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Azerbaijan Report: December 10, 2002

10 December 2002
Opposition Holds Fifth Sanctioned Protest at Galaba
On 8 December the parties that make up the Azerbaijani Forces Union (AQB) held a sanctioned protest. Several thousand people marched from the 20 Yanvar metro station to Galaba Square demanding the resignation of President Heidar Aliev, whom they say is in no position to solve the social problems of the Azerbaijani people.

The protesters also called for the release of the residents of Nardaran. The villagers have been detained since clashes between police and the village took place in June. Some of the demonstrators also shouted the Islamic slogan "Allahu Akbar" (God is great).

Araz Alizade, co-chairman of the Social Democratic Party, was the first to speak. Some people do not believe in the effectiveness of the civil struggle against Heidar Aliev, he said. But if the people demonstrate their will it is possible to defeat Aliyev and his government, he said, adding that the people must say no to the government--which has deprived them of their right to elect and to be elected.

Vahdat Party Chairman Tahir Kerimli said in his speech that the president was at the top of all the current disasters. There is no alternative to the resignation of Aliev, who has ceded Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and left the people without bread and jobs. Kerimli also accused some opposition parties of cooperating with the government, calling them a "false opposition." "These parties have gotten rich and live at the expense of the people. The West and the 'tribe' that finance them," Kerimli said, referring to the ruling powers, "and we must be rid of such an opposition."

Kerbalai Rovshen Ahmedov, first deputy chairman of the Islamic Party, protested against the repressive policies of the government and demanded the immediate release of the inhabitants of Nardaran, including the party's chairman, Haji Elikram Aliev, and a village elder, Haji Jabrail Alizade. He said that the government must cease its irreconcilable and dangerous attitude toward the Nardaranians, who have revolted against difficult living conditions. The government must fulfill the requirements of the people.

The resolution adopted at the end of the rally called for the government to retire because it is unwilling to protect the people's constitutional rights, to stop its repressions against the Nardaran inhabitants or hold democratic and transparent elections.

(Babek Bekir)

BTC Receives Georgia's OK
All the necessary preparations for the construction phase of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil export pipeline have been completed, British Petroleum President David Woodward told reporters at a 4 December press conference.

The pipeline is to run some 15 kilometers from the Borzhomi Gorge, where one of the country's most famous mineral-water springs is located. Georgian nongovernmental organizations were opposed to the pipeline's proximity to the springs, and the Georgian government had delayed signing the document on the pipeline's environmental and socioeconomic impact. BP and Georgia agreed to take additional security measures, but "the costs of these measures will not significantly impact the overall costs of the project," Woodward said.

Woodward said that despite all the problems, Georgia finally approved the document, which Azerbaijan and Turkey had ratified in October.

Natig Aliev, chairman of the State Oil Company (SOCAR), claimed that the anti-BTC campaign launched by NGOs was the work of foreign competitors opposed to the project. He noted that there were some Azerbaijani citizens involved in the campaign, but refused to offer any more details regarding countries or companies involved.

Aliyev also said that the Kazakh government has stated its intention to join the BTC. Should any other participants want to join the project, Azerbaijan would cede a portion of its 25 percent stake. Under the corresponding agreements, Azerbaijan is in a position to sell 10 percent of its share.

Aliyev also said that Azerbaijan is currently negotiating transportation of Azerbaijani natural gas extracted from the Shah Deniz field to Greece and other European countries. It currently has agreements with Turkey.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Azerbaijani Analysts: Robert Kocharian Stands the Best Chance
With two months left before Armenia's presidential elections, local commentaries generally agree that current president Robert Kocharian is the favored candidate, but nothing's a sure bet yet.

A total of 15 candidates will vie for the presidential seat on 19 February 2003, according to Armenia's Central Election Commission.

Political scientist Rasim Musabekov believes that there is no alternative to Kocharian. "If former President [Lev] Ter-Petrosian joins the race, it would be possible to speak about serious competition. But now if nothing extraordinary happens, there is no doubt that Kocharian will win," Musabekov said.

Musabekov notes that it is senseless to expect any progress on a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenia's election. "We must not forget that a presidential poll will also be held in Azerbaijan next autumn," he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a campaign issue for all the candidates, the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes. "All candidates advocate a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on Armenia's national interests. No candidate promises to provide the people with bread."

A number of Azerbaijani political analysts believe that Kocharian stands the best chance. But his re-election would lead to the prolonging of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Vazgen Manukian, the head of the National Democratic Union and a candidate for Armenia's presidency, said that the chief factor preventing development in the South Caucasus, in particular Armenia, is the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. The Azerbaijani independent newspaper "Alternativ" writes that it is doubtful of Manukian's sincerity and links it with the election campaign.

Turan news agency expert Hasan Guliev suggests that the upcoming elections in the two countries will not affect the Karabakh issue. "A solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem does not depend on the domestic policies of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Power changes in these countries exert little influence on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In other words, the Karabakh issue has turned into a geostrategic factor," Guliev notes.

Political scientist Gabil Huseinli points out that there is little hope that the upcoming poll in Armenia will be democratic or transparent. Armenia is almost completely under the control of security structures, he said. The fact that Defense Minister Serge Sargisian heads the election campaign of Kocharian signifies that the poll will be held at the behest of the military and law-enforcement bodies. On the other hand, Armenia still remains in Russia's sphere of influence, and this factor cannot be ignored.

Kocharian is going to Moscow soon. Analysts suggest that while there he will discuss the future of the Armenian government and continued political cooperation with Russia. All these factors should ensure Kocharian's success, and there is no doubt that he will attempt to benefit from them, Huseinli says. However, he disagrees that there will be no alternative to the current president. "Officially, the election campaign has not yet started. When it begins, the current political situation can change," he said. "First of all, serious alternatives to Kocharian can appear during the campaign. It is well known that the root of Kocharian's power and his command originates from Nagorno-Karabakh, where he is from," Huseinli said.

"Armenians from Armenia have generally concentrated around other candidates, and these groups are strong enough to affect public opinion, he said. "Slogans exist demanding that Armenia rid itself from all foreign interests -- including Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. In short all this shows that the upcoming elections will be strict. We may even face a surprise."

(Almaz Nasibova)

Under the headline "Iran gives Armenians who died in Nagorno-Karabakh the status of martyr," the independent newspaper "525" writes that the Iranian Embassy in Armenia gives financial assistance to the martyrs' families.

Ilyas Ismailov, chairman of the Adalat (Justice) Party, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" talked about developments within the opposition camp and relations between the government and opposition. Ismailov called the government's struggle with the opposition illegal.

The governmental newspaper "Khalg" in an article entitled "Why isn't there any government-opposition dialogue?" notes that in order to eliminate the subjective reasons that prevent dialogue, the subject (the opposition) itself must change and be substituted for another modern one.

Under the headline "Turkmenistan accuses Azerbaijan," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" writes that after the assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov, he has brought serious accusations against Azerbaijan.

Economist Gubad Ibadoglu in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that the struggle with corruption is of a global character. He said that since corruption originates from the nature of the Azerbaijani government, it would not be possible to eliminate it without a power change.

Khalid Bahadir in the article "Stop Karabakh! - Elections are ahead" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" comments on Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev's statement that "there will be no concrete results until the elections are over." Bahadir writes that it is well known that the chief functional diplomat of Azerbaijan is not Guliev, but Heidar Aliev. Therefore, it is not difficult to guess from where this message originates. The author claims that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem possesses the character of a performance. On the one hand, Azerbaijan is conducting talks with Armenia and creating an assistance fund for the armed forces, but on the other hand, officials deliver hundreds tonnes of fuel to Armenia and remain indifferent to the realities of corruption, bribe-taking and degradation in the armed forces. The author points out that some invoice documents prove that hundreds tonnes of fuel sold to Armenia, but the government and law-enforcement bodies continue to keep silent about it.

On 28 November-2 December in Sophia the German Frederik Nouman Fund held an international seminar named "Democracy in the Southern Caucasus and the solution of conflicts." Parliament Member Aidin Mirzazade, who represented Azerbaijan at the seminar, in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" comments on the work of the meeting. Asked, "What position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict did the Armenian delegation take?" Mirzazade said that it denied that Azerbaijani lands had been occupied and took great pains to prove it. On the other hand, the Armenian delegation suggested that Azerbaijan must acknowledge defeat as a real solution variant. Armenians also raised some absurd issues and noted that Azerbaijan and Armenia must not prolong the time and resume relations between themselves and then attempt to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. But the Azerbaijani delegation stated at the seminar that until Armenian forces are removed from the occupied territories, to talk about any resumption of ties between the two countries is meaningless.

Khalid Kazimli in the article "Another document, old intention" in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" doubts that a draft law on elections prepared by the presidential administration will be able to justify the people's and opposition's hopes. The government seems to be in its bubble again. It wants to hold the 2003 presidential elections using a law that will ensure its success. Therefore, the chief theses in the draft law have been adapted to the interests of the present government. "Although the document prepared by Aliyev is new, his intention to hold elections is old," Kazimli writes. He notes that old and bad intentions can undermine the work mechanism of even an ideal law; correspondingly, if there is a clear and good intention it is possible to do much work and effect great reforms even with an imperfect law. But the government doesn't posses either of these: the law is not perfect and the intention is not progressive. The proposed draft law signifies the old and unchanging intention of the government: The results of the elections will be falsified.

Khalig Bahadir in an article entitled "Toward the last chance by getting free" in the newspaper "Azadlig" comments on the upcoming elections. He writes that until now the government has won elections in two ways: an antidemocratic election law and administrative resources. Bahadir claims that in the past after each election, including August's referendum on amendments to the constitution, the government presented some opposition leaders and opposition newspapers' editors-in-chief with money and cars. Everyone knows which opposition chairmen work for the authorities, but all prefer to keep silent.

Under the headline "GUUAM is turning into political organization" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Rasim Bairamov points out that at a recent GUUAM meeting in Ukraine the Azerbaijani parliament delegation suggested establishing a parliamentary assembly for the organization. This suggestion signifies that the GUUAM is gradually transforming into a political institution. GUUAM member states do not exclude that the organization can be expanded in the future. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma stated that GUUAM had already proved its effectiveness and viability.

An author writing only as Ismailova in the article "Those, who want to become a common candidate, do not think about popular support" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" notes that instead of turning to the people, the opposition tries to unite in different forms and win over the supporters of other parties. But it is an uncivil and immoral method of struggle; therefore, each time the subject of a single opposition candidate is brought up, the opposition parties begin to criticize each other. Even now parties united under the "10" formation are stating that they would participate in the elections separately, as if showing their indifference to Musavat's efforts to push its candidate. Therefore, it would be true to say that the "10" has in fact collapsed.

The newspaper "525" carried the Turan news agency interview with Ramiz Rzaev, Azerbaijani ambassador to Russia. Commenting on Russia's attitude toward Azerbaijanis in Russia, Rzaev denied the allegation that Azerbaijani citizens are being discriminated against. It is true that sometimes crimes are committed against Azerbaijanis in Russia; however, some Azerbaijanis themselves are guilty of committing unlawful actions. Rzaev noted that Azerbaijanis play a minor role in the political life of Russia.

Religious scholar Neriman Gasimoglu said in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that Islam must be spread to the masses. Gasimoglu protested against sending Azerbaijanis citizens to foreign institutes of higher religious education. "The religious views obtained by Azerbaijani students in these countries afterward creates definite problems for them in Azerbaijan," he noted. Gasimoglu suggests that the government must reconsider its religious policy and be more determined in the solution of such issues that affect the country.

An author writing only as Aranli in an article entitled "Broken piano or such affairs" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that the authorities now sow seeds of not wheat but "democracy," and feed the people with "democracy," instead the bread. Intelligentsia and enlighteners have been turned into slaves and clever and educated men of the people are determined through "test" procedure. Aranli says that at present the leadership of the Olympic Committee is building numerous sport complexes, while religious leaders and sheikhs industriously construct mosques. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has no great successes in sports or religion. Football has died out, and handball faces extinction. As with politics, sports and religion have split into the government and opposition. In other words, both sports and religion have been added to the political tribute and propaganda machines of the government. If someone became an Olympic champion, it is the government which is credited, but when the national football team loses, it is considered to be the fault of the opposition.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)