Center for National and International Studies
“…The war is an illness of humanity… It is time to recover…”
The FB community debates the controversy of the newly-opened Park of Military Trophies, follows the official reaction to the issue of the Iskander-M ballistic rocket, praises the publications in the European press – France, Germany and most recently in the UK – covering the army of trolls, violation of human rights and corruption in the country, decries the Ter-ter case, reacts with protest to another attack in the President’s speech against the founders of Azerbaijan modern nation-state and its current opposition, supports Joe Biden’s policies towards Russia, and mobilizes individual crowdfunding aid for the war-handicapped and families of victims.
Post-war situation. The issue of the official reaction to Russia’s peacekeepers and the disputed use of rockets Iskander continue to worry FB users. The activists note that Ilham Aliyev has at last spoken about the Iskander ballistic rockets, blaming Armenia, but sending a message to Russia too. Ilham Aliyev stated “We have not yet received an answer as to how the Iskanders got into the hands of Armenians”. Dmytri Peskov, press secretary of Putin, stated that this issue is the subject of bilateral talks. However, the issue is being discussed in rather a soft diplomatic way. The phenomenon of the new “Park of Military Trophies” is causing a lot of debates and controversy. While welcomed as a Museum of memory and tragic events in the history of Azerbaijanis, its implementation has caused criticism among activists and journalists. Igbal Agazade comments that such an opening is premature, because the sovereignty is not fully restored over the country’s territory. But such a park also is used as PR for the current leadership. The journalist Ruzgar Movsum argues that the exhibition on the boulevard only discredits the peaceful image of the Azerbaijani nation. He argues that even the executor of millions, Stalin, did not surmise to erect such an exhibition. He states that while he is strictly against the Armenia’s occupation and supports the liberation of the territories by the national army, this “cheap show” is totally wrong. “This region will still cry a lot… The war is an illness of humanity …It is time to recover”- he urges in conclusion. People report with indignation that attending the Park is not free of charge, and that government is trying to extract money out of the memory of the war victims. The journalists report the old problems in the army, spotting the illegal sale of the soldiers’ food rations in surrounding Karabagh areas. The activists comment with irony on contradictions in the president’s statements relating to Iskander-M, especially that he justified this contradiction in his speech at ADA (Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy) by the late discovery of the rocket’s remains due to the snowfall. The Azadlyg newspaper reflects this contradiction the following way: The President yesterday: “The conflict is over! Iskanders were not fired!” The President today: “The conflict remains, the Iskanders were fired!” Natig Jafarli of REAL considers that official Baku’s claims of Zangezur are not an expression of aggressive policies, but a means of pressure. He argues that if the states’ mediators will start pressing Baku on the issue of status for Karabagh, the only way to resist it is to claim return of and the same rights for Azerbaijanis in Zangezur.
Human rights. The Fb community continues to discuss the Ter-ter case. Achig Azerbaijan (Open Azerbaijan) gives a list of 11 known names of those killed during the investigation between May-July 2017. Osmangizi TV interviews prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus, currently in exile in the Netherlands. Yunus reports that there are currently 78 people in prison for terms from 12-20 years. The detained have gone through tortures, resulting in 12 deaths, to confess to state treason. FB users share with high concern information about the health of the journalist Afghan Sadigov, who has been 160 days on hunger strike in prison. The eco-activist Javid Gara reported that he, his friend Mushvig and the driver were detained and taken to the police office, while they were recording and making a story about Shaki garbage waste dump. They were later released with police assurance that work on its improvement was currently ongoing. FB users share and greet the article in the Guardian dedicated to the system of government trolls in Azerbaijan, the information blockade of the leader Ali Karimli and others. It reports that in October 2020, eight thousand FB and Instagram accounts connected to the ruling party YAP were deleted by FB’s administration. It notes that the targets of troll activities are Ali Karimli, Azadlyg newspaper, Azadlyg Radio, Azad Soz, Mikroskop Media and the political opposition. Earlier, the French newspaper Le Monde recorded the blackmail by the authorities against the leaders of the opposition using sex videos of the activists and their family members. FB also recalls recent coverage by the German media of the corruption scandal with involvement of the members of the Bundestag and Azerbaijan authorities. “That’s how Aliyev’s government popularizes Azerbaijan in the world” – Ali Karimli comments with irony. The activists remind their followers that it is been a year since Ali Karimli and his family members were deprived of internet communication. The human rights defender Rufat Safarov reports from the court hearing on the case of the Karabagh rally participants, that Lachin Veliyev, imprisoned on trumped-up charges, had been tortured but did not testify against the “Karabagh rally” prisoners. FB users share information about Alexei Navalni and his suing of the prison’s administration for prohibiting him from reading his copy of the Koran, under the excuse that the book should undergo a test on extremism. Three women citizens of the Turkan village, whose land plots were sold while they are alive, as they had been registered as deceased, declared a hunger strike. These are 91-year old Khumara Shabanova, 80-year old Azizkhanim Atayeva, and 76-year old Tamara Suleymanova. In spite the aggravation of their health and ambulance visit, they announced that until their demands were satisfied, they would not stop their hunger strike. The activists, journalists and bloggers spread the report of the International Committee Against Tortures on the crimes in connection with the Ter-ter case, where also the staged “car accident” of human rights defender Ogtay Gulaliyev, involved in publicizing this case, is mentioned. The reports states that the exact number of those arrested is still not known. Local sources give a blood-chilling interview to the Turkish media of mother of one of the victims of the Ter-ter case the killed Colonel Elchin Guliyev, Valida Ahmadova.
Tofig Yagublu reports pressure on the former member of ruling party YAP, Elvar Mirzaoglu, who left the party in protest at its policies. They have threatened him with opening a criminal case, but he asserts that all their attempts to intimidate Elvar will fail.
Democracy and power-society relations. Vahid Maharramli, the member of PFP presidium, compares the dictatorship in Azerbaijan and Belarus in Azadlyg newspaper. He compares the living standards, using a range of statistical data on the economy and social indicators from both states, and shows that they are higher in resource-poor Belarus. Unlike in Azerbaijan, Belarus has introduced child benefits, and the price of food staples there is 25-30% lower. People again decry the attacks on the opposition in the president’s opening speech at the new park. Igbal Agazade notes yet another insult levied at the opposition in the President’s speech, which he explains by his insecurity. Ali Karimli comments “Have you ever seen another head of state who would refer to the Army leadership on the opposition as an enemy?” He argues that there is no such normal country, whose president would speak about the internal rather than the external enemy to his military elite, that his main purpose is to distract people from social and political problems in the country, accumulated as a result of his governance, and to put the blame on the opposition. He calls people to protest en masse in a peaceful way. Seymur Hezi compares the attempt of the coup in Russia in 1991 and in Azerbaijan in 1993. He argues that the government of the Popular Front, while taking power from communists in 1992, passed it to NKVD in 1993. In case of Russia that lasted 3 days, while in Azerbaijan – for 30 years. He concludes that the PFP government also has a share of – even if only moral – responsibility for this event. The activists analyse and generalize the characteristics of the trolls’ activities. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev for instance, in reaction to the trolls’ activities in the case of the Accord revelations of bribery, argues that there is the following cliché which they are using: “Russia cannot digest that Aliyev won the war, and now wants to create a coup against him, hence this accusation of bribes by Accord, so we need to unite around the president in the hard times”. Natig Jafarli states on his timeline, that if not ADR (Azerbaijan Democratic Republic 1918-1920) there would not be any current Azerbaijan republic, Baku would not be its capital, the geographic term Azerbaijan would not turn into a name of a country – “Long live the founders of ADR!” – he concludes. He also criticizes the renaming the Nobel street into 8th November (day of victory) street, as this name was already given to a metro station, while the contribution of Nobel to Azerbaijani history was unique and the street name should remain unchanged. The historian Jamil Hasanli has written an answer to the speech of the president Aliyev at the opening of the Park of Military Trophies. He argues that accusing the founders of the modern-nation state of Azerbaijan of treason is simply political nonsense. He proves that while Heydar Aliyev was a member of the Soviet politburo, he could not avoid voting for various pro-Armenian decisions, such as the resolution on the “Work with Armenians abroad” with financial support to major publications/periodicals of the Armenian Diaspora. In addition, in 1981 he decreed an extension of rights of the autonomy – such as that one cannot change the administrative structure of the autonomous region without the consensus of the NKAO Soviet, etc. The youth leader and former political prisoner Ilkin Rustamzade has presented his new book describing his 6 years’ prison experience. The signing procedure took place in one of the bookstores and caused a lot of attention among civil society, journalists and political opposition. The youth leader Bakhtiyar Hajiyev writes on the risks associated with the criticism of the government in Azerbaijan. First, he argues that whatever progress has been achieved so far – it was done under the pressure of society and government critics by means of publicising the problems and arranging various public campaigns. To be critical and protect the rights of people, often little known in society, means to turn state structures and their heads into one’s own enemy, tolerate hundreds of attacks of trolls, or pressure of pro-government journalists and MPs. If the government critics did not exist, the authorities would fully control society like in North Korea. Even with the existing resistance, some bureaucrat’s son still abuses his power; one can imagine what it would be like if there was no resistance at all. He urges his followers to defend and protect the government critics, because they are the last hope for a better future, and they are not the ones who steal people’s billions and consider them slaves.
Economy, governance, corruption. The e-media reports that the enterprise of SOCAR’s president Rovnag Abdullayev is being taken away from him. His spa-centre ‘Relax’ was sued by the Regional Lenkoran Forest Management office of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. The economic experts stress the decline of economic indicators in Azerbaijan, including that of oil income by 43% and the nominal income of population by 4% in the first quarter of 2021, as compared to 2020. Gubad Ibadoglu, visiting professor at Rutgers University warns of the further decline of economic-social indicators during the year and suggests conducting a round table devoted to the issue. BIZ TV stream discusses the issue of the alleged 100m bribe to the ruling family by the former owner of Accord enterprise, as well as violations of human rights in the Ter-ter case. The 100m bribe continues to be the hot topic on FB. Political and civil leaders, and journalists place their comments and share updates related to this burning issue. Ganimat Zahid reveals the details of the Accord enterprise and its activities, showing that it created 13 companies in 2015 and received $billions in state contracts (the official number in 2013 on their website was already $1b 700m). He describes a complex scheme of corruption with the complicit involvement of the state, oligarchs and foreign actors. The blogger Mehman Huseynov has posted a photo of himself at the computer with upper part dressed officially in tie and jacket, while the lower part – without trousers. He comments that he usually reports his corruption investigations this way. But the bureaucrats are not learning lessons from his upper body’s corruption reports, because they are much more interested in the lower part of bodies. Their minds are involved in dirty affairs. He concludes by wishing that one day the government would become more interested in his reports than his underpants. The FB users also share the story of Habil Aliguliyev, who owned the land (1,800 sq.m) but his neighbour registered part of it under her name and sold it in 2020 to the vice-president’s cousin Jalal Pashayev (one of the Pasha-Bank shareholders). Fuad Gahramanli of PFP describes the mechanism of corruption in the conditions of limited flight communication with Russians under quarantine. He reports that various companies – travel agencies, besides providing for the flight tickets, also get fake certificates from the state structures, confirming, for instance, that a passenger has family members in Russia or elsewhere. The resulting price of the tickets is a few times higher than the original one. The Azadlyg newspaper reports the destruction of the historical 18th century mosque by the company building the road in the liberated Gubadli region, allegedly by negligence. The Mosque was under the protection of the state according to decree#132 adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers on 2 August 2001; it was used as a pigsty during the years of occupation. FB users report that Baku is being closed again for the Formula 1 contest. Natig Jafarli exposes recent economic statistics in the country and reports that the population spends 70-75% of its income on food, which means that it belongs to the category of poor countries.
Social issues. The Baku city is increasingly turning into a “slum” city, stated MP Fazil Mustafa, who blamed the arbitrariness of the bureaucrats, which people escape by moving to the capital. The opposition leaders, journalists and FB users continue to report individual cases of the war handicapped who are left without state support and with no resources to treat urgent health issues. They share and comment on the dire condition of health and living conditions of the war-wounded Tarverdiyev Shahmar, from the village of Ovchulu in Agdash region, whose state of health is critical, and whose family having sold everything to treat him, have run out of all resources. The FB community is organizing a collection of donations to help Shahmar and his family. Tofig Yagublu attracts his followers’ attention to the acute health problem of the 4-year old citizen of Tovuz region, Igid Rustamov, who not only is deprived of child benefits, but even – in spite of the hard surgery on his heart – of the category of handicapped and the allowance of 200 manats. The FB users decry and share the video appeal of the war hero who has lost his hand and eye, is seriously wounded and handicapped, but was given the lower category of handicap with reduced compensation, which is not enough to support his 5 family members and rented apartment. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR alerts the population to the arbitrariness of the bureaucracy and urges them to sign up to the site my.gov.az to check the content of their profile and if needed, to file a complaint. He reported that this way his daughter and some of his friends discovered that they were fined 200 manats for alleged violation of the quarantine rules. The FB users suggest that the reason why the pension age in the country was increased is that according to statistics, 41% of the population actually die before reaching 65 years old. The economic expert Gubad Ibadoglu stresses with high concern the increasing statistics of the death rate among the population and suggests that it reflects both the state of the economy and social problems (including suicides) – unemployment, poverty, as well as the state of the health system.
Perception of Russia. Russia will never become a great power, argues Natig Jafarli of REAL, because she thinks narrowly and behaves in a trivial manner … either puts an embargo on tomatoes, or prohibits tourism. This time it stopped for two weeks all the flights to Turkey, from 15th April to 1st June, in protest at the bilateral meeting of Ukraine’s Zelenski and Turkey’s Erdogan, the statement in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and signing numerous agreements on cooperation, first of all in economic and military fields. Turkey has also declared it is joining the Crimea Platform. He argues that Azerbaijan has never benefitted from too close relations between Russia and Turkey, on the contrary, the cracks in these relations will be beneficial for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan in turn should strongly support official Kiev.
Perception of Biden’s policies. The local media considers Biden’s call to Putin on April 13th as a warning. He expressed concern with the accumulation of military personnel on the borders with Ukraine and in the Crimea and called on Putin to decrease the tension. He also expressed a resolute readiness to defend US national interests against cyber-attacks and election interference. He suggested developing stable and predictable relations between the two states and to organize a summit in a third country.
Relations in the region. The FB community reports on the visit of Lukashenka to Baku and his unofficial meeting with Ilham Aliyev. It shares quotations from the conversation of Belarus president Lukashenka, who said to Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev: “You are very correct, when you said that our political and economic relations are multifaceted, correct and nothing can damage them. We do not bother anyone, and nobody should bother us, because if one wants to do something, it is difficult to prevent it.”
April 16, 2021