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Azerbaijan Report: May 4, 2001

4 May 2001
Azerbaijan Authorities Accuse Iran of Planning Coup D'etat
Tofig Babayev, who is Azerbaijan's deputy national security minister, states that Iran masks its intention to seize power in Azerbaijan behind religious goals. The Embassy of Iran to Azerbaijan reacted with a statement appraising the Azerbaijani officials' remarks as irresponsible. Observers in Azerbaijan, commenting on the most recent official statements, note they cause surprise, because the local press has been writing about Iran's activity against Azerbaijan for last 5-6 years. But every time this information has been rejected by government members.

Sulkhaddin Akbar, a former deputy minister of national Security, commenting on the statement of Tofig Babayev in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service, said there are concrete and common reasons for that statement. The common reason is the weakening of Azerbaijan government. This fact facilitates the activaties of foreign secret services in Azerbaijan. Another reason is the creating of conditions for expanding the activity of Mahir Javadov, brother of the late Rovshan Javadov, who headed the OMON (Interior ministry special detachment). Mahir Javadov left Azerbaijan in March 1995 and was granted political asylum in Austria. Since 1997 he has lived in Iran and called for struggle against Heidar Aliev.

According to Sulkhaddin Akbar, the recent incidents on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, the disagreement over the legal status of the Caspian, the prolonged delay in opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tebriz all prompted Babayev to issue such a statement.

Nasib Nasibli, a former Azerbaijani ambassador to Iran, said Babayev's statement is Azerbaijan's answer to Iran's anti-Azerbaijani activity. Iran's main goal is to find any alternative to the South Azerbaijan problem.

Recent events - Iran's intention to realize the joint project with Armenia on the territories of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, the shooting incident on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border on April 24, the anti-Azerbaijan publications in the Iranian media, the increasingly bold tone of Iranian propaganda against Azerbaijan during the month of Muharram -- all testify to increased activity by Iran against Azerbaijan. What is the reason for Iran's activation in Azerbaijan, and is there a real possibility that an Islamic regime will come to power in Azerbaijan?

"Turan" information agency's expert, Hassan Guliyev, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service said the activation of Iran in Azerbaijan is linked with forthcoming presidential election in Iran. He does not believe that Islamic forces are able to come to power in Azerbaijan, because the necessary conditions do not exist. At the same time, he noted that if there are any chaotic processes in Azerbaijan or in the Caucasus, Islamic forces could use that situation to their advantage.

Political analyst Rasim Musabekov pointed out that Islamic forces do not have any chances of coming to power in Azerbaijan. At the same time, such forces could make use of the difficult social situation of the majority of the people and threaten Azerbaijan's independence. Talking about the activization of Iran in Azerbaijan, Rasim Musabekov does not rule out sthe possibility that some forces in Iran are beginning to think about the post-Aliyev period.

(Samira Gaziyeva, Babek Bakir)

Democratic Party to Stage Demo in Baku on 12 May
Leaders of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan told a press conference on May 3 that the party will hold a protest demonstration on May 12. Nuraddin Mammeli, one of the party's leaders, said the party has changed its slogans. One of the slogans of 12 May protest demonstration will be the demand that Heidar Aliyev resign.

Nuraddin Mammedli reported that the "classic" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and the Liberal Party have taken decision to join the protest action. The Musavat and Azerbaijan National Independence parties are still considering whether to join the protest demonstration.

(Almaz Nasibova)

Violations of Journalists Rights Continue
Officials from Baku City Council rejected a request by the Journalists' Trade Union to hold a protest rally in Baku on Press Freedom Day (May 3). Azer Hasrat, chairman of the Journalists' Trade Union told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that during the last 10 years 11 Azerbaijan journalists have been killed while on duty. Seven of them died during the military operations in Karabakh.

(Natig Zeynalov)

The Milli Mejlis discussed the draft employment law on 4 May. Hadi Rajabov, head of Parliament Commission on social policy, said there are 4.768 million able-bodied people in Azerbaijan of whom 3.775 million are currently employed. He added that 72,000 people are officially registered as unemployed. At the same time he noted that those statistics do not reflect the real situation in Azerbaijan, because the real number of unemployed in Azerbaijan is several times higher. Rajabov claimed that foreign companies use Azerbaijan citizens as cheap labor.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli )

The UN Report: Negative Assessment Of Azerbaijan's Economy
The United Nations Development Agency has released its annual report on economic development in Azerbaijan, which notes the nostalgia of most of the population for Soviet-era economic "stability." It is a strange assessment for a country with huge oil reserves and huge foreign investment in its oil industry. Despite years of heavy foreign investment in Azerbaijan's oil sector, according to the report, most people in Azerbaijan say they were better off when their country was part of the Soviet Union.

Foreign investment now accounts for about 70 percent of all foreign capital moving into Azerbaijan, up from less than 16 percent in 1994, the report said. Independent economists and opposition too have criticized the government policy of paying attention only to the oil industry, neglecting other sectors of country's economy, which in turn is the main reason for the closure of many enterprizes and the elimination of a huge number of jobs.

According to the UN report, aid from foreign governments is also a source of capital. But like many former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan is plagued by sluggish bureacracy and corruption that holds up investment, the UN report said. This assessment has been proven by cases of mismanagement of foreign humanitarian aid sent for Azerbaijani refugees. The UN assessment of the economic situation in Azerbaijan differs widely from Azerbaijani government statistics on economic development. For example, the annual UN study showed high unemployment of 69 percent among nearly a million refugees driven from the Armenian- occupied territories. The report does not mention overall unemployment among ordinary citizens of Azerbaijan, but according to an independent account, the percentage of people without jobs among non-refugees is also high. Furthermore due to the few jobs available in Azerbaijan, around 2 million Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their homeland to seek employment in Russia and other CIS states. Contrary to the Azerbaijani government's claims of economic "achievements" last year, the UN study ranked Azerbaijan 90th in standard of living among 173 countries from around the world.

(Mirza Xazar)

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" comments on tensions in relations between Iran and Azerbaijan, which have increased over the last few days after the sharp statements of Azerbaijani officials. During the last two years, Azerbaijan has tried not to react to Iranian statements directed against Azerbaijani interests or to violations of Azerbaijan airspace by Iranian military aircraft. According to the paper, the situation has now deteriorated following the sensational statements by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hassanov and Deputy National Security Minister Tofig Babayev. Last week Ali Hassanov accused Iran of delivering drugs to Azerbaijan and using of the Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia for the transit of drugs. For his part, Tofig Babayev accused Iran of preparing a coup d'etat in Azerbaijan. The recent developments show that Iran's activity directed against Azerbaijan has been strengthened to such a degree that it began to create a threat to the national security of the country.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, said in an interview with that party's paper, "Yeni Azerbaijan," that Iran and some Arab countries are attempting to create an Islamic regime in Azerbaijan. Their goal is to export an Islamic revolution to Moslem countries. Gurbanli claimed that Iran has allocated huge financial means and contributed to some newspapers in Azerbaijan to realize this goal. He characterized as senseless Iran's attempts to create an Islamic regime in Azerbaijan.

Infighting within the ruling party is the another main theme of the Azerbaijani press. The independent newspaper "Ekho" writes that Sirus Tebrizli, the former minister of the press and information, reported that 11 representatives of the group "91st" have come out with a statement accusing the presidential administration and the new leadership of the Yeni Azerbaijan party of ignoring their interests. The "91st" group consists of people who were the initiators and creators of the Yeni Azerbaijan Party and who helped to Heidar Aliyev to come to power. Today 23 of them are dead while 20 of the survivors live in poverty.

Commenting on the infighting within the Yeni Azerbaijan party, the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that former Baku mayor Rafael Allakhverdiyev and former press and information minister Sirus Tabrizli, both of whom are deputy chairmen of YAP, have begun to criticize the unhealthy atmosphere in the party. The paper connects the recent infighting within YAP to Heidar Aliev's plan to transfer power from himself to his son Ilham. The paper considers erroneous the opinion of some observers that Ramiz Mekhdiev, head of President's office and Ali Akhmedov, executive secretary of YAP are guilty of oppression of Allakhverdiyev, Tabrizli and members of "91st" group. The paper considers that only Heidar Aliyev is carrying on the political games in the government, and predicts that in the near future the Yeni Azerbaijan Party will leave the political scene.

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the first stage of the conflict between Sirus Tebrizli and Ramiz Mekhdiev has started. According to the paper, some observers consider that this conflict is the initiative of Siruz Tabrizli, while others think that the recent events are part of a plan prepared at the highest level of power and directed against Ramiz Mekhdiev. The "Azadlig" commentator recalled that there was no ultimate winner in the conflict between Health Minister Ali Insanov and Minister of Social Protection Ali Nagiyev. The paper suggests the conflict between Siruz Tebrizli and Ramiz Mekhdiev will end the same way.

(Samira Gaziyeva)