Center for National and International Studies



“… The 20th of January is not over for Azerbaijan …”

The FB community discusses the developments in Karabagh and activities of the Russian peacekeepers, the speech by Russia foreign minister Lavrov, the fate of Russia’s opposition leader Navalny and of democracy in the region, the situation with COVID-19 in the country; commemorates 20th January 1990 with the entrance of Soviet tanks into Baku, comments on the economy, corruption and poverty, and debates future policies of the newly-elected president of the USA, Joe Biden.

Situation in Karabagh. The uncertainty in Karabagh continues to be a top theme of social networks. People are worried about the issue of status, Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, Russia’s interests, and the position of the government. The newspapers report that Karabagh Armenians blocked the road to Agdere, claiming that if they do not get any access from Kelbajar to Basarkecher, they will not let Azerbaijanis go to Kelbajar.  The Russian military continue to call the region not Karabagh, but Artsakh, stresses the newspaper.  FB users call it trolling, when the MP of the ruling party Siyavush Novruzov says that these are not Russian troops, but Russian peacekeepers in the country. The activists, journalists and bloggers discuss the statement by Russia foreign minister Lavrov on 18th January, who said that the issue of status should be resolved by Armenia and Azerbaijan, while Russia will help in finding ways to provide peace and stability in the region. The media discusses the plans of Russia to develop a drone program for Armenia.   Osmangizi TV reveals that the reason for Aliyev’s silence about Russian peacekeepers is that Russia is working on getting an international mandate for its peacekeeping forces in the country. She also warns that Russia will distribute Russian passports to Karabagh Armenians, asserting that it must protect its citizens. People continue to comment on the trilateral agreements signed in Moscow, arguing that it left many unclear issues, such as status, return of the IDPs and others. The MP ruling party representative Siyavush Novruzov has denied information spread by social networks regarding situation in Karabagh, arguing that “Turkey is at the negotiating table”, “Lavrov can say anything, but it does not reflect a reality”, “there are not Russian troops, but Russian peacekeepers in the country”, “the armed groups were withdrawn both from Khojali and Khankendi”.  The political analyst and the former advisor to President Heydar Aliyev, Eldar Namazov, gave an interview analysing the statement by the Russian foreign minister and answers the question of the seeming contradiction between his and official Baku’s statements. He argues that neither Lavrov nor Azerbaijai authorities ever spoke about stopping the activities of the Minsk group. Lavrov only mentioned – not without irony – that there will be enough work for the Minsk group, which may take care of the protection of historical monuments. Neither did he see contradictions in the issue on status, mentioning that both Lavrov and Aliyev spoke about status of Karabagh as a matter of the distant future, that the Azerbaijani IDPs should return first, so both communities could start joint cohabitation. Regarding the dissonance in vision of visits of officials of Armenia to Karabagh, Namazov sharply criticized the remark by Lavrov, that “there is no problem in these visits”, as contradicting both the trilateral agreement and basic norms of international law and diplomatic etiquette, because Azerbaijan did not in principle refuse creation of the corridor. However, he stresses, Russian peacekeepers do not have authority to decide who can and who cannot enter the territory of Azerbaijan, which they violated in case of a visit of Armenian Foreign Minister and the French MPs. He called Lavrov’s statement “an easy-minded and provocative” one.

Namazov considers that the Azerbaijani side has already expressed its position on this issue – which is it will not allow using peacekeeping as a “cover” for revival of separatism and revanchist movement on its land. He connected the 20th January with the 44-day war, concluding that Azerbaijan had learnt the lessons of history and was not going to repeat mistakes of the past, when it underestimated the cost of separatism and territorial claims of its neighbours.

Commemoration of “Black January”. Webinars and Zoom meetings have been conducted, publications and comments posted, commemorating the entrance on 20th January 1990 of Soviet troops into Baku on the decision of the Ministry of Defence Yazov and general secretary of CPSU Gorbachov. This resulted in the death of more than 150 people, with 700 wounded, leading to the unprecedented unification of society. Ali Karimli and his party reported that the authorities created obstacles during their visit to the cemetery where the victims were buried. He states, that despite so many victims, the people and their spirit were not defeated. He reminds readers that 31 years ago un-armed civilians, including children, old people, women, came to confront 800 tanks and military heavy equipment and 32,000 troops sent by Moscow. The population responded by a 1m strong rally and general strike. He calls 20th January the day of national mass heroism. Isa Gambar of Musavat recalls his statement of 2018, that for Azerbaijan, 20th January has not finished yet. He explained it by the fact, that Russian imperialism, as well as the realization of this policy by Putin’s regime is a reality and still inhibits Azerbaijan from full independence. “There are people in our government who, for the sake of their career, are ready to implement any instruction from Moscow. If they are told tomorrow to restore the Soviet Union, bring Russian troops in – they will sign it too… The factors which caused 20th January today are again at play in full force”. The activist in exile, Ramis Yunus, writes in his timeline: “Today is a day of mourning in Azerbaijan, also known as Black Saturday or the January Massacre, was a violent crackdown on the civilian population of Baku on 19–20 January 1990. 31 years ago, on the night of January 20, units of the Soviet Army entered the city of Baku to suppress opposition-minded people who resisted the Soviet regime, which resulted in the death of more than a hundred civilians. Similar events occurred earlier in Alma-Ata (1986), in Minsk (1988), in Tbilisi (1989), later in Dushanbe (1990), in Vilnius and Riga (1991), where Soviet citizens also became victims. It was the agony of the communist regime, which just before its collapse, showed its real face to the citizens of the country. My deepest condolences and Rest in Peace…”

Bureaucrats and officials in turn are avoiding too much publicity on this issue fearing parallels with the Russian peacekeeping forces. Polad Bul-bul Oglu, the Azerbaijan Ambassador to Russia, is quoted as saying; “Modern Azerbaijan will never link this horrible day with a democratic Russia”. The opposition and independent experts argue that 31 years after the people died for the freedom of their country, the entrance of Russian troops cannot leave them unconcerned. Ilkin Rustamzade decries attempts of some officials to distinguish (in response to ambassador Bul-bul Oglu’s statement) between the Soviet Union and Russia, saying that the events of 20th January were committed by the Russian empire and the people will never forget it, and calls the ambassador jokingly “Polad Ivan-Oglu”.  One of the activists called the ambassador’s Bul bul oglu’s statement “an insult to Azerbaijani people”. The local media shares the 20-year old statement of Pashinian with reference to the Armenian media, where he expressed his condolences to the Azerbaijani victims of 20th January.

Problems of troops and families of the war heroes. The reports about social problems of the war heroes continue to arrive. The families of 12 martyrs of Shahseven1 village of Beylagan region few months after still wait state aid from the local heads of executive power for their sons and husbands to be buried.  FB reports decrease of salaries for the troops on the front line two times (from 1,200 to 600 manats). They also share the information of poor condition of the troops in the Lachin region, as shown by Meydan TV.

Restoration of the liberated territories. FB quotes President Aliyev on the restoration of the liberated territories, speaking about the rich resources of these lands. He seems to respond to the criticism of the opposition and civil society who was warning about how problems of governance, first of all corruption, can be a barrier in the process of restoration. The president criticised corruption and corrupt bureaucrats, insisting that “we have to clean ourselves of these shortcomings and we are doing that”. He states that everything is totally destroyed on these territories, but “we should build such a model of development that can be spread to the other parts of the country too”.

The fate of Navalny. The FB community discusses the arrest of Russian opposition leader Navalny. The leader of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan Ali Karimli lists reactions of the Western governments, indicating the importance of the fate of opposition leader in Western policies. He mentions statements by Mike Pompeo, Jack Sullivan, EU Charles Michelle, Ursula von der Leyen, David Sassoli, Josep Borrell of EU, NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, Germany’s Angela Merkel, French Foreign Ministry, UK Foreign Minister Dominique Raab – all demanding his immediate release. He concludes that 30 days’ detention is a temporary sentence, as Putin will monitor the international and domestic reaction before deciding on the next step. The controversy in perception of Navalny is reflected in Azerbaijan’s social networks too. But Emil Salim the leader of the youth branch of Popular Front Party (PFP) argues that those who say that Navalny will be worse than Putin, were saying that Trump is better for Azerbaijan than Biden, while earlier asserting the preference of Lukashenka as compared to opposition leaders “for the sake of state interests”. He states that the struggle of authoritarianism with democracy is proceeding at a world scale, and it is very natural that Azerbaijan people show solidarity with democrats and democracy. Similar ideas are expressed by Seymur Hezi of PFP, who argues that renewal of the Russian political system is beneficial for Azerbaijan.  The newspapers report Navalny’s appeal to the people from prison to protest in the streets and tells that there is rally already planned for 23rd January. Fuad Gahramanli argues that whatever Putin chooses to do will only increase the ratings of Navalny and decrease its own. Ilkin Rustamzade asserts that those who say Navalny is a person of the Kremlin, or cannot compete with Putin, or is not a politician – are people with a Soviet way of thinking. Although Navalny is a chauvinist, and is not ideal, is not like Nemtsov, nevertheless acts with courage against Putin and is worth respect and admiration. People share the new film by Navalny about the corrupt riches of Putin. The opposition activist Sadyghli argues that if even 10% of what is reflected in this film is true, then Putin has problems with his psychic health.

Economy, corruption and poverty. The FB community continues to discuss various cases of corruption. Isa Gambar of Musavat notes the trait of Aliyev’s government. When it cannot resolve the problem of some state structure, it replaces the head of that agency, and then creates a structure parallel to this agency, instead of changing the rules in the latter. For instance, instead of eradicating corruption at some Ministry, it created agencies like Asan service, Dost-service etc. This process continues nowadays, he argues, as the oligarchs are replaced gradually by managers. The journalist Shaveled Chobanoglu writes that 6m manats stolen by the chair of State Fund for Media Support, Vugar Safarli, were in fact allocated for the elimination of the (independent) media. He argues that while misappropriation of money from the fund is a crime, the very creation of this fund is even a greater crime. FB journalists describe poverty in the country. Laman Asharfgizi tells story of how older people cannot afford even buying the liver of the chicken, and with new prohibitions cannot do it on credit, as before, when the shopkeeper sold them the food keeping a record of their debt. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF argues that planned building of the Central Bank for 218m Euro is shaking the whole country, as such spending contradicts the state of Azerbaijan economy, especially after gasoline price rises, the situation with the families of war heroes, COVID problems etc. She demands on behalf of the NCDF immediate cancellation of the plans of building the Central Bank, diverting these funds to the actual priorities of the country. The activists and journalists continue to compare costs of mega plans of construction in the city and assurances by the authorities that there is enough money for social benefits. MP Vahid Ahmadov, member of the Committee on Economy, Policy, Industry and Entrepreneurship, suggests that the fund, instead of being used to build the bank, should be redirected to the restoration of the liberated territories. Habib Muntazir notes that because they sell gas to Europe, the authorities, due to the deficit, has cut the domestic supply to the regions of the country. Under the excuse of an “accident”, they cut off the gas supply to Hajigabul, Lankaran, Neftchala, Sabirabad, Gobustan and other regions. He suggests that before they provide any gas supply to the bureaucrats’ enterprises, they had better do it for the population which pays for it, so they do not freeze.

COVID-19. The FB community shares the statement made by the chair of TABIB (Office of Territorial Regional Medical Service), Ramin Bayramli, who provided information about the Chinese vaccine CoronaVAC to be applied in Azerbaijan, which is safe and was already administered to 1m citizens in Turkey without any complications. He spoke about temporary side effects, such as headache, weakness, light fever and that those vaccinated stay under control in the clinics for half an hour. He called the vaccine “a light in the tunnel” for the doctors and invited everyone to be vaccinated. The first who was vaccinated were the Minister of Health, and the heads of two other state health care agencies. The activists note with irony, that it is good to start vaccination with the officials and MPs, and if there are no complications – it can apply to the rest of the population.

Human rights.  The activists report new charges against Niyamaddin Ahmadov, the arrested bodyguard of the leader of the Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli. He was charged based on articles 233.1 and 281. The previous charges were related to article 214.1 (financing terrorism) He was permitted to meet or call his family members only after 9 months in isolation. Osmangizi TV expresses a suggestion that the government might be preparing for a new referendum to transfer to the partially proportional system of elections. The social networks write about life-threatening situation with the health of the prominent human rights defender, Ogtay Gulaliyev, who was hit by a car in 2019. His son reports an irregular supply of medicine and nurses in spite of instruction by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation to the Ministry of Health and TABIB system. The nurses are provided only for the day time, while there has not been  any supply of the medicine. He reports on high cost of the latter (1 month’s medicine costs 8,000manat) and the impossibility of providing it on his own. He also complains that since returning from Turkey, none of the doctors of the City Hospital, which was sued by the family, were brought to court. He posts a letter urging the General Prosecutor to start court hearings to further their complaint against the doctors of the City Hospital.

Reductions at SOCAR.  Mirvari Gahramanli and her NGO, on the protection of rights of oil workers, continue to inform the oil community on the rights and decrees which protect those rights recently issued. She argues that although in April 2020 the president prohibited firing the workers, the SOCAR president had violated the prohibition, and started the firing. The complaints about arbitrarily appointed tests in the oil company has already led to the firing of 47 people, some of whom are over 60 years old. Gahramanli and her NGO continue to inform the community about the legislation, where the priorities in retaining jobs are given to the families of martyrs, war participants, having 2 or more underage (less than 16yrs) dependents.

Inauguration of Biden.  The FB community discusses the change of presidents in the US, and policy changes with the election of Joe Biden. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR states that while Trump before departing had pardoned 73 people, and softened the punishment of 70 prisoners, the Azerbaijani authorities still do not care much that according to a recent report by the local Alliance for Freedom of Political Prisoners there are 146 political prisoners in the country. He stresses that 46th President Biden has already signed 17 decrees after inauguration, including lifting prohibition on visas and refuge to the citizens of states with Muslim populations. The administration already declared plans to give an 8-year roadmap to 11m refugees without status, to stop building the wall on the borders with Mexico, to make sanctions to Russia stricter, and to expand trade and economic relations with China. He notes that Democrats also won the majority in the Congress, which strengthens their position. The only problem is their close connection to the Armenian lobby, but most probably, he argues, this factor will be weakened after elections.

Relations with France. The local media posted a tweet from the Ambassador of France to the Azerbaijan Zachary Gross, devoted to 20th January. “On this day in 1990, Soviet troops opened fire on the civilians of Baku.  More than 130 ordinary citizens died.  In less than 2 years Azerbaijan announced its independence”

January 22, 2021