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Center for National and International Studies




“ …Russian peacekeepers, get out of the country…! ”

Moving through February, the mood of FB users is lightening a little with pre-Novruz traditions symbolising renewal and reconnection with elements of nature: water (Su Chershenbesi on Feb 23rd) – fire, wind and earth – being celebrated once again in liberated Aghdam region. The post-war situation and prevailing uncertainty within the Russian peacekeeper-controlled territories, with the relocation of part of a  Russian military base in Armenia closer to the borders with Azerbaijan, together with the opaque policies of the government in Karabagh remain the major concern of FB readers. The growing cases of unaddressed needs of the war heroes, and the pervading sense that the government in Baku is diverted by ambitions outside the realm of its citizens’ welfare depressingly underpins online postings. 

Post-war situation. Political and civil leaders discuss the statement by Armenia’s Pashinian about the Iskander rockets, which it acquired from Russia. The prime minister stated that of all Russian rockets, only 10% Iskanders if any exploded. This was in response to the former president Sarkisyan claiming that Pashinian should have used Iskanders in the first 3-4 days of the war. Saying that the army in fact used them, but that they did not work, has in fact destroyed the reputation of the most boasted-about contemporary weapon of Russia. Ali Karimli of the PFP attracts attention to this information of those “who threaten Azerbaijan with Russia every moment, demanding silence in response to Russia’s attempt to create a second Armenian state”.  He also mentions that secret meetings of officials with a person given to international search by them is humiliating the state and discredits its legislative system. The Osmangizi TV programme participants express their concern with Russia moving its military base #102 in Armenia closer to Azerbaijan’s borders. The FB community continues “to name and to shame” the bureaucrats who defend the twice cut salaries of the troops. This time they decry the statement by the speaker of the parliament Saida Gafarova, that because it is no longer the front line, the soldiers are not entitled to the same salaries as before. The activist comments that it is via these people that “Ilham Aliyev crushes the national spirit under the Russian tanks”. The other one says: “Yes, the front line is your villas, vile bastards!” They also share a news item by Reuters that twitter has closed 373 accounts connected to Russia, Iran and Armenia. Of these 238 are from Iran, a further 100 Russian accounts conducting anti-NATO and EU propaganda, and 35 from Armenia, conducting anti-Azerbaijan propaganda. Elshad Asadov , the political commentator, in his interview to the YeniMusavat e-TV channel argues that there is a dirty game going on over Karabagh, as the Russian peacekeeping commander Muradov meets with the president of Armenia, exceeding its mandate and not implementing their functions. Russia is re-arming the Karabagh and giving it full support, which he blames on foreign minister Lavrov. But Azerbaijan and Turkey should be alerted, as in the future an anti-terrorist operation might be unavoidable, and there might be a direct confrontation with Russia. He also considers that the implementation of the new agreement about opening up communications will not be consolidated by Armenia, as it is now speaking about opening communications via Abkhazia, mainly to drag out the implementation of the January 11th agreement. He complained that the government does not give out any information about the state of affairs, which complicates the consolidation of the resolution of the Karabagh issue.

Perception of Armenia. The FB community shares the results of Gallup polls in Armenia, the respondents answering the question, who do they consider is to blame for the defeat in the last Karabagh war? 32% blamed the ex-government (Sarksian-Kocharian), 28.8% – Pashinian, 16.1% – Turkey, 10. 2% answered that Armenia and Karabagh were not defeated, and 4. 4% blamed their own army. Natig Jafarli makes the following conclusions, that the society still does not want a return of the Karabagh clan, Pashinian still enjoys significant support and may win the next election, there are still sick nationalists seeing Turkey behind everything in the region, etc.

Commemoration of Khojali massacre. The society is preparing to commemorate the day of the Massacre in Khojali on 26 February 1992, the town of Karabagh which was occupied by the Armenian forces with the assistance of the Russian army. Arif Hajili posts a status devoted to the 29th year of the tragedy, when 613 civilians were killed, with particular cruelty, including children, women and old people, 487 people were left handicapped, 1275 civilians were taken hostages and went through severe tortures, 150 people went missing. He reports that the result of the investigation revealed that the primary organizers of this massacre, recognized by the state commission as genocide, were former presidents of Armenia Robert Kocharian, Serj Sarkisian and defence minister Seyran Ohanian. Hajili considers that the legal and fair prosecution of the culprits will constitute the utmost importance for the restoration of justice.

Social issues. The e-media reports the suicide by the 2nd degree handicapped war hero from Yardimli region, Guliyev Farid, who hanged himself in the woods, having got married just a month previously. There were two other cases of suicide reported during this period – another in the Dahskasan region (Farman Hasanov) and one in Sumgayit. It also tells the story of the lawyer Bahruz Bayramov, who refused to take a fee from his defendant, because he was poor. People continue to decry the decision of the new president of Academy of Sciences Ramiz Mehdiyev to take away land plots (dachas) from 500 academicians in the village of Khizi. They do not know what the oligarchs-bureaucrats are going to use them for. The academicians are preparing to go to court over this illegal expropriation of properties. FB users share photos and videos of the handicapped war heroes, who are living in dire conditions and report on the indifference of the bureaucrats.

Relations with Russia. The newspaper Azadyg reports that the group of activists in exile from Azerbaijan, Chechnia and others have staged a vigil in front of the Embassy of Russia in Norway.  FB users widely reinforce the directive given by the head of the Homeland Values Platform, Eldaniz Guliyev: “Russian peacekeepers – get out of the country!”. Osmangizi TV discusses the sanctions which the EU plans to apply against Russia because of the arrest of Navalny. Ali Karimli warns of Russia’s preparation for the bigger war, pointing to the expansion of the military base # 102 in Armenia, and relocating a portion of the troops closer to the east of Armenia – to Karabagh. He argues that this is a signal that Russia is prepared to give more military support to the separatist regime. Secondly, Armenian and Russian experts are working together on reforming the Armenian army, bringing its weapons up to international standards, as well as upgrading it into a more professional army. Recently, the latter was also announced by one of the executioners in Khojali – Vitali Balasanian, currently the secretary of the Security Council of the so-called Karabagh republic. He alerts the followers that all this is met with silence by official Baku. Moreover, they save on the salaries of the soldiers serving in Karabagh, or compensation to the war heroes, so they would be able to steal money through multimillion construction projects. The opposition leader Ali Aliyev in his interview with Osmangizi argues that Russia’s goals in Karabagh are to create pressure both on Armenia and Azerbaijan, to undermine the power of pro-Western Pashinian, bring the Karabagh pro-Russian military clans to prominence there, consolidate the Karabagh clan in Upper Karabagh and provoke Azerbaijan to military action there. He also mentions that the parties were “prohibited” from speaking against Russian troops until 1st December 2020. He argues that the instability in Georgia and Azerbaijan is instigated by Russia, who wants to distract attention from its domestic problems and its tensions in international affairs.  The journalist Afghan Mukhtarli suggests that Russia was planning more bloody war in Karabagh, referencing the statement by Gabrielian, chief of the Army Headquarters of Armenia, who wrote in his telegram status, that on the third way of war he asked permission to use Iskanders on two strategic targets – the Baku-Tblisi-Jeyhan pipeline and another.  Moscow had agreed, but Nikol Pashinian refused.  This was allowed only at the end of the war to use on Shusha. He names both leaders Aliyev and Pashinian as “puppets” of Moscow, starting and finishing the war in accordance with orders from the Kremlin.

Governance, economy, corruption. Jamil Hasanli, the scholar and the opposition leader has given an interview to the newspaper Azadlyg, saying that “The government of Ilham Aliyev is not based on people’s power and does not feel accountable to people. His main principle of governance is corruption”. The economic experts report that the Azerbaijan parliament ratified the memorandum of the joint exploration of Dostlug, the offshore oilfield disputed with Turkmenistan.  However, instead of the previously known 50/50 division of shares, it appeared that Azerbaijan gets only 30%, while Turkmenistan 70%. Gubad Ibadoglu comments that the dispute was resolved at the expense of Baku, and it seems the country makes compromises for everyone except for its own people. Mehman Huseynov continues his investigative journalistic videos discrediting the oligarchs/bureaucrats. He argues that the ex-minister of transport, Ziya Mammadov, has officially occupied part of the country. “Our country has so much riches – and look in whose hands they are!” he exclaims, “and this is yet the sacked minister”. Habib Muntazir lists the property of the ex-minister of transport: 5 villas and plots of lands in 4 regions in the country. The opposition leader Ali Aliyev argues that parliamentarism is eliminated, as well as other important political institutions, so they do not have power of oversight over the work of the government. Natig Jafarli of REAL asserts that the plans of “green” or “smart” cities have been designed already for many years but none of them were implemented, which proves that the main problem is that of governance. He suggests the following formula for the success of any plans of such kind: “smart city”- informed citizen-education system- voter- elected organ- responsibility. He also comments that the infrastructure and the city management which failed to resist 10 sm of snow fall is another proof of the problems with the governance in the country. The activist Rabiyya Mammadova appeals on her page to the President, his wife and the Minister of Emergencies, asking if they are aware that at the Ministry of Emergencies module type hospital with 2,500 personnel there was an explosion of the oxygen, which caused numerous deaths, there were two times cases of poisoning, there are bribery taking cases by the appointed by themselves personalities before the eyes of the patients, and many families were left broken hearted, as their members were not taken to any intensive therapy sections because they could not afford it, and those who worked without breaks, carrying oxygen containers from one building to another, were not paid their salaries. She eventually appeals to people – Do not be afraid! Do not keep silence!

Human rights. The leader of the Musavat party, Arif Hajili, comments on the recognition of the repression against Uygurs in China as genocide by the parliament in Canada which demanded that the government apply sanctions against China. He notes that in fact the first states to recognize this genocide were supposed to be Turkey and Azerbaijan. But it is not too late and the parliament of Azerbaijan should immediately bring the issue to the agenda. Gultakin Hajibeyli comments on the illegal property of the former minister of transport Ziya Mammadov that the video shows only 3 of his properties, while there are at least two more in Baku and Guba. She recalls that he slandered a woman, a school director, who lived in poor conditions in Goranboy, and arrested her for corruption, and calls this the highest degree of shamelessness. She also complained that the government had attacked her WhatsApp account. Jami Hasanli ridicules the suggestion by Ahmad Ismayilov the head of the new state organ Media Development Agency to give a common ID to the “true” journalists, so to distinguish them from fake ones. He comments, with irony, that such a good idea should be extrapolated to the opposition – as there are too many varieties of it in the country – and that those who conduct “a dialogue” with the authorities should be also given a common ID. He also reveals how the authorities are using the COVID-19 pandemic for its own political goals. Hasanli recalls that recently when he mentioned in an interview that people’s dissatisfaction is growing, which increases the chances of social protest, he noted that as a result, statistics recording the rise of those infected would be seen. He goes on to confirm that today they already announced the rise of statistics of the infected. He reminds his followers that President Aliyev uses the pandemic to silence his critics, and that the court hearing of 27 opposition members which started today in the spirit of the trials of 1937 is the best proof of that. He also attracts attention to the newly created Committee on Protection of the Rights of the Victims of Arbitrariness in the Ter-ter case, led by the human rights defender Leyla Yunus. He reminds his followers that 11 troops were killed by torture in this case on treason, including Mehman Huseynov, Sekhavet Binyatov, Saleh Gafarov, Elchin Guliyev and Temkin Nizamoglu in 2017.  The human rights defender who publicized this case, Ogtay Gulaliyev, was “hit” by a car, and has been in a coma for more than a year. Hasanli appeals to the FB community to give full support to the newly created Committee. The youth leader Ilkin Rustamzade reports that the NIDA activist Elmir Abbasov was arrested in Sumgayit for 30 days under the trumped-up charges of drug usage. Elmir Abbasov is one of the young people who is criticizing the president himself and posts on FB.  FB readers also share the information that according to the last decision of the court, if within 10 days the female activist of NCDF Gultakin Hajibeyli does not pay 85,000 manat, her house and car will be expropriated. The court hearing on the case of female activist Rabiyya Mammadova who sued police for breaking her arm during the last year protest against falsified parliamentary elections was reported to be postponed.

Criticism of police on Public TV (ITV).  Azadlyg TV reveals the reasons for the unusual criticism of the police, specifically its unjustified fining of citizens for not wearing masks, on ITV. The materials were removed following interference from the Minister of Interior, but then restored.  It explains that the head of ITV is a relative of the Minister of the Economy, Mikail Jabbarov – so ITV cannot criticize the economy, education, customs, but can do this in relation to the police and other areas. Thus, concludes the newspaper, the materials published are usually a result of the “political order”.  The officials of ITV negatively responded to the inquiry of Meydan TV on whether the materials are published on request of the interested parties.

Unusual snowfall and “Water Tuesday”.  FB users post photos and videos of the city and outlying regions which were affected by unanticipated snowfall. This happened on one of the days celebrated as part of the approaching Novruz Bayram (21st March), called “Water Tuesday”, when according to an ancient tradition people can whisper their will to the water and it will be realized. The failure of infrastructure caused political and civil leaders to criticise the state of municipal administration. Ali Karimli of the PFP comments that everyone witnessed that Baku is not properly prepared for winter, and although the mayor had been changed, the governance was not. He argues that the priority of governance is not to serve the public, but to steal from it.  Gubad Ibadoglu attracts attention to the high spending on purchase of snow-cleaning machines, but there were not many of these in evidence on the streets during the snowfall.  The snow paralyzed Baku, and one of the representatives of the transport agency recommended the car drivers should not go out. A FB user commented: “It seems that the instructions were not followed by anyone, except for the drivers of the snow-cleaning machines”.

February 26, 2021