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Azerbaijan Report: May 9, 2001

9 May 2001
Karabakh Peace Process: Azerbaijan Opposition Stave Off Any Concessions by the Government
Rustam Mamedov, a representative of the Social- Political Department of the President's Office, has commented on a 4 May Reuters report that an agreement on resolving the Karabakh conflict will be signed during the G-8 July summit. Mamedov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that "we may receive concrete and reliable information about a solution to the conflict only from the president." If the Azerbaijani leadership says nothing about the signing of a peace agreement it means there are a lot of issues still to be solved. According to Mamedov, it will be difficult to conclude a peace agreement if Azerbaijan's interests are not taken into acount. He does not believe the Azerbaijani leadership would sign a peace agreement which is not to the benefit of Azerbaijan.

Commenting on recent developments in the Karabakh peace process, Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar said the Armenian side repeatedly demonstrates optimism about a solution to the Karabakh conflict. But an agreement which is suitable for both government and opposition in Armenia cannot be to the benefit of Azerbaijan. This issue should be settled within the framework of Azerbaijan's sovereignity and territorial integrity. According to Gambar, the issue of Karabakh's status can be raised only after the liberation of occupied Azerbaijani territories and the return of displaced persons to their homes.

Gambar said that at its 7 May session the Democratic Congress, which consista of about 10 opposition parties, decided to start protest rallies to preempt any concessions by the Azerbaijani government.

Etibar Mamedov, chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, is demanding that the country's leadership inform the nation about the negotiations over Karabakh. He said his party will reject any attempts by the Azerbaijan government to sign a peace deal which is not based on Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Arif Junusov, chief of the Conflict Department of the Institution of Peace and Democracy, who took part in an international conference on the theme "Stability and Peace in Caucasus. The settlement of Karabakh conflict" held in Germany, told a press-conference on May 8 that Upper Karabakh could formally be left within Azerbaijan only as a result of U.S. pressure upon Armenia. According to him, there is a competition for influence in the South Caucasus between Russia and the U.S. If the signing of an agreement on the Karabakh conflict appears imminent, Russia will attempt to violate this process, Junusov predicted.

Junusov said the signing of a peace agreement is not very important for Armenia. Armenia is interested in restoring economic connections with Azerbaijan to solve its economic problems. He accused Azerbaijan officials who participated in the conference of passivity.

(Babek Bakir, Samira Gaziyeva)

May 8 - the Day of Occupation of Shusha
Representatives of 15 opposition parties and nine non-governmental organisations held a meeting on May 8 at the Shahidlar Khiyabani (the cemetery where victims of the 20 January tragedy and the Karabakh war are buried) devoted to the anniverary of the occupation of Shusha.

Akif Nagi, head of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, proposed that May 8 be marked as the day of occupation of Azerbaijani territories. He expressed his concern about the negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict, saying that these talks are conducted with the aim of dividing up Azerbaijani territories and should be stopped.

Tahir Kerimli, head of the Vahdat party, said that if the government is not able to liberate occupied Azerbaijani territories it should resign.

On May 8 the World Azerbaijani Patriots' Union and the Karabakh Independent Youth Organization held a scientific conference devoted to the ninth anniversary of the occupation of Shusha.Some of the town's former inhabitants participated in the conference together with representatives of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia. Fakhraddin Safarov, who participated in the military operations for Shusha, denied that the town was surrendered without a fight. He said soldiers defended Shusha until 8.50 p.m. on 8 May and that 169 men died in the battle for Shusha. After that time, orders were received to abandon the town.

(Natig Zeynalov, Maarif Akbarov)

The Milli Mezhlis discussed the occupation of Shusha at its 8 May session. Deputy Khanhuseyn Kazimli accused the former Azerbaijani government of being unable to prevent the occupation of Shusha by Armenian forces. He proposed instituting criminal proceedings against those people who were in power nine years ago. Deputy Anar Rzayev said that if the process currently underway of resettling Armenians in Shusha continues, the town will become an Armenian one.

The 8 May session also addressed problems with the draft law on the native language. Deputy Anar Rzayev pointed out that although this draft was prepared some months ago by the Parliament commission on culture, the legislature has not discussed it yet. Parliament speaker Murtuz Aleskerov reported that the draft was submitted to the president's office some months ago for review but has not yet been returned.

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformists" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, said his party has prepared a concept on public television and proposed that the session discuss it, but speaker Aleskerov rejected that proposal.

(Zarkhanim Akhmedli)

Laws on Media to Be Changed
Arif Aliyev, the head of the Journalists' Union "Yeni Nasil," who took part in the activities of the working group charged with amending the laws on the mass media, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that the working group's goal is not to change isolated articles of those laws but to revise the laws on mass media completely.

The working group, which is headed by Ali Hassanov, the head of the Social-Political Department of President's Office, was created on the order of President Heidar Aliev. Revising Azerbaijan's mass media laws is one of the recommendations of the Council of Europe.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Commenting on the Karabakh peace process, the independent newspaper "Ekho" writes that predictions on the eve of the June talks in Genera between Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian cast doubt on the progress allegedly made during the Key West negotiations in April. There are no signs that the sides are ready for compromise. On the contrary, politicians and public in both Azerbaijan and Armenia tend to speak about war. According to the paper, the discussion by the OSCE's Minsk Group and reports that the Karabakh issue will be raised during the July G-8 summit suggest that the major countries of the world will actively join the Karabakh settlement process. The paper does not rule out that those countries may try to influence the position of the two sides.

Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan chairman Zardusht Alizadeh said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" that he does not believe a peace deal on Karabakh will be signed this year. Russia is not interested in a solution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia because Moscow does not want to lose its position in Caucasus, Alizadeh argues. According to him, only a draft agreement on a settlement is likely to be signed during the Geneva talks.

"Yeni Azerbaijan," the daily newspaper of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, predicts that a repeat of the 1999 parliament shootings may take place in Armenia. According to the paper, Russia has started its activity in this direction.

Politologist Gabil Huseynli in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" said that low living standards and ideological bankruptcy are creating the conditions in which Islamic ideology could come to power in Azerbaijan. Comparing current conditions in Azerbaijan with the situation in Iran in1979, Huseynli notes that today's situation in Azerbaijan is several times worse than in Iran at that time. In contrast to Iran, Azerbaijan's territories have been occupied and there are nearly a million refugees who live in poverty. Popular alienation is so high that people are waiting for a miracle. There is no political force in Azerbaijan in which all the people can believe. The level of prostitution among the population is increasing. According to Huseynli, all these factors contribute to the development of religious ideologies in Azerbaijan.

One of the leaders of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, Haji Hajiaga Nuriyev, in an interview with the newspaper "Avropa" reported on the active participation of the Islamic Party in the Cooperation Union of opposition parties created in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second city. The different parties have adopted a common position on the difficult social and political situation in Ganja in particular and in Azerbaijan in general. Meetings of the Union took place at the headquarters of the Islamic and Social-Democratic parties on April 27 and May 4. According to Nuriyev, the Azerbaijani government has not yet reacted to the Union's appeals. At the same time, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson visited Ganja and had a meeting with some opposition parties in the headquarters of the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Haji Nuriyev said the errors committed by both the government and the opposition have helped the Islamic Party strengthen its position among the population. He said a change of power is to be expected in Azerbaijan.

Commenting on ongoing infighting within the government, the opposition newspaper "Ulus" writes that Ali Nagiyev, the minister of social protection, is expected to be replaced. According to the paper, Ramiz Mekhdiyev, the head of the Presidents office, is guilty of victimizing Nagiyev. The paper said the government used the Karabakh war invalids' hunger strike to exert pressure on Nagiyev.

"Azadlig" takes a diverging view of developments within the government, claiming that it is officials close to Ramiz Mekhdiyev who are oppressed. According to the paper, President Heidar Aliyev is hurrying to implement his plan to transfer power from himself to his son Ilham. At the same time, the paper notes that representatives of the highest level of power do not believe Ilham Aliyev will be able to become president. Among the names of alternative presidential candidates, that of Ramiz Mekhdiyev is mentioned most frequently.

(Samira Gaziyeva)