Center for National and International Studies
“…It is you, who made the governance based on inequality and injustice thrive…”
The FB community concerns itself with the situation in Upper Karabagh, comments on the President’s criticism of bureaucrats, decries the decision of the Council on Tariffs, the students’ protests and arrests at Lenkoran University, the country’s democracy rating allocated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, discusses US policy towards Turkey, appeals to President Biden to repeal Amendment 907, and continues to follow the fate of Navalny in Russia.
Situation in Karabagh. The e-media reports that the Armenian party has been shooting into Azerbaijan’s Gazakh region. The violation of the ceasefire took place from the still occupied village of Gazakh Ashagi Askipara, 20 times from an automatic gun. There are reports, with reference to Russia’s Defence Ministry, that the Russians are conducting military exercises in Karabagh. Osmangizi TV discussed the visit of Kocharian to Karabagh and how Russian peacekeepers are controlling the Lachin corridor. The FB community draws attention to the condition of the wounded among the war heroes, such as Sardar Farhadov, who has 160 shrapnel impregnated in his body and can hardly stand, but who cannot get any state aid. FB widely shares the story of the handicapped woman, both of whose sons were killed in the war, and who pleads for help. FB reports that 3 citizens of Beylagan region were blown up on land mines in Fizuli, one of them – Bahruz Imanov, has since died. They were allegedly sent there by the police to collect the metal as a bribe. This is how the state organs which are supposed to provide for the law and people’s security, send them instead to their death to get a profit. The journalists are surprised that the authorities eliminated Radio Freedom’s license on FM broadcasting, opening a criminal case against it, but let the Armenian broadcasting be conducted freely from Kurdamir region up to Baku in Russian and Armenian languages. They question the security of the informational space of Azerbaijan, where Russian, Iranian, and Armenian radio freely broadcasts. The journalists report resumption of the flights between Russia and Azerbaijan from 15th February.
President’s criticism of ministers. Civil actors, experts, politicians and journalists react to the unexpectedly critical speech of President Aliyev regarding the arbitrariness of the bureaucrats. In response to the request and suggestion from the ministers to build their offices in Shusha, he used the rhetoric: “Who are you? Know your place!” Arif Hajili, leader of opposition Musavat party comments that most of the ministers have their offices, clinics, and resorts in the area of the capital – Baku and the Absheron, while it is mainly the offices of the ruling party YAP which are in the regions. He suggests that most probably the authorities will build another YAP office in Shusha. He also finds it ironic, that while Ilham Aliyev allows Russia to open its government offices in Upper Karabagh, it prohibits local bureaucrats from doing the same. Ali Karimli, the leader of the Popular Front Party, states that all these multibillion projects were ones of corruption and were implemented with the consent of the President himself. Jamil Hasanli of the NCDF makes a parallel of this speech to the satirical story by the famous Azerbaijani writer of 19th century, Mirze Fatali Akhundov, “The deceived Kavakib”, commenting that despite being 164 years down the line, the issue is still actual, indicative of the low level of those who govern the country. The other activist comments with sarcasm that he is dissatisfied with the authorities, because today the president strongly criticised the ministers who were appointed by the activist (hinting that the president criticised the ministers who he appointed himself – L.A.) and expresses regret that he had realized they were incompetent only 20-30 years after their appointment. “Because apparently, until last year, they did not make any mistakes”- concludes the activist. The other one suggests with irony that the president should create an NGO entitled “Fight with the arbitrariness of the bureaucrats” and join a civil society. Or, the civil society in recognition of the victories in Karabagh – should join the president’s NGO, but only under the condition, that the remaining 80% of the country should be liberated from the occupation of the ministers Kamaladdin Heydarov, Elchin Guliyev, Safar Mehdiyev, Saleh Mammadov and others. Natig Jafarli of REAL suggests that probably some bureaucrat simply trolled the others, otherwise it is unclear why they all decided to open their office in Shusha. Many others joke and are ironical about the president’s criticism, hinting that he is protecting Shusha for his own enterprises. Fuad Gahramanli states that the bureaucrats should not be criticised for the wish to open their offices in Shusha, as this is within the law. The criticism should have been targeting their palaces in all beautiful spots of the country, their corruption, poor governance and hopeless cadre policies. Gultekin Hajibeyli comments that the bureaucrats play the role of a lightning rod. She stresses that one single palace of Putin has stirred significant unrest in Russia, with everyone is discussing it. But there are hundreds of them in Azerbaijan, because every minister has a few such palaces. She explains that such a strong reaction on the part of the president towards the bureaucrats stems from fear of possible unrest in Azerbaijan in the future and that he sees the way to prevent it by “discrediting” these ministers. Yadigar Sadyghli comments that before, people were complaining to the president about the bureaucrats, while now the president is complaining to the people about the bureaucrats. The chair of the pro-government party Ana Vatan, MP Fazail Agamali, revealed that the anger of the president was caused by the suggestion of the director of the Central Bank, Elman Rustamov, who suggested opening an office of the bank in Shusha. Agamali also argued that the bureaucrats might be even fired as punishment. Azadlyg newspaper author disproves the argument of the President that there is no border in Shusha, which is why opening a branch of the Customs Committee does not make any sense. He brings up numerous examples of the branches and offices of the Customs Committee in the other regions, which do not have a state border. People also note that the president, for the first time, mentioned the necessity of public control over the work of these bureaucrats. The civil society reacts with skepticism to this statement, as the president could not be uninformed about the investigations by Khadija Ismayil, Habib Muntazir, and Mehman Huseynov about corruption within the bureaucracy, conducted for 18 years. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev comments: “Nobody would be better than you to implement public control, Mr. President. You are well informed about everything. If today hundreds of thousands of young people live in the rented corners, dozens of thousands young families are bending under the burden of house credits, hundreds of thousands young people are in a desperate search for jobs, while the house of the minister is worth billions, his son’s watch is worth 2m, the garages of the others are worth of 15-20m – it is you who made the governance based on inequality and injustice thrive”. Natig Jafarli of REAL reported that his party has proposed a draft law on civil society, which cancels all reactionary amendments made since 2013 and believes that if this law is soon adopted by the parliament – this might serve as proof of the President’s sincerity when he speaks about the necessity of public control. He also states that there should be free and fair elections to make the Parliament an effective institute of oversight.
Khadija Ismayil questions the logic of the president, arguing that while the absence of a branch of the Central Bank and Customs Committee in Shusha makes sense, if there is fire, will Russian peacekeepers put it out? “Does the president prohibit the creation of branches of state agencies in Shusha because he cannot develop the mechanism of anti-corruption control, independent judiciary etc. or it is because the Russians are saying, do not come back to Shusha, your victory is temporary?”
Reference to history. Isa Gambar of Musavat recalls that 28 years ago on 2nd February, the Cabinet of Ministers under his chairmanship adopted a decree about changing the Russified surnames of the Azerbaijani population to the traditional ones, replacing the endings “ov”, “ev” etc. by “ili”, “zade”, “gizi”, “oglu”. He also reminds his followers that recently his “think tank” again suggested that the newly born children in 2021 would have those native endings of their last names.
Human Rights and Social issues. The recent rating by the Economist Intelligence Unit of Azerbaijan as one of the most authoritarian states in the world is widely shared on FB. It is stressed that the country is grouped with Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan etc. The FB community shares information about the events in Lenkoran, where the students’ organization the Students Power Centre protested the prices for the tests. Mass complaint was submitted to this Centre from the students, who argued that the price for the tests depends on the marks, and while the marks are high, the University teachers deliberately announced lower marks. The answer of the administration was – “we are not obliged to report to you, we know what we are doing”. The activists, journalists and bloggers decried news of the arrest of the student from Lenkoran University Ahmad Mammadli who, in protest against the violation of students’ rights, read an appeal in front of the University building along with Orkhan Isgandarli and Samir Akhundzade. It was followed by the detention of another student Jalil Zabidov and two journalists Nurlan Libre and Rustam Ismayilbeyli, who came there from Baku to cover the event. There are reports that war veterans cannot afford medicine for their treatment.
The parliament. The MP of the ruling party YAP, Siyavush Novruzov, reported on his timeline the decisions of the most recent plenary meeting of the National Parliament on 1st February. The first item on the agenda was the issue of social protection, salaries, insurance, and medical treatment of the war participants. The second item was the new stage of the Karabagh war: pressure on Azerbaijani diplomats abroad. He notes that one should remember the terrorist attacks and killings of Turkish diplomats by ASALA. It was mentioned that there is a flow of fake information about Turkey’s coming to Azerbaijan, delimitation of the state borders. He reminds readers that the longest border of Azerbaijan is with Armenia. He argues that great attention should be attached to the delimitation process, the protection of the diplomats and spreading true information. The last item on the agenda was the creation of Parliamentary internet TV, and the high prices at the underground parking slots.
Economy, corruption, governance. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR published the list of state companies which engaged in foreign borrowing with state guarantees. He explains, that while the owners of these companies – ministers and their relatives – are benefitting from the borrowing, the state guarantees extract money from people via increased prices on community services. The other economist Samir Aliyev considers that the increase of prices of water and sewage is related to the change of the ownership of the AzerSu company domestically or transferring it to foreign owners. The expert notes that the government who liberated the water resources in Sugovushan and Khadaferin from Armenian occupation is now selling water two times more expensively to its own public. The ADR movement initiated an online petition to cancel the decision on the increase of the prices for water by the Council of Tariffs. FB widely shares the video of the villa of the Minister of Emergencies Kamaladdin Heydarov, made by the blogger Mehman Huseynov. The next investigation by Habib Muntazir revealed the complex of multimillion villas of the vice-president of SOCAR Mikail Ismaylov. Spread over 3 hectares of land, the property consists of 5 houses built for his family members, protected by personnel of the police office of Pirallahi, headed by his brother Jumshud Ismaylov. He notes that there are at least 4 villas in Baku which belong to the vice-president of the state oil company.
FB is increasingly filled with the protests of the population against the replacement of the smart meters into the old-style mechanical ones (first the water meters, then the gas meters). Ali Karimli of the PFP appeals to his followers and FB users to actively protest, signing petitions against this “tool of corruption”. Habib Muntazir lists the reasons for the illogical backwards replacement of the meters. 1) To hide the revenues from the statistics 2) to inflate the sold volumes 3) to make the population in a few years indebted, based on statistics 4) by creating a fake indebted mass to request state aid 5) to attract more resources from the budget under the disguise of covering debts 6) to make the citizens indebted to the government.” The MP Eldar Guliyev calls this replacement unacceptable. He suggests that this is done because it is possible to pump air into the old-style meters and thus falsify and inflate the indicators. The FB shares news about the arrest of former Minister of Labour and Social Policy Salim Muslumov. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR lists the villas of the head of AzerSu state company, Gorkhmaz Huseynov, and argues that in order to support those villas they have increased water prices for its customers. He asserts that these are revealed lavish buildings – one of which is worth 100m in Turkan village, while the office in Narimanov district – worth 204m, and there most probably are many more. He asks who can guarantee that with the doubling of water supply prices, he will not build another more expensive villas?
Relations with the US. The activist in exile, Ramis Yunus, argues that the US should support Turkey’s role in South Caucasus, saying that “Military-technical cooperation and training between Azerbaijan and Turkey will continue to increase, and the military exercises that began on February 1 in the Kars province are another confirmation of this fact. Today, Russian is weakened financially and militarily. In order to restore unconditional dominance in this region, the United States must increase pressure on Russia to help Turkey strengthen its position in the South Caucasus region. This will in turn strengthen Azerbaijan’s position in future negotiations regarding the final settlement of the “Nagorno-Karabakh issue”. He also stresses the role of the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement: “The improved relations between Israel and Turkey immediately after the Second Karabagh War, including the upcoming dispatch of new Ambassadors of their countries to Ankara and Tel Aviv, promises good prospects for future relations between Turkey and the United States”. The ADR movement appealed to the new US president Joe Biden to cancel the amendment 907 prohibiting aid to Azerbaijan. The letter states that the amendment which was adopted in 1992 under the pressure of Armenian lobby due to its imposition of “blockade of Armenia”, deprived the Azerbaijan government of any direct aid until 2002. After 9/11, due to cooperation with the US in the fight against terrorism, this amendment was temporarily lifted. The appeal urges the new US administration to cancel the amendment, as the trilateral agreements on 9th November 2020 and 11th January 2021 have opened communications and transportation routes between the two states, thus depriving the amendment of its meaning. The statement argues that this decision will contribute to the normalization of the relations between the two states and create conditions for the investment of US companies in the region. Azadlyg newspaper quotes the US state secretary commenting on the protests in Russia. “If the Russian government believes in any connection of the current protests with us, it is making a big mistake. The matter concerns only themselves. The Russian people are fed up with corruption and autocracy. I think they should look not outside, but within their own country”.
Alexei Navalny. The FB community continues to follow and be concerned with the fate of Alexi Navalny. The e-media quotes his characterization of Putin: “However hard he tries to portray himself as a geopolitical leader, he will remain in history as an ‘underwear poisoner’. I am being detained by the police, while half of Moscow has been closed solely because we proved that Putin’s people stole the opponent’s underwear to poison him”. The bloggers, activists and journalists followed closely and cheered the demonstrations in Moscow and other cities of Russia in protest against Navalny’s arrest. The activists consider that Putin has effectively put an end to his political career by arresting Navalny. Gultakin Hajibeyli argues that Navalny deserves the Nobel Peace prize. Natig Jafarli of REAL considers that if Navalny is not released soon, he will be uncontested in 2024, and his wife Yulia will become a symbol of protest for the next Duma elections. Thus Putin has followed the path of unloved Lukashenka, while Yuliya will be Russia’s Tikhanovskaya. He argues that the 2021 elections will be extremely interesting in Russia.
February 5, 2021