Center for National and International Studies
“…Thousands of citizens are targeted… The government monitors both its opponents and its agents…”
The FB community discusses the goals of Russian-Azerbaijani meetings, continues to share and comment on the Pegasus scandal with secret monitoring of activists by the authorities, discredits the statement by Allahshukur Pashazade on the role of alleged Khameneyi’s fatva in Karabagh war, writes about pressing social issues and problems with water and electricity supply, interprets the firing of the 4 vice-presidents of SOCAR, warns about climate change effect in the country and praises European aspirations of the three states at the meeting in Batumi.
The FB community express their concern with the Armenian army firing at the Nakhichevan Sadarak region. They share news that ex-president Robert Kocharian, who was the candidate from the block of Armenia (Hayastan) refused his mandate of MP, but remains leader of the block and is not leaving the political struggle. The experts of Osmangizi TV argue that Russia is trying to create a divide between Azerbaijan and Turkey. The chair of the AG Party, Tural Abbasli, argues that the 44-day war gave a stimulus for the formation of a new generation in the country, as his generation experienced a period with several traumas. People discuss the statement by Allah Shukur Pashazade, that Khameneyi of Iran issued a fatwa: “Karabagh is the Muslim land” and that this fatwa played an important role in the victory of Azerbaijan. Tofig Yagublu said that first of all, there was no such fatwa issued by Khamenei, and even if there was, this statement does not reflect the support of Azerbaijan. “Since when has Iran supported Azerbaijan?” – a rhetorical question put by the human rights defender Rufat Safarov. The other activists, such as Yadigar Sadighli, argue that the unique solidarity and sacrifice of all ethnic and confessional groups during the 44-day war in Karabagh was not provoked by the call of Ilham Aliyev, or the fatwa of Seyid Khameneyi, but the sense of injustice lasting for 26 years. The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli notes that the head of the Caucasian Muslims, Pashazade, is playing the Iranian card, as most probably he is out of favor in Russia. The idea of “proposals, based on compromise” expressed by Putin at his meeting with Ilham Aliyev caused a lot of discussion and concern among FB users. Panah Huseyn of the AXP (Azerbaijan People’s Party) argues that proposals based on compromise are possible only after the signing of the peace agreement unconditionally recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The FB community also shares news that Pashinian and 15 MPs of his party refused their mandates – to occupy official positions. This is assessed by some activists, such as Jafarli of REAL, that system in Armenia is sophisticated, with checks and balances.
Relations with Russia. Activists discuss the role of Russia and the most recent developments in the area of Russia–Azerbaijan relations. People widely discuss Putin’s call to Aliyev to compromise on the Karabagh issue. F. Gahramanli of PFP argues that President Aliyev’s visit to Moscow is the reaction of Putin to the trilateral statement on European aspirations in Batumi by three states, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, with participation of the president of the European Council, Charles Michel. However, this meeting, along with the planned visit of the Russian delegation is not just about the economy, as officially declared, because Russia with its GDP less than that of Italy, can hardly be an attractive alternative to the economy of the EU. He argues that the main goal of Russia, who understands her limited capacity to compete with the EU economically, is to prevent Azerbaijan’s integration in the EU, provide for its joining CSTO and block its military-political cooperation with Turkey, retaining diplomatic and political control over Karabagh issue and awarding international status to the Russian ‘peacekeepers’. This means, he concludes, that Putin will put before Aliyev new conditions and responsibilities contradicting Azerbaijan’s national interests. Natig Jafarli speculates on Russia’s status and policy in the region. He argues, that so far at least, in the short mid-term perspective, Russia is a winner. It saves on Armenia, by leaving aid to the West, which just allocated billions to her, but retains its firm control over Armenia – through keeping troops, protecting borders, controlling 70% of the economy, and on top of this, Russia’s business will benefit from Western aid.
But if Armenia”gets confused” and follows fully the anti-Moscow path, he continues, Russia has another serious means of pressure – Azerbaijan. For instance, as soon as it happens, Azerbaijan may raise the issue of Zangezur or Irevan, leading to tension in Yerevan, and resulting in the arriving to power of Kocharyan, who puts an end to the Western path of Armenia. That’s why, explains Jafarli, Kocharyan refused his MP mandate, but kept his faction in the new parliament. Russia also keeps under control Azerbaijan by locating her troops under disguise of peacekeepers. In case of changes in the country she will apply all range of means of pressure – will block imports of tomatoes, will start to deport Azerbaijani guest workers from Russia, the ceasefire will be frequently violated and Hadrut and Shusha will be targeted. The advantage of Armenia, considers Jafarli, is that it managed to build more sophisticated political system, more potentially flexible in reaction. He concludes that building of a more advanced governance system in Azerbaijan is exceedingly important in order to consolidate the victory of the 44-days war.
International relations. The activist Dashgin Aghalarli reports on the 23 day-long vigil action of the opposition activist in exile, Samir Ashurov, who is protesting at the decision of the German authorities to deport him to Azerbaijan. Aghalarli comments with bitterness that the swindlers managed to stay as political refugees in Germany, while a true democracy activist is deported. He expresses solidarity and wishes success to Ashurov. FB users also share the information that German TV prepared a report about Zamin Salayev’s protest vigil. The Azadlyg newspaper reports the Turkish popular actor and film director Ilyas Salman called for the release of journalist and political prisoner Polad Aslanov. Azadlyg newspaper writes about newly elected president of Peru, Pedro Castilla, who refused the presidential salary, and expressed his intention to retain his salary of a teacher. The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli observes that every time the new topic is discussed on FB, a certain number of fake profiles from Iran appears among his FB friends. The activists also share the information about the creation of an investigative commission in Israel in connection with monitoring of 13 presidents and prime ministers by Pegasus. The Commission includes the Ministry of Justice, Mossad, the Foreign Ministry, Military and Civilian Intelligence Agencies. The local newspaper in the Russian language, Zerkalo, has published an article by Yurii Rayhel on Russia-US relations, and on material reflected in the recent sensational article in The Guardian about Russia’s promotion of Trump to the presidency. The article also mentions the inevitable defeat of Russia, who chose the way of escalation of military confrontation with the US, thinking that the West will compromise, unwilling to get involved in it. However, the previous experience of the Cold War proved that this might not be the case, especially since Russia’s capability in the military field pales compared to that of the Soviet Union.
Social problems. In these hot summer days, the citizens of the country have been feeling the shortcomings of the energy and water supply systems. FB users write about problems in Garachuhur settlement near Baku, where for three days the electricity supply constantly fluctuates. The activists point to the destructive role of corruption. Azadlyg newspaper writes about problems with the water supply in the village Chayirli of Gobustan region, which is especially devastating in the extremely hot weather. The local citizens complained to the newspaper about interruption of the water supply by the AzerSu state company and in spite of their numerous appeals to the company, it remained indifferent.” It feels like the government has forgotten about the village”, they say in their letter to the newspaper. “How can one speak about development in the country, which in the 21st century still has such problems with its water supply?” The same newspaper wrote about the prohibition by the Mingechavir head of executive power to build a spring to commemorate the war martyrs. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR expresses his concern with the new draft law “On Education” as it will further restrict the independence of the educational agencies, academic freedom of programs, financial autonomy and would only strengthen administrative and fiscal centralization. He strongly suggests before submitting it to the parliament to arrange the draft’s wide public discussions. The Azadlyg newspaper publishes the heartbreaking story by an author under the pseudonym Hemingway Akif, who describes the exploitative labor policy of the current regime. He reports the job advert, which requires 12 working hours with only one day off per month for unloading trucks – for only 400 manats’ monthly salary ($200), the value of which is even less in the expensive capital city Baku. “Wherever you look – unhappy families, aggressive people…” He concludes that the people who live such lifestyles can hardly find any force to struggle. Another case of neglect and impotence of state structures is reported by Meydan TV, which tells the story of two families, whose house was put under risk of destruction by building the new Buta clinic too close to it. Many years of complaint by Aybeniz Aliyeva to various state organs, including the Narimanov region’s head of executive, did not lead to any result.
Governance, economy, corruption. People discuss the firing of 4 vice-presidents of SOCAR, Bahram Huseynov, Tofig Gahramanov, David Mammadov and Mikail Ismayilov. The economist and opposition leader Gubad Ibadoglu comments that some time ago he predicted changes in the leadership of the company. According to the president’s decree, the problems of SOCAR were supposed to be studied and the diagnosis reported to the president. Ibadoglu writes that unfortunately the results of the diagnosis were not made public, although McKinsey company discovered serious mistakes in SOCAR’s work. The investigative journalist in exile Habib Muntazir considers it is not enough to fire M. Imsayilov, the legality of his property should be also seriously investigated. He also reports the death of the sergeant of the border troops, 29 year-old Hasan Mammadov, who died by allegedly jumping out of the car which was taking him to the punishment cell. The family asserts he was killed. Muntazir demands a serious monitoring mechanism of the investigation. The activists note that there is a probability that the monitoring of the telephone conversations of people cost more than half a billion to the government. Wishing the society happy Gurban Bayram (Muslim holiday) one of the activists wrote: “I hope God saves our people from being victims (victim is gurban in Azerbaijani language) of the Aliyevs”. The human rights defender Elshan Hasanov reports on the desperate condition of the retired, whose pensions are cut again, and the handicapped, who are not given the appropriate category when registered. He considers that in the situation when the bureaucrats, the president’s ‘assistants’, are taking billions out of the country to build numerous luxurious villas, who organise the war- handicapped’s beatings, the reduction of pensions is act of pure banditism. He points to Sahil Babayev, the Minister of Labour and Social Protection, who is responsible for this decision. Azadlyg newspaper wrote for instance that the person who lost his leg as a result of being blown up on a landmine received only the 3rd category of handicapped. G. Ibadoglu comments on the introduction of mandatory health insurance in Baku and Sumqayit cities and assesses these policies as unsatisfactory and bearing a formal character. Although there is a mandatory withdrawal of a fee from salaries as part of the health insurance, there is no adequate health service for this money. Gubad Ibadoglu of ADR attracts attention to the 3 buildings of the free apartments for the journalists, allocated by decree of the President. He recalls that the executive director of the State Support Fund for the Mass Media was arrested for the corruption in construction of the two buildings of 22m manat and 21m manat, but there is no information on the cost of the third building. There is no information on whom the government will be allocating flats to in the third building, either.
Liberal freedoms. After the sensational publication by OCCRP the issue of freedom of media, privacy and expression occupies important place in the FB discussions. The FB community shares the lists of journalists and activists who were monitored by the authorities via Pegasus spying system. Osmangizi TV comments that (President) Aliyev monitors everyone, and the list includes also those journalists and activists who were killed. In the other stream, she interviews journalist Mehriban Vezir on the issue of censorship and the conditions of the development of journalism in the country. Tofig Yagublu speaks about the cyber-attack of the government on his status about monitoring – deleting it – explaining ‘monitoring’ as a powerful means of blackmail and keeping everyone under control as constituting an exclusive capacity of the authorities.
The chair of the Line of Defence organization, Rufat Safarov, posts the statement of the NGO, which considers the monitoring of journalists and activists as dangerous and unconstitutional behaviour directed against human rights, democratic values, freedom of media and freedom of assembly. The statement argues that the Azerbaijan government yet did not present its comments on the information. The Line of Defence demands that the Prosecutor General should start a criminal case on this matter, to give an adequate legal assessment, and to conduct a comprehensive and objective investigation. It also includes demands for restoration of rights which were violated and provision of compensation to the victims. The organization concludes with the necessity to conduct parliamentary hearings on this case of mass violations of law, a serious survey of the government and to take respective legal and governance measures to prevent such cases in the future. The journalist from Lenkoran, Shamshad Aga, confirms the facts revealed by OCCRP, commenting that all dictators are afraid of their citizens, because they understand that these will be citizens that will ultimately hold them responsible for theft and lawlessness. The academic historian and opposition leader, Jamil Hasanli, reports on his FB timeline that right after the publication of the OCCRP investigation they came to replace his old modem with the new one and for free. He calls it one of 10 possible ways the authorities monitor his and his family’s activities. He recalls that while he was in Baku, they already replaced his modem once under the excuse of “improving the communication quality in the apartment building”, but for some reason replaced it only in three flats. He notes that unlike journalists and civil activists, in the case of opposition members, the telephones of all the family were monitored – including their children. He comments that it is a state crime and an attack on the constitutional rights of citizens. They even installed illegal GPS devices on people’s car numbers. The other issue he attracts attention to is that both Bayram Mammadov, who allegedly ‘drowned’ in the sea – and his father – were also monitored by the Pegasus system. Hasanli stresses that usually the state organ that realises the function of following and monitoring opposition activists is the State Security Services and he and his colleagues have experienced it before the most recent high technological means were created, but it did acquire a total nature during the rule of Ilham Aliyev. Hasanli also notes the role of the presidential security service and the Ministry of Interior in the monitoring. He adds that the President, who is at the top of all these decisions, has not only bought the spying program and devices from Israel, but sometime ago even brought in experts from there, who also trained cadres. So, this is the scheme revealing how the autocrats are using the devices, technology and know-how of the anti-terrorist struggle imported from the West, to fight their internal opponents. Rauf Arifoglu, of the loyal-to-the-government New Musavat newspaper, reports that 3 correspondents of his newspaper were monitored, according to the OCCRP. He quotes the letter of the deputy director of OCCRP, who wrote to Arifoglu that he had been the victim of illegal monitoring since 2019 and asked him for cooperation in their investigation. Arifoglu commented that he will contact the organization but at the same time will continue to observe what he called “the theatre of the absurd”. He asks the question: Why are Azerbaijani authorities monitoring not Robert Kocharian, but its own citizens? Israel invented this device to monitor Palestinian activists, but then this product of the NSO became very popular all over the world. He notes that in spite of its global nature, the other countries were left backstage and all attention is on Azerbaijan and considers this is directed towards the destruction of the solidarity of the nation, demonstrated during the 44-day war and discrediting the country-victor. He considers that the composition of the list of those monitored is the evidence of his thesis, as it includes many” not so serious personalities, who cannot be holders of some secret information”. On the contrary, Bahtiyar Hajiyev sees the presence of even those loyal to the authorities in the list as evidence of the approaching end of Ilham Aliyev’s power. He describes how I. Aliyev since 2003 step by step was firing or arresting people, whom he was obligated to for strengthening his power and support. The journalist Ganimad Zahidov argues: “There is no statehood in Azerbaijan, it was fully destroyed, and whatever we have now – is not called a state”. The leader of the Azerbaijan People’s Party, ex-prime-minister Panah Huseyn, states that the Political Council of the party considers the absence of any official reaction to the OCCRP investigation unacceptable and demands the soonest clarification of the issue and swift start to an investigation. The lawyer Agil Laij argues that the smartest move of the government was to monitor their own trolls, whom they spend millions on, as they understand their danger best of all. The author at the Azadlyg newspaper, A. Yusifli, considers that besides all other problems, the secret monitoring of citizens is a problem of national security, as it submits data of important people to foreign companies, who can use this data in the future against those citizens. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who was also on a list, comments jokingly, that he is comforted because it appeared Pegasus monitored the French president too. But on a more serious note, he argues that the comments on the external threat to the country are unsubstantial, as some assert, compared to the internal aspect of it, and first of all spending more than half a billion dollars of budget money on monitoring. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDR comments that “Thousands of citizens were targeted – the government monitored both its opponents and the agents!” She also reminds her followers that significant budget resources have been spent on monitoring the citizens, billions of it are taken out from the country, and this all at the expense of the social protection of old people, children, overall citizens of the country. She asserts that this will continue until people will not stop to be guided by the principle “I am not involved in politics”. The pro-government and ruling party MPs in the meantime praise the Day of Media – 22 July – and celebrate the 146th anniversary of the first periodical in the Azerbaijani language, Ekinchi, in 1875, and note the contribution to its freedom and development by the all-national leader Heydar Aliyev and current president Ilham Aliyev.
The civil and opposition activists, economists and journalists stress the vital importance of the freedom of media. The economist Samir Aliyev lists quotations by Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Buonaparte, Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, Enoch Powell and Mikhail Bulgakov confirming the primary importance of free media and journalism.
Events in CIS. The activists continue to praise the reception of Tikhanovskaya in the White House, “as a legitimate president of Belarus” by the request of the US senators seeing it as a sign of preparation of the comprehensive package of sanctions against world autocrats. The new statement about European membership common objective signed by three leaders of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with participation of the President of European Council Charles Michel on the 19th July in Batumi is widely shared and commented on. While the FB community supports it, it expresses regret that Azerbaijan is not among the three states. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat stresses with irony, that in the meantime Ilham Aliyev achieved in the Organization of Non-Allied states the extension of Azerbaijan’s chairmanship for another year, instead of Uganda. Seymur Hezi of PFP argues, that three other states – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus remain the satellites of Russia.
Human rights, democracy, power-opposition relations. Osmangizi TV discusses the connection between the monitoring of the “drowned” in the sea in Istanbul Bayram Mammadov and his mysterious death. The journalists demand the release of their colleague journalists – Elchin Hasanov and Polad Aslanov from prison. Afgan Mukhtarli comments, that they are not only excellent and decent journalists, but also people with high integrity. He recalls how Elchin Hasanov protected him from strong blows by police by putting himself under the club. In spite of the serious injuries that Elchin received, the culprit was never punished.
The blogger and investigative journalist Mehman Huseynov notes that reacting in social networks and internet to the wrongdoings of the government is insufficient, advocating face to face interaction on the example of his encounter with as he calls him ‘fake MP’ Etibar Aliyev. The other investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil writes – for the journalist and activist community – detailed instructions on how to secure and protect telephone conversations from monitoring by the authorities. Javid Gara, leader of the Ecofront organisation, attracts attention to the possible devastating effects of climate change on Azerbaijan, which could face drought, pollution, migration, etc. He comments, that he is not an alarmist, but simply does everything to make his country, which is part of the planet, better. He also publicises the deforestation ongoing in the Lenkoran region (Haftoni–Girdani woods) caused by the Beta Tea Azerbaijan company, who signed an agreement with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to develop tea plantations there. People widely share the quotation from Seymur Hezi that “Ilham Aliyev spends billions to keep the country in misfortune and misery, because he knows there is no place for him in an enlightened country”.
July 23, 2021