(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
Baku, Azerbaijan. When you land at Baku airport, it is called Heydar Alijev Airport. The name follows you all the time while in the country: in streets, football stadiums, department stores, and clinics.
Bautas are erected in Alijev's memory, large posters in the cities bear his face, and in public buildings he is in photography. From you get up in the morning until you close your eyes in the evening, he is there, even in a small box on TV.
Heydar Alijev (1923-2003) ruled Azerbaijan with an iron hand. He was a Soviet Union man in the country, a member of the Politburo 1982-87 and KGB chief in his home country, and finally elected president in 1993.
When Aliyev died two years ago, it was the now 44-year-old son, Illegal gambler, who took over the presidency. He has no father's charisma at all. His governance is known for corruption and brutality, and he builds his power on the support of police and military.
The opposition lives dangerously. It has been poorly organized, but as one approaches the parliamentary elections to parliament Milli Mejlis, it has come to a consensus on the big lines: The government must go away and democracy must be introduced.
Although the population may have been among the most wealthy in the southern Caucasus, more than half live below the poverty line.
Azerbaijan is the meeting point between Europe and Asia. The majority of the population are Shia Muslims, but here are Armenian and Russian Orthodox as well. The main language is related to Turkish, but 30 percent of the population also speaks Russian, a reminder that the country until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a sub-republic.
Beautiful old town
Baku with two million inhabitants is very reminiscent of Eastern European cities, but also has a buzz of Asian grace. The capital rises from the Caspian Sea in terraces. The old town was founded under Muslim rule, and here we find many of the wealthy, as well as embassies and business estates. The beach promenade with palm trees in this "city of winds" is a beautiful memory of a lost time of greatness. The city center gives few signals that we are in a poor country, but you do not have to move far out of here before poverty screams in your eyes.
The first traveler to see from the amphitheater over the Caspian Sea is the forest of ancient oil towers. They are most reminiscent of the dead forests you can see on parts of the Kola Peninsula. The Bibi-Hejbat oil field is a sad sight of oil spills and other environmental disruptions. On the border between the field and the urban development, the poor live in box-like housing.
If you do not have a heart of stone, it makes the impression to see children play and look for something valuable on the rubbish dump. The images from reality speak more clearly than the statistics of the ministries, which say that the country's economy besides oil and gas is also based on steel, iron, cement, salt, chemicals, textiles and agriculture. Some fishermen still exist, but poisoning and overfishing in the Caspian Sea have driven many into the clutches of poverty. The popular sturgeon is extinct in parts of the sea. The famous caviar is available for purchase if you want to spend a few hundred patches on a small box.
The petroleum resources could have made this one of the richest countries in Eurasia. But the regime's hijacking of the riches has sent the population either out to the sea of misery, or to the countryside where it is trying to survive. Although much acreage is salt drought, the land between Baku and Iran is rich in areas where grapes were formerly grown that yielded rich wines.
During a visit to Akcabadi, where 3-4000 refugees are also detained, it was told how farmers trying to sell their products in the capital 25 km away are being looted by corrupt customs officers and police. Strikingly, all the roadblocks are guarded by uniformed and reinforced people who demand payment to let drivers through. A farmer who wants to sell his vegetables in Baku is "robbed" before he gets home.
The Caspian Sea is today one of the strategically important areas for the world's industrialized countries. The amount of black gold in and around the sea can be as much as 200 billion barrels. Norwegian reserves are estimated to be 10-12 billion barrels. Although oil and gas resources are also to be shared with Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran, they are large enough to create prosperity for Azerbaijanis.
Nordic players have been involved in oil extraction for over a hundred years. It started with brothers Robert and Ludvig Nobel who in 1876 started the company Branobel. It has so far ended with Statoil participating in both the oil and gas projects in the sea and the transport of oil. Statoil is one of the major contractors in the 1770 kilometer long pipeline that runs from Baku via Tbilise to Ceyhan in the Mediterranean.
When the pipeline was opened on May 25, the participating heads of state smiled about the race with the oil directors. The money will flow into the treasuries, but there is a great danger that the poor people will only get a crumb of wealth, and that the Aliyev regime and its friends will run away with the fraternity.
November 6, Azerbaijan goes to Parliament for election, National Assembly. Of the 125 delegates, 108 come from the regime-loyal New Azerbaijan Party. The last election did not go well at all, and many fear that this election will also be subject to cheating and scorn. The opposition has long been divided, but has recently been able to gather under the umbrella Freedom ("Freedom"). Freedom of the press has poor conditions, and critical writers have been monitored, threatened and killed, as happened to the editor of Monitor in March, Elmar Husseinov. The president deals with police and paramilitary forces, and uses the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to keep the army warm.
The fear that the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine will spread to Azerbaijan sits deep in the presidential palace. In recent weeks, there has been a steady report of unrest between the regime and the opposition. It has been strictly forbidden to demonstrate near the parliament and government buildings in the center of Baku. But Aliyev has promised free elections, something opposition leaders Ibraghim Veliyev has little faith in.
Demonstrations in October presented demands for free elections and democracy. These were not approved, and during the confrontations with the police, over 100 must have been arrested, beaten up and some imprisoned.
"The police were just doing their duty," commented Police Chief Yasar Aliyev.
The situation before the election also has a foreign policy side. The oil must be sold and both "carriers" (eg Statoil) and contractors in the west can put pressure on the regime. In addition, there is the old conflict between Baku and Moscow. There are still those who long for the time before 1991, but who now realize that their days are numbered.
For President Putin, what happened in Georgia 2003 and Ukraine 2004 tastes bad. Russia is on the defensive around the Caspian Sea and similarly in Kyrgyzstan where people rebelled against the head of state. At the same time, Washington is on the offensive after making friends with both Tbilisi and Kiev. The trip has come to Baku. Former Foreign Minister Madeline Albright has been in Baku demanding democracy. Foreign Minister Condoleeza Rice has also raised his index finger, something the opposition knows to take care of.
What happens in this weekend's election is uncertain. The opposition in Azerbaijan does not have the same backing in the state apparatus as to a comparator with the other mentioned states. Those behind the rebellion against Shevardnadse in Georgia, Kuchma-Yanukovych in Ukraine and Akajev in Kyrgyzstan had all been close to the heads of state. They knew the apparatus from within.
If Alijev's regime tries to cheat again and turn down riots with violence, much blood may flow on Election Day. But there is uncertainty about the loyalty of the police and the army to the regime.
If Aliyev follows the examples of the heads of state who surrendered to democracy and does not fire, the Azerbaijani drama can also have a peaceful solution.