26 September 2002
NEWS BRIEFSCouncil of Europe to Discuss Human Rights in Azerbaijan
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is to hear reports this week judging how well Azerbaijan has fulfilled the obligations it undertook when it joined the Council of Europe. PACE will consider the report, in which rapporteurs Andreas Gross and Martinez Casan express concern about recent developments in Azerbaijan, on 26 September during its regular autumn session in Strasbourg. The report has stirred up heated discussions among Azerbaijani experts.
The report includes information about the ongoing unrest in the village of Nardaran, near Baku; the 24 August Constitutional referendum; and alleged political prisoners. PACE recommends releasing the Nardaran residents imprisoned during the 3 June incident in the village. Moreover, according to the report, there were innumerable instances of falsification during the referendum on amendments to the Constitution.
The report also touches the issue of retrial of Isgandar Hamidov, a former interior minister; Rahim Qaziev, a former defense minister; and Alikram Humbatov, the leader of the short-lived, self-proclaimed Talysh-Mughan Republic. The Council of Europe considers all three to be political prisoners, a charge that the Azerbaijani government rejects. The report calls for all three retrials to be carried out freely and justly, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, and added that the Azeri government must hasten to release sick prisoners.
According to Ilham Aliev, the head of Azerbaijan�s delegation to PACE, there are some preconceived notions in the report. It does not reflect Azeri realities, he alleges. But Eldar Namazov, the head of the nongovernmental Public Forum for Azerbaijan, supported the report. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service, he said that violations of human rights, the arrest of people because of their political opinion and falsification of elections are undeniable Azeri realities. The Azeri authorities have not made radical reforms in these areas and therefore the Council of Europe has good reason to criticize Azerbaijan, he said.
Rabiyyet Aslanova, the vice-chairwoman of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission, said in an interview with RFE/RL that serious strides toward the development of human rights in Azerbaijan have been made since 1993. The process has accelerated since the country joined the Council of Europe, she said. In December 2001 Azerbaijan joined the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, the office of Ombudsman has been established and the number of national bodies dealing with human rights is increasing, Aslanova added.
State Religious Committee Closes Religious Schools
At a 20 September press conference Rafig Aliev, the chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Entities, delivered a report on the status of religious bodies in Azerbaijan. Aliyev said that after a long muddle, the committee had to register religious organizations again. (Registering with the government allows religious bodies to act as legal entities.) To date, 138 religious communities have been registered. One of the chief duties of the committee is to evaluate the work of madrasah and other religious schools, the committee head said. After investigations, 22 out of 26 madrasahs were closed due to irregularities in their activities such as the failure to teach according to the official Ministry of Education program and employing teachers who were not citizens of Azerbaijan.
Aliyev also touched on the issue of regulating missionary activity. All religious organizations and religions are equal under Azerbaijani law, Aliyev said. No religious communities in Azerbaijan have special privileges. Aliyev also noted that more and more Azeri Muslims are converting to Christianity. Since the state is separate from religion in Azerbaijan, the authorities do not interfere in the process. But in cases where religious bodies or missionary organizations break the law, the government forbids their activities, he added.
Aliyev expressed his concern over the role of religious bodies in the unrest in Nardaran. He agreed with the official finding that foreign religious forces played a role in the incident, but added that there is no widespread support for religious organizations in Azerbaijan. According to Aliev, though provocative religious literature continues to be distributed free among the population, officials have made progress in preventing the illegal importation of such literature.
International observers including the Council of Europe, OSCE, United Nations and U.S. State Department have all recently reported that Azerbaijan limits freedom of religion. The committee has held four international conferences and taken several measures in order to improve the situation in this sphere, Aliyev said, and international organizations no longer believe there are restrictions on religion in Azerbaijan, he claimed.
PRESS REVIEWThe independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" in an article entitled "Candidate" analyzes the chances that various high-ranking officials will run for president.
Former Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" says that the separatist wars in Azerbaijan and Georgia have not yet finished and could flare up at any time.
The official government newspaper "Azerbaycan" in the article "Realization of the BTC oil pipeline was a blow to anti-national opposition propaganda" argues that last week's official launch of pipeline construction has forced skeptical opposition parties to change their opinion 180 degrees.
The independent newspaper "525" writes that on 25 September the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group will visit Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," meanwhile, quotes Azeri experts as saying that there is nothing to be expected from the present visit of the negotiators to the region.
An author writing only as Mehebbet in an article entitled "What is the reason for Aliev's tilt toward Russia?" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" says that since Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Azerbaijan at the beginning of 2001, there has been a notable warming in relations between the two countries. It is due primarily to the Russian president's pragmatic attitude to Azerbaijan, the author writes. As a result, the parties have signed agreements on the Gabala radar station and the status of the Caspian. But according to Mehebbet, the agreements are much more in the interests of Russia than of Azerbaijan. For example, for the use of a radar station in Cuba, Moscow pays Havana $200 million a year. But for the use of the Gabala radar station Azerbaijan gets only $13.5 million. That means that President Heydar Aliyev compromises the national interests of Azerbaijan in favor of Russia's, the author writes. Citing several unnamed observers, he concludes that Aliev, who could not enlist the support of the West, now pins all his hopes on Russia.
Political scientist Mubariz Ahmedoglu in an article in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" complains about what he calls the Azerbaijani people's strange attitude to the Caspian Sea. According to him, the people are, in general, interested in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But that does not mean that problems surrounding the Caspian should be forgotten, he warns. Ahmedoglu says that the recent agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan will put an end to Azerbaijani trouble regarding the disputed sea. Moscow, which threatened Azerbaijan in the past, now supports the Azerbaijani opinion on the division of the Caspian. Russia is also interested in attracting foreign investment to the region, Ahmedoglu concludes.
An author writing only as Teziz in an article entitled "United candidate obsession comes to grief again" in the pro-government newspaper "Khalg" writes that it is no accident that the opposition is seeking to find a common presidential candidate for next year's elections. The chief purpose of the opposition is to deceive the people and portray itself as a center of power that can affect public affairs. According to Teziz, the opposition Democrat, Musavat, People's Front and National Independence parties and other political bodies which he says have the financial support of foreign organizations hold protests to demonstrate the "cohesion" of the opposition camp. But that does not mean that their obsession with a united candidate will be realized, he argues. Even the chairmen of the Liberal and National Independence parties admit that the realization of this idea is impossible, he claims. In other words, the opposition parties continue to deceive each other, Teziz concludes.
Nushabe Sadikhli, the deputy chairman of the "classic" wing of the Azerbaijan People's Front Party (APFP) discusses the possibility of the reunification of the two wings of the party in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig." According to her, if the two wings are united, the flow of members to the party will increase. The Azerbaijani authorities know that and therefore attempt to prevent the unification, she claims. Moreover, those people in the opposition who hinder the reunification of the party serve the present leadership, she argues.
Nazim Sabiroglu in the article "Nardaran's significance and the Pankisi gorge" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat" writes that the authorities want to isolate the residents of Nardaran from the rest of the world. The leadership attempts to link the problems in Nardaran with Iran and foreign intelligence services. The ultimate aim is to charge the people of Nardaran with terrorism and cooperation with foreign forces and begin an anti-terror operation in the village, according to Sabiroglu. He argues that President Aliyev has set such a trap in Nardaran that everybody is now in trouble. Opposition politicians are not able to visit the village. Nardaran, with its 8,000 residents, signifies 4,000 votes in next year's presidential elections. The opposition realizes that and therefore supports what Sabiroglu calls the true struggle of the inhabitants of Nardaran. But opposition leaders are not able to meet with them. They are afraid of possible provocation by the authorities. Even Hajibala Abutalibov, the head of the Baku Executive Authority (essentially the city's mayor), is forbidden to enter the village. The authorities themselves come to Nardaran to kidnap people, the author writes, following the seizure of Hadji Djabrail Alizade, the head of the Union of Baku and Villages, from the village last week.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)