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Azerbaijan Report: May 11, 2001

11 May 2001
Discussion Of Upcoming Karabakh Peace Talks Continues
The most recent developments in the Karabakh peace process, including the latest statements by Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, have revived heated discussions among politicians and the local press in Baku. These statements also indicate that contradictions in judgment continue to exist in the runup to the planned meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Geneva in June. One can only assume that expectations are low before the Geneva talks, despite some optimistic remarks by representatives of the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments. In his remarks to RFE/RL in Washington on May 10, Powell also pointed out the difficulties facing both presidents:

"It is a very difficult negotiation, a negotiation that, if it is successful at the end, would be difficult for the two presidents (Kocharian and Aliyev) to present to their people. And so, there is still some serious hurdles ahead, but progress was made in Key West. Whether we are ready for Geneva or not is a subject to some discussion this very day," Powell said in Washington.

That remark is an obvious indication of the hard task awaiting both the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. Powell also argued the importance of a peace treaty for economic development in Armenia and for stability for the Caucasus. He said "It [an agreement] will be just wonderful for the region. Armenia is losing its population because of lack of economic opportunity. There is a continuing war there that's under a cease-fire status and there is wealth in that region that can be released if only we can get stability and the end of this conflict and I think lots of good things in neighboring countries will happen as well."

Azerbaijani Official Comments on Armenian Foreign Minister's Interview
"Armenian officials pursue two goals," Rustam Mamedov, head of the political department of the presidential office, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service by telephone on 11 May, commenting on Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's recent statement on the Karabakh peace talks. Mamedov said the Armenian side is trying to determine the reactions of Azerbaijani public, and possibly to destabilize internal situation in Azerbaijan. There is no other explanation to Oskanian's statement that Lachin will be delivered to Armenia, because he knew beforhand how the Azerbaijani public will react to such a statement. Another explanation for the recent statements, according to Mamedov, is that official Yerevan is trying to find out more about the position of official Baku in the ongoing peace talks between two countries.

(Sabina Alieva)

Council of Europe Experts Visit Azerbaijan
A group of experts from the Council of Europe arrived in Azerbaijan on May 8 to study the human rights situation and clarify the number of political prisoners. They visited prison number 9 and the Gobustan strict regime prison and familiarized themselves with legal proceedings against 26 political prisoners among 262 whose names had been entered in a list of political prisoners prepared by Azerbaijani human rights activists.

A Council of Europe representative met with imprisoned former Interior Minister Iskender Khamidov, former Prime Minister Suret Guseynov, former Interior Ministry forces commander Fakhmin Hadjiyev, former National Security Minister Nariman Imranov, Alikram Gumbatov, who was accused of separatism in southern Azerbaijan, and Rafig Agayev, who was accused of attempting a coup d'etat.

The head of the Council of Europe delegation, Stefan Trechsel, told a press-conference on May 10 that it is difficult to give a concrete answer to the question "are there political prisoners in Azerbaijan?" He said the experts will meet with representatives of different ministries and with the president. After reviewing all the available information they will try to determine whether the people whose names are on the list compiled by human rights activists are political prisoners or not.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service, the head of the Human Rights Department, Saida Godjmanli, positively appraised the visit of the Council of Europe's experts and expressed the hope that a law on amnesty will be signed in the near future.

(Zhala Mutallimova)

Democrat Party to Stage Protest Demo in Baku
The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) will stage a protest demonstration in Baku on May 12 to demand the release of political prisoners and improvements in the social-political situation in the country. Baku City Council officials have rejected all routes proposed by the ADP for the protest march and suggested an alternative which the party rejected. ADP members say the Baku authorities' position violates the law on freedom of assembly. Moreover, the route proposed by the Baku city council is not safe because it passes close to a military barracks and a filling station.

(Maarif Akbarov)

The Milli Mejlis discussed on May 11 the draft law on the state policy towards youth. Deputy Fazail Ibrahimli criticized the draft as an attempt to resolve simultaneously numerous problems which cannot all be addressed in one law. He said that approach is bound to fail.

Parliament deputy Mubariz Gurbanli, who represents the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, told a briefing in the Milli Mejlis building that the Azerbaijani government will not sign any agreement during the Geneva negotiations which runs counter to Azerbaijan's interests.

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist wing" of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, claimed there is a danger that a new Armenian state may be created within the Azerbaijan state while the formal territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is preserved.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Official Says Turkmenistan's Demands Contradict International Law
Commenting on the Turkmen Foreign Ministry's statement accusing Azerbaijan of lacking a constructive approach, Rustam Mamedov, who is a member of the commission on consultations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on Caspian issues, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service on May 10 that the position of Azerbaijan in this issue is in accordance with international law.

The Commission was created in January 1998 on the order of President Aliyev to determine the principles of delimitation of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. But all negotiations held since 1998 have ended in failure. Turkmenistan intends to realize the interests of some third countries and its own ambitions prevent a solution to the issue of determining the Caspian's legal status, Mamedov said.

Turkmenistan has claimed ownership of the Caspian Kapaz, Aseri and Chirag oil-fields since 1997. Azerbaijan is currently developing the Chirag field.

During last two years Turkmenistan has repeatedly threatened to launch legal proceedings against Azerbaijan in the International Arbitration Court. But according to Rustam Mamedov, Turkmenistan does not have any legal basis for doing so.

(Samira Gaziyeva)

The independent newspaper "Ekho" characterized Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's most recent statement as a canard, adding that all statements by officials create a shock effect because of the information blockade imposed on both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian public. Commenting on the information given by participants of the April Key West negotiations, the paper writes that not only the conflict sides but also representatives of the same side have expressed diverging opinions. This inclines people to treat those remarks with scepticism. "Ekho" says statements such as Oskanian's have a negative influence on Azerbaijan because they can cause the protest rallies in republic. Those protests in turn can negatively affect both stability within the country and the negotiation process. The paper's commentator concluded that the Armenians have started the next stage of war, which is "information provocation."

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," political analyst Rasim Musabekov also comments on Oskanian's 9 May statement that Armenia does not intend to abandon the ''common state" principle. This statement clearly demonstrates whose position is more constructive, Armenia's or Azerbaijan's, Musabekov writes, adding that if Yerevan continues to make such statements the international community should exert pressure on Armenia, which poses a threat to peace and security in the region.

Commenting on Armenian President Robert Kocharian's visit to New York and his planned meeting with OSCE mediators, the independent paper "Zerkalo" notes that U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh has already received the Azerbaijani government's acceptance of the principles of the new draft peace agreement. The mediators are trying to persuade Armenia, which has adopted a maximalist position, to adopt these principles. The paper does exclude that the mediators will exert pressure on the Armenian president, who is acting at the behest of "chauvinistic forces." The paper adds that Kocharian, by attempting to create conditions for attracting investments in Armenia's economy, seeks to gain the political support of the investor-countries. The paper does not believe Kocharian can influence the settlement process in this way because Western countries prefer not to mix economic and political issues in their relations with third world countries. The paper comes to the conclusion that we shall probably be presented in Geneva with a new draft agreement that runs counter to Armenia's wishes but which also is not in the interest of Azerbaijan.

The independent paper "Zerkalo" points out the weakening of the positions of Turkish business in Azerbaijan. According to the paper, a new business class has started to take shape in Azerbaijan. Some Azerbaijani who now live and work in Russia are going to return home. According to "Zerkalo," Turkish business is being squeezed out by both local entrepreneurs and those returning Azerbaijani businessman

According to the opposition newspaper ''Azadlig," the publication of information about the president's health problems has triggered greater activity by forces close to Iran and Russia. Comparing the current development of events with the situation in 1993, the paper points out that at that time Iran and Russia coordinated their efforts against the Azerbaijan Popular Front government. In 1993 Heidar Aliyev blamed the former government for the deterioration in relations with Iran and Russia. Today he faces the same situation.

(Samira Gaziyeva)