Human Rights Watch has documented more than one hundred cases—no doubt only a fraction of the actual number—in which opposition supporters or their relatives were dismissed from their jobs or had their work hours sharply curtailed. Cases of dismissal were confirmed by Human Rights Watch in Baku as well as in the cities and towns of Abseron, Agstafa, Ali-Bairamli, Balakan, Barda, Beylagan, Bilesuvar, Dashkesen, Devechi, Fizuli, Ganja, Gebele, Gobustan, Goychay, Hajigabul, Jalilabad, Khajmaz, Lenkaran, Mingechevir, Oguz, Saatli, Salyan, Siyezen, Ujar, and Zagatala. In most of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the dismissals were carried out at the request of the local head of the executive authority, again demonstrating the immense power these presidential representatives wield at the local level.
Azerbaijan is a country with a severe unemployment problem. In most rural areas and even in the main cities, entire families depend on the income of a single wage-earner, and the dismissal of that wage-earner can have severe consequences for many people. About half of employment opportunities in Azerbaijan are in the government sector, and thus under the control of the executive authorities. The fear of dismissal prevents many opposition-minded individuals from openly supporting or even voting for opposition candidates. The wave of dismissals that followed the 2003 presidential elections will have a lasting impact on the democratic development of the country, by ensuring that employed Azeris—and even those with employed relatives—will think twice before supporting the opposition in future elections.
The following cases are based on accounts provided by dismissed persons to Human Rights Watch. Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch explained that they had been repeatedly warned during the campaigning period that they would lose their jobs if they (or their relatives) continued their opposition activities. In many cases of dismissals, the victims were explicitly told that they were being fired for opposition activities, and often given the choice between losing their jobs or denouncing the opposition and joining the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP).
Because of long-term job discrimination policies by the ruling YAP, most of the opposition supporters were already unemployed prior to the election, and thus personally immune to dismissals. However, relatives of opposition members, many of whom themselves were not active politically, faced work-related problems. In a typical case, on October 20, the father of a village Musavat chair in the Khajmaz region was demoted from his position of engineer at the local oil exploration office—where he had been working since the 1960s and had once headed the trade union—to the position of ordinary worker, and his monthly salary was reduced by 350,000 manats (about $70). The father was told to quietly accept the reduction in rank and salary, or face the long-term detention of his son. In the same village, the sister of a Musavat member was dismissed from her position as a typist in the office of the executive authority when her brother refused to publicly denounce his membership in the opposition. On October 22, Arif Halilov, the brother-in-law of detained opposition leader Iqbal Agazadeh, was dismissed from his position as English teacher at Baku International University, a position that he had held without disciplinary problems since 1995. A neighbor of Iqbal Agazadeh who worked in the same department was dismissed at the same time.
Most of the cases of dismissals of opposition members clearly show the political motive of the dismissal. Zaur Shekirov, a Musavat member from the Khajmaz region who served as an election commission member and refused to sign the election protocol, was fired from his position at the local electric plant on October 16. A friend who works at the local executive authority told Shekirov that the decision to dismiss him and others had been taken during a meeting of the executive authority, where a list of attendees at a pre-election Musavat rally was used to decide whom to dismiss. After his dismissal, Shekirov was told that he could get his job back if he denounced Musavat and joined YAP. Saidali Memmedli, a member of the national leadership of Musavat, was fired from his position as docent at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy on October 25: “The head of the department told me that I was dismissed. She said the Academy was a state institution, and Musavat had acted against the state, so no Musavat member could work there. She told me I had to choose between Musavat and my job.”
Marif Sultanov, the local chair of the ADP in Goytshay, was told by the director of his school on October 18 that he had been fired from his job as a French teacher, a position he had held for thirty-two years. The official reason was his two-day absence on Oct 16-17, when he had traveled to Baku to report the election results to his headquarters. According to Sultanov, when he argued that a two-day absence from his work hardly justified his dismissal after his thirty-two-year tenure, the director admitted that the real reason for his dismissal was his political activism and his son’s refusal to sign the final protocol at the voting station where he was a commission member. When Sultanov went to appeal to the local department of education, he was told that he could have his job back—if he publicly resigned from ADP, publicly criticized the opposition for the October 15-16 events, and got all of his ADP members to give up their membership. When he wrote a general statement that the violence on October 15-16 was wrong and the responsible persons should be prosecuted, he was told that this was insufficient, and that he had to specifically demand the prosecution of ADP Secretary-General Sardar Jalaloglu and Musavat leader Isa Gambar in his public statement, which he refused to do.
Yadigar Sadigov, a history lecturer at Lenkoran University, was dismissed from his position on October 22, after being repeatedly warned by the director of the University to stay out of opposition politics. Right after the election, the director of the University called at least ten of Sadigov’s students to his office, threatening them with expulsion if they did not accuse Sadigov of fomenting rebellion against the government. Sadigov said that after his dismissal he was told by the director he could have his position back if he denounced Musavat. At least seven students at the University who were active in Musavat still faced dismissal at the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit on November 18.
Abbasali Husseinov, a lawyer and member of Musavat, was called to the office of the chief of the Massali telecommunications office, where he worked for five years, on October 22. Husseinov said that the chief told him that he had two options: keep his job by renouncing his Musavat membership and making a public statement criticizing Musavat, or lose his job. He declined to renounce his membership, and was fired on the spot. When he finally obtained his dismissal papers on November 18, they falsely stated that he had resigned for health reasons.
On October 29, Gulaga Abassov, who served as a commission member in Deveshi, was fired from his job at the Deveshi Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology, where he had worked since 1999. Prior to the election, his director had told him several times to renounce his Musavat membership or face dismissal. On October 29, the director called him to his office and stated that the executive authority had told him to bring either Abassov’s dismissal letter or a public letter signed by Abassov denouncing Musavat for the events of October 16. Abassov refused, and was fired that same reason for being “unqualified” for the position he had held since 1999.
Mirzara Akund, the chair of Musavat in Salyan, was fired from his job in the education department—a department he had headed in 1992-93. During the election period, the director of the village’s education department repeatedly told Akund that the executive authority was pressuring him to fire Akund, saying “It is either you or me.” On October 19, Akund was called to the office of the deputy chief of the educational department, and shown his dismissal order. The deputy chief asked Akund to resign, saying he would fire him if he didn’t resign. Two days after his resignation, the deputy chief called Akund back to his office, saying he would restore him to his position if he resigned from Musavat, which Akund refused to do.
Teachers were particularly targeted for dismissal or reduction of work hours. In the relatively small town of Saatli alone, Human Rights Watch documented the cases of ten teachers who had been dismissed or had their work hours and pay severely curtailed, a trend that seems to have taken place over much of the country. Some of the teachers in Saatli were able to return to work after pressure from international organizations, but some are still dismissed and most others still have reduced work hours and pay.
Afghan Agaev was dismissed from his position as military instructor at a Saatli primary school on October 17, and told repeatedly that he could have his position back if he denounced Musavat. Mirnizam Agaev, a military instructor for the past seven years at a Saatli secondary school was also dismissed from his position on October 17, on the grounds that he had taken part in the October 16 protests in Baku. The director of the school told him that his dismissal had been ordered by the head of the executive authority, and that he could get his job back if he denounced Musavat.
Mikael Humbatov, the local chair of ADP and a history teacher in Saatli with thirty-six years of experience, was fired from his position after he was released from arbitrary detention on October 27, and told that he could get his job back if he resigned from ADP. After making a formal complaint, he was reinstated on November 6, but had his monthly salary reduced from 550,000 manats (about $110) to 180,000 manats (about $36), because his work hours were reduced. Other teachers from the opposition faced similar cutbacks in hours. Abasgulu Abasli, a chemistry teacher since 1974 and the local Musavat secretary, had his weekly hours reduced from thirty-six to fourteen, and his monthly salary cut from 540,000 manats ($108) to 150,000 manats ($30). Rahim Gubadov, a history teacher and Musavat election observer, was dismissed from October 23 until November 11 and told that he had two options: “Denounce Musavat on television and get YAP membership, or resign from my position.” He was reinstated (without denouncing Musavat) on November 11, but his weekly hours were reduced from 41 to 27. Namik Kasimov, a history teacher, was dismissed and told to publicly denounce Musavat if he wanted his job back, before being rehired on November 10 when he demanded an official dismissal order.
Hambala Jahangirov, a lab assistant, was fired on October 19 after he refused to sign a statement denouncing Musavat; his brother was a Musavat member. He was rehired on November 11. Etiban Imanov, a secondary school biology and chemistry teacher, was briefly dismissed for his Musavat membership, and then had his teaching hours reduced from thirty-six to eighteen hours. Agarazah Miriev, the local chair of Musavat, was also dismissed from his physical education position, and then rehired with his weekly teaching hours reduced from thirty-six to fourteen.
107 The cases documented by Human Rights Watch include only those that could be directly confirmed by the organization by interviewing the victim or by obtaining information from reliable local sources. However, in each town and city visited, Human Rights Watch documented additional, previously unknown cases of dismissals. Since many towns and cities were not visited by Human Rights Watch, the actual number of dismissals is likely to be significantly higher than the documented cases.
108 Unemployemnt is estimated at 16 percent. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/fields/2129.html (retrieved January 12, 2004). The official rate is 1.2 percent.
109 Human Rights Watch interview with Mardan Mehdiyev, Khadjmaz, November 22, 2003.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with Arif Halilov, Baku, November 12, 2002.
112 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaur Shekirov, Khadjmaz, November 22, 2003.
113 Human Rights Watch interview with Saidali Memmedli, Baku, October 14, 2003. Memmedli’s official dismissal paper was back-dated October 13, and stated that the reason for his dismissal was non-attendance. However, the only days he did not attend to classes were six days after the election (and after the date of the dismissal order), and he had obtained permission for this absence.
114 Human Rights Watch interview withMarif Sultanov, Baku, November 14, 2003.
115 Human Rights Watch interview with Yadigar Sadigov, Lankeran, November 18, 2003.
116 Human Rights Watch interview with Abbasali Husseinov, Massali, November 18, 2003.
117 Human Rights Watch interview with Gulagha Abbasov, Khadjmaz, November 23, 2003.
118 Human Rights Watch interview with Mirzara Akund, Salyan, November 19, 2003.
119 Human Rights Watch interview with Afghan Agaev, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
120 Human Rights Watch interview with Mirnizam Agayev, Saatli, November 13, 2003. The written dismissal order reads: “The Presidential Elections, held on 15 October 2003 in the Azerbaijan Republic, were conducted in a fair and democratic way and the presidential candidate, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, was elected with a very high number of votes. The opposition, which does not want to accept this, particularly the head of Musavat, Isa Gambar, appealed to his party members and the nation in general to rally in Baku in order to cause intimidation and confrontation. For that reason, on October 16, 2003, there was confrontation and bloodshed. A person who loves his nation and government must not take part in such illegal actions. Though there were repeated appeals to the military chief of the school, [Mirnizam Agaev], not to attend such rallies, he took part in the confrontation on October 16, 2003, without taking care of his lessons.”
121 Human Rights Watch interview with Mikail Humbatov, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with Abasgulu Abasli, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
123 Human Rights Watch interview with Rahim Gubadov, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
124 Human Rights Watch interview with Namik Kasimov, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with Iqbal Jahangirov, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with Etibar Imanov, Saatli, November 13, 2003.
127 Human Rights Watch interview with Agarazah Miriev, Saatli, November 13, 2003.