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Azerbaijan Report: July 24, 2001

24 July 2001
Incident In Caspian Sea
On July 23 at 13.42 a warplane belonging to Iran's Naval Force flew over the Geofizik-III and Alif Hajiyev vessels conducting exploration works in Azerbaijan's Alov structure. Then at 20.10 an Iranian warship approached the Geofizik-III vessel and demanded that the captain leave the Alov structure and sail 8 km northwards. The captain of the vessel informed the Iranian seamen that he has all the necesary documents for the works, but the Iranian seamen rejected that explanation. The captain of the Iranian warship said that he has orders to force the Geofizik III to leave the area. The Iranian navy said they would use all means available if the Azeri vessel did not obey, and after this Iranians prepared their ship for action. The Azerbaijani captain informed the Azerbaijani coasstguard which ordered him to leave the area. According to the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry this action is not good and can breach the relations between friendly countries. Azerbaijan's Prime Minister Artur Rasizadeh urgently summoned Iran's Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ahad Gazai at at 1 p.m. that evening in connection with the incident and presented to him a note of protest of Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan.

The note was published on 24 July in the official Azerbaijani media. It said that on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan, "the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan expresses its protest in connection with the actions of the Iranian Navy in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea and demands to put an end to them immediately. Azerbaijan is expecting Iran's explanations in connection with the incident."

The National Security Ministry and Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan refused to give more information to RFE/RL correspondent.

Former Azerbaijani ambassador to Iran Aliyar Safarli considers that this is a planned step by the Iranian government and with this action Iran wants to put pressure on Azerbaijan. "The visit of the Iranian official Hassan Rouhani to Azerbaijan was of an intelligence nature," said Safarli

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Comments on the Caspian Standoff
Novruz Mammadov, the head of the International Relations department of the Presidential Office, thinks that such an exchange of notes is comprehensible especially during discussions between officials of two countries. Mammadov also said that Azerbaijan has been drilling oil from that area of Caspian Sea for 50 years and plans to continue to do so in future.

BP's spokeswoman in Azerbaijan, Tamam Bayatli Onar, said that BP's operating vessel left the area for the safety of its staff and informed Azerbaijani government about it. Bayatli also said that BP seriously believes that the division of the Caspian Sea is a matter for the two governments and hopes that the problem will be solved soon. Recently BP stopped its explorations in the area and is planning its the next moves. BP also will discuss it with SOCAR and other companies who participate in exploration in that area.

(Zerkhanim Ahmadli)

(Compiled and Translated by Mahir Iskenderov)

Mountain Jews: There Was No Anti-Semitism In Azerbaijan
More than 100 community activists representing Mountain Jews gathered recently in Baku to consider ways to keep alive the culture of the Mountain Jews, whose numbers are estimated at around 100,000 worldwide, according to "The Jerusalem Post." Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Mountain Jews outside of Israel lived in Caucasus. The fall of communism has prompted so many renaissances in Jewish life across Eastern Europe that the phrase almost has become a cliche. But post-Soviet turmoil has jeopardized the existence of "Mountain Jews," as Jews from the Caucasus region are known, writes Lev Gorodetsky in "The Jerusalem Post." Increased ethnic tension - including numerous kidnappings by Chechen separatists - and an economic crisis have caused an exodus of Mountain Jews to Russia and Israel, and the fear that the community's distinctive identity will be lost.

Who are the Mountain Jews? "The Jerusalem Post" writes: "The distinct identity of Mountain Jews is believed to have crystallized by the eighth century, when waves of Jewish immigrants began migrating to the Caucasus from Persia. Members of the community spoke Dzhuhuri - a kind of 'Persian Yiddish' - a Farsi dialect with a heavy mixture of Hebrew." It should be added that some Mountain Jews consider the Azerbaijani language, and some the Russian language as their native tongue, but the majority keep alive their own dialect.

The Red Book On People of The Russian Empire has this to say about the language and origins of the Mountain Jews: "The Mountain Jews belong to the Iranian division of the Indo-European languages. They speak Tat, a dialect of New-Persian. The same language is spoken by the Tats of Azerbaijan and Dagestan to whom the Mountain Jews have sometimes been considered to belong.

In terms of ethnic origin, it is assumed that the Mountain Jews and Tats have inhabited Caucasia for a long time. Their distant forefathers once lived in southern Azerbaijan, the north-western part of present-day Iran. It was there that they adopted the Tat language but retained Judaism as their faith (the Tats are Islamic). Having become largely assimilated, the predecessors of the Mountain Jews settled on the west coast of the Caspian Sea in the 5th--6th century and from that time on their history has been related to the mountains and the people of Dagestan and Azerbaijan. They resettled from the mountains to the coastal lowlands in the 18th--19th century but brought the ethnonym Mountain Jews with them." This is the view of The Red Book of the people of the Russian Empire. (see web site: The Mountain Jews).

"The Jerusalem Post" presents other views on the roots of Mountain Jews: "Some scholars say Mountain Jews may have mixed with the remnants of the Judaic population of the mysterious Khazar empire. Situated between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, the (Turkic) Khazars converted to Judaism en masse and made it their state religion in the seventh century. Three hundred years later, they fell under attacks from the Byzantine Empire and the precursors of today's Slavs," the paper writes.

The Mountain Jews have never been subjected by their Muslim neighbors to anti-Semitism, according to "The Jerusalem Post." But the paper fails to mention that most of the Mountain Jews living in Guba, Azerbaijan are the descendents of Mountain Jews who fled in 18th century from pogroms in Daghestan, and the Khan of Guba allowed them to take refuge in Azerbaijan and thus saved their lives (see The Hebrew Enccyclopedia).

According to "The Jerusalem Post," "living in enclaves surrounded by Muslims and Christians, Mountain Jews managed to maintain their identity and keep stable relations with their neighbors. The predominantly Muslim region rarely saw anti-Semitism, at least of the virulent European form."

Under the Russian czars, the Mountain Jews were left alone and free of pogroms - except during wars, when they were attacked by all sides.

After the Communist revolution of 1917, the Soviet state tried to "absorb" the Mountain Jews into a local ethnic group known as the Tats. Still, they preserved both their distinct role operating open-air markets and their traditional religious practices, which mix Sephardic and Askenazic customs.

"The Jerusalem Post" continue: "All that has changed in recent years as 90 percent of the community emigrated. The community is now evenly split, with some 50,000 members across the former Soviet Union and similar numbers here. Some who left for Israel have returned because of economic difficulties.

In addition, many emigrants moved to large Russian cities, especially Moscow, where the number of Mountain Jews has reached 20,000, according to some estimates. The Moscow Choral Synagogue recently opened a special prayer hall for the Mountain community."

However, Mountain Jews from the Caucasus, especially from Azerbaijan have emigrated not only to Israel, but also to Germany and the United States in recent years. Small communities of Mountain Jews exist now in Berlin and Munich, as well as in New York City. The Mountain Jews are united in their unique culture, language, traditions, but some distinction been made between them too. For example there are several regional distinctions between Guba Jews, living in the ity of Guba, Azerbaijan, Shirwan Jews, until mass emigration located in Shamakhy, Ismayilli, Goychai in Azerbaijan, Derbent Jews, previously located in Derbend, Daghestan, and Nalchik Jews, mainly located in Chechnya before mass exodus. Today all these groups are disseminated throughout several different countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Israel, Germany, and the United States.

"The Jerusalem Post" presents different views on the chances for Mountain Jews to survive as a community. Some observers are skeptical that this community can survive outside of its traditional boundaries. But others see events such as the recent Baku conference - and the group's long history - as signs of optimism.

"Thirteen centuries of our survival is a proof that our community and its culture will live on," Baku conference participant Munashir Adilyaguev said.

"There was no anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan. But when everything closed down, I lost my job and we had to move to Moscow," says Rafail Shefundiyaev, 42. "Like lots of other Mountain Jews, we have been thrown out of the normal social and communal structure and brought to Moscow without money and social connections." Their role in the economic life of the Moscow Jewish community is also growing, especially in trade.

But, according to "The Jerusalem Post," Mountain Jews also face discrimination, both within the Jewish community and the larger society. Relations between the Mountain Jews and other Jews are problematic, as Ashkenazi Jews often treat them with contempt and prejudice. It is true not only in diaspora, but also in Israel. Will Mountain Jews be able to survive and keep their identity? Some believe they will, others don't.

(Mirza Khazar)

Another Conflict Over Caspian Oil Fields, or Another Blow To Iranian-Azerbaijani Relations?
The incident in the Caspian Sea on July 23 is an another sign of existing and future conflicts between the five Caspian littoral states over offshore oil fields in the region. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of some oil fields is well known to the public. Turkmenistan claims ownership of two oil fields which Azerbaijan has included in its oil exploitation program. Ashgabat even threatened to appeal to an international arbitration court to solve the dispute in its favor. But the 23 July incident when an Iranian gunship and a military aircraft threatened two oil exploration ships belonging to Azerbaijan is more serious than the dispute between Baku and Ashgabat. It is significant that the incident occured just two days after the visit of Hassan Rouhani, Secretary of the High Council for National Security of Iran, to Baku and his meetings with Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliev.

What happened during these meetings is still unclear, but Hassan Rouhani made it clear in the presence of the British Ambassador to Azerbaijan by saying "Iran will not permit foreign companies to launch any oil and gas activities within its 20 percent control share over the sea."

The 23 July incident occured in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. The Azerbaijani authorities promptly protested the Iranian actions, which is understandable. The Azerbaijani leadership realizes the danger of such incidents not only for Azerbaijan's souvereignty over parts of Caspian sea. The main concern for official Baku is the potential danger of Iranian actions for Azerbaijan's relationship with international oil companies.

The British oil giant BP said it was operating the survey vessels and said it has suspended exploration work in that area of the sea around its Araz-Alov-Sharg oil concession. Furthermore, BP made it clear that the company does not like to be involved and the governments should solve problems between states. This statement might be discouraging for official Baku, of course. It is not clear if the states behind the oil companies, such as the United States and Great Britain, would like to become involved in this dispute or not, but it is obvious that Azerbaijani leadership would like very much for this to happen.

Nevertheless, the Azeri state news agency reported that Prime Minister Artur Rasizade had sent a letter of protest to the Iranian ambassador in Azerbaijan over the 23 July incident. And observers believe Heydar Aliev's upcoming visit to Iran is in jeopardy over the incident in the Caspian Sea.

As for Iran, it is not clear what official Tehran hoped to gain from this incident. Relations between Azerbaijan and Islamic Republic of Iran have been tense for the last several years. Iran opposed agreements signed between Azerbaijan and Western oil companies on the exploration of Caspian oil fields. At the same time, Iran still insists that the status of the Caspian Sea should be resolved first, making demands on Azerbaijani sector of Caspian sea. The Azerbaijani government rejects the Iranian position. On the other hand, the Iranian government is not pleased with the Western-oriented foreign policy pursued by Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan in turn accuses Iran of maintaining economic and political relations with Armenia, which is in conflict with Azerbaijan.

Another "hot" point in relations between two countries is, of course, the problem of around 20-30 million Azerbaijanis living on their historical land in Iran. Government newspapers in Tehran accused the Azerbaijan Republic of stirring up nationalist sentiments among the ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran. The Azerbaijani government press in turn accused Iran of exporting the "Iranian model of political Islam" to several regions of Azerbaijan in order to establish its influence and create an Islamic regime here.

The incident on July 23 has complicated the already tense relations between the two countries. The incident has also complicated Azerbaijan's desire to explore the huge oil reserves of its sector in the Caspian Sea. And the incident has added a new dimension to the Caspian quarrel: a military one. An RFE/RL correspondent in Southern Azerbaijan reported that an Iranian military helicopter violated Azerbaijan's air space on 24 July. That report has not yet been confirmed, however. Is this another "incident" to put pressure on Azerbaijani government, or an accident? The concern created by the incident is growing.

(Mirza Khazar)

Vali Qaradaghli, in an article in "Azerbaycan" entitled "The Habit of Opposition is to Discourage the Population," says that as a result of President Heydar Aliyev's diplomatic and political activity, the Nagorno Karabakh problem is brought to the political surface. President Aliyev announced that he is not a supporter of war and that he supports the resolution of the Karabakh problem only by peaceful means. According to Qaradaghli, some opposition parties are expressing cheap opinions, spreading baseless information to score political points among population, but in fact this behaviour discourages the population. Actually this is all the oppositioone ever does. They attack the government saying that the government has failed to start a new war, but they forget that war is one of the most terrible methods of solving the problem.

In his article published in "Hurriyet" and entitled "Straddled horse to Iran or New Balance of Policy," Heidar Oghuz comments on President Aliyev's upcoming visit to Iran. He writes that the visit was planned a long time ago but was repeatedly postponed for various reasons, including Azerbaijan's cordial relations with the U.S. The ex-ambassador of Iran in Azerbaijan said that the U.S has refiused to allow Heidar Aliyev to visit Iran. "But it seems the problem is solved," the author writes.With the dictation of foreign countries Aliyev defines his foreign policy and at last he is planning a visit which doesn't meet U.S national interests.

The author explains the visit with two reasons: either the U.S. changed its political direction, or Aliyev changed his representative direction. The author says that the government's balanced foreign policy is slowly changing. On one hand, the president expresses opinions which supports Russia's position, and the foreign minister says that Russia has the key to solve the Karabakh problem, on the other hand the official mass media is waging propaganda in favor of the Northern neighbor. This creates the impression that the government is trying to keep the U.S. away from the geopolitical struggle in the region.

In an article entitled "Who is guilty?" published in "Hurriyet," Ceyhun Musayev blames prominent poets Bakhtiyar Vahabzadeh and Sabir Rustamkhanli for the Karabakh war veterans' misery. The author writes that the invalids who started hunger strike could not be naive. The invalids understand that to stop the hunger strike means to agree to death. Simply they didn't refuse the requests of Bakhtiyar Vahabzadeh and Sabir Rustamkhanli. How they could know that the government, which is not elected by population, would turn the poets into a toy? It means that the population has the right to demand something from them. Vahabzadeh and Rustamkhanli don't have any right not to attend the trial of the Karabakh Invalids.

A member of the "classic wing" of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Professor Kamil Vali Narimanoghlu, told the "525 -gazeti" that the Musavat Party is not yet ready to come to power in Azerbaijan. Adherence to democratic values are not enough to come to power. To come to power means to win a struggle with powerful mafias, power and the owners of riches.

Haci Rafiq's article with the headline "The Leadership Has Become A Risk Group," published on "Yeni Musavat" newspaper warns that Heidar Aliyev may dismiss any member of his team at any time. The author writes that the destiny of Rahim Qaziyev, Alikram Humbatov, Surat Huseynov, and Rasul Quliyev should be an example. What will the group's members do when the "X" day [when Aliyev dies] comes?