Center for National and International Studies
“…We have risked our lives, but you have taken away our rights…”
The FB community continues to express its concern over the many disturbing anomalies being faced in the political and economic arena. A major worry permeating society is the tension on the state borders with Armenia and the growing probability of a new war. FB users discuss relations with Turkey, together with opposition and civil activities in terms of their extension from official to public levels; denounce significant social contrasts in the country and dramas unaddressed by the state concerning the war handicapped, and strongly protest at prevailing human rights violations, especially the attack upon Ilkin Rustamzade’s sister in Baku and the blogger Mahammad Mirzeli, in exile in France.
Post-war situation. The FB community reports the penetration of 40 Armenian troops into Kelbajar region’s Armudlu village area by 400 metres. As a result of the counter operation by the Azerbaijani side and without application of any weapons they were withdrawn from this territory. The Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan stated it was an Armenian provocation. It also shares the news about the firing of the unmanned Armenian plane in Kelbajar, the decree of the Defence Minister demanding a response to the other party’s provocations and is concerned with signs of the possibility of a new war. They report the interruption in work of the trilateral commission created for the opening of communications with reference to the speech of the acting Prime Minister of Armenia, Mger Grigorian, who explained the absence of any progress in this regard as being due to the instability and uncertainty at the borders. He confirmed that after the last incidents at the borders all relations with Azerbaijan were cut off. Natig Jafarli argues that giving mineral resources (iron-ore and gold deposits) to Turkish companies for exploration and development would have also an important positive security impact of this region. The FB community also discusses the tension in relations between Russia and Turkey and how this will affect Azerbaijan. The political leaders discuss the attempt of the Minsk group of OSCE to return to the process of mediation. Isa Gambar of Musavat argues in his interview with the journalist Rauf Orujov that Russia invites OSCE to the border between the two states, but not to Karabagh.
Democracy and power – society relations. The activists note that the authorities have intensified their attack on their opponents. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev stresses that everyone – activists, journalists and political opposition should react to that, while law enforcement bodies should be accountable. The activist of Musavat, Yadigar Sadyghli, asserts on Osmangizi TV that any dictatorship has its end, so it will in Azerbaijan too. This popular e-channel also discusses the relations between Joe Biden with Putin, and Aliyev and the role of human rights and democracy in these relations. The ruling party YAP MP Siyavush Novruzov argues that often the newly appointed heads of executive power make younger cadres selected on the basis of tests and professionalism leave their jobs, so as a result of such practice, extended to ministries and state committees, “we lose professional cadres to the will of a few bureaucrats”. Afghan Mukhtarli, the journalist in exile, reporting on the threats against Ilkin Rustamzade, comments that the government is continuing to manipulate and use the issue of believers. First, they presented the violent police suppression of the Nardaran protest as engaging in a fight with Islamic radicals, then blamed them for the death in hospital of journalist Rafig Tagi, and now they are using them to threaten youth activist Ilkin Rustamzade. He asserts that this is how they start repression against the activists – showing as if or simulating that they have problems with the believers. Discussing the impact of the rule of Aliyevs on the country, Tofig Yagublu argues that one of the services of the Aliyevs to the Azerbaijani states is that they have created a herd of hundreds of thousands of official flatterers.
The FB community is highly concerned with the new road built to the reserve in Garanohur lake, at the expense of the forests and greenery around that lake. They decry this decision which will lead to significant environmental consequences. The eco-activist Javid Gara notes that the road was built for the President’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva, who expressed a wish to visit the reserve. He comments that she had better not come, because the road seems not to be safe and represents disrespect to nature. He urges the cessation of the course of works and that the road should be kept closed to the public, to be used only for emergency or rescue purposes. Ali Karimli of PFP attracts attention to the violent suppression by the regime of the protesters – war handicapped in Imishli region (the participants were beaten up by police and taken to the police station by cars) and to the destruction of the stall of another, Mahammad Hajiyev, who had been selling fruits and vegetables in Binagadi region, which resulted in his suicide attempt. Karimli stresses that the power to do that – to people who have defended the country – the authorities derive from the passivity of the community.
Human rights. The Azadlyg newspaper reports a new attack on the blogger in exile (in France), Mahammad Mirzeli – the attackers broke in his car and left a message there that he would not be left alive and made photos of himself and his security staff. The person who attacked him is reported to be an Azerbaijani. The feminist leader and activist Rabiyya Mammadova reports a life-threatening situation created on the highway, when an unidentified driver of a vehicle deliberately threatened to hit hers and in spite her insistent reports to the highway police office, they delayed any reaction and dragged on the investigation of the case. She states that if something happens to her or her family members – the responsibility lies with the political leadership of the country. The Popular Front Party reports that the government renewed its repressive measures against former political prisoner Orkhan Bahishli – they first tried to collect information about his father Rafig Bakhishov; then his uncle, Fikret Bakhishov, was called to the Jalilabad regional police office. Orkhan considers that this is directly connected to his political activities and is totally illegal, as “an uncle does not bear responsibility for his nephew’s activities”. A group of 28 Azerbaijani emigrants were deported from Germany. One of them, Ilkin Alakbarov, made an attempt on his own life by cutting his veins in front of the police who came after him. He was put in hospital and is under the monitoring of doctors, who report his condition as “serious but stable”. Afghan Mukhtarli reports that 4 of them were placed in the Village of Athletes under the excuse of quarantine, while the rest were released. He notes that all four have been involved in opposition political activities while in Germany. He urges the PFP and Musavat to monitor the situation with the activists. The youth leader and former political prisoner Ilkin Rustamzade reported a new wave of threats, this time to his sister Turkan, who was attacked from behind and told “tell your brother to behave!” Rustamzade concludes that if the authorities do not find the culprits, the responsibility for the threats will lie with them. He later reported that he and his sister, based on his complaint, were invited to the Baku city police station, where they were assured that there is no connection of these attacks with the government. The other activists comment that such a statement before the investigation is started and completed is not serious. On the other hand, such a hurried conclusion may be a sign that there is list of those who do it on the request of the authorities. Since the law enforcement team never admitted participation of the state in such crimes, they consider that public will never discover the truth about the threats against Rustamzade and his sister. The opposition activist Fuad Gahramanli, one of the suspects in the case of Karabagh rally, has reported from the last court hearing that the prosecutor could not present convincing evidence of Gahramanli and Mammad Ibrahim being in contact with those who broke into the parliament building. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reports the Youth Branch of the YAP (ruling party) running a slander campaign against him, by circulating fake/photoshopped screen shots. Fuad Gahramanli of the PFP reports technical interference and interruption of his stream critical of the government.
Statement in connection with the death of young activist Bayram Mammadov in Turkey. Pointing at the lack of transparency in the investigation process of the mysterious death of one of the ex-“graffiti prisoners” Bayram Mammadov in Istanbul, the political parties, movements and civil organisations have issued a joint statement, demanding that the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan immediately share with public the course and preliminary results of the investigation; the information about the causes and circumstances of death; the Azerbaijani respective state agencies should make a statement and work in close coordination with law enforcement in Turkey during the investigations; the silence and lack of interest from the Azerbaijani and Turkish respective state structures opens space for various speculations and that’s why both should be interested in the effectiveness of the investigation process.
Social issues. Ali Karimli of PFP attracts attention to the non-payment of benefits and compensation to the war heroes. He reports that insurance still has not been paid to the veterans of the first Karabagh war and tens of thousands of others in both wars were left without support for their families under the excuse of “saving budget funds”. However, he contrasts it to the spending of hundreds of millions on corrupt construction projects and that right after the end of the Karabagh War 2, the new and expensive buildings were completed – of Caspian Ship Company, General Prosecutor’s, the Court of Sabunchu region and Ministry of Economy, and construction of many others is underway. He also reminds his followers that half of the 2.6m children in this country grow up in poverty, unable to be well nourished, or for whom sport facilities are unaffordable. He mentions that hundreds of thousands of families are affected due to social problems, and children grow up in families with only one parent, because parents of many of them are forced to be guestworkers in Russia or elsewhere. This has happened because riches of this country are spent to satisfy the desires of a group of corrupt bureaucrats at the expense of thousands of children in need. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR posts a commentary related to 1st June, International Day of Children. He states that children from 0-17 constitute more than a quarter (26.5%) of the country’s population. However, during last 20 years their number has decreased, especially among the urban population. He stresses that this is partly due to insufficient state support and sustainable policies towards children, and there are serious problems in the sectors of education and health. He reports on the former in rural areas, where children have to quit their education at high schools and help their parents on the farms. The most spread illnesses among children are those related to the blood and nervous system. Especially in urban areas, the majority of children do not have separate rooms in the flats, and there are no affordable places for their vacations. He concludes that all this is a violation of their basic rights, because none of the institutions in the country – state, society, school or family – fulfil their functions in regard to children. The historian and opposition leader Jamil Hasanli raises the issue of child benefits, which the authorities cancelled in 2006 based on fake statistics (5% of unemployment) – that there are no children in need in the country – while directing these budget funds under various disguises to the enrichment of the ruling family. He asserts that there is enough money in the budget to restore child benefits and urges this should be done during the budget discussions in June 2021. FB users share the tragic information that in Balajari settlement, the war handicapped of the 1st category, Mahammadali Hajiyev, has made an attempt of suicide by self-immolation. Meydan TV reports and spreads the video of the group of war handicapped protesting in front of the building of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection. They pronounced the slogans, including: “We have sacrificed our lives, but you have taken away our rights!” Gubad Ibadoglu reports the monthly social benefits for the children of the war heroes – 21 manats ($10) for the child of the war dead, 15 manats ($7) for the child of war handicapped.
Governance, economy, corruption. The FB community shares news of the price rise of gasoline by 15 qepiks – AI-95 from 1.25 to 1.40 manats, and AI-98 from 1.40 manats to 1.55 manats. Gubad Ibadoglu suggests that this will result in the inflated cost of the other type of gasoline AI-92. He notes that SOCAR will benefit, but the producers and the environment will lose, because the usage of weak octane will produce more air pollution. The MP Nagif Hamzayev in his speech in parliament argued that the increase of gasoline cost is the unfortunate consequence of the absence of the refinery stage of oil development in the country. He also noted that the rise usually leads to the increase of the consumers’ product prices and urged the respective state structures to take measures against the artificial price rise of food products. The blogger and former political prisoner Mehman Huseynov discredits Rovnag Abdullayev, the head of the State Oil Company. He recalls that when he was asked why with such a steep decline of the price of oil, the gasoline price is not falling, the head of SOCAR answered that there is no connection between the oil and the gasoline. But now, continues the blogger, they raise the price of gasoline justifying it by the rise of the oil price. He argues that the gasoline’s price has increased because Rovnag Abdullayev wants to open a new restaurant in Baku, as the old ones failed. “Do you want to know where the millions of SOCAR are spent? Here you go” – he concludes, also reminding his followers of the cost of the SOCAR tower – 680m manats, which could be spent on thousands of social benefits. Altay Geyushov comments that there is a direct connection between the price of gasoline in Baku with the 2m worth watch of the bureaucrat’s son. The activists also discuss the probability of civil protests in reaction to this increase. The economist Samir Aliyev comments with irony that this increase is part of the struggle with the oligarchs. Seymur Hezi states that the government which stole billions of oil revenue over 30 years did not even manage to build a normal refinery and instead continues “to suck out people’s blood, similar to oil”. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat and NCDF posts photos of the totally collapsed road condition of the street named after war hero Etibar Bekirli in the Garachukhur district, and comments: “Ilham Aliyev, why do not you conduct a Formula-1 race in our street? Or let’s put it this way – if your streets are in such a condition – do you deserve to host the Formula-1 race?” The feminist activist Rabiyya Mammadova attracts attention to the municipality of Binagadi region, where the head was sentenced to a few years in prison charged with corruption, although he had signed less documents than his deputy Matanat Nasibova, who was not punished. She comments that this is a strategic municipality because of SOCAR, but for 30 years it has been ruled as a khanate where the interests of various groups have been clashing. She notes that all of them occupied their positions as a result of falsified local elections. The female opposition activist of National Council of Democratic Forces Gultakin Hajibeyli argues that there are two parallel realities in the country. One is the close to the government – 3-5% of the country, which includes bureaucrats, and personalities co-opted with presidential stipends and pensions (journalists, writers, etc), whose work is to flatter the authorities and justify the crimes committed by them. None of them have family members who participated, died or were wounded in the 44-day war, because while hiding in London and Dubai, they were praising the official policies, the unlimited staying in power of the current president, the eternal friend Russia, etc. She compares the salaries and social benefits of the war heroes -on the one hand (300-500 manats) and MPs (6-7,000 manats) and judges (4-6,000 manats) – on the other. And reminds the community that the minimum wage is 300 manats. She also notes the trumped-up charges, on the basis of which the court made the decision to confiscate her property – the flat and car. The highest salary is at the presidential administration: 8-10,000 manats). She concludes that with 70% unemployed, 70% of those employed with salaries of less than 347 manats have to sell their houses so the rest – judges, MPs and bureaucrats – would enjoy salaries from 2,000 to 8,000 manats. She calls bureaucrats “the herd of beggars” and concludes with conviction that the day when people will speak this truth is not far away. People complain that because of the Formula-1 race they cannot use public transportation or drive their cars in the central streets of the capital. The academic and activist Altay Geyushov reports that Togrul Veliyev composed a list of international corruption scandals where Azerbaijan is mentioned and comments, with irony, that in fact there should be an encyclopaedia prepared covering this topic. But while it is all clear with the Azerbaijani government, it seems that corruption is rotting the Western institutions too. Gubad Ibadoglu attracts attention to the hundreds of trucks of Azerbaijani farmers with products assigned for the Russian markets that are stuck at the Samur border point, as Russia is allowing only 300 trucks per day. As a result, the farmers are experiencing serious losses. He suggests a number of measures to improve the situation, among which is to diversify export markets to dissolve dependence on Russia, to propose alternative ways of transportation, such as railway, to develop an agricultural processing industry on the basis of the farmer’s products, and to provide an insurance mechanism for farmers affected by the non-dependent on them causes. He also notes that in spite of the increased price of oil – $70.57 per barrel – the income from the offshore field Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli to the State Oil Fund SOFAZ has been declining: in the first 5 months of the year as compared to the same period last year, income decreased by $255.8m. He explains this by increased expenditure on production and transportation, and the decline of production.
Reference to history. The activists, opposition leaders and journalists share the historical comments of the academic Jamil Hasanli in response to the recent speech of President Aliyev, where he distorted history and slandered the founders of the first democratic republic in 1918. He argues that Ilham Aliyev continues the policies of blackening the history of the first democratic republic and its founders. He reminds that during 1918-20, the size of Azerbaijan was 98,000 sq.km and in three months a flag had been raised in Khankendi. Hasanli discredits the president’s statement that 70 years after, the ADR flag was raised again by his father Heydar Aliyev and comments that it would be better to recall the activities of the latter as a chief of the KGB, who actually repressed those who kept and hid this flag during those 70 years. He advises to look into the reports which were sent to the Moscow office of the KGB from Baku during 1967-8, reflecting his ruthless struggle with nationalism and Turkism, with Islam, repression against principled people and dissidents, sending them to prison or psychiatric clinics etc. He also reminds the erection in the city centre of the statue to the person who killed more than 30,000 Azerbaijanis, the Armenian Bolshevik Stepan Shaumian, and Heydar Aliyev’s speech praising him for the bloody suppression of the first democratic republic.
Relations with Turkey. The FB community discusses the recent developments in Azerbaijani-Turkish relations. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP analyses the reasons of Erdogan’s visit and of high Russia’s sensitivities to this visit. He attributes the latter to the fact of Erdogan’s visit to Shusha, which against the background of Russian peacekeepers in Karabagh is perceived as supporting Azerbaijan. He assumes that there might be some changing balance of power in Karabagh in terms of the presence of forces of two states (Russia and Turkey). He mentions the recent meeting of the assistant of US State Secretary Wendy Sherman with the spokesperson of the Turkish president, Ibrahim Kalin, and suggests that Turkey is viewed as an important ally of NATO and the West. This may influence the situation on the ground, which causes Russia’s sensitive reaction to his visit. He views the recent tension in relations to the state borders an excuse for Russia to take the borders of Armenia under her control. He considers that this situation narrows down the space for manoeuvre for the president, as he will increasingly face a more polarised choice: between the NATO ally and Azerbaijan’s friendly nation Turkey on the one hand, and Russia, which supports Armenia, keeps military control over Karabagh and violates and disrespects the sovereignty of nations, on the other. It will not be possible to hold onto the current status quo for long, he concludes – and that Aliyev will have to make a choice, which in turn will define domestic developments too. The opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan reports meetings with the political parties of Turkey. This time Seymur Hezi reported a meeting with the deputy head of the Saadet Party on foreign relations, Mustafa Kaya, in the party headquarters. They discussed the processes in the region, the necessity of raising relations between the state to the level reflecting the will of societies, mutual support in democracy building, domestic problems of Turkey. BIZ TV discussed the influence of the shadow business and personalities of Turkey such as Sedat Peker, recently featured in FB, on the domestic policies of Turkey and on relations with Azerbaijan. As a result, Gubad Ibadoglu, the founder of this media source, noted the unusually high number of troll activities – comments both under Youtube videos and on FB (more than 1,000 this time as compared to the usual 20-30 comments). He suggests that these are SOCAR’s trolls, because this BIZ TV programme was critical towards it, and the comments were blaming it for its bias against the oil company. He comments that there are mass redundancies in the company, including engineers, but an increase the number of paid trolls. He concludes that very soon there will be a new leadership appointed to SOCAR, which BIZ TV will be covering in its next programme.
Events in Belarus. The e-media posted news about the suicide attempt of one of the political prisoners Stepan Latipov in Belarus, who cut his throat during the court hearing after reporting ruthless tortures. The activists report with reference to the Belarus site Nehta, that the leadership of the big state oil refinery/chemical company Naftan made its employees write a letter to the US Congress, State Department and the Ministry of Economy to stop the sanctions against Belarus, as their families will starve. The activists share and welcome the news that the Woodrow Wilson Centre has rewarded the founder of Nehta Roman Protasevich, who was arrested as a result of Lukashenka’s forcing to land of a Ryanair plane in Minsk, by the Ion Ratiu Democracy Prize of 2021. Previously, this award was given to such prominent democracy activists as Adam Michnik, Oleg Kozlovski, Kamelia Bogdan and Jamil Hasanli.
Relations with France. Meydan TV reports on an official meeting of French president Macron and the Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinian, during which the former said that Azerbaijani troops should leave Armenian territory and both sides return to their initial positions. Macron has also stressed the necessity of releasing the captured Armenian soldiers and confirmed his continuation of support to Armenia.
Situation in Dmanisi. The activists continue to discuss the situation of their brethren in Georgia and criticise the indifference of the Azerbaijani government to the Azerbaijanis living there. They urge the government to reverse its decision not to open the borders with Georgia, which the latter suggested, as this would make permanent travel between the two states of the Azerbaijanis there much easier.
June 4, 2021