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Caucasus Report: October 26, 2000

26 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 42

A BUREAUCRAT BREAKS RANKS. On 7 October "Zerkalo" carried a two-page interview with Rafael Allakhverdiev, whose resignation as Baku mayor President Heidar Aliyev formally accepted on 16 October. In that interview, Allakhverdiev sheds further light on his conflicts with both the Azerbaijani government and the presidential apparatus (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 40, 13 October 2000).

Allakhverdiev's first grievance is the fact that the municipality has been stripped of responsibility for providing most public services, including electricity, water, gas and education. Ownership of the city electricity company has been transferred to the Ministry of State Property in anticipation of the imminent privatization of large state-owned enterprises (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 33, 18 August 2000). In addition, all the property of the city council, including the municipal offices (an imposing 19th century mansion in down-town Baku) are up for privatization. That haste suggests that the Ministry of State Property is eager to sell off as many assets as possible while Heidar Aliyev is still alive and the guarantor of domestic political stability.

Second, Allakhverdiev explained the background to the tensions that have arisen between himself and the cabinet of Artur Rasi-zade, on the one hand, and the presidential administration, on the other. Allakhverdiev characterizes Rasi-zade as having "an extremely negative attitude" to all those branches of executive power that are not under his direct control. On being appointed premier in 1997, Allakhverdiev continued, Rasizade set about appropriating the municipality's powers. (Rasi-zade for his part has made clear his contempt for Allakhverdiev. Referring to the former mayor's criticism of him at an election meeting in Baku on 6 October, Rasi-zade said Allakhverdiev needed to see a psychiatrist, according to the independent daily "Azadlyg.")

Third, Allakhverdiev summarized the less than helpful responses he received from Rasi-zade and from presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev to his request for instructions how to deal, first with the rumors in late September that Aliyev had died while in the U.S., and second, with the Baku population's wish to stage a lavish homecoming for the president once it transpired that those rumors were premature. Allakhverdiev implied that both men gave the impression of being disappointed that Aliyev was still alive.

Fourth, Allakhverdiev expresses his concern and dismay that many of the original 91 founding members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (of which he is one) were not included among the party's candidates to contest the 5 November parliamentary poll, while many young party members who are not known to the electorate have been selected as candidates. Allakhverdiev named as responsible for that ill-starred selection the party's executive secretary, Ali Akhmedov who, Allakhverdiev said, "misunderstood" the proposal Aliyev made at the party's congress last December to bring more young people into its ranks. (The fact that Yeni Azerbaycan has registered a total of 140 candidates to contest 99 single-mandate constituencies prompts the question whether party veterans will be competing with youthful unknowns in some constituencies.)

While Allakhverdiev did not go so far as to accuse presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev directly of seeking to sideline, or even to compromise him, he made it clear that he considers Mekhtiev a pernicious influence on the president and at least partly to blame for his own fall from favor. (Both Allakhverdiev and Mekhtiev worked with Aliyev in the late 1970s when Aliyev still headed the Communist Party of Azerbaijan.) Allakhverdiev said "Heidar Aliyev has a great deal of trust in Ramiz Mekhtiev, and neither Rafael Allakhverdiev nor anyone else has yet succeeded in changing the president's mind. For the moment he will continue to trust him. But if R. Mekhtiev lets him down, he will get no forgiveness." But lest his remarks create the impression that he is anxious to profit from Mekhtiev's eventual disgrace by stepping into his shoes, Allakhverdiev at the same time stressed that "I am not lusting for power."

Ali Akhmedov sought to play down Allakhverdiev's revelations, telling "Turan" that they are evidence of a plurality of views within the party. "Zerkalo" on 14 October carried an interview with Akhmedov in which the latter defended his party's approach to selecting election candidates, but avoided commenting directly on Allakhverdiev's accusations, which the paper said had caused a furor.

Despite Akhmedov's efforts to present disagreements within Yeni Azerbaycan in the most favorable possible light, a new inner-party scandal erupted within days. On 17 October, Akhmedov convened a meeting of the party's board to assess the election propaganda conducted at grassroots. The subsequent firing of three heads of district party organizations, reportedly for violations of party regulations, elicited protests from Information Minister Siruz Tabrizli, who was one of the first Yeni Azerbaycan members to call attention to the party's declining popularity (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 4, 24 March 1998). The meeting degenerated into a free-for all, with participants hurling chairs at each other, according to "Azadlyg" on 20 October.

It is unclear, however, whether the crisis within Yeni Azerbaycan is the result of falling public confidence in that party, or vice versa. Turan reported on 26 October that, contrary to the findings of official opinion polls, 66 percent of visitors to Yeni Azerbaycan's website said that the party's electoral program "does not correspond at all" with voters' main concerns, while 16 percent said it addressed those concerns to a certain extent. None considered that it addressed them totally.

Despite the tensions within Yeni Azerbaycan, however, it is unlikely to split into rival factions the way the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party has done, at least as long as President Aliyev is alive. Most observers do not doubt that Aliev's son Ilham will be elected chairman of the new parliament, the second most important position in the country; it will be interesting to see how many of the party's young unknown candidates, who are presumably intended to form his power base, will win parliamentary mandates. (Liz Fuller)

'ZERKALO' CONDUCTS POLL ON TIME-FRAME FOR RESOLVING KARABAKH CONFLICT. "Zerkalo" also published in its 7 October edition the results of a poll conducted on its web-site. Of a total of 4,876 respondents, 61 percent said they believe the Karabakh conflict will be solved within the next five years; 38 percent thought it would not.

Asked to comment on those findings, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party deputy chairman Arif Pashaev, who commanded the Lachin battalion during the fighting of 1992-1993, said he considers the number of skeptics "too large." He also predicted that it would not be possible to resolve the conflict solely by political negotiations, without a resort to arms. Politologist Rasim Musabakov suggested that not all those who expressed optimism share the same understanding of what the settlement will entail, and that a return to the status quo ante of 1988 is unlikely. He predicted that the territories currently under Armenian occupation will be liberated, and that Nagorno-Karabakh will remain a part of Azerbaijan "in some form." (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP SEEN AS LACKING ABKHAZ CONCEPT. On 29 September 1993, the last Georgian forces, together with then Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, evacuated the beleaguered Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, thus ceding defeat in the 13 month Abkhaz war. On the seventh anniversary of that defeat, RFE/RL's Georgian Service convened a round-table discussion in Tbilisi between Temur Mzhavia, one of the deputies of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, and Paata Zakareishvili, head of Abkhaz-Georgian programs at the Caucasian Center for Peace, Development and Democracy. That discussion focused on the Georgian leadership's perceived lack of a concrete policy for resolving the conflict, and on factors that could contribute to a solution.

Mzhavia suggested two factors that, in his opinion, contribute to the Georgian leadership's lack of any "conceptual approach." First, he recalled that Abkhazia has always presented a challenge to Shevardnadze, beginning in the 1970s when the Abkhaz lobbied Moscow, complaining of systematic discrimination at the hands of the Georgians. Abkhazia, he implied, is Shevardnadze's "blind spot." (A related factor, albeit one that Mzhavia does not mention, is the execution shortly before the fall of Sukhumi of one of Shevardnadze's proteges and closest associates, former Georgian Komsomol First Secretary Zhiuli Shartava.)

Second, Mzhavia said it is unfortunate that following the 1993 capitulation, the Georgian leadership solicited the help of the international community to resolve what was a domestic conflict, albeit a serious one, rather than a regional conflict.

Zakareishvili concurred with that latter point, adding that the Abkhaz conflict should not be considered in isolation, but within the framework of the Georgian leadership's broader failure to build a viable Georgian state. He characterized that leadership as an elite that at the time of the collapse of the USSR was accustomed to receiving instructions from the metropolis on administering a given territory, but which was inexperienced in international affairs. (That argument overlooks Shevardnadze's five year stint as Soviet Foreign Minister.)

Zakareishvili further pointed out that Tbilisi looked first to Moscow, and then to the UN, to mediate with leadership of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, and predicted that the latter will not show any willingness to negotiate a settlement of the conflict until Georgia manages to exclude Russia from the mediation process. That assessment may be realistic, but it is impossible to realize given that the UN is the main actor in the mediation process.

Both commentators agree that the Georgian incursion into Abkhazia in August 1992 that triggered the war was a fatal error. But they are vague as to what factors could expedite a settlement of the conflict. Mzhavia argued that Georgians and Abkhaz need to find "a common language," and the Abkhaz must be persuaded of the benefits of agreeing to a "common state." But he offered no suggestions as to how to achieve that consensus.

Asked whether the Abkhaz parliament in exile, which comprises the Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in December 1991, could contribute to resolving the conflict, Mzhavia recalled that in 1996 the Georgian parliament had passed a resolution stipulating that the parliament in exile, as the elected representative of the former Georgian minority in Abkhazia, should participate in talks on a settlement of the conflict, but that it has not done so to date. One of the reasons why not, although Mzhavia failed to say so, is the aggressive personality of the chairman of the parliament in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is anathema to the Abkhaz leadership.

Zakareishvili pointed out that the parliament in exile can no longer be considered a legitimate organ, as its mandate expired in 1996. He added, however, that its members, and other Georgian politicians from Abkhazia, should enter Georgian politics at the national level in order to work for a solution to the conflict that would eventually enable them to return to Abkhazia. (Liz Fuller)

WORLD BANK STUDY LISTS OBSTACLES TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN ARMENIA. Widespread corruption and inadequate enforcement of laws are the main problems hampering a greater influx of foreign investments in Armenia, according to a newly publicized study by the World Bank. The study, conducted last November by the Foreign Investment Advice Service (FIAS), a World Bank division, found that while the Armenian authorities have enacted a legal framework for a market economy over the past decade, they have so far failed to ensure the rule of law and equal conditions for all businesses.

The findings of the research were unveiled on 26 October at an international seminar in Yerevan. One of its authors, FIAS expert Frank Sadder, said that due to the absence of "transparent rules of the game," government connections are still important for doing business in Armenia. Sadder also pointed to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures that leave entrepreneurs dependent on the government.

The study says government structures have been involved in 87 percent of business deals made by foreign investors operating in Armenia. It calls for a more effective fight against corruption and reform of state institutions.

Narine Sahakian, head of an investments department at the Armenian ministry of industry and trade, agreed with the main conclusions of the FIAS report. She said extremely low salaries and insecure status are the main factors leading local civil servants to seek kickbacks from both domestic and foreign businessmen.

The Armenian government views a bill on civil service pending debate in the parliament as a key element in its stated efforts to combat corruption. The bill's primary aim is to protect public sector employees against arbitrary dismissal.

Sahakian also noted that big foreign investors usually seek personal assurances from Armenia's president or prime minister for doing business in the country. "That doesn't say anything good about the investment climate here," she said.

According to Sahakian, the amount of direct foreign investments in the Armenian economy is nonetheless growing and will reach $200 million this year. The government expects that the figure will double next year, she added. (Atom Markarian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We will not have an Armenia by 2001 unless there is an immediate change of power in the country; otherwise, all we're going have is a geographical territory that for some time will still be called 'Armenia.'" -- "21st Century" Association head Arkadii Vartanian (quoted by Noyan Tapan on 19 October).

"The North Caucasus and the Transcaucasus should not be considered separate entities: there is [one] Caucasus. One way or another, the previous ties will make themselves felt." -- Viktor Kazantsev, Russian presidential representative to the South Russia federal district, in an interview published by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 October.

"The only force against which we struggle is the ruling party and its leader Heidar Aliev." -- Opposition Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar, quoted by Turan on 21 October.

"You will not come to power and we will not go away." -- Ilham Aliyev in an election campaign broadcast on 25 October, responding to Gambar (quoted by Turan on 26 October).

"People do not realize that in addition to being duplicitous, our leadership is also stupid." -- Georgian People's Front chairman Nodar Natadze, quoted in "Shansi," 9-16 October 2000.