the Council does not protect the rights of Azeri refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Sulheddin Akbar, deputy chairman of Musavat Party for political issues, says the dispute is a diplomatic mistake by the Azerbaijani delegation. Akbar claims that Gross, who takes a principled stand on such issues as political prisons and human rights in general, will toughen his position to the detriment of Baku's interests.

Saida Gojamanli, the head of the Human Rights and Law Protection Bureau, an independent organization, also regrets the confrontation. She said that Andreas Gross, together with local human rights activists, has proved the existence of political prisoners and achieved a retrial for them.

Gojamanli believes that regardless who acts as the Council of Europe's rapporteur, that person will also take a strict stand against violations of the law in Azerbaijan. Therefore the leadership must observe human rights instead of trying to have Gross replaced by somebody else. Should the government achieve that, the Council of Europe will have no reason to bring accusations against Azerbaijan.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Citizens Join Criticism of Government Position Toward Council of Europe
Along with political organizations, ordinary citizens are also anxious about the tension between Andreas Gross, special rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe, and the Azerbaijani government.

Ali Gulamoglu, 73, a secondary school teacher, is familiar with the speeches of the Azerbaijani delegation in the Council of Europe and believes that the statements by Azeri deputies directed against the Council of Europe and Gross are not in Azerbaijan's favor.To prevent Gross's coming to Baku and accuse him of taking a pro-Armenian position is also meaningless. Another citizen who has spoken to RFE/RL Aslan Ismailov, the head of the Visa legal firm, also disagrees with the accusations against Gross and said Gross demanded nothing of Azerbaijani besides compliance with the obligations Baku undertook when joining the Council of Europe.

Ismailov recalled that such the situation arose when the Council of Europe first demanded Baku meet its obligations. The government's accusations towards the council have merely toughened that organization's position. According to Ismailov, it is unacceptable for officials to express their negative opinion about the Council through the press. If the government had not intended to cooperate with the Council then it should not have undertaken such obligations. Ismailov said the conflict with the Council of Europe is the same as the confrontation with European countries.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Opposition Makes Moves to Boycott Constitutional Referendum
On 3 July, the Political Board of the National Independence Party (AMIP) announced it will boycott the 24 August referendum on proposed changes to the Constitution. According to their statement, the current leadership is illegitimate. Therefore, the forthcoming referendum is unacceptable and not in the people's interests. In addition, on 4 June, 12 political parties held a discussion at the Baku Press Club regarding the referendum. According to Serdar Jalaloglu, secretary general of the Azerbaijan Democrat Party (ADP), the opposition will focus its efforts on pushing for a boycott of the referendum.

For that reason, the Musavat and National Independence Parties said that they will hold another meeting with parties that intend to boycott the referendum, in order to work out a common plan of action. Although the participants prepared two documents -- an appeal and a statement to the Council of Europe -- discussion on them was postponed until the next meeting.

Jalaloglu also said that while there was no document signed by the participants regarding any common action to be taken, there was a verbal agreement between them. He said that in addition to the National Independence Party other parties as well as United Opposition Movement will join the boycott action.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Green Groups Increase Pressure on Bp, BTC Pipeline Construction
While construction on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline has started, the campaign against it is intensifying. Recently, 64 international non-governmental organizations appealed to international financial institutions not to finance the BTC pipeline. At the same time several local organizations have begun accusing the foreign companies operating on the Caspian of environmental pollution. In addition, they warn that the BTC pipeline constitutes a threat to historical artifacts in one area through which it is to run.

According to the 29 June issue of the magazine "Banki i biznes," not long ago BP produced a paper on the impact of the Shah Deniz oilfield on the environment. But local non-governmental organizations and scientists have criticized it. In particular they protest against disposing of radioactive wastes and produced water (water that is found during the drilling process) by releasing it into the sea or using such water in irrigation.

According to the magazine, president of the Eco-Energy Academy Fegan Aliyev takes an even more strict position. He would refuse to eat fruits irrigated with such water and demands that BP solve the problem of purification. The magazine points that at present there are about two hundred oil swamps as a result of SOCAR's activities. Thanks to these swamps, some 2 million seals perished in the Caspian last year.

But other ecological NGOs who spoke to RFE/RL refute the accusations that foreign oil companies are polluting the environment. Telman Zeinalov, the head of the National Center for Ecological Forecasting, points out that produced waters have been released into the Caspian since the beginning of oil extraction in Baku. It is strange that Azeri scientists have not said anything about that problem till now. Zeinalov claims that the accusations aren't so much about ecological problems; rather, they regard the personal interests of some people. Ronnie Gallagher, BP's manager on environmental protection, in his interview to RFE/RL also denied the accusations and said the Chirag oilfield where BP is operating at present does not release produced water. It will do so in 2007, he says, and BP is currently drawing up management plans.

He did not exclude the possibility of using produced water in irrigation, after it is purified using modern technology set up on the platforms. Nor did he exclude that such water would be reused during the drilling process.

It should be pointed that several non-governmental organizations are also protesting the running of the BTC pipeline through the Gobustan State Preserve. According to them, if the BTC runs through that area, archeological artifacts will be lost forever. The BP manager pointed out that along with Gobustan, the pipeline will also run through nine other areas that are rich in historical artifacts.

BP has proposed conducting archeological digs in these areas before the construction of the pipeline and is willing to cover the expense. In an interview with RFE/RL, former SOCAR president Sabit Bagirov said that in fact the issue has nothing to do with ecological ramifications or protection of historical artifacts. According to him, foreign forces are seeking to generate a negative opinion inside and outside Azerbaijan and thus to prevent the export of Azeri oil.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Ex-Interior Minister's Trail Continues
On 5 July the closed trial of former interior minister Iskander Hemidov continued at the Gobustan prison. Hamidov was arrested in 1995 and charged with abuse of power and misappropriation of government assets. His case has attracted the attention of human rights organizations, and the Council of Europe has appealed to the government for a retrial.

According to Mahmudov, this trial differs from previous ones as it is being held behind closed doors and most media representatives are excluded. Not even Hamidov's relatives were allowed in. Moreover the court did not take into consideration an action made by the defense concerning charges against the ex-minister related to his sending 701 prisoners to the front lines of the Nagorno-Karabakh war during his tenure as minister.

Mahmudov said that the court should have acquitted Hamidov of those charges. The court also dismissed Hamidov's request to hear testimony from former Attorney-General Eldar Hasanov, Fehmin Nagiev and others. Mahmudov pointed out that the testimony of Suleiman Ismailov, an official of the Sabail District Police Department, neither confirmed nor refuted the accusation that the then-interior minister abused power when he released a prisoner, Isaq Orucov. The court has decided to exclude his testimony, citing conflicts with the law.

Another witness, former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev, testified concerning charges that Hamidov misappropriated of government assets totaling $400,000. Gaziev said that he had indeed received $250,000 from Hamidov but that sum was used for military needs. The witness also pointed out that at that time when the war was its height, neither he nor Hamidov thought to validate that operation.

Thus to accuse Hamidov of misappropriation of government assets is meaningless, Gaziev said. Moreover the former Defense Minister gave important evidence concerning the dispatch of prisoners to the front and said that those men went of their own accord. Gaziev noted that the idea was advanced by the late academician Ziya Bunyadov and was submitted for the approval of the state institutions. According to Mahmudov, there is no doubt that the charges brought against Hamidov have no legal base. In other hand the present authorities are not able to give Hamidov an open and fair trial.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Political scientist Rasim Musabekov, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" said that he does not exclude the possibility of President Heydar Aliyev meeting with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocherian in the next round of negotiations on the settlement of Karabakh conflict. According to him, if the Azerbaijani leadership does not wage war to liberate the occupied territories then it must increase its diplomatic efforts in that direction.

According to the independent newspaper "Echo" on 4 July, 11 families held a picket in front of the U.S. Embassy in Baku. The families that were resettled three years ago from their homes near the embassy were demanding compensation. But the police broke up the picket.

Azeri politicians answered the question, "When will we live in peace with Armenians?" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Nedelya." The politicians pointed out that it will be possible only after a fair resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

According to an article entitled "Iran-Azerbaijan relations would escalate" in the independent newspaper "525," Russian military exercises in the Caspian Sea are creating a tenser relationship between the Caspian littoral states.

Ali Kerimli, the head of the reformist wing of Popular Front Party in his interview to "525" emphasizes the need to unify the opposition.

Aranli in an article entitled "Confusion in Society" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" points out that Azeri society, which is divided into the ruling class and opposition, conservatives and democrats, is in a state of confusion. In such a situation the global and painful problems of the people have receded into the background. And the mass media has become a strong and giant monitor that observes and covers that confusion.

Media that are short on content engage themselves in political and public scandals. Because of that the essence and principles of journalism and its role in society have been reduced to a minimal level. The pro-governmental press offends the opposition but praises the authorities while the opposition press criticizes the authorities. The author also said that he believes discussions about Andreas Gross, the special rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe, are splitting the opposition from the inside. The author concludes that Azerbaijanis are confused. At the front line it is relatively quiet. Not us, but the Armenians are the ones providing a cease-fire because Karabakh is in their hands at present.

Rasim Bairamov in an article "Russia is looking for a president for Armenia" published in the 5 July issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" cites the Armenian media and writes that the Armenian opposition does not even hesitate to accuse President Kocherian of acts of terrorism. United States and Russia have also been involved in Armenia's power race. According to some sources these states currently determine who will take up presidential post after Kocharian. But Moscow has already defined its leader in the Armenian political scene. It is Aram Karapetian, doctor of political science and present adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Therefore it is not strange that in recent years Karapetian has livened up his political activities inside Armenia. The candidate from the United States would be Stepan Demirchian, a powerful capitalist.

Rauf Mirgedirov in the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that according to a diplomatic source, the Armenian government intends to express its opinion on "Paris principles." The source also claims that during the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit the parties discussed not the exchange of corridors but the exchange of districts. The Armenian authorities refused the plan. But presidents Aliyev and Kocherian had no intention to sign an agreement on Karabakh conflict. The presidents were to sign a declaration on basic principles of the settlement. But a 1999 act of terror in the Armenian parliament and the resignation of prominent political figures in the leadership blocked implementation of these principles.

Oleg Aliev, national coordinator of the International Association of Russian-Language Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists, spoke about his groups' activities. According to Aliev, their main purpose is to prevent the spreading of misinformation into the Western media and to promote the creation of professional journalism in Azerbaijan. Aliyev said that in 2000 the editor-in-chiefs of the leading publications of Azerbaijan appealed to the Russian NTV television channel and protested against its presentation of Karabakh as an independent state, because the Azerbaijani media has never considered Chechnya as a separate state.

Samir Nemanoglu in an article titled, "World oil prices rise" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that whereas oil prices in the world markets have increased, the budget still shows a deficit. Oil revenues make up about 40 percent of the budget. Although world oil prices are $4 higher than it has been provided for in the budget, the government's forecast has not come true. According to Finance Minister Avez Alekberov, a fall in oil prices of $1 per barrel costs the budget 90 billion manats ($18.5 million). So while the budget has got an additional profit totaling 360 billion manats thanks to the rise in oil prices, the real income has come to 93.7 percent of the expected sum. The situation with the budget expenses is also deplorable and about 20 percent of expenses remain unfulfilled. According to Nemanoglu, while incomes and expenditures show a deficit the head of the state continues to squander budget resources. Following pensioners it has been decided to raise the salaries of scientists too. The president has also promised to raise policemen's wages in the near future.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)