Center for National and International Studies
“The reason for the acute water shortages in the central regions is the plantations owned by the “oligarchs” stretching over thousands of hectares…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
Residents of Nabatkend and Orta Mughan villages of Saatli district protested the acute water shortage demanding the authorities solve the issue. Around 200 farmers in Saatli District attempted to block a highway to protest water shortages in the nearby Kura and Aras rivers. The police fired rubber bullets at the protestors, severely injuring at least three people, including a 15-year-old who was hit with four rubber bullets on the chest. Although the authorities argue that the water shortage is due to the falling level of the Kura river, caused by global climate change, the residents and the experts believe that local mismanagement and excessive use of water by wealthy officials and their companies are to blame for the growing crisis.
Chairperson of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli shared footage from the protest demanding the government to immediately respond to the residents and solve the issue. “As you can see, the citizens demanding water have been treated brutally by the regime. Three people were injured. Many people were beaten and arrested. The regime sees not only oppositionists but any ordinary Azerbaijani who demands their rights as its enemy. Therefore, the fight against the family rule, and the cruel and corrupt government should be the duty of every citizen, not only political activists in this country.”
Exiled journalist Ganimat Zahid commented on the incident saying that one of the biggest companies owned by the president himself privatized the water channels in the district. Zahid’s Facebook post: “The fact is that the reason for the accute water shortages in those central regions is the plantations owned by the “oligarchs” stretching over thousands of hectares. Although these fields are called “oligarchs’ farms” in fact, the real owner is not anyone other than the president himself. There are 4-5 thousand hectares of fields that belong to Azersun, which is owned by Ilham Aliyev‘s family. The people of these villages demand water. They demand that these oligarchs do not change the direction of the water to their farms and leave the people without water. Aliyev sent the police to protect his farm and ordered as follows: “Shoot those who resist”.
Chairperson of Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Party (ADWP) Gubad Ibadoghlu shared his research which detailed the activities of the companies owned by high-ranking officials in the affected area. “For your information, let me note that “ItalDesign” LLC, owned by the former and late minister of Sports Azad Rahimov, runs “ID-Agropark” LLC in the Saatli district. According to the order of the Cabinet of Ministers, the designation of 7000 hectares of winter pastures in the area of Azadkend village of Saatli district, near the Moskva water channel, was changed, and those lands were given to “ID-Agropark” LLC without any tendering process. The Entrepreneurship Development Fund allocated a 10 million manats concessional loan to “ID-Agropark” LLC for the planting of wheat, barley, and other crops, cotton, pomegranate orchards on 1000 hectares, and almond orchards on 500 hectares. This is to say Agropark LLC is the main reason for the water shortage in Saatli. The second agricultural park of the late minister Azad Rahimov is located in the Shilyan massif of the Kurdamir district. Here, 6150 hectares of agricultural land were allocated to “SM Agro” LLC. This company was established in 2016, and grains and cotton are grown on its lands. It is these agricultural parks that dry up the water in Mil-Mugan. If this continues, there will be “water massacres” in Azerbaijan in the summer.”
Human rights defender Rufat Safarov was attacked by an unknown person. The incident happened in a place with surveillance cameras, and Safarov has complained to the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding the incident. In his Facebook post, the human rights defender said that he does not intend to open a criminal case against the attacker and that a formal apology would suffice.
Governance and Corruption
The government plans to increase the fines for littering the streets. According to Azadliq newspaper, cigarette littering will be punishable by a fine starting at 50 manats. Reportedly, the police in the capital area have already started imposing new penalties.
The European Parliament has adopted a report on relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union. In the report, the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe called for sanctions against Azerbaijani officials who have committed gross human rights violations against political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists. According to the report, the EU: calls on the Azerbaijani Government and authorities to urgently uphold fundamental freedoms and human rights and to refrain from any unjustified application of criminal law to limit those rights and freedoms; expresses deep concern that violations of fundamental human rights in Azerbaijan follow a systemic and widespread pattern and affect citizens’ rights to liberty and security; Deeply regrets the current state of media freedom in Azerbaijan; expresses its concern about the new law on media adopted in December 2021 which effectively bans all forms of independent journalism and the work of Azerbaijani journalists in exile; underlines the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media in democratic societies; calls on Azerbaijan to increase its efforts in enabling an independent and pluralistic media environment in accordance with the recommendations included in the opinion of the Venice Commission of 17 and 18 June 2022; urges Azerbaijan to stop persecuting bloggers, editors, journalists and media organisations, who are regularly detained or imprisoned on a variety of charges, and to ensure they have a safe working environment; calls on Azerbaijan to release all journalists and bloggers currently detained on the basis of the opinions they have expressed. It also calls on the Azerbaijani Government to decriminalise defamation and to implement the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors. The report also condemns the censorship on access to information in Azerbaijan and calls on the authorities to improve access to the internet and communications coverage and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to bring legislation and practice affecting internet freedom in line with European standards. Moreover, according to the report, the EU MPs regret the limited progress that has been made by Azerbaijan on preventing and fighting against corruption and called on Azerbaijan to address the lack of an effective system of asset disclosure for members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors to strengthen the role of the judiciary within the Judicial-Legal Council and to eliminate the government’s undue influence over the Prosecutor’s Office. Azerbaijan was also criticized for lacking a transparent public finance system, including for public procurement and tenders. Azerbaijan’s elite was condemned for capturing activities in several international organisations aiming at watering down international criticism of the regime, in particular in the area of human rights, as demonstrated by the case of certain current and former members of PACE who ‘had engaged in activity of a corruptive nature’ in favour of Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev, during his official visit to Germany, said in a meeting with leaders of leading German companies that the “Azerbaijani economy has grown more than three times in the last 20 years”. However, the president’s statement drew sharp criticism from the opposition. Chairperson of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) Jamil Hasanli said that the president’s exaggerated statistical data is reminiscent of the Soviet era. Hasanli’s Facebook post: “If the economy has grown three times, why is it not reflected in the life and well-being of this nation? For example, although the economy in Armenia and Georgia has not grown three times in the last 20 years, their average and minimum wages are higher than the wages of Azerbaijani citizens, and the average and minimum pensions in these countries are higher than in Azerbaijan. In both of these countries, child care is provided, of which Azerbaijani children are deprived. Where is the outcome of the three times increase.”
March 17, 2023