U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Azerbaijan

  Azerbaijan declared its independence on August 30, 1991. Progress toward a democratic society suffered a severe setback following the June 1993 downfall of the democratically elected President, Abulfez Elcibey. Heydar Aliyev, a former Communist Party First Secretary of Azerbaijan and Soviet Politburo member, assumed presidential powers following a period of intense strife brought on by the loss of large portions of the country to Armenian rebels in Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. The events in June were facilitated by the failure of the Azerbaijan Popular Front (APF) government to hold parliamentary elections. A referendum on August 29 confirmed the lack of public confidence in Elcibey, and Aliyev won presidential elections held on October 3. Under President Elcibey and the APF, the Ministry of National Security appeared to have been relatively inactive; under the Aliyev regime, it has arrested APF leaders without bringing charges and is believed to have resumed surveillance activities. Azerbaijan continued to maintain the structure of a centralized command economy. Disintegration of the economy continued as a result of war, social instability, and the general collapse of the currency and industry. The manat, the local currency introduced in August 1992, remained tied to the Russian ruble. Reviving ruble-denominated (soft currency) trade links with Russia was one reason cited by Aliyev for his decision to take Azerbaijan into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in September. Badly needed economic reforms remain to be implemented. Oil is the key foreign exchange earner. The war in and around Nagorno-Karabakh continued to be the most significant factor in the human rights situation. Both sides engaged in frequent human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law, including the killing of civilians, hostage-taking, and ransoming the remains of the dead. Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh launched offensives outside the boundaries of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, seizing Kalbacar in March; Agdam in July; and Fuzuli, Cabrayil, Qubadli, Zangilan, and other towns to the south during the August-October period. The attacking forces looted and burned all villages in the areas they overran, forcing some 500,000 people, as well as earlier displaced persons who had settled in areas subsequently overrun, to flee their homes. The total refugee population rose to over 1 million out of a total population of 7.5 million. The war and attendant social instability gave rise to many human rights abuses even before the fall of Elcibey, although the situation worsened thereafter. The state of emergency, which the APF government enacted in April, permitted police to enter homes without warrants, introduced press censorship, banned demonstrations, and restricted travel, among other measures. Even after Acting President Aliyev ended the state of emergency in September, the Government continued to impose prepublication censorship. Elements within Azerbaijani society hostile to the presence of Armenians kidnaped Armenian and part-Armenian residents of Baku to be exchanged for Azeri hostages in Nagorno-Karabakh. As Acting President Aliyev concentrated power into his own hands, he took steps to suppress political opposition.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

According to supporters of rebel leader Surat Huseynov, APF government troops which attacked his forces in Gance in July were responsible for the deaths of some civilians among the 70 persons killed. APF supporters charge that Huseynov's forces took captive the commander of the Presidential Guard during the engagement and butchered him in his hospital bed. In addition, Huseynov's forces killed several local administrators during their march on Baku in June.

b. Disappearance

Hostage-taking by both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remained endemic. Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh took hostage hundreds of civilians, including 100 in hte Kalbacar region alone, during their offensives against Azeri-inhabited regions. Five Azeri civilians, along with a number of soldiers, were traded back to Azerbaijan on September 22 in exchange for six Russian mercenaries sentenced to death in 1992 for fighting alongside Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians. Azerbaijani hostage-taking, which had been on the decline, increased after the fall of Elcibey, as ethnic Armenian civilians, mostly residents of Azerbaijan, were kidnaped from their own homes and from public transport. Many of these were "arrested" and taken to the police by Azeris who wanted the Armenians' apartments.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

APF supporters alleged that the perpetrators of the events in June tortured ex-Parliament Speaker Isa Qambar and other APF figures after their arrests. However, Qambar denied these charges upon his release in August.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

On June 4, APF government forces attempted to suppress an armed mutiny in Gance by a regiment led by Surat Huseynov, who was demanding the overthrow of the Government and attempting to achieve this by suborning the loyalty of the rest of the military. Huseynov's troops defeated progovernment forces and arrested the Attorney General, the Deputy Minister of National Security, and the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs (the first two had parliamentary immunity from arrest). These arrests were sanctioned only on July 16, after Huseynov had marched on Baku, forced President Elcibey to flee, toppled the Government (with Heydar Aliyev assuming presidential powers), and been named Prime Minister. On the same day, Parliament allowed the arrest of its former speaker, Isa Qambar, and former Minister of National Security Fakhrettin Takhmazov without formal charges. Qambar was arrested inside the Parliament building – even before Parliament voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity – and taken away to Gance as the personal captive of Surat Huseynov. He was released on August 17 after strong protests by the United States, Turkey, and the United Nations; Takhmazov was released a month later. Between September 12 and 22, when the state of emergency was lifted, an unknown number of APF leaders and some of their family members were detained, released, rearrested, and released again in harassing actions aimed especially at stifling protest against Aliyev's decision to bring Azerbaijan into the CIS. Reportedly, 34 APF leaders and activists remained in prison at year's end. Members of the security forces who remained loyal to the Elcibey government, including Arif Pasayev, Popular Front military commander of Lacin, and Isakhan Ashurov, the police chief of Qazax who helped enforce a cease-fire on the border with Armenia in 1992, also were arrested. In the month leading up to the June 4 action, the APF government used state of emergency legislation to arrest supporters of the National Independence Party and other opposition forces.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The legal system of Azerbaijan remains largely unchanged from Soviet rule. There are district and municipal courts and a Supreme Court, which serves as a court of appeals. Growing judicial independence came to a halt in July when the Government fired Supreme Court Chief Justice Tahir Kerimli, an APF appointee, for his loyalty to ousted President Elcibey. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, confront witnesses, and present evidence, and trials are generally public. Exceptions to public trials are cases involving state military secrets and those in which the judge determines that a closed trial would be more appropriate in dealing with sexual offenses, as for instance during the testimony of a rape victim. Defendants may choose their own attorney, and the court appoints an attorney for those without one. Defendants have the right to appeal, as does the prosecutor. The presumption of innocence has not been incorporated into the criminal code.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Police had the authority to enter homes under the state of emergency in effect from April until September. The Soviet surveillance apparatus, reorganized as the Ministry of National Security, continued to operate under the APF government. Under the Aliyev Government, the Ministry became more active. It is widely believed that telephones, especially those of foreigners and prominent political and business figures, were tapped.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh has steadily increased in severity since violence began in 1988. All parties to the conflict engaged in indiscriminate shelling and rocket fire against civilian targets, including in both directions along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The Azerbaijanis also engaged in fixed-wing air attacks against civilian targets in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. All parties to the conflict have cut normal trade and transportation links to the other sides, causing severe hardship to civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, and the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan. In 1993 ethnic Armenians began to attack ethnic Azeri and Kurdish areas outside the bounds of Nagorno-Karabakh. In March, as peace talks were under way in Geneva, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians captured the province of Kalbacar between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. According to reliable eyewitnesses, the entire population fled, and ethnic Armenians looted and destroyed all villages and towns to discourage the return of those displaced. During the political upheaval inside Azerbaijan that these events caused, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians took advantage of the collapse of the Azerbaijani army to capture Agdam to the east in July and large parts of the Fuzuli, Cabrayil, Qubadli, and Zangilan regions to the south and southwest in September. As before, they drove out the population and looted and burned the provincial capitals and most of the villages in an apparent effort to create an uninhabitable zone around Nagorno-Karabakh proper. The United Nations Security Council condemned these actions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There were some restrictions on freedom of speech and press under the APF government. That government's Minister of Internal Affairs, Iskandar Hamidov, continued to harass and beat journalists whose articles he disliked. After the events in June, however, restrictions became more severe. After the ouster of the APF government (including Hamidov), the new regime used censorship in a more methodical and intensive manner. The censor banned articles and entire editions and, on September 13, even confiscated an entire press run of the newspaper Azadlyq and had it burned. The situation improved somewhat after the lifting of the state of emergency on September 22, although official censorship continued. In response to an open letter from the editors of several newspapers, protesting that censorship should have ended with the lifting of the state of emergency, the Cabinet's Office for the Protection of State Secrets decreed on September 30 that only military, not political, censorship would remain in effect. Censorship in fact decreased after the state of emergency was lifted, and even further after this announcement. The number of newspapers available, both in Azeri and Russian, did not diminish – one paper called itself Newspaper Number 525 because it was the 525th paper to register. Several opposition papers, including at least five major newspapers sympathetic to or officially published by the Azerbaijan Popular Front, the Musavat Party, and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, the main political opposition, continued to publish. Small sensationalist papers continued to publish investigative interviews and news items. At year's end, a media campaign was under way against the opposition press. After an effort to impose political censorship failed in Parliament on November 26, most papers – including opposition papers – were told that beginning on December 3 they would receive no offset masters with which to publish. After strong protests by the international community, some newspapers, including the principal opposition papers, were given permission to use offset masters they had in stock. On December 6, Parliament institutionalized military censorship and authorized the Attorney General to close newspapers for 1 month for publishing information "contrary to the interests of Azerbaijan" or libelous of individuals. The military censor is known to have excised articles containing purely political criticism of government figures unrelated to the war effort. In September a number of women were arrested for passing out leaflets protesting against Azerbaijan's joining the CIS. They were charged under the state of emergency regulations banning demonstrations. Radio and television were entirely controlled by the Government, and after the downfall of the Elcibey government they broadcast frequent programs exoressing adulation for government figures, especially President Aliyev. The opposition had little or no access to the mass media. A number of prominent academics lost their jobs after the events in June, reportedly for their connections with the APF government. They were replaced by figures from the Soviet era.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The state of emergency in effect from April until September formally banned demonstrations. In fact, however, demonstrations occurred regularly before the overthrow of President Elcibey. After that, the new Government broke up demonstrations, mostly organized by Elcibey's APF supporters, using force if necessary. On one occasion in July, gunfire was used to break up a demonstration outside the APF's headquarters. Some APF demonstrations were later allowed to take place when it became apparent that the party had few supporters still willing to come to rallies. Political parties and associations were in general allowed to function freely, and a number of parties originally affiliated with the Popular Front united to form a "Democratic Congress." The APF, however, was harassed by the authorities, and a number of its activists around the country were arrested. In some cases they were released quickly, rearrested, and released again in a clear attempt at intimidation.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion. Most Azerbaijanis are Muslims, predominantly of the Shi'a sect, but there are significant Russian Orthodox and Jewish communities. All three are represented in a "Caucasus House," chaired by the Muslim Shaykh Al-Islam, which represents the interfaith religious establishment of Azerbaijan. All faiths practiced their religions without restrictions, with one important exception: Armenian churches, many vandalized in past years, remained closed, and few of the Armenians left in Azerbaijan would have felt secure enough to attend them had they been open. New mosques continued to open during 1993. There is one Muslim seminary; Christians and Jews must go elsewhere for clerical training. Muslim clerics from Turkey and Iran, Jewish clerics from Israel and the United States, and Christian clerics from Russia, the United States, and elsewhere were given full access to the country.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

State of emergency regulations in force after April severely limited travel to areas near the front. The Ministry of National Security also used the state of emergency to create – under the APF government – an Iranian border zone in the south from which all nonresidents were excluded. The APF government restricted travel to the exclave of Naxcivan in the spring as tensions mounted between the Baku leadership and Heydar Aliyev, then chairman of Naxcivan's Supreme Soviet. After Aliyev's return to Baku and President Elcibey's June 17 flight to Naxcivan, these restrictions were intensified. The Government released former Parliament Speaker Isa Qambar, the former Minister of National Security, and others from prison on condition that they not leave Baku; it filed no charges against them. In December the Government denied Qambar and some members of his political party – including at least one who was never investigated for criminal activity – passports to travel to Turkey. The Government officially recognized freedom of emigration. Jewish emigration to Israel continued, with over 23,000 leaving since 1990, although only 749 emigrated in the first 6 months of 1993. Some 18,000 Armenians and part-Armenians, mostly in mixed marriages, remained in the country. Some of these were deprived of all documents for both internal and external travel. In general, members of minorities wishing to emigrate are harassed by low-level officials seeking bribes; this is especially the case of draft-age men, who are required to obtain documentation from several levels of military authorities before they may leave for any international travel. All citizens of Azerbaijan wishing to travel abroad must first obtain exit visas or official passports from the Government. In at least one case, the authorities denied an exit visa to a person wishing to attend a conference on the Azeri-Armenian conflict. By autumn the number of refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan was 891,000, according to figures accepted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). By year's end the tally used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was just under 1 million. Close to 500,000 fled the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian offensives into Azeri-inhabited areas between March and September alone, joining the 150,000 who fled in 1992. The refugee population also consisted of 48,000 Akhiskha (Meskhetian) Turks who fled pogroms in Uzbekistan in 1990, and 200,000 Azeris and Kurds expelled from Armenia in 1988 in retaliation for anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan. These pogroms, which recurred until 1990, drove about 350,000 Armenians to flee Azerbaijan for Armenia, Russia, and other states. Another 50,000 Armenians have fled the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government:

Citizens of Azerbaijan do not have the right to change their government by peaceful means. In June the democratically elected president, Abulfez Elcibey, was overthrown, and Heydar Aliyev assumed presidential powers. He tried to legitimize the transfer of power by holding a referendum on August 29, which confirmed the lack of public confidence in Elcibey, and presidential elections on October 3, which he won. In theory, the President shares power with a 50-member National Council (Milli Majlis), which was formed in 1991 under the Communist regime, with half of its members drawn from the opposition and half from the Communists. In 1992 the APF regime dissolved the Supreme Soviet, which had been Azerbaijan's parliament, and transferred its functions to the National Council. There has been no indication whether early parliamentary elections will be held. There were no restrictions on women or minorities participating in politics. Minorities such as Lezghis and Talysh formed regional groupings in Parliament and published newspapers in their own languages. There are two Islamic religious parties.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local human rights observers were not active in 1993. Those presenting themselves as human rights groups were generally linked with one political party or another. Some of the most active figures accepted academic grants in the United States and Europe, and were not present in Azerbaijan for much of 1993. The Government expressed willingness to receive delegations from international human rights organizations and actively solicited observers for the August 29 referendum and October 3 presidential election. Heydar Aliyev met with the visiting president of the U.S. Helsinki Watch and expressed his willingness to abide by the norms of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international agreements. Meanwhile, however, human rights violations continued. ICRC access to prisoners of war and others was sporadic.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


Women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, including the right to participate in all aspects of political, economic, and social life. Heydar Aliyev appointed several women to senior government positions, including that of state secretary (head of the presidential apparatus). The most active supporters of the APF after the overthrow of Elcibey were the party's women's groups. In general, women are given extensive opportunities for education, work, and political activity. In practice, social norms of the Caucasus tend to keep women in subordinate positions. Violence against women is a taboo subject in Azerbaijan's patriarchal society. In rural areas, wives have no real recourse against violence by their husbands, regardless of the law. Rape is severely punishable but, especially in rural areas, only a small fraction of offenses are prosecuted.


Although the Government is committed to the welfare of children, it had no resources in 1993 to devote to them.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Previous declarations on minority rights remained in effect in 1993, and, with the exception of ethnic Armenians, minorities enjoyed full rights. The position of Russian speakers actually improved after the events in June, as several APF policies to deemphasize Russian in the schools were dropped. The APF policies had mandated that more academic subjects (not including Russian language and literature) be taught in Azeri, not Russian. The 18,000 ethnic Armenians and part-Armenians, most of them members of mixed families, continued to live in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Kidnapings of ethnic Armenians from Baku continued, as did other forms of harassment and persecution. A Baku newspaper began in September to publish, district by district, the names of Armenians in Baku receiving pensions through the mail, including some with purely Azeri surnames. The newspaper used highly emotional language in introducing these lists, in an apparent attempt to incite an anti-Armenian pogrom. The Government stopped publication of these lists, and the editor of the paper was fired. There are credible reports of the denial of medical treatment to ethnic Armenians and confiscation of their travel and residence documents. Most of the Armenians who lost jobs in previous years remained unemployed. Many were too frightened to appear in public.

People with Disabilities

No legislation or otherwise mandated provision of accessibility for the disabled has been enacted.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Azerbaijani labor unions continued to operate as they did under the Soviet system. However, the Azerbaijani Labor Federation is no longer linked to Moscow. Unions continued to be highly dependent upon the Government but were free to form federations and participate in international bodies. There is a right to strike. A number of strikes were reported in the press in 1993; the Confederation reported no retribution against strikers.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining remained at a rudimentary level. Wages were decreed by relevant government ministries for enterprises and organizations within their budgets. Both managers and employees at state enterprises are considered to be union members under the Soviet holdover system. On December 13, 200 policemen invaded a military factory and arrested the manager, who was protected by workers. The work force then went out on strike. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and is not known to be practiced. There is no government office that enforces this prohibition.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age is 16. Children aged 14 are allowed to work during vacations with the consent of their parents and the certification of a physician. Children aged 15 may work if the workplace's labor union does not object. Eight years of education are compulsory. This minimum is enforced by employers under the control of trade union organizations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A nationwide administrative minimum wage, set by decree, was raised numerous times in 1993 to offset inflation. The minimum wage as of December 17 amounted to $3.60 (900 manats) per month. It is not known how effectively the payment of the minimum wage was enforced. The extended family's "safety net" and reliance on outside sources of income generally assured a decent living. The legal workweek is 41 hours. There is at least one 24-hour rest period, in some cases two, during the workweek. Health and safety standards exist but are by and large ignored in the workplace.

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