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Azerbaijan Report: July 23, 2002

23 July 2002
Number of Political Prisoners Declining, Activists Say
Human rights activists told an international observer last week that the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan is declining, an activist told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service. Azeri human rights activists were reported to have presented Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross, who visited Azerbaijan from 16 to 19 July, with a new list of alleged political prisoners that includes 193 names. But Saida Gojamanli, the head of the Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights and Lawfulness, explained that the "new" list was in fact merely an updated one compiled by six human rights organizations, and that the number of political prisoners has actually been reduced from 213 to 193.

In 2001 human rights activists including Eldar Zeinalov, Leila Yunus and Murad Saddedinov presented the Council of Europe with a list of alleged political prisoners, which included 716 names. The six human rights organizations worked out their lists on the basis of that document. They said that only 213 of the 716 people on the 2001 list could be considered to be political prisoners. Gojamanli says that the list presented to the Council of Europe included the names of people who had died, disappeared without trace or been released from prison long ago. Therefore the Council recommended that the human rights organizations reconsider the list, Gojamanli said, and they established that in fact there were 193 alleged political prisoners in the country.

Saddedinov, the head of the Fund for Democratic Development and Human Rights Protection and one of the authors of the original list, agreed that there are now fewer than 716 political prisoners in the country, but argued that there are more than 193. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service he said that since some political prisoners have been released, the total now amounts to 370. He added that the original list was compiled before Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe. Saddedinov said there is no need to present a new list to the Council of Europe each time a representative visits because local activists are in constant contact with the organization.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Baku Wary of IMF Energy and Banking Advice
Experts have urged the Azerbaijani government to think carefully before accepting advice from the International Monetary Fund, following a visit of an IMF delegation to Baku. IMF official John Odling-Smee said at a press conference in Baku on 19 July that discord between the Fund and the Azerbaijani government may be coming to a close. Azerbaijan has in the past disagreed with IMF recommendations about energy prices and bank privatization. But Odling-Smee said that during the IMF delegation's visit to Baku he met with President Heydar Aliev, various ministries and members of the opposition. He said that during negotiations the parties reached agreement on both energy prices and the privatization of the International Bank, but he did not say when either project would begin.

Aliyev refused to meet an earlier delegation due to a disagreement over the IMF recommendation that Azerbaijan raise domestic energy prices to world market levels. Economists in Baku say that would entail the tripling of prices for oil, oil products and electric power. Economist Vusal Gasimov warned that at a time of great national hardship, a rise in energy prices could lead to a social explosion. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service, Gasimov, the head of the Institute of Economic Technologies, said the IMF wants energy prices to rise for businesses, not for private individuals. But he argued that the burden would fall on the poor in any case. As a consequence of the rise in energy prices, some enterprises could go bankrupt, leading to an increase in unemployment.

The IMF delegation said providing macroeconomic stability in the country will promote the creation of jobs. The Fund also argues that what it alleges are secret state energy subsidies for the general population should be showed openly in the budget and paid directly from there. But local experts do not agree with the IMF's arguments, Gasimov said. He said that it is impossible to find a state that could restore its economy on the basis of the IMF's recommendations. On the contrary, there are states that are much stronger that Azerbaijan which are not able to escape economic crises, he said.

The IMF is also pushing for the rapid privatization of two large state-owned banks, International Bank and United Universal Stock Bank, especially the former. The Azerbaijani government has expressed readiness to privatize the International Bank within seven years, but the IMF suggests three years. According to the IMF, the privatization of the bank is necessary to create a free competitive domestic environment and to draw more funds to the bank. But some experts argue that the International Bank is profitable and thus there is no need for its privatization. Moreover, they say, at a time when the economy has not stabilized and the conflict with Armenia remains unsolved, the state should keep its control over the bank. In extreme situations there is no other bank that can meet the state's need for funds, they argue. On the other hand, if the bank is privatized it could fall into foreign hands and thus call the banking security of the republic into question.

Ingilab Ahmedov, the head of the Trend News Agency, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that not only Azerbaijan, but also much of the rest of the world criticizes the IMF's activities. Ahmedov said the government and experts should evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of cooperation with the IMF and if necessary make changes in relations with the organization. He said that the leadership should not cut all ties with the organization once and for all, but must make some changes in its position.

But Gasimov said he doubts it is possible to reconsider relations with the IMF. The United States, he said, has a great interest in the IMF and the Azerbaijani government cannot go against Washington's interests or will. Additionally, a sharp deterioration of relations with the fund could adversely affect international interest in Azerbaijan's economy, Gasimov said.

Since 1994 the IMF has given Azerbaijan credit totaling $400 million for microeconomic stabilization. The government is currently conducting talks with the IMF on financing the Program on the Eradication of Poverty in the republic.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Former U.S. Ambassador Warns Against War For Karabakh
Former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich has cautioned that an Azerbaijani effort to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh by force will lead to casualties without helping displaced people. Kauzlarich is in Baku to take part in a seminar organized by the Society for Democratic Reforms devoted to the settlement of conflicts. Speaking at a press conference with representatives of the Society and the American Peace Institute on 22 July, he said that Azerbaijan seems to incline more and more towards war as a solution to the Karabakh conflict. But he said that in the present circumstances war could inflict even greater casualties on the country and would not return Azeri refugees to their lands. The former ambassador said the parties to the conflict must seek compromise.

In response to a question about the possible effect of an exchange of territories as a resolution to the conflict, Kauzlarich said that the international community would support any agreement leading to a peaceful settlement. Any agreement must of course be accepted first of all by the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples, he said. If they reject a proposal, international organizations will not support it either, Kauzlarich said.

Kauzlarich added that during his visit to Baku he met with the representatives of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and the opposition National Independence Party. He said he had no chance to meet with President Aliev. Kozlarich said that he supports the U.S. administration's call to postpone the referendum on changes to the Constitution planned for 24 August. A delay would give citizens more time to discuss the proposed changes, he said. Kauzlarich declined to express an opinion on the president's stated intention to run for a third term, saying that Azeri citizens should discuss that issue themselves.

At the press conference the Society for Democratic Reforms announced that it had declared the former U.S ambassador a Friend of Azerbaijan.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Party Stages Rally
On 20 July the Azerbaijan Democrat Party (ADP) staged a sanctioned rally, marching from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to the Galaba cinema. Several thousand people demanded that the authorities allow former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev -- who lives in exile in the United States -- to return to Azerbaijan. The protesters also called for the resignation of the president.

(Babek Bekir)

Almost all newspapers comment on President Heidar Aliev's meeting with mass media representatives on the occasion of Press Day, 22 July. An article entitled "Friend and protector of Azerbaijani journalists" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" says that the president has close contacts with media representatives and describes what it calls his constant attention to and concern for the press.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Echo" reports that Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunus is to visit Azerbaijan for the second time. (Some reports suggest that he arrived on 23 July.) Ilham Ismail, a member of the High Council of the opposition Musavat Party, says in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that it would be wrong to suppose that the visit of the Iranian minister is based solely on good will.

According to article entitled "Land waiting for Azeri soldiers" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," Azeris must either dress in women's clothes and make concessions to the Armenians or dress in men's clothes and fight for the liberation of the occupied territories.

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" the heads of three leading opposition parties -- Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party, Etibar Mamedov of the National Independence Party, and Serdar Jalaloglu of the Democrat Party -- have held a meeting at Musavat's headquarters to discuss the planned 24 August referendum on the changes to the Constitution.

The same newspaper writes that Andreas Gross, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who recently finished a four-day visit to Azerbaijan, got enough negative information about Azerbaijan.

Firudin Mamedov, a deputy chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, tells the independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" that the district of Agdam near Karabakh put up some of the strongest resistance to Armenian forces. Mamedov recalls that on 22 February 1988 the Azeri inhabitants of Agdam marched from Agdam to Khankendi (Stepanakert), which was the center of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. If Azeri police forces had not prevented that demonstration, the Karabakh conflict would probably have been solved, Mamedov argues. He says he regrets that the withdrawal of Azeri forces from the district and their movement to Baku during the attempted coup d'etat in 1993 helped lead to the occupation of Agdam. From 11 June to 11 July 1993, 1,500 inhabitants of Agdam perished. Suret Huseinov and Heydar Aliyev who took power in 1993 after the coup d'etat disarmed the local battalions.

Mais Seferli, the chairman of the opposition Compatriot Party and a parliament deputy, tells the newspaper "525" that the opposition decision to boycott the 24 August referendum on the changes to the Constitution is "inappropriate." He says the decision prevents dialogue between the opposition and the government. At present there is a great need for such a dialogue that would put an end to the open hostility between these two camps, he says. Dialogue would benefit the opposition and the leadership, as well as the people in general. Seferli points out that the opposition should not think about a boycott but a dialogue with the leadership, because a dialogue is much better that boycott.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Khanlar Hajiev answers questions about the proposed constitutional changes. He says that people have enough time to discuss the proposed changes and to come to a decision about them. Answering a question about the need for such a large number of changes -- 39 changes to 25 articles of the Constitution -- he said that each change is based on political and legal ideas. The duty of the Constitutional Court is to determine whether or not each change corresponds with the Constitution. He says that the proposed changes do not conflict with the basic norms of the Constitution, because the amendments are directed at strengthening the protection of human rights in the republic.

An author writing only as Rasim in an article entitled "New stage in competition between Moscow and Washington" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the 19-20 July Yalta summit of the leaders of the GUAM group has led to a new confrontation between Washington and Moscow. The United States is now attempting to interest still more states in the organization -- which joins Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova -- while Moscow tries to limit interest. Rasim quotes the Ukrainian president's words that "GUAM has no alternative to cooperation in the economic sphere" and notes that Russia's position prevents economic agreements signed between the member-states from coming into force. According to the author, the ineffectiveness of GUAM's work in all spheres forces the United States to pay more attention to the organization. After the Yalta summit, Washington considers GUAM a new political institution as well as an economic one. That scenario leads to a new confrontation between Moscow and Washington, the author says.

Vusal Gasimli in an article "Bread will rise in price" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat" writes that this year torrential downpours have caused damage to the grain plantations of the republic. To date, 501,100 hectares (some 64 percent of all grain land) have produced only 1,318,400 tons of grain -- 12.7 percent less than what was produced in the corresponding period of last year. The author alleges that no grain gathered in Azerbaijan can be considered suitable for use. First of all the hot weather had a profound negative effect on the grain, he writes. Further, he adds, there are rumors about disease among grain seeds. Gasimli also points out that the situation in Russia, the chief exporter of grain to Azerbaijan, is no better. Despite officials' statements to the contrary, grain -- and as result bread -- could become more expensive. But the author does not exclude the possibility that the government could prevent a rise in price by administrative methods.

(Compiled and translated by Eitbar Rasulov)