1 Dec 2015
Azerbaijan – November 2015
President of Azerbaijan at the G20 Summit, parliamentary elections, dismissal of the Minister of Communications and High Technologies, and arrests of officials from the Ministry of National Security
In November, President Ilham Aliyev attended the Leaders’ Forum at the 38th Session of the UNESCO General Conference. Before visiting France, the President took part in the G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya (Turkey) on November 15-16. Azerbaijan and Singapore were participating in the Summit as guests at the invitation of Turkey currently holding the chairmanship. On November 15, the President spoke at the discussions on economic development, investments, and employment.
President Aliyev also visited Georgia on November 5-6. The visit bore a particular importance given the recent tensions between the two countries. Georgia’s statements of intention to purchase more natural gas from Russia due to insufficient volumes of gas from Azerbaijan have raised discontent in Azerbaijan. On the visit, President Aliyev stated that Azerbaijan has sufficient reserves of natural gas to supply to Europe for the next 100 years. Azerbaijani mass media interpreted this statement by the President as a retort to the Georgian side.
Curious news have been circulating also in the context of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Quoting mostly Armenian media sources, rumors floated around about a possible meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in Paris on December 1. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Yerevan raised additional questions. Active discussions followed the Armenian and Russian online sources alleging that Lavrov arrived in Yerevan to convince the Armenian side to accept territorial concessions and return to Azerbaijan regions around Nagorno-Karabakh. Opinions were voiced that in case of such developments, Azerbaijan would have to join the Eurasian Union. No official commentary on the issue was made. Only Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Ziyafat Asgarov stated that nobody can dictate any conditions to Azerbaijan.
Significant media attention was paid to the impromptu visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Azerbaijan only several days after the Russian fighter jet was shot down. During the meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan is ready to make efforts to reduce tensions between the two countries.
November’s central event were the elections to the Milli Majlis (Azerbaijani Parliament) held on the 1st of the month. According to official data, the voter turnout was 55 percent. The main opposition party “Musavat” tried to spice up the election process by withdrawing from the race. However, the Central Election Commission denied the party’s withdrawal request. Parties can withdraw from the elections no later than 10 days before election day. As had been predicted, the ruling party “Yeni Azerbaijan” claimed the victory in the elections. The sharpest standoff took place at the 35th Khatai electoral district, where the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, former presidential candidate in the 2013 elections Araz Alizade came first surprisingly defeating the leader of “Umid” party Igbal Agazade. The latter, who has previously been elected to the Parliament three times from the same electoral district, stated that the results were rigged. President Aliyev said that the election results “reflect the will of the people of Azerbaijan”.
The results of the parliamentary elections were pushed to the background by dismissals and arrests of high-level officials that took place in October and November. On November 12, President Aliyev signed a decree on the dismissal of Ali Abbasov from the post of Minister of Communications and High Technologies of Azerbaijan. The local media emphasized that Abbasov’s dismissal is directly tied to the dismissal of the Minister of National Security (MNS) Eldar Makhmudov and the arrests of high-level officials of the same ministry. One reason for the removal from office of the former Minister of National Security could be the secret and unauthorized wiretapping of phone calls. The media also reported that a number of senior officials at the Ministry of Communications are involved in the illegal activities of the MNS’s former leadership. Arrests of the employees of the MNS continued throughout November. The official statement of the Prosecutor General’s office reads that 19 employees of the MNS have been arrested with charges of abuse of power, and 57 people, primarily businessmen, have been identified as victims.
On November 12, the Baku Court of Appeal held a hearing on the complaint filed by the arrested Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus. During the hearing, the expert conclusion of German doctors was read confirming that Arif Yunus suffers from high blood pressure. As a result, the court changed the measure of restraint against Arif Yunus, and he was released on his own recognizance.
On November 26, an unexpected escalation occurred in the village of Nardaran in the suburbs of Baku. The Special unit forces of the Ministry of Interior carried out an operation leaving 4 people dead. Two police officers taking part in the special operation were among the killed. As a result of the operation, 14 people were arrested, including the famous theologian, Chairman of the “Movement of Muslim Unity” Thale Bagirzade. According to the official sources, the police were met with armed resistance and only then resorted to force. The statement of the Prosecutor General’s office reads that the operation was preventive in nature and was conducted on the basis of information received by the Ministry of Interior about an armed criminal gang plotting provocations and acts of terrorism. In the following days, the situation remained tense in the village. In particular, residents, left without electricity, telephone, and Internet, installed barricades at the entrance to the village. According to the official newsfeed, the village was disconnected from electricity and other services because of debt. Movement and access to the village was severely limited, however no new clashes were reported before the end of the month.
In November, the Central Bank of Azerbaijan published the forecast on the level of inflation for the end of 2015. According to the CBA’s report on monetary policy for the period from January to September, the inflation is expected to be 4.4 percent. According to the State Statistics Committee, for the first nine months of 2015 the inflation rate was at 3.7 percent. Meanwhile, in November for the first time in a long time, the dollar crossed the mark of 1.05 against the manat. Immediately after that, the CBA issued a statement that they are in full control of the situation on the domestic currency market.
In addition, on Novembers 24 at the first session of the newly elected Milli Mejlis, President Aliyev reminded about the Southern Gas Corridor project pointing out that “Azerbaijan is redrawing Europe’s energy map”.
Society, Culture, and Sport
On November 16, almost the entire territory of Azerbaijan was offline. The reason was the fire on one of the lines connecting to the DATA-center of the primary provider Delta Telecom. Nevertheless, the problem was fully resolved.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has prepared a draft law on compulsory unemployment insurance. “Unemployment insurance allows individuals left without a job, to get insurance payments for a certain period of time, which will be covered by contributions made by the same individual when they are officially employed”, – says the ministry.
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.