Center for National and International Studies
“Despite the rise of prices in goods and services, increased unemployment and poverty, unprecedented level of corruption and human rights violations, Azerbaijanis are one of the happiest in the world…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
Despite the continuous criticism and frequent calls for its modification, the Milli Majlis is expected to adopt the draft law on media which is believed to bring stricter state control and limitation over the activities of independent journalists. Activist Shemshad Agha detailed the controversial new media law and noted that no major changes had been made to the proposed law despite numerous calls for reconsideration. According to Shemshad Agha, there were made only a number of technical corrections, such as in article 14.1.11. In the mentioned article, in the line that starts with “facts and events should be interpreted impartially and objectively, no bias should be allowed”, the word “interpreted” was replaced by “presented”. The rest of the more problematic articles, such as the requirement of a license and certain limitations on the activities of the journalists, are left intact, and tomorrow the Milli Majlis is expected to adopt it on Thursday during its last session of the year.
Activist Elesger Ahmedoghlu compares the new draft law on media with the law on the activities of the non-governmental organizations that was adapted in 2013. Ahmedoghlu wrote: In December 2013, when the Milli Majlis added provisions regulating the activities of non-governmental organizations, foundations, and non-profit organizations, as well as effectively preventing the receipt of grants and donations, very few said that this would eventually bring the end of civil society. When lobbyists for the law in parliament and their “supporters” in civil society were warned about the possible outcome of the proposed law, they insisted that it would lead to the development of civil society organizations. Now we witness similar processes attack targeted the media.” Ahmedoghlu also added that the government failed to properly evaluate the importance of social media, especially Twitter, which became more popular among the people during the war of the last, and even the followers of the President’s Twitter account multiplied dramatically. Ahmedoglu noted that on the first day of the 44-day war, the government limited access to social media while ironically taking pride in the fact that “the whole society, the whole world learned the realities of Azerbaijan from the President’s Twitter.”
Blogger Mehman Huseynov criticized the proposed law on media, calling it absurd. Husyenov wrote: Imagine that we have to get permission from the government to investigate and spread the corruption of an official that works for the same government. It will look like this: “Sorry, Mr. President, Mr. Minister, Mr. MP, we have discovered that you are looting the people’s property, and with your permission, let us inform the public about it.”
Rufat Safarov reported that member of opposition Shahin Hajiyev was arrested on false pretenses and charged with drug trafficking. First, the police raided Hajiyev’s house and put drugs in his pocket and apartment. He was beaten, subjected to severe torture, made to write false statements, and transferred to the pre-trial detention center No. 2 in Ganja. What is worse, Hajyev was denied to meet his lawyer in prison. Safarov also added that as if it is not even enough, the authorities in prison don’t let anyone bring food and other necessities to Hajiyev, arguing that only his close family members can do that. However, Hajiyev lives alone, and he doesn’t have any close relatives except a few friends.
Nahid Mammadov, the son of imprisoned blogger Samaddin Mammadov and a Karabakh veteran, wrote that he would protest seriously against the arrest of his father and would demand his release. Mammadov later climbed on the roof of a building in the Narimanov district and attempted suicide.
On December 28, at least six APFP activists were summoned to the police or taken forcibly by the police from their homes. The party believes that the reason behind this persecution is their activities on social media. The statement was shared by the deputy chairman of the party Seymur Hazi.
According to Azadlig newspaper, police intervened in the peaceful protest in front of the Milli Majlis and used force against journalists protesting, as well as reporters covering the protest. During the rally, one of the journalists, Nargiz Absalamova, broke her leg while police officers knocked her down. The journalists were protesting against the draft law on media which is expected to bring stricter state control and censorship over social media. Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova who also attended the rally, said that the government is wrong in thinking that people would watch fake pro-governmental TV channels after independent journalism becomes illegal. According to Ismayilova, on the contrary, people would only watch gossip shows by bloggers living abroad. Azadlig newspaper also reported that the police and Novruzov raided APFP member Jeyhun Novruzov’s house was abducted. No information was released on the whereabouts of Novruzov.
Governance, corruption, transparency
Meydan TV reports that the OCCRP investigation revealed that former speaker of Milli Majlis Oktay Asadov and his family own luxury real estate in London, Dubai, and Moscow. During his 14 years in parliament, Ogtay Asadov was officially paid less than $ 30,000 per annum. His income is not enough to explain the family’s purchases, and it raises questions regarding the source of the income he might have. According to a report by OCCRP, “in total, the Asadovs acquired assets worth nearly $10 million over the years, though at least one property has since been sold…the provenance of this fortune raises questions, given the immediate family’s known incomes.”
Journalist Yadigar Sadigli shared a post on FB in which he sarcastically applauded “the contribution” that made by the Azerbaijani scientists. Sadigli wrote: “the employees of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences have made another contribution to world science. A tree-planting campaign was held on the occasion of Ilham Aliyev‘s 60th anniversary, as well as the construction of a “Presidential Plane-Tree Garden” consisting of 60 Oriental plane-trees.”
Azad Soz shared an investigation in which they revealed a property worth 80 million euros that was purchased on behalf of Azerbaijani State Oil Company but belonged to the first family. The property that includes the entire building is in the heart of Paris, only 5o meters away from the famous Eiffel tower.
MP Agil Abbas has made a very controversial statement as he suggested that the students should be sent to the Karabakh region for construction works. At today’s meeting of the Milli Majlis, MP Agil Abbas proposed establishing student construction teams to send to Karabakh. Abbas said: “Azerbaijani youth should go and work in Karabakh. This means a workforce of up to 10,000. Many Azerbaijani youths fought in Karabakh, became a veteran, and were martyred. There are thousands of young people that can participate in that construction work. Students can go there voluntarily and participate in those activities, and they wouldn’t even ask for money. Did those who went to war in Karabakh ask for money?” MP’s statement met with broad criticism, while many accused him of being insensitive and referring to young people as slaves.
Post War Situation. Problems of veterans and families of the martyrs
The statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh can only be settled within the framework of the Constitution of Azerbaijan caused broad discussions on social media.
Chairman of ADPP Gubad Ibadoghlu called Pashinyan’s statement “honest and bold,” arguing that by such an approach Armenian leader demonstrated that he understands that the development of his country in the medium and long run depends on living in peace with Azerbaijan and Turkey and integration to the West. Ibadoghlu wrote: Representing his country at Biden’s Democracy Summit, his opposition to Azerbaijan’s participation in the Eurasian Union, and his withdrawal from claims to the Russian-ruled part of Karabakh suggest that Pashinyan has recently taken the right position as he is well aware of the international situation. The majority of Armenian society also supports him and does not want to live in a state of war. However, what Pashinyan did is against Russia’s interests, and if Russia allows and does not put indirect pressure on Azerbaijan and directly on Armenia, the latter will agree to a peace agreement. Azerbaijan also has a lot to do to achieve peace in the region, and I repeat, if Russia allows. But Pashinyan’s U-turn should not make you think that if Armenia withdraws from its claims, Karabakh will be Azerbaijan’s. Not at all, as long as Russia is there, it is impossible. At present, the problem of occupation of Azerbaijani territories might have been reduced to a minor scale, but it has grown politically, and the risks that hinder its solution have increased. Russia’s attitude to these and other conflict areas also depends on how the conflict with Ukraine will end. Therefore “Long live Ukraine!”
Member of APFP Fuad Gahramanli argued that Pashinyan’s recent statement should not be left unanswered, and the Azerbaijani side should have declared its readiness for bilateral peace talks. “However, the silence on the Azerbaijani side shows that Ilham Aliyev prefers a trilateral dialogue with Armenia and Russia, rather than bilateral talks with Armenia,” added Gahramanli. Fuad Gahramanli also added that if Russia wouldn’t prevent the negotiation process between Armenia and Turkey, then the establishment of communication and economic ties with Turkey will weaken the anti-Turkish sentiment in Armenian society, and thus will soothe the post-war resentment. Gahramanli argued that “the establishment and expansion of relations with Turkey will help to improve the living conditions of the ordinary citizens in Armenia and will therefore weaken traditional stereotypes and narrow the social basis of those who carry out war propaganda.”
Member of REAL, Natig Jafarli, shared his opinion on Armenian prime minister Pashinyan’s recent statement linking the reason of the prime minister’s statement to the economic situation in Armenia. Jafarli wrote: “I have repeatedly said that Armenia intends to completely eliminate the problem of Azerbaijanis of Armenian descent living in and around Khankendi. Yerevan understands that Khankendi and its environs are de jure Azerbaijani territory, de facto controlled by Russia, but Armenia pays for the financial expenses of Khankendi and its people. In 2022, 300 million dollars was allocated from the Armenian state budget for financial assistance to the city. Pashinyan and his team do not want to spend money on a so-called regime that does not comply with them and is more dependent on Russian and Kremlin spokespersons in Armenia. Armenia’s budget is estimated to be 4 billion dollars for 2022, and the government has no desire to spend $ 300 million on a regime that would spend it arbitrarily.” Jafarli argued that the Azerbaijani government must soon announce a step-by-step plan for the integration of Azerbaijanis of Armenian descent living in Khankendi and its surroundings. “It is important to create a complex, effective new system of governance, for which a new Constitution, including, is needed and the new Constitution, should focus on establishing and strengthening of local self-government bodies-municipalities, a new administrative-territorial division, increased role of the President as head of state, and the government focalized on socio-economic issues leaving the proportionally elected Parliamentary system.”
Gubad Ibadoghlu drew attention to the construction works that are carried out in Karabakh. According to Ibadoghlu, the construction workers in Karabakh are still unable to get paid for their work. “There are many complaints from Zangilan that hundreds of craftsmen and workers have been paid yet although months passed already,” wrote Ibadoghlu. Ibadoghlu also noted that although the construction work in Karabakh is led by Turkish companies, the executors are Azerbaijanis.
Political analyst Arif Yunus reflected on the maps of landmines that are exchanged between Azerbaijan and Armenia in return for Armenian captives. Yunus argued that “it does not seem convincing at all that were so many maps.” Yunus rhetorically asked, “if the maps are not accurate at all, why does the Azerbaijani government still continue to trade with them?”
Economy and Social Issues
President Ilham Aliyev has signed an order to provide one-time financial assistance to low-income families. According to the decree, by December 30, 2021, each family receiving targeted state social assistance (TSA) will receive a one-time financial assistance in the amount of 100 manats. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has allocated 48.8 million manats for this purpose. Part of this money will be distributed to about 50,000 families who have received TSA to that date. Reflecting on the new decree, Gubad Ibadoghlu said that although in the first half of 2020, the TSA covered 84,600 low-income families, at the present moment, despite the rising prices, increased unemployment, and poverty, the number of families receiving TSA has been reduced by 1.7 times. “This reduction could imply that in the last year and a half, the livelihoods of some of the former recipients of TSA have improved and they are out of poverty, so TSA has been cut while in reality the number of families in need of TSA has increased to the amount of at least hundreds of thousands” added Ibadoghlu.
Head of NCDF professor Jamil Hasanli reacted to Gollup International Happiness index for 2021 according to which Azerbaijanis are the fifth happiest, the fourth most hopeful and the third most optimists in the world. Hasanli questioned the reliability of the ranking, saying that this index means that ironically the five most miserable countries in the world have shared the top five places in terms of happiness. Hasanli continued: The list of these five happy countries is headed by Colombia, where drugs have become a way of life. In second place is Kazakhstan, which shares the first and second places with Azerbaijan for the accumulation of illegal properties in London. In third place in the list of happy countries is Albania, which ranks last in Europe in terms of GDP per capita and the average wage index since the time of Enver Hoxha Khoja. Of course, our country is in the first place not only in terms of happiness but also in terms of hope for tomorrow. According to this indicator, Azerbaijan shares the top five places with Indonesia, Albania, Nigeria, Mexico and Vietnam. What else you would wish, you are happy!”
December 31, 2021