Azerbaijan - a nation of Turkic Muslims - has been an independent republic since
the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a cease-fire, in place since
1994, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the
Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave (largely Armenian populated). Azerbaijan
has lost almost 20% of its territory and must support some 750,000 refugees and
internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of the conflict. Corruption is
ubiquitous and the promise of widespread wealth from Azerbaijan's undeveloped
petroleum resources remains largely unfulfilled.
Update No: 271 - (24/07/03)
The US backing the present Azeri regime
The US administration has many interests behind it no doubt; but one is certainly the oil industry. Azerbaijan, as the key to the Caspian Sea energy fields, in which it has most of its 31bn barrels of oil reserves, is obviously to be courted. That means the regime in charge of it.
This is an autocracy of a particular clan, that surrounding the president, Haidar Aliyev, which hails from Nakhichevan, the enclave between Armenia and Turkey. These provincials are widely detested in most of the rest of the country for their venal ways, in a nation renowned around the world for its levels of corruption.
What is bringing things to a head is a coming presidential election, which is scheduled for October 15th.
In the natural course of fair elections, Aliyev would certainly lose. At 80 he is in ailing health. And he is at the apex of the corrupt regime. But of course the elections will be rigged.
The US has not proposed a reform of the country's electoral commission, as in Georgia ahead of its own parliamentary elections in November. The Azeri president would be acutely embarrassed. Whether he runs eventually or leaves it to his son, Ilham, to do so, the Aliyev clan at least in the short run is likely to remain in power. It would be impolitic to alienate them too much given what the oil stakes are.
Actually all the talk is naturally about the anti-terrorism campaign. The Azeris are not really that important here. Their main opponents are not terrorists, but the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, whose former president, and warlord, Robert Kocharyan, is now president of Armenia itself.
In early July Azeri troops clashed with Armenians on the border. Both sides sustained losses. Two Azeri servicemen were killed and four wounded. Armenian losses were said by the Azeri side to be five dead, but this was denied by the Karabakh Armenians.
No resolution of this intractable conflict is likely ahead of the elections, especially as Armenian presidential elections are looming too. The issue remains the most important one facing both countries.
Opposition to visit Washington
While the US is not prepared to embarrass the regime it is making it clear that it will countenance a visit by three opposition parties. This is a gesture towards democracy, but no more. It is painless because the opposition are powerless to prevent the election being rigged, since the electoral commission and the judiciary are the creatures of the Aliyev machine.
Moreover, too many political rivalries have made the opposition side a scarcely credible entity. Pundits said it is highly unlikely that any of the leading opposition parties - Musavat, led by Isa Gamber, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP), led by Etibar Mamedov, and the Azerbaijan Popular Front, led by Ali Kerimli - will actually win the election. The three men will travel to Washington at the invitation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which may impel US activists to facilitate an agreement permitting the opposition to mount a unified presidential campaign. "The United States is trying to give the opposition one last chance to unite and produce a single candidate," the independent daily Zerkalo reported.
A date for the visit has yet to be disclosed. Nelson Ledsky, ambassador and regional director for Eurasia at NDI, said the agency is a non-governmental organisation that has no ties to Washington.
Power line linking Azerbaijan, Iran commissioned
The Astara-Astara high voltage power line connecting the Azerbaijani and Iranian power systems was commissioned on 8th July, ANS TV has reported.
The power line aims at improving the exchange of power with Iran. It will be used to supply power to Naxcivan [Azerbaijani exclave] and to boost the reliability of Azerbaijan's power system.
The construction of the 7.5-km long Azerbaijani part of the Astara-Astara power line cost 5bn manats [US$1m]. The line will provide the Azerbaijani side with power in the winter and the Iranian side in the summer.
Azerbaijan started the construction of the Astara-Astara high voltage power line in March this year. A total of 35 pylons were erected for the line. The length of the entire line is 15 km.
Azeri oil future looks "great"
By the year 2030, Azerbaijan will receive an income of more than US$50bn from implementing oil and gas projects and exporting such products to world markets. This was stated at an event on the topic "How to use the oil income efficiently?" organized by the national forum of NGOs at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baku, Space TV has reported.
The executive director of the State Oil Fund, Samir Sarifov, said that Azerbaijan had turned into a regional centre of oil and gas operations. Azerbaijan's oil income will be great in the next 10-15 years. Depending on the price of oil on the world market, Azerbaijan is expected to receive at least US$15bn from oil.
Sarifov said: "With the price of oil at US$25 per barrel, we would earn about US$45bn during the period until the year 2030 as predicted by the computer."
In the near future, apart from oil, Azerbaijan is expected to receive billions also from natural gas.
Sarifov continued: "Again, I believe that we can earn about US$6-7bn from the Sah Daniz field within the next 30 years."
World Bank allocates US$35m for Azerbaijan's irrigation infrastructure
The Board of Directors of the World Bank has approved the allocation of a US$35m credit for the modernization of Azerbaijan's irrigation infrastructure and system of distributing water resources in the republic, Bilik Dunyasi News Agency has reported.
A source from the World Bank's representative office in Baku has told Bilik Dunyasi that the project envisages work on an area of about 56,000 hectares in 11 districts of Azerbaijan.
The project will be launched in September-October this year and will be completed in late 2009. It will be implemented by the State Committee for Melioration and Water Economy in cooperation with the Association of Water Users of Azerbaijan.
The new project stipulates the training of association employees on the safety of irrigation and draining systems and operations," the source said.
EU-funded fibre-optic telecom link starts operating in Azerbaijan
A ceremony was held on 27th June to put into operation the Azerbaijani sector of the fibre-optic cable within the framework of the TRACECA [Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia] programme, AN TV has reported.
Azerbaijani Transport Minister, Ziya Mammadov said that the length of the fibre-optic cable was 550 km and it had been laid from the Baku railway station as far as Boyuk Kasik on the Georgian border. It is an up-to-date telecommunications system with 47 stations. It has channelling equipment, dispatching stations and computers to operate rail traffic and define the location of trains in real time. The cable is in plastic tubes and is completely insulated in the ground.
The European Union allocated a total of 15m Euros for the project
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