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Azerbaijan Report: May 22, 2001

22 May 2001
A Fight Between Clans In Baku, Or A Sign Of Aliev's Weakness?
Recent commentaries and reports in the Azerbaijani press suggests that a real political struggle is underway between the so- called "clans" represented in upper echelons of power in Baku. The fight between those "clans" intensified last week when another group representing Western Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijanis from Armenia) created the new "Erivan Birliyi" (Erevan Unity) society. The founders of this new entity insist that their society has no political goals and pursues only "public goals." But in spite of this insistence, most political observers in Baku, as well as most commentators in the Azerbaijani press, believethat the main goal of the "Erivan Birliyi" is to become a sort of "center of power" in the event of Heydar Aliev's demise.

Both arguments seem to be sincere, but an attempt by Western Azerbaijanis to hold on their influence within the upper leadership in Baku suggests that after Aliev's departure they might fail to retain that influence or to maintain the grip on power in the long term. Local observers suggest that the haste in creating this "unity" is a clear sign of the weakness of the Western Azerbaijanis and suggests that they fear for their own future.

Another indication is that Western Azerbaijanis in the upper echelons of power are seriously preparing themselves for the power struggle which will erupt as soon as Aliyev departs the political scene. But even if this is true, there are many obstacles restricting the ability of Western Azerbaijanis to actively play a role in the transition of power. One of the obstacles is, as the local press suggests, deep differencies and even hostility between "Erivan Birliyi" and another Western Azerbaijani society, called "Agridag" (the Turkish name for Mount Ararat).

Azerbaijani papers identify as the moving force behind "Erivan Birliyi" Ramiz Mehtiev, who heads the presidential staff. The main player in "Agridag" is Health Minister Ali Insanov. The rivalry between the two is no longer a secret in Baku.

There is another sign that the alleged power struggle will turn into struggle between "clans." According to some reports, the "Alindja" society which was formed in the early 1990's in Baku by elite groups from Nakhichevan, constitutes another influential group within the top leadership. Hostilities between these two "clans" have deepened since Aliyev came to power in June 1993. The Nakhichevanis claim that they played a major role in bringing Aliyev to power. They complain that despite having done so, they did not receive as much attention as the Western Azerbaijanis did.

One can not exclude the possibility that the rivalry between the Western Azerbaijanis and the Azerbaijanis from Nakhichevan will increase as rumors about President Aliev's health and his upcoming departure from power continue to spread. And as long as those rumors continue to spread, and as long as President Aliev's image on TV continues to worry his close allies, the fight between the "clans" will continue to intensify. As long as the struggle for power continues, it is likely to impact on other political forces and the public in Azerbaijan.

(Mirza Xazar)

German Foreign Minister Visit Baku
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer completed his visit to Azerbaijan on May 21. During his visit he met with President Heydar Aliev, Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev, and representatives of political parties and NGOs. Fischer also met with OSCE representatives in Baku and took part in the work of business forum.

During a press conference on May 21, Fischer said that the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, democratic processes in Azerbaijan, security in the Caucasus region and economic cooperation between two countries were discussed during his meetings with President Aliev. He stressed that Germany as a member of the European Union and the OSCE supports efforts to resolve conflicts in the Caucasus.

(Samira Gaziyeva)

Etibar Mamedov Visited U.S.
Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov visited Washington from 14 -18 May at the invitation of U.S. Republican Party. Mamedov told a press-conference in Baku on 21 May that the new U.S. administration is pursuing a policy directed towards the creation of stability in the region and the development of democratic processes in Caucasus.

Mamedov reported that while in Washington he discussed the Karabakh peace negotiations with U.S. officials. He said the U.S. is interested in the signing in the near future of a Karabakh peace agreement in order to start implementing economic development plans for the region.

Mamedov added that the peace plan which was recently discussed by the OSCE mediators is the continuation of the proposal made in 1999. According to this plan, the Karabakh Armenians would be actually granted independence and Lachin as a corridor linking Armenia with Karabakh. In exchange, Azerbaijan would be guranteed access via Armenian territory to Nakhichevan.

Mamedov said President Aliyev should state that Azerbaijan will not compromise its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

(Natig Zeynalov)

Pressure On Journalists Continues
The editor-in chief of the independent newspaper "Tazadlar," Acif Marzili, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that the paper's employees have not been allowed to enter their offices at the publishing house "Azerbaijan" because of newspaper's debt of 3.8 billion manats ($830). Marzili said the pressure upon paper is politically motivated and it dates from the 1995 March events.

"Tazadlar" was the organ of the Charitable Society "Khudu Mamedov," whose chairman was Rovshan Javadov, the head of the former Interior Ministry OMON special detachment, who was shot dead in March 1995 during a standoff with the Azerbaijani army.

Basti Ismayilova, who is deputy general director of the publishing house, rejected Marzili's accusations and said the decision to bar "Tazadlar" journalists from entering their offices was prompted exclusively by the difficult financial situation of publishing house. She said the total debt of "Tazadlar" to the publishing house is estimated at 14 billion manats ($3043).

(Maarif Akbarov)

Milli Mejlis To Discuss New Draft Law On Political Parties
The parliamentary commission on State Building and Legal Issues has started to prepare a controversial new draft law on political parties.

Zahid Orudj, a deputy from the Ana Vatan Party which is close to the government, was the first to raise this issue during the Milli Mejlis session last week. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service, Orudj said the current law on political parties should be revised because it does not address problems connected with parties' activity. Orudj accused some opposition parties of financial irregularities. He describes as dangerous the fact that the majority of parties in Azerbaijan are taking shape on regional lines, suggesting that the new law should prevent this tendency.

Musavat Party secretary Arif Hadjiyev attacked Zahid Orudj's arguments and characterized the current law on political parties, which was adopted during the Popular Front presidency, as democratic. Hadjiyev said that by preparing a new draft law on political parties the government will create new problems for opposition parties.

Asif Abdullayev, who is deputy chairman of the Akhrar party, considers the government's goal is to weaken its opponents on the eve of the transfer of power from Heydar Aliyev to his son Ilham.

(Babek Bakir)

U.S. Supports Mine Awareness Project In Azerbaijan
Representatives of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Actions (ANAMA), the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ross William, and UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan Dr. Akif Saatcioglu held a press-conference to inform the media about the Mine Awareness Project in Azerbaijan that began in June 2000.

The main goal of Mine/UXO Awareness Project is to sensitize internally displaced persons to the danger of mines and eliminate the potential incidence of mine fatalities and injuries among children and women and other vulnerable groups in Azerbaijan. In order to do so, it is very important to enhance the education system and incorporate mine awareness methods into school curricula with proper teaching materials, and to raise mine awareness among parents as well.

The Mine/UXO Awareness Project of UNICEF working with the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Actions has received $311,000 in financial support from the U.S. government. U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson expressed the hope that a compromise between Azerbaijan and Armenia on resolving Karabakh conflict will be achieved. He stressed the importance of the Mine Awareness Project.

(Almaz Nasibova)

The opposition daily newspaper "Yeni Musavat" suggested on 22 May that the latest visit of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen to the region has failed. The paper evaluates recent developments in the peace process as hopeless. The remarks of Russian co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov show that Russia is not going to abandon its position on the Karabakh issue. Russia's goal is to strengthen its influence on the peace process. According to the paper's commentator, one of the reasons for the failure is that the countries which take part in Karabakh peace process as mediators follow their own interests. The paper adds that former Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov does not rule out a pause in the negotiation process.

The eponymous daily newspaper of the ruling party "Yeni Azerbaijan" claims that the solution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Upper Karabakh depends on Russia's position. The paper's commentator does not believe that Russia is interested in resolving that conflict in the near future. The lack of stability in the Caucasus facilitates Russia's efforts to preserve its influence in the region.

The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen are waiting for "X" day in Azerbaijan [meaning the death of President Heidar Aliev]. The mediators' renewed activity is connected with the anticipated imminent change of power in Azerbaijan and their goal is to prevent the violation of stability in the region, the paper notes.

Commenting on the most recent stage of Karabakh talks, the independent paper "Uch nogte" pointed out that a peace agreement will not be achieved either during the Geneva meeting or during the following round of negotiations. According to the paper, the Karabakh dispute can be solved only by military force.

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo" considers the events taking place in the region depend on the interests of the super-powers. Mutually contradictory statements by the co-chairmen show that Moscow and Washington have not achieved an agreement in their competition for influence in the South Caucasus. The paper suggests the forthcoming meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents in Slovenia will play a decisive role in resolving the Karabakh conflict. The paper notes the increased efforts by the U.S. to resolve the conflict, adding that the U.S. is waiting for Baku and Yerevan to sign a peace deal to solve their economic problems. The "Zerkalo" commentator added that the White House is attempting to weaken Iran's influence on Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The creation of the Public Unit consisting of Azerbaijanis born in Armenia is another main theme in the Azerbaijani press. The independent paper "Alternative" describes the creation of the Unit as one of the main events of the last week and says it shows that Azerbaijanis from Armenia are again becoming politically active. According to the paper, the new Unit is created to replace Agridag, the first organization of western Azerbaijanis. Another reason for the creation of the society of Western Azerbaijanis is connected with the ongoing structural reforms within the government as a result of which some high ranking officials originally from Armenia have retired. The paper notes that the new organization was created at a time when President Aliev's son Ilham started his first steps as politician, and does not rule out the new Unit of Western Azerbaijanis will issue statements expressing support for Ilham Aliev.

The independent newspaper "Uch nogte" writes that the Society of Western Azerbaijanis was created at the initiative of presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhdiyev. (The term Western Azerbaijanis means Azerbaijanis who left Armenia in various periods of history). The paper suggests that creation of the new society is a political step taken with a view to developments after Aliev's departure from power. The goal of the new society, according to the paper, is to out-maneuver Health Minister Ali Insanov, who is the chairman of Agridag (the Turkish name for Mount Ararat) society and who is considered a rival to Ramiz Mehdiyev. The Agridag society was created by Western Azerbaijanis in 1993.

(Samira Gaziyeva)