The accusations and claims are flying fast, but what's fact and what's fiction? We've taken a look at eight of the headline grabbers to find out where the truth lies.

1. Political Puralism

CLAIM: "The refusal of the authorities to sanction the Azadlig bloc's rally in the center of Baku is a gross violation of the Constitution, the Election Code and the law on freedom of assembly. The authorities are trying to restrict Azadlig's election campaign."

- Musavat Party Chairman/Azadlig leader Isa Gambar
(September 30, 2005, Yeni Musavat newspaper)

FACT: The Baku city government argues that it is not trying to restrict Azadlig's election campaign since it has offered the bloc several sites for their rallies in the capital city's outskirts. Azadlig, however, has rejected these offers. The bloc bases its argument on Article 49 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, which specifies that "Everyone has the right, having notified [the] respective governmental bodies in advance, [to] peacefully and without arms, meet with other people, organize meetings, demonstrations, processions, [and] place pickets." Article 2.6.5 of the Election Code calls on election participants "not to obstruct pre-election mass activities," while the law on freedom of assembly states that bans on rallies must be "a measure of last resort."

2. Press Freedoms

CLAIM: "The Azerbaijani authorities have established full control over the mass media. There is no independent TV channel in Azerbaijan. All attempts to create these have failed. The authorities do not register them as legal entities, do not give licenses and do not provide [broadcast] frequencies. The Ministry of Communications is supposed to publish a list of frequencies available for tender. However, they violate the law and do not publish them."

- Rashid Hajily, Independent candidate in #23 Nasimi-Sabail constituency, promoted by YeS bloc (September 10 conference on election coverage and media ethics code organized by Council of Europe and presidential administration)

FACT: Multiple pro-opposition print outlets do, in fact, exist in Azerbaijan, and in 2005, public television - intended as an unbiased information source - also began broadcasting. Azerbaijan has nine regional and four national private TV channels, but options for new television channels are limited. Although the Ministry of Communications now possesses a frequency map that would allow it to publish a list of available broadcast frequencies, the list has not yet been published. The National Television and Radio Council states that it cannot obtain the list from the ministry's State Frequency Committee.

3. Nagorno Karabakh

CLAIM: "The Azerbaijani government does nothing for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Our territories are still under Armenian occupation, our army still wallowing in corruption, and people have no knowledge of the negotiations between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group for resolution of the conflict."

-- Akif Nagi, chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Oraganization, an Azadlig candidate for Baku's #16 Second Yasamal constituency (Promotional article, Yeni Musavat newspaper, October 12)

FACT: The government has not been inactive on the issue of Nagorno Karabakh. At every public appearance, President Ilham Aliyev talks about official efforts to solve the conflict, Azerbaijan's most troublesome problem. Negotiations via the OSCE's Minsk Group remain ongoing and international mediators express optimism about the chances for a resolution. In 2005, President Aliyev met twice with Armenian President Robert Kocharian on the issue; the two countries' foreign ministers also hold regular negotiations, in addition to talks overseen by the OSCE.

4. Oil Industry

CLAIM: "Parliament has no control over the management of oil revenues. Most oil revenues are collected by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). During the past five years, SOCAR has never been audited. The opportunities for public control over oil revenues are very limited. "

- Gubad Ibadoglu, Azadlig candidate in #84 Fizuli constituency; chairman of Musavat Party economic commission (October 22 meeting with voters, Fizuli region)

FACT: Azerbaijan was the first country to join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, and has published reports since 2004 on what payments the government has received since 2003 from foreign energy companies for exploitation of Azerbaijan's oil fields. Parliament's control over oil revenues is, however, quite weak. The president has control over the State Oil Fund's assets, and can use money from the Fund without parliament's approval. SOCAR is a closed organization and rarely audited. As Ibadoglu states, the company has not been audited during the last five years.

5. Social Welfare

CLAIM: "Every year the government increases the state budget and social allocations. The draft 2006 budget also proposes a serious increase in allocations for social needs. The salary of [state] budget-funded organizations' employees will rise 33 percent in 2006. The president and the government care about the people."

- Asef Hajiyev, incumbent MP, and independent candidate from #38 Second Nizami constituency in Ganja (September 30, 2005 television debate )

FACT: Despite opposition claims that the government's social policy is a failure and that more than 50 percent of the population lives in poverty, government and independent data show that Azerbaijan's socio-economic situation has improved over the last two years. The United Nations Development Programme reported in October 2005 that the level of poverty decreased 4 percentage points, to 40 percent, by comparison with 2004. Thanks to increased oil revenues, the 2006 budget does, in fact, provide for a 33 percent increase in state salaries. More than $600 million will be transferred to the budget from the State Oil Fund in 2006 for social needs. However, at the same time, the influx of billions in oil revenue, has caused increased inflation.

6. Relations with the West

CLAIM: "[President] Ilham Aliyev is ostracized by the West because of huge problems with democracy, the suppression of opposition activity, violation of freedom of the media and other freedoms, and an unwillingness to conduct free and fair elections, So far, he [Aliyev] did not receive an invitation to pay an official visit to Washington."

--- Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Mehman Javadoglu, Azadlig candidate in #86 Ismailli constituency (Baki Habar newspaper, October 6, 2005)

FACT: Although the US State Department has expressed concern about certain aspects of Azerbaijan's parliamentary election campaign, Washington has stopped far short of ostracizing President Aliyev. In an October 18 letter, US President George W. Bush told Aliyev that the November 6 elections "provide an opportunity to elevate our countries' relations to a new strategic level." One sign of that cooperation is the $130 million Caspian Defense Initiative, which will train Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan's armed forces to secure the Caspian Sea against terrorists, and drugs and weapons trafficking. Aliyev has not yet received an official invitation to the White House, but Azerbaijani government representatives cite "technical problems and President [George W.] Bush's intensive work schedule" as the cause.

7. Role of Islam

CLAIM: "The government uses Islam as a mean of obedience and restricts any liberal waves of Islam in Azerbaijan. Sunnis. . .are suppressed under the cover of anti-terrorism efforts against Wahhabis. [Baku's] Juma mosque community was also suppressed because it was highlighting human rights issues."

-- Isakhan Ashurov, Azadlig candidate in #106 Tovuz-Gazakh-Akstafa constituency in West Azerbaijan, ( October 22, 2005 meeting with voters in Khanliglar village, Gazakh region)

FACT: With a largely Shiite Muslim population, Azerbaijan walks a delicate line on questions concerning Islam. Islamic Party Chairman Haji Hajiaga Nuriyev saw his candidacy for parliament first rejected by the Central Election Commission, then reinstated by the Constitutional Court. Similarly, while government officials have called for restrictions to be placed on Sunni mosques to guard against Wahabbi fundamentalism, the country's largest Sunni mosque Abku-Bekr, remains open. Baku's 15th century Shiite Juma mosque suffered a different fate, however. In 2004, police stormed the mosque and evicted the congregation. Officials argued that the mosque was not a registered religious organization and that its imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, an outspoken human rights advocate, was an Islamic radical. Opposition members, including Ashurov, who represented the Juma community in court, argue that the government was targeting Ibrahimoglu as a prominent critic of President Ilham Aliyev.

8. Corruption

CLAIM: "The government is totally corrupt and made up by gangsters. Thanks to them, Azerbaijan is known as one of the most corrupt countries in the world now. . . Unless this regime will not go, the economy of Azerbaijan will not develop and people will live in poverty."

-- Popular Front Party Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafayev, Azadlig candidate #21 First Nasimi constituency, Baku (Paid campaign speech, ANS TV Nazar Nogtesi program, October 21, 2005)

FACT: Corruption is one of Azerbaijan's biggest problems, and is a frequent opposition accusation against the government. American and European diplomats frequently point to corruption as one of the main factors impeding foreign investment in the non-oil sector of the economy. The government, however, has begun to take steps to root out this ill. In the beginning of 2005, President Ilham Aliyev established a State Anti-Corruption Commission led by presidential administration chief Ramiz Mekhtiyev; parliament also adopted a law on fighting corruption that spells out government officials' responsibilities. Azerbaijan ranked 137th among 159 countries on watchdog Transparency International's 2005 corruption index; a seven-place improvement compared with the preceding year.

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTIONS 2005 is a production of with funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
Copyright © 2005