MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 355: excerpts

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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 355, August 31, 2006

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE AUGUST 31 

GEORGIA: AZERI ACTIVIST THREATENED Detention of Azeri opposition
activist condemned by Georgian human rights defenders. By Dmitry
Avaliani in Tbilisi

DAGESTAN: FORCED CONFESSIONS CLAIMS Two recent cases highlight the
alleged Dagestani police practice of framing people. By Musa Musayev in
Khasavyurt and Makhachkala 

AZERBAIJAN'S JEWISH ENCLAVE "Mountain Jews" live harmoniously with their
Muslim neighbours in the north of the country. By Sabuhi Mamedli in
Krasnaya Sloboda

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.......................


GEORGIA: AZERI ACTIVIST THREATENED

Detention of Azeri opposition activist condemned by Georgian human
rights defenders.

By Dmitry Avaliani in Tbilisi

Georgia has denied refugee status to an Azerbaijani human rights
activist, despite claims that he will suffer persecution if he is
returned home.

Georgian activists say the case of Azer Samedov raises questions about
the Georgian government's human rights credentials. The Georgian
authorities detained Samedov, head of the non-governmental organisation
Caucasian Centre for Protection of Freedom of Conscience and Religion,
who had been living in Georgia since March 31, following a request from
Azerbaijan. 

The Azerbaijani authorities accuse Samedov of having organized "mass
riots" in Baku during the presidential election in October of 2003, when
opposition supporters disputed the official verdict that President Ilham
Aliev had won the poll. If convicted of that offence in Azerbaijan, he
faces a prison sentence of between five and seven years.

Tbilisi's circuit court initially sentenced Samedov to two months'
pre-trial detention, but then an appeal court revoked the decision on
April 14 and Samedov was released on bail.

In May, Samedov asked the Georgian ministry for refugees and settlement
for refugee status, saying he feared political persecution if he
returned home, but the request was rejected. 

"He failed to prove that the Azerbaijani authorities were pursuing him
for political or religious reasons," Irakly Kokaia, who heads the
migration, refugees and repatriation department of the ministry for
refugees and settlement, told IWPR. "None of his colleagues in
Azerbaijan had been arrested." 

If the Georgian authorities do not revoke their decision, Samedov will
stand trial and may then be extradited to Azerbaijan.  

"The issue of Samedov's extradition is being considered in compliance
with norms of the international law observed by Azerbaijan and Georgia,"
Elhan Polukhov, press attache of the Azerbaijani embassy in Georgia,
told IWPR. "The Azerbaijani side is sure the Georgian court will take
the right decision."

But Samedov himself insists that this is a political case. "At the time
of the presidential election in Azerbaijan, my colleagues and I
supported the opposition candidate Isa Gambar," said Samedov. "But we
got caught up in the street disorders accidentally... We just happened
to be nearby and were photographed and videotaped.
 
"There are forces in Georgia, who want to win favour with the
Azerbaijani authorities." 

Samedov's lawyer Manana Kobakhidze says the ministry was given
substantial evidence that he would be harassed in Azerbaijan if he is
returned there. "The persecution of members of his organisation, as well
as an arrest of two of them has been recorded in a report by the Amnesty
International," she said. "The facts are also reflected in a US State
Department report. There are witnesses too."    

She said Samedov's colleagues had been set free on bail after protests
from international organisations, but only after they had endured
torture while in jail.

Lawyer Tamaz Avdalian, who acted for Samedov in the Tbilisi court, said,
"He is being accused of having organised mass disorder, whereas in fact
he was monitoring the poll. There were many people alongside of him,
including the Norwegian ambassador to Azerbaijan and they all can
confirm he's innocent." 

Georgian human rights campaigner Emil Adelhanov also sees the decision
as a gesture of loyalty by the government in Tbilisi to their
counterparts in Baku. 

"By rejecting Samedov the Georgian authorities took a political decision
signalling that Azerbaijan is our friend," he said.

The chairman of the Georgian parliament's human rights committee Elene
Tevdoradze, who helped Samedov get bail, agreed, "There was some kind of
a deal in sign of friendship between the presidents of our countries."

In its ruling, the ministry says Samedov is not seeking to get a
political asylum in Georgia, but "to build a platform for political
activities levelled against Azerbaijan". 

"What has this to do with a 'platform' against Azerbaijan?" said
Samedov. "If I have committed a crime under Georgian law, I must answer
for that. But the criminal code does not have an article about a
'platform', does it?"

Samedov said his activities in Georgia had been confined to organisation
of a five-month-long course to monitor protection of human rights. At
the same time, he said, a group of Georgian Azerbaijanis wanted to found
a Georgian Muslims Union - a body that would independent from the
official Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus based in Baku. 

Samedov said he had met the people involved and given them some advice,
but he had nothing to do with the efforts to establish an alternative
Muslim organisation. 

Eldar Zeinalov, director of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan, said
Samedov had been an active member of the religious community of the Juma
Mosque in Baku before the 2003 election and he also had sided with the
Azadlyg (Freedom) opposition movement and been head of a non-government
organisation DEVAMM (Centre for Protection of Religious Believes and
Freedoms).

"Worshippers said that people from Azerbaijan's security services had
called at the mosque after the October 17 [1993] poll, who said they
were looking for Samedov, not only in connection with the election, but
because of his alleged ties with some terrorists," Zeinalov told IWPR. 

Zeinalov said none of the more than 130 people convicted in connection
with the 2003 October events remained in custody in Azerbaijan.

"Samedov is most likely to be released too," said Zeinalov. "However,
there's no guarantee that the fantastic charge of his having links with
terrorists won't resurface. Then the fear of tortures may become a
reality, just as in other 'terror' cases."

Sozar Subari, who serves as Georgian "people's defender", or human
rights commissioner, recommended that Samedov be given refugee status in
Georgia. He said the wording of the ministry's refusal was obscure and
absolutely unacceptable.

"Even if a man is facing only a one-day imprisonment, he is entitled to
a defence," said Subari.  

Azer Samedov says he intends to file an appeal against the Georgian
government's decision in September. He has already applied to the UN
Commissioner for Refugees, hoping to find a temporary refuge in a third
country until he proves his innocence.

He said that his case had tarnished Georgia's reputation for being a
democratic country that supported human rights.

"Unfortunately, Georgia failed to be such a country," said Samedov.

"I presented documents from very influential human rights organizations
to the Georgian side. They make it clear that there is torture and at
best unfair trial awaiting me at home. Isn't that a good reason to
protect me?"

Dmitri Avaliani is a correspondent of the newspaper "24 saati" in
Tbilisi.

...................


AZERBAIJAN'S JEWISH ENCLAVE

"Mountain Jews" live harmoniously with their Muslim neighbours in the
north of the country.

By Sabuhi Mamedli in Krasnaya Sloboda

"Krasnaya Sloboda is the safest place for Jews at the moment," said
Nisim Nisimov, head of the municipal administration in the village of
Krasnaya Sloboda - which means "Red Settlement". "We are not hostile
towards Muslims. We live on perfect good neighbourly terms with them."

Krasnaya Sloboda, the last surviving compact community of "Mountain
Jews" in the Caucasus, is situated in the mountainous Quba district of
northern Azerbaijan.

This small community has managed to stay immune to both the Jewish
exodus from the region following the end of the Soviet Union and fallout
from the Jewish-Muslim conflict in the Middle East.  

During the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, the media in
Azerbaijan came out with conflicting reports, with some saying that
Jewish families had fled from Israel to Krasnaya Sloboda, while others
said that residents had gone in the opposition direction to enrol as
volunteers in the Israeli Defence Forces.

Semyon Ihilov, head of the Jewish community of Azerbaijan, told IWPR the
reports were not true and a visit to Krasnaya Sloboda suggested a much
more quiet and harmonious picture - despite it being an island of Jews
surrounded by Muslims. 

According to Jewish community leaders, a little over 16,000 Jews live in
Azerbaijan today, of whom 11,000 are Mountain Jews with about 3,600 of
them in Krasnaya Sloboda. They speak a dialect of the Tat language,
which is related to Persian, and have lived in the Caucasus for
generations.   

Krasnaya Sloboda is a prosperous place, which stands in sharp contrast
to the surrounding area. The roads are in a good state and there are
plenty of expensive foreign cars. Seen from high ground, the village has
a reddish tint, due to the red tiling of the roofs - which may be the
explanation for its name. Frequent signs in Hebrew and the wearing of
skullcaps are the main clues to the different cultural identity of the
place. 

"The village has two secondary schools, a college, synagogue, a house of
culture, where we observe all our religious holidays and historical
dates," said Nisimov.

Local residents are mostly well off, but few of them have jobs.
Municipal official Pisah Isakov, said, "There used to be a canning
factory here, which employed at least a thousand people. Nowadays the
plant is running at half capacity, and unemployment has grown. There are
no lands to cultivate in the village either."

Explaining the secret of the village's prosperity, Isakov said it was
supported by benefactors, all wealthy natives of the village now living
elsewhere He said these included three men Zahar Iliev, Telman Ismailov,
Sergei Kokunov, who have fortunes estimated at between 350 and 540
million dollars and all of whom feature in Forbes Magazine's list of the
100 richest people in Russia.   

Isakov said Kokunov had donated money for repair work on the schools in
Krasnaya Sloboda, which should be completed by the beginning of the new
school year. 

Relations are generally friendly between Krasnaya Sloboda and other
villages and there are cases of inter-ethnic marriages.

"Three years ago my son married the daughter of my neighbour Abraham,"
said Gasym Aliev. "They live in Israel today. Of course we are worried
about them because of the war. But from a financial point of view, they
live very well and send money to us every month too."

However, some neighbouring Muslims - Azerbaijanis, Lezgins and Tats -
are envious of the Jews' prosperity.
 
"I have a great respect for Jews," said Abdullayev. "But why have they
been able to make their village look like a small European town, whereas
we cannot do this with ours? You must have seen how terrible the state
of Quba's bus station is. And that's the centre of the district... I'm
not even mentioning the villages."

Nisim Nisimov said that the village's population used to be 19,000 but,
beginning in the 1970s, many Jews began to emigrate to Israel. In the
last few years the outflow has stopped. Several Azerbaijani and Lezgin
families now live alongside their Jewish neighbours. 

Nisimov wants to encourage Jews to move back to the village. "It would
be a justified step for our compatriots to move from warring Israel back
to our peaceful village," said Nisimov. "During the many years we've
lived in the village surrounded by Muslim communities, there have never
been any ethnic or religious differences. We've lived in peace and
harmony for many years.

"Krasnaya Sloboda is in fact the safest place in the world for Jews to
live. But despite the safety of our village, not a single Jewish family
has come from Israel to live here. Even those who left the village have
never come back."

School headmaster Yaushva Silanduyev said they get many visits from
former residents, especially on August 3 which is their annual day of
mourning for the dead. 

"Lots of people came from America, France, Israel and Russia this year,"
he said. "Probably, this year's mass arrival of Jews in Azerbaijan was
misinterpreted because of the war between Israel and Lebanon."

The villagers are keen to stress that they are good Azerbaijani citizens
and their first loyalty is to Azerbaijan.  "We consider ourselves to be
part of the Azerbaijani people," said Nisimov. "A big part of the
repertoire of the Gubba musical ensemble, which I direct, consists of
Azeri folk songs and mugams (traditional songs)."

Abdulla Abdullayev, from the nearby Azerbaijani village of Nugadi, said
the Gubba group from Krasnaya Sloboda was frequently invited to
Azerbaijani weddings, "They sing our songs well, even better than many
Azerbaijani musicians."  

In Krasnaya Sloboda, they also mention the fact that their most famous
son Albert Agaronov, a tank-driver, was made a hero of Azerbaijan after
he was killed defending the town of Shusha in 1992 in the war over
Nagorny Karabakh. Lazar, aged 73, said, "All Mountain Jews are proud of
him. If a new war to free Karabakh begins tomorrow, I'm sure all the
young men from Krasnaya Sloboda will stand up and fight." 

However, Lazar adds that no one in the village has displayed any
willingness to go and defend Israel and he doubted that would happen,
"Yes, we are Jews, and when blood is being spilled in Israel, we feel
pain for our brothers. But we are citizens of Azerbaijan, and our
homeland is here. We should defend our homeland, Azerbaijan." 

Sabuhi Mamedli is a freelance journalist based in Baku. 

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the international community
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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2006 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
355

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