Center for National and International Studies
“…Ivan, idi domoi! Ivan, go home!”
The FB community is persistently concerned with Russia’s role in the conflict and the region, but praises the increasing role of Turkey in post-Soviet space, protests at wearing masks in the open air as absurd, demands the re-introduction of child benefits, is concerned with the pressure on the daughter of the opposition leader in exile and the economist Gubad Ibadoglu, discusses the sensational interview given by businessman Ilgar Hajiyev, greets the strengthening Ukraine-Turkey cooperation and reveals the absurdity of the COVID-19 quarantine rules.
Post-war situation. The FB community discusses domestic and foreign factors influencing the establishment of long-term peace in the country. Osmangizi TV experts debate the developments behind the problem with detained Armenian fighters and the role of Russia. They also analyse the recent meeting of Turkey’s Erdogan and Ukriane’s Zelensky and the subsequent agreement between the two states, and Erdogan’s talks with Putin. The programme BIZ discusses the possible effect on the Karabagh issue of the increasing role of Turkey in Russia-Ukrainian relations. It also puts the question of whether Joe Biden will receive $715b to deal with Russia and China, discusses the conversation of Putin and Erdogan, the failure of talks on captured Armenian fighters, and the fate of Hikol Pashinian’s power. Some journalists comment that most probably Russia will eventually sort out the issues with those captured and with the mine fields, just to confirm her role as the “big brother”. The protest of the parents of the missing soldiers in front of the State Security Services building continues to be circulated on FB, with the quotation from one of the parents: “Hey, president, these sons have defended you, but you do not even show up here!” The Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov at the press conference after his conversation with the General Secretary of OIC (Organization for Islamic Cooperation) Yusif bin Ahmad al Osayma, stated that the issue of the return of captured fighters to Armenia is resolved and closed until clarity in the issue with Iskanders is reached and the maps of the mine fields are submitted by Armenia. In general, the issue lacks transparency and causes confusion in public. Azadlyq newspaper, with reference to the blogger Rizvan Shikhzade, covers the story of Tahir Movlanov, the father of two sons both of whom died in the war, who argues that he was deceived by the authorities. He begged them to send the second son to the rear line from the front, but they apparently did not, as he received the dead bodies of both of them with an interval of 13 days. The local authorities, according to him, came only to the funerals and since then, he was never visited by them.
Democracy and power-society relations. The FB community spreads the photo of the late President Elchibey, in a modest outfit with his daughter in their humble flat, with the comment that Azerbaijan had a president who had been waiting for his next salary to buy new shoes for his daughter. Seymur Hezi of the PFP comments with irony on the defenders of the president, those who are putting all the blame on the people. Some time ago they were arguing that the people are backward, they are ignorant of the law, and that’s why they are giving bribes. He argues that this means a bureaucrat also takes bribes because he does not know the law or that maybe taking a bribe from ignorance of the law is not such a big crime. He writes that similarly, nowadays, a group of government trolls (hints at REAL) is suggesting that because people do not know mathematics, they are not entitled to receive child benefits and ridicules their pathetic attempts to defend the authorities. The journalists share the news that Ilham Aliyev has promoted the Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov’s brother-in-law Elkhan Ibrahimov, who is the deputy head of the Chief of the General Clinic of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to the rank of General-Major. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat stresses in his interview to Osmangizi TV the key importance of individual and collective resistance to injustice, violation of rights and freedoms in changes in the society. The same TV channel reminds viewers that the extraordinary elections took place on 11 April 3 years ago, 6 months earlier than according to the Constitution. The report of the OSCE observation mission stated that the elections were conducted “in the absence of genuine competition” and “with limitations on rights and freedoms”. Osmangizi TV also quotes the US State Department report on the absence of political prisoners in Armenia. Natig Jafarli of REAL, in connection with the debate on child benefits, reports the results of his mini survey on ideological preferences among Azerbaijani FB users. He reports that 80% of them are rightist and individualists, and only 20% are inclined towards the left. He argues that the government does not understand that taxes are directly related to the elections, and if there are no elections, people will naturally avoid paying taxes.
Corruption. Azadlyg newspaper reflects on the interview given by the former owner of the Accord company, Ilgar Hajiyev, who argues that he paid $100m in bribes to the president’s family via the chief of his security, Beyler Eyubov. He reports that under the threat of arrest, death and other detractors, first 51% of his company and then fully 100% was taken away from him in favor of the ruling family. He also said that he suggested repeatedly “informal” allocations to Saakashvili, but he and his government had rejected it and said that they would welcome instead societal charity projects, such as building schools or hospitals, never created obstacles and always rendered him assistance. FB users share information that the first thing the ambassador to Ukraine Elmira Akhundova did, when appointed in 2018, was to buy a new car – Mercedes-Benz model S-350L, for 125,000 Euro – instead of the older issue of BMW 730 used by the previous ambassador. Fuad Gahramanli disputes the validity of the government being able to afford such vehicles for diplomats, but cannot afford child benefits. Gultakin Hajibeyli lists other lavish projects, such as 13.6b manats for the European Games, 3-4b manats for the Formula-1 rally, multibillion subsidies to SOCAR, restoration costs of the St. Petka monument in Serbia, the outlay on watches for the son of the bureaucrat for 4m manat, which the authorities apparently have funds for, but for basic child benefits – zero materializes. Altay Geyushov shares news about the Swiss Court’s rejection of SOCAR’s claim against the bank who was approached by the family of the killed Maltese journalist Dafne Galizia to disclose the essential data. He concludes that it seems that SOCAR failed to either buy off or put adequate pressure on the journalist’s family.
Human rights. The activists share a poem by PFP Presidium female member Saadet Jahangir, which describes how difficult it is to achieve justice in this country, where both the persecutors of Huseyn Javid (victim of Stalin’s purges in 1937), and those who took the skin off Nasimi (14th century poet, who called for radical reforms) are still alive. The e-media also discusses the meeting of the General Prosecutor, who received Sevinj Sadikhova, wife of the political prisoner Afghan Sadikhov, promising to investigate the case of her blackmail. The FB community also shares coverage by Turkey’s media of the blackmail story, or “moral terror” of history professor Jamil Hasanli, which quotes him as saying: “If not for the opposition, the Azerbaijani Turkic language would be prohibited today in this country!” BIZ TV anticipates that a new wave of arrests is approaching. FB reports that the historian Jamil Hasanli’s book on Eastern Turkistan, reflecting the tragic history of the Uygurs, has been published in Hong Kong. The young activists start an e-campaign – “no masks in open air”. Human rights defender and member of REAL party, Rasul Jafarov, reported on the video meeting with MP Zahid Oruj and the staff Lala Akbarova, during which the Ganja and Ter-ter cases, the life-sentence cases of prisoners of the Special Police Force and other issues were discussed. The parties agreed to continue meetings in this format. FB reports that the Azerbaijani journalist hijacked 5 years ago from Tbilisi, Afghan Mukhtarli, has revisited Georgia for the first time in connection with the criminal investigation. He expressed the regret that in 5 years there has been no result. The activists, human rights defenders and journalists continue to discuss the Ter-ter case – but are sceptical about its fair investigation with the current president in office. The human rights defenders and activists share with concern the news that the health of political prisoner of Penal Colony 14, human rights defender from Sumgayit, Elchin Mammad, has worsened. His mother, Rahile Mammadli, reported that he requests a transfer to the medical facilities of the colony, as his health is seriously deteriorating with symptoms of hepatitis C, coughing, prostatitis, etc. However, the Penitentiary Services responded that they do not possess the required information and that medical facilities are not part of their structure. The human rights defender Elchin Mammad was charged with “theft” and “illegal storage of weapons” on 17th October 2020 by Sumgayit City Court and sentenced to 4 years in prison.
FB users decry the pressure on Gubad Ibadoglu, leader of the ADR movement, an internationally renowned economist, currently vising professor at Rutgers University, via monitoring and following his daughter Jale who is a lawyer and a feminist activist in Baku. Ibadoglu had to write the statement: “Take away your dirty hands from my daughter and my family!” in social networks, expressing high concern with the pressure on his daughter since February 2021. He appealed to the law enforcement bodies to conduct a struggle with him, but not with his daughter, who was being monitored, followed and her FB account and WhatsApp number hacked. The press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ehsan Zahidov, announced that the issue is under investigation. Last time the police applied physical violence to Jale during the 8th March feminist protest rally.
The FB community shares news about the transfer of the prisoner Vugar Aliyev to the so- called “tubzone”, the medical facilities of the penal colony with a negative reputation. Vugar Aliyev was charged with the manslaughter of the son of the ex-head of the Shamkir Executive Power. His mother asked for this fact of his transfer to be publicized, as she suspects that there is a conspiracy of the family of the deceased, whose father used to work in the Ministry of Justice.
Russia’s role in the region. The FB community shares and comments on the article by the US ex-co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Richard Hogland. Seymur Hezi quotes Hogland’s recollection of Lavrov’s negative response to the question of whether Russia will implement the Lavrov plan if accepted by both sides. He concludes that the article shows Russia as both the author and the guarantor of the preservation of Karabagh conflict. The e-media spreads, as evidence of Russian chauvinism, a video which was taken in Bakhchisaray of Crimea, depicting Russian teenagers harassing a Tatar one. It also covers the scandal in Armenia relating to the return of the captured fighters in the Karabagh war, when the plane came back from Baku empty. The commander of the Russia peacekeeping forces, Rustam Muradov, called the official Yerevan’s version of the purpose of his visit to Baku “dirty provocation”, defusing it by claiming it was a planned routine visit to Baku and not the flight to bring the captured fighters. Russia’s role continues to be negatively assessed in Azerbaijan. The opposition Musavat party has held a protest meeting in front of the Russian Embassy. Arif Hajili, leader of Musavat, reports that it had protested that Russia’s peacekeepers’ activities were exceeding their mandate, displaying the behaviour of an occupant, had demanded an explanation in regard to the Iskanders and delivered the resolution in two languages. He thanked participants of the rally in spite of the strict quarantine rules. The protesters had these slogans: “Ivan, go home!”, “Russia, leave our homeland alone!”, “Khankendi is Azerbaijan!”, etc. The leader of the opposition Popular Front Party Ali Karimli argues that the only reason Ilham Aliyev is not reacting to Russia’s supplies and the usage by Armenia of SKADs and Iskanders against Azerbaijan, is that Russia wants preservation of the family regime in the country, and this is sufficient for President Aliyev to close his eyes to any of Russia’s acts against Azerbaijan’s national interests. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat argues that Ilham Aliyev is dependent on Putin, is subordinate and submissive to him, and Russia’s influence is in the interests only of himself. Ibrahim Ibrahimli, member of the Coordination Centre of the National Council for Democratic Forces, argues that the myth of Putin is being destroyed, the economy is stagnating, and his end is approaching. He writes that Russia is building a more modern military base in Karabagh, one which will be independent both from Azerbaijan and Armenia. Russia has started wars with all its neighbours, even with the Slavic ones. After the wars in Crimea and Donbass, Russian – Western relations have become aggravated, while the economy was seriously undermined by the decline of oil prices since 2014. He anticipates that in response to that, there will be a new wave of social protests. Putin tries to avoid any blame by redirecting it from the autocratic kleptocracy onto the fall of price of oil. His rating, previously boosted by the wars in Georgia and Ukraine, has declined lately, and Ibrahimli concludes that Putin’s situation is worse than it may seem. Fuad Gahramanli of the PFP assesses the probability of war in Ukraine. He argues that the purpose of Putin’s current escalation is to preserve the occupied territories without military action, rather than to achieve new victories. Ukraine does not want the war either, as it realises that none of the armies – NATO or any other – would be willing to fight on the ground – but tries to benefit from the geopolitical confrontation of Russia and the West. He concludes that the international environment is not beneficial for military actions either with the last Turkey- Ukraine joint statement in support of the creation of the Crimea Platform contributing to the new power balance. He asserts that the chance for both parties of successful stepping back is thus created.
Social issues. The problem of child benefits remains the hottest issue on FB. FB users discuss and comment on the Azad Soz (Free Word) TV debate of Tofig Yagublu of Musavat and Natig Jafarli of REAL. Chingiz Sultansoy, journalist in exile, stresses that while Natig Jafarli supports his arguments against child benefits with more solid data, Tofig Yagublu is more truthful, while Jafarli manipulates the data. He observes that the contemporary imitators use the data, 70% of which reflects the true numbers, but the rest and the conclusions are pure manipulation. Meydan TV quotes Nazim Beydemirli, who said that the more the authorities delay the re-introduction of child benefits, the more people’s trust in the government decreases. He reports that in oil-rich Azerbaijan, the lump sum of support to the mother is 5 times smaller than in resource-poor Armenia, and that the birth rate has declined in the country. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR discusses the reports by the Chamber of Accounts of 1.1b manat taken out of the country by 7 banks, and the refutation given by the State Customs Committee who put the blame on the National Bank. The latter in turn confirms that all the supporting documents are in place. He demands clarity to be brought to this question. He also justifies the re-introduction of child benefits in Azerbaijan. He lists three major approaches to the child benefits issue in the world practices: 1) the child benefits are given to each family 2) the benefits are dependent on the family income 3) the state gives tax relief or tax exemption depending on the number of children in the family. He suggests that the second policy option is most appropriate for Azerbaijan conditions and proposes to create the Republic’s Child Fund, the income of which would be formed from the budget, State Oil Fund and major companies. He supports his proposal and arguments with the legal documents of the country and international conventions, along with official statistical data. The investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil argues that child benefits are not charity, but an investment in the future of the country. She gives dire statistics on the health of children in the country and comments: “I am not a leftist, and I would be happy if the state leaves people alone so they could earn enough to provide for their family’s prosperity. But we do not have such a luxury – an autocratic state, especially this corrupt government – has created an existential crisis, which can be resolved only by this measure.” The other issue which economic experts are concerned about is the increase of consumer prices in basic food products.
Economy. The experts continue to attract attention to the economic imbalance between the capital and the rest of the country. Samir Aliyev notes that Baku gets 80% of all national bank credits, and 97% of the currency credits. Natig Jafarli of REAL attracts attention to the growing deficit of water and ecological catastrophe in Neftchala region’s 15 villages, due to corruption, as for a period of 25 years, the millions allocated to the resolution of problems with Kura river delta have been wasted.
Governance. The activist Fuad Gahramanli stresses that the authorities keep silence on 3 issues:
- Child benefits
- Russia’s violence of Azerbaijan sovereignty in Upper Karabagh
- The bribery by Azerbaijani government to the foreign diplomats and MPs.
The eco-activist Javid Gara argues that the country is in environmental crisis, the reasons for which lie in a corrupt system and the bureaucrats, arbitrariness of public servants, aggressive agricultural “development” and the oil resources.
COVID-19. The information about fake documents about vaccinations that was spread earlier across social networks has forced the government structures to start investigation into the cases, reports Meydan TV. As a result, 12 doctors have been fired. Gubad Ibadoglu comments, that this is not cotton, to inflate the numbers, as in the Soviet Union, and this is total shame and irresponsibility, further undermining the citizens’ trust in the state and its institutions. He suggests that this means that the 1m figure of reported vaccinated citizens might also be inflated. One of the bloggers reports that his father, as an oil man, was vaccinated and warned that if all his family members were not vaccinated, he would not be allowed to continue working. The young people started the campaign “Let’s breathe” against wearing masks in the open air. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev questions the idea that wearing masks protects from infection in Azerbaijan. He argues that when the quarantine started and people were in lockdown, the authorities made hundreds of excuses and exceptions in order not to pay the 190 manats compensation to the affected population. But when it comes to the fines – there are no exceptions, or any relief. It is enough to have a mask a bit lower on the nose and the police in civilian clothes approach immediately and writes a 100 manats fine. That’s why people wear masks – not to protect themselves from the virus, but from the police, and carry the same mask for 2-3 months in their pockets.
The situation in Ukraine. The Azerbaijan social networks share reports about a successful intelligence operation by Bayraktar TB2 unmanned drone over Donetsk territory on 9th April. The fortification of the pro-Russian forces in the region were investigated, including the air defense system, artillery batteries, and armed units. They also share the results of the Ukraine -Turkey bilateral meeting and the agreements signed. They list 20 provisions of the agreement, among which are: support regional cooperation promoting stability and security in the Black Sea region, accelerate talks on the free trade agreement, support Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, deepen cooperation and coordination in economics, trade, tourism and other areas, etc.
April 13, 2021