28 Dec 2015
Azerbaijan – December 2015
Accident at Gunashli oil platform claiming lives of 30 people, devaluation of the national currency, and the meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Bern
The most anticipated event on the foreign policy front in the last month of the year was the meeting of president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, held on December 19 in Bern. During both the tête-à-tête meeting of the two presidents and the meeting with the co-chairs, no concrete results have been achieved. This is confirmed by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ joint statement on the results of the meeting reports Apa.az. A press statement by the leaders of the two countries also did not follow.
Political scientists and Milli Majlis deputy Rasim Musabekov wrote on his official Facebook page that the lack of results was very much expected. It is worth mentioning that the last meeting of the two presidents took place over a year ago, on October 24, 2014 in Paris with the participation of the French President François Hollande. At the same time, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in his interview to AzerTag stated that “the meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents held in Bern on December 19 should be assessed positively”.
During the meeting, concerns were raised about the escalation of violence and tensions on the contact line between the two sides of the conflict. Throughout the entire month alarming news were coming from Karabakh regarding intensive exchange of fire with use of heavy weaponry, which brought losses to both sides. According to the official newsfeed of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, during the month of December one officer and five soldiers of the Azerbaijani army were killed as a result of the exchange of fire. There were also non-combat losses. Quoting the Ministry of Defense, News.az reports that “as a result of security rules violation and careless handling of weapons by ensign Jeyhun Ahmadov, soldier Adil Guliyev received a gunshot wound and died on the spot”.
The news on a legislation introduced to the US Congress seeking sanctions against Azerbaijan was widely covered in media. The political leadership of Azerbaijan took the news as a personal initiative of the “pro-Armenian Congressman Chris Smith”. This statement was made by the Presidential Aid for Public and Political Affairs Ali Hasanov as reported by News.az quoting AzerTag. The press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry supported this opinion. Apa.az reports that the head of the press service of the foreign ministry said “the bill submitted by Congressman Smith is anti-Azerbaijani in nature”. In his turn, Speaker of the Milli Majlis Ogtay Asadov stated that he does not believe “that the Congress will approve the bill”.
On December 14, Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to create the State Security Service (SSS) and Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS) on the basis of the Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Report.az writes that Madat Guliyev was appointed Head of the State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Orkhan Sultanov was appointed Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service. At the same time, investigations in relation to the arrested senior officials, including the former minister of National Security, continue. On December 20, former deputy head of the Anti-Terrorist Center at the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan, Colonel Ilgar Aliyev hanged himself in the cell of the detention facility. Apa.az, quoting the Penitentiary Service, reports that he hung himself using bed sheets. A criminal case on the death is launched.
Throughout December, the Azerbaijani mass media was reporting on searches and arrests in Nardaran, where a special operation was carried out on November 26 resulting in deaths of 4 Islamists and two police officers. The chairman of the parliamentary committee of public associations and religious organizations Siyavush Novruzov stated that there is an Iranian influence in the Nardaran events, as reported by News.az.
Right before the New Year on December 21 came the shocking news from the Central Bank (CBA) introducing a floating exchange rate for the national currency manat, which effectively resulted in 47 percent of devalution of the currency. $1, which before the first devalutaion of February 2015 was equal to 0.78 manat, jumpted to 1.55 manats, reports AzerTag. In the evening, the CBA chairman Elman Rustamov appeared on AzTV and announced that the floating exchange rate is actually manageable and that it will not result in a significant change in the exchange rate. Morevoer, he stated that the sitution in the banking sector is stable, and the new exchange rate will allow to reduce import volumes, News.az reports. However, the Azerbaijani media reports that on the very first day, the devaluation of the national currency led to a rise in the prices of goods in the stores of home appliances, automobiles, ticket prices of the national carrier, tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages.
In addition, Azernews.az reports that on December 7, President Ilham Aliyev approved the Azerbaijani state budget for 2016. If in 2015 the budget revenues were projected at 19 billion manats, then in 2016 revenues are projected at 14.5 billion manats. At the same time oil prices are built in at $50 per barrel. Brent oil prices fell in December to eleven-years lows of 36.17. Trend.az reports that the head of the press service of the Ministry of Finance Mais Piriyev said that “as part of the revision of the budget forecasts, the reduction of the target price for oil in the 2016 state budget will be considered lowering it from $50”.
Society, Culture, and Sport
On December 4, the fire that broke out on the oil rig known as Platfrom Number 10 of the Guneshli oil field claimed the lives of 7 people. Another 23 people are still missing. Out of 63 people working on the platform, 33 were rescued. On the next day after the incident, the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and General Prosecutor’s Office issued a joint statement. The tragedy was caused by giant waves that broke the standpipe of the subsea gas line thus damaging the pipeline that resulted in severe fire, reports Minval.az quoting the official statement by State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. Azernews.az reports that on the same day, a booth was washed out to the sea due to a strong storm at the Neft Dashlari oil field. The incident claimed the lives of three people.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.
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