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Caucasus Report: July 27, 2000

27 July 2000, Volume 3, Number 30

Split Within Azerbaijan Popular Front Deepens. For the past two months, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Azerbaijani opposition have been trying to persuade the Azerbaijani authorities to enact new election legislation that would guarantee that the 5 November parliamentary poll will be free, fair and democratic (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 26, 30 June 2000). Those efforts have overshadowed a parallel political tussle that is similarly likely to have a long-term impact on Azerbaijani politics, namely, the now open struggle for influence within the ranks of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP).

Since late last year, political analysts in Baku have been debating the seriousness and likely outcome of the perceived rift within the Popular Front between the so-called conservative romantic faction headed by the party's chairman, former President Abulfaz Elchibey, and the "young reformers" led by the party's first deputy chairman Ali Kerimov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 51, 23 December 1999).

Many commentators see Elchibey as a spent force, out of touch with political reality and compromised by his acceptance of President Heidar Aliev's 1997 offer to allow him to return to Baku from his self-imposed exile. Kerimov, however, has consistently downplayed reports of any rift within the party's ranks. True, he conceded in an interview published in "Zerkalo" in early March the existence of "differing opinions" and "disagreements" within the party, but he denied that those "disagreements" are "antagonistic" or constitute a "confrontation."

Such disclaimers, however, no longer carry much weight since the inner-party tensions erupted last month into a fist fight between Kerimov's bodyguards and Elchibey supporters within the Party's youth organization, who called for Kerimov's resignation. (The AHCP youth organization is similarly split into two camps.) Kerimov's supporters then demanded the resignations of Zakhid Alisoy, head of the party's youth organization, and of two of the party's deputy chairmen, Fazil Gazanfaroglu and Zalimkhan Mamedli.

Just days after the standoff involving Kerimov's bodyguards, the AHCP held "primaries" intended to determine the most popular members of its leadership prior to compiling a list of candidates for the proportional vote in the 5 November parliamentary poll. The top five, in order of popularity, proved to be Kerimov, Gulamhusein Aliev, AHCP deputy chairman Assim Mollazade, Arif Pashaev, and Gudrat Gasankuliev. Aliev, Mollazade, and Gasankuliev unequivocally support Kerimov, while Pashaev is regarded as "neutral." But Elchibey's supporters rejected that ranking as unrepresentative, and at a session of the party's supreme council on 1 July Elchibey unexpectedly demanded--and received--a unanimous vote of confidence in himself.

Kerimov subsequently presented that vote as proof that the differences within the party are wholly unrelated to the personality of its chairman and center solely on procedural issues. But that argument has been effectively abolished by recent corruption charges leveled by Elchibey's supporters against Kerimov. In an interview published in "Yeni Musavat" on 25 July, Fazil Gazanfaroglu implicated Kerimov in the disappearance in 1994 of $154,000 from the so-called "Presidential Fund" established by Elchibey. The entire contents of that fund, estimated at from $10-30 million, are now missing. (According to Kerimov, he gave the $154,000 to an Azerbaijani businessman from Iran who had promised to invest it at a more favorable interest rate but who then absconded with it.)

In early July, Elchibey flew to Turkey for medical treatment. In his absence, the AHCP Supreme Council convened on 23 July and chose 30 candidates to contest the seats in the new parliament to be allocated under the proportional system. Kerimov again headed the list, followed by Gulamhusein Aliev, Assim Mollazade, Jamil Hasanli, and Arif Pashaev. Again, Elchibey's supporters within the party rejected that selection, arguing that it was taken in the absence of a quorum and thus invalid. But at the same session, the council also endorsed a proposal made by Elchibey on 21 July that the AHCP embark on talks with the opposition Musavat Party on forming a bloc to contest the 5 November parliamentary poll.

Elchibey had simultaneously announced his readiness to head either a joint list of candidates from the AHCP and Musavat, or a joint list drawn up by all 10 opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress. Elchibey's statement appears, however, not to have been coordinated with Musavat, which had held its own "primaries" on 16 July and drawn up its own list of 25 candidates to contest the party-list seats in the new parliament. On 26 July, however, following a meeting of the Democratic Congress, it was announced that the AHCP and Musavat had reached agreement on a joint list of candidates. Who will head that list--Elchibey or Musavat chairman Isa Gambar--is not yet clear.

Opposition parties' participation in the November parliamentary elections is now in the balance following the parliament's 21 July amendment of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission. Meanwhile, Elchibey's continued absence in Turkey calls into question his present--and future--role in Azerbaijani politics. (Liz Fuller)

Can Chechnya's Oil Sector Fuel Reconstruction? Earlier this year, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman said that the profits from oil extraction in Chechnya would be used to finance reconstruction of the republic's devastated infrastructure. But Chechnya's oil resources have become the object of a three-way struggle between the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft, the past and present pro-Moscow Chechen administrations, and a Chechen population largely dependent on illegal oil extraction to survive.

The oil and gas sector traditionally dominated Chechnya's economy. But oil production fell steadily from 21.5 million tons in 1971 to 4 million tons in 1991 and less than 2 million tons in 1993--or less than 1 percent of Russia's total production. In addition, much of the Chechen oil sector's infrastructure was badly damaged in the 1994-1996 war. Its flagship enterprise, the Grozny oil refinery, suffered only modest damage during that war, and in late 1996 resumed operations. It is not known whether it survived the latest fighting, but even if it did, Russian officials have ruled that all crude extracted in Chechnya should be sent elsewhere for refining.

Russian oil sector officials predicted in February of this year that production from Chechnya's 150 free-flowing wells could be raised to 30,000 tons per month, but that target was met only in June. Meanwhile, since late last year Russian troops have conducted a systematic operation to locate and destroy facilities for illegal oil extraction. Many Chechens risk their lives to extract oil which they then refine into primitive low-quality gasoline.

As of March of this year, "official" oil extraction in Chechnya was controlled by the Russian-appointed administration headed by Koshman although, as Russian First Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy Aleksandr Kochnev told Interfax, that arrangement had no legal basis. Also in March, the Russian Security Council approved a draft resolution transferring control of the Chechen oil sector to the state-owned oil company Rosneft. Koshman, however, apparently had other ideas, and in early June he signed a decree resurrecting under the name Grozneft the Chechen oil company YuNKo that was founded in 1995.

It may well have been Koshman whom Kochnev meant when on 20 June he told Interfax that forces intent on retaining a monopoly on the use of Chechen oil were lobbying for Rosneft's exclusion from Chechnya. The following day, "The Moscow Times" quoted Rosneft spokesman Aleksandr Stepanenko as accusing Koshman of presiding over the illegal sale of Chechen oil to Ingushetia at dumping prices. Stepanenko did not say how and by whom the proceeds from those sales were used.

On 11 July, Chechen interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that Putin supported those (including Kadyrov) who argue that Grozneft should preserve its autonomy. At that time Kadyrov dismissed as "totally unfounded" rumors that Rosneft would take over Grozneft.

Kadyrov's confidence proved, however, to be unfounded. Just days later, on 17 July, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who oversees reconstruction in Chechnya, said a new Chechen oil company will be founded by late summer in which the present Grozneft and Rosneft would in all probability each have a 50 percent stake. Whether that decision is a final compromise, or simply the latest proposal in an ongoing battle, is impossible to say. Khristenko predicted that the new company could raise production to 500,000 tons in 2001. Stepanenko, for his part, had estimated that annual production could be raised to 2 million tons which, he said, would bring in $400 million or more. Koshman in April said that the Russian government this year would earmark 7.5 billion rubles ($260 million) towards reconstruction in Chechnya. (Liz Fuller)

UN Official Hopes To Revive Talks On Abkhazia's Future. The appointment late last year of German diplomat Dieter Boden as the UN's new special representative in Georgia brought hopes for fresh momentum in the talks between the central Georgian government and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 48, 3 December 1999).

As head of the OSCE mission to Georgia in 1995 and 1996, Boden mediated between Tbilisi and Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia. He was charged last year by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with injecting new life into the Abkhaz talks, which were stalled due to the Abkhaz leadership's refusal to discuss their unrecognized republic's status vis-a-vis Tbilisi.

But progress has been slow. That is due in part to delays after the re-election of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in April and his reshuffling of the government. The war in nearby Chechnya has also played a role, creating friction between Georgia and Russia, which is expected to be a facilitator of the peace process.

Boden is visiting UN headquarters in New York this week for meetings connected with the UN Security Council's review of the UN observer mission in Georgia. He told RFE/RL on 26 July that although the Abkhaz side considers the issue of its status closed, he believes there is room for the two sides to discuss details about a fully autonomous Abkhazia within Georgia.

Boden said "The UN position is clear--we want Abkhazia to be within the state of Georgia. Of course, it has be negotiated what this means in greater detail. It should mean a very high amount of autonomy. This is also what Georgian President Shevardnadze has always stressed."

A document that defines the division of constitutional authority between Georgia and Abkhazia is being drafted by the United Nations in coordination with five states that belong to a group known as the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia" (Russia, the United States, Britain, France, and Germany). But some differences have emerged within that group about the approach to take on the status issue. Boden would not go into details of those disagreements, saying at the moment, the group cannot "perfectly agree" on the wording of the text.

Some critics on the Georgian side have accused Russia of trying to destabilize the situation in Abkhazia to delay the withdrawal of Russian forces from military bases in Georgia. Boden says Russia's overriding concern in the entire Transcaucasus is stability. The United Nations has hopes that Russia can play a positive role in a peace settlement, as it did in Tajikistan, where the UN has recently completed its peace mission. But Boden is concerned by the deterioration in Russian-Georgian relations sparked by Russian accusations that Georgians are aiding the Chechens.

Boden explained "This affects us very directly because Russia is, as we say, the facilitator toward a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. So when the bilateral relations with Georgia deteriorate that of course has a negative impact on conflict settlement in Abkhazia and this, unfortunately, has been the case. So I hope this is a temporary thing and we'll overcome it because we need Russia as an active partner in that peace process."

But Boden says there are signs the peace process is reviving. He pointed to the July 11 signing by the two sides of a protocol outlining measures to prevent new destabilization in southern Abkhazia. Both sides agreed to refrain from seeking to resolve the conflict by force and agreed to reduce to no more than 600 the number of police and troops each side deployed in the conflict region. They also pledged to create special groups charged with combating cross-border smuggling and crime.

But even that caused some controversy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 28, 14 July 2000). Representatives from a number of Georgian extraparliamentary opposition parties later staged a protest outside the UN office in Tbilisi to reject what they called an "anti-Georgian" protocol. Some of them called for Boden's replacement.

Boden says the controversy is "absurd." It relates, he says, to a part of the protocol that forbids propaganda in favor of war and says perpetrators will be prosecuted.

"In the end, I think the argument is a little bit artificial because both sides to the conflict have long ago decided that they will settle this conflict only by peaceful means. That must be the guideline also for the future and I think no solution of force will be in any way supported by the UN," he said.

Georgia continues to attract international attention due in part to concerns of both a humanitarian and geopolitical nature. There are still about 280,000 internally displaced people from the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict living in poor conditions in Georgia.

Their welfare and the unsettled nature of the Abkhaz conflict pose a threat to Georgia's development and its ability to serve as a stable pipeline route for energy from the Caspian Sea region.

Boden says the internally displaced are being abused by the Georgian and Abkhaz sides as bargaining points in their ongoing talks.

"Their living conditions are clearly insufficient. There is no medical care, there are still only a few schools that really work. There is no clear functioning administration. So in all this context, of course, the refugees are being used by both sides, politically, as one main issue to accuse the others of unwillingness to just come to political solutions," he said.

The 102-member UN observer mission is up for renewal at a 28 July open meeting of the Security Council. Four of the five permanent members of the council belong to the "Friends of Georgia" group and Boden is hoping for a signal that the paper on Abkhazia's status will soon be ready.

"I hope for a strong resolution that really focuses on our actual need--that means the elaboration of that concept paper among the Group of Friends. I think that's welcome if there is support by the Security Council for that objective. It gives me the necessary support in order to have such a basis for negotiations in the very near future."

Boden says all other elements of the peace process may be jeopardized if there is no agreement on the negotiating points for Abkhazia's political status within Georgia. (Robert McMahon)

Quotations Of The Week. "We must defeat corruption in Georgia, otherwise corruption will defeat democracy in Georgia. We will not allow that. As long as I am at the helm, I will not allow that to happen." -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in an interview with BBC World Television, 21 July.

"I will always be the president here." -- Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, quoted by "The New York Times" on 23 July.