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FB users, while pursuing the evolving situation in Armenia, take note of some potentially positive developments in Turkey and the consolidation of constructive relations with Pakistan. The murder of revered journalist Elmar Huseynov is commemorated, whose tragic death served to highlight community values, and emphasis is given to the government’s failure to prosecute his killers. A major theme is the bureaucratic obstacles being raised to the smooth reintegration of returning IDPS, and friction with the Russian peacekeeping forces remains a focus. Certain corrupt practices are questioned, hinging on inappropriate arms sales and bribery in the medical sector.
Post-war situation. The FB community discusses the course of the return of Azerbaijan’s refugees to Karabakh. Ali Karimli reports on the success of the activists’ campaign on social networks defending the rights of the soldiers in Karabagh – the decision of the Ministry of Defence to at last restore their salaries to 100%. He comments on this victory as evidence of the importance of public opinion and its pressure on authorities. However, he warns that while the decision is positive, they tried to reduce the number of recipients by limiting it to those serving on the borders with Armenia and in the zone of the Russian peacekeepers. The activists share personal stories of the wounded on the front in order to attract attention to their problems — such as Kerimov Ulvi, wounded in the hand and leg, whose treatment has not yet started, being tormented by all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles. People continue to discuss the press conference of Aliyev. The ADR movement Executive Board held its next meeting where the situation in three South Caucasus states was discussed, and concern with the increased influence of Russia over the region was expressed. They also discussed the press conference of Ilham Aliyev and the messages directed at foreign audiences, causing a negative reaction in society. FB readers share the Turkish media reports that “the Russian troops, which were withdrawn from the country due to the efforts of legendary leader Elchibey, have come back to the country. The official statements of Ilham Aliyev are daily contradicted by the activities of the Armenian and Russian forces in Karabagh”. FB continues to discuss the issue of usage of Iskander rockets by Armenia. The Middle East Eye portal informs about at least one shooting of an Iskander over Azerbaijan in November last year. A journalist ridicules the attempt of Aliyev to praise Russian Iskanders at the press conference by noting that the drone Bayraktar is capable of shooting down a Russian Zenit S-300 in fighting condition. An S-300 can only hit flying objects but cannot defend itself. But Aliyev is defending the capabilities of Russian weapons. Also, they consider that Aliyev failed to use the statement by Pashinian that “we shot the Iskanders into Azerbaijan, but they did not explode” in the country’s national interests, and instead used it to look appealing to Russia.
Russian peacekeepers. The FB community shares an article by the analyst Samir Isayev, published by the Baku Research Institute. The author argues that the Russian peacekeepers, as their experience demonstrates elsewhere in the near abroad, implement not the function of peacekeepers, but of a tool of Russian’s control over these states and it is hardly probable that they will leave after 5 years. He also points to the contradictions in the peacekeepers’ behaviour with the provisions of the agreement, as well as the contradictions within the agreement itself. However, he argues, although the president stated that status issue does not exist anymore, unless the status issue is agreed upon, a new war is inevitable. In this regard he suggests that the only possible solution is giving the highest possible status to Upper Karabakh within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The Azadlyg newspaper, with reference to BBC material, reports that Azerbaijani troops in the Lachin corridor cannot move without the Russian peacekeeping forces’ permission. It quotes the source from Russia: “First the Azerbaijani officers were angry when they had to ask our permission to cross the corridor. Formally, this is their territory. But our guys, who are well prepared, explained to them that these are the provisions of the agreement, which your president has undersigned. That’s why — please follow the rules”.
Return of IDPs to liberated territories. The experts and activists continue to express concern at the plans of the president, voiced in his last speech, that there will be a survey conducted among IDPs, requiring their signature of consent on the return to their lands. Gubad Ibadoglu comments that instead of motivating their return by creating optimum conditions for them, this survey creates a disincentive for IDPs to reclaim their homeland. He argues that people should find out what is expected from them upon their return. If the plan is that they are to be exploited by the Agro-Parks, which belong to Pasha Holdings, everything is clear in advance. According to the survey by ADA University, Pasha Holdings is creating several Agro-parks in Karabagh. But the president has never spoken about land reform and when and how the land will be given to the IDPs, or what kind of technical support they will be given upon their return. “Why are they not given a choice? Why they are not given construction credits and subsidies, plots of lands? Where are these programs? If they exist, why does nobody speak about them? The IDPs, why are you keeping silence? You are the owners of this land and if you continue to keep silence, you would lose it too”, concludes Ibadoglu. He also criticises the statement by the president at the last press-conference for local and foreign journalists that 1bn of the 2.2bn manats of the budget funds for restoration of the liberated lands have been already “distributed”. He argues that this is not private money to be allocated — it should be discussed and adopted in parliament and then awarded to the winner of an open tender. He urges people to demand accountability and transparency in spending the budget money.
The opposition Musavat party has come up with a package of proposals on the organization of the return of the IDPs back to their homeland. The document stresses that this process should be realized quickly, taking in account the wishes and needs of the IDPs, the creation of respective infrastructure and provision for full security measures. The party suggests the following 10 measures, among which are: demining of the lands, creation of all infrastructure and communal services such as roads, gas, water and electricity supply, based on the lists of the Central Statistical Committee and local executive organs. Plots of lands, which belonged to the private owners, the state etc, should specify the number of citizens who had lived on this territory before occupation, and based on that data, return the plots and property to the owners, for restoration or compensation, etc.
Governance, economy, corruption. Meydan TV re-posts the investigation by the OCCRP on Azerbaijan’s arms sales to the repressive Kongo-Brazzaville government. Ganimat Zahid, journalist in exile, reveals a list of illegal fees (bribes) to be paid to Health Ministry bureaucrats at private clinics for various licenses. The list includes 15 services for which such fees are taken, including writing positive feedback for receiving the licenses, (10,000 manats), positive opinion on low quality medicines (5-10,000 manats) etc. He argues that the executor of this corruption machine is Murad Suleymanov, under the administrative oversight of Nigar Aliyeva, the “right hand” of the minister of health.
Commemoration of Elmar Huseynov’s killing. The FB community widely commemorates the prominent journalist, editor of the journal Monitor, Elmar Huseynov, who was killed by unknown people at the door of his house 16 years ago. Many activists and journalists post their analyses and essays dedicated to his life and work. They stress that in his strict critical articles he targeted not only problems within society and the system, but also the presidents – Heydar and Ilham Aliyev. But the executioners are still not yet “found”. The journalist Ruzgar Movsum comments that if there is a person who has written his history of sacrificing his life to the struggle by means of his intellect and publications – that is Elmar Huseynov. He is a true role model, unique fighter for freedom, justice and people’s rights. And those who requested his killing are base cowards. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP argues that with the bullet directed to Elmar the system also killed the voice of the whole people, and along with resources, has stolen its hopes and wishes. Gultakin Hajibeyli of the NCDF decries the fact that his killers are still freely living in Georgia, in the country where the influence of SOCAR and Azerbaijani authorities are so strong that they managed to hijack the journalist Afghan Mukhtarli. She comments that this murder put an ultimate end to free speech, the free individual and free society in the country. Khadija Ismayil attracts attention to the investigation soon to be published about the FBI’s conclusions and the course of the murder investigation at that time. Chingiz Sultansoy publishes a detailed status, analysing and demonstrating insufficient actions by Azerbaijani prosecutors in investigatiing the case of Elmar Huseynov. He quotes a publication by OCCRP to show that Azerbaijan was not consistent in extraditing the assumed killers from Georgia, that it has frozen the investigation a long time ago and his family was being given incorrect information.
Party Politics. The media reports the ruling party YAP is preparing to conduct its extra-ordinary congress on 5th March. The 6th congress of the party took place on 8th February 2018. The MP and head of the party’s executive committee’s department of political analysis and prediction, Aydin Mirzazade, refused to comment on the decision to hold a congress. The authorities also decided to conduct the next (4-6 June) Formula 1 races without fans present.
Perception of Armenia. The activists, journalists and bloggers follow the developments in Armenia. Arif Hajili of Musavat comments that yet another country says no to the Russian control. Ali Karimli, leader of the Popular Front Party, states that the significant scale of street protest is not just an indicator of popular support for premier Pashinian, but also of the following: 1) In principle, Armenian people agree with 10th November ceasefire agreement. Indirectly it admits that justice is on the side of Azerbaijan. The Armenian people are fed up of 30 years of Karabagh adventure and want to finish with this load. They do not want a new war, the revanche of Azerbaijan. The war request comes from abroad and is supported by the legacies of the corrupt old Armenian government. 2) Even the country most dependent on Russia in the South Caucasus is tired of being Russia’s former outpost, wants to be rid of the Karabagh load and become integrated in the EU. 3) The Armenian people do not want to have familiar old corrupt forces suggesting close cooperation, and demanding mobilisation of military revanche forces. FB users continue to discuss the protest of the families of the young people drafted secretly to the Karabagh front. They have blocked the trucks with their sons and continue their protest against sending them to Karabagh. The press service of the Prime-Minister Pashinian spread the statement, that his recent public comments in regard to Russian Iskander rockets were based on disinformation. This issue was discussed with Putin in his phone conversation recently. He concluded — based on thorough analysis of the facts and information — that the assessment was not correct. Yadigar Sadighly of the Musavat party argues that continued popularity of Pashinian, despite some decline after the defeat in the war, is an indication of the intention of Armenian people to develop in a different direction. The rejection of the old direction and tendencies of the Armenian people would be beneficial not only for themselves but for all their neighbours. The activists praise the protest of Armenian people against Russian control and domination, while decry the Azerbaijani authorities’ not only keeping silence, but even praising “peacekeeping activities and effective cooperation with Russia”. Many prominent activists praise the events in Armenia and make an unflattering comparison with the policy of Azerbaijan‘s president, defending Russia and its Iskanders. Ilkin Ristamzade comments that Pashinian is writing the history and that this is the second leader in the South Caucasus after Saakashvili who is resisting Putin. And this is in spite of the Russian military bases in the country, the army being penetrated by Russians, and economic dependence on Russia. Natig Jafarli of REAL, however, argues that Pashinian is standing not against Russia, but against the old corrupt political forces. And although Russia does not like Pashinian, she thinks she can benefit from the “weak” Pashinian. He considers that the real problem for the Kremlin is that there has been a generational change in Armenia, with younger people wanting to finish with the old style of politics. The FB community discusses Pashinian’s decision on extra-ordinary parliamentary elections in October 2021, but also on the referendum on Constitution amendments, reversing to the presidential system of governance, as the current one opens a possibility for political crisis.
Human rights. The activist community praises the new sanctions of the US against Russia’s 9 bureaucrats for the persecution of Alexei Navalny. They include the deputies of the defence minister, the prosecutor general, etc. and assume not only a travel ban, but also the freezing of their foreign accounts and confiscation of their properties abroad. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP considers these sanctions a hard blow to Putin. He argues that the times when Putin could take advantage of the contradictions of Trump’s America and the EU is over. He analyses the sanctions in the context of Putin’s weakening position in Ukraine and Moldova and anticipates the impossibility of Putin stopping the processes undermining his power. Rufat Safarov, ex-political prisoner, ex-prosecutor and opposition activist has written an article in the Azadlyg newspaper quoting the youngest prime minister William Pitt of the UK in 1783 — that where the law ends, oppression and arbitrariness starts. He comments that it looks as if in Azerbaijan arbitrariness and oppression have turned into a legal norm. He confirms his statement by the fact of the arrest of young activist Elmir Abbasov, who was hijacked by a group of policemen, beaten inside the car, mistreated and threatened with rape. Only because he criticised the government and president Ilham Aliyev in his postings on FB. In Sumgayit police station they “discovered” drugs in his pocket and sentenced him to 30 days in prison. They have kept him incommunicado for 10 days, contrary to the law, in spite of his mother daily begging and crying in front of the police offices requesting a meeting with her son. He asks the Minister of Interior Vilayet Guliyev whether he considers himself the chief of Mautchausen or Oranienburg? Is criticism of the bureaucrats a crime in this country? He suggests then, with irony if it is so, to make amendments to the Criminal code, assigning punishments for the criticism of authorities. FB users share information about a new political prisoner — a journalist and actor of the city theatre Elchin Hasanzade, who was sentenced for 8 months. Prior to that, for many months he was sued by the head of the housing and communal services department of Mingechavir city, whose patron is the chief of the executive powers of the city Ilham Ismaylov. The journalist Avaz Zeynalli appeals to his followers to defend the rights of Elchin Hasanzade. Along with Hasanzade, another activist Ibrahim Salamov (Turksoy) was arrested for the same term. The human rights defender and ex-political prisoner Rufat Safarov describes the background and reasons for their arrest, which are tied to the protest action of last year posted on FB. Users of FB also share information that businessman Mubariz Mansimov may be freed from Turkish custody, where he was put under charges of “membership of the FETO terror organization”. The court hearing is scheduled for 5th March.
Relations with France. FB users discuss the arrest of France’s former prime minister Sarkozy and his sentencing for 3 years on charges of corruption. They also stress his connection to the current Azerbaijani authorities, placing photos of Sarkozy and the vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva at the official ceremony of her award by the order of the French Legion.
Relations with Turkey. The FB community shares news from Turkey. Natig Jafarli considers two events very important in Turkey – the adoption of the new Roadmap on Human Rights and the meeting of Erdogan with Macron. He comments that soon there will be a new roadmap on the economy, a new Constitution and new legislation. He argues that these processes will inevitably have an influence on the situation in Azerbaijan too. One of the activists reminds users that the objectives of the ASALA (Armenian terrorist organization) were to make Turkey recognize the genocide and to unite Turkish lands with the Armenia Soviet Republic, based on the unrealized Sevres agreement (Trabzon, Erdogan, Van, Erzinjan).
Relations with Pakistan. President Aliyev has received the Pakistani general Nadim Raza and said that “Pakistan is one of the few states in the world who did not develop diplomatic relations with Armenia due to its occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands. Our people are aware of that and highly appreciate it. Azerbaijan in turn always gives support to Pakistan on issues of concern, including Kashmir. This support is given from within the UN, the Islamic Cooperation Organization and other international organizations.” He stressed that attention would be focused on economic and transportation cooperation between the two states, and expressed hope that it would join the transportation routes of the region, to promote expansion of economic cooperation between the two states.