1 Oct 2015
Azerbaijan – September 2015
Resolution of the European Parliament, sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova, start of the parliamentarian race, new city buses and Armenian chess players in Baku
The month of September in Azerbaijan was marked throughout by the struggles with the European Parliament. On September 10, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for sanctions against those Azerbaijani officials who, according to the Members of the European Parliament, violated human rights in Azerbaijan. The European Parliament also called on the EU to appeal to Azerbaijan to annul the decision to close the OSCE office in Baku. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev called the resolution “nothing more than a piece of paper.” On September 14, the Milli Mejlis (Parliament) of Azerbaijan convened an extraordinary session that aired sharp criticism towards the EU. At the end of the session, a decision was passed to refrain from participation in the sessions of the Euronest Parliamentarian Assembly and to withdraw from that structure altogether.
Throughout the whole month, parliamentarians, officials, and political analysts successively and rather harshly criticized Europe for the resolution. In particular, the West was reminded of the wars it instigated or supported in the Middle East, the deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and the inhumane treatment towards refugees. Moreover, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to postpone the visit of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan because of this resolution. Being more prudent than the rest, Member of Parliament Rasim Musabekov noted that the European Parliament is not authorized to enact sanctions, while the executive structures of the EU are more pragmatic in such questions. Russia came forward in its support for Azerbaijan. Popular news anchor Dmitri Kiselyov dedicated a ten-minute story backing Azerbaijan in his program “News of the Week” on the TV channel Russia 1.
Meanwhile on September 1, the head of the Russian MFA Sergey Lavrov visited Baku. While his previous visits were consistently tied with the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this time the Azerbaijani media put a large emphasis on the Russia-West confrontation that is compelling the Kremlin to engage more actively in the region.
In the last ten days of September, the media attention shifted to the Armenian defector, the head of the “Intra-National Liberation Movement” Vahan Martirosyan who together with his family moved to Azerbaijan seeking asylum. He accused the Armenian authorities of persecution. The Armenian law enforcement authorities have issued a search warrant for Martirosyan accusing him of large-scale theft. Martirosyan held a press conference in Baku.
On the eve of the meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani MFAs and their meeting with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs during the 70th session of the General Assembly of the UN in New York, the media was filled with messages of multiple ceasefire violations on the line of contact between the armed forces of both countries. On September 26, a large-scale collision was reported. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan stated that as a result of an attack on Azerbaijani posts, 1 soldier was killed and 3 received shrapnel injuries. The Armenian side lost 4 soldiers and 16 were injured. On September 28, the Ministry of Defense communicated the deaths of another 3 soldiers of the armed forces of Azerbaijan and 7 killed on the Armenian side. The head of the Azerbaijani MFA Elmar Mammadyarov stated at the meeting with the head of the Armenian MFA Eduard Nalbandyan that Armenia is harming the peace process, “…with different provocative steps, in particular escalating the tension on the line of contact between the forces…” The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs called on both sides to carry out investigations.
On September 12, the Electoral District Commissions began accepting documents from individuals who want to run for Parliament. Meanwhile, the ruling party “Yeni Azerbaijan” finalized the list of the candidates. The parliamentary elections are to be held on November 1, 2015.
September 1 was marked by the sentencing of Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was convicted to 7.5 years imprisonment. Ismayilova was found guilty of tax evasion, theft, illegal business activity, and abuse of power. The court withdrew the charges under the article “on incitement of suicide.”
Also in September, Meydan TV journalist Shirn Abbasov was detained for 30 days after being charged for resisting police. He is held at the Chief Directorate Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Other four journalists working with Meydan TV, Aytaj Ahmedova, Sevinj Vaghifgyzy, Ayten Farhadova, and Izolda Agayeva, were also questioned by the same agency.
On September 8, President Ilham Aliyev chaired the session dedicated to the 2016 state budget and the discussions of economic priorities. On September 19, the budget package reached the Milli Mejlis where it will be debated until the parliamentary elections. It is envisioned that in 2016, 6.0 billion manat will be transferred to the state budget from the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), which is less than the forecast for 2015 by 4.388 billion manat, or 42.2 percent.
On September 16, the Azerbaijani-Czech business forum was held and attended by both presidents in Baku. In his speech, Ilham Aliyev reminded that today Azerbaijan is Europe’s only gas supplier. Despite uneasy political relations, the economic aspect is the dominating one in Azerbaijan’s rapport with the West.
In September, experts raised the price hike on petrol in the media. On September 3, 2013, the Tariff Council raised the price of petrol in Azerbaijan, citing the shift in oil prices in the world markets. However, after the drop in oil prices by more than 50 percent this year, the Tariff Council announced that the expenses influencing pricing of AI-92 grade petrol did not change, and there were no reasons for a price drop. Meanwhile, the head of SOCAR Rovnag Abdullayev announced that the fluctuation of oil prices in the world markets does not influence the price of petrol in Azerbaijan.
Society, Culture, and Sport
In September, a milestone event marked the world of chess in Baku, once again confirming that sport remains beyond politics. The world championship of chess in Baku hosted six chess players of Armenian origin, four of whom represented Armenia. The leader of the Armenian national team Levon Aronyan went for a stroll in Baku and was photographed at city sights. The media covered this story broadly in light of his past visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, which would have put him in the list of undesirable persons of the Azerbaijani MFA. The upcoming visit of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, football player of Dortmund’s Borussia, was also covered. Mkhitaryan visited Nagorno-Karabakh on multiple occasions. However, on the eve of the World Championship, Minister of Youth and Sport Azad Ragimov stated that sometimes Azerbaijan makes compromises for the sake of sport. The Armenian chess players were lodged in the same hotel together with the rest of the participants instead of being kept in a closed and protected base, as was the case with the Armenian boxers at the World Championship in 2011.
“Azerbaijani Railways” started running a route in September between Baku and Sumgait on new comfortable trains. The media discussed the double-decker trains more than the efficiency of passenger transit on that itinerary. Bakubus launched new bus routes and a new, unprecedented unified card fare payment system went underway.
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.