Center for National and International Studies
“…To become a prosperous and strong state, building a free and democratic society is more important than military victory…”
The central topic of FB debates is the outcome of elections in Armenia and its influence on bilateral relations and the situation in the region, and whether this indicates Russia’s weakened role in the region and better prospects for peace. The FB community celebrates the birthday of late president Elchibey while closely following the sentences of opposition activists and situation with political prisoners, decries and discredits bureaucratic corruption and the shadow economy, and marks the 82nd anniversary of the attack of Germany on the Soviet Union, drawing lessons from WW2.
Elections in Armenia. The FB community continues to discuss events which may have implications for the whole region – its stability, security, influence of Russia, etc. The elections in Armenia and victory of Nicol Pashinian continuously cause debates, shares and comments. Osmangizi TV produced a special stream dedicated to the importance of the outcome of elections in Armenia, interpreting it as the defeat of Russia by the West. Ali Karimli, leader of the Popular Front Party (PFP), argues that by making this choice, the people of Armenia said “no” to the war. He states that this testifies to the weakness of Russia, who could not bring back Kocharian to power, and that all dictators, including Aliyev, will follow his fate.
The activists, journalists and bloggers note the reaction of Russia to the victory of Pashinian, quoting Peskov, who praised his victory. The FB users also follow the aftermath and influence of the elections in Karabagh, where the community protested against current leader Araik Arutyunian and demanded his resignation, calling him and Pashinian the “capitulate”. Fuad Garhramanli of PFP stresses that it is Russia behind the meetings in Karabagh, who after she lost Yerevan to Pashinian, does not want to lose Karabagh as a tool of control, which remains the only means of pressure in her hands. Russia is also afraid to lose this control to the diplomacy of the West, which would make Russia’s military presence in Karabagh meaningless. On the elections in Armenia, Gahramanli states that “We lost in democracy to Armenia, whom we won over militarily”. The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli wonders what will President Aliyev do, if Armenians with Russia’s support conduct elections in Karabagh? Bakhtiyar Hajiyev comments that the freedom of assembly is provided in Azerbaijan: on 21 June 2021 the citizens of Azerbaijan in Khankendi are protesting against Arayik Arutyunian and the Azerbaijani government. He also argues that Azerbaijan’s government is mistaken when interpreting that Armenians, by giving votes to Pashinian, preferred peace to war, or refused revanchist plans, have accepted the victory of Azerbaijan, etc. In fact, Armenian voters by supporting Pashinian understood that corrupt Kocharian and Sargsian destroyed the army. They preferred development and reforms over the government of corrupt clans and Russian puppets. And when these deputies of the democratically elected Armenian parliament speak in the EP or PACE, they will be trusted more than the Azerbaijanis, who were elected by ballot stuffing. He concludes that by giving their votes to Pashinian, Armenian society did not choose peace, or refused Karabagh, quite the opposite: by choosing Pashinian Armenians strengthened their control over that part of Karabagh. Some other activists also refute the idea that Pashinian is peace-oriented. The eco-activist Javid Gara argues, that Pashinian was actually an instigator of war. He could have stopped it earlier and he did not. His current rhetoric and policy steps are not peaceful either (not providing a map of landmines, blocking the realization of the Zangezur corridor, etc.). He argues that if Pashinian had greater military resources he would occupy more lands. Anar Mammadli assesses the effect of the outcome of elections in Armenia on Armenian-Azerbaijan relations and the Karabagh conflict and expresses his doubts that with such opposition as the Kocharian party, the new Armenian parliament will compromise on the Karabagh issue. Seymur Hezi argues, that the fate of Kocharian should be a lesson to all. The authoritarian leaders usually rely on people who have lost their image and reputation, and as a rule their fate is short-lived, like that of Kocharian. The activists comment with irony, that now Pashinian is asking Aliyev: “So now what?”, playing with the expression of Ilham Aliyev, who asked this rhetorical question of Pashinian when he was defeated in the war. The civil leader Sabit Bagirov, ex-president of SOCAR (1992-1993) comments that in the elections the Armenian people gave their votes to democracy, whether this will be consistent or not – time will show, but, in any case, it is an important step – both for democracy in Armenia and in the region. The elections also demonstrated the unwillingness of people to tie their fates to criminal oligarchs. But whether this is the sign of the different approach to the neighbours – Azerbaijan and Turkey, or preference of peaceful competition in the area of economy, politics, culture over hostility will also become clear with time. The member of the ruling party YAP, the MP A. Mirzazade argues that the Armenian voter did not give support to rich Armenians who live abroad and call for confrontation with the neighbours, but most probably they listened to the president Aliyev, who presented the future development and prosperity of the liberated regions. People also discuss the news that Pashinian invited world-renowned economist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Daron Achemoglu (an Armenian from Turkey) to become Minister of Economy. Two years ago, he declined the offer due to Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan and Turkey, but if now relations developed, he might accept it, comments economist and ex-president of SOCAR Sabit Bagirov. The FB community ridicules the statement by MP Elman Nasirov, that “we would want very much for Armenia to become as democratic as Azerbaijan”. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat and NCDF argues that the election in Armenia is an expression of the recent geopolitical trend favouring democratisation in the region. Azerbaijan has no other choice but also follow the people’s voice, and the public meetings should be the way of it.
Russia’s growing ambitions, but weakened role? Osmangizi TV experts Fahmin Hajiyev and Yadigar Sadighly commented on Russia’s plans to place its military on the Armenia– Azerbaijan borders. On the other hand, Ali Karimli of the PFP argues that the victory of Pashinian has shaken Russia’s position in the region. He states that Russia lost its ability to bring “her” politicians or replace them in the region, and nobody should threaten people with Russia anymore. FB users worryingly share the news of Russia’s warning shots on the British fleet boat Defender, while Su-24 M bombed in the direction of the destroyer Defender’s route. Russia alleges the British boat was violating the country’s waters by 3km. The newspaper Azadlyg refers to the experts’ opinion, that this was response of Russia to the recent important agreement between UK and Ukraine which was signed on board the Defender on 21st June. The others argue that Russia is trying to provoke the West into the conflict, so as to distract people’s attention from her domestic economic and political problems, but it will, according to their opinion, only deepen Russia’s domestic crisis.
Human rights. The activists welcome the release of the prominent sportsman Seid Bakuvi, who is a member of the PFP, as his sentence of 3 years was replaced by a provisional one. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF comments that while the decision is not fair, the news is good. However, the next group of the “Karabagh rally” prisoners – Asif Yusifli, Elnur Jabbarli, Musfig Guliyev, Elvin Mammadov and Seymur Ahmadzade were given (provisional) sentences of from 2 years 6 months to 4 years. The party leader Karimli considers that the regime continues taking its activists as hostages, because it is afraid of the party’s capacity to organise and mobilise people. He argues that the regime underestimates the willingness and capacity of people to get organised themselves. The human rights defender Rufat Safarov suggests that if Aliyev releases Afghan Sadighov from prison after consideration at the cassation instance of the court – he will take it as a softening trend and will welcome it. Tofig Yagublu calls on the authorities to cancel all the provisional sentences too. The political and civil leaders post birthday wishes to the political prisoner, leader of the Muslim Unity Movement Taleh Bagirzade. T. Yagublu comments that in 2015, in order to arrest him, Ilham Aliyev provoked the rebellion in Nardaran village, which resulted in 8 dead, and many injured. Bagirzade was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The FB users again share the statement of the Observatory in Defence of Human Rights Defenders, in defence of Elchin Mammad, reminding that he has been illegally held in jail#14 of the Penitentiary Service since March 20, 2020 and was sentenced to 4 years in prison, when his health deteriorated sharply. The statement demands the immediate and unconditional release of Elchin Mammad.
Media freedom threatened again. The media experts, lawyers and activists express high concern with the plans of the government to introduce licensing of the internet TV channels and Youtube. Osmangizi TV broadcasts analyses by the legal expert Alasgar Mammadli, activist Emin Ahamadbeyov, journalist Avaz Zeynalli from Khural TV and Khalg TV journalist Imadeddin Alimanov.
The new restrictions on religious freedoms. The human rights defender Elshan Hasanov critically assesses the amendments to the Law on Religion as contradictory to the national Constitution, which expands control of the State Committee on Religious Affairs over the religious sphere. He refers to the newly published report in the newsletter Religious Freedoms of the international organisation Forum 18, when it stresses that the law was adopted with no public participation.
Governance, economy, corruption. Another video of the corrupt high way police practice is spread in social networks. The victims complain that the policeman Aslan (who presents himself as Nazim) driving the police car 90-YP-190 is “collecting” daily 5-10 manats from them. The chief of the Head Office of Highway Police Col. Namidan Piriyev promised to start investigation of the case. People write about one of the 12 SOCAR vice-presidents Mikail Ismayilov suing the journalist Elshan Alisoy, due to his critical publication in the media outlet Azadsoz.com on the basis of articles 147.1 (slander) and 148 (insult), demanding 100,000 manat in compensation. Ganimat Zahid describes the “ruling” family’s process of monopolisation of the economy by means of Pasha Holdings. He reminds the readers that the funds for the restoration of the liberated regions and building of social objects there are “collected” from the oligarch-ministers and businessmen. He comments that not only are infrastructure objects in the regions built at the expense of the budget, but also social ones – trade centres, restaurants and hotels, which yield a commercial profit. The coordination of this process is delegated to deputy prime-minister Yagub Eyyubov, while the collection of the “donations” is overlooked by the Department of Serious Crimes of the MIA, and by the State Security Services. However, it is assumed that upon construction of the objects, they will be transferred to Pasha Holdings. So, the process is the following: the money is collected from certain oligarchs under supervision of Y. Eyyubov, then they build the object and transfer it to Pasha Holdings. The involvement of some of the oligarchs is already known – that the funds for Agdam region will be “donated” by Vilayet Guliyev (Minister of Internal Affairs), Jabrayil region – by the chair of the Central Bank Elman Rustamov, Jabrayil region – to Javid Gurbanov and Defence Minister Zair Hasanov, etc. The activists share information about the detention in Vienna of the shadow business authority Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, who is a more important figure than Rza Zarrab, with ensuing extradition to the US. They suggest that most probably, as in previous cases, he will also cooperate with the investigation and will reveal a lot that would discredit Erdogan’s government.
The e-media gives the economist Nemat Aliyev’s analysis on the 5b profit resulting from 4 months of exported goods with a price rise of 36.4% and domestic price increases. This was followed by the decline of living standards of the population – the average wage declined by 2%, while investments in fixed assets dropped by 9%. As the profit, he concludes, is accompanied by a decline of income within the population, the question should be asked: where did the profit go? Meydan TV discusses the reasons behind Azerbaijan’s declining $95m credit by the WB for fighting the pandemic, after a period of negotiation. Natig Jafarli of REAL assumes that it might be due to the transparency requirements of the crediting by the WB. Gubad Ibadoglu questions the necessity of the Institute of Slavic language, and suggests uniting it with the Institute for Foreign Languages. People are skeptical about government plans for building “smart villages”, commenting with irony, that if 50% of the smart city Baku does not have a sewage system, what should one expect from a smart village? Azad Soz platform reports that the troops in Shusha city buy products for credit in the Bravo markets. The eco-activist Javid Gara argues that the government does not seem to have any serious programme for anything, including the environmental sphere. He stresses that on all critical issues – sewage system, waste recycling, transition to renewables, electrification – one needs to have measurable and step-by-step goals. The journalist Habib Muntazir stresses the role of nepotism in government and official appointments, referring to the recent appointment of an MP’s wife as a department chief in the Baku City Council.
Celebration of the birthday of President Elchibey. The activists post and share statements, memories, essays and comments on the role of the first democratically elected president of Azerbaijan, Elchibey (in office 1992-1993). They tend to give an objective characteristic to the leader, avoiding his idolization, but recognizing his unique role in Azerbaijan’s history. Fuad Gahramanli calls him: “the big personality who became hostage of his love to humanity”, “the pure person, who won over not the political rivals, but the hearts of people by his sincerity, principled and open position, ethics and morality”, “the person who dedicated his life not to himself, but to the achievement of freedom, sacrificing himself for the just struggle”, “the magic shaman, who defeated cruelty by gentleness, lies by truth, hopelessness by trust, hatred by love”, “the dervish, who left the world and turned to the truth”. Seymur Hezi states that by his signed decrees, protecting doctors, teachers, pensioners and children, Elchibey created a truly social state. Gubad Ibadoglu argues that although he did not serve in the Elchibey government, he highly appreciates and praises the importance of his rule. He lived only 62 years, having died 21 years ago, but he built the only government in the 29 post-Soviet years of Azerbaijan’s history which was close to and expressed the will of its people. The political leaders, civil activists, journalists and bloggers stress that the only way to development of the country is to follow the struggle on the path of M.E. Rasulzade–Elchibey.
Social issues. The FB community continues to post and share videos reflecting the desperation of the families and mothers of war martyrs who protest at the indifference of bureaucracy. Ali Karimli posts and attracts attention to the video depicting the desperate appeal of the mother of the martyr – her only son – in regard to their problematic survival in Yevlakh region. The lawyer Laij urges the legal defenders, etc. to prioritise the issues of the war heroes, as the bureaucracy is not resolving these issues. The FB users share yet another video of the war handicapped who protests in front of the state agency building. The journalist Habib Muntazir presents with irony the statistics reflecting “the official policy of transforming the oil capital into a human capital”. He reports that in the last 6 years, the number of the high school graduates has decreased by 35%, while the official statement says that among those of 9-11 school grades, there are pupils who cannot read and write.
The feminist leader Rabiyya Mammadova attracts attention to the inadequate low salaries and wages of the citizens employed at the numerous trade centers, where the sellers get 300-500 manats ($150-250), while cashiers, 330-400 manats for 12-13 hours of work, in violation of the labour legislation of the country and employees’ rights. The FB users question the possibility of survival for sick and old people for 220 manats ($110) pension.
Democracy and power-society relations. The historian and activist Jamil Hasanli comments on the continued debates on opposition parties in connection with the Shusha declaration. As is known, 48 so-called opposition parties signed the appeal in support of this declaration, except for Musavat and the Popular Front Party, resulting in heated debates connected with mentioning “the all-national leader Heydar Aliyev” in this appeal. He however calls these debates unjustified, as all these parties were never considered any true opposition before signing an appeal anyway. But he attracts people’s attention to the inclusion of this expression in the preamble of the Shusha declaration where it referred to two leaders –Ataturk and Heydar Aliyev, and to the expression “One Nation-Two States” as authored by the latter. He reminds his followers that the author was the president Elchibey, not H.Aliyev, who was the 4th user of this expression after other heads of states. Hasanli also interprets the equalisation of the Soviet KGB general H.Aliyev with Ataturk, as a reflection of the disrespect of Turkish diplomacy and historical indifference of Erdogan to the founder of Republic of Turkey. The blogger Mehman Huseynov reports from Strasbourg on the meeting of PACE. He takes photos with various officials, including Azerbaijani MP Erkin Gadirli of REAL. He speculates on the principle of “selection” of MPs to the Azerbaijani parliament, wondering why he himself, who received a required majority of votes was not allowed to get a mandate, while Gadirli was? On the other hand, as a person who investigates corruption of officials, he knows that Gadirli is not corrupt, while everyone around him – all the MPs – are. He concludes that only time can tell. Azad Soz discusses the issue of how defeated Pashinian won the elections, and why Aliyev is afraid of conducting free and fair elections? The same platform posts a video with Ali Karimli appealing to the people not to allow the replacement of the national path of Rasulzade–Elchibey by Heydarism.
Parallels to World War 2. People commemorate the 80th anniversary of the attack of the German fascist army on Soviet Union. Arif Hajili, the leader of Musavat, states that Chancellor Merkel apologized before the nations of the world for the crimes of Germany. While Soviets committed even worse crimes against people, the leaders did not apologies, moreover tried to present the bloody regime as a prosperous and flourishing era. While Germany was defeated, its nation got rid of fascism and turned into one of the most advanced and developed in the world. In contrary, the people of the victorious Soviet Union have continued to live in poverty and misery. He concludes that this proves that to be a prosperous and strong state, building a free and democratic society is more important than military victory. Fuad Gahramanli of the PFP recalls the hero Percy of the Stephen King novel The Green Mile when he analyses the work of the repressive system in the country. He argues, that Percies are not just fulfilling the orders of the bosses, but they have sadistic elements in their tempers. And although ‘Percies’ are not many, the system creates all the conditions for their activities directed to tormenting other people. The MP Erkin Gadirli of REAL argues that the numerous sacking of heads of executive power so far has not changed the situation for the better, as the system remains unchanged.
Elections in Iran. The activists and journalists continue to comment and discuss the elections in Iran. The local media quotes the article in the Financial Times about the newly elected Ibrahim Reisi as the most repressive politician of the Iranian establishment, who did not in reality get the support of the majority, which may result in social discontent.
June 25, 2021