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Azerbaijan Report: December 18, 2001

18 December 2001

The next issue of "Azerbaijan Report" will appear on 4 January 2002
U.S. Defence Secretary visited Baku
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baku on 15 December, where he met with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Defence Minister Safar Abiyev. After the meetings, Rumsfeld and Abiyev held a press conference at which they told journalists that they exchanged opinions on U.S.-Azerbaijani military cooperation and Azerbaijan's participation in the anti-terror coalition. Abiyev told journalists that they also discussed the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and that he informed Rumsfeld about the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenian forces. Abiyev noted that some 2.000 people have become victims of Armenian terrorist acts against Azerbaijan. After the repeal of Section 907, it is planned to hold a session of the commission on military cooperation. He said that the decision the Congress will take in near future for repeal of Section 907 will ensure the US- Azerbaijan military cooperation.

Abiyev reminded journalists that Azerbaijan assists the U.S. in a number of spheres. He said Azerbaijan was the first country in the region to offer the U.S. assistance in combatting terrorism. Abiyev said Azerbaijan has allowed the U.S. to use its military airfields and will further cooperate with the U.S. in this sphere. He said Azerbaijan�s military support in anti-terror operations consists of providing an air corridor to the American Air Force.

Rumsfeld stated that the sides discussed expanding cooperation between their respective armed forces. He said he will meet with his Azerbaijani counterparts in Brussels very soon.

Asked whether the U.S. will use Azerbaijan's military infrastructure within anti-terror operations, Abiyev said that no discussions have been held yet in this regard. According to him, Baku is ready to cooperate with the U.S. anti-terror coalition.

Answering the question what assistance Azerbaijan expects from the U.S., Abiyev said that it is too early to speak of such cooperation, because Section 907 does not allow military cooperation to reach such a high level.

Asked whether the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM agreement will violate the balance in the world, Rumsfeld said the U.S. issued a warning in that connection some six months ago. He said they have left behind the contradictions with Russia and are looking forward.

In response to a question about his planned meetings in Yerevan, Rumsfeld said that he will discuss at those meetings U.S. cooperation with Armenia and ways to combat terrorism.

(Abdulla Huseinoglu)

Journalists Assess Present Situation Of Azerbaijani Press
The disputes between the Azerbaijani press and government continue. Even though the government invites the newspapers to reconciliation, no steps are observed to this end. Why does the government treat newspapers so aggressively and how fair are the newspapers in their positions? RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service posed those questions to both government officials and newspaper editors. There are several serious newspapers which cover developments objectively and it is interesting to learn their opinions.

Gulu Maharramli from the Azerbaijan State TV and Radio told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that enough serious incidents are taking place. According to him, the process should be regulated very shortly. Maharramli says that these developments will finally shake the foundation of the Azerbaijani state. He said newspapers should also regard the issue seriously. Today it would not be appropriate to rule out the possibility that the three newspapers which are arguing with the government can have an impact on public opinion. But they should not forget it either. As stated by Guluzade, government officials react differently to criticism from the press and this plays a significant role.

Editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Zerkalo" Elchin Shikhlinskiy says that even though they don't want to intervene in the problem, developments have reached such a level that they have become participants in the process.

Khoshgadam Hidayatgizi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Uch Nogte" which was temporally shut down a while ago, thinks that the developments are not global as her counterparts say, but it is not a simple scandal either. It should be noted in the conclusion that despite the incidents, journalists plan to hold major protest actions.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Ramadan Celebrated In Azerbaijan
15 December was the last day of the holy Ramadan holiday of Muslims. The Azerbaijani people who have lived under the yoke of Soviet regime for 70 years are now bringing Islamic traditions into their lives. Once they were afraid of the strict propaganda of that regime. Some 10 years have elapsed since independence but it seems that the people are not satisfied with everything again. Even though these years have taken the sense of fear out of peoples' hearts, new problems have appeared, or so people think.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service conducted a kind of poll asking people what problems they experienced during the month of Ramadan. People say that in the majority of Moslem countries, particularly Turkey, rich persons help the needy ones, providing them with food and other daily supplies. But there is no such tradition in Azerbaijan. According to the representatives of the Azerbaijani community, they cannot afford to arrange holiday parties for their economically poor state.

(Babek Bekir and Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijan's Minister For Economic Development Holds Press Conference
Azerbaijan's Minister for Economic Development Ferhad Aliyev held a press conference for local media representatives on 15 December. The minister provided information on the results of his recent visit to Germany, which he said was aimed at holding Azerbaijani-German talks on financial and technical cooperation, arranging business meetings with Germany's prestigious donor organisations and businessmen.

As a result, the German government decided to allot DM 80. 2 million ($37 million) to Azerbaijan. Some 13.7 million out of the sum will be given in the form of grants. The establishment of macro-credit bank in Azerbaijan will be accelerated. A project on environmental protection will be worked out in Sumgayit. A group of experts will visit Baku in order to re-consider Azerbaijan's rating for using Hermes credits.

Aliyev said a conference to be attended by Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan will be held in Berlin in March 2002. The conference will study the possibility of using Azerbaijan's territory as a corridor for delivering international humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. German investors will visit Baku next summer.

Aliyev called on media representatives to be objective in their articles and abstain from writing articles damaging Azerbaijan's image. As a chairman of the Iranian-Azerbaijanian economic commission, Aliyev said that a number of documents have been prepared in this sphere and an Azerbaijani delegation will most probably visit Iran next year.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Azerbaijani Journalists Ask For Asylum In U.S.
The newspaper "Azadlig" has officially appealed to the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan asking for asylum. It is not known yet how the embassy will respond to the appeal, but it is known that journalists also plan to hold new protest actions.

Aflatun Amashov, Head of the Committee for Protection of Journalists' Rights (RUH), says that he highly evaluates the journalists' struggle, but regards negatively their asking foreign countries for asylum. According to Amashov, if the journalists want to counteract the pressure on press, then they should do so in Azerbaijan. He says that the newspaper "Azadlig" has made a mistake by taking such step.

Journalists' Trade Unions chairman Azer Hesret thinks otherwise, noting that it is one of the steps journalists have taken in the process of developments. According to him, journalists were forced to do so after having been exposed to police violence during the protest actions.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijani Parliament Met
The Azerbaijani parliament met on 14 December and discussed the press again. The parliament members were seriously engaged in reading newspapers which they criticised in the former session. Apparently, they found no material to criticise this time. While the parliament members were reading newspapers, the bill on the State's Youth Policy was being discussed. Asya Manafova, chairwoman of a parliamentary commission expressed her objections to some articles of the bill.

Parliament deputyFezail Aghamali said that today the Azerbaijani youth has substantial problems. According to Aghamali, the bill should envisage ways to settle these problems.

Parliament's deputy chairman Ziyafat Asgarov also thinks that some articles of the document do not correspond with reality.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Azerbaijan's former Prime Minister Penah Huseynov in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" refers to the possibility of the opposition's re-unification. He said the split in the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party after former president Abulfaz Elchibey's death has become a major obstacle for the opposition's re-unification. The APFP is a serious problem for the opposition. Joint discussion of the proposals is a step taken forth, but up to now, both wings of the APFP have really voiced opinions in the issue. Huseynov says that those who recognise Mirmahmud Mirelioglu as APFP chairman do not care about which organisation belongs to this party. On the other hand, there are many issues to be discussed and it is impossible to devote the whole time to APFP. Every party is engaged in its work and such a serious issue as the opposition's re-unification is dropped from the agenda.

Elnur Maharramli writes in the newspaper "Hurriyyet" that the Azerbaijani press has numerous problems but Heydar Aliyev does not know them. Then the question arises why the president decided to meet with the editors-in-chief. The author writes that it has resulted from the fact that international organisations are monitoring processes in Azerbaijan and the journalists have put the issue more seriously than before. The contradictions demonstrate that by attacking free press the government has appeared in a hopeless state on the eve of the PACE winter session. Now they want to try to mitigate the damage.

Subhan Ismailli writes in the newspaper "Hurriyyet" that the 11 September terrorist acts in the U.S. have resulted in serious changes in U.S. regional policy. One of the changes is that the U.S. attitude to the Caucasian countries has become more positive. Consequently, the U.S. strengthened its positions in the region. The author writes that Russia has also reconciled itself to this. Russia's reconciliation is shown in the fact that the Caucasian countries take into consideration both the U.S. and Russia's positions in their internal and foreign policies. After the U.S. Defence Secretary visited Baku, it was expected that talks on the deployment of NATO military planes in Azerbaijan would take place. But neighbouring Russia and Iran are still obliged to observe the developments from the sidelines.

Azer Hesret's article carried by the newspaper "Azadlig" is called "Writing about Heydar Aliev." The article argues that developments in Azerbaijan have reached such a point that a need has arisen for Heydar Aliyev to intervene in the issue. The author writes that Heydar Aliyev has had a major role forming the current situation in Azerbaijan and he has put not only the country but also himself in a hopeless situation. Even though Heydar Aliyev is the target for all the attacks, Murtuz Alasgarov has also played a role. According to the author, personal interests have been the primary motivating factor all along. Decisions adopted at a high level were dictated by personal interests. Because of this, it is necessary to demonstrate tolerance in every struggle. The tolerance refers to journalists in a broader scale. Both Aliyev and Alasgarov must be confident that even if the government pursues the fight against the newspapers in the physical sphere, nobody thinks of retreating.

Ferhad Mammadov writes in the newspaper "Azadlig" that the socio-political situation in the country has made the government retreat. Even though faced with its obligations, it cannot be stated unequivocally that the government has given up the idea of eliminating newspapers. Simply, the government has been obliged to demonstrate itself this way. Heydar Aliyev and other government officials' statements criticising the three newspapers have discredited the head of state's statements on democracy. The author writes that the freedom of the press in Azerbaijan now depends on Heydar Aliev, because the president can at any moment mitigate or make more severe the economic and administrative punishments against newspapers.

Azer Huseinbala in an article carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that everyone is talking about the developments in Baku. Even the head of state considered it necessary to express his attitude on the issue. Only Aliev's successor keeps silent. Ilham Aliyev considers himself one of the serious political figures, he does not hurry to express his attitude towards those developments. It also signals the future political course he may pursue. Ilham Aliyev says that he has no information about the current developments in Azerbaijan but he speaks at the PACE sessions in Strasbourg in a way that surprises everybody. But he will not be able to do so indefinitely because neither the society nor international organisations will allow themselves to be deceived.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)