Books on Azerbaijan
Update No: 298- (27/10/05)
Purge at the top; ministers accused of coup plot
Tension was mounting in the build-up to parliamentary elections on November 6th.
The president of Azerbaijan on October 20th arrested two cabinet ministers amid
allegations of a coup plot, 17 days ahead of the elections. Ilham Aliyev, who
inherited the presidency of the Caspian state from his father after a rigged
election in 2003, also ordered the dismissal of five senior officials in the
next few days.
A spokesman for the interior ministry said Farhad Aliyev, the economic
development minister, had been dismissed on October 19th and was later arrested,
along with his brother, Rafik, the owner of the petrol giant, Azpetrol. The
minister, who has long denied accusations he is secretly supporting the
opposition, has been charged with plotting a coup attempt with the exiled
opposition leader, Rasul Guliev. These two Aliyevs do not belong to the Aliyev
clan of the president. The dismissal of Farhad Aliev is linked to his
long-standing feud with the powerful customs chief, Kemalatdin Haydarov,
On October 20th Ali Insanov, the health minister and one of the founders of
President Aliev's ruling party, was also dismissed and reportedly arrested. It
was not clear if this was related to the coup allegations, although the timing
would suggest that it was. There were also reports that the government chief of
staff, Akif Muradverdiyev, the minister for education, Misir Mardanov, and the
minister of labour, Ali Nagiev, had been sacked.
Government prosecutors charged that Farhad Aliev had agreed to provide about £1.7m
towards a coup attempt during meetings with the former finance minister Fikret
Yusifov on Azpetrol premises. Tension in the capital Baku has grown in recent
weeks as protests by opposition activists have been brutally dispersed by riot
President Aliyev has been under pressure to reform the authoritarian legacy of
his father from the US and the EU, who seek more oil from the country.
International observers have criticised preparations for the November 6th
elections, which they say make it easier to fix the vote.
Eynulla Fatullayev, an analyst, said the cabinet ministers Insanov,
Muradverdiyev, Mardanov and Nagiev were among the more conservative elements of
the administration, and had been accused of being its most corrupt. "There
is a complicated struggle for power between these men and the reformers around
the president," he said. "In my opinion he may have arrested these
people to try to raise popular support before the elections."
Mr Guliev, a former parliamentary speaker and the head of the Azerbaijan
Democratic party, who is facing charges that he embezzled £70m in office, on
October 17th attempted to fly to Baku to meet supporters. But police blocked
access to the airport and detained hundreds, and his plane was diverted to
Ukraine, where he was arrested on an Interpol warrant. On October 20th he was
released and said he would return to London where he would lobby the EU and US
over the elections. He said there were "absolutely no links" between
him and the arrested Aliyev brothers.
"It is a complete crisis, and if the government does not realise how deep
it is then it could turn into Kyrgyzstan," he said, referring to how
protests drove the Central Asian state's president into exile in March. He
warned that the apparent split in the ruling elite could lead to the
"break-up of society".
Democracy under test
Azerbaijan is preparing for a November 6th parliamentary election.
In previous elections, the government used an arbitrary registration process to
disqualify candidates it feared or disliked. The current parliamentary contest
became a free-for-all after strong international criticism forced President
Ilham Aliyev, son of his predecessor, Haidar Aliyev, to announce on May 11th
what he called important electoral reforms. He eased the registration process
and called for his regional representatives to remain neutral.
Many opposition politicians dismiss the changes as cosmetic. Despite its promise
of free and fair elections, they note, the government has already used violence
to break up political rallies, most recently on September 25th.
But a genuine spirit of competition in the campaign survives. More than 2,000
candidates have registered to vie for 125 seats in parliament, and in some
districts, dozens of names are on the ballot. "This is an indication of the
trust of the society with respect to free and fair elections," Mr Aliyev
said in an interview.
The new openness has exposed rifts in the ruling New Azerbaijan Party. It has
put forth a slate but hasn't prevented maverick members such as Mr Ibrahimov,
one young party radical, from entering the race, standing in Gunahir.
Some younger members of the ruling party have sensed quiet encouragement from
some top officials in Baku to run against established figures. In the interview,
Mr Aliyev said there might be changes to the party's roster based on how well
different members did in the run-up to the election. "I think the party
list which we have already published is composed of the most popular
candidates," Mr Aliyev said. "But maybe during the campaign we will
have a different picture; then we will adjust ourselves to the situation."
"The struggle between the local power brokers and satraps and the president
is the invisible real politics," said S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced
International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. But others, he said,
"are preoccupied with elections, the relation between the president and the
Asked about complaints of intimidation and meddling by his regional governors,
Mr Aliyev said he had replaced many of them and denied there was a problem. He
earlier issued a decree that the governors should remain neutral during the
Others insist the regional governors still exercise almost dictatorial powers.
"I am absolutely positive that complaints about Lankaran don't reach
Aliyev's ears," Mr Ibrahimov, said. He said mail sent to the central
government in Baku was opened in the governor's office and that the governor
pressured him to withdraw from the race in Gunahir.
Balogian Mirzoyev, head of a small private television station in Lankaran and
another candidate running against Mr Rajabli, Ibrahimov's opponent, is also
battling the regional power structure. "If I try to report accurate
information, about anything, the administration of Lankaran city will give an
order to stop," he said. "They will order companies not to advertise,
or they will order the electrical company to stop giving power to the
Mr Mirzoyev said he, too, had been personally pressured by local authorities to
drop out of the race.
Candidates in other regions described in interviews similar flouting of the
presidential directive for neutrality. One entrepreneur, Fatimat Agamireyeva,
said she was forced to run in neighbouring districts out of fear of retaliation
by local officials against her carpet business. Candidates said they feared for
the safety of their campaign workers, that posters were routinely ripped down by
local police, and that local authorities threatened their jobs and the jobs of
their family and friends. Another candidate, Igrar Jaberov, also from Lankaran,
said he was promised a job if he dropped out.
In Kargolan village, near Lankaran, an opposition party member who questioned Mr
Rajabli at a meeting about high rates of unemployment in the district said he
was physically roughed up and removed from the premises. That member, Sabir
Aliev, is now supporting Mr Ibrahimov.
According to Mr Mirzoyev and other Lankaran candidates, Mr Rajabli and his
allies in the regional administration are using the new registration process
(only 450 signatures are required to get on the ballot) to line up candidates
from prominent local clans, Mr Mirzoyev called this a gambit, to be followed by
the candidates dropping out of the race in the final days of the campaign and
throwing their votes to Mr Rajabli. With 16 candidates competing in a district
with about 29,000 voters, the 300 to 400 votes of a single family group can mean
victory for a candidate.
In an interview in the parliament building in Baku, Mr Rajabli dismissed
complaints from his challengers. He said any pressure on candidates to drop out
was natural in political life.
In Gunahir, Mr Ibrahimov assured the villagers he would stay in the race. He
suggested they challenge, if necessary, any tampering. He painted the current
election as the last chance for Azerbaijan to reform before increased oil
revenues brought the possibility of yet more corruption and an even more
entrenched elite in Baku.
Parties and blocs to dominate Azerbaijan's parliamentary poll
With more than 2,000 contenders registered for the upcoming parliamentary
elections, observers are predicting a heated campaign. Despite an unprecedented
number of independent candidates, long-standing political parties are dominating
the campaign. It is within the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, that few doubt will
win, that the regional satraps, who all belong to it, are so important.
The others are hoping to put down their own markers for the future, with more
countryside politics in mind. This is the first election since the Rose
Revolution in Georgia next door, which was the outcome of a disputed
presidential election. It is the next presidential election in Azerbaijan that
everybody is preparing for as the vital one to determine the country's future.
Cooperation and coordination could prove pivotal in determining the composition
of the next parliament. The opposition is relying on election blocs, while many
independent candidates have united into loose alliances to boost their
competitiveness against the governing party.
The November 6 parliamentary vote will be the first since the country's 2002
constitutional referendum, which abolished the proportional election system.
Candidates will compete instead for single-mandate seats. To date, it is also
the first election in Azerbaijan's post-Soviet history in which candidates -
including two political exiles -- have been able to register with relative ease.
Three political parties and blocs are dominating the campaign: the ruling Yeni
Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) Party, the opposition Azadlig (Freedom) alliance,
comprising the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, Musavat Party and Democratic
Party of Azerbaijan, and the Yeni Siyaset or YeS (New Policy) bloc.
As of late September, some 2,037 candidates were registered for the November 6
vote, the newspaper Ekspress quoted the Central Election Commission as saying.
Between them, these three parties and blocs are running some 300 candidates.
More than 1,500 individuals are running as independents. A host of smaller
parties (Alliance for Azerbaijan, Hope Party, Pro-Azerbaijani Forces and others)
each with fewer than 60 candidates, makes up the rest.
An assortment of alliances, often with the words "new" or
"reforms" as part of their names, has emerged to promote the interests
of these so-called "non-partisan" candidates. Experts believe that
these groups are intended to appeal to voters who are disappointed by both the
ruling party and the traditional opposition powers, as represented by Azadliq
While Azadliq makes no secret of its desire for a complete change of political
leadership, the ruling YAP is campaigning with a message of preservation of
Azerbaijan's economic gains since the early 1990s and gradual reform.
The ruling party's candidate list, the last to be published, has generated
considerable controversy. The delay in publishing the list prompted speculation
that YAP was concealing an alternative list of candidates who would enjoy the
government's actual support. While the party maintains that is interested in
reform, its best-known candidates are not names normally associated with
progressive change, some analysts say. Perhaps the YAP candidate most likely to
attract attention is Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan's first lady, who enjoys
considerable popularity for her charitable work. Well-known hard-line
parliamentarians -- including Ahad Abiyev, Musa Musayev and Jalal Aliyev, the
uncle of President Ilham Aliyev -- also headline the party list.
Ironically, in some constituencies in which YAP faces stiff competition from an
opposition candidate, the party is running candidates deemed relatively weak or
untested by local analysts. Several pro-opposition observers believe that the
Aliyev administration is willing to concede a few seats in parliament to the
opposition out of a desire to prevent the possibility of election-related
unrest. Others argue that the YAP candidate list has been designed primarily to
address internal party disputes. "It is clear that the list was designed to
subdue internal conflicts in the Yeni Azerbaijan Party," YeS leader Eldar
Namazov, a former presidential aide, commented.
One YAP candidate disagrees with the criticism of the party's roster of
candidates. "This list includes former MPs and new names as well as those
who have great merits within the party. If the list would include only
nationally known personalities, it would prevent regional party members from
getting a chance to become better known," commented Aydin Mirzazade, a
candidate running from the 47th Mingachevir constituency outside of Baku.
"We are the strongest party and the list shows that."
In a significant number of constituencies, many so-called
"independent" candidates are YAP members running without the party's
official backing. Truly independent candidates argue that they are having a
difficult time competing. Under Azerbaijani election law, parties or alliances
must have more than 60 candidates running in the elections to qualify for free
access to state-run national television. That rule applies to only four of the
parties and alliances running in this November's election: YAP, Azadliq, YeS and
the Azerbaijani Liberal Party.
To maintain a foothold in the campaign, many independent candidates have forged
alliances to share resources. The groups range from a bloc for media
professionals to an alliance of economists. While individuals can donate no more
than US$590 to an independent candidate, and legal entities only US$11,800,
independent candidates sponsored by an election alliance or political party can
receive up to US$59,000 for campaign expenses from the alliance or US$29,500
from a political party, stated Alasgar Mammadli, an expert on electoral law.
The advantages to be had from collaborative campaigning are illustrated by
Azadliq, the tripartite opposition bloc that has been the most outspoken against
YAP. According to Ilgar Mammadov, an independent political analyst and a
non-partisan candidate in the elections, the bloc's list of 115 candidates
underscores its political unity. The bloc's three participating parties --
Musavat, the Popular Front and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan -- agreed on 33
nominees each, with primaries deciding candidates for the remaining 16
constituencies that Azadliq is contesting.
According to Mammadov, the bloc's wish to have an equal number of candidates
resulted in a sacrifice of quality in some cases. "The best example is the
Sabail-Nasimi constituency [in and around Baku's Old City], where Rasim
Musabekov, a Musavat member and political analyst with a great chance to win,
was opposed by the Azadlig nominee Zamina Dunyamaliyeva, a little-known member
of the Democratic Party," he said. Adding to the complications: Musabekov
will run as an "independent" candidate rather than as a member of the
Azadliq bloc, meaning that he does not qualify for bloc-supplied campaign funds
Popular Front Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafayev, however, argued that any loss of
quality was a small price to pay for uniting Azerbaijan's three largest
opposition parties for the November 6 vote. "The long-awaited alliance is
designed for long-term purposes. We had to move from an autonomous existence to
co-existence," Mustafayev said.
According to YeS leader Eldar Namazov, an even broader alliance that included
YeS would have improved the opposition's chances at the polls. "It would be
better if the alliances would come up with single opposition lists," he
said. "However, the Azadlig leaders failed to reach a common decision on
uniting with other opposition groups."
The YeS alliance, formed in April 2005, was originally expected to be a
"third force" that could attract voters disappointed by the
traditional opposition and the government. The bloc has since veered much more
strongly toward the opposition. The alliance's platform, titled "From
Authoritarianism to Democracy, From Corruption to a Legal State," is highly
critical of the Aliyev administration.
"All our candidates support the ideas described in the document," said
Namazov. "They desire political and economic reforms." However,
Mammadov argued that the lack of time between YeS's foundation and the elections
meant that few of the bloc's 69 candidates, apart from Namazov and Etibar
Mammadov, leader of the National Independence Party, are strong candidates.
"Most of them are people with a communist nomenklatura past. The quality of
the YeS alliance is lagging behind both the YAP and Azadlig lists,"
Namazov countered that those candidates believed to be holdovers from the Soviet
past are professionals with considerable experience in administrative
management. "The members of [first Azerbaijani President Ayaz] Mutallibov's
[last President Abulfaz] Elchibey's and [late President Heidar] Aliyev's
cabinets are among our nominees. It shows that our alliance is based not on
enmity, but on reconciliation."
Former President Ayaz Mutallibov, arguably YeS's best known candidate, now in
exile in Russia, is expected to face a difficult race against Lala Shovket
Hajiyeva, leader of the Azerbaijan Liberal Party. The Liberals are running 65
candidates, most of them little known. However, experts believe that Hajiyeva's
reputation for avoiding negative campaigning could result in considerable gains
for the party at the polls.
AIOC oil production up 83.5% in Jan-Sep
Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), the operator for the
Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli project in the Caspian Sea, produced 8.71 million tonnes
of oil at Azeri and Chirag fields in the first nine months of the year, up 83.5
per cent year-on-year, a company source said, Interfax News Agency reported.
Production at Chirag totalled 5.239 million tonnes and production at Azeri
totalled 3.467 million tonnes in January-September 2005, the source said. AIOC
produced 563,400 tonnes of oil at Chirag in August and 772,500 tonnes at Azeri.
AIOC exports in January-September of the current year totalled 7.512 million
tonnes, up 65.75 per cent year-on-year.
It exported 5.157 million tonnes of oil along the Baku-Supsa pipeline, 1.683
million tonnes in the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, and 671,500 tonnes by railroad
to Batumi Port.
Naku proposes SOCAR, Rafi Oil PSA
Azerbaijan's parliamentary commission on natural resources, energy and ecology
on September 19th recommended a production sharing agreement (PSA) for the
Surakhany field signed by Azeri state oil company SOCAR and Rafi Oil of the
United Arab Emirates for ratification by the parliament, Interfax News Agency
"The contract was signed on August 16th and is the 25th contract for
developing oil fields in Azerbaijan.
The property has an area of 13 square kilometers," Asya Manafova, the
commission's head, said in parliament. It is anticipated that the parliament
will soon ratify the PSA, the report said.
Manafova said SOCAR would have a 25 per cent interest in the project and that
Rafi Oil would have 75 per cent. The contract states that oil production at the
field should rise 50 per cent in two years. Rafi Oil will finance SOCAR's stake
in the project until it doubles the current rate of extraction. Rafi Oil must
also pay a bonus of one million Euro and present SOCAR with a working programme
on the field's development within 90 days. SOCAR will have the right to sever
the contract if Rafi Oil does not start exploration within two years.
This is initially a 25-year PSA with the possibility of a five-year extension.
The field, which first went into production in 1904, has 6.8m tonnes of oil left
in it, Manafova said.
She said, 2,300 wells had been drilled at Surakhany, which produced 115.6m
tonnes of oil between 1904 and the start of this year. At present, 230 wells
operate at the field.
Manafova said a flat profit tax rate of 24 per cent would apply for the duration
of the PSA. Rafi Oil plans to invest 400m Euro in the field.
This includes 100 million Euro during the initial stage to renovate existing
infrastructure new technologies and other areas.
Rafi Oil estimates that Azerbaijan will earn 921m Euro from the contract if oil
prices average at 49 Euro a barrel. Rafi Oil intends to increase oil production
at the field from 95,100 tonnes in 2004 to 257,000 tonnes in 2014.
The field produced 58,400 tonnes of oil and 10.5m cubic metres of gas in the
first half of the year.
EBRD lends 100 mln Euro for Azeri roads
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will provide a 100
million Euro loan to Azerbaijan to rehabilitate and upgrade a section of the
main north-south road that links Russia and Iran with the capital, Baku, New
The loan follows the Bank's first road project with Azerbaijan that was signed
in July last year to finance improvements to the main east-west highway across
the country, which forms part of the historic east-west Silk Road to Central
Asia. Both projects will help restructure the road sector, run by the ministry
of transport's road transport services department. "Developing the
country's road network is a priority for the government of Azerbaijan, with the
long term benefits being enhanced trade and regional development," said
Azerbaijan's transport minister, Ziya Mamadov. Azerbaijan asked EBRD and a
number of other financiers to participate in financing the north-south road
corridor from Astara to Samur (on the border with Russia).