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AZERBAIJAN


  
  

 

In-depth Business Intelligence

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 7,124 6,090 5,600 102
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 810 710 650 146
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Azerbaijan

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
86,600

Population
7,868,385

Principal ethnic
groups
Azeri 90%
Russian 2.5%
Armenian 2%
Dagestani 3.2%
other 2.3

Capital
Baku

Currency
Azeri Manat

President
Ilham Aliyev



President
Ilham Aliyev
 


Update No: 293- (27/05/05)

Will Aliyev's luck hold?
Azerbaijan may be on the edge of turmoil, so at least many think. The Rose Revolution in Georgia has put a massive question mark over the future of the regime. President Ilham Aliyev was fortunate to be elected in October 2003, just before presidential elections in Georgia in November of that year. His own election was rigged, but in a manner the opposition were not well organised to contest successfully. 
In Georgia it was a very different situation. Eduard Shevardnadze was a tired and played-out old warhorse, ready to depart when it was shown that his re-election had been rigged. But then he faced an obvious successor in Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of a highly-prepared opposition.
Ilham Akiyev has so far been very lucky. In his youth he was a profligate gambler, so much so that his father, Heydar Aliyev, the then president, had the casinos closed down in Baku to prevent his playboy of a son squandering more money. 
He was able to lose so much on the tables because he was the scion of the family that has ruled the country for decades. Everyone that counts in Azerbaijan is an Aliyev or a crony of the Aliyevs. In a nation where power was in the hands of regional clans, their clan has long been supreme.
The money all comes from copious oil reserves, of which it has 31bn barrels on conservative estimates, and there was little distinction between the money of the State and that of the Aliyevs.

Highest quantity of oil in Azerbaijan will be produced in 2005
The highest quantity of oil ever is to be produced in 2005 in Azerbaijan - 20,293,000 tons. The president of the state oil company (SOCAR) Naik Aliyev, inevitably an Aliyev, informed the press about this, speaking on 29th April in Milli Mejlis, the agency Trend reports. 
He said that this result was achieved thanks to successful realization of the oil strategy of Azerbaijan. "For the whole history of Azerbaijan the fact of production of such quantity of oil was fixed during the Second World War. Starting from 1994, as a result of the stability created by Heydar Aliyev in the state, foreign investors invest finances in the development of the hydrocarbon sites of Azerbaijan". 
The SOCAR president mentioned that 8, 976,400 tons of oil was produced in 2004. This was 226 thousand tons more than was planned.

Pre-election turmoil
It is just possible that Aliyev's luck is running out. For in recent weeks, a number of anti-government coalitions have emerged in Azerbaijan with the aim of winning parliamentary seats in elections in November. 
Moreover, an eminently Western power, Norway, intends to be an observer scrutinising democracy and transparency in the forthcoming elections, Steinar Gil, the Norwegian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, told Trend. The recent visit by Trun Yischke, a Norwegian MP, to Azerbaijan which ended on 29th April, pursued this goal. 
During the visit the Norwegian MP held a meeting with the public and political division of the President's Executive Power, Ali Hassanov; Executive Secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Ali Ahmadov, and party functionaries, heads of the pre-election blocs uniting the ruling opposition parties, the heads of the leading non-governmental organizations and editors of independent and opposition newspapers, including the editor-in- chief of the newspaper Arif Raufoglu.
Major attention was paid at ensuring the rights of gathering, participation of international observers in the elections, issues aligned with the establishment of election commissions.
Yischke will prepare a report on the public and political and pre-election political situation in Azerbaijan and submit it to the Norwegian parliament, the diplomat said. According to Gil, the MP will also put forward the issue of participation in the election of observers from the Norwegian parliament.

The mustering of the opposition
The opposition in the past has often failed to join forces in time to make a political impact. But leaders of these groups say they have learned from past mistakes and are determined to work together in order to bring democratic change to the country. RFE/RL talked to the leaders of two of the new alliances -- former presidential aide Eldar Namazov and Popular Front Chairman Ali Kerimli.
Several opposition leaders and former government officials announced on 12th April the creation of a new election bloc to run for seats in Azerbaijan's Milli Meclis, or national parliament. The alliance is known as Yeni Siyaset (New Politics). It includes Namazov, the chairman of Azerbaijan's Public Forum nongovernmental organization, and a onetime aide of late President Heidar Aliyev. 
Other members are Lale Sovket, the former chairwoman of Azerbaijan's Liberal Party and a former secretary of state; and Etibar Mammedov, the former chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP). 
Namazov said the ultimate aim of the Yeni Siyaset alliance is to put an end to "a regime based on clan logic and corruption." He said that the bloc's goals are detailed in a seven-point programme for leading the country in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. 
Yeni Siyaset "will fight for free elections -- be they presidential, legislative, or municipal -- and in-depth democratic reforms. In other words, this bloc has not just been created in anticipation of the upcoming [parliamentary] polls. We have broader strategic aims. We want authoritarianism and Azerbaijan's corrupt politics to give way to a new, democratic system," Namazov said. 

The next democratic revolutionary?
Although not widely known in the West, Namazov has long been active in Azerbaijani politics. From 1993 to 1999, he served as head of Heydar Aliyev's secretariat. He then entered parliament in 2000, but was barred from running in the controversial presidential poll in 2003. 
That vote saw Aliyev's son, Ilham, win by a landslide and launch a crackdown on the opposition, whom he accused of stirring up political unrest. 
Unlike Namazov, some founding members of Yeni Siyaset did run in the 2003 presidential polls. Sovket, running as an independent candidate, officially took 3.3 percent of the vote. Mammedov won 2.7 percent. 
Both Sovket and Mammedov claimed the vote was fraudulent. But neither joined the street protests staged by the Musavat Party, whose chairman, Isa Qambar, had finished second in the presidential race. 
The new alliances are a departure from past opposition partnerships. In the run-up to the 2003 elections, Mammedov, then head of AMIP, teamed up with Ali Kerimli, the chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. 
But Mammedov has since left the AMIP and joined Yeni Siyaset. For his part, Kerimli allied himself with Qambar's Musavat and the Democratic Party of exiled oppositionist Rasul Quliyev. 
Kerimli told RFE/RL the Azerbaijani opposition has learned its lesson from the previous election campaign. This time, instead of waiting until late in the race to join ranks, he says they have decided to consolidate well in advance. 
"For us these elections are not mere elections. They are a way to achieve freedom of choice," Kerimli said. "But we won't be able to reach this goal if we remain isolated. This is why it is indispensable for us to join forces. After analysing the 2003 polls and their outcome, we came to the conclusion that we must put our forces and resources together and get prepared well in advance if we want to avert a new defeat. This is why we started our election campaign so early." 
Kerimli said the crackdown that followed Ilham Aliyev's victory demoralized the opposition, which went on to boycott the 2004 municipal elections. But he said the tide has reversed and that "the opposition is now much stronger than ever." 
Both Kerimli and Namazov said it is possible their alliances will back a single candidate in November. It remains unclear, however, whether the Azerbaijani opposition will be able to overcome its traditional divisions. 
Already, a number of AMIP and Democratic Party figures have been lured into a third antigovernment coalition created in January. Known as Hemreylik ve Etimad (Solidarity and Trust), this alliance is chaired by Ilqar Qasimov, a former Russian Justice Ministry official and a reported co-author of the Russia-Belarus Union treaty. 
Many in Baku suspect that despite its self-described opposition stance, this bloc may prove to be either a government puppet or a way for Russia to maintain influence in Azerbaijani politics. By contrast, the blocs chaired by Namazov and Kerimli are widely perceived as being pro-Western, if only because their leaders are regularly invited to meet decision makers in the United States and Europe. 
Namazov said the West has been closely following developments in Azerbaijan, but so far is wary of backing a single political group. "We've been developing close ties with international structures and democratic countries, including the United States and European states," he said. "But our feeling is that they do not wish to lend support to any particular individual, or political party. What Europe and the United States support, first of all, is [Azerbaijan's] democratic process. They've stated that on more than one occasion, and I believe they are sincere." 
Namazov and Kerimli both noted that the West is currently pressing the government to amend the existing election law and ensure that the upcoming vote is fair and democratic. They also say it was Western pressure that forced Ilham Aliyev to order the release of all opposition leaders sentenced last year for their participation in the November 2003 unrest. 
Both leaders say they want use elections to achieve democratic changes. But they caution against a repeat of the recent political upheaval in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. 
"We want these elections to be democratic, honest, and fair," Kerimli said. "We're getting prepared for elections, not a revolution. We want [everything] to go peacefully, democratically, and legally. But should the government try to oppose this, should it attempt once again to falsify the election's outcome, we will not let ourselves be pushed around and there will be a popular resistance movement against frauds. If the government wants to avert this, it has only one option -- to ensure that the upcoming polls are free and fair." 
Namazov said any perception of election fraud will inevitably lead to popular resistance. He ruled out, however, the possibility of violent protests such as the ones that followed the 2003 vote. "We believe society is mature enough to not let a few thousand individuals armed with truncheons and stones confront police forces," he said.

Journalist's death raises a political storm
The shooting death of a prominent opposition journalist has raised Azerbaijan's political temperature, ahead of the parliamentary elections. In a well organised murder an unknown assailant shot and killed 38-year-old Elmar Huseynov on March 2nd in the hallway outside his apartment on the outskirts of Baku. Huseynov, the editor-in-chief of the opposition Monitor magazine, was buried March 4th. 
One of Azerbaijan's best known dissident journalists, Huseynov had frequently tangled with authorities. Lawsuits brought by officials and Aliyev relatives resulted in large fines against Monitor in recent years. In 2002, Huseynov received a six-month prison term for allegedly slandering the mayor of Baku, but was pardoned and released within two months.
Opposition members, human rights activists and journalists have no doubts that the killing was a politically motivated crime. Authorities, including President Ilham Aliyev, have vigorously denied any involvement, blaming the murder instead on a mysterious force that seeks to "discredit Azerbaijan in a parliamentary election year." This is not an explanation that has achieved any credibility at all - nor does it deserve to.
Dismissing official rhetoric, many Azerbaijani journalists remain sceptical that the government will vigorously pursue the Huseynov murder case. In an interview with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Baku Press Club Deputy Director Chingiz Sultansoy said that Huseynov had received several threats recently and feared for his safety. Expressing little confidence in official investigators, a group of journalists have announced plans to carry out their own murder investigation. 
Clues to the culprit's identity appear sketchy, even though a pistol with a silencer, believed to be the murder weapon, was found near the crime scene. Neither Huseynov's family members, nor his neighbours reported hearing the shots, and no witness sightings have been made. The electricity and telephone service to Huseynov's apartment were cut off at approximately the same time as the shots were fired, estimated at 8:30pm on March 2nd. Calls from the journalist's cell phone were also reportedly blocked, thereby allegedly preventing his family from immediately summoning an ambulance. This indicates of course that at least a team were involved with access not available to ordinary citizens.
Huseynov's murder is the latest in a string of violent attacks on Azerbaijani journalists over the past year by unknown assailants. Eynulla Fatullayev, the deputy editor of Monitor, was badly beaten last year, and the editor of another newspaper, Baki Habar, was kidnapped several months ago. In late February, Lider TV aired footage that showed the editor of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahidov, and a colleague nude in the company of two prostitutes. Zahidov claims that the photos were taken under threat of violence. 

A contract killing
With the crime bearing all the signs of a government sponsored contract killing, opposition leaders immediately focused their suspicions on the Aliyev administration, labelling Huseynov's death an act of "state terror" designed to stifle criticism of the government. 
"We could expect this murder. This action is directed at intimidation of the people," Ali Kerimli, leader of the Popular Front Party, said at a March 3 conference in Baku on media rights. "It is not just the assassination of a journalist. It is an encroachment on the will of the people toward democracy." 
One international human rights organization largely echoed that evaluation. "This looks like an organized murder that aimed to silence criticism by one magazine and scare off anyone else who was thinking of following in Huseynov's footsteps," Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, said. 
International reactions also tended to assess the killing as a blow against civil society development in Azerbaijan. The European Union's mission said Huseynov's death was "an attack on free media, democracy, pluralism and the people of Azerbaijan." A US embassy statement described Huseynov as "a dedicated champion of media freedom" and "a man who stood up for his beliefs and principles, even in the face of great adversity."

Aliyev tries to quiet the perturbation 
Aliyev and other officials responded immediately, seeking to dispel the obvious impression that the government was connected to the crime. Administration officials are clearly concerned about the murder's potential to aggravate Azerbaijan's domestic political situation. A government statement urged that "regardless of its motives, Huseynov's assassination cannot be used for political purposes," whatever that night mean. 
In an interview with local television stations, Aliyev reinforced that stance, terming Huseynov's murder "barbarism" and telling viewers that the attack was not in keeping with the country's democratic and economic development. "Those who have committed the crime attempted to damage Azerbaijan's international image, to discredit it before the parliamentary elections and present the country as an unstable and non-democratic state, where freedom of speech is violated and acts of terrorism are committed," Aliyev told a meeting of the Security Council that same day, the presidential press office reported. They did not report the responses of Aliyev's cronies on this Council.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party appeared to blame the killing on an unnamed "third force" seeking to destabilize the country. It characterized Huseynov's murder as a "provocation intended to whip up tension ... and deal a blow to Azerbaijan's international image." 
Aliyev pressed law-enforcement officials to capture and try the killer, the Lider television channel reported. To help assuage potential public doubts, Azerbaijani officials have also welcomed the arrival of a US Federal Bureau of Investigation expert to assist Azerbaijani police in the murder probe. 
Beyond the investigation, Aliyev urged government officials to refrain from taking legal action against media outlets, potentially signalling that the government intends to ease the pressure on opposition media outlets. Human rights advocates have said such lawsuits have been used in the past to impede freedom of expression and prevent opposition parties from conveying their political messages to the public.

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ENERGY

Japan to finance 2nd combined cycle plant in Azerbaijan

Construction of the second 400MWt combined cycle plant in the Shimal SRPS on the Absheron peninsula will have a positive influence on economic development of the area, Azerenergy OSC press service reported recently.
Azerenergy has carried out negotiations with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) on allotment of credit for the installation of the second combined cycle plant as well. Group chief engineer, Marlen Askerov, said the Japanese side agreed to finance the project. Azeri Deputy premier, Abid Sharifov, met with the Japanese side and a relevant document was signed. Currently, the final draft of the finance-credit agreement is under scrutiny. The first similar power station built on credit allotted by the Japan government is the only such device in the CIS, Azerenergy OSC president, Etibar Priverdiyev, said.

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Azerbaijan, Germany talk economic relations

German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Detlef Lingeman recently visited the national Confederation of the Entrepreneurs (Employers') Organisations of Azerbaijan Republic (AEC), Interfax News Agency reported.
During the talks, both sides exchanged views on economic ties between Azerbaijan and Germany, cooperation possibilities and establishment of business cooperation between the local and foreign companies. President of AEC Alakbar Mammadov highlighted the involvement of German and Azerbaijani businessmen into the joint business forums, establishment of bilateral business cooperation and especially dwelled on problems of Azerbaijani employers.

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