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Aliyev’s shakeup prompts speculation on political reforms

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President Ilham Aliyev’s surprise shakeup of his cabinet, including the apparent forced retirement of the powerful head of administration, has prompted speculation about whether true political reforms are likely.

Some analysts believe the moves by the president are a signal of his dissatisfaction with the state of the country’s economy, and also a reaction to public opposition to presidential policies, expressed in public protests.

The country was shaken on October 23 by the unexpected ouster of Ramiz Mehdiyev, the veteran head of the administration and holdover from Aliyev’s father’s regime. Mehdiyev, who turned 81 in April, was apparently forced to retire.

The same week Aliyev said he hoped officials in their 70s would resign. The President said such retirements are “necessary to give way to a younger generation.”

“You are now in your eighties and you have always said that we must promote youth, give way to the younger generation so that they grow mature and our development becomes long-term,” Aliyev said in an address before he awarded Mehdiyev with “the Heydar Aliyev” order for “effective and long-term special services in the field of public administration and science development.”

Aliyev has kept many of his father’s appointments intact since taking over as president in 2003. He has been re-elected three times since then. But some critics say that Mehdiyev, appointed by the president’s father (Heydar) Aliyev in 1995, as the head of conservative forces in the government, was hindering reforms that Aliyev wants, a move that led to his ouster.

The Mehdiyev removal was perhaps the most dramatic move, not only because of his long history with the Aliyev family, but because of his powerful status in the government. Known as an authoritarian figure who held pro-Russian and anti-Western views, Mehdiyev selected the MPs who ran for the country’s parliamentary election and he was responsible for appointing executive heads. He also controlled the entire law enforcement agencies of the country, and was a key figure of the arrest of certain human rights activists, and has called some activists, Anar Mammadov, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov as “traitors.”

The concentration of power in Mehdiyev’s hands reportedly concerned the president’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, who is vice-president and the leader of the family clan that had been struggling behind the scenes with the Mehdiyev team. Mehdiyev and his colleagues dated back to the Soviet era, and originated from Nakhichevan and Armenia. His reputation was damaged by some incidents over the years, particularly in 2013 before the presidential elections. At that time, Mehdiyev was targeted by a video campaign launched by a former university rector and alleging corruption in the Aliyev adminisration. (See Gulargate tape scandal.) According to analysts, the rift between the two factions deepened when Aliyeva emerged as a a major player in her husband’s administration and was appointed vice-president, among other president-backed 2016 constitutional changes.

Those 2016 constitutional changes also diminished the position of the head of the presidential administration, then Mehdiyev, and meant the end of jockeying to replace the chief of staff as well as the office of a premier. Since then, younger people loyal to Aliyeva were appointed to major positions, replacing members of the Mehdiyev team.

Ziya Mammadov, former Minister of Transport, who headed the ministry for nearly 15 years, was the first target of the struggle after the 2016 changes and was dismissed in 2017.

But the drama actually began in 2015, when the national currency was devalued. The oil-rich country, which had enjoyed stability and economic growth, suddenly experienced a sharp decline in oil prices that shook the financial system. Many Azerbaijanis converted their money to international currencies. Falling salaries, declining pensions and reduced savings in manat led to public protests.

The fluctuating status of the manat and rising public discontent damaged the country’s reputation. During this period, Eldar Mahmudov, National Security Chief, and Cahangir Hajiyev, head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, both in the Mehdiyev camp, were removed from their positions.

Mehdiyev had ruled the presidential administration for 24 years. His ouster came just days after two of his colleagues, Hajibala Abutalibov, deputy prime minister and former Baku mayor, and Ali Hasanov, another deputy prime minister, were removed from their positions.

Abutalibov and Hasanov, both known as loyal Soviet-era politicians who helped put Heydar Aliyev to power, were not popular with the citizenry.

Abutalibov, who was mayor of Baku for nearly 20 years, but was a figure of controversy because of some of his puzzling behavior. Local media reported he suffered from mental illness and had been hospitalized.

Hasanov, who for 20 years was chair of the State Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan for Affairs of Refugees and IDPs, was quoted as making insulting remarks about refugees. His family, particularly his grandchildren, attracted negative attention with car accidents. Both politicians, regarded as members of Mehdiyev’s old-guard faction, were considered to be hindering Aliyev’s efforts to make changes.

Among replacements appointed by Aliyev is Ali Asadov, named prime minister to replace Novruz Mammadov, who also surprisingly resigned. Having served Mammadov had been appointed a prime minister in April of 2018 after serving for 21 years as Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser and deputy head of presidential staff. The reason of his dismissal is not yet clear.

The moves came after Aliyev harshly criticized the government’s economic policy, calling the situation “unbearable.”

“Some members of the government blackmail others, denigrate them and cast a shadow over the reforms," Aliyev said while addressing the government members including the first vice-president Aliyeva in an economy consultation meeting held on October 15. The president particularly blamed some senior officials in the government for blocking reforms, saying that because “the reforms affect their personal interests,” they opposed new thinking in the government.

“There is no alternative to reforms. Anyone who follows this path will work, of course. And those who oppose this and try to covertly hinder our work, then, of course, we can’t go any further with such people,” the president said.

A week after those remarks, Minister of Economy Shahin Mustafayev resigned and was replaced by Mikail Jabbarov, who had been Minister of Education and Minister of Taxes. On October 22, Jabbarov became the head of super ministry that brought together the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Taxes, the State Committee for Property and the Antimonopolu Agency. Mustafayev became a deputy prime minister.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of Jabbarov held on October 23, Aliyev said the cabinet reshuffle is connected to the government’s new economic model adding, “Personnel reforms are necessary, it is inevitable.”

“In the 21st century, we will not be able to succeed with old thinking,” Aliyev said adding competent, new and knowledgeable personnel are needed for the development of the country.

Observers suggest that removing the old personnel, particularly Mehdiyev, was a difficult decision for the president.

“What is definitely clear is that removing Mehdiyev has not been easy, as the president sees him off only after honoring him with Heydar Aliyev award,” said Meydan’s social media manager, Habib Abdullayev, calling Mehdiyev the “grey cardinal" of the administration.

Mehdiyev was appointed head of the Azerbaijan National Science Academy. accepted by many as an upgrade for the person described Political commentator Shahin Rzayev described Mehdiyev as “eternal, unsinkable, an armadillo, a dinosaur, an Egyptian pyramid.” Many in Baku question whether President Aliyev can rule the country effectively without the presence of Mehdiyev, who was the key figure linking the current administration with that of his late father.

Rzayev thinks the personnel developments serve the Aliyev family interests. He says the changes are about “a redistribution of decreasing oil revenues that intensified the fight between the clans and it will escalate as oil revenues will continue going down.”

Thomas de Waal, a writer and analyst of the Caucasus, said the “the net winner of this struggle is the country’s first lady and first vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva and her extended family, the Pashaevs.”

“Aliyeva is now chairing meetings on economic issues in the government,” de Waal said, adding that the demise of the once all-powerful Nakhichevan clan, headed by Mehdiyev, which once dominated the country, is because “they have given way to a Baku-based business-political elite instead.”

According to de Waal, the changes in the country, particularly the generational management overhaul is “authoritarian modernization” and simply serves to make “public services more efficient within the same strict authoritarian framework.”

Political scientist Hikmat Hajizada told RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service that the cabinet shakeup, especially Mehdiyev’s dismissal, are part of Aliyev’s attempt to change the government’s management style.

Hajizada believes the management approach in Azerbaijan will change, but he thinks the essence of the regime will remain the same.

“It is impossible to talk about any reforms or democratization,” Hajizada said, adding that powerful figures in the administration have held on to their positions.

“They are still represented in senior positions in the oil, construction, police and other sectors. What is seen is that it's just a change of manager,” he said.

Ali Karimli, chair of the Popular Front Party, told Meydan TV that Aliyev’s criticism of his own government showed that the situation in his team was “truly miserable.”

The government does not have a single team approach, he said, but rather has ministers and oligarchs fighting with each other and expressing their views openly in the media, he said.

Karimli is pessimistic about Aliyev’s recent personnel moves, saying the moves “will not change anything and create a single team.”

“The officials were sacrificed for the next time, and the philosophy of government and the rules of Aliyev's rule have not changed," Karimli said.

He also said that the government is aware of its negative image in society.

“To reduce tension, they try to create a vision for reforms… with the change of manpower in the administration, they sought to establish an idea that the reforms had finally started," Karimli said.

But, he added, that “they are mistaken. How can a government be called a reforming government that does not reform its election process? How can you talk about reforms if there are political prisoners? How can you be a reforming government that you are not reacting to any kind of demands raised during our rallies, but instead prefer to silence it?"

Representatives of the Azerbaijani government say that the country has recently undergone extensive reforms, and that the recent staff changes are related to the reforms.

But critics doubt real change has occurred. Nuraddin Mammadli, chairman of the Supreme Assembly of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, told RFE/RL that “without any change in the essence of the system, any personnel reform, the substitution of one person with another cannot change anything.”

According to Mamadli, young people now assigned to certain positions cannot change the system. He believes that to carry out reforms in Azerbaijan, attitudes must change.

“Freedom of assembly and a democratic election environment should be ensured in Azerbaijan. The political prisoner problem must be solved, ” he said.

Mammadli said that as long as elections are decided by commissions, not by voters, democratic changes cannot occur. He also thinks the government’s talk of reform “is a step towards preventing the protests that are gaining momentum and calming down the population."

The latest protest rally October 19-20 was greeted with a police crackdown, which drew the attention of the international community and human rights watchdog organizations.

Isa Gambar, the head of the National Strategic Research Center, who also is the former head of the opposition Musavat party, says there is a process of consolidation of power and that “steps are being taken to turn it into a family power.”

“At the next stage, those who can hinder this project will be excluded from the game. Be it Ramiz Mehdiyev or others … They are removed, weakened,” Gambar said adding that what is happening in the leadership “has nothing to do with reforms, the positive changes the opposition wants in the country.”

The head of the government-funded think tank Center for Social Studies, Zahid Oruj, holds the opposite view, and said that the developments that began in 2019 in Azerbaijan have led to major social and economic changes.

“It is a peaceful transitional process, without bloodshed,” Oruj, member of the Parliament of Azerbaijan since 2001, was quoted as saying by RFE/RL. In his view, establishing political freedoms is important, but a consensus is needed.

“Expectations in the society today are largely driven by the first person [Ilham Aliyev], from the presidential palace,” Oruj said adding, Aliyev is “pushing for reforms step by step.”

Oruj, known for his loyality to the government, also had a positive prediction: “With the changes coming in the coming months, Azerbaijan will be transformed into a new country by 2020-25.”

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28 years pass since Khojaly Genocide committed by Armenian military

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During the Karabakh war, the Armenian military committed an act of genocide against the population of Azerbaijan’s Khojaly town consisting of 7,000 people on Feb. 26, 1992, Trend reports.

As many as 613 people, including 63 children, 106 women, and 70 old people were killed as a result of the massacre. A total of 1,000 civilians became disabled in the onslaught. Eight families were completely annihilated, 130 children lost one parent, while 25 lost both parents. Some 1,275 innocent residents were taken hostage, while the fate of 150 people still remains unknown.

All these acts were committed by the Armenian military with extreme mercilessness and inconceivable barbarism. The second battalion of 366th regiment under the command of Major Seyran Ohanian, the third battalion under the command of Yevgeniy Nabokhin, staff chief of the first battalion Valeriy Chitchyan and more than 50 officers and ensigns took part in the attack, according to "The Investigation Materials Concerning Khojaly Occupation".

The town residents who attempted to flee were killed by Armenians in pre-organized ambushes. According to the Russian Remedial Center Memorial, 200 corpses were brought from Khojaly to Aghdam within four days of the massacre. Facts of humiliation on dozens of bodies were registered. Forensic examination in Aghdam was performed on 181 corpses, including 13 children. The examination revealed that 151 people died from bullet wounds, 20 people died from shrapnel wounds, 10 were killed with blunt instruments. Facts of scalping people alive were also revealed.

The Khojaly genocide has become one of the most terrible and tragic pages of Azerbaijani history.

Azerbaijani people have faced ethnic cleansing and genocide by Armenian nationalists and chauvinists for 200 years. Azerbaijanis were deported from their historical lands and became refugees and internally displaced persons, and all this was accompanied by massacres committed by Armenians.

The Nagorno-Karabakh events, which began in 1988 along with continuous efforts to implement the Armenian desire of building “an Armenia from sea to sea”, led to the destruction of towns and villages, the murder of thousands of innocent people, as well as the exile of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from their historical lands.

Armenia's government is trying to annex Nagorno-Karabakh despite international legal norms, demonstrating its readiness to resort to any kind of crime and atrocity. The Khojaly genocide – a tragedy of the 20th century – was a result of this aggressive and criminal policy. This tragedy of the late 20th century was one of the most serious crimes not only against the people of Azerbaijan but humanity as a whole.

Armenians scalped people alive, beheaded them and cut other parts of their bodies, gouged children’s eyes and disemboweled pregnant women. It should also be noted that chemical weapons were used in Khojaly during the attack.

All these prove that Armenia committed genocide against civilians, violating the Geneva Convention's protocols.

The Khojaly genocide, committed with a particular atrocity, terrified journalists and publicists from Russia, Georgia, the UK, France, Germany, the US, and other countries.

International conventions and laws in all countries condemn genocides like the Khojaly tragedy and call them inadmissible.

The world must know that this crime was directed not only against the Azerbaijani people but also against the whole civilized world.

This crime shouldn’t go unpunished. Armenia's military-political aggression must be condemned by the world community. International organizations and parliaments of world countries must give political and legal assessment to the Khojaly genocide committed by Armenia in Azerbaijan’s territories.

The parliaments of several countries have made decisions recognizing the Khojaly genocide.

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Azerbaijan

South Korean media highlights Khojaly genocide

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The leading South Korean newspapers and web portals, including The Korea Post, The Seoul Times, The Korea Times have published articles commemorating the 28th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide committed by the Armenian armed forces against the peaceful Azerbaijanis, AzerTag reports.

The Korea Post published the article headlined “Genocide committed against Azerbaijanis amidst Armenia’s aggressive war against Azerbaijan”.

The article says: “The Khojaly genocide is the gravest crime of genocide committed against peaceful Azerbaijani people in the course of Armenia’s aggressive war against Azerbaijan. The town of Khojaly is located in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The strategic importance of Khojaly is related to its location at the crossroads of the main highways of the region, as well as, the only airport in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is also located here. In the second half of February 1992, Khojaly was under total siege by Armenian military units and any attempts by local civilians to break the siege were prevented.

On the night of 25-26 February 1992, in violation of all international legal norms, Armenian armed forces attacked the civilian population of the sieged town of Khojaly with heavy military equipment, killing them with unprecedented brutality and razing the town to the ground. As a result of a crime against not only the people of Azerbaijan but against humanity, 613 civilians, including 63 children, 106 women, and 70 elders were brutally murdered on grounds of national identity.

Khojaly villagers were beheaded, had their eyes gouged out, skinned, and burned alive. Those trying to flee were killed with particular brutality by Armenian troops who ambushed them on roads and forests.

The Khojaly genocide was organized by the political and state leadership of the Republic of Armenia and was carried out by Armenian armed forces, Armenian terrorist groups in Nagorno-Karabakh and the former USSR army deployed in Khankandi.

Unlike the Nazis who tried to hide their crimes, the perpetrators of the Khojaly genocide justified and boasted of their barbarous criminal acts against civilian Azerbaijanis. Former president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan’s words who was directly involved in the massacre says it all: “Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype.”

Those days, foreign news outlets such as “Sunday Times”, “Financial Times”, “Times”, “Izvestiya”, “Le Monde”, “Crual L'Eveneman” were publishing articles on horror scenes witnessed in Khojaly. One of them, “Times” newspaper was writing on March 4, 1992: … “Many people were mutilated, and it remained only the head of one little girl”.

Since 1994, the Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan has declared February 26 as the Day of the Khojaly Genocide. Every year at 5 p.m. on February 26 people of Azerbaijan honors the memory of Khojaly victims in a minute of silence.

The nature and gravity of the crimes committed in the town of Khojaly fully suit the definition of the word genocide as indicated in the Convention “On Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” adopted on December 9, 1948, under Resolution 260 (III) of the UN General Assembly. The premeditated massacre on this territory was committed with intent to annihilate residents solely on grounds that they were Azerbaijanis.

Khojaly does not differ from other horrifying tragedies of Katyn, Lidice, Oradour-sur-Glane, Holocaust, Songmy, Rwanda and Srebrenica, which remain in history as deep and shameful scars.

Meanwhile, “Justice for Khojaly” International Awareness Campaign carried out in many countries and cities plays an important role in the recognition of the Khojaly tragedy as an act of genocide in the world.

In addition to several international organizations, the Parliaments of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Pakistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, the Czech Republic, Sudan, Jordan, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Slovenia, Djibouti, and Paraguay already recognized the massacre in Khojaly according to the international legal norms.

Moreover, legislative bodies of 22 States of the USA, including Massachusetts, Texas, New-Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Mississippi, West Virginia, Indiana, Utah, Nebraska, Hawaii, Montana, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada have adopted relevant Resolutions.

On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Khojaly Genocide, we once again urge all the states and international organizations to recognize this act of genocide in the name of justice, to consolidate and increase efforts for the punishment of its perpetrators.”

News.Az

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First case of coronavirus reported in Switzerland

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The new coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, was first registered in central China in late December and has since spread to some 30 countries, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a global health emergency, Sputnik International reports.

According to local media outlets, citing the Federal Office of Public Health, Switzerland has confirmed its first case of the Wuhan coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

The health department promised to provide further details later in the day.

Earlier on Tuesday, Croatia and Austria confirmed the first cases of coronavirus.

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