8 July 1998, Volume 1, Number 19
Did Aliyev Conclude A Secret Deal With Armenia? The latest allegations leveled by former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev against Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, and a prominent Armenian politician's comment on those allegations, raise questions over the background to the occupation by Armenian forces of swathes of Azerbaijani territory in the summer of 1993. In an interview published in late June in "Moskovskie novosti," Guliev claims that the June 1993 putsch in Azerbaijan by rebel colonel Suret Huseinov was planned in advance by Huseinov and then Nakhichevan parliament chairman Heidar Aliyev with the aim of restoring former President Ayaz Mutalibov to power in Baku. After Abulfaz Elchibey fled the Azerbaijani capital, however, Aliyev insisted on taking over the post of president himself, according to Guliev.
Guliev also suggests that several weeks before the coup, Aliyev may have concluded a secret deal with Armenian leaders on ceding to Armenian forces six raions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. The agreement, Guliev hypothesizes, was that Armenian forces would occupy the districts in question, and that Aliyev would then negotiate their return, in exchange for which he would agree to abandon any claim on Karabakh. (That later publicized agreement would presumably be presented as having been mediated by Moscow in order to lend weight to the argument advanced by Boris Yeltsin in March 1993 that it was time for the international community to grant Russia "special powers as a guarantor of peace and stability in the former Soviet Union.") Guliev told "Moskovskie novosti" that he believes the agreement that Armenian forces should be permitted to occupy those Azerbaijani raions was reached at a meeting on 14 May 1993, on the border between Armenia and Nakhichevan, between Aliyev and then Armenian parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian. At that meeting, the two sides signed a communique on a ceasefire putting an end to sporadic cross border artillery fire that had killed several people.
Asked by Armenian journalists to comment on Guliev's allegations, Ararktsian denied that Yerevan had cut any secret deal with Aliyev in the spring of 1993, but admitted that meetings between Aliyev and senior Armenian officials had taken place at that time. Ararktsian did not, however, make it clear that he was not present at the meeting with Aliyev on 14 May, 1993: the Armenian official who signed the cease-fire communique on that date was Ararktsian's deputy, Ara Sahakian. Ararktsian, for his part, travelled to Moscow in early June, 1993, precisely at the time Suret Huseinov launched his bid for power, to discuss, inter alia, ways of resolving the Karabakh conflict with the Russian leadership. (Liz Fuller)
Azerbaijani Opinion Poll Suggests Support For Opposition Waning ... A poll of 150 respondents conducted in mid-June in Baku by a correspondent for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service indicates that incumbent Heidar Aliev's re-election as president on 11 October would be virtually certain even if opposition candidates abandoned their declared intention to boycott the poll. Asked for which candidate they would vote, 65 percent of those questioned named Heidar Aliev, 7.3 percent chose Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar, 4 percent said exiled ex-parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, 3.3 percent named Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, 2.7 percent chose Liberal Party leader Lala-Shovket Gadjieva, and 2 percent National Independence Party of Azerbaijan chairman Etibar Mamedov. Eight percent were undecided, and 7.3 percent said they would not vote for any of the above. By contrast, in early April only 36 percent of a sample of fifty people polled had said they would vote for Aliev, while 28 percent had expressed their support for Isa Gambar (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 9, 28 April 1998.)
Responses to the question "Which political figure do you think is capable of resolving Azerbaijan's problems?" likewise testify to a lack of faith in the opposition. Sixty percent of respondents named Aliev, 12.7 percent Isa Gambar, 8.7 percent Rasul Guliev, 4.7 percent each chose Abulfaz Elchibey and Lala-Shovket Gadjieva, and 4 percent named Etibar Mamedov. (The discrepancy between the percentage of persons who said they would vote for Aliev, Gambar, or Guliev and the number who expressed support in those individuals' ability to resolve the country's problems is probably attributable to respondents' expectations of the outcome of the poll. In other words, some respondents will vote for Aliyev because they are sure he will win, even though they may believe that Gambar or Guliev is better qualified to lead the country.)
The poll's findings suggest, moreover, that the electorate en masse may not share the opposition's fears that free and fair elections are imposible under the new legislation. 16.7 percent of those questioned said they believed that the poll will be democratic, and a further 35.3 percent believed it probably would be; 25.3 percent were convinced it would not. (Liz Fuller)
... As Aliyev Seeks to Undercut Opposition Boycott. On 6 July, Aliyev sent a special missive to the Milli Mejlis requesting that it amend the election law, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Aliyev is clearly seeking to remove from that legislation any remaining contentious provisions that the opposition could label as undemocratic and adduce as the rationale for their declared election boycott.
On 3 July, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights had appealed to the opposition to abandon its planned boycott of the poll, but the following day Gambar, Guliev, Gadjieva, Elchibey and Democratic Party leader Ilyas Ismailov reaffirmed their shared commitment not to run. Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan chairman Etibar Mamedov and two leaders of pro-government parties, Nizami Suleymanov (Independent Azerbaijan Party) and Khanhuseyn Kazymli (Social-Welfare Party) have indicated that they will contend the poll. Aliyev himself has feigned reluctance, but committed himself to running for a second term if asked to do so by the Azerbaijani people. (Liz Fuller)
Shevardnadze Warns Against "Slander." In an unambiguous allusion to Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze's trenchant criticism of the Georgian leadership, President Eduard Shevardnadze has warned that "my patience is stretched to the limit," and that those who make "slanderous remarks directed at the leadership and specific individuals" should be called to account. (Addressing a special congress of his All-Georgian Union for Revival in Batumi last month, Abashidze had accused the Georgian leadership in general of "state irresponsibility" and implicated parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania in the 9 February assassination attempt against Shevardnadze.)
Shevardnadze's initial reaction had been to downplay Abashidze's charges -- he said that his goal as president is "to rid the country of sterile and pointless debates that consume inordinate amounts of time, and to exclude the unjustified politicization of all questions." The most important priority, Shevardnadze continued, is to prevent the emergence of groups that aimed to subvert Georgia's statehood. But in his traditional weekly radio address on 6 July, Shevardnadze equated the criticisms of Abashidze and other opposition politicians with a new attempt, orchestrated by Moscow, to plunge Georgia into chaos. In an implied threat that would seem to infringe on the right to free speech, Shevardnadze went on to demand that the law-enforcement agencies should "thoroughly check and record" all "slanderous statements and accusations, in compliance with all the principles of democracy" irrespective of whether those statements are made in the print or electronic media or at public demonstrations. (Liz Fuller)