1 Nov 2015
Azerbaijan – October 2015
Russian missiles above the Caspian, resignation of the Minister of National Security, the calm before the elections, and discussion on gas supply to Georgia
In October, President Ilham Aliyev participated in the summit of the heads of CIS states in Kazakhstan. However, the launch of Russian missiles from the Caspian Sea to Syria overshadowed the discussions at the summit. Many opinions were voiced, including that the missile strikes from the Caspian Sea were of a demonstrative nature. However, no statements clarifying the official position of Baku were made.
In the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a statement was made by the OSCE Secretary General Lomberto Zannier at the Permanent council of CSTO in Moscow in regard to the possibility of the meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the near future. However, these statements were merely voiced as suggestions and so far have not been confirmed.
Earlier this month, certain havoc was caused by the statements of Armenian Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandyan on the possibility of the recognition of Nagorno Karabakh in the event of a renewed threat of war. After that, interviews with the Russian and US Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group Igor Popov and James Warlick were published in the media. The Co-chairs pointed out that Armenia’s recognition of Nagorno Karabakh could lead to a response from Azerbaijan. In other respects, the statements of the Co-chairs were standard.
The main news in the Azerbaijani media in October was the resignation of Minister of National Security Eldar Mahmudov. On October 17, President Aliyev signed an executive order to release him from the position of the head of the Ministry of National Security, which came as a surprise to many. This news might have not resonated as much if not followed by numerous reports on inspections at the MNS, arrests of high-ranking employees including generals. An investigative committee on the criminal cases against the employees of the MNS consisting of the representatives of Special State Protector’s Service of Azerbaijan (SSPS) and Prosecutor General’s office was created. The investigative committee is headed by First Deputy Prosecutor General Rustam Usubov. The media commentary varied in regard to the arrests. Some claimed that the activities of the MNS were taken under surveillance about a year ago because of numerous unsanctioned arrests of small and medium entrepreneurs conducted by the MNS officials in order to obtain bribes.
Thought provoking was the extended meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by President Ilham Aliyev, where the President touched upon the issue of a large number of unjustified inspections in the business sphere. The President stated, “Most of the checks pursue selfish goals. An inspector comes, checks something, overlooks something else, but eventually gets his share and leaves. This is the reality. It is no secret. This must end.” The meeting took place on October 12, only five days before the resignation of the Minister of National Security.
Eldar Mahmudov’s resignation was unfolding against the backdrop of active discussions of the alleged dismissal of the head of another agency – the Minister of Transportation Ziya Mammadov. Ziya Mammadov was absent at the above-mentioned meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, which further exacerbated the speculations about his departure. His press office explained that the Minister was overseas on a vacation off work. Later, the media reported about a search at Ziya Mammadov’s house and summer villa. The azadlıq.info webpage disseminated information that the Minister was asked to return $500 million. On October 19, Minister Mammadov returned from vacation. However, soon he suffered a serious blow – his agency lost a wide range of powers. In particular, in the near future the taxi licenses will be issued by the “Asan Service” (Agency of universal public services). Moreover, “Azerbaijan Railways” JSC is no longer under the authority of the Ministry of Transportation, and the construction of roads in the capital is now entrusted to the executive municipal bodies of Baku and with municipalities in the villages. In addition, the State Traffic Police is now vested with the functions of the transport inspectors, who often abused them engaging in extortion.
All the above-mentioned news overshadowed, seemingly, the main event – the preparation for the Parliamentary elections scheduled for November 1. Relative hype in the media was observed only around the issue of the denial of free airtime to candidates on the Public TV. The Central Electoral Commission explained that the law allows for free promotion in the case of a special status of the subject, that is when candidates from the political parties and blocks are registered in more than 60 electoral districts. In Azerbaijan only the ruling party – Yeni Azerbaijan, has that possibility, and it has decided to forfeit its right to free airtime. The prices for paid time on TV turned out unaffordable for the majority of the candidates. They will have to pay from 20 ($19,08) to 50 ($47,7) manat for 1 second of campaign air time on the Public TV for the airtime from 11:50am to prime time at 08:20pm, plus an additional 18% VAT. Thus, a five-minute ad in prime time will cost a candidate 17,700 manat ($16,222). The average salary in Azerabaijan is 460 manat ($439). On November 1, 769 candidates will participate in the Milli Mejlis elections competing for 125 seats in the parliament.
An important event in the sphere of economy was the decision on the suspension of inspections of entrepreneurships for two years starting November 1, 2015. The draft law was sent to the Parliament by President Aliyev. At the same time, a presidential decree provided for the reduction of the number of licenses to a minimum, certain simplifications in the process of the issuance of the licenses, as well as the transfer of the right to issue licenses related to business activities from the Ministry of Economy and Industry to the “Asan Services”.
Significant attention was paid to the issue of supplying Azerbaijani gas to Georgia whose Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze announced Georgia’s intention of buying more gas from Russia. In response, General Director of SOCAR Georgia Mahir Mammadov announced that Azerbaijan can and almost fully does satisfy Georgia’s gas needs. At the same time, he also noted that SOCAR is ready to compete with the Russian “Gazprom” on the Georgian market.
In October, the law “On the subsistence minimum in Azerbaijan for 2016” was discussed in the Milli Mejlis. The subsistence minimum in Azerbaijan for 2016 is projected at 136 manat ($130).
Society, Culture, and Sport
On October 25, the International Jazz Festival, that has already become a tradition, kicked off in Baku. The Festival will close on November 3. Famous Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall, the group Fourplay, Charles Lloyd and others have already made appearances in the Festival.
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.