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Azerbaijan Report: October 1, 2002

1 October 2002
Minsk Group Co-Chairs Visit Baku
The French, Russian and U.S co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov visited Baku at the end of September to continue discussions about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The co-chairmen had earlier visited Armenia and Khankendi (Stepanakert) in Karabakh and met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and separatist leader Arkadi Ghukasian.

On 28 September Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev received the mediators. He expressed dissatisfaction with the work of the Minsk Group and other international organizations that are backing peace negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "Such an attitude from the international organizations creates [a desire for] war among the Azeri people," he said, adding that people no longer believes the peace process will yield results. The president also expressed resentment that the co-chairmen allegedly congratulated Ghukasian on winning presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh in August. The diplomats said that Aliev's rebuke was based on a misunderstanding.

Later President Aliyev expressed his attitude to the so-called Paris and Key West principles, which were negotiated in meetings between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders in 2001. He said that the Armenian president rejected the Paris framework while Azerbaijan did not accept the Key West principles. He added that if the OSCE wants to work towards a solution to the conflict, it must forget those discussions.

Trubnikov said that the mediators had advised the Armenian government that the Azerbaijani people increasingly seem to want to fight to recapture Karabakh, but added, citing the Armenian defense minister, that Armenia would not be the first to re-start the war.

Aliyev responded severely to the Russian diplomat's remarks. He said that Azerbaijan does not need any favors from the Armenian authorities, adding that if a war were to begin, Armenia would get an appropriate answer. Trubnikov, for his part, noted that the co-chairmen understand the predicament of both Azerbaijan and Armenia and therefore expect the Azeri president to offer new suggestions for settling the conflict.

The OSCE representatives held a press conference after meeting President Aliev. They said the Minsk Group is satisfied with the August meeting in Sadarak between the Azeri and Armenian presidents. Trubnikov said that there is a normal government in Nagorno-Karabakh and that this is better than chaos. Touching upon the Minsk Group's alleged congratulation of Gukasian, Trubnikov said that his remarks had been distorted. The participants expressed the hope that the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan will not prevent the peace process from continuing.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

CORRECTION: Vyacheslav Trubnikov�s title was stated incorrectly in an item from the independent newspaper "525" in the 28 September Press Review. He is Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister and co-operates closely with the OSCE Minsk Group. RFE/RL regrets the error.

PACE Session Produces Mixed Results for Azerbaijan
The most recent session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has produced mixed results for Azerbaijan, with the Council criticizing Baku's human rights record but backing its position on Nargorno-Karabakh, sources suggest.

The PACE session adopted a report on 26 September commenting on how well Azerbaijan has fulfilled its human rights and democratization obligations. While the pro-governmental media in Baku calls the report and Azerbaijan-related hearings at the session "a triumph for Azerbaijan�s delegation," the opposition outlets consider it to be a last warning to the Azerbaijani government. Though the full contents of the resolution has not been published in Azerbaijan, the Azeri press writes, citing sources close to the Council of Europe, that it does reflect Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani lands. At the same time, the report criticizes the Azerbaijani authorities for allegedly violating human rights and democratic principles, keeping political prisoners and falsifying the results of the 24 August referendum on amendments to the Constitution.

According to experts and political scientists in Baku, the fact that the Council of Europe has reportedly acknowledged the occupation of Azeri lands shows that the international organization supports the Azeri position on this matter. Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, said the fact that the Council reportedly comments on the occupation of territory in the resolution, as well as the Azeri authorities' failure to meet their commitments, means that the council is interested in further cooperation with Azerbaijan. He expressed the hope that the Azerbaijani government in the end will meet all the Council's conditions.

Eldar Ismailov, the chairman of the non-governmental organization For the Sake of Civil Society, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Azerbaijan must either meet its commitments or leave the Council of Europe. He noted that the latest resolution, which reportedly calls for radical reforms in the spheres of human rights and democratization, is indeed a serious warning to the authorities. Ismailov agreed that the Azeri government, sooner or later, would have to fulfill all the obligations it has undertaken.

(Natig Zeinalli)

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that on 30 September Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov proposed dividing the Caspian Sea among four states, not five. Turkmenistan, which had been considered a supporter of Iran's desire to divide the Caspian equally among the five littoral states, seems to be deserting Tehran. According to the newspaper, no Caspian state has yet reacted to the Turkmen president's statement. But political scientist Rasim Musabekov says it is linked to Niyazov's fear of being alone on the issue. Therefore Turkmenistan has decided to support the position of Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan on the Caspian. The newspaper calls Turkmenistan's decision to drop its support for Iran a "delayed step" because even Iranian officials realize that their struggle for a 20 percent share of the Caspian will fail sooner or later. After Russia and Kazakhstan divided 49 percent of the sea between them in a deal this spring, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran must divide the remaining 51 percent. But Iran cannot claim more than 17 percent, Musabekov reasons. Iran has lost hope that the Caspian will be divided into five equal sectors, the paper concludes.

In an another article the newspaper quotes Russian OSCE Minsk Group co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov as saying that after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved, the European Union will help rebuilding efforts in the occupied Azerbaijani lands. The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the co-chairmen with EU authorities on 9 October.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" writes that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group were satisfied with the results of their discussions with the Azeri and Armenian presidents. However, nothing new was revealed during their visit other than the details of the Sadarak meeting, where President Aliyev said he proposed restoring rail links to Armenian if Yerevan would leave four occupied Azeri territories.

The newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that little new was said during the latest visit of the Minsk Group to the region, but the American co-chair did make one interesting statement. Rudolf Perina said the co-chairmen discussed concrete proposals during their meetings with the Azeri and Armenian presidents and said he hopes the conflict will be solved in the near future. He added that the latter half of 2003 is the most appropriate period for a settlement. Thus the OSCE representative suggested that it is not possible to solve the Karabakh conflict until after next spring's presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, "Zerkalo" writes. But the newspaper points out that presidential elections are also scheduled in Azerbaijan in October 2003. Perina's comment could mean that the co-chairmen do not consider the Azeri presidential elections to be a serious hindrance to a settlement. But the newspaper also suggests that Azeri presidential elections could be held early, next spring, to help accelerate the peace process. Alternatively, the Azeri and Armenian governments could reach an agreement next autumn that satisfies the Azeri position in the conflict. For example, Armenian troops could leave four occupied districts in exchange for Baku's restoring rail transport to Armenia. Armenian President Kocharian does not support such a plan now. But after the elections his hands will be freed and he will be able to make a present to President Aliev, the newspaper concludes.

The official government newspaper "Azerbaycan" says that in Azerbaijan the desire for war is increasing. But the newspaper writes that it is not the fault of the public. The ineffective work of the OSCE Minsk Group undermines the hopes of the Azerbaijani people for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the paper writes. The group denies statements that it made in Armenia, and such a posture can not help solve the conflict. According to the newspaper, the Minsk Group must change the way it works in order to avoid re-starting the war.

The independent newspaper "525" reports that the government has suggested opening a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. Citing the pro-governmental Russian-language newspaper "Bakinski rabochi," "525" writes that Ramiz Mehdiev, the head of the President�s Executive Office, said the opposition has always refused cooperation. Mehdiev claimed there is no normal, civil opposition in Azerbaijan.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)