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Azerbaijan Report: November 29, 2002

29 November 2002
Journalists Remain Skeptical That Government Pressure Will End Soon
During his speech at a ceremony devoted to the 10th anniversary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) on 26 November, President Heidar Aliyev touched on the strained situation between the media and the government. He accused the media of libel and of spreading false information. "But I have never touched any newspaper, and I advise no one to touch them. We are the ones who have provided press freedom," he said.

His words were nothing new. After each flare-up between the government and the media, Aliyev has said the same words to soothe the opposition media, and this has led to a momentary decrease in tensions.

This time, however, a number of journalists organizations remain wary that the media will face even greater pressure.

Ganimet Zahidov, chairman of the "Azad Soz" (Free Word) Journalists Union, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service after hearing the president's speech that he believes even the most pessimistic predictions could become a reality. "For example, the courts could ban the activity of some opposition media outlets for a certain period," he said.

The chairman of the Journalists Union, Azer Hasret, is also skeptical that Aliev's speech will affect the government's attitude toward the media. He recalled that during a meeting last December with editors of leading media outlets, Aliyev called on all government officials to stop suing mass-media representatives. Although officials at first pledged to meet the president's appeal, it did not happen.

Parliamentary deputy Rizvan Jebiev, one of the authors of the current laws on mass media in Azerbaijan, denies the allegation that there is tension between the government and the media. He told RFE/RL that the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" and others had been taken to court merely because of false and slanderous allegations in their pages. Jebiev also pointed out that the heads of some newspapers are engaged in politics instead of just journalism.

Meanwhile, the Editors Union is preparing for a scheduled nationwide protest on 12 December in order to demand an end to pressure on the media. (Natig Zeinalli)

Georgian Ecologists Attempt To Block BTC Construction
Georgia is dragging its feet on construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, citing ecological concerns.

Georgian ecologists oppose the pipeline's proximity to the Borzhomi water source, claiming that should the pipeline break, it could cause damage to the environment.

Before leaving for NATO's Prague summit, President Aliyev expressed his anxiety about the fact that Georgia is delaying ratification of its law on environmental protection with regard to the BTC pipeline. Representatives of British Petroleum (BP), the operator of the BTC pipeline, have already left for Georgia to resolve the dispute.

Aliyev said that Georgia was acting incomprehensibly. "But we still have a little time, and the problem must be solved by the end of November," he added.

BP Azerbaijan President David Woodward said that according to the final conclusions of most Azerbaijani, Turkish, and international ecological organizations, the probability of any ecological crisis caused by the BTC is practically zero. He expressed doubt that the Georgian government would be an obstacle to the project's realization.

But ecologist Sahib Memmedov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the construction of the pipeline would cause damage to the environment. "The structure of the topsoil will break down, and the plant cover will die out," he noted.

Meanwhile, some local experts suggest the Georgian government is bringing up the ecological issue merely to obtain additional income from the project.

But economist Zahid Memmedov denies such an allegation and links the strange behavior of Georgia with certain political and economic factors. Georgia realizes that it is no longer possible to achieve tariff concessions from Azerbaijan. Tbilisi has benefited enough from this chance, he said. (Almaz Nasibova)

Azerbaijani newspapers have given broad coverage to the upcoming presidential election in Armenia. An article titled "There is Preelection Political Tension in Armenia" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet" says that supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian have leveled an accusation against President Robert Kocharian.

In an article called "Foreign Companies Help Armenia Extract Azerbaijani Gold," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" writes about goldfields in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh. The article says that Armenia, together with foreign companies, is mining nearly two tons of gold a year.

Under the headline "The Azerbaijani Economy Must Rid Itself of IMF Influence," the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that Azerbaijan must stop getting loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Arif Hajiev, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Ekho" that the opposition can win the 2003 presidential elections even without nominating a common candidate.

Sabir Hajiev, secretary-general of the Civic Unity Party, said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" that former President Ayaz Mutallibov would participate in the upcoming presidential elections.

The governmental newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg" reprinted a supplement published in the Russian newspaper "Izvestiya" that ran opinions of the Russian and Azerbaijani presidents, as well as of other officials, concerning Russian-Azerbaijani relations.

In the article "Turkmenbashi Has Declared Azerbaijan an Enemy" in the newspaper "Hurriyet," Rasim Bairamov writes that after an assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, foreign citizens living in the country have come under serious pressure. Citizens of a number of countries are being deported from Turkmenistan on Niyazov's -- Turkmenbashi -- orders. Meanwhile, some Russian media outlets claim that the president himself organized the assassination attempt in order to implement the deportation policy. Touching on Turkmen-Azerbaijani relations, Bairamov notes that at different times a number of Azerbaijanis have been forced to return home because of violence toward them. The author does not doubt that Niyazov still wants to deport Azerbaijanis from Turkmenistan now. One crucial factor is Niyazov's belief that Azerbaijan is a potential enemy and could use Azerbaijanis living in Turkmenistan to suit its own purposes. Bairamov also recalls that because of the position of Ashgabat, the two countries cannot agree on the Caspian issue.

An author writing only as Mirgedir in an article called "Karabakh or Power" in the newspaper "Zerkalo" notes that on the eve of the 2003 presidential elections in Azerbaijan and Armenia, the international community is increasing pressure on Azerbaijan to accelerate the negotiation process on Nagorno-Karabakh. Touching on the preelection situation in Armenia, Mirgedir writes that the former ruling Armenian Nationwide Movement has still not expressed its opinion on the presidential election. But the former foreign minister said that without a power change, it would not be possible to withdraw Armenia from the ongoing crisis. As for Azerbaijan, it faces a dilemma: sign an international-community-approved peace agreement or refuse, which would result in the isolation of the Azerbaijani president. Citing a Russian diplomat participating in the peace negotiations, the author points out that Armenia is not satisfied even with a solution based on the "common-state" principle. Therefore, it remains clear what Azerbaijan can offer as a compromise. As a result, Mirgedir concludes, the Azerbaijani government either must accept the world's peace agreement or lose power.

An author writing only as Memmedov in an article called "Customs Machinations" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that one of the chief tasks of customs bodies is to combat smuggling. Sometimes, however, even customs officials themselves are engaged in contraband. For example, a customs official was recently arrested attempting to transport hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs to Georgia. Moreover, Memmedov notes, it is no secret that business structures under the "ruling family" do not officially register most purchased products, thereby avoiding taxes and customs tariffs. And the chief burden in this case is placed namely upon customs bodies.

In an article titled "A Wholesome Opposition Must Differ From an Antinational One" in the newspaper "Khalg," Nazim Mustafa points out that the political struggle in Azerbaijan has entered a new stage. The struggle against antinational forces -- the destructive opposition parties that represent the interests of some foreign countries and international organizations or act at their bidding -- has also intensified. But on a positive note, recently even the opposition camp has formed a coalition against antinational forces like the Civic Unity Party, headed by former President Mutallibov.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist wing" of the opposition Popular Front Party, in an interview with the independent newspaper "525," answered questions on the latest moves within the opposition camp. He said that if the opposition parties agree on a common candidate, he would make a concession on this matter. But other opposition leaders must also be ready to take such a step. The period of internal struggle has passed, and time has come to achieve cohesion and cooperation within the opposition, Kerimli said.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)