The October 1998 elections were this year's most important
political event. The main opposition leaders, including
former president Abulfaz Elchibey boycotted, and the
incumbent President Aliev got 76% of the vote. The
opposition characterized the election as a scam and
conducted demonstrations, while the editors of 20 newspapers
conducted a hunger strike demanding the cancellation of the
Nagorno Karabach President Samvel Babayan was wounded in a
failed March 2000 attack.
The parliamentary elections that year were overwhelmingly
won by President Aliyev's party, which once again got
international observers to criticize the country's opaque
electoral system. New criticisms were directed at the
Azerbaijani government in 2001. This time from the Council
of Europe, which criticized the lack of freedom of speech
and the existence of political prisoners. Nevertheless, the
country was admitted to the Council of Europe that year.
The September 2001 terrorist attack in New York gave
President Aliyev a new respite. He declared that Azerbadjan
will support the United States in its fight against terror,
and in return Washington lifted the sanction that had been
aimed at Azerbadjan since 1992, after Baku closed its train
links to Armenia. Aliyev allowed the United States to use
Azerbaijan's airspace in its relocation of troops and
supplies to US bases in Central Asia. At the same time, the
United States has stepped up its oil interests in the
country. An oil and gas pipeline is under construction from
Baku through Georgia to the Ceyhan shipping port in Turkey
for commissioning in 2004.
Pope Paul II visited the country for the first time in
2002 and called for the settlement of the religious
conflicts. After the visit, there was an uprising in
Nardaran near the capital Bakú. At least one was killed and
several were arrested after the people tried the local city
government. The government declared that the area was the
center of Islamic extremism, but locals insisted that the
uprising was due to extreme poverty and lack of employment.
Several hundred people also demonstrated in Bakü against
the poverty and the miserable living conditions. At the same
time, they demanded that the vote to amend the constitution
be canceled. President Aliyev collapsed during a TV
transmitted speech and was hospitalized in Turkey. He
subsequently appointed his son Ilham as prime minister.
In October 2003, Ilham Aliyev won the presidential
election, which observers described as a little far from
international standards. The opposition demonstrated in the
streets, police cracked down on protesters and hundreds were
In July 2004, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
visited Bakú. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen
relations between the two countries' governments and to
conclude a number of agreements. Despite the countries'
vastly different sizes and historically low trade, in 2003
they signed a military cooperation agreement, enabling
Pakistan to bring Azerbaijan troops into the country. In
return, Musharraf hoped to get favorable agreements on the
purchase of oil and gas from the large fields in Azerbaidjan.
The second time the government allowed the opposition to
take political action, in June 20,000 people staged a
demonstration in the capital Bakú demanding free elections
and the departure of the president. The demonstration was
conducted by the Azadlig (Freedom) bloc, which consists of
the three largest opposition parties.
The demonstrations against the government continued
throughout Baku in 2005, each time violently attacked by the
police. In March, journalist Elmar Huseynov was killed by
gunshots. In preparation for the inauguration of a new gas
pipeline in May, police once again attacked protesters.
Several dozen protesters were injured. As the parliamentary
elections approached, police again attacked protesters in
September and October. The parliamentary elections were once
again won by the ruling party, which sparked protests from
the opposition. It triggered renewed repression by police.
North American Steven Mann, who had for some time
mediated between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno
Karabaj conflict, announced in February 2006 that the
mediation between the two countries had failed.