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The most shared and discussed topics on FB are: the results of the trilateral meeting held in Moscow on January 11th, the activities of the Russian peacekeepers, the renewed repression against the Popular Front Party and its leader and the opening of a criminal case, the sentence served on Luca Volonte of the Council of Europe for taking a bribe, the corruption scandals in the country and the construction of the new national bank building costing 400m Manat.
Results of trilateral meeting in Moscow. The FB community actively shares opinions and analysis of results of the trilateral official meeting in Moscow on 11th January. Most agree that Moscow has made another step to strengthen its position at the expense of the other two parties. The photo of the two Caucasian leaders sitting at the last meeting in Moscow in front of Putin, looking like a patron, is put alongside the one from the meeting on 10th November where they looked more equal, with Putin as mediator, is widely compared and shared. The participants of the Osmangizi TV program Tofig Yagublu, Rashid Hajili and Fahmin Hajiyev argued that Russia reached her goals at this meeting. The same TV broadcast concludes, with American expert Mathew Bryza, that Russia has squeezed Turkey out from the post-war arrangements. Ali Karimli stresses that the meeting was devoted only to the issue of unblocking the trade and communication routes, although it was already agreed upon at the meeting on 10th November in clause 9 and could be resolved in the working order. Russia had strengthened its position and Turkey was pushed further away. He expressed regret that President Aliyev did not protest at the continued non-withdrawal of all Armenian armed forces from Azerbaijan territory in violation of its sovereignty and activities of the Russian “peacekeepers” exceeding their responsibilities. He argues that it seems that Putin simply arranged this meeting to consolidate a trilateral format in order to keep it fully under Russia’s control. One of the activists comments that the agreement, which is related to infrastructure and trade routes, should have been signed between two parties – Azerbaijan and the Russian peacekeepers, and is bewildered by the participation of the third party – Armenia. The overall assessment is divided between the group of people who stress the economic benefits from open communications, and the other groups – who are concerned about the violated sovereignty of the country. Ganimaz Zahid, a journalist in exile, compares the arguments of the former with those of Bolsheviks when the Red Army invaded Azerbaijan. People widely share two contradicting statements of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan after the meeting in Moscow, the former saying that the Karabagh conflict is not solved yet (as the issue of status/hostages unresolved), while the latter saying that Karabagh issue is left in the past. They also share Putin’s assertion that after the meeting the partnership statement was signed on the development of Karabagh region. The leader of the ADR movement, Gubad Ibadoglu, argues that people were worried by revealing only the part of the meeting’s results related to economic issues, while many others were left undisclosed. He stresses the closed nature of a meeting with no briefings for journalists and other reports to the public. He considers that not only economic, but political issues were also discussed, firstly arms sales by Russia to the parties of the conflict, who are planning to increase their military budgets. He also notes that the meeting of Putin with Macron and Pashinian – with the Minsk group co-chairmen before this event, means that the conflict is not resolved and the leading role in its regulation still belongs to the Minsk Group. Russia is simply chairing it, while the US is busy with domestic issues, and France’s role weakened. Ordukhan Babirov, an activist in exile commented on the trilateral meeting: “The Russian tsar received Aliyev and Pashinian as the chair of Kolkhoz, while saw them out as the supermarket manager.”
Russian peacekeeping. The author of Azadlyg newspaper writes that Upper Karabagh from the zone of Armenian occupation has transformed into the Russian zone of occupation. He argues that there is no legal basis for the activities of Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan. Although “those in ties” try to convince the public that this is the maximum which could be achieved at this stage, the author reminds that all year before bringing the troops in, the authorities have undertaken unprecedented attack against opposition. He argues that this was to neutralize their anticipated reaction to the bringing in of Russian troops. The poet Mubariz Masimoglu comments that this revealed the true situation in the government. “It appeared that Russia’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and even 6th columns are all in this government.” (he plays with the expression ‘Russia’s 5th column’- L.A.)
Consequences of war. Meydan TV reports that up till now 2, 841 soldiers have been buried in the country. The site of the Ministry of Defense, which reported the statistics, also located data of the 64 missing persons with their photos, names, and date of birth.
Pandemics and social protection. In connection with the rise of the statistics of infected and new quarantine, there is a growing concern in the society about non-payment of 190 manat of compensation to affected groups of the population, including pensions, insurance, etc .
Economy and corruption. The FB community actively shares the information about plans for a new bank building, the cost of which is 400m Manat. The photos to compare are circulated – two storey or modest buildings of banks in developed states, such as the US, with $21 trillion GDP, and the enormous modern future building of the bank of Azerbaijan with 45bn GDP. This is decried as unjustified spending of money when there is such a high demand of social aid for the population in the post-war and pandemic conditions. Habib Muntazir shows that the sum of spending on only three buildings in the city is approaching the sum which Elon Musk spent on the Falcon-9 airspace programme. The economic expert and politician Guabd Ibadoglu posts a long list of big holdings and companies in the country owned by Azerbaijani officials and their family members and expresses concern about the fate of the reconstruction of the liberated territories.
Political parties. The leader of the opposition Musavat party, Arif Hajili, states on his timeline the priority directions of Azerbaijan foreign policy: strengthening of the Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan cooperation, involvement of Turkey in the GUAM alliance, replacement of the declarative policy of European Integration by real political and economic steps in this direction, and building relations with the new US administration at a different, new quality level. The Musavat party’s think-tank led by its former leader, Isa Gambar, issued a statement on the results of the trilateral meeting in Moscow, which says that: 1) None of the parties achieved its stated objectives 2) Russian failed to make any progress on its peacekeeping status, most probably because of Azerbaijan’s resistance 3) the Armenian party could not make any progress in the exchange of POWs due to Azerbaijan’s putting forward conditions 4) Azerbaijan did not make any progress on the sovereignty in Upper Karabagh due to the resistance of Russia and Armenia 5) the one issue which all parties agreed on (and there is a provisional progress on it) was the opening of communication and transportations routes, with each party having its own priorities on this issue. At the same time each party achieved its non-stated objective: 1) Putin demonstrated his control over the Karabagh issue to the parties and to the world 2) Pashinian showed the Armenian public that he is not a national “traitor” 3) Aliyev showed to his constituency that without progress in sovereignty, he will not make compromises on the “peacekeepers” issue. At the same time the statement expresses the concern of society on the unresolved issues – 1) the rude interference in the country in violation of international law and the Constitution of the Russian troops under disguise of peacekeepers, the transfer of the Upper part of Karabagh under the monopoly of Russia, the silence on the issue of the return of Azerbaijan population to Khankendi and other parts which are still under occupation, as well as the return of the Azerbaijani population expelled from Armenia in 1988 to their homeland, parallel to the return of Armenians to Karabagh. The NSTT (National Strategic Think-Tank) calls for direct Azerbaijan-Armenian peace talks without mediators, because otherwise there is a risk that the process of negotiation in the previous format might turn into a prolonged imitation, similar to the one of 26 years ago after the signing of the Bishkek protocols.
Sentence of Luca Volonte. The sentence of 4 years in prison to Luca Volonte, the Italian MP vice-president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for taking a bribe from Azerbaijani officials, has been widely discussed and welcomed. Ali Karimli of the PFP stated that hundreds of political activists are in prison because of such corrupt practices, officials in international organizations and the Azerbaijani government who stole millions of dollars from its people to bribe them. The Azerbaijan government hired the most expensive lawyers to defend him, but it did not help, he reports; moreover the court issued a decision regarding those who bribed him. He concludes that this case proves that justice triumphs sooner or later, so nobody should doubt it will take over in Azerbaijan too. Gultakin Hajibeyli of the NCDF, while praising the sentence given to Luca Volonte expresses her doubts in fully fair trial, as the charges were decreased from the 2.4m to half a million Euros, with the other part “not having sufficient evidence”. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP also comments on the sentence of 4yrs for Luca Volonte and Azerbaijani deputies Elkhan Suleymanov and Muslum Mammadov (provisional). He considers this trial a legal confirmation (by court) of the political corruption of current Azerbaijani authorities, and besides bringing justice, promoting barriers for the pro-government lobbying in international organizations. Habib Muntazir calls this sentence the outcome of the scandal with the ‘Caviar Diplomacy’. Ilkin Rustamzade considers that this case reveals the fact of “kickback in bribery”, as the court found in Volonte’s account only half a million of the 2.4m Euros bribe given by the government via its deputies. All the activists remind that the result of the bribe was voting against the report of the German Deputy about political prisoners in Azerbaijan, which removed this means of pressure of the Council of Europe on Azerbaijan to release political prisoners. The bribe, argues Tofig Yagublu of Musavat, is money taken away from the compensation to the soldiers of National Army who fought in the war.
Human rights and social issues. The activists are worried about the renewed wave of repression towards the opposition, reporting the cut-off of the internet of PFP leader Ali Karimli. The chair of the youth branch of the party, Emil Salim, was called to the Dept. of Serious Crimes of the Prosecutor General in connection with the case of earlier arrested activist Niyameddin Ahmadov. The bodyguard of Ali Karimli, Ruslan Amirli, was also called to the prosecutor’s office in connection with the same case. Ali Karimli reports that most probably the authorities are preparing for his arrest, as they investigate the transfer of aid ($500-600, several times) to the party by currently imprisoned businessman Saleh Rustamli. The authorities inflated the amount to prepare false accusations against Ali Karimli of tax avoidance. He in turn asserts that this is the response of authorities to his party’s criticism of the Russian peacekeepers. Seymur Hezi comments, that this arrest might be on the eve of another anti-national act of the president. Karimli also attracts attention to Ali Maharramli, the father of underage children, who remained in prison by the decision of Khazar regional court. This is in spite of the amendments to the legislation, according to which the sentences are either cut down, or after certain part of serving term in prison, the prisoner can be released. None of these provisions were applied to Agil Maharramli and he was not released. Rabiyya Mammadova, a feminist and youth activist, reports that the police took Elmir Abbasli in front of his home to the police office because of his critical FB status about the president and made him delete it, after which he was released. FB also reports about the approaching Court of Appeals hearing of the human righttp://cnis-baku.org/eng/?s=Rabiyya+Mammadovahts defender Elchin Mammad, sentenced to 4yrs based on false accusations, as the statement of his organization in Sumgayit states. Nigar Hezi reports the postponement of the court of appeals meeting of her father Tofug Yagublu’s case hearing to 28th January. Rasul Jafarov lists the political prisoners who were released between 8-12 January: Dayanat Samadov, Firdovsi Mammadrzayev (both in connection with the case of Islamic Party) and Elvin Nazarov and Renat Mammadov (both in connection with the Ganja case). He notes that there are 88 prisoners from the list of the internationally recognized political prisoners. He urges the resolution of the issue of political prisoners once and for all. The Azadlig newspaper reports complaints by small business owners forced by the government to produce at their own expense gravestones for the war martyrs. The activists are skeptical about promised improvement of the governance in the post-war period, primarily because of corruption.
Reaction to the events in the USA The FB community continues to follow the domestic situation in the USA. The functionary of the ruling party YAP, Siyavush Novruzov, makes a parallel between the events at the Karabagh rally in July 2020 when the group of provocateurs broke in the building of the parliament and the storming of the Congress building by Trump supporters in the USA. He notes that when the participants of the events in the rally in Azerbaijan were arrested, the “anti-national elements” ( activists) called it a violation of human rights, while in America they were dubbed “terrorists”. The opposition activists, bloggers and journalists discuss the double impeachment of President Trump by the House of Representatives quoting the resolution which states that his actions are qualified, according to the Constitution, as serious crimes. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP argues, that the events in the US proved that in the democratic states, mistakes are also possible. At the same time, the US Congress impeachment of Trump has showed that, unlike in authoritarian states, the democratic system has political and legal mechanisms to correct these mistakes, and above all in a peaceful manner.
Resignation of prime minister of Estonia. FB users contrast the resignation of the prime minister of Estonia, Juri Rufus, due to a corruption scandal with the situation in Azerbaijan. Ilkin Rustamzade comments with irony: “He allowed some company which gave his party 1m Euros during the local elections to build a road. What a misfortune! We have guys, who are involved in 200m corruption scandals, and whose son’s 1m euro watch is stolen and they do not care at all. And this resignation is just because of 1m! 1 mlllion in our country is the salary of the average manager of the cooperative house.”