In July domestic and foreign policies in Azerbaijan were all about the military actions that took place on the state border with Armenia.
Protests as a Reason to Crack down on the Opposition
July 12 was marked with clashes that broke out on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Each side blamed the other for the hostilities outbreak. The parties mainly used artillery and mortars. As a result of the battles, Azerbaijan announced 12 soldiers, including a major general, and one civilian dead. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported that Armenia lost about a hundred of its military servants but hid the losses. Armenia officially announced seven people dead.
Against the background of hostilities, in the evening of July 14, tens of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens went on a street march to support the army, despite the strict quarantine regime. The protesters gathered in the main square of Baku, Azadliq, and marched to the Alley of Martyrs, a burial place for the victims of the January 1990 tragedy and the Karabakh war. Then the protesters gathered in front of the parliament building, and a group of them broke inside. They were pushed out of the building by the police who reacted rapidly.
On July 15, at a Cabinet of Ministers meeting on the socio-economic results of the second quarter of 2020, the main part of PresidentIlham Aliyev’s speech was about the street march. He accused the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) of trying to destabilize the situation in the country. In his opinion, the opposition took advantage of the hostilities at the border. He asked law enforcement agencies to thoroughly examine the persons who entered the parliament building. “If they are guilty, then we must finish this fifth column off. Law enforcement agencies should also thoroughly examine the social networks and analyze the posts which the APFP members wrote during these days,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies took the president’s speech as an order for action and started large-scale arrests of the Popular Front Party members. According to the party, about 40 of its members were arrested. The party reported that after being detained, they were tortured and asked to confess that the party’s chairman, Ali Karimli, was planning a coup. According to the APFP, criminal cases were launched against 18 party members. A criminal case under the article of an attempted coup was also launched against Fuad Gahramanli and Mammad Ibrahim, both the members of the party praesidium.
The party chairman Ali Karimli, who declared his solidarity with the state and the army when the hostilities broke out on the border with Armenia, appealed to the authorities on the arrests of his party members. He offered to take him under arrest in exchange for his party members’ freedom. Besides, Ali Karimli said that he is ready to resign at the next party congress, in the fall of 2020, and never get back to politics if the authorities stop prosecuting the members of his party. The authorities showed no reaction to his statement.
“40 members of the Popular Front Party were arrested and criminal cases were launched against 18 members.”
The Negative Impact of COVID-19 on the Economy is Ongoing
According to the State Statistics Committee, the coronavirus pandemic still negatively impacts the country’s economy. Thus, according to the results of the first half of the year, announced in July, Azerbaijan’s GDP decreased by 2.7%. And GDP per capita fell 3.4% in the annual quantities. In the reporting period, the country faced 3% inflation. In the first half of the year, non-oil exports decreased by 6.9%, amounting to $911.9 million. Industrial production for the same period decreased by 1.5%. Housing prices in the country fell by 0.1%.
A 22% drop in road freight transportation is also associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Against this background, rail freight transportation, including cargo transit from the Asian region, increased by 3.1%. In the first half of 2020, the seaports of Azerbaijan increased the transshipment of goods by 12.5% - up to 4 million 498.6 thousand tons.
In July the government had to get serious about water problems. The ongoing drought led to severe water shortages in some areas along the Kura River. River shallowing and sea level rising led to the sea and river water confluence. As a result, the river water became significantly salty and not suitable for both drinking and technical purposes. On July 23 President Ilham Aliyev chaired a meeting on the water management issues. At the meeting, it became clear that the country’s water balance had no correction for decades, and on the main reservoirs there were no devices to measure outgoing water. Loss of water before entering the citizens’ apartments reaches 50%. A similar situation is with the irrigation water, which is mainly brought to the cultivated area not by concrete, but by soil canals.
According to the forecast, in 2020 the country’s water resources are to be 2.8 billion cubic meters less than the previous year – 34.1 billion cubic meters. At the beginning of the year, it was reported about 10.6 billion cubic meters of water in the reservoirs’ balance, and during the year, the country’s water reserves are to reach 23.5 billion cubic meters. As forecasted, 70% of the surface water resources, formed in the country, this year will come from the neighbouring countries, and about half of the volume will come from the Kura River. On July 27 Ilham Aliyev approved the “Action Plan to ensure efficient use of water resources for 2020-2022”. According to the decree, the Cabinet of Ministers was instructed to approve the water sector balance annually and adopt the rules for the water usage within two months. To collect mountain rivers water, 10 reservoirs will be built and 22 land-improvement canals will be repaired.
The Military Shot, but the Diplomat Lost His Post
In July all the activities within the Azerbaijani foreign policy were connected with the military operations on the state border with Armenia. The Azerbaijani diplomats actively contacted their counterparts in Russia, the diplomats of other OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (France and the United States), and international organizations representatives as well.
On July 15 at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, President Ilham Aliyev harshly criticized the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, in particular. The President called the Azerbaijani diplomats “toothless” and said that, in most cases, during the negotiations with their colleagues, they do not pay attention to the main problem of Azerbaijan, which is the Karabakh conflict.
On July 16, by the head of the state’s order, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs head Elmar Mammadyarov was released of the post which he took in 2004. The Minister of Education Jeyhun Bayramov was appointed to this post instead. At a video meeting with the new minister, Ilham Aliyev asked him to make some urgent improvements in the situation in the ministry and disclosed his awareness on the betrayals of some diplomats, who cooperated with other countries. Ilham Aliyev also asked the new minister to speed up and finalize the negotiation process with the European Union on a new treaty. He noted that the Azerbaijani side can compromise on some issues that are not settled yet. Besides, the head of the state ordered the new minister to pay special attention to the relationship of Azerbaijan with the United States and Great Britain.
Protest in Baku on July 14 in support of the army.
Photo credits: krymr.com