Center for National and International Studies
“… Spend billions on the others, but keep your people hungry, so as to make it possible to govern them…”
The Azerbaijani FB community continues to simmer in a cocktail of ‘cognitive dissonance’, unable to trust the state administration or the motives of other associated regional players. At a season when there should be signs of jubilation, such as on the occasion of the Gurban meat distribution, citizens are still plagued by the insistent evidence of redirection of national funds. Statistics collated underline continuing evidence of corruption, far from the concept of a developing state with respect for essential human rights. With promises made and broken, the public is keenly disturbed by the ongoing effects of the Pegasus monitoring system, and cannot envisage a favourable future emerging.
Post-conflict situation. The FB community shares and grieves the news about officer Farman Yagublu, killed during Armenia’s firing on Azerbaijani positions in Kelbajar and buried in his region of Beylagan. His father Telman was also a martyr in the first Karabagh war, killed in 1994. The e-media reports escalation on the state borders with Armenia. The Azerbaijan party denied information that it sent a drone that was hit by the Armenian side, calling this fake information. The uncertainty of the geopolitics in the region causes concern amongst FB users. One of them comments: “If Russia says that a trilateral agreement is the only solution to the conflict, on whom are the Armenians relying?… The only thing we can rely on is our army, which has fought a just war”. Meydan TV quotes President Aliyev’s interview on AzTV, where he asserts that there is no logic in giving status to a place with 25,000 people. He also stressed that Azerbaijan sees the trucks coming to Khankendi from abroad and that should be stopped: “This is not good, as this is our territory”. Natig Jafarli of REAL considers that Armenians, who were poisoned by the wrong ideology for decades, have difficulties of adjusting to the “new borders”, as they thought that the territories under occupation constituted their new state borders. He warns than before the restored borders are strengthened, there will be provocations there and the role of the Kremlin will be substantial. He considers that the escalation on the borders is not accidental, as coincides with the new appointment of the chief of the Army Headquarters in Azerbaijan and it might therefore be the reaction of Moscow. Jafarli explains that by raising the issue of Western Zangezur, the President tries to neutralise the rival’s manipulation by the “status” issue. So, when he promises “We will return to our historical lands – Zangezur, Goycha, Irevan” – he does not mean return on tanks, but economically, etc. Jafarli concludes that Azerbaijan should hurry to sign a peace agreement and open communications, because Moscow in fact is not interested in any rapprochement of the two countries. The e-media reports that Azergbaijani IDPs from Karabagh and occupied regions are very concerned about when they will return to their homeland and how they will be settled there.
Relations with Russia. FB users continue to discuss Russia’s role in the conflict. Osmangizi TV interviews politician Ali Aliyev, who argues that Putin to stay as the only guarantor of peace is pushing the West out by means of Ilham Aliyev. The same media outlet discusses why the ceasefire is regularly violated after the meeting in Moscow. Its experts assert that Russia again put “her person” (who replaced allegedly Russian agent Nadjmaddin Sadikhov) as the chief of the Army headquarters – his family is Russian. However, some argue, such as the director of the Institute for Democratic Initiatives, Akif Gurbanov, that this does not matter much, as by the nature of its political power, one-man rule – Aliyev will be pro-Russian anyway. The political commentator Eldar Namazov argues that the two populist leaders, Pashinian of Armenia and Macron of France, due to the nature of their political power, are always trying to create provocations, like promoting the idea that French peacekeepers would be located in Karabagh, etc. But they are confronted with the resistance of Putin of Russia and Aliyev of Azerbaijan. He considers that those who put forward the issue of status of Karabagh – want to stir the conflict. Namazov comments that Armenia will have to agree to the opening of the so-called Zangezur corridor. While Armenians try to push forward the opening of the Gazakh Idjevan railway, Aliyev suggests making all railroads operational at the same time. He admits that there is a tension in relations with Armenia, because she does not agree on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, etc. He reads Armenia as trying to preserve Russia as a security provider, while bringing in the US and EU as investors, which he considers impossible and a pure adventurist approach. He concludes that Azerbaijan is a key actor in the region, while Russia and Turkey – the most influential regional powers, while actors such as France will never be present here.
The activist and commentator in exile, Ramiz Yunus, argues that the agreement between Washington and Berlin about Nord Stream-2 is reminiscent of the Munich agreement of 1938 between Great Britain, France and Hitler’s Germany. He considers that the United States, Germany and France are betraying the interests of Ukraine, which has been single-handedly opposing Russian aggression for 7 years and has been an outpost for the EU and NATO. However, he argues, the West is still engaged in the policy of exhorting another aggressor – Putin and calls it a shame. Gultakin Hajibeyli of NCDF argues that Ilham Aliyev is a partner in grief, and the last strategic authoritarian ally for Putin in the region. Most probably, they discussed in Moscow, she continues, their common problem – Pashinian, as Armenia of all three authoritarian states, which did not attend Batumi meeting (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus) – is the weakest ring. She considers that the rhetoric related to Zangezur is connected to this meeting.
International relations. Parties differently assess the smallest of all South Caucasian states amount of EU aid given to Azerbaijan. Irreconcilable opposition, such as NCDRF or PFP, considers it logical, taking into account the degree of corruption, a still unsigned partnership agreement, the spending on monitoring its citizens, etc. The others, such as the AG party consider that Azertbaijan should not accept this money, because the EU gave 2,6b Euro to Armenia to compensate for the military disbalance demonstrated in the 2nd Karabagh war by Azerbaijan. Armenia, which will spend 1b of this money on the purchase of weapons, will partly correct this imbalance. This means that Azerbaijan should permanently work on perfecting and developing its army, as well as achieving a target number of 50,000 conscripts. Tofig Yagublu in his interview on Osamngizi TV argues that Ilham Aliyev should not be surprised that the EU gave Azerbaijan the lowest amount of aid as compared to Armenia, because he has been cursing European values and calling its documents “scraps of paper”. Natig Jafarli of REAL analyses the Azerbaijani sport team sent to Olympics in Tokyo. He comments that half of the 44 members are “legionnaires”, not national cadres. He explains it by the fact that the last 30 years the sport federations were led by ministers/oligarchs, who undermined the quality of sports (among them the collapse of schools and training systems) due to significant corruption.
Social problems. People share with bitterness and pain the video where desperate crowds of Baku citizens are trying to get access to the meat distributed for free on the holiday of Gurban. Some observers comment, that while the system – which is based on corruption, exploitation and theft – creates conditions for undignified life in the country, people should still resist dumbing down to this level. Seymur Hezi of PFP asserts: “Spend billions on the others, but keep your people hungry, so as to make it possible to govern them”. Mehman Huseynov comments: “It is hard to see Azerbaijani people in such a condition… I am ashamed for our government”. Jamil Hasanli calls it “the Ottoman-Safavi battles for a half kilo of meat” and writes that even the injured were reported. The FB community continues to attract attention to the unresolved problems and dangerous conditions of military service on the borders and in the zone of conflict. They urge the government instead of distributing flats for journalists to provide for protection of the troops and their families. Gultakin Hajibeyli comments with irony on President Aliyev saying he is proud of the foreign currency reserve increase of $1b in the last 6 months. She contrasts this to the increase of prices on water, benzine, electricity, mass cuts of pensions and handicapped benefits. She stresses that since 1997, prices have risen at least 10 times in the country, while the benefits to the martyrs’ families did not increase even by 10%. B. Hajiyev comments with irony, that the President deceived the journalists too – by promising that free apartments would be provided for those who behaved well – but did not. The activists share the news that President Aliyev has now signed a decree according to which the apartments in the new third building planned for journalists would be given to the families of the martyrs. People continue to share stories of the war-handicapped who were not getting their promised medical and social care. The lawyer Alasgar Ahmadoglu argues that in principle, none of the professional journalists should accept flats free of charge, or any other presents from the government, as it contradicts article 5.1 of the Code of Ethics of Journalists adopted by the Press Council of the republic in 2003.
Governance, economy, corruption. FB users share the news on the appointment of General Karim Valiyev by the decree of President Aliyev as new chief of Army Headquarters (instead of the allegedly pro-Russian Najmaddin Sadikhov) and first deputy Defence Minister. Some connect this to the visit of Aliyev to Moscow, 3 days after which the appointment was made, and are interested in the reaction of the leadership of the Turkish military. The e-media suggests that based on a new criminal investigation of corruption and misappropriation of budget funds opened by the Chief Prosecutor against the Ministry of Culture and Youth, the ex-minister of Culture Abulfaz Garayev might be arrested. The activists skeptically assess the fate of credit amounting to $100m from EBRD and $150m from the ADB which were given for the struggle with COVID-19. They protest at putting the weight of debts resulting from credit-related corruption onto the people. FB users share the price for visiting Shusha – $1000. Natig Jafarli of REAL reports his critical interview on LAF-TV about SOCAR and the “one person” governance system in the country. He notes that of more than 1000 comments, 95% were SOCAR’s trolls, who reacted only to the criticism of Rovnag Abdullayev, but not to President Aliyev. The activists and journalists discuss the statement of President Aliyev, that bureaucrats should not get involved in business. The academic and opposition leader Jamil Hasanli comments ironically that the head of the ruling family, which controls half of the legal and shadow economy of the country – President Aliyev, has stated that it is prohibited for bureaucrats to engage in business. Reacting to the president’s statement, N. Jafarli of REAL argues that all bureaucrats in the country have private business – ministers, 88 heads of executive power, 288 of their deputies, etc. So, he wonders, if they all have businesses, why they are still occupying their positions? Or, if they are in official positions, why do they have business? He concludes: “This is not a country, this is a mere cognitive dissonance”. The economist and leader of the ADR movement, Gubad Ibadoglu, observes the increasing number of supermarket chains Bravo and Araz, and pharmacies Euromed and Zeytun, demonstrating the rise of demand for products and medicine, but with a simultaneous price rise on these items. He ironically comments that it seems that people get sick from greater consumption of poo quality products and subsequently need an increased supply of medicine. The journalist comments on the scandal with monitoring “this is not a state, but Mirza Jalil’s “meeting of the mad” (Mirza Jalil is a prominent Azerbaijani writer). The activists share reports that the local head of executives in the liberated region of Ter-ter is not giving houses to the returning IDPs, but is selling them to whomever is interested.
The “cancer” corruption of the president’s uncle. The FB community widely shares and comments on Mehman Huseynov’s investigation of the illegal business of President Aliyev’s uncle, Jamil Aliyev– an owner of the biggest oncological center in the country. He appeared to have a big business empire, including wine production, shipping company, hotels, etc. and is the owner of expensive cars. He is owner of the Chabiant wine factory, Chateau Monolith hotel in Ismayilli, wineries covering 100 hectares, Siyazan Broyler chicken factory, Hotel Dubai in Badamdar settlement, the World Med medical centre, six ships in the Caspian Sea, and the garage of a few cars, each worth a million manat. Officially, the treatment of the patients in the Oncological Center is free of charge, as the money is transferred from the budget. But in reality patients pay significant sums, as the budget money is spent on luxurious items and businesses of the owner.
Liberal freedoms. The opposition leaders connect the scandal of Pegasus monitoring with the social issues in the country. Ali Karimli of PFP states that the half billion manat spent on the monitoring of 1038 citizens of Azerbaijan could have been spent on families of war martyrs – each would receive not 11,000, but 50,000 manat, the war-handicapped – not 4-8,000, but 30-40,000 manat of medical insurance, etc. He argues that for Ilham Aliyev, the monitoring of his own citizens is more important than taking care of the war heroes. He then comments that the recourse of the country is divided into three parts. One, the smaller part, is social protection, army and other necessary sectors to provide for the physical existence of the nation. The major part of the resources is stolen and sent to offshore and local holdings accounts. The third part is spent on protection of the policy based on misappropriation and theft of resources – this is what the half a billion worth of monitoring is for. He calls the spying not only theft – but more than a thousand specific criminal cases, violating the Constitution, intruding into private lives, and cybercrime. They should be punished for all that, he concludes. FB also shares news from unverified sources that the NSO was also monitoring the telephones of the first lady and vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva. Isa Gambar of Musavat and head of the Strategic Think Tank issued a statement about the monitoring by the Pegasus system. It says that while such monitoring is not a novelty in the country, the usage of new technology had created new possibilities for the authorities. This is a horrible event, and crime at the state level, because all the private information is being collected and can be used against the citizen. Society, he concludes, should give a serious reaction to this, so legal investigation takes place, and the centres which prepare such systems should also face judicial procedures. FB users share the information that French President Macron, in connection with the scandal of Pegasus monitoring, has called an extraordinary meeting of the Defence Council of France, which they see as proof of the seriousness of the scandal. T. Yagublu suggests that it has undermined the international reputation of President Aliyev, who has spent half of a billion on this practice. The publicised list of 250 people of the 1083 who were monitored in Azerbaijan has caused some journalists to wonder what has determined the OCCRP disclose only those names, while disclosure of the rest was considered “unethical”?
of Musavat and NCDF reports systematic hacking of his FB account, last time with the deletion of many of his postings, as if they are not aware that millions already know about their crimes.
Events in Iran. The protests in Iran are shared and commented on by FB users with appraisal. Azadliq Newspaper reports the support for the protesters by well-known personalities in the world. The FB users follow and praise the Tebriz population joining the protesters in Khuzistan province. The statement of Sheikh Ul Islam Pashazade about the fatwa of Khameneyi continues to be the topic of discussion. Some recall that Ilham Aliyev’s assistant Hikmet Hajiyev called “traitors” those who criticised Iranian authorities for arresting Iranian Azerbaijanis blocking trucks with aid to Armenia. Panah Huseyn, ex-prime minister, opposes the statement by Pashazade, arguing that the solidarity of Turkey and Pakistan in Karabagh war 2 cannot at all be equated with the policy and position of Iran. He comments that if that was the case, then the occupation would never have lasted for 26 years. He supports his idea by the fact that according to the surveys in Armenia on whom the population considers the most reliable ally – after Russia, Iran is named the second. Some quote the adviser to Erdogan, who commented on his twitter: “Apparently, Khameneyi, when sending weapons to Armenia, also sent a fatwa to Azerbaijan, but his fatwa won over his weapons!” Allh Shukur Pashazade responded to this, commenting that Erdogan’s assistant had no clue about religion, and that there was confirmed information about the Iranian weapon supply of Armenia. He argues that some try to bring division and stir conflict between Shia and Sunni in the country. He also blamed Armenian or pro-Armenian forces in this attempt to stir the conflict between Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. Pashazade concluded by asserting he is respected by both Sunni and Shia, and that one of his in-laws is Turkish.
Human rights, democracy, power-opposition relations. The court decision on the appeal of early release of the PFP Presidium member Agil Maharramov was again postponed until 30th July, as reported by his legal defender Agil Laij. The media suspects that judging by the opinion of the penitentiary administration, the authorities do not intend to satisfy the appeal. The EaP CSF national platform issued an appeal to the Azerbaijani government to use the last chance to implement conditions put forward to Azerbaijan by the international Open Government Partnership initiative in order to restore the country’s active status. The status of the country was decreased to a non-active one during the meeting of its Leadership Committee in 2016 in Cape Town, due to the restrictions in the activities of the civil society in the country. On the 25th September 2017 the Committee adopted their Recommendations and established the time frame for their implementation. However, no step had been undertaken to fulfil these recommendations. In April 2021, Sanjay Pradhan – the head of the organisation – sent to Azerbaijani authorities a letter where he stressed the importance of the fulfilment of the country’s obligations by 31 August 2021. The appeal stresses the urgency of lifting the restrictions on the activities of civil society, whose role the platform considers extremely important in open governance, the country’s development and national interests, as well as in the provision for human rights and freedoms. Rufat Safarov, the human rights defender and head of Line of Defence organisation, attracts attention to a few political prisoners. He demands the authorities follow the law and rules of the penitentiary system. The detained member of the Muslim Unity Movement, Razi Humbatov, on 7th June was not given an opportunity in 16 days to meet with his family members, and only allowed to call them on the phone twice for 1-2 minutes. He was submitted to torture for 6 days while in the department of the Fight with the Organised Crime, which resulted in him signing under duress all papers and confessions. Safarov argues that this is all a result of the authoritarian political system in the country. He also reports a telephone conversation with Shamsi Samadzade, who received a life sentence for giving a slap on the head to the Ganja city prosecutor at that time, Zakir Garalov. He has already spent 21 years in prison, but his voice was full of hope and trust, dignity and love for freedom, as Rufat Safarov reports. He expresses confidence that all those who issued these unjust sentences will be eventually punished. The Azadlyg newspaper reflects on the new provocation being prepared by the authorities against the Popular Front Party. They are trying to force Ramin Hajili, who is detained in connection with sending people into exile with fake documents, to sign a “confession” that the latter were received by him from the Popular Front Party. The activists share the story which happened at the court hearing of the colonel Vusal Babayev, charged with corruption, discrediting the state of rule of law in the country as a tragicomedy. Tofig Yagublu, Rufat Safarov and others quote Natig Adilov, who described how when the accused protested and claimed innocence, the judge Rafig Abbasov reminded him that some time ago, when he came to ask for someone to deliver him from army drafting, he asked for a bribe of 5,000 thousand manat. Tofig Yagublu comments that this is Azerbaijan – where the rule of law was killed by the iron fist of President Aliyev. The feminist Rabiyya Mammadova reports on the dire statistics of domestic violence in the country: 4 women were killed by their male partners and husbands in 9 days. The human rights defender Elshan Hasanov attracts attention to the desperate condition of the pensioners and handicapped and suggests creating a committee on the Protection of the Rights of the Handicapped.
July 27, 2021