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06BAKU1673 2006-11-17 09:47:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baku
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DE RUEHKB #1673/01 3210947
P 170947Z NOV 06
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAKU 001673 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2016

REF: BAKU 1606


1. (C) SUMMARY: In a series of separate meetings, the leaders
of Azerbaijan's "big three" opposition parties - Musavat, the
Popular Front Party, and the Azerbaijan Liberal Party -
shared their concerns over Azerbaijan's political situation.
Severe restrictions on media freedom and freedom of assembly
topped each leader's concerns, and each expressed frustration
with the political environment, saying that it is becoming
increasingly difficult for their parties to operate. All
three warned of growing Russian influence in Azerbaijan.
While public rhetoric from the opposition since the November
2005 Parliamentary Elections has accused the international
community of not doing enough to promote democracy, leaders
of two of the parties told us that they understand building
democracy in Azerbaijan is the responsibility of the
Azerbaijani people. These leaders, like their ruling-party
counterparts, already appear to be strategizing for the
October 2008 Presidential Elections. END SUMMARY.



2. (C) Musavat Party Chair Isa Gambar noted the disturbing
trends in media freedom and freedom of assembly in
Azerbaijan. He said that the biggest problem facing the
country is the lack of public trust in the political process.
According to Gambar, elections in Azerbaijan are still not
fair or free, and the Embassy's statement after the November
2005 Parliamentary Elections "encouraged the Aliyev regime."
Gambar noted deterioration in all areas of democracy, and
said that although building democracy in Azerbaijan is the
responsibility of the Azerbaijani population, he feels that
the U.S. is not active enough in promoting democratic reform.
He said that the level of corruption is not decreasing, and
the influx of oil money will not improve citizens' lives,
only strengthening the capacity of the ruling power.

3. (C) According to Gambar, as a result of democratic
backsliding, the Azerbaijani people are losing trust in the
West, and are becoming increasingly hesitant to pursue
Euro-Atlantic integration. He said that people are even more
untrusting of the GOAJ, but are afraid to voice their
opinions. Gambar emphasized that Azerbaijan is "following the
Russian model," resulting in a situation in which the public
will accept any GOAJ decision. For example, Gambar noted that
Musavat's Members of Parliament (MPs) have raised a number of
important issues in Parliament, but that because of the
body's weak role in Azerbaijan, they are unable to impact
significant change. Gambar also expressed frustration over
government intimidation of the opposition. For example, he
said that approximately 40 Musavat members - mostly
university professors - had been dismissed from their jobs
because of their party affiliation. Gambar concluded with his
opinion that the Azerbaijani people trust Musavat, but know
that Musavat "will not be allowed" to take power, so they do
not openly show their support. (NOTE: Musavat MP Nasib
Nassibli told the Ambassador that Gambar is learning English
and wants to spend six months in the U.S. to improve his
language skills.)



4. (C) Popular Front Party (PFP) and Azadliq bloc Chair Ali
Kerimli shared his concern on the recent GOAJ media
crackdown. According to Kerimli, the only independent media
outlets that remain in Azerbaijan are the Azadliq, Yeni
Musavat, and Bizim Yol newspapers, Turan news service, and
ANS television station. Kerimli fears that because four out
of five of these are located in the Azadliq building, that if
they are evicted from this building (pending a decision by
the State Property Committee - see reftel), there will be no
more independent media in Azerbaijan. Kerimli expressed his
frustration that it is already difficult for the Azadliq
newspaper to continue operating, because due to the USD
220,000 the newspaper is being fined for seven criminal libel
verdicts, Azadliq's bank accounts have been frozen for over a
month. Since that time, the newspaper has been printed with
private money from party members. Kerimli said that the PFP
is willing to pay the AYM 31,000 that the State Property
Committee says it owes, but that the PFP wants a written
agreement so it does not face a similar situation in the
future. He also said that the Baku police are ordering local
merchants to stop carrying the newspaper. Kerimli said that
because one-third of Azadliq's sales are through merchants,
the GOAJ is trying to cut off the paper's "last source of

BAKU 00001673 002 OF 002

5. (C) Kerimli said that it is becoming increasingly
difficult for PFP to function. According to Kerimli, the
party is not able to hold private meetings in Azerbaijan's
regions because of local government interference. He said
that nine of PFP's leaders have been arrested, and expressed
his frustration with the GOAJ's refusal to issue him a
passport. Kerimli shared his opinion that Russian influence
is becoming much stronger in Azerbaijan, and that he fears
the country may end up like Belarus. He said that he has
suspicions that Russia is actually behind the media
crackdown. At the same time, he continued, because of the
lull between elections, Aliyev is taking advantage of the
international community's inattention to tighten control.
Kerimli said that he understands that the Azerbaijani people
are responsible for building democracy in their country, and
that he believes the U.S. wants to develop democracy in
Azerbaijan, but that the Embassy's methods in doing so were
not obvious to the opposition. (NOTE: Emboffs assured Kerimli
that democracy promotion remains at the top of the USG's
agenda in Azerbaijan.)



6. (C) Azerbaijan Liberal Party (ALP) Chair Lala Shovket said
that she has noted a "degradation of democracy" in
Azerbaijan, and fears the country is transitioning to a
regime similar to that of Saudi Arabia or Syria. According to
Shovket, the GOAJ "hates the opposition" and is intent on
eliminating it altogether before the October 2008
Presidential Elections. She noted particular concern with the
restrictions against freedom of speech and freedom of
assembly, and said that there is no economic freedom in
Azerbaijan. Shovket compared Azerbaijan's current situation
to that of Iran in the 1970s. She said that at that time,
Iran's economic growth was among the highest in the world, as
Azerbaijan's is becoming; that religion was replacing
democracy, as she feels is happening in Azerbaijan; and that
the Shah's family allocated oil revenue to a charitable
foundation in his name, which she compared to First Lady
Mehriban Aliyeva's work with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
(Note: Other opposition members have recently made remarks
comparing Azerbaijan to pre-revolutionary Iran, both publicly
and privately, including Yeni Siyaset bloc leader Eldar
Namazov and Musavat MP - and former Azerbaijani Ambassador to
Iran - Nasib Nassibli.)

7. (C) Shovket said that it is becoming increasingly
difficult for ALP to function, particularly in Azerbaijan's
regions. She said that it is difficult for party members to
find work, especially professors, and that many members had
been given an ultimatum to leave the party or lose their
jobs. Shovket also said that when she travels to the regions,
local police prevent her from holding meetings - ostensibly
on orders from the ruling-party controlled local government
officials. Shovket continued, saying that she does not want
to come to power, that she just wants to see democratic and
economic improvement in Azerbaijan. She noted that it is "not
possible to remove Aliyev from power," but that the
international community can push him to "make real changes,
not just through words." In addition, although she is
concerned with the political situation in Azerbaijan, Shovket
said that she is currently more concerned with Georgia's
relationship with Russia, which she feels as implications for
all of the Caucasus. She noted a clear "Russification" taking
place in Azerbaijan, and said that if Georgia prevails in its
disputes with Russia - which she said depends on quick NATO
accession for Georgia - the "fate of the Caucasus" would be
far better.



8. (C) Since the opposition parties left the spotlight after
the November 2005 Parliamentary Elections, they have not been
major players in Azerbaijan's political process - although
Musavat has taken a more constructive role since its split
from the Azadliq bloc. Public rhetoric from the opposition
since November has been quite critical of the international
community's role in Azerbaijan's democratic development, but
Gambar's and Kerimli's comments that they understand building
democracy is the Azerbaijani people's responsibility marks a
welcome change. While Shovket seems to have taken a more
back-seat role, Gambar's focus on party-building through
USG-funded IRI programs and reported interest in visiting the
U.S. to improve his English, and Kerimli's focus on
developing his English language skills indicate that they
both are thinking ahead to the 2008 Presidential Elections.
We will continue to engage with the whole range of parties
and encourage their participation in the political process.