Update to AZE24583.E of 25 July 1996 on treatment of Musavat party members; whether Musavat is a religiously-based political party [AZE35631.E]

An AFP report refers to the Musavat party as one of the main opposition parties, as well as one of the "most popular" (18 Sept. 2000). Although The Political Handbook of the World 1999 refers to the Musavat party as the New Muslim Democratic Party or the Yeni Musavat Partiyasi (YMP) (1999, 67), it is unclear whether the Musavat party is religiously-based. However, The Political Handbook of the World 1999 writes that the present-day Musavat party is "indirectly descended from the pre-Soviet Musavat nationalists" (1999, 67). In an article in Caspian Crossroads Magazine, a publication produced by the US-Azerbaijan Council, Aydin Balayev, referring to the Musavat party of the early twentieth century, writes that:

Musavat consistently adhered to secular ideas. The party favoured the exclusion (or at least the limitation of the activities) of clerics from fields having no direct relation to the performance of religious rites. On the other hand, the party was prepared to use and did use religion as a method of political struggle for national independence...
The principle of separation of church and state in the Azerbaijan republic, which was initiated by Musavat, confirms the party's position. Religion was deemed a private affair, thus enabling Azerbaijan to become the first secular state in the Muslim East (1999).

Further references to the religious affiliation of the present-day Musavat party could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

On 8 February 2000 RFE/RL reported that the "Baku headquarters of the opposition Musavat party and its newspaper, Yeni Musavat, had been attacked by "some 100 men" who were "protesting the publication... of materials about official corruption in [their] exclave." According to RFE/RL, police failed to intervene in the attack (ibid.). A Baku-based news source, Zerkalo, alleged that "law-enforcement bodies had received a secret instruction from the authorities" to not protect the office and alleged that authorities were complicit in the attack (8 Feb. 2000). Elbeyi Hassanli, a journalist with Yeni Musavat, was arrested and, according to IFEX, released on 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL 8 Feb. 2000; IFEX 10 February 2000).

In April 2000, opposition parties, including the Musavat party, held an "unsanctioned rally" in central Fizuli Square, Baku, rather than on the outskirts of town which authorities had permitted (AP 29 Apr. 2000). Protestors were demanding that the upcoming parliamentary elections "be free of fraud and government intimidation" and the protest grew to approximately 1000 people (ibid.). The police reportedly beat the demonstrators back with batons resulting in injuries and, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency, one hospitalization (ibid.). According to opposition leaders, the secretary of the Musavat party, chair of the People's Party of Azerbaijan, and "another prominent opposition leader" were detained (ibid.). Further information on the demonstration can be found in AZE34338.E of 9 May 2000.

According to the ITAR-TASS News Agency, on 12 August 2000 Baku city authorities permitted a demonstration by approximately 20 opposition parties who were demanding changes to the election law. None of the parties are named. The rally was attended by approximately 1,000 to 1,500 people (ibid.). A similar rally had been held the previous week; specific reference is made to the participation of Musavat (ibid.).

On 30 August 2000 RFE/RL, citing Turan, a Baku-based news agency, reported that the chief editor of Yeni Musavat, Rauf Arifoglu, had been arrested on 22 August 2000 on charges of "illegal possession of a firearm, participation in a plane hijack and terrorism." According to RFE/RL, Azerbaijani investigators "again" searched the offices of Yeni Musavat and "examined evidence connected with the failed 18 August attempt by a Musavat party member to hijack an Azerbaijani Airlines plane" (28 Aug. 2000). Following the arrest, opposition parties issued a statement condemning the arrest (ibid. 25 Aug. 2000) and authorities prohibited protests against the arrest (ibid. 12 Sept. 2000). Yeni Musavat also reported that Arifoglu was denied medical attention (ibid. 18 Sept. 2000). On 20 September 2000, Turan reported that the charge of "appealing for a coup d'etat" had been added to the list of charges brought against Arifoglu. On 25 September 2000, Turan reported that the prosecutor's investigation had closed, thus allowing the case to proceed to court.

On 18 September 2000, AFP reported that Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission had refused to allow the Musavat party to participate in the 5 November 2000 parliamentary elections because the party "lacked the needed number of voter signatures to register." AFP reported that democracy groups found the Commission's decision "questionable and... potentially another shortcoming in [the] pre-election process" while other groups found the decision was "potentially within the limits of the law" as the Musavat list of voter signatories may have failed to provide addresses as is required (ibid.). On 22 September 2000, RFE/RL reported that the Commission had rejected the registration applications of three more opposition parties bringing the number of rejected parties to five and the number of registered parties to four (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please see below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence-France Presse (AFP). 18 September 2000. "Main Azeri Opposition Party Barred from Parliamentary Elections." (NEXIS)

Associated Press (AP). 29 April 2000. "Azerbaijan Protestors Ignore Ban." (NEXIS)

Balayev, Aydin. 1999. "The Political-Ideological Doctrine of the Musavat Party in the Early Twentieth Century." Caspian Crossroads Magazine. Volume 4, No. 2. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/usazerb/427.htm [Accessed 22 Sept. 2000]

International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) Clearing House [Toronto]. 10 February 2000. "Journalist Detained and Released; Other Journalists Attacked; Protest Meeting Planned." www.ifex.org [Accessed 11 Feb. 2000]

ITAR-TASS News Agency [Moscow, in English]. 12 August 2000. "Opposition Holds Rally to Demand Free Elections." (BBC Summary 14 Aug. 2000/NEXIS)

Political Handbook of the World 1999. 1999. Edited by Arthur S. Banks. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 22 September 2000. "Three More Azerbaijani Political Parties Barred from Election." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 18 September 2000. "Pace Official Calls for Free Election with Free Media in Azerbaijan." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 12 September 2000. "Authorities Prohibit Protest Pickets on Behalf of Arrested Azerbaijani Journalist." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 30 August 2000. "Arrested Azerbaijani Newspaper Editor Charged with Terrorism." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 28 August 2000. "Concern Grows Over Arrest of Azerbaijani Newspaper Editor." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 25 August 2000. "More Azerbaijani Political Groups Condemn Editor's Arrest." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

_____. 8 February 2000. "Azerbaijani Opposition Party HQ Attacked." (listmanager@list.rferl.org)

Turan [Baku]. 29 September 2000. "Prosecutor's Administration Completes Investigation into Case of Yeni Musavat Editor."\on-line\english\00-09-25e.htm [Accessed 2 Oct. 2000]

_____. 20 September 2000. "List of Charges Against Yeni Musavat Editor Replenished with Appeal for Coup D'Etat."\on-line\english\00-09-20e.htm [Accessed 2 Oct. 2000]

Zerkalo [Baku, in Russian]. 8 February 2000. "Azeri Paper Suspects Authorities Sanctioned attack on Opposition Party Office." (BBC Summary 8 Feb. 2000/NEXIS

Additional Sources Consulted

Amnesty International Urgent Actions File. Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan Country File. Resource Centre. February 1999 - September 2000.

Europa World Yearbook 2000

IRB Databases

Islam and Islamic Groups. 1992.

World News Connection (WNC)

Internet Cites including:

Amnesty International

Annual Report on International Religious Freedom 2000

Area Handbook Series,

Azerbaijan - A Country Study

Armenian National Committee of America,

TransCaucasus: A Chronology


Council of Europe

Country Reports 1998, 1999

Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan

Human Rights Watch
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,

Azerbaijan: Annual Report 1999

The Turkic Almanac, Republic of Azerbaijan