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Human Rights Developments

In 1994, as in the preceding year, political chaos, internal revolt, bombings, political assassinations, and battlefield setbacks in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh all took a disastrous toll on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. The government of Heidar Aliyev continued to intimidate opposition political parties (especially former President Elchibey's Popular Front), harass the press, and prevent political demonstrations. Armenian forces from Karabakh seized more Azeri territory, creating nearly 50,000 Azeri displaced during one brief April 1994 offensive. Over 800,000 Azeri refugees and displaced persons from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Azeri-provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh are still unable to return to their homes, crowding tent cities, public buildings and hotels, or simply squatting along the roadside.

On September 30, gunmen assassinated the deputy speaker of Azerbaijan's parliament, Rasul Guliyev, and President Aliyev's security chief, Shemsi Ragimov.

Shortly thereafter, police units whose members had been charged in the assassinations seized Azerbaijan's general prosecutor, Ali Umarov, and held him hostage, prompting the October 3 imposition of a sixty-day state of emergency in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, and a similar decree seven days later in Ganje, Azerbaijan's second largest city. President Aliyev charged that his prime minister, Surat Husseinov, was plotting a coup in Ganje, a replay of the June 1993 coup that brought Aliyev to power. Several ministers were arrested, and Husseinov was stripped of his post and charged with treason.

Among other restrictions, the state of emergency decree banned all rallies and demonstrations, outlawed political parties that "obstruct normalization of the political situation," and expelled non-Baku residents who did not follow "social regulations."

Political life in Azerbaijan and the activity of certain parties especially the Popular Front fell victim to government repression in 1994. There was evidence of illegal searches of opposition parties' headquarters as well as beatings and harassment of their members. A February 28 raid on the Azeri Popular Front headquarters in Baku resulted in the police banning the party. Allegedly weapons were found in the basement of the party headquarters, and Azerbaijan's procurator claimed that the Popular Front had been plotting a coup for March 5. The Popular Front denied the charge. As a result of the raid more than one hundred Popular Front and Musavat Party activists were arrested. On March 29, a Musavat party parliamentarian was beaten by an Aliyev adviser. There were reports that an estimated 450 individuals were fired from government jobs in the first few months of 1994 for their political beliefs.

Political demonstrations, many of them to protest proposed Karabakh peace settlements, also were repressed by security forces. On March 26, a rally to be led by former Popular Front Interior Minister Iskender Hamidov was broken up by police, and several demonstrators and journalists were detained. On May 21, a demonstration by thirteen opposition parties opposed to a would-be Karabakh peace plan was dispersed forcibly by police. At least 125 individuals were arrested, and it was reported that the police detained passersby and those holding opposition newspapers. Parliamentarians Tofik Gassimov, Ibrahim Ibrahimli, Hijran Kerimli, and Tair Kerimli were beaten and detained. On September 10, another demonstration protesting Aliyev's Karabakh policy was disrupted by the police, with a reported 400 injured and seventy-seven detained, including the former Interior Minister Iskender Hamidov.

Free speech also suffered from government repression, prior censorship, and state harassment in 1994, with major papers and television and radio operating under Soviet-era regulations and conditions. On December 6, 1993, military censorship was instituted after a December 2 decree banning publication of independent newspapers was lifted. Opposition publications, like the Popular Front's Azadlyg, were severely repressed. The police often raided the office on the pretext of looking for draft evaders: on April 18, for example, police raided Azadlyg's office and arrested fifteen individuals allegedly for evading the draft, though several were past draft age. On May 14, security forces again raided Azadlyg's headquarters and forced out the staff, which was allowed back in the next day. Other publications or news organizations suffering from government oppression were the Turan news agency, the satirical newspaper Chasma, and the National Independence Party of Azerbaijan's Millat.

The war over Nagorno-Karabakh entered its seventh year in 1994, with human rights violations such as the abuse and possible execution of prisoners committed by all sides in the conflict. In 1993, Karabakh Armenian forces often with the aid of the Republic of Armenia had seized all Azeri-populated provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh on the south, west, and east and expelled approximately 450,000 Azeris and the destroyed their homes. Two major offensives marked the course of the war in the year covered by this report: a December 1993 Azerbaijani offensive that for the most part failed to regain territory seized in 1993 by Karabakh Armenian forces; and an April 1994 Karabakh Armenian offensive against Terter that resulted in over 50,000 displaced Azeri civilians.

A May 1994 cease-fire was still in effect as of November, which allowed confidence-building measures such as the exchange of prisoners and hostages. On September 7, 1994, the International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the exchange of three Azeris and three Karabakh Armenians; a week later the Karabakh Armenians released twenty-four Azeri female hostages.

The Right to Monitor

There were no known restrictions on foreign human rights groups in Azerbaijan in 1994, but local human rights groups cited the overall repressive atmosphere as an impediment to their activities.

U.S. Policy

The United States government and embassy in Baku raised human rights issues such as the repression of the press and of political opponents both publicly and in meetings with the Azerbaijani government during 1994. This concern was reflected in the Azerbaijani section of the State Department's Country Reports for Human Rights Practices for 1993. At the same time, the Clinton administration sought repeal of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which denies all aid to the Azerbaijani government because of its conduct of the war in Karabakh and its blockade of Armenia. Azerbaijan was the only state in the former Soviet Union to be denied such aid, and the Clinton administration believed this restriction prevented the U.S. from acting as a fair arbiter in the conflict. In early 1994, at the behest of the Clinton administration, Rep. Lee Hamilton, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation that would have repealed the restriction on aid to the Azerbaijani government. The resolution did not pass. Under Section 907, the United States government can channel support to private-volunteer organizations operating in Azerbaijan. As of November, the U.S. had provided 34 million dollars in humanitarian assistance and 2 million in technical aid to private volunteer organizations for disbursement in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki took the position that no aid, other than humanitarian assistance, should be provided to any party in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

While not neglecting its monitoring of domestic human rights developments in Azerbaijan, in 1994 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sought to focus international attention on the human rights consequences of the under-reported war in Nagorno-Karabakh. We highlighted involvement in the war by the Republic of Armenia and the consequences of Armenian policy for human rights. In March/April 1994, a researcher for Human Rights Watch/Helsinki visited numerous refugee camps in Azerbaijan to interview displaced from 1993 Karabakh Armenian offensives against Azeri provinces surrounding the Armenian enclave. In August 1994, we called on President Clinton to raise the issue of Armenian military involvement in the conflict during his meeting with Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan.

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