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Azerbaijan Report: September 10, 2002

10 September 2002
Opposition Appeals Referendum Results In Court
Ten leading opposition parties have agreed to take legal action in an effort to annul the results of last month's referendum on amendments to the constitution. At a meeting on 4 September, the 10 parties, which did not recognize the results of the 24 August referendum, appealed to international organizations to reject the referendum results.

The opposition is planning to march from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to the Galaba cinema on 14 September to urge the authorities to cancel the results of the referendum. The government claims there was nearly 100 percent support for the 39 changes to the constitution with 88 percent voter turnout, while the opposition says turnout was closer to 15 percent, which would render the vote invalid. The demonstrators will also call for the resignation of the president and for holding free and fair elections.

The opposition Azerbaijan Democrat Party has already appealed to Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov and Sabail district court to cancel the results and to institute criminal proceedings against Central Election Commission Chairman Mezahir Penahov.

Two days after the results were announced, the four major opposition parties that monitored the referendum issued a joint statement and appealed to the Central Election Commission with the same demand. The commission did not act on the application. Natig Jabiev, who handles election issues for the Democrat Party, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that if the prosecutor-general ignores their demand to cancel the results of the referendum, the opposition will appeal to international courts.

At the 4 September meeting, the opposition leaders also supported the demands of the more than 1,000 cadets who walked out of the High Military School last week in protest against the difficult conditions they say they had to suffer. (For more about the walkout, see article below.) The opposition said the incident was intended to attract public attention to alleged corruption and lack of discipline in the Azerbaijani armed forces.

Furthermore, the opposition leaders demanded an explanation for the fact that a company alleged to have close ties to Armenians has been awarded a contract to work on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export oil pipeline (BTC). The politicians signed a document titled "Explanation demanded from the authorities," in which the parties expressed their discontent that the construction of the Azerbaijani part of the BTC oil pipeline had been entrusted to Consolidated Contractors International Company. Though the company is registered in Greece, its board of directors reportedly consists of Lebanese and Palestinians who maintain close contact with Armenians. The board's chief adviser is Kevork Toroyan, vice president of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund in the United States. He is also chairman of the Legate's Committee of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in the United States. Toroyan has visited Yerevan and Khankendi (Stepanakert), capital of the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, and has made statements against Azerbaijan. (Natig Zeinalli and Maarif Chingizoglu)

Cadets Stage Walkout From Military Academy
On 3 September, between 1,200 and 2,000 cadets of the High Military School left the academy in protest against what they called harsh conditions and the school's new leadership. According to an official statement from the Defense Ministry, all the cadets were detained in different areas of Baku and taken back to the school.

The cadets complained about a change in their lesson hours and limits to their free time. According to parents of cadets, after military experts from Turkey who worked at the school left in March and April of this year, conditions at the academy worsened. Therefore, the future officers have demanded the return of the Turkish officers to the school.

Several news agencies have reported that five of the participants in the walkout were hospitalized. According to unconfirmed reports, they were assaulted while they were being taken back to school, but Defense Ministry officials have rejected those reports. According to high-ranking officials in the Defense Ministry, the incident is still being investigated and an official reaction will be announced soon. (Babek Bekir)

Russia To Introduce Migration Cards
The Russian government plans to introduce migration cards for foreigners by November. Andrei Chernenko, head of the Russian Federal Migration Service, said the migration card will cost foreigners $100.

According to unofficial figures, there are up to 2 million Azerbaijanis living in Russia. Many of them already face difficulties in registering with the authorities, and observers say the introduction of the migration card could complicate their situation.

Mais Seferli, chairman of the Yurtdash (Compatriot) Party, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the Azerbaijani authorities must take a stand on the issue and not make concessions to Russia. According to Seferli, Moscow is attempting to use Azerbaijanis living in Russia as a lever against Baku. The Azerbaijani government must either improve the domestic economic situation so Azerbaijanis are not forced to emigrate, or find effective methods for withstanding Russian pressure, Seferli said. (Babek Bekir)

The official government newspaper "Azerbaycan" says in an article titled "The Opposition's Referendum Propaganda Failed" that Azerbaijani citizens participated actively in the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution.

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes in an article titled "The Secret Of 2003" that at present, one topical subject is the presidential elections to be held in autumn 2003. The paper says that most of the Azerbaijani population thinks that if the opposition loses the election, it will mean the end of the world. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Liberal Party, Lale Shovket Hajieva, announced her candidacy in those elections in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo."

The progovernment newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," in an article titled "United-Candidate Idea Of Opposition Or Recognition Of Weakness," argues that the contradictions inside the opposition make its unification impossible.

Zerdusht Alizade, co-chairman of the Social-Democrat Party, comments in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" on the presidential decree on preventing the dissemination of state secrets in the media. According to Alizade, the decree is de facto doomed to die. Separately, in an interview with the newspaper "Zerkalo," Reporters Sans Frontieres Secretary-General Robert Menard says that the provision presents a danger to press freedom in Azerbaijan.

The progovernment newspaper "Khalg" writes that the government has realized various projects within the framework of the United Nations Development Program.

Qudsu Asifli writes in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that the leadership has gotten into the habit of blaming each public and political event on "foreign forces." The government regularly charges the Azerbaijani opposition with cooperating with foreign forces. The government says that these forces are behind every incident directed against the authorities. But according to Asifli, everything that happens inside the state is the deed of the "humble and dissatisfied" Azerbaijani people. In fact, the only domestic forces that work for foreigners and strike a blow against the people are the authorities themselves, Asifli says. Those who talk so much about "foreign forces" are either irresponsible or apprehensive people, he argues, since authorities have not revealed the names of these forces.

The chairman of the Democrat Party, Rasul Guliev, comments on the referendum in an interview with the newspaper "Hurriyyet," which is associated with his party. The former speaker of parliament, who now lives in exile in the United States, says that there is no doubt that President Heidar Aliyev wants to bring his son to power. For that purpose, he held a referendum on amendments to the constitution and is now creating an artificial hotbed of tension, the opposition politician says. Guliev adds that he is sure that the Azerbaijani people will never allow the president's son to come to power. As for the U.S. attitude toward the issue, Guliev says that Washington would never act against the will of the Azerbaijani people.

Elchin Yusifoglu, in the article "The Leadership's National Statehood Strategy" in the newspaper "Hurriyyet," claims that Azerbaijanis have never been so dissatisfied with the authorities as they are now. Since 1993, when President Aliyev returned to power, lawlessness has reached such heights that people are forced to struggle against the system. The author writes that the democratic image of the country gained in 1992 has been reduced to a new low.

Murshud Memmedli, deputy chairman of the Amal intelligentsia movement, in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman," disagrees with the view that Azerbaijanis have not supported the opposition in previous protests. Memmedli recalls the demonstrations held in August, September, and October 1998 as examples of the people's support for the opposition. But he acknowledges that the opposition was not able to realize the hopes of the people. The opposition postponed several protests and thus deceived the people, he argues. As a result, the population no longer shows any interest in protests. According to Memmedli, the opposition first must regain the people's trust. More important, it must decide on a united candidate before the 2003 presidential elections. Memmedli is sure that national interests will force the opposition to choose a single candidate because the people demand it.

Elbrus Jaferli, in an article titled "Students and the Demands of a New Academic Year" in the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," writes that while private Azerbaijani educational institutions are short of students, departments of Russian institutes of higher education in Baku are filling their classes. As these "institutes of higher education" are acting without a license, their diplomas are not recognized in Azerbaijan. According to the author, the main reason for the students' interest in these institutes is low tuition fees.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "525," deputy parliamentary speaker Govher Bakhishalieva discusses problems in the education system. Bakhishalieva says that most village schools are deficient. Most schools are lacking modern techniques and technology and need to acquire them, she says.

In the article "Children Do Not Go To school" in the newspaper "Azadlig," Zamin Haji writes that knowledge has given way to the bazaar, and Azerbaijani schools are more like rag fairs than educational centers. A place where teachers take bribes from pupils cannot be called a school, Haji writes. According to the author, one of the great sins of President Aliyev is the popularization of bribery in Azerbaijani educational institutions. After taking over as first secretary of the Communist Party in 1969, Aliyev created a chain of bribes that turned the relation between teachers and students into a market stall. In order to be a teacher, one must pay a bribe totaling $300-$500 and become a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), Haji says. The author recalls the president's meeting with pupils on 1 September. There, Aliyev said he loved children. But Stalin also liked to be photographed with children whose fathers he put into prison, the author observes.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov.)