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Caucasus Report: August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006, Volume 9, Number 29

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER CREATES NEW HUMAN RIGHTS BODY. On October 5, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov will turn 30, the minimum age for candidates for the post of pro-Moscow republic head. Many observers both in Russia and abroad have long considered it a given that Kadyrov will be named to succeed incumbent republic head Alu Alkhanov before the end of this year, even though Kadyrov has denied harboring any such ambitions. And a recent visit to Chechnya by a large Russian government delegation whose members were cited in the Russian press as unanimously lauding Kadyrov's role in expediting reconstruction of the republic's war-shattered infrastructure has also been widely interpreted as reflecting Moscow's backing for Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006).

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, however, who has years of first-hand experience of developments in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, suggested in a recent interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service and a subsequent article published in "Novaya gazeta" on August 14 that the Russian leadership has finally lost patience with Kadyrov, and that the government ministers who traveled to Grozny in July ordered him unambiguously to toe the line. She further claimed that several Chechen law-enforcement bodies have "mutinied" against Kadyrov and refused either to continue making the requisite payment of a percentage of their monthly salary into the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Fund named after Ramzan's slain father, or to renew their oath of loyalty to Ramzan.

Kadyrov himself affirmed in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on August 14 that he does not consider himself mature enough to assume the role of republic head, and he claimed -- not entirely convincingly -- that he dreams of quitting politics altogether. Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center was quoted by "Novye izvestiya" on August 15 as suggesting that Moscow may shunt Kadyrov sideways into some kind of honorary post such as Russia's permanent representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Meanwhile, Alkhanov has launched what appears to be either a last-ditch attempt to preclude, or at least delay, his dismissal, or alternatively, a move coordinated with Moscow to discredit Kadyrov and provide grounds for removing him. On August 11, Alkhanov issued a decree establishing an advisory body that will focus on human rights issues, law and order, and the interaction between Chechen government bodies and federal agencies in the sphere of economic and social security. Those are all areas in which Kadyrov and his subordinates have ridden roughshod over legal norms.

Alkhanov's August 11 decree transforms the republic's Security Council into a Council for Economic and Social Security that will focus on human rights issues and law and order, and on the interaction between Chechen government bodies and federal agencies in the sphere of economic and social security. His stated rationale for doing so, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on August 14, was the law-enforcement organs' failure to reduce the scale of endemic corruption by arresting offenders and bringing them to trial. Alkhanov simultaneously appointed as secretary of the new council his former chief advisor German Vok, who headed his election campaign in Grozny in 2004. Kadyrov was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on August 14 as saying neither he, nor other government officials, nor the Chechen parliament were informed in advance of the impending reorganization of the Security Council. But Alkhanov could not have undertaken that reorganization without the prior approval of the Kremlin.

The first session of the new council took place on August 15 and focused on the situation in those districts of southern Chechnya that border on Georgia, according to Local pro-Moscow administrators have accused the Russian military units deployed there of violations ranging from restricting the access of local residents to their homes to illicit logging. Vok rejected attempts by Vladimir Ponomaryov, deputy commander of the Federal Border Service Administration, to deny or downplay the seriousness of those violations, reported on August 16. Vok further announced the creation of a commission that will address the "misunderstandings" between the Chechen civilian population and the Russian military. The primary cause of such "misunderstandings" over the past seven years has been the indiscriminate recourse by the latter to violence against the former. But some observers claim that since the death of Kadyrov's father in a terrorist bombing in May 2004, police formations subordinate to the younger Kadyrov have superceded the Russian military as the primary perpetrators of seemingly arbitrary killings and abductions of civilians. Thus if Alkhanov were to announce that water-tight measures have been enacted to prevent such abuses by the Russian military, the blame for any future crimes of that nature would devolve on to the Chechen government law enforcement agencies for which Kadyrov as prime minister is ultimately responsible.

Just days after the creation of Alkhanov's new council, Kadyrov's office issued orders to the Interior Ministry to investigate reports that local bureaucrats are extorting money from residents of Argun and Gudermes (Kadyrov's home town) to finance reconstruction work there, reported on August 15. It was not clear whether those payments were in addition to the statutory requirement that all Chechens employed in the public sector pay a percentage of their monthly salary into the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov fund, which finances reconstruction projects, among other things. Kadyrov warned that any bureaucrat found guilty of extorting money will be punished. (Liz Fuller)

AZERBAIJANI CRIMINAL KINGPIN'S REVELATIONS LEAVE KEY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED. Haci Mammadov, a former high-ranking Azerbaijani Interior Ministry official, created headlines last month when he claimed to have instigated the murder in March 2005 of opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov at the behest of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev. But many observers have cast doubts both on Mammadov's allegations and on the veracity of official statements corroborating them. Meanwhile, it remains unclear why the various law enforcement agencies ignored for several years reports that Mammadov was implicated in a series of murders and kidnappings.

Mammadov was arrested in early March 2005, days after Huseynov was gunned down in the stairwell of his apartment building. Initial reports of Mammadov's arrest identified him as the head of a gang of over two dozen people that carried out a series of abductions for ransom and contract killings over a period of 10 years.

Testifying over the past week at his trial, which opened in early July, Mammadov confessed to many of the charges against him and explained his motives for some of the crimes he committed or instigated. Those revelations pale, however, in comparison with Mammadov's claim to be behind Huseynov's killing. The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry, which is conducting the investigation into that murder, last year identified two ethnic Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia as having slain Huseynov and then left the country. Neither man has yet been apprehended, nor has Mammadov provided any details of his purported dealings with them.

Farhad Aliyev, who was dismissed as economic development minister in late October 2005 and subsequently arrested and charged with plotting with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership, issued a statement to the Azerbaijani people from his pretrial detention cell on July 27 in which he rejected yet again the coup charges against him and reaffirmed his loyalty to President Ilham Aliyev (to whom he is not related). Farhad Aliyev also said in that statement that he had been warned that if he continued to refuse to plead guilty to the coup charge, he would be implicated in the killing of Huseynov. Aliyev's lawyer Elton Quliyev told the website on July 26 that his client never met with Mammadov and is not acquainted with him.

Curiously, the Azerbaijani authorities made no official comment on Mammadov's revelations until August 8, when Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov appeared on national television and produced what he claimed was Aliyev's address book that contained Mammadov's telephone number. Several commentators subsequently asked why Garalov did not make that information public at the time of Aliyev's arrest last year.

Meanwhile, Mammadov's testimony, especially concerning the role of several of his subordinates, including General Zakir Nasirov, who headed the Criminal Search Department, has raised questions how his gang could have acted with impunity over a period of almost one decade. Former National Security Minister Namik Abbasov, who was dismissed from that post in July 2004 and is currently Azerbaijan's ambassador to Uzbekistan, told on August 15 that he alerted the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office in 1999 to reports of Mammadov's criminal activities, as it was not within the competence of his ministry to investigate such reports. But immediately after Mammadov's arrest in March 2005, President Aliyev lambasted Abbasov for failing to take any action in 2001 in response to information provided by the Prosecutor-General's Office implicating Mammadov.

Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov for his part has sought to offload responsibility for the failure to apprehend Mammadov on to the Prosecutor-General's Office, claiming that his ministry alerted that agency to reports of suspected crimes. Speaking on August 11 in Lenkoran, Usubov expressed "regret" that Mammadov "managed to evade arrest" over a long period. He insisted that the crimes Mammadov and his henchmen committed do not reflect badly on himself and his deputies. Usubov also cast doubt on the veracity of Mammadov's testimony, arguing that "you can expect anything" from a man who has committed such egregious crimes, and that it would be unwise "to regard every word he says as the truth."

But Shahbuz Hudoglu, a close friend of Huseynov, told on August 11 that he is convinced both Usubov and other senior ministry officials were aware of Mammadov's criminal activities and received a cut of the proceeds from them. Former Colonel Arif Aliyev, who was dismissed from the Interior Ministry in 2001, had similarly told a press conference in Baku on January 26 that Usubov could not have remained ignorant of the crimes Mammadov and his gang committed. Asked whether he was afraid of possible retribution for publicly implicating Usubov, Aliyev said he has received security guarantees from Eldar Mahmudov, who succeeded Abbasov as national security minister.

Sifting and comparing Mammadov's testimony and the official reactions to it, several Azerbaijani commentators and political analysts have inferred that Mammadov is seeking to send a clandestine message to whoever served for years to shield him from investigation: intervene and help me, or I'll implicate you too. As yet, however, no commentator has speculated on the identity of that person or group -- indeed, to do so would be foolhardy if not suicidal in the light of Huseynov's killing and the myriad libel suits brought against Azerbaijani journalists in recent years.

Veteran human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov suggested in an August 14 interview with that someone within the Azerbaijani government may be trying to use Mammadov to tarnish President Aliyev's image. But that hypothesis is not entirely convincing, given that Aliyev was elected only in November 2003, at which juncture Mammadov had already committed several spectacular crimes. An alternative possibility, and one that would explain why Usubov has not (yet) been dismissed, is that Usubov possesses compromising information about either Aliyev's father and predecessor Heidar Aliyev, or about other influential senior members of the Azerbaijani leadership. (Liz Fuller)

ALLIES OF FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT 'READY' FOR ELECTION ALLIANCE. Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), Armenia's former ruling party, said on August 3 that the HHSh will strive to team up with other allies of former Levon Ter-Petrossian to contest next year's parliamentary elections and return to mainstream politics after years in the wilderness. But Zurabian of did not deny that the center-right party will be hard-pressed to reenter the National Assembly without the backing of other politicians and political groups sympathetic to Ter-Petrossian.

"I can't say today whether or not we will contest the elections on our own," he told RFE/RL. "But we are not inclined to go it alone. I think we will run in a political team and there will be some scope for agreement with political forces with which we concur and share the same vision for Armenia's development."

Zurabian would not say whether he is ready to mend fences with more prominent HHSh figures, including former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian and former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, who split from the HHSh in the late 1990s to form a faction called Armat. While maintaining close ties to Ter-Petrossian, they have had little involvement in HHSh affairs since then. The current leadership of the HHSh remains dominated by supporters of fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, who in 1998 admitted to rigging the outcome of the 1996 presidential ballot to return Ter-Petrossian to power (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 29, 1998).

Attempts by Armat and other pro-Ter-Petrossian groups to form a single electoral bloc have failed in the past because of their uneasy relationship with Zurabian and other HHSh leaders. None of them is represented in the current Armenian parliament, underscoring the dramatic decline of the ex-president's power base since his resignation in February 1998.

In a separate interview with RFE/RL, Ararktsian exposed his frustration with the lingering discord among Ter-Petrossian allies who seem to be united only in their deep dislike of Armenia's current leadership, which they hold responsible for their downfall. "In general, liberals consider themselves intelligent persons," he said. "They must prove that they are intelligent. Their failure to unite would cast serious doubt on the premise that they are intelligent." "I hope there will be really intelligent people among them who would create at least a liberal grouping," added Ararktsian.

Ter-Petrossian's divided allies agree that he should make a political comeback and lead them in the next presidential and parliamentary elections. "Levon Ter-Petrossian remains the leader of the HHSh," stressed Zurabian. However, the reclusive ex-president continues to keep an extremely low profile and has so far been reluctant to return to active politics (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," November 14, 2002 and October 10, 2003). Few observers believe that he could make a strong showing in elections. The HHSh and its splinter groups, known for their pro-Western orientation and a conciliatory line on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, appear to remain unpopular in Armenia, with many people still associating them with the economic hardship of the early 1990s. (Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan)