Center for National and International Studies
“… Russia has not changed in 28 years…”
The FB community is puzzled by the contrasting assessment of the Iskander rockets usage by the two countries’ leading officials, continues to follow closely the political turmoil in Armenia, remaining intensely concerned with the issue of sovereignty in the territory controlled by Russian peacekeepers, together with deficiencies in the treatment of troops and their families. Mismanagement of financial budgeting in the reclaimed territories is again highlighted, while developing internal tensions in other areas of South Caucasus are also contributing to a strong sense of malaise.
Post-war situation in Karabagh. The situation in Karabagh and around it remains the top agenda on FB. They FB users note that apart from Azerbaijan there is domestic unrest in other South Caucasus states – Armenia and Georgia – and discuss what this means for the region. President Aliyev said at a press conference for local and foreign journalists, that “the Karabagh conflict has been resolved: Azerbaijan has resolved it. The peace talks lasting for 30 years did not yield any results. The effectiveness of the Minsk group has been zero. For the last two years the co-chairmen did not even know themselves what they were doing. Because the irrelevant and dangerous statements of the Armenia’s prime minister made their activities meaningless”. The political commentator in exile, Ramis Yunus, argues that “the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not over yet, and the attempted military coup in Armenia today is a signal for Azerbaijan and Turkey to rally their ranks even more closely in the face of possible provocations in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and along the entire perimeter of the state border between Azerbaijan and Armenia”. He also warns that this spring is going to be tumultuous in the region. The military experts note that by saying that the Iskandars were not shot by Armenia, President Aliyev has defended Russian’s weapons. Gultakin Hajibeyli of the NCDR calls it absurd that both Armenia’s prime minister and the chief of the Army Headquarters confirm that the Iskandars were shot at Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan’s president responds that they are lying and if they shoot Iskanders they would all explode, as the Russian weapons are superb. She comments that it appears that Aliyev is defending Russia’s reputation, whose rockets had not destroyed Azerbaijani cities only thanks to prohibition by Pashinian. She concludes: “I cannot process this absurdity, my mind is given over to “error”.
The activists and journalists share videos of the dire weather and serving conditions of the troops in Karabagh and decry the decision to cut their salaries twice. They continue to share personal stories of the war heroes, who are in need of urgent aid, and try to mobilize funding support to the wounded and handicapped due to the lethargic response of the state authorities. They also share moving stories of when the military rendered help and sympathy to the other army’s men, such as the story of Vugar Agayev, who helped a wounded Armenian soldier. FB users share an idea that the threat is increasing not only over the liberated territories, but over the whole of Azerbaijan.
Relations with Russia. The e-media reports that Azerbaijan pays customs fees to Russians on its own territory. The source reports that Azerbaijani trucks reload their content onto the Russian trucks on the road from Sugovushan to Kelbajar, meaning that Azerbaijani trucks cannot go to the territory of Upper Karabagh. But for utilization of Russian trucks, Azerbaijan pays 800 in fees for each car. Moreover, creating traffic jams with some artificial reasons, Russian party makes Azerbaijani truck drivers re-load their content to two or more trucks, so to obtain a greater fee. Arguing with Russian’s personnel is not welcomed but is even threatened by punishment in such cases. FB users report that Russian military expert Alexander Mikhailovsky confirmed that on 10th November Armenia used Iskanders in an attack on Azerbaijan. They also confirm that they heard a strong explosion in Khirdalan (a village near Baku), but there was no official statement. Now, they conclude, apparently Russia has a political interest in confirming it. The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli posts a photo with the debris of the Iskandar rocket in Khirdalan. Fuad Gahramanli suggests that most probably, both in the region and in the republics, there will be a political frontline between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces. He notes that pro-Russian forces in Armenia were defeated. He argues that while defending Russian Iskandars from Pashinian, President Aliyev is not aware of the risks of transforming the country bordering Europe into one of the top 10 non-democratic states.
Perception of Armenia. The events in Armenia are closely followed in the country, both by the officials and the opposition, as well as international reactions to it. President Aliyev stressed in his press conference that Armenia has been receiving weapons for free for 30 years, and that he follows the events there closely, receiving information from a reliable source. He also stated that he had “heard that allies of Armenia plan to revive her army, to modernize. What for? Whom against? The war is over. If somebody thinks in revanchist terms, will face the same feast, which is still in place and let them not test our patience. The Armenia’s army is finished and should not exist. Such a fascist state should not have an army…”, “They have been receiving Iskandars for free all this time…” “There are 3,000 victims from this war, including civilians. Let them rest in peace”. Arif Hajili, leader of the opposition Musavat party stated that the fate of political power in Armenia should be decided by the Armenian people, not by the military. The opposition considers that behind the domestic turmoil and pressure on the leadership in Armenia is Russia. While it may seem that it was triggered by Pashinian’s statement about Russian Iskandars which did not explode, as this undermined her authority as a military power, the real reasons of that are deeper. And this is not just to prevent integration into the West of both Azerbaijan and Armenia by preserving control over Karabakh separatists. They consider that Pashinian, as viewed by Moscow, may block their next plans for war in Karabakh and deprive them of the possibility to blackmail the West and states in the region. This is why the main demands of the alternative force to Pashinian is to get control over Hadrut and Shusha by force. So Pashinian may be an obstacle to the Putin’s possible usage of Karabakh conflict, if there is a new attempt by the West to squeeze Russia out of the region. This factor increased after the arrival of Joe Biden to power in the US, and promises of stricter sanctions, making Pashinian look an unreliable partner in such a context. The author of the article in Azadlyg, an activist of the PFP Fuad Gahramanli, considers that extension and moving of the Russian military base # 102 closer to the borders with Azerbaijan signals the preparation of a greater military operation. This has two aims – to prevent the growing military Turkish influence in the region and to create conditions for Armenia to take a revanche in Karabagh. The article concludes that while Russia’s forces came there under the disguise of peacekeepers, her true intentions is to create conditions for a new war, and in this context taking down Pashinian becomes an important objective. If the latter objective succeeds, the party of war will come to power in Armenia, which will strengthen Russia’s influence there, who will arm it against Azerbaijan. The activists stress that day by day the threat to the power of Pashinian is growing but to his life too, as the military opposition will not abstain from any methods to oust Pashinian. Gultakin Hajibeyli parallels events in Azerbaijan in 1993 with Russia ousting Elchibey to the contemporary events in Armenia. She comments that Russia has not changed in 28 years. She calls the Turkish government’s support for Pashinian “a healthy attitude” and contrasts it to Aliyev’s ridiculing the crisis in Armenia. She concludes by wishing Armenia to defend its legitimate government and finish with Russia’s influence, because it will also put an end to the Russian occupation of Karabakh. The youth leader Ilkin Rustamzade stresses that Pashinian was elected by the people, whom he called to the streets. His people in turn did not say “Bro, Russian intelligence will not let him succeed” and came out to stand for the person they chose. They showed Russia that people are the source of power in Armenia. He argues, that “if Azerbaijan and Armenia are smart enough, they will cooperate in kicking out Russians “as dogs” (quoting President Aliyev’s expression – L.A.) and by integrating into the civilized world, will live as human beings”.
The FB community shares reports of vigils of the soldier’s mothers in Yerevan in front of the Ministry of Defense, protesting at the secret sending of their sons to Upper Karabagh. The Ministry put the drafted soldiers on trucks for construction materials on 24-25th February and tried to send them to Karabagh, which was immediately reported by the soldiers to their parents. The MOD in response charged the soldiers with defection, which led to parental protests in front of the Ministry. The opposition activists discuss the threat of arrival of revanchists to power in Armenia. Fuad Gahramanli considers that the Karabagh clan has failed in its attempt to oust Pashinian, because they were speaking about the military revanche, new war and victories. These were the ones who intimidated Azerbaijan, or better to say Russia spoke via them. They wanted war in order to come to power and stay there and that’s why they did not get support from people, who clearly saw it. He argues that the main factor in the failure of the coup attempt on 25th February was not Pashinian’s charisma, but resistance to corruption and fear of death, which turned into a serious political factor in Armenia.
Social issues. The media continues to cover the stories of the war heroes, who are the victims of the lack of attention of the state bodies. Aliyev Jahangir from Sumgayit is seriously injured and has been 2 months in a coma, but his transfer for treatment in Turkey has been delayed for a month already. The economic expert and politician Gubad Ibadoglu quotes the statistics on number of pensioners in the CIS showing that it is one of the lowest in Azerbaijan, which is ahead only of Tajikistan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan. He stresses that this is one of the important indicators of life expectancy, and that the same statistics show that the speed of the number of pensioners in decline is highest in Azerbaijan. He also comments on the plans voiced by the president on building airports in Zangelan and Lachin, smart cities in the Zangilan-Jabrayil and solar stations in liberated territories. Ibadoglu suggests that apparently the implementation of these plans would be similar to before: when some villages were united, the united infrastructure was built under the name of “smart cities” and “smart villages”, so the big plots will be free to be given for development into agro-parks. “And nobody asks the IDPs who have been waiting for their return home, how and where do they want to live? The government not only does not want to ask their opinion but has not even offered alternatives. Maybe some of them want to build their own houses, maybe it was worth survey the dwellers of Agali village, which have been already living in such “smart village”? Why should the government define where and how should people live in Karabagh?” He also – based on his analysis of the president’s criticism of the state companies – makes a prediction, that 1) the price of gas will be increased 2) the leadership of the State Oil Company will be changed.
Khojali commemoration. The FB community continues to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Khojali genocide. Both official and opposition representatives post status dedicated to the day, when hundreds of civilians in the town of Khojali, mainly children, women and old people were massacred by the Armenian punitive forces with the assistance of the Russian regiment # 366 when they were trying to escape the town. The pro-government forces stress that 44-day war was a retribution, a revenge for that day. They call it crime against humanity and hope that one day the executioners will be held responsible. The opposition Elchibey Institute issued a statement demanding the trial on this case according to the international law. The opposition activists compare it with Babiy Yar, Khatin, Liditse, stress that there is not yet an international recognition of Khojali genocide. They are concerned that these politicians are still (“the Karabagh clan”) active now in Armenia, and that Khojali is still under control of Armenian forces. This remains, they conclude, one of the most important objectives of the country. The ex-premier of the country Panah Huseyn’s People’s Party issued a statement dedicated to Khojali events, which stresses that the trials of those responsible for the massacre – ex-prime minister Serj Sarkisian, president Rober Kocharian and Upper Karabagh’s head of Security Council Balasanian – is not sufficient, but it should be also recognized as a genocide internationally, the process which has started already by parliaments of the foreign states. Gultakin Hajibeyli of the NCDF, Fuad Gahramanli of the PFP, and journalist Afghan Mukhtarli comment that it is unforgivable that the executioners of civilians in Khojali – the #366 Russian regiment – have now returned under the disguise of peacekeeping forces in the country. REAL youth branch made a documentary devoted to the massacre in Khojali. Natig Jafarli of REAL calls it drama, genocide, when people were killed simply for being “Turks”, citizens of Azerbaijan. He argues that this should be a reminder that there is permanent threat to Azerbaijan from the North, and “while the descendants of Regiment #366 are not withdrawn from Khojali, Khankendi, Agdare, Khojavend, Lachin corridor, the victims will not rest in peace”. The opposition activist Latafat Melikova tells the story of how her family adopted an 11-year-old girl, whose parents were killed in Khojali before her eyes, while herself got sick in Armenian captivity. She describes the kindness and care of the community of their village in the Kurdamir region.
Situation in CIS. The activists, journalists and bloggers follow closely the instability in neighbouring Armenia and Georgia. Ilgar Mammadov of REAL considers it the expression of intensified confrontation of Russia and the West, but first of all of an internal power struggle: with the national characteristics of each – the regionalism of Armenia and personal ambitions of Georgia. These are mainly internal conflicts, but with a geopolitical aroma. He argues that some Western observers may extrapolate it to Azerbaijan, which would be a malignant tension for today’s Azerbaijan, as there is less respect for legitimacy in Azerbaijan, and stability is based on one person. He again repeats his idea that similar scenarios are dangerous for Azerbaijan, that instead it should opt for clean elections. The activists share with irony the information that the Turkmenistan president Gurbangulu Berdimuhammadov has established a holiday in honour of his dog Alabay (Central Asian shepherd dog). This holiday will be officially celebrated in April on the Day of the Horse, which was also established to honour his favourite horse Rovachin. In addition, a song was composed in dedication to the horse, which is sung by the president himself. The hotel is being built for $448m to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence. A special place for the dog is being constructed on the podium where the parade will be greeted by the president.
Governance, economy, corruption. The experts, journalists etc. share the explanation to the two times cut of the salaries of military- the article which was written by Ali Karimli 6 years ago. He referred to the statement of the official source AzTV, that the authorities paid expenses of 5,000 sportsmen (39,000 manat per person) from 50 states for the European Games in Baku, of which 28 are European states. The GDP of those states is 238 times greater than that of Azerbaijan. Only Germany, who refused to host the games due to the high expenses, has a GDP 50 times higher than that of Azerbaijan. The reason, as is reflected in The Guardian, is that in order to host the European Games, Azerbaijan who is strongly criticised for the violation of human rights, decided to cover the expenses of all participants. This is an unprecedented case in the history of any Olympic Games, when each country pays for its own participants. The experts also report the observation that the president distinguishes between the “close to himself” and “other” corrupt bureaucrats. FB users circulate reports on how state agencies, such as banks belonging to authorities and Customs Committee are robbing the citizens. The latter was analysed by the economic expert Nemat Aliyev where he explains the 1.1bn extra revenues collected by Customs Committee during the year of the pandemic by increasing the taxes and fees, as well as artificial price rise. The FB users comment that the way police were mistreating the prominent opposition leader Tofig Yagublu during the commemoration of Khojali, reflects the disrespect of the president of the state institutions, bringing them to a humiliated status. Natig Jafarli of REAL attracts attention to the inflated number of personnel in state companies, such as AzerSU with 11,000 workers, while 3,000 would be sufficient. He urges the government to create a normal system of governance, as “one person cannot be both the president and the opposition”, and that there is a need for a new constitution, new parliament, and new government. He also comments that while criticising work of the state companies in deficit, the president has recently given profit-making company Azerlotereya to the management of Turkish “YMT Sans B.V” company for 10 plus 5 years. He criticises this decision as illogical, because he has given a profitable company to be managed by a Turkish company known for failing in business. The activists and experts, journalists and bloggers comment on the incident of the opposition and infamous Ata Abdullayev, asserting that the president is based on such people, and the people around him are all of the level of Abdullayev. They also call this incident the insult of the spirit of Khojali victims. The Azadlyg newspaper writes about the last stage of “destruction of dinosaurs” meaning that Ilham Aliyev is monopolizing money of everybody around him. They say that SOCAR will be given up to the control of Mikail Jabbarov, while Karabagh – of Pasha Holdings. Jamil Hasanli analyses the process of the return of the IDPs to the liberated territories and criticises the president’s speech on this matter. He considers the signing of a consent paper by the IDPs to be a very wrong approach, instead urging the authorities to create all the conditions for them to return. They should be given back their plots of land, which they owned and lost as a result of occupation. He argues that the survey and signature campaign is a trap and a way to confiscate their lands by the authorities. He concludes that all this is done in order to gain control over the liberated lands by the companies, which belong to the president and his family. As a proof he brings the information by the president that 7,000 hectares were already developed. “Who did develop the plots, which do not belong to them?” asks Hasanli. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reports complaints from the Ministry of Emergencies’ module-type hospitals that medical workers are given only half of the salary indicated in their contracts, are not given weekends off, are often fired and not given any salary. He appeals to them that they should be active themselves too and voice their needs and problems, and not only telling the activists – “you publicise this issue, but I will keep silence”. Gubad Ibadoglu reports that 2.2bn are planned to be spent for “smart cities” in the liberated territories, with 1bn already allocated.
Social issues. The FB community shares with indignation the fact that the authorities withdrew 5 manats each from the social benefits for refugees to enrich the “Yashat” fund created for the help of the war heroes and their families. Gubad Ibadoglu comments that when the country which has 150 bln revenues from oil and gas, attracted $300bn of foreign investment, spends 512m in the construction of one tunnel, withdraws without consent 5 manat from the subsistence income of refugees – this is shameful in the extreme. Later he reports that it appeared that 5 manats which were withdrawn from the social benefits of the refugees will be deposited not in the Yashat fund, but Kapital Bank, as the fee for plastic card usage. Usually, the refugees are exempt from this fee, but this year it was stopped. Thus, this fee taken from the 600,000 refugees will make 3m manats annually. There are other banks, which do not charge for card usage, but refugees are made to use the Kapital Bank, because 99.87% of shares belong to Pasha Holdings (the vice-president’s family holding)
Economists report that workers of the AZAL state company have not been paid their salaries for two months already, and this despite the consistent rise of flight ticket prices. They also express their concern that President Aliyev mentioned that the country will be using the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V, which does not enjoy a reliable reputation worldwide.
Human rights. The FB users decry the continued court process against Niyamaddin Ahmadov, the bodyguard of the leader of the Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli. The next court hearing took place on 26th February with the judge Siyavush Hajiyev. Ahmadov was arrested in April 2020 for the violation of quarantine rules – but was charged with article 214.1 (financing terrorism), later added to by two more articles. The defendant does not plead guilty, while the opposition considers these charges fake. The journalists, opposition activists and bloggers report that new provocation is being prepared against the arrested activist of the PFP, Zamin (Alizamin) Salayev. His son was taken to the police office and was forced to sign – without giving an opportunity to read it – a statement against his father. Later in prison, one of the staff told him that if he does not “compromise”, a longer term of imprisonment awaits him. Alizamin was sentenced by Salyan court in April last year for 2 years 3 months. The journalists report that the mother of Elmir Abbasov, the NIDA movement activist arrested for 30 days, demands a meeting at Sumgayit police office, because as a result of torture his health has deteriorated. The activists and journalists decry sending the infamous Ata Abdullayev to obstruct the opposition’s visit to the memorial of the victims of Khojali and call it immoral. Jamil Hasanli uses wordplay to describe it. He said that the victory of people in the 44-day war has put President Aliyev on the white horse (“Ag Ata” in Azerbaijani), but himself, by mounting the horse (Ata Abdullayev) has attacked the opposition. Arif Hajili comments on a report on a popular Israeli TV channel about Jewish communities living in Azerbaijan.
March 2, 2021