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Azerbaijan Report: August 11, 2002

11 August 2002
Referendum Monitoring Battle Heats Up
The confrontation between the Central Election Commission (CEC) and nongovernmental organizations is escalating. The commission has refused to register NGOs as observers for voting in the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution, arguing that the Azerbaijani laws on NGOs do not entitle them to act as monitors. The NGO Congress, which disagrees with the CEC ruling, has said it will bring legal action against the commission.

One NGO, For the Sake of Civic Society, has already begun separate legal proceedings over the dispute. On 1 August, after being refused permission to monitor the referendum, the NGO appealed to the court to investigate the issue. Eldar Ismailov, the head of the organization, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that no individual CEC official has right to rule on NGO requests to observe the referendum. But, he claimed, that was what had happened when Ilgar Alizade, the head of the CEC's legal department, ruled against the NGO. Since the commission is a collective institution it must pass a collective decision, Ismailov argued. He said Alizade had exceeded his authority.

On 5 August the NGO Monitoring Center called for a public protest campaign against the CEC's refusal to allow NGOs to monitor the referendum. But Alizade told RFE/RL that according to the laws on nongovernmental organizations and referenda the CEC has no right to provide NGOs with observer status.

Journalists, meanwhile, have forced the CEC to back down from its initial announcement that press representatives must register with the commission before they will be allowed to observe the voting. The media considered the decision a restriction on freedom of speech and brought legal action against the CEC, which has now said journalists can observe without registering.

The participation of foreign observers, however, looks unlikely. According to Alizade, it is up to the president to invite international observers because he is the one who initiated the referendum. He added that to date no international observers have appealed to the CEC for registration.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the president has invited all international organizations to observe the referendum. Although the OSCE has accepted the invitation, the YAP official said, the organization will not be able to send representatives and therefore has asked its Baku office to prepare an appropriate report on the referendum. Gurbanli said that international organizations do not in general pay much attention to referenda as compared to elections.

But Ismailov of For the Sake of Civic Society disagreed with Gurbanli, saying that the "cool" attitude of international organizations to the 24 August referendum is due to their doubts that the authorities will hold a fair referendum.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Azerbaijani Industrial Figures Disappoint, While Armenia Shines

Industrial production in Azerbaijan increased 1.5 percent during the first six months of 2002, according to figures from the CIS Statistics Committee. That is a slower rate of growth than Azerbaijan has posted in previous years. The committee found that Armenia showed the highest growth in the CIS, at 12.1 percent. (The committee has no information about economic activity in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan.) Most CIS countries experienced industrial growth, the Statistics Committee reported, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, where industrial production declined 13.6 percent.

The highest growth in gross domestic product (GDP) was also observed in Armenia, with 10.1 percent. Azerbaijani GDP increased 8.4 percent. But in Kyrgyzstan the figure declined 4.9 percent.

Vusal Gasimov, the director of the Economic Investigation Institute, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Azerbaijani economists have repeatedly warned that the effectiveness of investments in Azerbaijan's industry is low. Investments are made in industries that do not lead to considerable economic growth. For example, the share of non-oil investments is small relative to the share of the oil sector. Asked the reasons for the slowdown in industrial production, Gasimov said that it is largely due to a decrease in petroleum processing. In other words, the government now prefers to export crude oil rather than to process it into gasoline, kerosene, and other oil products, he said. Gasimov advised the Azerbaijani government to develop non-oil industries in order to get out of its difficult economic situation.

While most Azerbaijani economists cast doubt on the Armenian figures, Gasimov said that they are not exaggerated. He pointed out that the Azerbaijani people continue to believe that the economic situation in Armenia is strained, since Armenia remains aloof from large projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Erzurum gas pipeline, TRACECA, and the North-South corridor, while Georgia, for example, tries to benefit from them. But Gasimov noted that there is considerable Russian and Iranian investment in Armenian industries, while Armenian lobbies abroad provide financial aid to alleviate the situation there. Also, the efficient use of foreign investments gives the Armenian government a chance to achieve significant economic results, he said, adding that another factor that causes high economic growth in Armenia is the cooperation of its nuclear-specialized companies with Iran. Finally, he concluded, the Armenians are exploiting occupied Azerbaijani territories to develop their industries.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

The pro-governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" in an article entitled "The Opposition will again dishonor itself by street protests" writes that the Azerbaijani people realize that the proposed amendments to the constitution serve to strengthen and improve the legal bases of the Azerbaijani state.

An article entitled "Heidar Aliyev wants foreign states to put pressure on Armenia. But why does Aliyev himself not exert such pressure?" in the independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" comments on the upcoming meeting in Nakhchivan between the Azerbaijani leader and Armenian President Robert Kocharian. The author, writing only as Ulvi, says no one doubts that the meeting will end with no result. But it could cast a shadow on the Azerbaijani position that the 11 August presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh are illegal. On the one hand, the Azerbaijani leadership condemns the elections, but on the hand, holds an official meeting with its organizer. That can diminish Azerbaijan's credibility with foreign organizations and countries. Ulvi alleges that the "incompetence and friendliness of the authorities" allow the Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh to pursue their barbaric policy. Even at the Nakhchivan meeting, the Azerbaijani leader will speak about peace negotiations rather than showing the willpower to liberate the occupied territories, he writes.

Hikmet Sabiroglu in a comment entitled "Advantage of the Sadarak meeting" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" discusses the upcoming meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents. Sabiroglu writes that Aliyev and Kocharian have exhausted all opportunities to solve the Karabakh conflict. The two presidents are preparing for presidential elections in 2003 and that fact pushes them to maintain hard-line positions. Besides, both leaders have lost public confidence and are no longer able to make decisions on behalf of their people, the author claims. So Aliyev and Kocharian will not represent two peoples in Sadarak but two similar regimes. These leaders are able to discuss and solve any problem except the Karabakh conflict, Sabiroglu writes. But the upcoming meeting is not quite meaningless, because Kocharian's offensive gestures will cause Aliev's reputation to fall in the eyes of the Azerbaijani people.

Nazim Sabiroglu in an article entitled "Two portraits" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat" writes that despite the age difference and personal dislike between Aliyev and Kocharian it is difficult to imagine either's political fortunes without the other. The end of Aliev's leadership would be the end of Kocharian's power too. But there are also some differences between the two presidents, the author says. Aliyev struggles against the opposition but he uses cleverer methods than the Armenian president does. Aliyev has succeeded in splitting the opposition, which shows that Kocharian is less experienced than Aliev. Kocharian also must learn from Aliyev what to do to convince the Armenian people of the need for territorial exchange.

Etibar Mamedov, the chairman of the opposition National Independence Party, says in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that the opposition has taken several steps toward realizing its decision to boycott the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution. According to Mamedov, the position of opposition parties is based on Azeri law. Under the present laws the constitutional referendum cannot be held in such a form, he argues. Asked about the possibilities that OSCE-sponsored round table discussions on the referendum would serve as a basis for future dialogue between the leadership and the opposition, Mamedov says that the opposition has never avoided dialogue and holds discussions with the authorities. But the leadership, which realizes that its point of view is baseless, is not interested in such dialogue, Mamedov says.

Legal expert Mahmud Hajiev in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" charges Russian organized crime with perpetrating crimes against Azerbaijanis living in Russia. He writes that criminal circles from the Caucasus controlled the "Russian criminal world" till 1988. After that, control passed into the hands of the Russian mafia, one of the world's strongest criminal forces, he claims, adding that criminal groups have succeeded in penetrating Russian state institutions. The author says that what he calls the indifference of the Azerbaijani authorities toward Azerbaijanis living in Russia shows that they do not care for their citizens.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)