Center for National and International Studies
“…The gas price has risen, so will transport and electricity: everything will rise, even your blood pressure, but never your living standards…”
The FB community is increasingly concerned at Russia’s ‘peacekeeping’ activities, deeply shocked by the gas and electricity price rise, discusses revelations in the corruption scandal of the infamous “Azerbaijani couple” in the UK, shows alarm at the increase of drugs consumption in the country, is worried about safety of activists in exile in Europe and decries the unresolved social issues of the war heroes.
Post-conflict situation. The role of Russia in the conflict, revealed at ongoing court hearings on the Armenian saboteurs, continues to be a matter of concern for the FB community. The e-media reported the trial of the detained Armenian citizens in the woods of Hadrut on 13th December (after signing the ceasefire agreement). On 29th June there was a trial of the 14 citizens of Armenia who confirmed that they crossed the state borders by order of their commander. The shocking discovery, according to the testifying at the court hearing by Gor Vagramian, is that Russian peacekeepers were letting armed saboteurs into Azerbaijani territory without checking. He also confirmed that he was drafted by the military commissariat in Gumru in Armenia and sent to Hadrut, Azerbaijan. The activists wonder whether the authorities after that will still “thank” the Russian peacekeepers and question their goal: is it to provide for the Lachin humanitarian corridor or for the trespassing of armed saboteurs. The activists warn that the authorities relying on Russia to prolong its existence not only put in danger the Karabagh issue, but the whole country’s sovereignty. Isa Gambar of Musavat comments that the most important indicator of Russia’s role and policy will be its reaction to the opening of the Zangezur corridor – whether she will promote or oppose it, or just watch it, relying on the decision of the two parties in conflict. Osmangizi TV discusses the fleet exercises in the Black Sea and allocation of 3.5 hectares in Armenia for a new Russian military base. The e-media reports the death of two Azerbaijani troops in a military truck accident in the Lachin region. The experts assess the construction of the new Canal Istanbul including its environmental risks, etc., but mainly seeing it as a project favorable to NATO, that will cause major resistance of Russia. The Minister for Ecology, Mukhtar Babayev, reported the protest of Azerbaijan against international organizations about the contamination of Okhchuchay river by Armenia, and invited them to observe it. However, so far none of them showed any reaction to the request. The economists calculate how long it will take to de-mine the liberated territories with the current speed of works of the National De-Mining Agency; according to Gubad Ibadoglu in Agdam region alone, where 97,000 landmines are, it will take almost 12 years.
Social problems. The activists and journalists continue to share and comment on the stories of the war heroes. Jalilov Emin, born in 1988 in Shirvan, has committed suicide, faced with the utter indifference of the bureaucracy. For participation in liberation of Zangilan and Gubadli regions, he was awarded a medal. The leader of the Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, comments that the government does not show much interest in the fate of the war heroes, because is too busy developing farms and earning income in the liberated territories. The e-media reports another protest of the hundreds of war-handicapped in front of the Ministry of Defence. The PFP leader’s deputy, Seymur Hezi, comments that with every suicide of the war heroes, the fingers of the “Iron Fist” (the name of the liberation operation) are dropping off. Fuad Gahramanli argues that people already got used to the news of suicides of the war participants, but a society which cannot protect them, will not be able to protect its own rights. Some stress the necessity to run rehabilitation and treatment for trauma for the war participants. Shamshad Aga notes that every time with the increase of oil prices, the government fully loses sensitivity to society’s problems. The oil workers’ rights defender Mirvari Gahramanli reports numerous unjustified lay-offs of the well educated professionals in the State Oil Company. She appeals on her FB page to the Minister of Economy, Mikail Jabbarov, attracting his attention to the growth of unemployment and layoffs in the oil industry with the example of the recent firing of the geologist Masimov Sarkhan, 37 years old.
Rise of gas and electricity prices. The activists, journalists and bloggers are alarmed at the recent rise of the gas prices and discuss the reasons, consequences and impact on the social and political situation in the country. The political and civil leaders decry the decision of the Tariff Council, although many point to the other alleged authors of decisions such as SOCAR, or President Aliyev. Arif Hajili of Musavat argues that the goals of new team serving the regime of Aliyevs–Pashayevs and the old team – coincide. These goals are to perfect the methods of robbing the people, filling the budget and then of stealing from it in even greater quantities. He argues that while in the past this was done by bureaucrats who could not even write their names and were the owners of fake University certificates, now professional swindlers who graduated from Oxford and Harvard are doing this. These, concludes Hajili, are more dangerous. Even popular musicians, such as pop singer Nura Suri was quoted by Meydan TV as saying she was shocked by the news of the gas price increase and protested it. The economists note that not only consumer gas prices were raised but the already highest gas tariffs for industry and agriculture also by 5 gepiks. The investigative journalist Mehman Huseynov argues jokingly that this gas increase is not by accident – most probably the son of Rovnag Abdullayev, the president of SOCAR, wants new watches. “Imagine, that this guy wears only 3m watches”. He notes in conclusion – how come that SOCAR provides gas for Armenian churches for free, while selling it for burning prices to its own population? Natig Jafarli of REAL argues that the price rise on such items as diesel, benzine, tap water, and now natural gas and electricity and in the near future – public transport – is the main factor of the increase in social tension. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev asserts that taking into account the overall situation in the country, the only way out is the mass public protests. The economist Samir Aliyev comments: “The gas prices have risen, so will that of electricity and transport, everything will rise, even your blood pressure, but never your living standards…” Human rights defender Rufat Safarov comments with irony: “Elman Nasirov has prepared his first statement for tomorrow: “The increase of gas and electricity prices will indirectly promote social prosperity”. The journalist and blogger Mehman Huseynov jokingly writes: “I have painted on my doors ‘The Armenian Church’ hoping that the community bill collectors will avoid our house if they see it, as our authorities care more about Armenians than about their own citizens. During these times, when people can hardly find money for subsistence, they shamelessly increase gas and electricity prices, which shows total disrespect to the people”. Prof. Jamil Hasanli, in his interview with the journalist Natig Adilov, argues that someone has convinced Ilham Aliyev that it is easier to control hungry people, but this is not true. Asserting that this is rather an expression of the anti-popular nature of Aliyev’s government, he anticipates even more shocking cases of its corruption.
Governance, economy, corruption. People continue to comment on the call of MP Adil Aliyev to donate at least 10 manat to the Yashat Foundation. They post information about lavish lifestyles of the political elite, such as of Fuad Muradov, the head of the Committee on Work with Diaspora, who spends $90,000 on events in a hotel in Istanbul, wears a Louis Vuitton belt costing more than 1,500 Euro and shoes surely of 740 Euro. The journalist in exile, Fikret Huseynli, concludes: “Here I found 2,300 Euro for the Yashat Foundation”. The FB users also point to the opening by Ilham Aliyev of another expensive infrastructure – the Winter Park of the Mariotte Baku Hotel, which belongs to Pasha Holding. One of the FB users notes that the outfits of the first lady and vice-president were worth $10,000. The newspaper Azadlyg writes that the Baku Transport Agency has allocated 25,000 manat just for installing a “bio-smart” bus stop. The tender was won by the “RD-Smart” company. People compare airplane tickets to European cities in Georgia and Azerbaijan, the former 4 times cheaper than in the latter, attributing it to the monopoly of AZAL company in the air and land services. The economist Mahammad Talibli posts comparative analysis of the economic data of Singapore and Azerbaijan, discrediting the official propaganda about significance of the growth of Azerbaijan’s non-oil sector. He reports that the annual export of non-oil sector constituted around $2b, while in Singapore, whose population is two times less than Azerbaijan the total export is $515b. – which is 250 times greater. The e-media reports the accumulated losses of the Baku Metropolitan company as 565,240,000 manat. The investigative journalist and blogger, Mehman Huseynov, reports on the results of corruption investigation, revealing that the head of Baku Metropolitan Company, Zaur Huseynov owns a 255,000 manat Range Rover Velar Byron Blue, while his wife – a 300,000 manat Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and his son – a Mercedes G63AMG. He asks a rhetorical question on how many years the head of Metropolitan should work in order to afford all these cars with a monthly salary of 1,300 manat. He concludes: “While ordinary people are buried under debts, they drive cars worth millions”. The Azad Soz lists 17 reasons why the Minister of Defence Zakir Hasanov should be sent to prison.
Corruption scandal with President Aliyev’s cousin in London. The FB community is actively discussing the new OCCPR investigation in connection with high level corruption in Azerbaijan. They report, with reference to the Evening Standard newspaper. that the daughter of Jalal Aliyev – uncle of the president – and her husband (the son of the deputy Minister of Energy, Gulmammad Javadov) are being tried for money laundering of £14m. In 2014 Izzet Javadova registered a company called “Love the Underground Records”, which was abolished in 2017. The historian Jamil Hasanli argues that in fact the uncle has misappropriated much more funds than reported, because this amount was taken out only into the UK. He contrasts the stolen millions by the Aliyev family to the ruthless collection of 10 manat from the population for the Yashat Foundation. He points to theft, robbery, corruption, tribalism and nepotism as the main features of Aliyev’s governance. While all the justice and law enforcement system of the country has been “fighting corruption”, the British National Crime Agency and OCCRP are investigating the sources of the illegal money of the “Azerbaijani couple”. He recalls that four years ago, the NCDF appealed to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office with an inquiry about fraud of $4b, but to no avail.
Democracy, power-society relations. The resignation from the ruling YAP party of the aide to judge Ramin Soltanov was in protest at the human rights crimes in the Ter-ter and other cases. This was read in his public statement. The FB community shares and comments on the European media reportage, in particular the German ARD TV channel, on the corruption of the regime of Aliyev. Some FB users greet the news about the abolition of the sentence of 5 years’ house arrest for the businessman Mubariz Mansimov, who was known for his charity activities. The activists continue to discuss the rejection by the MP of REAL, Erkin Gadirli, to sign the appeal to investigate the Ter-ter case in PACE submitted by Emin Huseynov. Rafig Manafli argues that none of the “bus opposition” (the nickname of the parties which were taken on the bus tour by the presidential administration, spread among the activist community) would sign this appeal, including the leader of REAL, Ilgar Mammadov. He argues that due to the wave of discrediting information in the West, the only hope for Aliyev is domestic opportunistic groups. The activists and journalists decry the continued attacks on them by the government trolls, who insult and use the derogative language in their comments.
The drug issue. One of the most acute topics on FB was the drug consumption and trade in the country. Fuad Gahramanli reports on a few ways of drug trafficking into the country that he learned while in prison. The drugs, which are mainly brought in from Iran, are transferred either via gaps in the borders, or via conspiracy with the heads of border services. He argues that significant income is shared with the top level of government. He asserts there is a dangerous situation in the country, where not only young people, but even teenagers are involved in drug consumption, and if the problem is not addressed in good time, this will lead society to tragedy. Gubad Ibadoglu attracts attention to the increase in the quantity of drugs being circulated as calculated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and comments that the question is whether this is connected to an increase of consumers or the greater commercial attractiveness of the business, in particular during the strict border policies of the pandemic. Ilkin Rustamzade worryingly reports that the price of the drugs on the black market fell from 150 to 35 manat in just a few months. He asserts that this is not drug addiction, but genocide, and the authorities should adopt urgent measures to stop this alarming trend.
Human rights. The activists discuss the UN Human Rights Council’s 47th session, where the issue of worsening conditions for legal defenders in Azerbaijan and Belarus were touched upon. The statement of the Human Rights House mentioned few methods of pressure on the human defenders, one of which is the political bias in admission to the Bar Association, and distancing of the legal defenders from the process through deprivation of their professional rights. The journalist in exile Afghan Mukhtarli warns that the political refugees from Azerbaijan residing in European states are no longer safe. He tells the story of Fuad Aghayev, who complained about the Swiss government, which had revealed to the Azerbaijani authorities his address and telephone number. Aghayev has written about violations of law and corruption in SOCAR, but international organizations usually refuse to consider cases with involvement of the state oil company. In Baku, they opened a criminal case against Fuad Aghayev with 15 criminal charges.
July 2, 2021