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Azerbaijan Report: November 22, 2002

22 November 2002
Peacekeepers Head To Afghanistan With U.S. Financial Backing
On 19 November Azerbaijan sent 28 soldiers, one ensign, and one officer to Afghanistan to participate in the peacekeeping mission. They will work under the command of the Turkish armed forces. The United States has agreed to provide about $1 million to finance the participation of Azerbaijani peacekeepers in the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan.

This is not the first time Azerbaijani soldiers have been on a peacekeeping mission abroad. Soldiers of Azerbaijan have served in Kosovo -- also under Turkish military command.

Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service hailed the participation of Azerbaijani soldiers as marking a new stage in the relationship between NATO and Azerbaijan. However, he added, all this cooperation is not sufficient to ensure close relations with NATO or bring the Azerbaijani armed forces up to NATO standards. In order to join the trans-Atlantic organization, the Azerbaijani government must first effect political, economic, and military reforms.

Former army officer Elekber Memmedov, chairman of the Organization for Control of the Army, does not support the government's decision to send Azerbaijani troops abroad. As long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, he says, Azerbaijan has no place taking part in peacekeeping operations.

But Tofig Zulfugarov, a former Azerbaijani foreign minister, told RFE/RL that by participating in such a mission the Azerbaijani armed forces, first of all, gain experience. Because once the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is settled, Azerbaijan will be faced with similar peacekeeping operations, he said.

(Almaz Nasibova)

Journalists Call on Government to Stop Pressuring Media
On 21 November the Editors' Union, which reconvened its meeting committee last month, staged a picket in front of the Supreme Court. The demonstrators, who shouted slogans such as "stop pressuring the media," and "restore newsstands of the Gaya distribution network," among others, demanded that the Supreme Court justly try the cases against the media.

Rovshen Hajiev, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," was the fist to speak. He said that to date "independent" courts have never passed judgment in favor of journalists. In other words, the media has almost never won lawsuits filed against them by officials.

Ganimet Zahidov, the head of the "Azad Soz" (Free Word) Journalists' Union, noted that although censorship in Azerbaijan was officially abolished in 1998, the law-enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan, including the courts, are censoring the media. This allegation was included in the resolution statement of the protest.

Under the resolution prepared by the "Ruh" Journalist Defense Committee, the number of lawsuits brought against journalists during October and November 2002 exceeds the number of all lawsuits instituted within the first nine months of the year. The demonstrators also called for the repeal of court rulings that resulted in the closing and fining of a number of media outlets, for just and equitable lawsuits against media representatives, as well as an end of pressure against the media.

On 12 December the Editors' Union intends to hold an open rally in Baku to protest the pressures on the mass media.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Roundtable Looks At Armenian Atrocities
On 19 November the Karabakh Freedom Organization (KAT), a pro-opposition organization, held a roundtable titled "The Armenian terrorism of 20 November 1991."

Akif Nagi, the chairman of KAT, said in his speech that in 1988-94 Armenian terrorist organizations committed some 30 terrorist acts in Nagorno-Karabakh and other regions of Azerbaijan.

Nagi pointed out that when Armenian forces shot down a helicopter carrying senior Azerbaijani leaders as well as a group of peacekeeping representatives from Russia and Kazakhstan on 20 November 1991 near the village of Karakend in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenia demonstrated that it was not interested in a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Participants of the discussion called Arkadi Gukasian, the leader of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Armenian President Robert Kocharian "the chief organizers of acts of terrorism."

KAT's members also protested against the recent visits of Gukasian to France, Great Britain, and the United States and called on Azerbaijani law-enforcement bodies to file a lawsuit against Gukasian on grounds of terrorism and appeal to Interpol to arrest him.

Ali Abbasov, former director of the Philosophy Institute of the Azerbaijani Academy of Science, linked Gukasian's visits abroad with an attempt to achieve recognition of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He suggested creating a public organization that would actively discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, a nongovernmental organization, pointed out that during every second week of November an Armenian radio station in France initiates a charity fund drive called "Fountain." Since 1997 funds gathered from the drive are being used for construction of a 169-kilometer road at the cost of $25 million. The road, which so far has 42 kilometers completed, will connect the highest point of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. At present Azerbaijan is in no position to block such fund raising, Ahmedoglu said, adding that both the Azerbaijani government and the opposition must together define a common strategic concept regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and introduce it to the world as the unified opinion of the Azerbaijani people.

(Natig Zeinalli)

The independent newspaper "525" writes, citing presidential administration official Novruz Memmedov, that the admission of Azerbaijan to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly as an associative member signifies a step on the road to that organization.

Galib abd Husein al-Tamimi, the Iraqi ambassador to Azerbaijan, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" that a Kurdish state will never be established in Iraq.

An author writing only as Aranli in the article "Heidar Aliyev has left for Prague, but Gukasian has gone to Washington" in the newspaper "Yeni Zaman" talks about some of the nuances of NATO's Prague summit. Aranli notes that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents are expected to meet during the summit to resolve the two countries' dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the presidents have met on numerous occasions before, which ended without result. The situation surrounding the conflict is so complicated that there is no reason to believe in a quick solution to the problem. Touching on the recent visits of Arkadi Gukasian, leader of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to France, Great Britain, and the United States, Aranli writes that all things considered, it is unclear what the presidents could talk about other than the prospective membership of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in NATO.

Under the headline "The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline can be delayed for two years" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Dunya Sakit notes that Azerbaijan is anxious about the fact that Georgia is delaying ratification of the law on environmental protection of the BTC main export pipeline. Azerbaijan and Turkey have already ratified the document. But local and international nongovernmental organizations in Georgia oppose the pipeline's proximity to the Borzhomi mineral-water source.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" sampled the attitudes of Azerbaijani experts to the allegation that the United States has appealed to Azerbaijan to join the anti-Iraq coalition. Sulheddin Akber, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, said that it is unlikely that the United States would appeal to Baku to participate in the anti-Iraq coalition. First of all because Azerbaijan does not possess strong armed forces. But if it is true, the Azerbaijani government must support Washington within the framework of international law.

Ulviyye Tahirgizi, in an article entitled "Compatriots killed in Russia" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," writes that after the hostage incident in Moscow last month the number of Azerbaijanis murdered and harassed in Russia has increased. For example, Beibala Agaev, director of the "Birlik" National and Cultural Center of Azerbaijanis living in Irkutsk, was assassinated on 20 November. Moreover, not long ago Russian chauvinists ruined an Azerbaijani mosque in Tula. Tahirgizi notes that some Azerbaijanis living in Russia link the murder of Azerbaijani citizens with the criminalization of business in Russia. According to some reports, most Azerbaijanis are murdered during quarrels among themselves. Other reports claim that Russian special services are interested in destabilizing different Azerbaijani economic groups. One of the best-known ways to start a quarrel between Azerbaijanis is to present the same offer to two or more groups, the author says, citing as an example the long-running feud between two economic groups from the Shemkir and Tovuz districts of Azerbaijan.

An author writing only as HajiAliyev in the article "Following Lale Shovket, Sabir Rustemkhanli has also left the '10'," in the government newspaper "Azerbaijan" writes that at a 14 November meeting, the leaders of 10 opposition parties, including Rustemkhanli's Civic Society Party (VHP), came to an agreement to unite under a new organization. But afterward the VHP leader voiced his doubts about the future of the newly established organization and predicted its collapse. Such a revelation provoked the anger of Serdar Jelaloglu, chairman of the Democrat Party, and forced him to put Rustemkhanli in a compromising situation. Touching on Rustemkhanli's relations with other leading opposition leaders, HajiAliyev expressed his doubt that the opposition will succeed in nominating a common candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. The author notes that today's processes resemble the situation within the opposition on the eve of the last presidential elections in 1998.

But Etibar Memmedov, chairman of the National Independence Party, in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" denied the allegation that there are differences within the "10."

The government newspaper "Khalg," writes that the members of the "10" trample on the rights of other opposition parties.

Rasim Bairamov in an article entitled "Armenia increases its military power thanks to Russia" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that Azerbaijan has increased its military expenses for the next year. In 2003, the Azerbaijani government will allocate $146 million for the armed forces. Armenia also plans to extend its military expenses to $77 million. Some observers regard it as the beginning of an arms race between the two countries. Armenia claims that Azerbaijan's increase in military expenses is an indication that it is determined to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict militarily.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)