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Azerbaijan Report: September 17, 2002

17 September 2002
Opposition Stages Unusually Large Demonstration
An unusually large number of people turned out for a 14 September opposition demonstration in Baku. Supporters of more than 30 opposition parties marched from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) subway station to the Galaba cinema in a sanctioned rally to protest against alleged fraud during last month's constitutional referendum. The opposition claimed that 20,000 people participated in the march, while the government put the figure at less than 3,000 (journalists' estimates ranged from 7,000 to 10,000).

During the two-hour protest the demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Heidar Aliyev and the cancellation of the results of the referendum, which the government said was approved overwhelmingly. Protesters also called for the creation of jobs; the release of residents of the village of Nardaran who have been detained since a confrontation between police and villagers in June; and a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. No clashes between the protesters and policemen were observed. (Babek Bekir)

BP Attempts To Calm Pipeline Controversy
Hiring a company allegedly linked to the Armenian diaspora to build the Azerbaijani section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has caused a major controversy in Azerbaijan. Though the firm, Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), is registered in Greece, its board of directors reportedly consists of Lebanese and Palestinians who maintain close contact with Armenians. Kevork Toroyan, an adviser to the CCC board, is vice president of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund in the United States. He is also the chairman of the Legate's Committee of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America. A group of opposition parties has demanded that the government explain how a company with such ties could be selected for such a high-profile project.

On 12 September, the Karabakh Liberation Organization announced that it would hold protests in front of the office of BP, the operator of the BTC oil pipeline. But David Woodward, BP's associate president in Azerbaijan, said at a 12 September press conference that in choosing a building contractor BP did not consider the nationalities of the companies, but their ability to fulfill the contract. Woodward added that BP had previously worked with CCC in the Middle East. Moreover, he said, information about the companies taking part in the tender was presented to all shareholders of the BTC oil pipeline, including Azerbaijan's national oil company, SOCAR. Woodward said SOCAR supported the decision at all stages of the tender process. Dozens of companies took part in the tender. CCC is due to be paid $155 million for the construction, according to contracts.

The shareholders are BP (38.25 percent), SOCAR (25 percent), Statoil (9.58 percent), Unocal (8.90 percent), TPAO (7.55 percent), Itochu (3.40 percent), and Amerada Hess (8.90 percent). TotalFinaElf has also taken a 5 percent share in the project. Ilham Aliev, vice president of SOCAR, said that there is no reason for concern over CCC's involvement. In an interview with ANS, an independent television station, Aliyev expressed doubt that Armenians hold high positions in the company, so Azerbaijan must not break off its relations with it, he said.

But according to independent experts the issue is not as simple as it seems. Ilham Ismailov, a former Ministry of National Security official and retired colonel, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that at a time when Azerbaijan is legally at war with Armenia, to allow Armenians to derive benefit from Azerbaijan is a moral blow for the Azerbaijani people. Also, he warned, Armenians will get a chance to determine weak points in the BTC oil pipeline. Such precious information could be used against Azerbaijan itself in the future.

Former SOCAR President Sabit Bagirov argued that before entrusting the construction of the pipeline to CCC, BP should have given SOCAR more detailed information about the contractor. He claims that if SOCAR had known about the association of Armenians with CCC, the state oil company would not have allowed BP to get involved in the construction of the pipeline. Bagirov added that the main issue at present is to take requisite measures for ensuring security of the pipeline. He does not exclude the possibility of removing CCC from the BTC project. (Natig Zeinalli)

President Issues Pro-Business Decree
The government of Azerbaijan is trying to encourage the repatriation of money taken out of the country. On 10 September, President Aliyev signed a decree designed to increase state support for the development of entrepreneurship. Among other measures, Paragraph 8 of the decree guarantees that the government will not inquire into the origin of funds brought into Azerbaijan from abroad by Azerbaijani citizens. In other words, Azerbaijani citizens can invest in businesses in the country without declaring where their property originated.

According to Gubad Ibadoglu, the chairman of the Musavat Party's Economic Policy Commission, the decree seems progressive in comparison with earlier ones. But he says that little in the decree is new. The problem is that there is no concrete mechanism for implementing commands such as the president's order to the cabinet, parliament, and relevant ministries to eliminate factors that hinder the development of entrepreneurship.

If no such mechanism is created, Ibadoglu argues, it will not be possible to implement the measures intended to support entrepreneurship. Implementing these measures would mean changing the government's present economic course 180 degrees, he says. Ibadoglu doubts that all the proposals in the decree are practical, especially Paragraph 8. According to Ibadoglu, it would better if the government announced a general amnesty for all funds taken out of Azerbaijan.

But Kerem Aliev, a member of the Parliamentary Economic Policy Commission, supports the decree. He notes that the president is going to issue a further decree intended to eliminate factors that hinder the development of entrepreneurship. Businessmen should be pleased with the president, he claims.

Touching upon the mechanism for implementing the decree, Aliyev said that during his visit to Ganja the president warned some tax and law-enforcement bodies that he said prevent the development of entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

The ceremony launching construction of the Azerbaijani section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export pipeline will be held on 18 September. The official government newspaper "Azerbaycan," in an article entitled "Heidar Aliev's consistent position made Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan a reality," points out that the realization of this project is in the strategic interests of the world superpower -- the U.S.

According to the article "$300,000 to Clinton for BTC" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat," a Lebanese businessman contacted the White House to enlist support for the construction of BTC.

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar says in an interview with the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" that the opposition Democratic Congress supports the laying of the BTC oil pipeline. But the congress opposes entrusting the construction of the pipeline to an Arab company, he says, and therefore demands that the government, SOCAR, and BP explain why CCC was chosen for the project.

Mirbagir Yagubzade, in an article titled "Pipeline of the century realized" published in the progovernmental newspaper "Khalg," writes that forces which called the BTC oil pipeline a pipe dream in the past continue to cast a shadow over the project. They now claim that Armenians will construct the oil pipeline and thus revenues from the oil export will be directed against the Azerbaijani people, the author writes. Some people with "diseased minds" even allege that there is a special deal between the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities. Yagubzade dismisses the idea that revenues from the construction will be directed against Azerbaijan. The BTC oil pipeline is in the interests of the Azerbaijani people, the author concludes.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "525," Hidaet Orujov, a state adviser for national issues, rejects the notion that the rights of national minorities in Azerbaijan are violated. Therefore, there is no need to prepare a special law on national minorities, he says.

Xalig Bahadir, in an article titled "Heidar Aliev's Ganja performance" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," comments on the president's controversial visit to Azerbaijan's second city last week, where he was heckled. According to Bahadir, most of the city's inhabitants are leaving their native town because of difficult living conditions. Total destruction in the town has turned Ganja into an occupied zone, he claims. The residents suffer from unemployment, as well as problems with gas, water, and electricity. But the most interesting element, the author writes, is that the president proved to know all this. He notes that Aliyev gave strict instructions to the local authorities to improve the social situation in the town. But that was a simple performance, a performance of "false measures," Bahadir writes.

An author writing only as Garakhanli in the article "Imitation of unity," in the newspaper "Azerbaycan," notes that the opposition agenda faces two challenges: cohesion and agreeing on a single joint candidate in the presidential elections in 2003. Despite the cooperation of a broad range of opposition parties in the struggle against the constitutional referendum, there is no real unity in the opposition, merely an imitation of it, the author claims. The united protests against the vote on amendments to the constitution do not mean there is cohesion among the opposition parties. Unlike in presidential elections, there are no personal interests or competition in a referendum campaign, he points out. Though opposition leaders attempt to demonstrate their common ground to the people, their unity is very fragile. According to Garakhanli, it is self-evident that when the issue of a common presidential candidate is discussed, splits within the opposition are unavoidable.

An author writing only as Ulvi in the article "People rot in Baku's bazaars," in the independent newspaper "Yeni zaman," argues that since there are no normal conditions for trade in bazaars in Baku, there is a serious and growing lack of sanitation. For example, traders must sell in the open air irrespective of the weather. As a result they suffer sunstroke and freeze. Moreover, because of the absence of asphalt, the bazaars turn into mud after it rains. Fruit and vegetables sold at such places are the sources of various illnesses, the author writes. What is most interesting is that the authorities who are responsible for the street trade close their eyes to the unsanitary conditions at bazaars -- not because the law bans them from combating it, but because of bribes that are taken from the heads of bazaars, he claims. Ulvi concludes that the head of the Baku executive authority, who boasts of his urban clean-up program, should visit the bazaars and conduct a clean-up there.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)