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With the weekend of Novruz approaching, FB users feel compromised by the anomalies of government actions at home and abroad, from the lack of urban conservation policies to continued neglect of war veterans and active oppression of activists, many of whom remain in prison on false charges. Resentment against excessive funds invested in vanity schemes outside the country are weighed against impending price increases of fuel and other basics. With poignancy, the jazz era is evoked in remembering composer Vagif Mustafazade, and the KGB’s role in mitigating its influence.
Post-war situation. The e-media quotes the speech of Ilham Aliyev during the launching of the foundation for the new Fizuli-Hadrut highway. “This is a Fizuli city, but there is nothing left of it. It was destroyed by the Armenians, who took away the stones, roofs of the houses, like thieves and robbers. Let the foreign circles, who are still defending them, see their savage nature”. The Azadlyg newspaper, referring to the Karabagh war veteran Gulu Mammadli, who is a teacher at a school where the Education Ministry has been collecting donations from staff “for the families of war heroes”, comments that it might be understandable if the collection was being done by some NGO, but why would the state — which has 50b currency reserves, constructs administrative buildings for 450m, engages in restoring churches in Europe, buys planes for 347m, and whose bureaucrats live the lives of Arab sheikhs — extract donations from teachers who cannot even provide a subsistence level for their families ? It concludes that despite 4 months since the end of the war, the veterans’ IDs are still not allocated, and the classification of the categories of the handicapped is not completed yet. The e-media reports the unexplained arrest for 4 months of general lieutenant, National Hero Rovshan Akbarov. The journalists post news with reference to Armenian sources, that the Armenian army has stepped back from the Red Market road, being replaced by Russians, which in turn has opened up the road to the Azerbaijani side. The activists continue to compare the release of the Armenian sniper and the tormenting in prison of local activists. The e-media covers the trip of President Aliyev to Shusha.
Visit of the OSCE chairwoman Ann Linde. The FB community discusses the visit of the OSCE chairwoman Ann Linde of Sweden. Seymur Hezi comments that she has revealed the OSCE priority areas of cooperation with Azerbaijan, which might not be liked by the authorities. She clearly stressed that they view the issues of security as inseparable from the state of democracy. He considers that this was an important message both to Aliyev and to Moscow, as she sees Kremlin as an important obstacle to conflict resolution. Russia’s interests here are dual control of both sides by means of supporting the conflict, and by supporting the autocratic regimes does not allow the narrowing down of the “safety belt” around herself.
Human rights. The activists’ community reminds their followers that there are 146 political prisoners in their country, in the context of approaching amnesty on the main holiday of the country Novruz Bayram on 21st of March. They mention the Karabagh veterans Saleh Rustamli and Babek Hasanli, the highly educated Agil Maharramli, Mahammad Imanli, Orkhan Bakhisli, the dedicated Niyamaddin Ahmadov, Alizamin Salayev, Elchin Ismayilli, Pasha Umudov — all members of the PFP and all held in prison on trumped-up charges. The other group includes the activists of the Muslim Unity movement — Nardaran events’ prisoners including their leader Haji Tale Bagirzade. They mention that members of this movement who died in the 2nd Karabagh War, such as Nofal Aliyev, Balazade Abdullayev and Shukur Ilyasov, were awarded post-mortem medals ‘For Homeland’. They also demand the release of Ganja events’ prisoners, as well as journalists and activists, who “must not be held in prison in a normal country”. They conclude that everyone, including the state itself, would benefit from the amnesty of all political prisoners. The popular blogger and activist Mehman Huseynov posts his picture in the costume of a rabbit, commenting that because they spread his photo everywhere urging police calls if noticed near bureaucrats’ property, he has to disguise himself as a rabbit. Osmangizi TV has broadcasted a programme devoted to the investigation of the armed attack of the blogger-in-exile Mahammad Mirzeli. The Defence Committee of Journalists issued a statement in protest at this attack.
The activists discuss the reasons of government’s priority of arranging the arrest of the PFP leader Ali Karimli. Ali Karimli continues to bring to the attention of society the situation of those activists arrested on charges of political motivation. He tells the story of the PFP Supreme Board member, Elchin Ismayil, who is a well-known sportsman of the country – a multiple champion in Karate. But he started to fight corruption in his region Ismayilli and reported regularly to the TV programme Azerbaijan Saati (led by the journalist in exile Ganimat Zahid). Those “small padishahs”, the local governors, whose corruption he discredited, had arranged his arrest for 7 years, of which he has already served 4 years. His mother’s health has seriously deteriorated recently, and his two daughters — 8 and 11 years old — have been growing up without a father. The government even deprived his wife — an English language teacher — of a job opportunity. Karimli argues, that if they (the authorities) choose the target — they try to destroy the family too. He calls society to join his demand to release Elchin Ismayilli and other political prisoners. FB reports an unusual event for the court system — at the last court hearing on the 3rd group of the case on the “Karabagh rally” participants, the ‘victims’ did not identify the ‘offenders’ at the proceedings under the judge of the Sabayil Court Ulviyya Shukurova. The Azadlyq newspaper alarms its readers of the fact that now the authorities are putting pressure on the brother of the political prisoner Mahammad Imanli, who was arrested last year on trumped-up charges of the “spreading of coronavirus”. The source reports yet another form of pressure on the family of Imanli, this time on his handicapped brother Ali Imanli. The latter was called to police station No.13 of Sabunchu region. Although the police justified it by the debt of a fine, they did not send him an official notification, neither did they mention it in the police office conversation. His father Ramiz Imanov suspects that they want to slander and arrest his other son too.
Economy, governance, corruption. Blogger Mehman Huseynov reports on the effectiveness of the investigative videos he produces: the Baku city mayor Eldar Azizov’s deputy Fiduma Huseynova, whose son was discredited in the last video as the owner of numerous houses, expensive cars, stolen millions, has been fired. But he urges that the punishment should not be limited to firing, that all illegal property should be expropriated and given to the families of the war heroes, who lost lives in the war. The activists note the recent trend that the Ministry of Interior tries to drag its proceedings on until the very last moment, although it is possible to do it within a day or even hours. MP Vahid Ahmadov has reported in the Parliament that the prices on food and non-food products are increasingly daily. “This is unbearable, whatever they say, there are monopolies in the economy. The Azerbaijani government should work on the prevention of price rises in the country.” He mentioned that for a long time they have been raising the issue of adoption of the Anti-monopoly law in parliament and urges the government to accelerate it. Natig Jafarli of REAL comments on the statement by the Prime Minister Ali Asadov in regard to price rises, that there are issues which are not dependent on them, and that some connect the price rise to the increase of gasoline. Jafarli writes with irony, that the jinni came at night and influenced the Tariff Council to increase the gasoline prices by 34%. He warns that while at the moment of the sowing period it did not have a visible effect on agriculture, by the period of harvesting the increase in diesel price will have a substantial effect on agricultural products’ prices. Altay Geyushov decries yet another historical building’s demolition, the 19th century public baths, and its replacement by a modern, faceless building lacking any aesthetic. He gives an example of this year’s laureates of the best international prize in architecture – a Pritzker prize – French architects Lacato & Vassal, who simply preserved the old buildings and paved the square in front of them. He argues that for years the public tried to convince the Azerbaijani government that the old buildings should be conserved, not destroyed and replaced by glossy, tasteless highrises. They have used so many excuses to destroy the old baths, such as: it was not a local one, or it was obsolete, or called ‘gentrified’ by the US educated, or that it was full of rats, etc. But while they were destroying local historical buildings, they were spending millions of stolen money from its own people on restoration of the cultural heritage in France, Italy, etc.
The MP of the YAP party Aydin Mirza-zade complains on his FB timeline that he is encountering many fake news items regarding himself, presented as quotations from his alleged speeches, and asks people to report them to him, if anybody comes across such misinformation.
Soviet Power and jazz: celebration of composer Vagif Mustafazade. The FB community widely celebrates the anniversary of the world-known, but short-lived founder of Azerbaijani jazz, Vagif Mustafazade (1940-1979). He was the founder of the jazz-mugam, synthesizing the national music form mugam with jazz, and won a few international awards. Prominent jazz musicians, such as B.B. King and Willis Connover, highly appreciated his outstanding talent. The historian Jamil Hasanli critically approaches the commentary of Ali Isa Jabbarov, who wrote that Mustafa-zade was supported in his activities by the Soviet government, including Heydar Aliyev personally and that the idea of “suppression” is a myth. Jamil Hasanli refers to the KGB archives and comments, that when the jazzman started his activities, Heydar Aliyev was the KGB chief and at that time the KGB had been waging a ruthless war against jazz and “styliagi” (hipsters in Russian), because jazz was considered a tool of the West to destroy the Soviet Union. At the frequent meetings the KGB devoted to this issue, the idea that if “we do not defeat them — they will defeat us” was voiced by the so-called savior of jazzmen, Heydar Aliyev, too. The KGB monitored the flats where the jazzmen got together, had their agents penetrate the property, would often invite them to the KGB offices to conduct “preventive conversations”, and even had lists of those in Baku who got tickets for their Moscow concert. The Komsomol chiefs also monitored and reported activities of such jazz fans, because the objective was to distract the youth from jazz. While Mustafazade’s activities as a jazzman and as a hipster was an irritation and a target of KGB, in this confrontation, jazz took over. His adaptation of jazz to the national music forum brought him great success, and major authorities in the music – Tofig Guliyev, Niyazi, Rauf Hajiyev, especially Kara Karayev, gave him big support. Kara Karayev argued that “we will not be able to prevent the penetration of jazz into our country, and that’s why creation of our own jazz is the only way out”. But before that Mustafazade faced big difficulties. There were KGB instructions to the Art Councils in the 1960-1970s not to allow his music to be played on radio, TV, or in concerts. After his concert trip to Latin America in 1970 with singer Rashid Behbudov, he was for some time prohibited from going abroad, although receiving numerous invitations. And even the story with the apartment, which according to the Jabbarov was given by H. Aliyev, was a myth, as they received only with significant difficulties anything from the so-called “release fund”.
Relations with the US. FB users widely share the news of diplomatic tension between the US and Russia following President Biden’s calling President Putin a “killer”. Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, Mariya Zakharova, in order to “prevent complete deterioration of relations” reported recalling on the envoy for consultations. The opposition leaders positively assess president Biden’s act, as indicating the US declaring war to the last bastions of authoritarianism. G.Hajibeyli comments that there are very difficult and interesting events ahead. She assured readers that the country would definitely benefit from their consequences too.
The Azerbaijan People’s Party issued a statement, which protests at the draft resolution under the name of “Release of all civilian hostages” during the recent war in Karabagh by a group of congressmen. The statement views it as another “anti-Azerbaijani, anti-Turkish’ step, which cannot cause anything but anger, rage and hatred within society. It states that the infamous Amendment 907, adopted by the US Congress 30 years ago and still not cancelled, at the time when Azerbaijan was exposed to occupation, genocide of hundreds of thousands of people, massacres and deportations, is not forgotten and never will be. They assess the draft, if adopted, as contributing to people’s great tragedy, contrary to the unique momentum for peace and understanding and in addition would be a significant blow for US reputation in Azerbaijani public opinion. The statement concludes with hope that the US Congress will abstain from adoption of such resolution.
New Russia-Azerbaijan transportation gas deal. The economic experts comment on the new plans to supply Russian gas to Armenia, transported via Azerbaijani territory. Natig Jafarli argues that it would much better to sell Azerbaijani, not Russian, gas to Armenia and as in Georgia, buy the gas distribution network – this should be viewed not only from the economic point of view, but from a political/pragmatic one — from a future perspective. Gubad Ibadoglu positively assesses the new short term (3-week) contract of Russia’s Gasprom export with the Azerbaijani SOCAR, as the new opportunity to promote regional cooperation and integration between Armenia, Azerbaijan Karabagh and Turkey, and additionally Georgia, as the transportation route would involve Georgia too. He considers, however, the main issue as the provision for transparency and accountability. He suggests that the conditions of the SOCAR-Gasprom deal be disclosed to the public.
Relations with Russia. Isa Gambar of the Musavat party and chair of the National Strategic “think-tank” reminds his followers that after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, he called it the new crisis, marking a new stage in the world history, which would create new threats and opportunities for the whole world, particularly in Azerbaijan. Thus, Azerbaijan has benefitted from this new opportunity by the 44-day war, but then had to face new/old threat in the face of Russia’s peacekeepers.
Social issues. The FB community continues to share reports on dire conditions of the families of the war heroes who died. The mother of Asgarov Ibrahim from Beylagan, who lost her only son, lives in a small obsolete place, which does not even have a gas supply, reports the journalist Gadir Ibrahimli. Altay Geyushov quotes the article published by Baku Research Institute (BRI) which shows that the number of cars that are 10 years and older has increased, while those which are 5 years and less, decreased. The author explains it by the impoverishment of people after the crisis of 2014, by the decline of the value of the manat, and by the enormous taxes and customs which makes cars more expensive than in Europe and the US. Meydan TV continues to raise the issue of the social issues of the war heroes. It broadcasts the story of Natig Orujov, who has a tuberculosis, which has developed during his first military service in 2000s and then aggravated during the Karabagh War 2, but is not accepted for any treatment either in military hospital, or by the Yashat Fund, which refers to the absence of his name in the lists of the Military Hospital. Gubad Ibadoglu compares the millions which the government spends on international initiatives worldwide – such as the fight with coronavirus — near 50m — with urgent needs and pressing issues at home, such as the fight with child cancer. He argues that with this money, they could help at least 350 children to treat leucosis. He considers that such generous spending abroad at the expense of its own domestic priorities is just another form of corruption, not substantially differing from the recently revealed corruption scandal with the MPs in Germany. Meydan TV quotes the speech of MP Fazal Agamali, who criticised the Central Bank leadership for exceedingly high interest rates applied to bank loans in the country. He called the Central bank the “creator of the bank system in the country, which for years has been putting tens of thousands on the verge of collapse, hitting a hard blow to the family institution, depriving people of their houses and properties”. He criticized the Central Bank plans to build a new office for 430m. and argued that for the same money it could built 1m 720,000 sq. metres of flats or 12,300 houses, several schools, hospitals, kindergartens, etc. The opposition leader Ali Karimli warns that the current policies will result in the social explosion. The other opposition leader, Gultakin Hajibeyli, also states that the country is rolling towards chaos, the fate of Karabagh is unclear, and social explosion inevitable. Yadigar Sadyghli of Musavat stresses that the decision to calculate the veteran’s benefit as 80 manat, ($40) only after the registration of veterans is absurd, because many of the war heroes are still waiting for their IDs.
Relations with Germany. The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli reports that the organization DAS (of the activists in exile) held a vigil in front of the Foreign Ministry of Germany and the Azerbaijani Embassy, demanding an investigation into the attack on the blogger Mahammad Mirzeli and provision for the security and safety of the Azerbaijanis in exile in Europe. The FB community shares information about the corruption scandal in Germany, with the three deputies of Bundestag, Axel Fischer, Mark Hauptmann, Thomas Barays, being bribed by the Azerbaijani government. Ali Karimli entitles his FB posting: “The virus of corruption spread by the Azerbaijani government destroys Germany”. He reminds his followers that earlier another two MPs were discredited in a corruption scandal – Edward Lintner and Karen Schtrens, and that all this was done so that they would support the clan of Aliyevs, as reflected in the German publication Deutsche Welle.