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Azerbaijan Report: July 3, 2001

3 July 2001
Celebrations In Iranian Azerbaijan
Tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis in Iran attended annual celebrations on 1 July 2001 to mark the birthday of Babek, the leader of the armed resistance to Arab conquerors in 816 A.D. Babek is a symbol of resistance not only against Arab conquerors but also the religion (Islam) they were trying to introduce in the area. In 816 A.D. Azerbaijanis headed by Babek rose up in arms against their conquerors. Armed resistance lasted almost 20 years. The army of the Arab Halifat finally managed to defeat Babek's forces at the Bazz fortress (about 300 km from Tabriz, the administrative center of Iranian Azerbaijan).

Estimates of the number of Azerbaijanis who attended celebrations at the hill where the Bazz fortress is located in June 2000 range from tens of thousands to 300,000 people. The number of people participating in this year's celebrations is estimated at around 500,000. This information is hard to confirm, but the interest of the local population in their national hero is significant. Some local observers suggest that this mass gathering could indicate increased national awareness among Azerbaijanis in Iran.

The exact number of Azerbaijanis in Iran is not known. Estimates vary between 15 and 30 million. Local intellectuals have repeatedly criticized the government of Iran for neglecting the cultural demands of Azerbaijanis, depriving them from the right to education in their native language. More than 20 Azerbaijani-language newspapers have begun publication since Mohammed Khatami became president of Iran. But the Iranian authorities have failed to fulfill their promises to grant Azerbaijanis greater cultural autonomy.

(Mirza Hazar)

PKK Guerillas Sentenced In Nakhichevan
Three members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and a citizen of Azerbaijan have been sentenced by a Nakhichevan court. All three were accused of illegally crossing the state border and hiding in Azerbaijan. Kadir Kartal, Aytac Cuma, and Sonmez Sihmaz (all citizens of Turkey) received 11, six and a half, and five and a half years in prison. Evaz Mamedov, a citizen of Azerbaijan accused of hiding the three PKK members in his home in Nakhichevan, received five and a half years in prison.

The men were arrested on 17 October 2000. The Turkish citizens confessed to being members of the PKK and were trained in camps in Armenia. This is the second group of PKK members sentenced in Nakhichevan this year. The first group of five citizens of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan were arrested in September 2000 and sentenced in June 2001 for violating Azerbaijani laws by illegally crossing the state border.

(RFE/RL Baku bureau)

Karabakh War Invalids Protection Committee to Stage Rally
The Protection Committee of Karabakh War Invalids held a press conference on 3 July devoted to the trial process of Karabakh war invalids which began on 13 June.

Committee Chairman Zardusht Alizadeh characterized the court process as the punishment of struggle for Karabakh by the Azerbaijani government. He recalled that the head of the State Commission on Refugee Issues, Ali Hassanov, reported that the government allotted 71 billion manat ($152, 688) for Karabakh invalids and 1.2 billion manat ($25,806) of this sum have been wasted. Alizadeh accused high-ranking officials of appropriating the money allotted by the government for invalids.

Karabakh War Invalids Society Chairman Etimad Asadov said that 107 police were involved in the process as witnesses and 25 as victims. Although the videotape taken during the action proved the guiltlessness of Karabakh invalids, the court is trying to imprison them. Asadov added that the government is attempting to break the resistance of the people who took part in the struggle for Karabakh because it is preparing to sign a defeatist peace deal.

Zardusht Alizadeh reported that the Protection Committee of Karabakh War Invalids will stage a protest demonstration on 14 July in front of the Gelebe cinema. He added that the Committee has appealed to the Baku City Council for permission to convene the rally.

(Natig Zeynalov)

Democratic Congress Discusses Political Situation
The Democratic Congress, which consists of parties close to Musavat and the "classic" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party discussed on 2 July the current political situation in the country, the new law adopted by the Russian State Duma on the process of joining foreign countries or their parts to the Russian Federation, events in the Sheki trial, and other issues.

Mirmahmud Fattayev, head of the "classic" wing of the APFP, accused Russia of creating problems for Azerbaijan and Georgia, and claimed that Russia is trying to get Karabakh to join Russia. Concerning the meeting of the leaders of the non-recognized separatist regimes of Upper Karabakh, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, and the Transdniester Republic in Khankandi, Mirmakhmud Fatatyiev said the government and opposition should unite their efforts in the struggle against separatism.

Mirmahmud Fattayev also criticized the election process to the National Academy of Sciences and said that the recent election demonstrates that the government's goal is to subject the academy to its influence. Democratic Congress members also discussed the trial of participants in the Sheki riots and said that the plan of Sheki events was organized by the president's office.

(Babek Bakir)

Demonstration To Protest Separatism In North Azerbaijan
According to information by the representation of the Human Rights Resource Center in Khachmaz-Guba district, about 100 representatives of the Lezghin nationality, supporters of the International Struggle Society Against Ethnic Separatism, are going to stage a rally in Baku on 10 July to protest the present separatist moves in the northern districts of Azerbaijan and to demand that Khachmaz Raion administration head Rafig Niftaliyev's activity be controlled. Chairman of the Initiative group of the Society, Reykhan Aslanova, and member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party Solmaz Alagayeva have appealed to the Baku City Council for permission to convene a demonstration and to the Baku Police Department to secure their safety.

The Human Rights Center also reported that the International Struggle Society Against Ethnic Separatism has distributed a statement among the people of the northern districts of Azerbaijan to call on the struggle against separatism.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Trial Of Participants Of Sheki Events Continues
The trial of people arrested during the protest demonstration in Sheki on 18 November last year continued in Mingechevir on 30 June. Mirismayil Hadiyev, the lawyer of the deputy chairman of the Musavat Party Sheki branch, Anvar Gulutsoy, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service characterized the speech of public prosecutor Nusret Nusretov during the court session on 30 June as biased because he demanded the participants of Sheki events be sentenced to harsh punishment without proving their guilt. He said that the court is fulfilling political orders handed down by the government.

The trial of 27 participants of the Sheki action began in Mingechevir on 17 May. Eighteen of them are under arrest and nine were released on bail.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Nakhichevan-Araz Society Created
Head of the board of the newly founded "Nakhichevan-Araz" Society, Samir Adigezally, told a press conference on 3 July that the creation of the Society is connected with the blockade of Nakhichevan and Armenian propaganda directed to the occupation of Nakhichevan. He rejected the opinion that the president administration head, Ramiz Mekhdiyev, and Custom Committee head Kamaladdin Heydarov's father took an active role in the creation of the Society. "The creation of the Society is the social order," Adigezally said. As a result of provocation being committed against Azerbaijan since 1988 we have lost Karabakh. We can lose Karabakh unless we take the necessary measures. He noted that Azerbaijan should make efforts to return the Mehry corridor connecting the territory of Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan.

Adigezally also positively appraised the creation of organizations of Azerbaijanis from Armenia. He said the Nakhichevan-Araz Society supports the principles of the Western Azerbaijanis society.

(Almaz Nasibova)

Exhibition Devoted To The Karabakh Conflict Opens In Baku
Thirty paintings and sculptures by Azerbaijani artists devoted to the Karabakh conflict were displayed in an exhibition held by the Karabakh Liberation Organization in Baku. Chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Organization Akif Nagi accused the government and NGO of being weakly prepared for the exhibition. He thinks an exhibition on the Karabakh theme should be organized on the government level not only in Azerbaijan but also in other countries.

(Zhala Mutallimova)

(Compiled & Translated by Samira Gaziyeva)

The independent newspaper "Uch Nogte" discussed the succession to President Heidar Aliyev in a 3 July commentary. The paper suggests that President Aliev's health is normal and he will stay in office until new presidential elections in the year 2003. But it is not yet clear whether Aliev's son Ilham will manage to succeed his father as president. "Ilham Aliyev realizes that the political situation in Azerbaijan is complicated, and it is impossible to build democratic institutions in the police regime that exists now. Therefore he seems not willing to take this burden on his shoulders," the paper comments. The paper notes that president's daughter, Sevil Alieva, is now trying to play a more active role in politics. "The president's daughter might have more support in public than his son," the paper concludes.

The opposition paper "Yeni Musavat," commenting on who is going to rule Azerbaijan after Heidar Aliev's demise, contrary to "Uch Nogte," suggests that Aliyev is in a hurry and he must solve the succession issue quickly. "Foreign countries are watching developments in Azerbaijan very closely, but Russia's activity is more visible. The rise of tensions and ethnic confrontations in northern Azerbaijan clearly points to the Kremlin's activities there. The decision adopted by the Russian Duma to allow independent states to join the Russian Federation is a sign that Moscow is preparing itself for power changes in Azerbaijan," the paper comments.

The government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" expresses a different view on the subject. According to that paper, the Duma decision is an another sign that Moscow would like Nagorno-Karabakh to join the Russian Federation. "In any case this move reveals neo-imperialistic desires in Russia," the paper concludes.

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo" claims that the political struggle in Azerbaijan is going on mainly within the political elite, because, as the paper argues, there is no opposition in Azerbaijan. The splintering of opposition forces began in 2000 and the division has reached its apogee today. Lack of finances, lack of influence, and more important, lack of a social base, make the opposition helpless. According to the paper, the opposition's inactivity is the main reason why the outcome of the power struggle is being decided within the ruling elite. And the paper predicts that the number of groups within that elite struggling for power will increase in the near future, and the confrontation between them will grow much more intense in August-October.

(Samira Gaziyeva, Elkhan Nasibov, Mirza Hazar)