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Center for National and International Studies
“…In order to build a “smart village”, one needs to have a smart government…”
The FB community demonstrates an increasing sense of deep frustration and disempowerment with the unfolding of political agendas that are perceived as a distinct threat to the constructive development of a thriving post-war society. A sense of betrayal is heightened at times with humour, but the issues are ever more clearly elicited with Putin’s Russia consolidating its outreach and internal oligarchs keen to further their own material targets regardless of the weakening of vulnerable groups in society, with regressive strategies proposed to bypass legitimate and essential fiscal obligations. Smarter policies are vital to create a sustainable vision for the future and compete with neighbouring states; meanwhile there is discussion of a possible activization by NATO and more pro-active policies towards Russia.
The situation in Upper Karabagh. People are concerned at the news that the leaders of Upper Karabagh have declared the mobilization of the army and decreed Russian as the second official language of the “Artsakh republic”. They also stress that in front of every building there are two flags posted – those of the Armenian Republic and also of “Artsakh”; in spite of the prohibition by Baku, the officials of Armenia still freely go to Upper Karabagh, the Lachin corridor is under full control of the Russian and Armenian forces, and that even during his visit the president could not enter the Lachin corridor. They ask, why is not only the Lachin-Shusha road unavailable to Azerbaijani transport, but even the Kelbajar-Agdere road? The other questionable issue is the visits of Armenian pilgrims to the monastery Khudaveng (Dadivang), which is under control of the Russians. A commentator of Osmangizi TV reports that while Putin discusses the Karabagh Issue with Pashinian, Turkey is arranging a summit with Azerbaijan and Georgia. The opposition is concerned with the nature of the bargain made by President Aliyev with Putin, Karabagh moving out of Azerbaijan’s control and call the restoration project of the liberated territories “the smart village of the stupid government”.
The society at large continues to discuss with indignation the governmental decision to decrease the salaries of the troops still serving in Karabagh, instead of rewarding them and increasing the salaries. The activist explains it in terms of the absence of political will, rather than resources. The activists share reports that 21km of Zangezur’s road Gorus-David bek will be given up to the control of Azerbaijan and will be jointly exploited by both sides over 3 years and then transferred to Azerbaijan. The results of the war are continuously critically assessed by the opposition and the Diaspora, targeting the president and his policies. One of them argues that the number of victims in the war is unjustifiably high and there will inevitably be a trial in the future in this regard. Ali Karimli attracts attention to the thousands of war heroes who were deprived of social protection compensation, so the children of the oligarchs-ministers would have another expensive car in their garage. In contrary, the officials and the ruling party focus on the achievements of the 44-day war and support plans of restoration. The functionary of the YAP party, Siyavush Novruz, praises the development of transportation communication within the liberated territories, which would give a boost both to the national and regional economy, and calls the planned construction of the 100km Horadiz-Agbend railway a historical event, as this will connect the Nakhichevan republic with mainland Azerbaijan and put an end to several decades’ blockade.
Russia’s role. The activists, opposition, journalists and Diaspora continue to alarm the public regarding Russia’s destructive role in the country and the region. They argue that Russian peacekeepers knowing that Azerbaijan has opened a criminal case against Arayik Harutyunian, deliberately recognize and support him, in order to humiliate Azerbaijan. They remind readers that so far, none of Russia’s peace-making activities (in Georgia, or Moldova) have led to conflict resolution or restoration of the states’ sovereignty, quite the opposite — it consolidated the breakaway regions. They warn that Shusha is in vulnerable position and the repetition of Khojali is not excluded there.
COVID-19: repressions and compensation. The leader of the opposition Musavat party, Arif Hajili, reports that the government is apparently concerned with their visit to the graves of the war heroes in the regions, as his party members are being called and pressured in the police office. They are blamed for not wearing masks during the photoshoot at the cemeteries in Absheron, Bilasuvar, Sabirabad and other regions. Just a few days before, the police arrested 5 party members in Surakhani district. He argues that clearly these detentions are not related to the quarantine and asserts that the Musavat party has a special mission before its people, and no pressure can prevent them from implementing it. The economist Samir Aliyev analyses the amount and schedule of state compensation allocated to the businesses in the regions, noting a much smaller amount given to some of them, and criticizes this for lack of logic and justification.
Governance. The activists of REAL welcome the decision of the Baku Transport Agency to specify the hours within which the bus lanes will be closed for the automobiles and other transportation. They have been criticising for some time the absence of the timeframe of the limitations, which would allow to abuse it by the highway police when fining the drivers. They assert that this is the victory of public discussions and monitoring. The FB users widely share and comment on the plans of the authorities to build “a smart village”. However, Fuad Gahramanli argues, that before they do it, first the country itself should turn into a smart one, as the main problem of Azerbaijan is the absence of a smart political system. He comments that building a smart village will not hide the backwardness of a country which for 30 years had an economy based instead of the export of high technologies, on that of natural resources and was dependent on imports.
Perception of Armenia. FB users share information about the increasingly tense political situation in Armenia and the planned all-national meeting on 20th February arranged by the former president and prime ministers. They share a quotation from ex-premier Serj Sarkisian who said to the Armenian news that civilian Azerbaijani settlements in Horadiz together with the oil and gas pipelines should have been fired at by the Iskandar rockets. He argues, that Iskandars were used late, only by the end of the war and towards Shusha. One FB user comments: How come a person with such a fascist way of thinking could be the president of the country?
The state of democracy. The fate of democratic struggle is becoming more prominent again. Ali Karimli asserts that the country has to change and will change. Azadlyg newspaper published an article by the prominent activist and one of the leaders of the National Council of Democratic Forces, Ibrahim Ibrahimli, who quotes the Roman satirist Juvenal: “There is a circus, but no bread”. He describes the historical universality of this governing principle, which was laid down by Julius Caesar. He explains the need by “circus” — in the times of transition, when society is in an existential state of mind and requires a strong leader, who would satisfy its need in a “dream”. He quotes Elias Canetti and the history of tragic protest in Vienna in 1927 which inspired him in 1960 to write the book “Crowds and power” about the psychology of the crowd and its influence on society and government. He extrapolates his study onto the situation in Azerbaijan and predicts its development according to that described in Canetti’s concept of a “rotating crowd” — when “the sheep start to attack the wolves”, quoted from the letter in the time of the French revolution.
Another attack on opposition in president’s speech. The activists, opposition leaders, journalistsn, bloggers decry another attempt of the president to put blame on the loss of the territories in the early 90s on the opposition- Popular Front Government. İlham Aliyev in his speech in the Gulebird village of the Lachin region said, that those “who sold off Lachin were the same people, who sold off Shusha. The disgusting pair of PFP and Musavat sold these lands to the enemy in order to come to power”. Jamil Hasanli comments that the president thinks only in terms of sales – maybe that’s why he suggested $5bn for 5 regions to Serj Sarkissian via Lukashenka. He stresses that there is nothing left in the country which is not turned into an object of trade sale, there are billions disclosed behind each sacked bureaucrat, and the president blames the PFP government for selling the lands. He reminds the readers that while PFP has lost 128 people defending Shusha in 1992 nobody knows where the president was at that time. Arif Hajili of Musavat argues that everyone knows that Shusha, Lachin and Kelbajar were occupied in the context of the power struggle of Heydar Aliyev and his supporters. The rest of the regions was occupied while he was already in power. “And then he signed an act of capitulation in Bishkek with the executioner of the Khojali massacre, Robert Kocharian.” The youth leader Ilkin Rustamzade compares this attack to his investigator Ibrahim Lemberanski, saying “If I want, I can charge you with the killing of Kennedy and the court will give you a sentence for that”. Rustamzade comments that it seems the president follows this path – in a while he will blame the pair PFP-Musavat for killing Kennedy. Afgan Mukhtarli stresses that while the PFP has liberated Gulebird, the president’s father Heydar gave 5 regions to Armenia. The activist-colonel in exile, Isa Sadigov, argues that the opposition is being targeted because it is the main threat to the incumbent, who is fearing rebellion the most.
Western policies in the region. The FB readers circulate the quotation from the speech by the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, that “we should send Russia a clear signal and if they want a clash — we are ready for that. If they want cooperation, we will be happy to do that, NATO is ready to protect its members. The dialogue with Russia should be based on our strength”. It is interpreted by FB users that the West is not going to tolerate Russia’s preservation by force of its influence in post-Soviet space. It is also mentioned that Biden’s assistant had a telephone conversation with Turkey’s Ibrahim Kalin on the Karabagh issue. They also mention that Turkey was delegated the commandment of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. A confrontation between the NATO and Russia is anticipated, the epicenter of which is expected to be in Karabagh and Eastern Ukraine. So the activists also discuss the options of Azerbaijan’s reaction to the possibility of a Russia-NATO war.
Human rights. Rasul Jafarov, the chair of Human Rights Club, has sent an appeal to the officials (Commission on Amnesty) about amnesty of 110 political prisoners. The human rights defenders attract attention to yet another postponement of the Court of Appeals hearing on the case of human rights activist Elchin Mammadov the leader of the Sumgayit based NGO “The Legal Education of the Youth of Sumgayit”. Elchin Mammad was sentenced for 4 years on trumped up charges and was known for his critical activities and as active defender of human rights. INGOs such as Amnesty International, Pen Club etc. have appealed to Azerbaijani government to release him, but to no avail. His organization urge the society and diplomatic community to keep this issue in the center of attention and join them in demanding his release. The news that the Court of Appeals on the case of the journalist Polad Aslanov, who has been on hunger strike in prison for 16 days, left his sentence unchanged was met with indignation by activists and his fellow journalists. The activists report that the authorities cut all the possibilities for the opposition members and their families to earn for subsistence. Ogtay Salayev,the son of the arrested PFP member Alizamin Salayev complained that the road police office does not allow him and the others to work as a taxi drivers demanding the illegal monthly fee. Sevinj Osmangizi, who runs her popular critical TV reported a threatening message to her: “We will bring you down!” and answered that she is not afraid, so they will not succeed. The issue of hijab at schools came back onto the agenda. The FB community has diverse opinions in this regard. A journalist in exile Afghan Mukhtarli considers prohibition counterproductive taking as an example of the arrival to power of the Rifah and AK Party of Erdogan, who benefitted from a similar prohibition in Turkey. Ilkin Rustamzade asserts that more important than wearing hijab at schools is the stealing of people’s votes by staffing the ballot boxes with bulletins hidden in teachers’ underwear during elections. The prominent human rights defender, former political prisoner, ex-prosecutor Rufat Safarov has described how the authorities used ex-husband of the female opposition activist Gultakin Hajibeyli to open a fake criminal case against her. Mahmud Mekhtiyev and his sister sued Hajibeyli in 2013. Because of the criminal case investigation and consideration in the court lasting for 7 years, his 16-year son could not even leave the country to study abroad. However, producing fake accusations were rewarded by the new prosecutor Kamran Aliyev-Mahmud Mekhtiyev has been promoted to the position of prosecutor of the department in the General prosecutor’s office. Lawyer Samad Rahimli, based on the outcome of the case “Chiragovs and others against Armenia” in the ECHR (which rejected material claims), considers that there is no legal mechanism to claim compensation of $50bn for the damage done by Armenia to Azerbaijan during the Karabagh wars. The country’s activists closely follow the intermediary decision of the ECHR to immediately release Russian opposition leader Navalny and whether it will follow the precent already taken place of a similar decision on the Ilgar Mammadov case.
Economy and development. Natig Jafarli of REAL warns about a big impending crisis in the country because all the prices in the country are artificially inflated. The expert Gubad Ibadoglu displays the table, which shows the current position there of the countries which used to be in the same group on the development indicator as Azerbaijan, compared to the position of the latter, who is currently stuck behind. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev in turn compares the technological achievements in the world on the one hand, and the state of affairs in Azerbaijan on the other. He mentions innovative technologies, quantum-based computers, expanding utilization of artificial intelligence, billions spent on start-up projects of 18-24 year-old entrepreneurs and scientists on one hand and compares them with the billions spent on the office buildings of SOCAR, SOFAZ, AzerSu and others on the Heydar Aliyev prospect. He concludes that unless the country spends its riches on innovations, laboratories, young people, brains, and science – the future of the country will be in darkness. Gubad Ibadoglu, an economic expert, currently at Rutgers University, analyses the ratio of median salary of the average one in the country — 45,8% — and compares it to other states such as Russia (87%) or Ukraine (70%) and concludes that the income there is distributed more fairly that in Azerbaijan.
Another economist notes that the road to Guba is being reconstructed, although it was built just a decade ago and cost $100m. Natig Jafarli of REAL observes how the new decree initiated by Prime Minister Ali Asadov is legalizing “feudalism” by deciding that with the agreement of the farmers, 20% of their salary might be given in the form of natural products. He reminds us that in the early 90s, part of the salaries given was in the form of detergents and that people were selling them, shouting “Chlorine!”, in the courtyards. He comments with irony, that now, if somebody hears the shout “Cucumbers, cucumbers!” from the courtyard, they should not be surprised.