Center for National and International Studies
“… She came to power in an ordinary dress and with a clean name and will leave the same …”
The FB community discusses the consequences of war, expresses concern with the problems of the families of war heroes, the neglect of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty on the part of the Russian peacekeepers, follows and shares track 2 diplomacy direct stream broadcasts of Armenian and Azerbaijani public figures, decries corruption – the enormous cost of tunnel construction, and the property of the grandson of the ex-deputy premier, the continued violation of the human rights and hunger strikes of journalists Afghan Sadyghli and Polad Aslanov in prison, the court decision on the case of Gultakin Hajibeyli, early marriages, and discusses the visit of the UK minister to Baku, the policies of US president Joe Biden, and resignation of Angela Merkel.
Post-war situation. An increasing divergence in assessment of the consequences of war between those loyal to the government on the one hand, and the opposition and civil actors on the other, is observed on FB. The former praise the military victories in the Patriotic War, the post-war compensation to the military victims, while the latter expresses concern with the Russian peacekeepers, continued presence of military groups in Karabagh, and neglect of the families of war participants. MP Siyavush Novruzov of the ruling party YAP stresses the role of the Supreme Commander, President Aliyev, the Nakhichevanis in this war’s victory, as well as the high compensation to the victims and their families (1,800 manats).
The opposition and independents criticize that the leaders of Upper Karabagh continue to receive Armenian officials freely under the protection of the Russian peacekeepers and decry the silence and passivity of the Azerbaijani leadership. Last time Araik Harutyunian received the Prosecutor General of Armenia, Arthur Davidian. Track -2 diplomacy in the form of the life stream dialogues – the joint initiative by journalists Emin Huseynov of Azerbaijan and Yury Manvelian of Armenia – is widely shared and circulated on FB. The last broadcast featured the ex-leader of the opposition Musavat party, speaker of the parliament in 1992-3, then acting president Isa Gambar, who spoke about necessity of normalization of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, and reciprocity in satisfaction of the rights of respective minorities. People continue to discuss the issue of two times decreasing of the salaries (from 1,200 to 600 manats) for the troops who are still stationed in the Karabagh region. The official reaction was that they promised to clarify the issue, but without any deadline. The activists appeal to society to publicise the issue. People express their concern with the plans of opening direct air communication between Moscow and Khankendi. The FB community discusses the issue whether Moscow is preparing to bring Robert Kocharian to power in Armenia.
Lavish office buildings of the ministries. The topic of overspending on the offices of the state agencies and enterprises continues to concern the FB community. This time they discuss the 17-storey building of the Customs Committee and compare it with the Russian one, which annually contributes more than 130bn manats to the budget but is located in a 5-storey building. In many countries, they note, the respective agency is part of the other ministries. People ironically comment on the news that 5 enterprises – Pasha Holding, Pasha Bank, Kapital Bank, Pasha Sigorta and Pasha Heyat – contributed 2m manats to the Fund for Revival of Karabagh. They compare it with the price of the son of the minister’ watch for 2m, Italian company’s building the tunnel of 2.5 km for $528m in Azerbaijan and ironically suggest that this “generosity” will be appreciated by the president and they will be awarded contracts for building tunnels in Karabagh and opening their offices there. One of the activists makes a parallel between the Columbian mafia and its relations with the government to the situation in Azerbaijan. He comments that when the citizens of Azerbaijan follow the daily news – it is like watching a serial about mafia life.
Illegal property and corruption of the bureaucrats. The investigative journalists continue to reveal and publicize the illegal properties of the government officials. Mehman Huseynov, the young activist, journalist and a blogger discredits in his Sanjag production the riches of Rashad Abdullayev, the son of the head of the State Oil Company Rovnag Abdullayev based on documents that prove that national resources are stolen and sold abroad for personal enrichment. He asserts that while this is quite an evident fact of crime, the culprits have not been punished. The newspaper Azadlyg reports these new facts of the property abroad of the president of State Oil Company, acquired with the funds “earned” in Georgia. It also reports that instead of repairing the water filter in the supply system in Agstafa, this young head of executive power appointed by President Aliyev is using a state service car to bring the spring water to his private house. The media reports the detention for 4 months of Ajdar Ol (Abiyev), the head of administration of Minister of Labor and Social Policy Salim Muslumov, who was arrested earlier. He is also charged with the abuse of his official position. The pro-government MP Fazayil Agamali comments that this is evidence of President Aliyev implementing his statement in 2018 about the fight with corruption. He assured that the highly professional head of the State Security Agency Ali Nagiyev will fight any case of misappropriation of state funds and purchase of properties abroad by bureaucrats. FB users comment on the ex-head of presidential administration Ramiz Mehdiyev’s statement that he had served Azerbaijan’s statehood for 49 years. Zohrab Ismayil of REAL argues that because the Azerbaijani state was restored only 30 years ago, Mehdiyev apparently means that he served Russian interests during the Soviet regime and then its heir in post-Soviet times. The popular singer Flora Karimova, who turned 80 this year, comments with pain, that none of the bureaucrats or MPs so far has come out with criticism of the current state of affairs in the country, such as the recent doubling of water costs.
Hotel of Abid Sharifov’s grandson. Azadlyg newspaper reports that ex-deputy of prime minister Abid Sharifov, (23 years in office and awarded the Glory Order) was transferring money stolen from Baku to his grandson living in London, who in turn spent it on building a hotel in Shaki city. Nijat Mahmudov is a son of the head of the prison N. 6 Mammad Mahmudov. The hotel Shaki Park was built on territory of 5 hectares with the hotel occupying 5,200 sq. meters including restaurants, volleyball fields, tennis court, open swimming pool, fitness gym, sauna, billiard room, medical massage, karaoke bar, etc. Nijat has been living in London since 2017 and heads the company “Abeona Global ltd”, which in 2018 already had a capital of £260,000. FB shares a quotation from comments of the ex-prime minister deputy Abid Sharifov about his grandson’s hotel in Shaki: “You cannot call it a hotel, just a three-store building, like a hostel, why exaggerate?” Natig Jafarli calls the process of opening criminal cases against the fired bureaucrats as the second stage of the “trimming operation”, which he argues is a dangerous one. This punishment of the old guards without establishment of new rules risks the resistance of the rich and powerful oligarchs.
Enormous cost of a tunnel. The construction of the tunnel worth of $528m by the Italian holding Italian Design, reported by its head Franco Rizzato, is met with shock by FB users and is widely discussed on social networks. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR takes the example of the costs of a 1-km road construction as assessed by the World Bank among 40 countries, varying from $142,000 to £1.832m. In Azerbaijan, 1 km of road costs $147.2m. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF calculates how many people could receive child benefits for the money spent on the construction of this tunnel. Ganimat Zahid recounts the story of the tunnel and the firing of prosecutor general Zakir Garalov. He alleges that the construction of the tunnel was given to Accord company, which belongs to President Aliyev, which subcontracted the Italian company. The management of Accord was entrusted to Zakir Garalov, but in its last years the company developed a debt of 1bn manats. So Zakir Garalov returned 1 billion and left the job. Natig Jafarli of REAL comments that in fact, the price of the tunnel is $112 m, while the rest ($400 m) was stolen. Engaging with all involved from below to the upper level. Altay Geyushov explored the site of the Italian company, which has an office in Abu Dabi, while their number is that of Azercell, which made him suspect that this is also an Azerbaijani company. Afghan Mukhtarli asserts that there were times when almost half the budget constituted expenditures of the transport ministry. He argues that construction of roads, tunnels and bridges is the way of misappropriation of state funds by President Aliyev. The young activists comment with irony: “Mr. President, could you allocate another $512m, so we could dig an ordinary tunnel to Italy and quietly all go there? So both your mind would rest, and ours.” The activists joke and play with the slogans used by the Presidents. Afghan Mukhtarli, an investigative journalist in exile posts: “The bridge is part of the road”- H. Aliyev. “The tunnel is part under the road”- I. Aliyev. (The first quotation/slogan was displayed on one of the bridges in the capital and was an object of ridicule during H. Aliyev’s office – L.A.).
The decrees in the Defense Ministry. The defense minister Zakir Hasanov signed the decree about the firing of two generals from their positions – corpus commanders General Lieutenant Rovshan Akbarov and General Major Khagani Jabrayilov. The civil actors welcome the decision, although belated, calling their appointment as treason in the first place.
Preparations for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s independence.
The Musavat leader Arif Hajili announced that the party will conduct a series of events in 2021 to mark the 30th anniversary of restoration of the independence of the country, including the announcement of 18th October as a non-working day.
…. and remembrance of last year elections. The activists recall the strongly falsified parliamentary elections on 9th February 2020. The youth leader Bakhtiyar Hajiyev recalls that last year at these very hours the Central Election Commission has been preparing the plan of stealing people’s votes, writing the “percentage of votes” based on the list issued by the presidential administration. On 9th February 2020, not only were the votes of millions of citizens stolen, but also the rights of candidates, voters, volunteers and observers and the future of the country and its people. He assures that these crimes will never be forgotten, and the day will come when all of them will be tried in court. The leader of REAL party Ilgar Mammadov in contrast stresses that last year the REAL party turned into a parliamentary opposition as a result of the party’s professional and civil, long and consistent struggle. He reminds the followers that of 46 candidates only 29 were registered by the CEC, three of whom came second in a number of votes, while one – Erkin Gadirli – got his mandate. He reports that many more gained a victory, so their cases are now being considered by the ECHR. He comments that they share the view that those extraordinary parliamentary elections were not free and fair, but the party is proud of its work in the direction of discrediting the idea of boycott, so insistently promoted by the other opposition parties. They also agreed to give a trial term of 1 year for REAL candidate Erkin Gadirli as MP to make a final decision of further party participation in the work of parliament.
Social issues. The increase of prices of communal services, last time of water bills, continued to concern FB users. Natig Jafarli discredits the attempts of the government to compare communal services prices in Azerbaijan with those in Europe by showing the stark contrast in salaries in these states. Osmangizi TV discusses the issue of how funds for social protection and salaries of the military are misappropriated by the bureaucracy. Sadig Mammadov, who lost his eye at the front, besides other injuries, has been appealing to the much-publicized Fund Yashat, but to no avail.
The art of imitation. The intellectuals attract attention to the issue of imitation which continues to be performed by the authorities. Altay Geyushov argues that there are two ways, for instance, of turning Azerbaijan into the most advanced economy in the world. One is indeed to promote its development, which is quite difficult, risky, time and resource consuming. The other way is that one tries to convince the people that this is so – and the route chosen by Azerbaijan’s authorities. But in the country with 600 thousand people dreaming of 190 manats’ social compensation, or where water prices can rise 100% overnight, this also turns into a difficult task. This is why the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy has recently conducted trainings for the media to teach the secrets of imitation under these conditions.
Provocative photo on the webpage of the president’s son. The circulating for some days of the photo of a T-shirt with the image of the late president Heydar Aliyev, which is allegedly used for cleaning floors, is an act of deliberate provocation against the West Caspian University, which used to belong to the ex-Minister of Environment Huseyngulu Bagirov. The administration of the University publicly apologized, assuring its loyalty to the memory of the late president and appealed to the law enforcement for investigation. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev comments, appealing to the President’s son, that using portraits of Heydar Aliyev while trolling and insulting of young activists by members of the youth branch of the ruling party is much worse than cleaning floors with the T-shirt with Aliyev’s image.
Human rights. The media reports, with reference to his wife, a sharp worsening of the journalist Afghan Sadikhov’s health, having been in coma as result of hunger strike in prison since December last year. The journalists follow and decry the continued imprisonment of their colleague Polad Aslanov, who has now been on hunger strike for 9 days. He was arrested on trumped-up charges of a bribe and spying for Iran. The journalists stress that the government, since its arrest of Aslanov, has not expressed any protest to Iran. The news of the 11-year-old girl married off to an older man in one of the Azerbaijani villages of Georgia has been circulating on FB for a few days. The FB community denounces this shocking fact, demanding the criminal prosecution of both the husband and punishment of the parents of the girl. Nazim Hasanov the PFP activist was pressured by police in Lenkoran to stop his opposition and social network activities, otherwise he will be arrested. He was interrogated for two hours in the police office by Yelmar Mammadov. The FB community circulates and decries the decision of the court to deprive the opposition female activist Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF of her property and car. Dahsgin Aghalarli, an activist in exile, calls on society to protest against the court decision, as indifference is simply immoral.
Visit of the UK Minister of the European Neighborhood. The human rights defenders reported on the meeting with Minister Wendy Morton. A group of human rights defenders and members of EaP Civil Society Forum had met with the UK official. Rasul Jafarov, Shahla Ismayil, and Anar Mammadli discussed with the British representative the violation of international humanitarian law in the 44-day war, problems in the area of civil society, etc. It was stressed that in the post-war period, serious steps taken in the area of human rights, firstly the improvement of NGO legislation and solution of the problem of political prisoners, can be only beneficial to the country.
Relations with the US. The commentator Ramiz Yunus argues that Biden’s statement about the necessity for Iran to stop uranium enrichment as a condition for the US return to the negotiating table is a serious indicator that the White House will engage with the South Caucasus seriously. On the other hand, his remarks regarding Russia signal that US relations with Turkey will increase in importance.
Resignation of Angela Merkel. The FB community continues to regret the resignation of Merkel and discuss her contribution to the world politics. The lawyer Agil Laij comments: “History rarely witnesses such a leader in a thousand years”. He argues that in his life observance, Angela Merkel is the most prominent political leader. From her modest lifestyle to the sharp political logic, intellect and charisma she was a true leader of her people. It is during her office that Germany became the locomotive of Europe. She came to politics in ordinary dress and bearing a clean name and will leave in the same manner. He comments that he will miss her in the political arena, as she was leader not only of Germany, but a foremost inspirational leader of the world, who did everything for the prosperity of her country. She was also initiator of international humanitarian aid, who also opened doors to the thousands of Muslim refugees.
February 12, 2021