Center for National and International Studies
“…The spies of the regime are in our telephone. Without our knowledge. Step by step. Every minute. With us.”
The FB users express a high level of concern at the systematic violation of the ceasefire by the Armenian party, predicting the possibility of a new war, an anti-terror operation or Russia–Turkey clashes, and are shocked by the sensational investigation of the OCCRP of the Pegasus spyware used by authorities to monitor telephones of activists and journalists. They celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the creation of the Popular Front and praise its role in democracy- building; note the low speed and high price of the internet, and decry the violent police dispersal of the ADO theatre street performance and the protest of the animals rights’ protection activists.
Post-conflict situation. The FB community continues to discuss the instability on the borders of the conflict zone. They mention – after 2 days of firing at Shusha – the military exercises of Russian peacekeepers in Karabagh. The e-media also reports that the Armenian military located in Basarkecher region, in Zarkend village, fired at Yukhari Ayrum village of Kelbajar region. Official sources also inform about firing in the Nakhichevan direction. Some suggest that the developments may cause the start of an anti-terror operation. The FB community suggests closing the Lachin corridor and to stop constructing this alternative road, as well as pushing Russian peacekeepers out, as the only relevant response to the firing at the Azerbaijani regions.
Osmangizi TV experts suggest that this is a reflection of Russia provoking Turkey to war. The MP Sabir Rustamkhanli stated that Azerbaijan at any moment should be ready to start an anti-terror operation. If there is firing opened in one’s own land – this is not peacekeeping. The analyst Ilham Ismayil reflects the worries of the community, when he comments that the actions of the Armenian party prove that the conflict is not over. He reminds his followers of the visit of Pashinian to Moscow and meeting with Arutyunian, and how they started to openly speak about the independence of Karabagh. The Minsk group was brought back so as to apparently prolong the conflict for another 30 years. Previously firing in the air, the Armenian army is now targeting the Azerbaijani positions. “Every passing day works against our interests”, he concludes. People share information that the Khankendi municipality arranged a summer camp for the young people in Vang, one of the villages of Kelbajar. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev points to the manipulation for domestic purposes of the Karabagh issue, reminding his followers of the visits of Ilham Aliyev to Shusha at the time of rising popular dissatisfaction. He also suggests a critical analysis of the problems of the army and thus to learn lessons from the 44-day war. Continuing the e-campaign #Iprotest Fuad Gahramanli states that he protests at the deception of people by saying “we will return to Zangezur”, while Khankendi is still under occupation. FB reported firing all night long, which makes many suspect that there might be a new war. However, Gahramanli considers the chances of the new war to be small, as neither Russia wants it (as it will prove its incapacity as peacemaker), nor can Azerbaijan start it without the consent of Russia or support of Turkey, while Armenia’s Pashinian wants to focus on the domestic situation in his country, while the Russians are providing for the security of Karabaghi Armenians.
Perception of Armenia. Against the background of talks about the possibility of a new war, there are other observations of Armenia. Natig Jafarli of REAL quotes the publication of the Armenian journalist Nairi Okhekian, who is critical of current prime-minister Pashinian, but who unwillingly revealed certain liberal attitudes of the latter. She recalls how during the visit of two Azerbaijani journalists in 2006, Pashinian had called her a “brainless patriot” arguing that Karabagh is a pain in the neck for Armenians, and this is the land of Azerbaijan, and that resolving the issue will help to open borders and establish relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, attract investments, etc. The second episode Nairi describes is when Pashinian in 2019 responded to Lapshin’s complaints that Azerbaijanis kept him in prison for 9 months, that it was illegal to visit the lands under occupation, and that legally Karabagh is part of Azerbaijan. Jafarli comments that if Nairi wrote this to blacken Pashinian, she actually reached the opposite effect, as it demonstrates that Pashinian is quite an intelligent man.
International relations. Meydan TV reports detention of four Iranians in the US accused of espionage. They are suspected in planning to hijack the journalist who was critical of Iranian authorities and was defending human rights, is an American citizen and lives in Brooklyn. While Iran rejects accusations, the US argues that one of them is the officer of the Iranian intelligence, while the other three- members of the intelligence network. The ruling party YAP MP Aydin Mirza-zade states that the Iran–Azerbaijan relations will stay at the high level with the new leadership- Ibrahim Raisi-too. The embassy of Iran posted on its FB page that the new leader of Iran had congratulated President Aliyev at the liberation of Karabagh. Raisi in his letter mentioned that the relations between the two neighbours are based on brotherly ties, common culture and history. Aydin Mirza-zade notes that this is the first time when an official, who had not yet started his work in office, sends a special letter to the Azerbaijan president and congratulates him with the liberation of Karabagh. Tofig Yagublu comments on the contrast of EU aid given to Armenia (2.6b Euros) while to Azerbaijan – a mere 150m Euro. He argues that these are not the double standards which the president refers to in this case, but the result of the state of official relations of Azerbaijani officials with the EU. The FB community shares information that the opposition leaders did not let the Minister of Interior of Georgia speak in the parliament, as they all protested holding the photo of the killed cameraman Alexandre Lashkava. A report on the visit of Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to Washington DC, by invitation of President Biden, is also shared.
Social problems. The MP Etibar Aliyev suggested that the 3rd building which the government constructed for journalists should be given to the families of war martyrs. He argues that the distribution of apartments for journalists did not improve the quality of journalism. Besides, there are many among recipients of the apartments who have nothing to do with journalism. The MP Vahid Ahmadov argues that such a speedy consumer price rise in fact destroys populations’ salaries, benefits and pensions. Meydan TV reports that parents of the students of the Military High School named after Heydar Aliyev protested in front of the school building about failing their tests and then being sent on service to the Hadrut military detachment without notifying their parents. Their appeals to the director of the school, Fizuli Salakhov, and the Ministry of Defence were left without any answer.
Governance, economy, corruption. Osmangizi TV discusses the issue of why Ilham Aliyev retains the president of SOCAR, but fires his deputies. Natig Jafarli of REAL paints the future image of the Caucasus, where there will be 12m citizens of Azerbaijan, 2.9m of Georgia and 2.8m. of Armenia. He argues that if Azerbaijan builds a normal system, promotes development, creates a successful governing model – it will be the region’s leader in terms of its soft power. It will allow then the return to Zangezur, Goychay (Sevan) to build and make business through the establishment of peace with its neighbours, and this by scientific and economic means, not by military. So far, he argues Azerbaijan, according the Speedtest Global Index has one of the most expensive internet services – $44,64 per 100 mbit/s compared to Ukraine – $6,18, Russia $7,68, Moldova $9,66, and so on. It is not only 7 times more expensive than in Ukraine, but even than those in Europe. He comments that both the cost of internet and its slow speed indicates the low level of Azerbaijan’s high 21st century technologies. The reason of the former is monopolies and the absence of competition – the “chronic illness of all spheres of the country”. The economist and activist Gubad Ibadoglu argues that three ministers of communication had been changed in 6 years, but the problem of internet was not solved. The internet is brought to Azerbaijan by only two companies.
The economist Samir Aliyev reports that after the video about contamination by waste and garbage in the streets of Absheron region, the officials of the executive office visited and told the local citizens to pay more, so they would clean the streets. He comments that “This is not executive power, but a business enterprise”. Azadlyg newspaper reports on the arrest of a citizen of Hovsan settlement of Baku, Aliyev Anar, on trumped-up charges. Police has stopped his car and pointed to non-existent problem with the car body, then took his documents away and asked for a 150 manat fine, having refused to write a protocol. Anar borrowed 100 manat from his sister and while giving it to the police recorded it in a video. After police found out about the video, they arrested Aliyev Anar by planting drugs in his pocket. B. Hajiyev comments on the career promotion in the country. He argues that well-educated and talented people are appointed to low paid but hard and responsible positions in the government, while somebody being a friend, or a family member of the bureaucrat receives the earnings of these talented guys of 35 years in just one hour, and immediately spends them in Ibiza. “Such things do not happen in normal states. We should change. The system should be based not on nepotism, but talent and capacity”- he concludes. Natig Jafarli points to the problems in governance. He comments that there is an overlap in three official positions in Shusha and thus confusion of duties and responsibilities. Jafarli reminds his followers that by Jan 1st 2021 the debt of AZERSU water state company was 264m 761,000 manat, while the accumulated losses are 7b 300 m manat, which is why the price of water was increased twice in January, so ordinary citizens would compensate the company’s losses.
Liberal freedoms. The FB community is shocked by the new investigation of the OCCRP on how the Israeli-made spyware Pegasus is being used by autocratic leaders to monitor nearly 1000 activists and journalists in Azerbaijan alone. Among them are well-known journalists and activists, such as Khadija Ismayil, Fatima Movlamli, Sevinj Vagifgizi, Ilkin Rustamzade and others. Khadija Ismayil comments in her timeline: “The spies of the regime are in our telephones, without our knowledge, with us, step by step, every minute. The company which sold the program, says it is to monitor terrorists and criminals”. She apologised to all her friends and contacts, arguing that every person who was in contact with her had now got that virus and was also being monitored. She also mentioned that the circle of monitored people is much wider than mere journalists – it includes NGO activists, MPs, bureaucrats, etc. The investigative journalist Mehman Huseynov writes that the proof of his being monitored is that the police found out about him using a drone to investigate the illegal property of a bureaucrat, while only his father had known about it. The feminist Rabiyya Mammadova argues that by this monitoring the Azerbaijani government violated a few basic laws of the country and that a legal procedure should be started immediately to counteract it. Altay Geyushov mentions with irony, that monitoring telephones is an insignificant issue. He wrote that when he and his colleagues stayed overnight in a hotel in the Shamkir region, policemen expressed their intention to the hotel manager to stay in the next room.
Celebrations of the birth of the PFP. Activists, opposition and journalists celebrate the 16th of July – the 32nd year of the creation of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan in 1989. Isa Gambar of Musavat, the ex-speaker of the parliament and ex-acting president, re-posts on his timeline the year-old statement about the importance of this date for the country and for himself. He states that he participated in the creation of the Popular Front under the leadership of Abulfaz Elchibey and is proud of it. At the same time, on 16 July 1993, he was one of the first political prisoners of Aliyev’s regime and considers it a prominent page of his biography. The arrest did not change his attitude to the date of 16 July, moreover on the day of his arrest, he congratulated all members of PFA and its leader Elchibey with the 4th anniversary. The 32-year history of the PFA and its extraordinary role will be studied and reflected in future textbooks. The courage in the defence of the country demonstrated by the glorious and courageous army of Azerbaijan in the Tovuz battles (July 2020) and in the 44-day war in September 2021 proved that the nation remains unchanged, and the people are ready for sacrifice and heroism for their homeland. Fuad Gahramanli of PFP argues that the only factor which does not allow the country to turn into Turkmenistan is the principled and consistent struggle of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan.
FB reports two cases of violent police dispersals of public meetings. One was the performance of the ADO theatre by Elmin Badalov in the Winter Park. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev compares it to the intervention of police in a fight of drunks or youthful drug addicts, while it was a peaceful audience of students watching a one-man theatre. The other violent dispersal was of the protest action against the shooting of stray dogs in front of the organization Toplan. The leaders were taken to the police station, while 8 of them were fined 400 manats ($200) each. “These are the realities of Azerbaijan established by the Esteemed”, he concludes. Journalists continue to criticize the ‘reforms’ reflected in the new Law on Media. Ganimat Zahidov comments with sarcasm, that the government is actively preparing to reform the media sector of the country such as by introducing common press IDs. The Media Development Agency, he jokingly continues, suggests also to introduce a common uniform for the journalists. The journalist Shamshad Aga comments on government’s justification of the introduction of common press IDs as a means of fighting the practice of racketeering. He defies it by arguing that the government does not want to understand that this practice is the product of the political system, of bureaucrats, of the propaganda media supported by stolen money. Jamil Hasanli speaks about the selective approach of the government in COVID rules, depending on the political stance of the citizen. He recalls that when one of the female leaders of the PFP, Gozel Bayramli, died last year, only 6 people were allowed entrance to the cemetery. When Ali Karimli’s mother died recently, the police allowed only 30 people at the open air funeral. At the same time, officially 150 people were allowed at weddings in closed premises, while unofficially – 250. He comments with irony, that apparently opposition members are more vulnerable to the COVID virus …
Human rights. The FB community shares news of the decision of the Baku Court of Appeals to replace the sentence of house arrest for Tofig Yagublu with a provisional sentence. The ECHR also made a decision on 9,000 Euros’ compensation by the Azerbaijani government to Yagublu. According to the observers, the judge Elmar Rahimov, instead of punishing those who requested the case and its executors, softened his punishment by 2 years 6 months of provisional sentence. These decisions did not allow him to leave the country and participate in the funeral of his mother, who died in Georgia. Yagublu reports that the arbitrariness of the authorities, whom he called dishonest, continues towards him, and he still cannot get back his illegally confiscated car and mobile phone by the police of Nizami district. Instead of immediately executing the decision of the court, the police authorities argue, that until the investigator who slandered Yagublu shows up, they will not execute the court order. He comments that it is not known when the investigator will come to the police office. The academic Jamil Hasanli argues that the reason why Tofig Yagublu was prohibited from leaving the country to participate in the funerals of his mother is a personal revenge by President Aliyev, whose kleptocratic rule was often the target of Yagublu’s criticism. He reminds his followers that the new attack on the opposition started after the infamous call of Ilham Aliyev on 19th March, and Yagublu was the first victim of that. Only under the pressure of the high risks to his health resulting from the 17-day long hunger strike, was his imprisonment replaced by house arrest. The activists and journalists congratulate the political prisoners – members of PFPA – Agil Maharramli, Niyamaddin Ahmadov, Pasha Umudov, Zamin Salayev, Saleh Rustamli – with the 32nd anniversary of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. FB users share information about Lachin Veliyev starting the hunger strike to protest at his sentence, given by the Surakhani regional court, being left in force. His legal defender Nemat Karimov reported their intention to procced to the Court of Appeal. The FB community decries the case of cruelty to a cat (by cutting its leg) in one of the cafes by its employees at the Sadarak market. The case became publicised due to the campaign of the animal rights’ protection activists, who complained to the police office, but were kicked out. The police in their official statement asserted that the cat’s leg was injured by accident. However, while the cat was treated at the veterinary clinic, the animal rights’ activists continue to press for the punishment of the culprit.
Democracy, power-opposition relations. Ilgar Mammadov of REAL comments on the controversial visit of their MP to the statue of Heydar Aliyev during the trip to Ankara. He asserts that while he considers that first phase of Heydar Aliyev presidency positive (1993-8), and the second one (1998-2003) negative, the decision to visit the statue is a personal one of Erkin Gadirli, not that of the party. He compares it to the relation of Erdogan to Ataturk, who he does not like, yet does not remove his portrait. Arif Hajili of opposition Musavat party ironically comments, that Asim Molla-zade has taken the long way to reach what Erkin Gadirli reached very soon. The Ecofront leader, Javid Gara, discusses the successes and challenges of their work. He argues that their participation in many state projects discussions organized by Pasha Holdings DANMA and IDEA, about creation of agroparks and that taking place in Azerbaijan’s Diplomatic Academy would mean these projects’ legitimization. Instead, they should be conducted in neutral locations and by the Ecology & Natural Resources Ministry. Neither IDEA, nor DANMA, he argues, has a moral right to mediate such meetings, while they were keeping silence over intense deforestation. To the comment official of the Environmental Ministry that they cannot speak to the government by the language of demand, he replied: “Statehood is not you, statehood is the rule of law, struggle with lawlessness”. The parents of the accused in financing the IGIL terrorist group 11 citizens of Tovuz region blocked the road in front of the court building protesting at the injustice and postponement of the court hearing for 10 days. Commenting on the revelations of OCCRP in regard to the secret monitoring the telephones of the activists and other citizens, the opposition leader Gultakin Hajibeyli calls the political environment in the country disgusting. She refers to many bureaucrats who justified their silence in conversation with her by the state positions which their family members worked at – ambassadors, bureaucrats, etc. However, the OCCRP report showed that the authorities monitored even bureaucrats and diplomats. She calls the current statehood nothing but “a criminal cartel created by a gang of money–hungry thieves to satisfy their needs”. Fuad Gahramanli also attracts attention to the fact that the authorities monitored not only the opposition, but also the loyal bureaucratic groups, asserting that their perceived threat comes not only from the opposition, but from their own circles.
July 19, 2021