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Center for National and International Studies
“ … Russia changes the map of Azerbaijan every day …”
The FB community monitors and decries the activities of the Russian peacekeepers; problems in meeting the needs of the families of the war heroes; comments on the election of Biden and political turmoil in the US; questions the decision of President Aliyev to build an airport in Fizuli instead of Khojali, the increase of the price of gasoline, the opening of the criminal case by Russia on the shooting down of their helicopter and discusses the upcoming trilateral meeting in Moscow. Russian peacekeeping and Russia’s interests. FB users continue to follow, question and decry the activities of the Russian peacekeepers. The topic is not fading away from the major media, posts and commentaries of society. Paul Goble, an American expert, in his interview with Osmangizi TV, has said that Russians are helping Armenians to create an Artsakh republic in Upper Karabagh, which is quoted widely. They also note that the Azerbaijani military are disarmed by the peacekeepers before being allowed to enter Shusha. The activist comments that “ Russian changes the map of Azerbaijan daily”. The newspaper Azadlig writes that the easy settlement of Azerbaijanis on the liberated territories is causing doubts, as all sorts of barriers are being created by the peacekeepers for Azerbaijan in Upper Karabagh. The activists, journalists and bloggers also discuss the opening of the criminal case by the Russians concerning the shooting down of the Russian helicopter on 9 th November 2020 as a means of putting pressure on Azerbaijan. The community reacts with indignation that Azerbaijan’s media, with reference to the Russian agency TASS, reports sending an additional Russian peacekeeper de-mining group to Upper Karabagh, although there is no official information from Azerbaijani government agencies. Khadija Ismayil notes two kinds of corruption in the area of defence: small scale bribes, and the more serious one — Russian agents. The government pretended it had started an investigation, but this was discredited on 10 th November. She warned that journalists and activists are monitoring the authorities: “You stopped, but we are watching”. The activists also express high concern with the non-participation of Turkey in the peacekeeping operations in Upper Karabagh. They anticipate and analyze the goals of Russia in the Centre for National and International Studies upcoming trilateral meeting in Moscow on 11 th January. Some suggest that most probably Armenia and Russia will try to impose the issue of status of Karabagh on Azerbaijan. This is benefitial to Russia, who can justify and prolong the presence of the peacekeepers until the issue is solved. The FB users report that
the news from Karabagh on the official site of the Russia’s Ministry of Defence were presented as from the “Upper Karabagh Republic”. The activists, journalists and bloggers share with high concern the visit of the Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazian to Upper Karabagh to discuss the upcoming trilateral meeting in Moscow with the local leadership. They express extreme dissatisfaction with the visits taking place without permission of Baku and with absence of its control over the region considering it unacceptable. Concern over the war crimes. The national Prosecutor general confirmed that a video with the bodies of Azerbaijani soldiers being burnt by the Armenian soldiers is genuine. On the video a few Armenian military and a civilian are burning the bodies of Azerbaijani soldiers.
Problems with meeting needs of war heroes. Many thousands of FB users shared a video of the protest of the mother of the killed hero, who was not buried in the Alley of Martyrs. The media and FB community report growing cases of discrimination and of violation of the rights of war heroes and their families. The story of suicide in the hospital of the wounded soldier Vusal Musayev, who left two underage children behind him, and was constantly repeating the names and stories of his killed comrades-in-arms, is widely shared
on FB. The others report that the bank refused to cancel the credit debts of wounded military as they allege the rule extends only to those who lost “parts” of their body. The issue of compensation and awards for drivers of the ambulances in the hottest points of the front line is raised by the youth leader Ilkin Rustamzade, who reported numerous appeals from these drivers, forgotten by the state. Ali Karimli urges not to discriminate between the heroes on a
political basis. He tells the story of Inglab Gadirbayli, the son of opposition PFP activist Tofig Gadirov, who fought in all the battles and died along with 30 others while liberating Shusha, yet was not awarded or decorated like the others. Meydan TV broadcast the protest vigil of the war heroes and their families in front of the Ministry of Defence.
Construction of airport: Fizuli instead of Khojali? Activists are searching for the reasons why the previously declared plans of authorities to build the airport in Khojali were changed. Isa Gambar, former leader of the Musavat party and current head of the “think tank”, states that the government should Centre for National and International Studies bring clarity to the issue of the construction of the airport in Khojali. He stresses that it is obvious that Khojali is under the control of Russians but the absence of an official reaction to it in Baku is a matter of concern. He asserts that while the construction of an airport in Fizuli is a positive measure, the cancelled plans on Khojali raise a lot of questions.
Human rights and social issues. The issue of political prisoners and their families continues to be on the agenda. People ironically compare the “mistreatment” of Dilgam Askerov, the captured Armenian hostage, who reported that he was given secretly some food even by the Armenian prison personnel, with ongoing tortures to political activists in the country’s prisons.
The activists consider that increases in gasoline prices in the post-war and pandemic period of mass unemployment makes increasing social tension unavoidable, and the responsibility lies with the authorities themselves.
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev comments on the new cadres of the authorities, who have studied abroad, but perfectly fit the autocratic governance style of the current elites. The journalists report cases when local authorities and police heads were selling cattle and equipment found in the liberated Hadrut village to their citizens on the small markets. Habib Muntazir demands investigation of such cases by the NSA, and the Prosecutor’s General Office, and “if they are not in an alliance with them – to punish the culprits”. He urges that in absence of state control, there should be strong public control over the activities of the government. The activists decried the sentence of 4 years behind bars to the participant of the July 2020 Karabagh rally Salar Tahir Afshar. The oil worker’s rights activist Mirvari Gahramanli reports on the new protest action of the workers of the Bahar oil field. The reason is that the company had not paid them their full salary, in violation of Article 172.5 of the Labour Code, since May 2020. (Bahar Energy Operation Company 20%, Bahar Energy Limited — 80%, the founder being Greenfields Petroleum Corporation, registered on the Caiman Islands). She also notes a lack of transparency in SOCAR’s foreign economic relations. The leader of the ADR movement, Gubad Ibadoglu, posts the appeal of the 30 dwellers of the building which was demolished by the company YevroStroy SS MMC and promised to provide them with new accommodation, but did not complete the construction of the new building, while keeping the dwellers on rented premises, paying irregular rent. Facing difficulties and calamities caused by these unrealized promises, some of the occupants unfortunately died.
Centre for National and International Studies Democracy and rating of President Aliyev. The close connection of democracy and consolidation of war victories is stressed by the activists and journalists. Tofig Yagublu argues that upon achievement of military victory, the country should focus on a diplomatic one. It should prove that Azerbaijan is a free, democratic, pluralist and with-the-rule-of-law state, and the Karabagh Armenians can enjoy all such freedoms. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev considers that the government has somewhat increased its rating by the Karabagh military victories; however, the activities of Russian peacekeepers, the appointment of
Araik Arutyunian (instead of trying it in Baku) as a “minister”, the consequences of the rise of the gasoline, the pandemic, social problems of the families of war heroes, and the possibility of entrusting the restoration of the liberated lands to the same corrupt officials would negatively affect this rating and reduce it to the level it was on 26 September 2020 (before the war).
Rise of gasoline and property prices. The increase of the gasoline price AI-92 to 1 manat, and diesel to 80 kopeks is widely discussed and commented on by the economists, politicians, journalists and activists. SOCAR appealed to the Council on Tariffs to increase gasoline prices, which the Council did raising it by 11.1% and of diesel — by 33.3%. Arif Hajili of Musavat argues in his statement that neither Council on Tariffs nor have the independence or authority to adopt such an important decision — in addition, overnight. He concludes that taking into account the desperate condition of population as a result of corruption and bribery, economic crisis, and pandemic — the government should immediately cancel its decision. Gultekin Hajibeyli of the NCDF comments that Azerbaijan is the only country in the world where the fall of the world oil price leads not to the decline of the local price, but to its increase. Fuad Gahramanli of the PFP argues that the decision which will worsen the social situation in the country, has also an objective to distract the population from other problems, such as the Russian peacekeepers. Ali Karimli stresses that SOCAR generously spends money to support world football, judo, the development of European woman’s football, gasification of the Armenian churches in Georgia, development of tourism in Montenegro, but does not find money for the people of Azerbaijan. The experts stress that Azerbaijan now has
one of the highest gasoline prices in the world, and that it will lead to the increased cost of many other items and services, firstly agricultural products. Gubad Ibadoglu reports that 25% of diesel and gasoline produced last January-February was spent on agriculture. He considers that this increase is connected to the preventive measures before big privatization and that the rise will touch upon communal services, such as electricity, water and public transport prices.
The economists also attract attention to prices on 327 items of medicine and Centre for National and International Studies 100% increase on privatization of property (for instance: 1square meter of
apartment in multistorey buildings rose from 40 kopecs to 85 kopecs). Another economic expert argues that the government did not incorporate the increased gasoline price into the new salary and pension rises. He criticized the Council of Tariffs’ “justification” of the price rises on his timeline one by one, proving their weakness. The journalists also report that the Council rejected the proposal of SOCAR to increase gas prices, and comment that this is probably because they want to do it in stages. Habib Muntazir called it a “Welcome to 2021!” message of the government to the people. Natig Jafarli of REAL comments that if the authorities care so much about environmental damage, they should rather decrease the tariffs on hybrid cars, than increase the price of gasoline and diesel.
The MPs from the ruling party argue that compared to other states in Europe this increase is less. Altay Geyushov considers that the problem is not in raising the price, but the Azerbaijani authorities considering the society naïve. Because comparison is not relevant, as with the cost price of 1 manat, the salary of the Azerbaijani citizen is 705 manat, while in Germany where the price of gasoline is 1Euro 26 cents, the salaries average 3,500 Euros. Habib Muntazir refers to the official statistics of Azerbaijan, which revealed that authorities were selling AI-92 gasoline abroad for 28 kopeks, while for its own citizen for 90 kopeks. Speech of President Aliyev, response to the criticism of economists.
The activists note the major topics of Aliyev’s speech — among them — the building of the international airport in Fizuli, the return of the Khudaveng church to the Udins minority of Azerbaijan, the absence of any problems with the people of Armenia, Shusha city to be declared the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, and the new road to Shusha to be built. Independent media (Mikroskop) publishes the reaction of Azerbaijan’s president to the criticism of the economic experts of the gasoline price rise. He said: “Azerbaijan is in the first ten of the most reforming states of the world. That’s why I am saying that so-called “economic experts” in the country and abroad, should open your eyes and shut your mouths”. He again labeled as “anti-national” the National Council of Democratic Forces and its leaders in exile abroad. Reference to history. In connection with the return of the village Shurnukh in Zangezur (Armenia) to Azerbaijan in January 2021, FB users refer to the historical source by the Armenian academic Seyran Grigorian who testified that in the 1920s, it was only Azerbaijanis who lived there. But then they were ethnically cleansed from that location by armed groups. He tells the story of how the populations were replacing each other due to Soviet policies and in 1988, the Azerbaijani population was again deported from there.
Centre for National and International Studies Reaction to election of Biden and post-election turmoil in the US.
The activist in exile, Ramiz Yunus, argues that election of Biden and the followed victory of democrats in the Senate is big blow to Putin’s regime. The activists and journalists thoroughly follow events in the US. They report the prohibition of going out onto the streets in Washington DC, protesters entering the Congress building, discovery of a bomb, death of a woman, arrrest of 20 people. Meydan TV reported dozens of thousands of supporters of Trump protesting at the results of the elections, erecting a gallows tree in front of the building on Capitol Hill. They also report the reaction in France to it: “The attack on the state institutions in the US is an attack on democracy”, while that in Turkey was: “We call the parties to be patient and display a healthy attitude”.
They discussed the fact of deletion of Trump’s 1-minute speech video on Youtube, Twitter and FB, but assess it differently — some supporting this move, while the others calling it violation of the freedom of speech. There are various interpretations and attitudes to the events. Some (mainly the Azerbaijan speaking part of the FB comunity) consider this as an attack to democracy and democratic institutions, blaming Trump and his rule. Azer Gasimli comments that Trump’s egotism, lust for power, authoritarianism, arbitrariness and irresponsiblity has led to this situation. But he also mentions deeper systemic reasons. Some blame it on “deep state” of the US and the global power of the mega-oligarchs. The others – see it as a result of the global clash of two projects – the oligarchs — opponents of the de-industrialization – are trying to resist the Biden type of globalists to the very end, as the end of Trump would mean the end to the whole project. The events, according to this point of view, also displayed the people’s protest at the doubtful election victory of Biden. But the issue behind these events is so serious, that they pushed democracy towards the back of the stage. All agree that the the fate of democracy in America is important for the whole world, as its failure may lead to the strengthening of autocracies.