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Azerbaijan Report: August 14, 2002

14 August 2002
Opposition Quarrels with OSCE
Several opposition parties threatened to walk out of an OSCE-sponsored round-table discussion on amendments to the Constitution last week following a dispute over the agenda. The opposition demanded before the 8 August discussion that the day's agenda include issues related to holding the referendum itself, such as transparency and election commissions, a deviation from the agenda. But the moderator of the discussion, OSCE Baku office head Peter Burhard, stuck to the original plan and limited discussion to referenda on taxes, appointments and other issues.

Burhard met with the leaders of five opposition parties the next day to try to resolve the disagreement. Ilias Ismailov, the chairman of the opposition Adalat (Justice) Party � which did walk out on 8 August � said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that during the meeting the parties expressed their discontent to Burhard. Burhard, he said, promised to discuss the opposition�s proposals with appropriate OSCE institutions and to present an official response at the beginning of the following week.

The Azeri opposition mass media and some opposition leaders allege that the OSCE is under the authorities' influence. But Ali Kerimli, the head of the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, told RFE/RL that he did not believe that such an influential organization as the OSCE could fall under the influence of the Azeri government. Kerimli said that he would wait for the OSCE response to the opposition complaints voiced during the 9 August meeting.

The 8 August round-table was the third in an OSCE-sponsored series on the upcoming referendum on changes to the Constitution. All the round-table discussions are being shown on state television. The last two discussions are scheduled for 15 August and 20 August.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Baku Counts Toll Of Karabakh Conflict
Nearly 5,000 Azeris are still missing eight years after the cease-fire was agreed in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons. The commission reports that 4,956 Azeris remain unaccounted for in the conflict zone, including 69 children, 320 women and 358 elderly people. By Baku's official count, Armenia still holds 783 Azeri prisoners. Armenia, however, asserts that it is holding only one man. According to official Azeri documents, 1,326 people were released from prison from 1988 to 2002, including 129 children, 312 women and 246 elderly people.

Azerbaijani investigations suggest that at least some Azeri prisoners have been killed in cold blood. Eight bodies were repatriated to Azerbaijan in 1994 with Red Cross help following what an official Armenian press-communiqu� called an escape attempt. But a medical examination concluded that the prisoners were killed from a short distance, with a shot to the temple. Additionally, some of the bodies had been mutilated. Derek Pounder, an eminent scientist and a member of the British association Doctors for Human Rights, confirmed the medical experts' conclusion.

Witnesses say that Azeris held captive in Armenia suffer inhuman treatment. Hasan Huseinov, a former captive, said that while he was kept prisoner he was witness to the killing of 26 of 40 Azeri prisoners. Budag Alishanov, another former prisoner, said an Armenian called Arkadi forced five Azeri captives to perform hard labor and then killed them. Raise Nuhieva, also a former captive, said that a female prisoner committed suicide after having been tortured along with her little daughter.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Shevaliov, an ethnic Russian, was taken prisoner in the Agdam district. He said that he did not leave the town because he hoped that the Armenians would not touch civilians or Russians in general. But Shevaliov's hopes were in vain and Armenian forces killed his mother, sister and bedridden brother, he said.

Baku says that as a result of the Karabakh conflict 4,366 social and cultural establishments, 490 medical units, 22 museums and six state theatres and concert studios were destroyed. Some 18,000 Azeri citizens were killed, more than 20,000 people were wounded and more than 50,000 people became invalids, according to official statistics.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Suffering of Karabakh War Veterans Continues

The number of Karabakh war veterans who attempt suicide because of difficult living condition is increasing. In the past six weeks two Karabakh invalids living in Imishli district attempted suicide, one successfully. The war invalids complained of a lack of consideration for their problems from local government administrations.

Etimad Asadov, chairman of the banned Karabakh War Invalids Society said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that suicide was the logical result of the leadership's attitude to people who have given their health for the freedom of their motherland. According to Asadov, the authorities are encouraging the Azeri people to forget the occupied territories and the veterans. Asadov said that the authorities have tried to limit the activities of veterans' associations that criticize the government.

Asadov added that some Karabakh war invalids die of illness, because they cannot afford to purchase necessary medicines.

(Babek Bekir)

The pro-governmental newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg" give detailed commentaries on President Heydar Aliev�s visit to Nakhchivan, which began on 10 August.

The independent newspaper "Tezadlar" in an article entitled "Islamic danger or danger to Islam" argues that Azeri officials' attitude toward the village of Nardaran, where the government and villagers have been involved in a confrontation for more than two months, is like the U.S. attitude toward Iraq and Iran. The independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" also discusses the situation in Nardaran. According to the newspaper, the inhabitants of Nardaran are allowing no one except residents to have the floor at their protests in order to prevent their demands from being politicized.

The newspaper "Khalg" in the article "The Azerbaijani leadership's correct domestic and foreign policies bear fruit" points out that the Azeri gross domestic product increased 8.4 per cent in the first six months of the year.

According to the independent newspaper "525" the upcoming meeting between Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian on 14 August will result in a more advantageous position for Baku.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," citing President Aliev, writes that the so-called presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh on 11 August will not have an influence on the meeting with the Armenian president.

Ferhad Memmedov in the article "Vagueness around the Sedarak meeting" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" comments on the upcoming meeting between the Armenian and Azeri presidents. According to some analysts, the presidents will discuss the option of exchanging territories. President Aliyev announced this spring that during negotiations in Paris in 2001 the parties agreed to exchange the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, for Armenia's Megri district, which would link Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan. But President Kocharian later broke the agreement, according to the Azeri president. Armenia denies agreeing to such a deal, and charges President Aliyev with lying and breaking the Paris agreement. But it seems that the parties have come to an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, Memmedov writes, and the agreement suits the Armenians. In other words President Aliyev agreed to give Karabakh the status it demanded � independence � in exchange for a corridor to Nakhchivan through Armenia. According to the author, there is considerable vagueness around this second Sedarak meeting of the two presidents. Memmedli recalls that Aliyev and Kocharian were supposed to sign a peace agreement after the first Sedarak meeting in the autumn of 1999, but the deal was never concluded because of events including the shooting of a number of politicians in Armenia�s parliament and the resignation of several senior politicians in Azerbaijan.

Asif Marzili in an article entitled "Why is the Commander-in-Chief worried about breaches of the cease-fire?" in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that instead of inspiring refugees to fight to liberate the occupied territories the authorities provide them with beautiful homes. The Armenians need the cease-fire in order to kill the Azeri refugees' willingness to return to their lands, Marzili argues. Therefore the president must not get anxious, but be glad about last week's breach of the cease-fire, in which an Azeri officer was killed. Marzili also claims that the president blames Azeri soldiers for breaching the cease-fire. According to him, Armenian snipers are obliged to open fire on Azeri soldiers who raise their heads from the trenches. Marzili writes that if the Armenian snipers are aiming at Azeri soldiers, it means that we should be prepared to go to war.

Sebuhi Memmedli in the article "Soldier defending his motherland" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that about 5,000 soldiers have died during the cease-fire, which was agreed in 1994. Most of them did not die from Armenian bullets or as sacrifices to Armenian snipers, as the president claims, he writes. On the other hand it is meaningless to prohibit the soldiers from raising their heads above the trenches. It is also difficult to imagine that the Azeri forces open fire on the enemy, the author writes. Unlike the Armenians, Azeri soldiers are punished for such crimes. According to Memmedli, at present soldiers face cruel treatment from their commanders. Those who cannot endure the pressure commit suicide. Soldiers kill their commanders, and all this takes place not in the Middle Ages but in our times, he concludes.

Famil Ahmedli in an article entitled "There are also other important events in addition to the referendum" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that the opposition will be unmasked again during the next street protests. According to Ahmedli, the happiest time for the opposition is the pre-protest period. The opposition parties attempt to convince themselves that an upcoming protest will be grand and their aims will soon be achieved. But then it turns out that the protest is like a grand show rather than a mass meeting, the writer says. Ahmedli notes that the political forces in the opposition camp struggle for the right to be called "opposition." Some parties consider the opposition to be parties that hold regular protests against the authorities. Those parties that do not support street protest tactics are charged with cooperating with the leadership. Now even an international organization such as the OSCE is faced with the same charge, Ahmedli concludes.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)