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Azerbaijan Report: November 18, 2002

18 November 2002
Karabakh Freedom Organization Pickets Russian, U.S. Embassies
On 13 November the Karabakh Freedom Organization held two sanctioned pickets in Baku. One of the pickets was organized in front of the Russian Embassy in Azerbaijan to demand that the Russian government put an end to pressure on Azerbaijanis living in Russia and shut down the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh representative office in Moscow. Firudin Memmedov, deputy chairman of the Karabakh War Invalids Organization, said that Moscow officials who bother Azerbaijanis should not forget that there are a large number of Russians living in Azerbaijan.

Akif Nagi, chairman of the Karabakh Freedom Organization, noted that while Russia continues to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it continues to arm Armenia with modern weapons and support the activity of the Nagorno-Karabakh representative in Moscow. He demanded Russia cease military assistance to Armenia.

On the same day, the Karabakh Freedom Organization also picketed in front of the U.S. Embassy in Baku. The demonstrators protested against U.S. congressmen's letter of congratulation to Arkadi Gukasian, the president of self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Nagi said that if the United States wants to wage a successful war on terrorism, it must not differentiate between Osama bin Laden and Arkadi Gukasian.

Officials of the Russian and American embassies received the resolution of the picket and undertook to inform their governments of the protest.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Unites Under New Formation
At a 14 November meeting, the leaders of 10 opposition parties, including Musavat, the National Independence, Democrat and People's Front parties--both "conservative" and "reformist" wings--came to an agreement to unite under a new organization. Ali Kerimli, the head of the People's Front Party "reformist" wing, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the purpose of creating the new organization is to coordinate the efforts of the opposition parties in their attempt to change the present government democratically. Kerimli noted that the newly created organization will have no chairman. Meeting places will rotate in alphabetical order and each party headquarters will preside over the meeting.

Kerimli also pointed out that the organization will play a critical role in the presidential elections in autumn 2003. He did not exclude the possibility of nominating a common opposition candidate.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Political scientist Eldar Namazov in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" said that although the Azerbaijani Diaspora in the United States is weak, it has close ties with stronger Jewish and Turkish lobbies.

Under the headline "The economic and political power of Azerbaijan ensures our military superiority over Armenia," the official newspaper "Azerbaycan" compares the military power of two countries. The newspaper says that the Azerbaijani army is the strongest one in the Caucasus. Armenia can not even provide its military with bread.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" quotes the Turan News Agency quoting Ali Hasanov, the chief of the political and social department of the Presidential Administration, as saying that the opposition will not succeed in the presidential elections. When asked why the government does not negotiate with the opposition, Hasanov explained it was because it isn't a constructive force.

Former Azerbaijani parliament speaker Rasul Guliev in an interview with independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" called the idea of nominating a common candidate to the presidential elections "not serious."

Hijran Hamidova in the article "Oil supports power" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" notes that currently the entire Azerbaijani economy is based on oil and natural gas. The government does not pay attention to non-oil sectors. Since the oil-and-gas sector finances 60 percent of the state budget, the government opposes privatization of the State Oil Company. But Sabit Bagirov, a former president of the company, told the author that privatization of the company would promote its development.

Gunduz in an article entitled "It is necessary to work more to raise the level of religious education" in the independent newspaper "525" writes that some people's attitude about Azerbaijani students studying religion abroad differs from that of Rafig Aliev, the chairman of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations. "Why send Azerbaijani youth to foreign countries that are under various religious currents? Who determines the number of religious figures in Azerbaijan and who must care about people who cannot find a job after graduating religious institutes of higher education?" Gunduz asks. Instead of answering these questions, absurd accusation are brought against the State Committee. Some people talk about violations of human rights and allege that the committee interferes in the rights of people to study abroad. On the contrary, the government protects their rights, including the right to education, Gunduz says. The author notes that there are necessary conditions at Baku State University and Baku Islam University to acquire a religious education without going to foreign countries. But Gunduz acknowledges that the government must still work hard to raise the level of religious education in Azerbaijan.

Rizvan Rzaev, an Azerbaijani lawyer living in Russia, said in interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that pressures on Azerbaijanis in Russia began a long time ago. One can always come across aggrieved and beaten Azerbaijanis in one of the 65 police offices in Moscow. Officially the government never encourages Azerbaijanis to leave Russia because these people contribute money to the Russian budget. Rzaev noted that pressures on Azerbaijanis are the result of indifference of the Russian government and corruptibility of law-enforcement bodies. Rzaev did not exclude that this negative attitude toward Caucasians, including Azerbaijanis, will continue in the future.

The war in the Caucasus is going on and by that the Kremlin wants to teach a lesson to other peoples of the Russian Federation. Genimet Zahidov in the article "Victory is for those who are worthy of it" in the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the government and the opposition are making serious preparations for the presidential elections in autumn 2003. Zahidov notes that the main reason for the numerous protest actions is to stir up the opposition's social base on the eve of the elections and create a psychological base for the defeat of President Heydar Aliev. The author comments on the uniting of 10 leading opposition parties under a new organization and points out that all these parties are ambitious for power. Therefore these parties would come to an agreement to put forward a common opposition candidate to the elections.

Under the headline "Why does the corn exchange not begin its activity?" the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" writes that local farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs face serous difficulties in transporting their wheat to market. The newspaper notes that although the "law on wheat" provides for the creation of a corn exchange, this has not been properly realized, and there is indifference within the overseeing bodies which keeps the exchange from working.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)