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Azerbaijan Report: July 28, 2001

28 July 2001
Aliyev Trying To Resolve Incident Between Azerbaijan And Iran

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev signed a decree on 26 July confirming the State Commission on economic, trade, and humanitarian cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iran. Some observers connect the president's decree with an incident that occurred in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian Sea on 23 July. Aliev, during his meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ahad Gazai, said that problems between the two countries should be resolved through negotiations.

Turan news agency commentator Zafar Guliev does not link Aliev's decree with the most recent incident in the Caspian, and accuses the media of exaggerating this incident. He says the incident was not unexpected because tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have increased over the last several months. Guliev does not rule out that such incidents may be repeated in the near future. He thinks Aliev's signing of this decree demonstrates that he is ready to solve problems between the two countries through talks. Another expert, Ganimat Zahidov, connects the president's decree with the 23 July incident and appraises it as a diplomatic gesture. He also said that the most recent moves by Iran are very dangerous for Azerbaijan. Musavat Party deputy chairman Sulhaddin Akbar criticized the president's decree and said it is an abandonment of Azerbaijan before Iran. "It could lead to new pressure on Azerbaijan," Akbar said. (Almaz Nasibova)

Observers In Azerbaijan Discuss Most Recent Decision By U.S. Congress

The House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress has decided to allot $82.5 million to Armenia in 2002 and to leave amendment 907 against Azerbaijan in force. Some commentators in Azerbaijan consider this decision to be the result of successful lobbying on the part of the U.S. Armenian community. They also note that if the economic interests of the U.S. in Azerbaijan are provided for it will be easy to liquidate amendment 907.

Turan news agency expert Hassan Guliev said the amendment projects a negative influence on the political image of Azerbaijan.

Social Democratic Party co-chairman Zardusht Alisadeh characterized the foreign policy of Azerbaijan as "naive" and said Azerbaijan should understand that the main goal of Russia, the U.S., and France is to secure their interests in the region.

Political scientist Khaladdin Ibrahimli also links amendment 907 with the state interests of the U.S.

The leader of the "reformist " wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front party, Ali Kerimov, said that the 907 amendment creates problems in relations between Azerbaijan and U.S. The decision by the lower house of the U.S. Congress to leave in force the amendment demonstrates that the Armenia lobby managed successfully to defend the interest of Armenians. Kerimov thinks that Azerbaijan should continue strategic cooperation with the U.S. and make efforts to increase its lobby in America in order to legally defend the interests of Azerbaijan in the U.S. Congress. (Zarkhanim Akhmedli)

War Invalids Chairman May Be Arrested

After a trial sentenced some Karabakh war invalids from two to six years in jail on 19 July, officials decided to continue an investigation against Karabakh War Invalids Society Chairman Etimad Asadov.

The prosecutor instituted criminal proceedings against Asadov during a hunger strike by the Karabakh War Invalids in February. During the successive five months the issue was dropped. But now Baku City Prosecutor officials say that the criminal case against Asadov was not stopped.

The head of the Protection Committee of the Karabakh War Invalids, Zardusht Alizadeh, said that the most recent incident is the result of efforts by people who are interested in worsening the relations between the government and Karabakh war invalids.

Asadov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service said that the investigation on him has continued for five months. He is accused of hiding documents related to financial issues. But the investigating bodies do not concretely say which documents they demand. Asadov also said that he has not been questioned yet. According to him, the prosecutor cannot forward the issue to the court because of a lack of evidence in the case.

Asadov said that although there is no evidence against him he still thinks he may be arrested. (Zhala Mutallimova)

Bill On State Language May Create Problems For Azerbaijanis In Georgia

Alibala Aleskerov, an Azerbaijani deputy to the Georgian parliament and head of the Geyrat Popular Movement who represents the interests of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the President's Office has submitted a draft law on the state language to the parliamentary commissions.

According to this law, citizens whose nationality is not Georgian and who work for governmental bodies must pass an examination on the state language, which is Georgian. If they do not know Georgian fluently they may be dismissed from their jobs. Askerov said this draft could lead to the dismissal of 90-95 percent of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia. He said that it is not correct to demand that governmental business be conducted and documented in Georgian in districts where only Azerbijanis live.

Alibala Askerov also accused the Azerbaijani government of making a unilateral compromise to Georgia and ignoring the interests of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia. (Babek Baker) (Compiled and Translated by Samira Gaziyeva)

The Southern Azeri-Iraqi Turkmen Connection

The connection, or actual relationship between the southern Azeris, while it has been the subject of both southern Azeri and Iraqi Turkmen literature, has rarely, if ever, been highlighted outside of areas where the two peoples reside. If the southern Azeris and their difficulties with Iran have often been the subject of academic literature, the Iraqi Turkmen have not. The primary question, then, is who are the Iraqi Turkmen?

There are some 3.5 million Iraqi Turkmen in Iraq, generally concentrated in Northern Iraq near the oil-city of Kirkuk. They are the third-largest ethnic minority in Iraq behind the Arabs and Kurds, and just ahead of the Assyrians.

The region (known commonly as Kurdistan) they inhabit has often been the subject of regional geopolitical struggles, primarily between the Ottomans and the Iranians, largely because it was situated at the junction of trade routes leading from the Ottoman Empire and Iran to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. Long before oil became a significant geopolitical determinant, the area was a zone of conflict, both real and potential.

The Kirkuk region has been the subject of a monograph by Nouri Talabany, "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing: Onslaught to Change the National/Demographic Characteristics of the Kirkuk Region" (London, 1999). In the late 19th century, Talabany notes that "one may consider the time of occupation of Kurdistan by the Saffawis during the reign of Shah Ismail as the point in time at which the enforced settlement of Turkmens in the area began. The Saffawid tried to impose the Shi'ite Qizilbashi' faith on the Kurds in an attempt to replace the Sunni Muslims whom they did not trust."

The Turkmen, thus, have been given the role of a microgeopolitical component in regional power struggles. It goes without saying that if Baghdad were able to remove the Turkmen component from the region, they would essentially be removing a future threat, not from the Turkmen, but from those who would protect them. In all this, it is then relevant to ask how the Iraqi Turkmen defines themselves. The first steps toward a self-definition were taken in the earlier efforts of the Iraqi Turkmen to form a modern political organization.

At the First (Iraqi) Turkoman Congress, held in Irbil from 4-7 October 1997, a "Declaration of Principles" was adopted. The second article defines who they are and what the name "Turkoman" represents: "The name Turkoman represents a people belonging to the Muslim Oghuz branch. According to this principle, they migrated from Central Asia to today's Turkmenistan." This migration, according to them, began in the year 53 A.H. Here they are no doubt referring to the immigrations leading to the foundation of the Seljuk empires, which also brought a large part of the ancestors of the present-day Turks of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Turkmenistan to the regions which they now inhabit. All three Turkic peoples -- the Turks of Turkey and the Balkans, the Azerbaijanis of Azerbaijan and Iran, and the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are members of the Oghuz group of Turkic languages. That means that there is a relatively high degree of mutual linguistic comprehensibility among them.

Article 3 of the "Declaration of Principles" clarifies how the Iraqi Turkoman perceive their linguistic kinship among the Oghuz Turks: "The official written language of the Turkmans is Istanbul Turkish, and its alphabet is the new Latin alphabet." By contrast, in Turkmenistan, the official written language is the Turkmen of Ashgabat, and the alphabet is the modified Cyrillic script imposed on them under the Soviet regime.

When Ashgabat discovered the presence of Turkoman in Iraq in the early 1970s, a Turkmen literary newspaper published a number of Iraqi Turkoman short stories which had to be accompanied by vocabulary lists to aid readers in understanding the language. This is because, as stated in article 3, the Turkic language in Iraq was much closer to that of Istanbul than Turkmenistan. Hence, the ambiguity of the name "Turkoman;" it is, firstly, an English rendition of a Persianified expression; Turkman represents an Arabified term, and "Turkmen" a genuine ethnonym, although it is not ethnolinguistically accurate. The Turkoman of Iraq have been cut off from having a voice in the international community and have thus been unable to define themselves. And that has meant that others have defined who they are rather than they themselves. The convening of the First Iraqi Turkoman Congress was but the first step in reacquiring an international identity; the convening of the February 1999 congress in Irbil was a further step in this direction.

Some questions arise from their definition of themselves: if their officially accepted language, their language of education is Istanbul Turkish, then, in a world without politics (or geopolitics), their language would be Turkish, not Turkmen. Their language is clearly Oghuz but the Turkmen elements in it are vestigial, but there. The key to the solution is buried in their extremely complex history, especially in the period during and after their arrival in Iraq.

According to the noted regional history "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing" by Nouri Talabany (London, 1999), the first stratum of the present-day Turkmen arrived during the Omayyad and Abbasid periods, where they were in demand by the rulers because of their prowess in battle. Very little is known about the language(s) they used during this period because there seem to be no surviving traces.

It is commonly believed that the period of a lasting settlement began during the Seljuk period in the 9th to 10th centuries. These Turkmen may indeed have been ethnically similar to the Turkmen of Turkmenistan in Central Asia.

The third stratum can be said to be that which arrived during the Mongol invasions of the regions. These Turks spoke a dialect closely akin to Azeri, something quite perceptible in the language and literature now. Religious differences also help in isolating dialectical elements: Talabany notes that "...Shi'a Turkmens have their own culture and have rituals of their own which differ from those of the Sunni Turkmens. The two sects have different dialects also; the Shi'a Turkmens' dialect is more akin to that of the Azeri Turks."

This strong Azeri influence may explain the close literary relations between the Azeris and the Iraqi Turkmen. At the beginning of 2000 an Iranian Azeri scholar, Qaybali Sakina, published an article in the southern Azeri journal "21 Azar," published by the Sweden-Azerbaijan Federation on "Iraqi Turkmen -- Southern Azeri Literary Relations" in which she highlights the works of the prominent Iraqi Turkmen writer, poet, literary historian, and folklorist Abdullatif Benderoglu. He has translated a number of modern Azeri writers (Northern and Southern) into Turkmen, and has analyzed the origins of Azeri poetry in his book "Azeri Poetry," published in Baghdad in 1989. He also wrote a response to the masterwork of the southern Azeri poet Memmedhuseyn Shahriyar, "Heidar Baba'ya selam." Benderoglu's poem is called "Gur-Gur Baba." Heidar Baba is a mountain dividing north (or independent) Azerbaijan from Iranian Azerbaijan; Gur-Gur Baba is a mountain in Kirkuk, which symbolizes the national aspirations of the Iraqi Turkmen.

Iraq's viewpoint is largely conditioned on two factors: the view of the Ba'th Party, which is promoting the ethnic cleansing effort directed against the Turkmen, and Baghdad's approach to relations with Turkey. In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 23 September 2000, Iraq's former Prime Minister Adnan Al-Pachachi referred to talks he held with the Turkish foreign minister in 1966: He said that "three factors have always dictated our relations with Turkey. They are water, the situation of the Kurds, and the situation of the Turkmens in Iraq."

While water is irrelevant to the present topic, the Kurds have achieved a measure of autonomy, which some of the Turkmen share with them, but the Turkish relationship remains strong. Iraqi Turkmen relations with Turkey have not always been strong. When, in 1932 the British gave up their mandate over Iraq, the Iraqi prime minister at the time, Nuri Al-Sa'id, stated in his declaration (issued on 30 May 1932) that Iraqi minorities would receive "full and complete protection of life and liberty, without distinction of birth, nationality, race or religion." In this respect, it has been downhill ever since.

Turkmen were able to lobby successfully for inclusion in the Turkish regional security plan, and then Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit presented a "revised security plan," updating his original security plan presented in 1995. It stipulated that the Turkmen play a role in a post-Saddam, or new Iraqi government, and that "the world should be reminded of the Turkmen presence in Iraq. Baghdad should be aware of this presence and it should be noted providing certain rights and guarantees to the Turkmens will contribute to ending the division in the country" (quoted by Kemal Balci in the "Turkish Daily News" of 28 January 1999).

Yet, despite the Turkish efforts to help the Turkmen of Iraq, ethnic cleansing continues, education is lamed because the current Iraqi Constitution forbids the use of any script save Arabic (the Turkmen use Latin).

It should be noted that the Turkmen living in Iraqi Kurdistan north of the 36th parallel are not exposed to Baghdad's efforts to destroy their identity. In the south, however, which includes Kirkuk, they are exposed to constant efforts by Baghdad to expropriate their land and property and liquidate their nationality.

The pressures on them are at least as great as those on the Iranian Azeris to conform to the demands of Iranian ethnic, political, and religious pressures. And yet this is not what unites the two peoples: it is that they share the same language and, in part, the same traditions. It is these elements which unite Heidar Baba and Gur-Gur Baba. (David Nissman)

Shahvalad Chobanoglu in his article in "Yeni Musavat" comments on Iranian territorial claims against Azerbaijan. The author says that with this most recent action, Iran has "removed the mask from its face." The author also notes that Iran's attack was unacceptable for Azerbaijan.

In his interview in "Yeni Musavat," commenting on Iran's latest action in the Caspian Sea, former Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov said that such steps by Iran are aimed against Russia. The Russia who has announced its hegemony in the region should give a reaction to these steps. Zulfugarov thinks that if Russia won't do anything in connection with the last incident then it is reasonable to expect that Iran's boats will appear in the Derbend and Hashtarkhan area, too.

The "Nedelya" (Week) newspaper writes that Iran's latest note was accepted strangely by the Azerbaijani community, because during this time a document on safety was signed in Tehran between the two countries. The position of Iran's Foreign Ministry shows that Tehran doesn't intend to apologize. Iran is being more aggressive now, the paper comments.

The newspaper writes that the last incident is the most serious incident that has happened in the history of Azerbaijani-Iranian relations. The author especially notes that the incident happened just ahead of the scheduled visit of the Azerbaijani president to Iran in August. But, since the latest developments there is a clear chance that Heidar's visit will be canceled. According to the newspaper, Azerbaijan needs the support of foreign states. This incident could also cause problems for the ongoing dispute over the division of the Caspian Sea.

Bakhtiyar Tungay in "525-ci gazet" writes that Ilham Aliyev and Isa Qambar are the most popular politicians in the country after President Aliev, according to the results of a poll. It is reality that the entire opposition is "sleeping" with a "tiredness" syndrome -- with the exception of Isa Qambar and his party. This syndrome has afflicted the Musavat party, too, because there are different groups inside the party competing against one another. In his article commenting on the situation of the Yeni Azarbaycan Party, the author writes that there are not any internal contradictions in the party. "In this case Ilham Aliyev has more chances [of coming to power]," the author says. In the same time, the author writes that Ilham Aliyev and Isa Qambar will be political competitors for a long time.

Rauf Mirqadirov, in an article in "Zerkalo" titled "Iran Is Getting Ready For Military Aggression Against Azerbaijan," the author says that Tehran's latest steps shows that the main purposes of Iran's military aggression in the Caspian Sea are not related to the destiny of oil fields. Referring to reliable sources, the author claims that the regiment of Mahir Javadov (one of the leaders of the 1995 mutiny against the government of Heidar Aliev), is now located between the border of Azerbaijan and Iran. Mirqadirov believes that the latest incident with Iran can develop in two directions. First, Iran always has stimulated the distrust of the population in southern Azerbaijani districts in the central administration; however, Iran also has religion influence in this region. Perhaps using the unhappiness of the population in the southern regions, Iran could use them against the regime in Baku. There is a variant that Javadov's regiment is using by crossing the border of Azerbaijan -- which is under the control of Armenians -- that is, that it would play the role of "liberator" of the nation. It is expected that Iran, afraid of the influence of the U.S and Russia in the region, is using its own methods of influence.

Asim in the newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that the expected contract between Azerbaijan and Georgia for the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline is more advantageous for Georgia. The author considers that Azerbaijan can make more concessions than it did during the signing of the contract on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. In addition to this, Azerbaijan had to make a decision on the repayment of debts owed by Georgia. The author also thinks that considering this development, other countries in the region might ask for more concessions from Azerbaijan.

(Compiled by Samira Gaziyeva; Translated by Mahir Iskenderov)