Thursday, September 25, 2008

Briefly: Azeri Muslim leader meets rabbi, insults Armenians; Armenian 'spies' captured; Turkish politics update

Washington Briefing
by Yelena Osipova and Emil Sanamyan

Azerbaijan shares its brand of tolerance with the L.A. Museum of Tolerance…

“Falsehood and treason run through Armenians’ blood,” Azerbaijan’s Muslim leader informed Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center with its Los Angeles–based Museum of Tolerance, according to an Azeri-Press Agency report cited by on July 22.

During a meeting with the visiting rabbi, Sheikh-ul-Islam Haji Allahshukur Pasha-zade reportedly added, “They ate our bread, but spoke against us while leaving,” in a possible reference to hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees expelled from Azerbaijan.

Two years ago, Mr. Pasha-zade called on Azerbaijanis to be ready for “jihad” (a holy war) against Armenians. Rabbi Cooper reportedly described Azerbaijan as “a tolerant
country, where everyone can practice his religion without any restrictions,” in a interview published the next day.

He pointed, in particular, to the presence of the Jewish community in Baku.

Rabbi Cooper went on to say that Azerbaijan should do more to “inform the US community in details about their country and especially about [the Karabakh] conflict. The United States are mostly well informed about the ‘genocide of Armenians.’ It would be good if Azerbaijanis held work for informing Americans about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.”

Azerbaijan’s government and the country’s news outlets are known for frequently distorting comments by foreign visitors. The Armenian Reporter requested a clarification from the Wiesenthal Center, which could not be provided as of press time because Rabbi Cooper was traveling.

…rakes in another batch of “Armenian spies”

In spite of the massive doses of incessant anti-Armenian propaganda, a significant number of individual Azerbaijanis still cooperate with Armenian intelligence services, according to the Azerbaijani government’s declarations.

Citing the Azeri-Press Agency, reported on July 24 on the recent sentencing of five members of the Azerbaijani military to 13–14 year prison sentences for “high treason” and “violation of the military code.”

The service members reportedly served in the Fizuli district along the Line of Contact with Karabakh and were accused of “cooperation with Armenian intelligence services.”

It is unclear whether the five were counted among 13 alleged Armenian spies whose capture was mentioned among other arrests made in 2007 by Azerbaijan’s Deputy National Security Minister Ali Shafiyev in an interview to the Trend news agency last month.

Turkey in anticipation of another political crisis

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is considering holding early elections as a backup plan for retaining power in case the Constitutional Court decides to ban Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and 39 senior party members from joining political parties for five years.

The mildly Islamist AKP first won control of Turkish government in a 2002 election that followed an economic crisis. The party has since increased its popularity and influence; it performed strongly in the 2007 parliamentary elections and also won the presidency.

Recent polls show that even if banned, Mr. Erdogan’s party in early elections would probably retain the 300 seats it currently holds in the 550-seat parliament, and would consequently get him back into power, even if he ran as an independent, Bloomberg news agency reports.

The court, which has previously shown its antipathy toward the AKP, will start hearings on the government’s alleged antisecular tendencies on July 28.

The lawsuit against the AKP is seen as an attempt on the part of the Turkish military-secular establishment to implement another soft coup d’état against a government that it accuses of “undermining” Turkey’s secular system.

In recent months, in an apparent response by the AKP, Turkish police have arrested dozens of individuals linked to the military and security agencies, implicating them
in conspiring to commit murders and other crimes as part of a plot against the government.

Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament’s Human Rights Commission run by the AKP issued on July 23 a report on the investigation into the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed in a nationalist plot in January 2007.

The 180-page report did not name individuals, but said “there has been negligence, fault and bad coordination both on the part of the police department and the gendarmerie,” who failed to respond to several tips on his assassination plan, Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper reported.

So far only two security officers have been charged with negligence in Mr. Dink’s murder. The investigation has been regarded a test of the AKP’s resolve to challenge the “deep state,” the mafia that includes elements of the military, security forces, nationalists and plain criminals.

In addition to shady links between the suspects and security institutions, lawyers representing the Dink family have, at various times, accused the police of destroying vital evidence and concealing crucial information from the court and the prosecution, the pro-AKP Zaman newspaper reported.

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