01 Oct

Azerbaijani government steps up its digital game

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Azeri opposition daily links new internet project to presidential election
BBC Monitoring International Reports – Sunday, September 30, 2012
An influential Azerbaijani opposition newspaper has linked the launch of a new social networking website, www.butalife.com, to the 2013 presidential election.

The owner of the website is Ilham Abduyev, brother-in-law of powerful Azerbaijani Emergencies Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov, the Yeni Musavat newspaper reported on 21 September. Abduyev is also the owner of the azerbaijans.com and qarabag.net websites, which contain information about Azerbaijan and its breakaway region of Nagornyy Karabakh.

Second in Azerbaijan

“The name of Abduyev is rarely in the limelight and he is known as the person leading the emergencies minister’s ‘intellectual team’ and who is mostly engaged in creative activities. However, there is no doubt that the launch in Azerbaijan of an online social network calculated for the international audience could not be implemented without direct approval and financial support of Kamaladdin Heydarov,” the report said.

The newspaper described Heydarov as the second most powerful man in the Azerbaijani politics and said that given the uncertain financial prospects of the project there is likely to be a political aspect to it.

“The social networks are currently an important tool in the politics as well and politicians are using them to mobilize the electorate or organize protests of the disgruntled. Heydarov does not lack political ambitions and his name was often mentioned in the mass media as a contender for the post of prime minister or even president,” Yeni Musavat said.

2013 presidential election

However, the report noted that Heydarov is unlikely to oppose Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and cited an anonymous source in the government as saying that the website will be used in the 2013 presidential election to support the incumbent. “The emergencies minister is thus trying to prove that he is ready to mobilize all his resources for the third presidential term of Aliyev,” Yeni Musavat said.

The newspaper further quoted the source as saying that the Azerbaijani authorities are bringing in online PR campaign specialists from abroad in preparation to use the internet and social networking websites in the forthcoming presidential election campaign.

“The recent instructions by the NAP [New Azerbaijan Party] Political Council for the young members of the ruling party to become members of Facebook and to actively use it as part of this plan,” Yeni Musavat said. The newspaper added that currently the opposition supporters are very active on Facebook and other social networking websites and the authorities are lagging behind.

Abduyev’s remarks

Meanwhile, lent.az news website published on 13 September the text of an address by Ilham Abduyev concerning the launch of Butalife.

The website will be a “window from Azerbaijan on to the world” and the main objective is to “gain an international status and turn into one of the most trusted places in the world for social debate”, Abduyev writes in the address.

He added that the website will also be different from other social network by using online TV and news feeds from the most popular international media, offering blogging microsites and sections for examinations, tests and business.

BBCM note: There are no restrictions on Azerbaijanis using international social media sites such as Facebook , Twitter. According to the socialbakers.com website over 10 per cent of the Azerbaijani population (880,620 people) are Facebook users.