Center for National and International Studies
“…The prosecutors of Switzerland behave like the ones of Yasamal district of Baku …”
The FB community contrasts the President’s mercy for the Armenian saboteurs to the cruelty shown to local dissidents, are puzzled by the contradictory official reports on the powerful explosion in the sea, decry the price increase on energy and medicine, have hopes for the West restricting Russia, share SOCAR’s losses in 2020, attract society’s attention to the environmental problems, follow journalist Mehman Huseynov discrediting the lavish life style of corrupt bureaucrats.
Post-conflict situation. The FB community is ironic about the humanitarianism extended by the president to the 14 Armenian saboteurs – by sentencing 12 of them to 6 months only, accused of illegally crossing the border, but no such generosity towards the local opposition activists, journalists and dissidents. They also compare it to life sentence for the same crime in Armenia. Ali Karimli, Tofig Yagublu, and other political and civil leaders demand Ilham Aliyev’s explanation, why he displayed leniency to those who qualify as foreign terrorists, but not to the local businessman who supported the family of political prisoners, such as Saleh Rustamli, sentenced to 7 years 3 months, or journalists and activists? The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli compares the 6 months’ sentence for foreign armed terrorists to his sentence of 6 years when he was abducted in Georgia and accused of illegally crossing the border, among other trumped-up accusations. Many protest at this anti-humanist and hypocritical policy. The parliamentary opposition REAL supports the decision, as “it put an end to the noise in the West”, extended the channels of communication with Armenia beyond Russia, the land mine map was received, etc. Natig Jafarli of REAL calls it a correct decision from all points of view and criticized the “short sighted vision” of “some opposition friends” who will make the West give greater support to the government due to the more “aggressive” stance of the opposition being revealed. Meydan TV reports that Robert Gevorkian confessed that although the war was finished, on 26 November he was called to the Commissariat, where along with other 100 people, he issued weapons and sent to Azerbaijan, where they faced Russian peacekeepers in the Lachin region. The FB community shares news and comments on the exchange of views of two foreign ministers – of Turkey and Russia – on Karabagh. They also comment on Putin and Macron’s discussion of the Karabagh issue, on the initiative of Macron. The FB community discusses the restoration from 1st July 2021 of the salaries of the military serving in the post-conflict zone as a “Presidential addition” of 50%, based on the president’s decree for another 5 years. People greet and share news, congratulating the opposition leader Tofig Yagublu with the return of his son Rahim from military service. Osmangizi TV’s military experts Fahmin Hajiyev and Isa Sadikhov discuss the situation in the Black Sea, and that Russia “is pushed to the corner” there. Ganimat Zahid discredits the official information by the foreign ministry that as a result of the exchange (this time with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers!) the Azerbaijani party received the map of landmines of two regions Zangilan and Fizuli, arguing that there could not be 92,000 mines there. Fuad Gahramanli comments that the aggravating Russia–West global confrontation narrows down Aliyev’s opportunities for manoeuvre and that after Belarus, it will be Azerbaijan’s turn to get into “the intensive therapy bed” of the West. He justifies it by the fact, that when the confrontation reaches the critical point, the factor of support by Russia will be removed as a power base in Azerbaijan and the fate of the stolen billions will be defined by the decisions of the West, not Russia. It will not be possible to stop the resulting internal destruction of the system.
Social problems. There are continued discussion by the activists, opposition leaders and journalists of the consumer price rises. The PFP leader Ali Karimli asserts that President Aliyev personally is behind both the price rise and corruption, that’s why people should be always ready to protect their rights. The e-media reports a 40% increase of prices on medicine. The list of the medicine with state-controlled prices has increased by 247 new items with price rise on 50 medications, mainly imported from Turkey, Ukraine, India, China, Portugal, and the USA. S. Hezi of PFP comments that the pharmaceutical sector is also a monopoly of the ruling family. He argues that Aliyevs is leading the nation towards death: medicine is expensive, salaries are low, unemployment is rampant, there is no possibility to fight for survival; Azerbaijan is turning into a burial ground of the living. FB users spread and ridicule the quotation from the state TV anchor Lala Azertash supporting the gas and electricity price rise and proposing that people cook jam at night. Azadlyg newspaper writes that the Azerbaijani government is selling gas to its population for 25 gepiks, while to Turkmenistan for 1 gepik, Russia -13, and Kazakhstan – 10 gepiks. This is based on the last report by OPEC. Azadlyg newspaper stresses that those who saved billions in offshore accounts try to convince people that 163 manat per month is sufficient for living. Meydan TV reports complaints of bus drivers on their low salaries and difficult working conditions. The ADR movement demands the abolition of the decision of the Tariff Council, quoting the statistics which show a 1.3% decrease of GDP per capita in 2021 as compared to 2020 and a worsened social situation. The leader of ADR, economist Gubad Ibadoglu, argues that the reason behind the work of state enterprises showing losses is not low communal prices, but corruption and poor governance. He is starting an e-petition on the abolition of the Tariff Council’s decision and calls people to sign and spread it. The MP Javid Osmanov assures that the new price rise does not contradict the position of low-income families in the country, as this is a reflection of global trends and previously it was done by the Tariff Council in 2017. He calls the decision of the Council to raise the gas price “fully consistent with the socially-oriented policy of Azerbaijan”, as it will gradually decrease dependence of the budget on energy resources. The other MP, Razi Nurullayev, on the contrary stated that the Tariff Council itself should be abolished and its powers transferred to the parliament, because its decisions are causing serious dissatisfaction among the people. The MP Elshan Musayev argues that Zakatala region’s airport seems to have everything – the head, the gardener, employees – except for airplanes. He asserts that AZAL should decrease flight prices. The human rights defender Fuad Hasanov, joining the e-campaign of protestors, recalls that according to the signed oil contract in 1994 on ACG oil field exploration, the associated gas from that platform is being provided for the country free of charge. People continue to share news and stories of the war heroes. Meydan TV reports a protest by yet another family of a war hero, who demand both giving him the status of martyr and social compensation to his family. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF reports another suicide of the 24-year-old Bahman Abbasli from Jalilabad region and joins the e-campaign with hashtag #I protest, decrying the indifference of the bureaucrats, people, and nation.
The opposition leader Tofig Yagublu asserts that Ilham Aliyev not only robs and exploits people but humiliates them too. Instead of apologizing for the unjustified price rises, he on the contrary assures everyone that this is done in the interests of prosperity and raising living standards of the population. He urges Ilham Aliyev to put limits not on the gas consumption of the population, but on his own term in office.
Environmental issues. The eco-activist Javid Gara posts a photo of a felled Iron tree, which is listed in the Red Book – endemic for Lenkoran woods (between Haftoni and Girdani villages). He decries the silence of the state structures, as well the organisation created by the president’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva, DANMA (National Alliance for sustainable Azerbaijan). He warns that if society does not protest about the elimination of woodland, future climate change and environmental crisis at the local level will be much worse. Ecofront organization spread its information about vast areas of valuable woods eliminated in Gusar region in order to plant walnut farms, with nobody held responsible.
Mysterious explosion in the sea. FB users are puzzled by the powerful explosion in the sea and contradicting information on its nature by various state agencies. Rufat Safarov lists the explanations: Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources – this is a volcano; Seismology Service – this is a volcano; National Academy of Sciences – this is not a volcano, SOCAR – first confirmed it was a volcano, then deleted it, while the Caspian Ship Company – neither tanker, nor volcano… One of the activists comments that this is a clear demonstration of why people do not trust the government, while the others suspect this might be a provocation – reaction of Russia or Iran to the trans-Caspian pipeline project. Based on the information received by the Defence Committee of the Rights of Oil Workers, Mirvari Gahramanli, the explosion took place at the old exploration well at the Umud offshore oil field. Usually such wells are cemented, but apparently due to negligence- either the cement became obsolete or it was of poor quality-gas leakages took place, eventually resulting in the most powerful explosion. The well was drilled by the Coastal Drilling Department of the Complex Drilling Trust.
US Independence Day on July 4. Opposition and civil activists, journalists and bloggers congratulate the US and its citizens on the occasion of their Independence Day and express their appreciation of its role in the world struggle for democracy.
COVID-19 pandemic. The quotation from ADR leader and economist Gubad Ibadoglu that since the football championship is nearing its end, the virus will start returning from its holidays (days off) and the number of infected will start increasing … so be prepared for restrictions! – is widely shared on FB.
Governance, economy, corruption. The blogger Mehman Huseynov presented his new investigation – this time of the illegal property of the head of executive power, whose salary does not exceed 1000 manat. Adil Veliyev, who is the head of Sabuncu region executive power
has been robbing the state budget as if it were his “father’s riches”. He observes that his family has an obsession with Porsche cars. The journalist lists their 9 cars priced from 150-500,000 manat, with total value of 2m 550,000 manat. He has been in his position for 9 years, robbing the budget, but never attracted the attention of the law enforcement bodies. Azadlyg newspaper reports the castle project built by the Pashayevs in Meyseri village of Shamakhi region worth $250m. Meydan TV publishes in Azerbaijani language the investigation by OCCRP about the niece of the president and her illegal business abroad. Commenting on the recent introduction of fines for legal defenders, Seymur Hezi of PFP argues that the government has taken an openly hostile position to the nation. There is not only no opposition in parliament, but even some reasonable ruling party YAP member, he argues and claims that “Ilham Aliyev is taping society in all directions”. Fuad Gahramanli states on his timeline that it is time to stop saying “I do not get involved in politics”, as if one protests at the gas price rise, he/she protests at official policies too. He calls for the increase of e-protesters to 1 m.
B.Hajiyev reports that mobile company Azercell returned 37.76 manat which it withdrew unjustifiably from his account, commenting that they rob citizens in many ways and do not get satiated. The experts, activists and journalists continue to discuss the issue of increase in consumption of synthetic drugs in the country. The BIZ TV program focuses on threats and consequences of drugs’ quick spread in the country, caused by their cheaper prices – as compared to those for natural ones. Mehman Huseynov argues that the spread of drugs and corruption in the country are deliberate and interrelated, as the drug abuse allows people to be distracted from the bureaucrat’s syphoning off of budget resources to offshore accounts. He also notes that the bureaucrats are not afraid, because people limit their reaction by comments to posts in social networks by the investigative journalists. Huseynov also reports that the son of the ex-Minister of Transport, Ziya Mammadov, is driving expensive cars in London – currently a 400,000 manat worth Rolls Royce, while last year it was a 500,000 manat worth Lamborghini. Natig Jafarli of REAL reports that in the two last years, investments in the country decreased by 66%. He comments that those who come to the country are not investors, but executors, who come for the funding from Azerbaijan. So in order to improve investment climate in the country- the customs and tax legislation should be brought in accordance with the international standards, and the agreement with WTO and EU should be signed as soon as possible. Azad Soz reports with reference to the economist Gubad Ibadoglu, that SOCAR has made a loss of 1b 734m. Ali Karimli of PFP asserts that in the same way, Aliyev has turned the country’s political power into that of his family members, the same way Rovnag Abduallayev turned SOCAR into a company manned by his relatives. He argues that in just one year, SOCAR deprived the state of $4b, which includes debt to the State Investment Company, International Bank and Ministry of Finance. He calls people to protest at the dire robbery of its citizens by the bureaucrats, who steal billions by transferring assets to offshore accounts so that their children can enjoy plenty, while making ordinary citizens pay for it through increased energy prices. Fuad Gahramanli comments that the gas and electricity prices were raised to compensate for the losses of the company at the expense of the citizens. The Azad Soz also reports that a travel ban was imposed on the oligarch – the head of Azeravtoyol transport state company, Saleh Mammadov, due to the investigation into violations in his workplace and offshore accounts.
Democracy, power-society relations. The protest campaign with the hashtag #I protest has been initiated in social networks. Ali Karimli of PFP posts within this campaign that he protests at the appointment of thieves to high official positions, attempting to provide a corrupt and lavish bureaucratic lifestyle at the expense of ordinary people, protests at the President’s policy to enrich the elites and to impoverish the poor. He also calls on the authorities to stop treating its own people as the foreign occupying force, attracting attention to the repressions levied on opposition activists, such as the decent and dignified Niyameddin Ahmadov. The activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev presents a long list of recent policies that have made the lives of the Azerbaijani population worse. Besides the recent price rise of gasoline, electricity, gas and medicine, he mentions the increase of fines of legal defenders, raising the retirement age, impunity of corrupt bureaucrats, collection of donations from people for the Foundation for Fight with COVID-19, decreased the duty-free cost of imported items from $1000 to 300, etc. He argues that there are 1000-1500 families who benefit from the system, which violates the rights of millions, and support its decisions and provide for the system’s survival. He calls people to realise that there are 10m of the rest, who outnumber those 1,500 and unless they start fighting for their rights, the authorities will continue to exercise their “iron fist” policies against people. The human defender Rufat Safarov argues that if 100,000 people express their protest, the authorities will have to reverse their decision on price rises. He reminds his followers that the source of power of kleptocrats is not people, but dynasty and corruption. Osmangizi TV discusses the cessation of giving free flats to the journalists. The message of possible sanctions being applied to Azerbaijani government by the US was discussed in the interview with the journalist Alakbar Arifoglu. Meydan TV reports revoking the licenses of the two media outlets owned by the official TV channels Lider TV and Radio Azerbaijan. It mentions that the 20-year-old TV channel, about which Heydar Aliyev once said had a great future, and which has been busy showing intimate blackmailing videos of opposition and independent journalists, during the last years was characterized by frequent non-payment of salaries, will be officially closed down by 1st July. The journalist in exile Ganimat Zahid argues that it is Hafiz Pashayev (the rector of the Diplomatic Academy) behind the so-called WhatsApp hooligans. Meydan TV reported police reacting to the raised LGBT flag at the Denmark-Czech Republic game in Baku, which was followed by a full police cordon of the section with Danish football fans.
Human rights. The FB community decries the continued repressions of the activists. It reports that the court of cassation had reduced the sentence of the journalist Afghan Sadikhov, on hunger strike for months, to 4 years in prison. The Line of Defence issued the statement that due to the political nature of his sentence, Afghan Sadikhov should be immediately released. Afghan Mukhtarli – the journalist in exile- continues to attract attention to the safety of the blogger in exile in Switzerland, Fuad Aghayev. He reports that Ilham Aliyev personally complained about him to the Prosecutor’s office. Mukhtarli explains that this is because Fuad Aghayev worked in SOCAR and witnessed the violations and corruption personally as an insider. Besides, similar to Mukhtarli, he posted and publicized the reports on corruption from well-known international sources such as BBC, OCCRP, Radio Freedom, etc. In Europe’s most rooted democracy, Aliyev rules – Mukhtarli comments. Switzerland gives away the address, telephone numbers and all the contacts of the government critic to the dictator, with its bureaucrat issuing instructions exactly like back home – “Go and complain to whoever you want”. “The prosecutor of Switzerland behaves like the one in Yasamal district of Baku”, he concludes. The human rights defender Rufat Safarov alerts the FB community to the state of health of the prisoner in connection with the Ganja case, Ogtay Huseynzade. His mother reported that in spite of her son’s health-related complaints there has been no reaction in Gobustan prison, where he is serving his term of 18 years. He has reportedly lost almost 2 litres of blood, suffers significant pain, is in a serious condition, without eating for 10 days, and needs to be transferred to the penitentiary hospital, but no action has been so far taken.
July 6, 2021