Center for National and International Studies
“… They have enough stolen money for the benefits of all children in the world…”
The FB journalists, activists and bloggers are concerned with absence of access to Shusha for ordinary citizens and with the impact of Russian-Turkish relations on the Karabagh conflict; they appraise the strict policy of Joe Biden towards Putin and predict an end to autocratic regimes; support the messages of the US Embassy and the US president to Ilham Aliyev, and decry the conditions for the opposition political prisoners and the tortures given to the participants of the “Ter-ter case”. The reason of keeping the metro closed is discussed and materials shared related to the illegal hunting scandal in Gakh state natural reserve.
Post-war situation. The activists comment on the creation of the new armed division of the Ministry of Interior, questioning its relevance at the expense of the cutting salaries of the military and depriving them of basic conditions. Ali Karimli of the PFP asks: “Is preparing for the confrontation with its own people more important than fighting the external enemy?” He also appeals to people not allow President Aliyev to take the issues related to the liberated regions under his monopoly. They activists discuss whether possible contradictions between Turkey and Russia may have an impact on Karabagh issue. People are asking how come President Aliyev has already visited Shusha a few times, but people from Shusha still cannot go there, although this is the only liberated city which has not been destroyed? Mehman Huseynov comments on the holidays in Dubai of the ex-chief of the military headquarters, general Najmaddin Sadikhov, “who is supposed to be in prison, as he built himself villas on the territory of the military base, exploited soldiers in household, transferred the location data of general Polad Hashimov to Armenia and Russia”. He also compares the villa of Sadikhov with the modest living conditions of deceased general Polad Hashimov. Osmangizi TV discussed the meeting of Chavushoglu of Turkey and Blinken of the US, the US rejection of the Karabagh negotiation format “3 plus 3” with experts Fahmin Hajiyev, Leila Alieva, journalist Aygun Aytaj, and with US expert Paul Goble. The FB community shares the BBC article where the participants of a survey in Armenia are quoted as saying: “We would rather not cook for 3 weeks than receive gas from Azerbaijan”. The opposition activist Tofig Yagublu argues that Ilham Aliyev since 10th November has been stating that the war is over, and the conflict has now been relegated to the archives of history. He comments that if the “war went to hell”, why then does not the president take off his military uniform?
Human rights. Asif Yusifli authors an article in Azadlyg newspaper on behalf of the Centre for Defence of Political Prisoners and Victims of Torture where he expresses serious concern in regard to the political prisoner Niyammadin Ahmadov, the bodyguard of Ali Karimli. He was under severe torture and deprived of telephone contact with his family for almost a year in detention. The General Prosecutor’s and Penitentiary Service office in response to his father’s complaints assures that there was no such prohibition. While the law allows twice weekly 15m- long telephone conversations with the family, he has so far been deprived of any such opportunity, even with his elderly mother. The Centre for Defence of Political prisoners and Victims of Torture demands immediate investigation of this case and the cessation of violating the law.
The neighbourhood community of Shahin Hajiyev, the member of the Ganja youth branch of the Popular Front Party, who was arrested for 30 days on charges of “resistance to police” is concerned with the cruelty of the regime, who left his old and sick mother without any support and care. Tofig Yagublu shared a blood-curdling video with his mother and neighbour interviewed. The FB community continues to share and discuss the details of the Ter-ter case. Ruslan Farzaliyev describes the circumstances of the death of colonel Saleh Gafarov, who was arrested on 4th May 2017 and died on the 14th. He confirms the specific tortures which he died from: electric shock, ripping out his nails, tearing part of his mouth and throwing him from the 2nd floor with his legs tied up. He presents a list of tortures which were given in general to those accused in the Ter-ter case, which is widely shared by FB users. Ilkin Rustamzade reports that those who refused to make a “confession” were threatened with the torture of their wives. Gultakin Hajibeyli of National Council for Democratic Forces attracts attention to the issue of domestic violence and its political nature. She stresses that it is political because the perpetrator can escape punishment for 50,000 manats, because the abnormal economy, torn by corruption and monopolies has reduced to the minimum women’s opportunities for income earning – there are thousands of women in this country, who in order to earn for her child’s subsistence is a daily struggle of hard moral, psychological and physical violence, concludes Hajibeyli.
Tofig Yagublu posted on his timeline that exactly a year ago on 22 March, the regime slandered him and put him in prison, and only thanks to the pressure of society he was provisionally released – he expresses his gratitude to all who have helped him. FB reports that Tahir Zangalan was given tortures to make fake confessions against Tofig Yagublu, and after they failed, they arrested him on fake charges of drug possession. Tofig Yagublu gives an example of the protest by the popular opera singer in Georgia, who refused to give TV or any other public concerts in response to the anti-opposition statement by the minister of culture of Georgia – and asks his followers whether they have heard of a similar act lately by any Azerbaijani musician. The journalists report the firing of Aygun Aliyeva, who worked in AZERTAJ (official news agency) for 21 years – allegedly for her FB postings criticising the work of the municipality.
Governance, economy, corruption. The FB community shares analysis by Gubad Ibadoglu explaining why the metro has been closed for such a long time. He argues that the taxi business remains almost the main area of income earning for the population. He stresses that the closure of the metro has led to: 1) the import of cars, resulting in increase of taxes, customs, etc. and the government’s raising these amounts 2) the spending of 90% of their earnings by the drivers on gasoline – and thus SOCAR calls for an increase of gasoline prices, as the demand is growing. 3) in order to register their taxi business, citizens have to go to ASAM service and pay all sorts of fees there too 4) they pay fines to the Highway Police, helping them to fulfil their work plan. 5) 39, 2m manat of budget money transferred to the Baku Metropolitan company remains unspent. But most importantly, keeping the metro closed is a political problem, as it keeps people involved in the taxi business, thus partly addressing the issue of social protection and unemployment.
The FB community widely shares and comments on the news of the death in the plane of the German MP Karin Strenz, who was accused of accepting a bribe from Azerbaijani government of 22,000 Euros together with various presents for opposing the report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in PACE. She was a subject of investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Germany since 2018 and was stripped of her immunity as an MP. The FB comments hint that “she has taken all the secrets away with herself”.
People continue to discuss the resistance of the authorities to the re-introduction of child benefits. The FB user Shaig Abbas comments: “I do not understand why this issue is such a big problem for our bureaucrats? If you dig in, they have enough stolen money for the benefits of all children in the world. In spite of this robbery, they still want to strip of Azerbaijani children of social protection”. Natig Jafarli of REAL attracts attention to the issue of tap water for Azerbaijan – as the highest populated of all the South Caucasus states has smallest water resources. This might create a serious problem and “should be resolved in an intelligent way, not by constructing for the ineffective AzerSu state water supply company a 200,000 manat worth new office building.” He also compares the flight tickets of AZAL company to Istanbul at 446$ – with those to Istanbul from neighbouring states: Tbilisi 146$, Kiev 193$, Moscow 245$. He notes that this is despite the company getting subsidies from the budget.
The youth leader Ilkin Rustamzade considers that the policies of the Customs Committee and Azal companies are like a daily insult to the Azerbaijani people, which the latter simply squeal about. Ilgar Mammadov of REAL while stressing the correct policies of President Aliyev in the post-war period, notes that the policy is too much tied to one person, and there should be two main state agencies involved in decision making – the Parliament and the Government. Isa Gambar of Musavat has given a comprehensive interview to Azad-TV on the key issues of international relations and domestic policies. PFP member Ilham Huseynli gives an interview to Ganimat Zahid, journalist in exile disproving the official cliche/meme that “the opposition if comes to power will steal even more than the current bureaucrats”. He builds a logical chain of arguments which proves the absence of the opportunist/material motivation of the leader of the PFP, Ali Karimli. Mehman Huseynov, the blogger and activist, presents his new investigation of how the chair of Azerlottery state company is building up his illegal income. He argues that its chair Magsud Tagiyev earned millions and having “legalised” the bribes under the disguise of a donor, transferred this money to the deputy Minister of Economy, Shahin Mustafayev.
The scandal of illegal hunting. The FB community continues to share, comment and decry the story about the illegal hunting on the part of tourists from Arab states. The environmentalist Javid Gara attracts the public’s attention to the illegal hunting of species listed in the “red book”. The video made by Javid Gara has been circulated to all e-media outlets, personal timelines, etc. The newspaper Azadlyg placed the video with the comment: “That’s how the nature of Azerbaijan is being destroyed. The hunting entertainment of the tourists in Gakh state reserve continues, while the country officials have become blind, deaf and dumb”. Javid Gara himself comments that half of the country knows what is happening and their organisation gets the information from many sources. In addition, these tourists share the information on social networks. The Ministry of Ecology does not want the publicizing of these facts due to the prohibition on mountain and nature tourism. “They do not follow the law, they do not care, the law is only for the poor, they do not accept factual evidence, public pressure means nothing for them”. He informs us that somebody started the e-campaign #MinistryofEcologyResign# and logically Mukhtar Babayev should resign, but because he was not known, he would get away with it.
Social issues. The citizens of Zakatala region have encountered the problems of gas supply, and started to heat their houses by wood, which cannot be afforded by many. However, the journalists report that local authorities’ households are provided by gas all right. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reports the organized crime group/bureaucrats in one of the villages, which have been misappropriating the social benefits, plots of lands etc. of the local citizens falsifying the documents. At the same time to divert the attention from its illegal deeds, from time to time invests in some local projects, such as renovated the centre of the village, installed the spring in honour of one of the deceased war heroes. FB reports the disrespectful attitudes of the bureaucrats to the victims of the war, quoting one of them as saying to the dweller of the destroyed house n Ganja, shelled by the Armenian army: “It was not us who bombed your home”.
Relations with Turkey. The activist Fuad Gahramanli interprets Erdogan’s recent statement decrying Joe Biden’s calling Russia’s Putin “a killer” as a move to strengthen Turkey’s own position vis-a-vis Russia. He suggests that for Turkey, getting support from the West and its NATO ally is a priority. There are two options: either to play the role of the “obedient child” assigned to it in US-Russia relations, or to cooperate with the US and the West by promoting its own interests. Erdogan’s comment indicated Turkey’s preference of the second way. He is trying to show, that if the US does not take Turkey’s interests into account, Erdogan would not support its policy toward Russia. He argues that without Turkey it would be difficult for the West to stop Russia’s expansion in FSU space. He considers that Erdogan wants the US to stop support for the YPG-PKK forces in Syria and support Turkey in pushing Russia out of the flight zone there. The other interests are related to transferring to Turkey Patriot air defence system in exchange of Turkey’s agreement to block the acquisition of S-400 complex of Russian production. Also, it is important for Turkey to return to the production of the 5th generation of F-35 fighter jets and according to the earlier agreement, the selling of 100 of them. If Turkey achieved its objectives, this would be a strategic success, as it would help it to strengthen its sphere of influence in the Middle East and FSU. The economist G. Ibadoglu attracts attention to the decline of the Turkish lira’s value, which is the result of the reduction of currency reserves, which in turn is explained by the outflow of currency abroad, and the decrease of the inflow of currency into a country with a deficit of balance of payments of $36.7b last year.
Relations with Russia. The activist of NCDF Ibrahim Ibrahimli authored the article in Azadlyg newspaper about West-Russia relations, entitled “The end of authoritarianism and Putin is approaching”. He notes that it is not by accident that the Secretary General of NATO Stoltenberg has been mentioning Russia quite often recently. This indicates that Russia, along with China, will be the main targets of the geopolitical struggle. He considers that one of its directions is Euro-Atlantic space, including Russia in post-Soviet space, and that NATO wants to complete the previously “unfinished business” of the integration of Georgia and Ukraine. He reminds the Russia occupation of Georgia in 2008, the occupation of Crimea in the Ukraine in 2014, and Donetsk and Lugansk in 2017. He argues that the main target of the West and NATO is not Russia, but specifically Putin, calling him irresponsible and his actions unacceptable to the West. Ibrahimli considers that all this is an indication that the West’s policies towards Russia are changing because the political leadership of Russia is explicitly being accused of aggression. He also quotes senator McCain, who 4 years ago called Putin “a criminal, a bandit and the product of KGB”. Gubad Ibadoglu reports that Russia is creating an anti-Western alliance, judging by Foreign Minister Lavrov’s meeting with the Chinese colleague, and the meetings in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, who were given an invitation to trade in the local currency. China, however, was hesitating to accept that invitation. He also discusses at his TV Biz the approaching “Russian spring”. The Russian ruble has been losing its value against US dollar, consumer prices are on the increase, social dissatisfaction growing. Moreover, Putin has removed the age limit for public servants, relying on the older generation’s support.
Relations with the US. The FB community shares the statement of the US embassy in connection with the amnesty decree. Many interpret it as a broader message to the Azerbaijani government. One PFP activist notes that for the first time the expression “unjustly arrested prisoners” is used, and that it calls on the authorities to release the other prisoners “who are considered to have been arrested for exercising their basic rights of freedoms”. He concludes that such an open expression of the strict message means that Biden administration considers the authorities of Azerbaijan, which persecute citizens for the exercising their freedoms to be a repressive regime. He comments that all this proves that by releasing only a portion of political prisoners, the Azerbaijani government will not be able to hide its repressive nature. Seymur Hezi suggests the following interpretation of Joe Biden’s letter of congratulations on the occasion of Novruz Bayram to President Aliyev. His post is called “What is the message of Washington to Baku?” He speaks about the diplomatic semantics of the expression “to cooperate” and the loyalty of the US politicians to their symbolic language. Hezi considers that with the suggestion to cooperate, at the time when the US has applied sanctions to Putin, he sent a message to Aliyev not to cooperate with Putin. He argues that Aliyev understood both the message and the fact that he was not being offered a choice. This message was supported by the statement of the US embassy. This statement clarifies that the Biden’s letter was not about economic cooperation only, and that in these issues there was no alternative anymore and following Putin’s path would only aggravate the situation. In fact, it represents kind of a roadmap for the liberation of the region from the influence of Kremlin – the economic cooperation without political prisoners. What would Aliyev’s choice be? The desire to keep Russia in the region would only increase problems in security and economy, in particular within the context of Putin’s recent statement that FSU states are all fake and artificial. Tofig Yagublu, one of the opposition leaders, praised the statement by US State Secretary Anthony Blinken at the NATO events, that all regimes should be united in response to the violation of human rights and freedoms, and should take steps to ensure the protection and strengthening of democracy.
March 26, 2021