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Azerbaijan Report: August 2, 2002

2 August 2002
Opposition Announces Referendum Boycott
Nearly 30 opposition parties announced on 30 July that they had agreed to boycott the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution.

The parties had earlier issued a statement demanding that the date of the referendum be put back a month and that the opposition be allowed to speak on the state television and radio in order to express their opinion on the planned changes. In response the authorities called an extraordinary session of parliament in order to enlist the support of deputies. Parliament voted on 29 July by a vote of 94 to five to endorse the referendum.

Etibar Mamedov, the chairman of the opposition National Independence Party, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the opposition's agreement to boycott the vote was a response to a leadership that does not want to take opposition demands into account. He said that the opposition parties have formed a special council to coordinate mass protests and monitor voting during the referendum.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Azerbaijan Announces Pipeline-Funding Scheme
President Heidar Aliyev signed a decree on 30 July on financing the Azerbaijani share in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Main Oil Export Pipeline. Under the decree, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) will seek loans from international financial institutions in order to finance about 70 percent of Azerbaijan's share. BP, Norway's Statoil, and Unocal of the U.S. will guarantee the loan, in exchange for which Azerbaijan will undertake to give the companies 2 million barrels of oil after exploitation of the BTC pipeline. The government will pay for the remaining 30 percent of Azerbaijan's share from domestic cash reserves.

Gubad Ibadoglu, editor in chief of the magazine "Ekspert," criticized the funding plan in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. He said that SOCAR has sufficient cash resources to cover the whole expense. Alternatively, Azerbaijan could have obliged participating companies to cover the country's share of the expenses when signing agreements on BTC. Ibadoglu said that the 2 million barrels of oil that the authorities are going to hand over in exchange for loan guarantees are worth $50 million at current prices. Additionally, taking out loans will leave Azerbaijan with annual payments of $5 million to $7.5 million.

But Ali Alirzaev, an economist and member of parliament, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that from the standpoint of controlling expenses and allocating funds during the project, the loans are advantageous to Azerbaijan.

The budget of the BTC Main Oil Export Pipeline Project comes to $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion. Azerbaijan is to contribute 25 percent of the amount, or $700-800 million.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Russia Launches Joint Military Exercises in Caspian
On 1 August Russia launched the largest military exercise in the Caspian Sea since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two other littoral states, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, will participate, while the remaining two Caspian states, Turkmenistan and Iran, will observe the exercises.

Ramiz Melikov, a spokesman for Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense said in an interview with RFE/RL that Azerbaijani naval troops will join the training on 8 August.

According to Russia's Interfax news agency, the first stage of the exercises, which will last from 1 to 7 August, consists of training for officers. The active stage of the exercises will be held from 8 to 15 August.

Although Tehran has criticized the exercises, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in an interview with the Russian RIA-Novosti news agency that the training in the Caspian does not threaten littoral states. He said the military presence of Russia in the Caspian Sea is a guarantee of stability and security in the region.

Military expert Azad Isazade said that the Russian maneuvers will hasten the settlement of the lingering dispute over the status of the Caspian Sea. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, he said that the exercises cannot be considered a show of force since Russia is not holding them alone but together with other littoral states. Isazade added that it would be better for Turkmenistan and Iran to participate in the training and protect the security of the sea with other littoral states. Isazade said that he had no information about the level of Azerbaijani forces taking part in the exercises but noted that Azerbaijan has the second-largest navy in the region after Russia.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, on the other hand, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that if Iran and Turkmenistan had made concessions on the status of the sea, there would have been no need for the exercises. He noted that because the Caspian connects Europe and Asia, terrorists and drug dealers could use it as a transit corridor from Afghanistan via Iran or Turkmenistan to Europe. Therefore, he said, there is a great need for such training in the sea. Ahmedoglu added that regardless of the level of Azerbaijani forces taking part in the maneuvers, Baku's decision to participate is of great political importance.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Magazine Loses Libel Case
The independent magazine "Monitor" lost a defamation case brought by the Defense Ministry and was ordered on 29 July to pay a multimillion-manat fine. The court fined the magazine and journalist Einulla Fetullaev 50 million manats (about $10,300) for libel.

The Defense Ministry brought the libel suit against the magazine in April. After a long trial the court accepted the complaint and imposed the fine.

Fetullaev alleged in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that during the trial the court acted on orders from above. He noted that neither state nor private publishing houses dared deal with the magazine, and therefore the company has been forced to go underground. Fetullaev said that on the one hand, the president tries to present himself as a friend of journalists but on the other hand, the courts continue their attacks on the media.

Under the present regime "Monitor" has been taken to court several times for criticizing the authorities.

(Babek Bekir)

The pro-government newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg" and the independent newspaper "525" all publish a joint statement from the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Interior Ministry on the unrest in the village of Nardaran not far from the capital, Baku. The statement lists official measures being taken to stabilize the situation and what the government considers the causes of the unrest to be.

Ali Hasanov, the head of presidential Department for Social-Political Affairs, comments in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" on the clashes that took place in June in Nardaran. He said that if the incident had happened because the inhabitants had made specific demands, it would be easy to resolve them. But, he argues, the villagers are being used to provoke the authorities. Therefore the leadership wants to solve the problem without emotions and without reacting to the provocation. In a separate article, "Zerkalo" reports that the government accuses the village's religious council of stirring up the trouble.

The newspaper "Azerbaycan" in an article entitled "People's Front will not be able to unite" writes that one of the reasons for the split in the opposition party is the internal struggle for the post of chairman.

Etibar Mamedov, the chairman of the opposition National Independence Party, alleges in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that the government already knows the results of the upcoming 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution.

Political scientist Rasim Musabekov in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" calls the possibility of joint Azerbaijani-Iranian exploitation of disputed Araz-Alov-Sharg oil field "nonsense." Azerbaijan cannot cede the field to Iran or to any other country, he argues, but it would be possible to allow Iranian companies to buy shares in the structure. According to Musabekov, Iran is in fact not very interested in exploiting oil fields in the Caspian Sea since it can export much more oil from the fields in the Persian Gulf. Azerbaijani geologists discovered the Araz-Alov-Sharg oil field back in the Soviet period, and therefore the right to exploit the field belongs to Azerbaijan, he says.

An author writing only as Kamal in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" analyses the address of Sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade, the head of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, in which he called on clerics to take active part in the constitutional referendum. In the article "Combination of religion and politics," Kamal argues that religious leaders who call on clerics to support the referendum have never invited the president to visit the Shia villages around Baku where people live in difficult conditions. Their support for the referendum means that they are thinking about keeping their posts, rather than about Muslims, Kamal concludes.

Vugar Bairamov in the article "Will new economic sanctions be imposed against Azerbaijan?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes that according to U.S. bodies and international organizations several Azerbaijani organizations are engaged in the illegal export of caviar and fish. Although it is difficult to locate the culprits behind such illegal activities it is not hard to identify the organizations that are engaged in caviar export, the author says. Even Washington knows them well.

Deputy Minister of Culture Vagif Mustafaev observes in an interview with the newspaper "525" that there is no film school in Azerbaijan. Speaking on National Cinema Day, the deputy minister says it is difficult to discern specific national characteristics in Azerbaijani films. According to Mustafaev, it is not possible to create a national school or curriculum with only two or three producers. Ten or 15 prominent producers must come together, he says.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)