Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan
An Azerbaijani woman called Gulnara took a job in Turkey to support her daughter and her sick father. Upon her arrival, Gulnara’s contact in Turkey took her passport and forced her into prostitution. After a year, Gulnara was able to escape and return to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani Government Department on Combating Trafficking in Persons referred her to a shelter for human trafficking survivors. The IOM-implemented shelter is part of an initiative that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds. Azerbaijan has been working tirelessly to combat human trafficking to ensure vulnerable people like Gulnara receive protection.

5 Ways to Combat Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan

  1. Decrease the Gender Gap. Azerbaijan has one of the highest gender inequality gaps of the countries that left the Soviet Union. Women lack the economic opportunities that men have. The women’s workforce participation rate in 2018 was 68.7% in contrast to 73.9% for men, a statistic that has barely changed since 2012. Further, females form 96.6% of people who do not work due to household and caregiving responsibilities. Minimal economic prospects can lead to people being lured into sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Providing women with more and improved economic opportunities could help prevent these situations.
  2. Provide Long-term Assistance. In 2018, the Anti-Trafficking Review published a study in which it interviewed 22 Azerbaijani survivors of human trafficking. The survivors believed that long-term help, including assistance with “job placement and family reunification,” could better help them rebuild their lives. Only nine of the 22 interviewees had full-time paid jobs at the time, while nine others had no paid jobs at all. Secure employment provides a steady income flow to economically empower women.
  3. Reunite Survivors and Families. Victims of human trafficking in Azerbaijan often end up disconnected from their families. By reconnecting with their families, victims can return to some semblance of normalcy. However, there is a stigma surrounding sex work that can impact familial relations. If organizations work to combat this stigma, survivors can repair relationships and gain much-needed emotional familial support that will reduce the chance of victims falling prey to human trafficking again.
  4. Address the Root Causes. People struggling economically, like Gulnara, are prime targets for human trafficking. Using foreign aid to create more programs to combat poverty could decrease human trafficking in Azerbaijan. In a 2020 report, the U.S. Department of State noted that Azerbaijan had increased the funds allocated for victim protection and shelters from $86,760 to $114,530. This is an important increase, but it only helps after the fact. Greater funds could go toward helping people living below the poverty line before traffickers lure them into human trafficking.
  5. Prosecute Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan. The U.S. Department of State encourages Azerbaijan to convict more traffickers and issue harsher sentences as many Azerbaijani judges issue suspended sentences. In 2018, 20 traffickers received suspended sentences. The Azerbaijan government can create a powerful deterrent by more effectively convicting human traffickers.

Azerbaijan’s Progress

In 2020, Azerbaijan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of the U.S. Department of State. This designation means the country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” From 2020 through 2024, the government of Azerbaijan’s National Action Plan on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings will target and address the root causes of human trafficking while improving support services for victims.

USAID Assistance

Since 2015, USAID has supported three shelters in Azerbaijan. These shelters “provided direct assistance to more than 100 confirmed and presumed victims of trafficking” between 2015 and 2018. The shelters also helped more than 1,000 people who were vulnerable to trafficking. The shelters provide “psychological, medical and legal support” services.

Azerbaijan created a human trafficking hotline center to provide information on services and relay necessary information to law enforcement officials. As of 2021, the hotline aims to incorporate an online system to allow workers to screen calls in a more efficient and detailed manner.

Human trafficking in Azerbaijan is progressing in the right direction. With commitment and continuity, Azerbaijan can improve its human trafficking tier ranking, protecting thousands of vulnerable people in the process.

Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Impact of the Decline in Oil Prices on the Economy of AzerbaijanAzerbaijan is located in the Caucasus region and situated at the crossroads of Europe and Western Asia. The country is bordered on the north by Russia and on the south by Iran. Since October 18, 1991, Azerbaijan has been an independent nation. Before the announcement of independence, Azerbaijan was a member state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After declaring sovereignty, the country had political instability for several years. In addition, Azerbaijan fought a bloody war over the territorial dispute with Armenia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a consequence of these events, economic, political and social development slowed down. However, after the establishment of political stability and ceasefire agreement between the two sides, Azerbaijan entered a new stage of development. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country faces further hardship as the decline in oil prices impacts the economy of Azerbaijan and causes a current financial crisis.

The Oil Production in Azerbaijan

To turn Azerbaijan into a powerful state with a sustainable economy, the previous president Heydar Aliyev had an oil-based national development strategy. On September 20, 1994, the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and 11 foreign oil companies from six nations. In the beginning, the contract covered oil companies such as BP, Amoco, Unocal, LUKoil, Statoil, Exxon, TPAO, Pennzoil, McDermott, Ramco and Delta Nimir. The oil companies represented six countries. These included the U.K., U.S., Russia, Norway, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The PSA was the first large-scale investment by western companies in any former USSR country. Later on, the agreement got famous and was known as “The Contract of Agreement.” It was a success for Azerbaijan to invite foreign oil companies and benefit from oil production. Because of this achievement, Azerbaijan managed to develop its economy and invest in social programs.

On the other hand, to export oil to the world market, Azerbaijan decided to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline with the help of geopolitical partners. This pipeline transformed Azerbaijan’s oil industry and became operational in June 2006. The overall length of the pipeline is 1768km, and 443km of it crosses from Azerbaijan, 249km in Georgia and 1,076km in Turkey.

The Decline in Oil Prices Impacts Azerbaijan’s Economy

The economy of Azerbaijan is predominantly dependent its oil export. As mentioned above, the agreements with international companies and the successful export of oil to the world market led to the development of Azerbaijan. However, because of oil money, the country could not manage progress in the political sphere. The level of corruption increased, and the government did not fairly distribute oil money among the citizens of Azerbaijan. As a result of the financial crisis in 2014, the economy of Azerbaijan faced severe difficulties. In 2014, the oil price dropped by 59.2% in seven months. On June 20, 2014, the oil price peaked at $107.95 a barrel, but by June, prices plunged to $44.08. In 2014, the GDP per capita in Azerbaijan was $7,891.313, and in 2015, it decreased to $5,500.31. In 2016, the GDP declined to $3,880.739 — the lowest level since 2007. After 2016, the economy of Azerbaijan started to rise again. In 2017, the GDP per capita was $4,147.09.

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the beginning of COVID-19, the economy of Azerbaijan began to face difficulties again. Because of the financial crisis, the prosperity of Azerbaijani citizens decreased drastically. People started to lose their jobs, and prices in the market increased. Also, as oil prices declined, several international companies decided to leave the territory of Azerbaijan. During the financial crisis, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said that Azerbaijan should “work and live as if we live in the post-oil era.” It was a strong statement by the president, and it also was the signal of the beginning of a new economic era for Azerbaijan. After the crisis, the government decided to improve the business environment and diversify to non-oil sectors.

Conclusion

As an oil-rich country, it is not surprising that the economy of Azerbaijan is highly dependent on oil revenues. Unfortunately, the government failed to develop other profitable fields for the economy in the last decades. That is why the financial crisis in 2014 increased the level of poverty in Azerbaijan. From 2014 until 2017, the GDP decreased significantly. However, in the latter stages of the financial crisis, the government managed to stabilize the overall situation.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid
Armenia primarily controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a portion of land in Azerbaijan. This area experienced a major war conflict. The war has plagued Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past three decades. Additionally, Armenia and Azerbaijan have struggled with humanitarian crises including food insecurity, repairs for local shelters and medical support since 1988. However, the U.S. granted $10 million to humanitarian crises to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to those the conflict heavily affected. Additionally, the European Union provided €3 million in aid for food, clothing for winter and medical supplies. In addition, Japan’s emergency grant aid has helped aid people in Azerbaijan.

According to BBC, Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement, while Armenia backed it. This led to ethnic clashes and after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from Moscow, a full-scale war ensued. Nagorno-Karabakh remains part of Azerbaijan while still under Armenian control. However, a ceasefire occurred in September 2020 and Armenia and Azerbaijan received additional aid.

Aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan

A study that the country’s Statistical Committee conducted revealed that 23.5% of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line as of 2018. While much of the population lives below the poverty line, only 1% of the population lives in extreme poverty. However, access to education, security, neglect and freedom of speech factor into what contributes to the impoverished cities in Armenia.

Aid to Armenia’s population can benefit from hospital supplies, winter clothing and food could begin the process of rebuilding Armenia and its people. As a result of the destruction caused by the conflict, many had to flee their homes. Countries provide emergency support to give Armenia humanitarian needs and basic supplies. Furthermore, it can spread awareness to help those in need in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The need for food, shelter and medical supplies is evident.

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid

Japan implemented a $4.8 million emergency grant aid to help those in Armenia and Azerbaijan in February 2021. Armenia is receiving $3.6 million of Japan’s grant aid whereas the remaining $1.2 million is going towards Azerbaijan. This aid goes toward medical training in six hospitals and supplies medical equipment. Furthermore, there are new hand-washing stations in three elementary schools to ensure safe water access, hygiene kits, renovation repairs to evacuation centers, relief supplies for winter and educational supplies for 15 schools.

The Asian Development Bank states that 5% of Azerbaijan’s population lived under the poverty line in 2018. This country is a developing country facing many issues. Azerbaijan’s healthcare is among the top two priorities in efforts to maintain a well-rounded economy. Budgeting for healthcare has increased by 44.5% since 2019.

Japan’s emergency grant aid of $1.2 million to Azerbaijan goes toward medical equipment for one hospital, access to safe water, relief items for during their winter and food assistance for about 800 people.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Artsakh War
In the mountainous region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a conflict has caused many to endure death, injury and poverty. The tension between the two nations has escalated to war, known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War, or the Artsakh War. Many Armenians have fled their homes searching for safety, but still have little or no means to protect themselves. Therefore, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and activists are coming to help and raise awareness.

The Artsakh War

For centuries, the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh has caused tension between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Artsakh is an important place for the two countries because of religious and strategic reasons. The Soviet Union drew out the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the late 1980s, the two nations first started the war. Armenians in Artsakh voted to be a part of Armenia, but Azerbaijan refused to accept the results. After 20,000 deaths, Armenians declared victory claiming the region; it called it The Republic of Artsakh. However, the United Nations member states do not recognize the Republic of Artsakh’s sovereign status, and thus, it remains part of Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, ethnic Armenians still claim autonomy, and for the most part, the two countries have been peaceful since the end of the War in 1994.

A New Outbreak

On September 27, 2020, violence erupted again in the region. Azerbaijan began with air and ground attacks on the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, the border that separated Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries. Consequently, thousands died, got injured or had to flee in search of safety. The Azerbaijani military made advances into Artsakh, eventually seizing Shusha, the second biggest city of Artsakh. Furthermore, the Azerbaijani control of Shusha made Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan quickly agree to a cease-fire agreement with Azerbaijan.

Fears existed that the Azerbaijan military would take over Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital. The fighting nations drafted the agreement for a ceasefire with Russian oversight to ensure Armenia and Azerbaijan end the Artsakh War, and on November 10, 2020, it was officially over. Azerbaijan still holds full control of Artsakh, and Russia is deploying peacekeepers to ensure a non-violent zone. Many saw the resolution as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

Displaced Armenians

Of the more than 140,000 people that live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, half experienced displacement because of the Artsakh War. Furthermore, women and children disproportionately had to flee for safety. Around 90% of women and children had to flee their homes and are now in dire need of assistance and help.

Mary Paronyan is an Armenian-American journalist. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she described how her community felt once they heard about the outbreak of violence in their homeland. “I do not wish to see history repeat itself; no Armenian does. The Armenian Genocide was happening all over again in front of our eyes. Seeing clips of Armenians getting beheaded, skinned to death and have their eyes pulled out affected our mental health. We all united as one big patriotic family. Not just me, but every Armenian outside of Armenia has a strong connection to our ancestral land.”

Paronyan, like many of her community, organized, protested and volunteered to raise awareness about the atrocities of the Artsakh War. Moreover, many NGOs immediately mobilized to help those in need.

3 Organizations Helping Armenians

The first NGO that stepped in to help those in need during this challenging time was OneArmenia. The organization supports many projects to elevate Armenian lives, such as employing women of the Artsakh region, helping wounded soldiers and providing nutrition to children who experienced the war. About 388 women have benefited from employment opportunities, 500 children now receive emergency food assistance and 300 veterans will soon get free quality rehabilitation care. Furthermore, OneArmenia has raised nearly $6 million to help fund projects that will positively impact Armenians.

Kooyrigs is another organization on the frontlines providing aid to those the war negatively impacted. Kooyrigs currently runs a grassroots campaign called Looys, or “light,” where it delivers food, medicine and clothing. Moreover, Kooyrigs is also partnering with YES Armenia to provide educational resources for the displaced population.

An NGO providing educational and leadership opportunities to Armenians is the Higher Road Initiative. As soon as the Artsakh War broke out, The Higher Road Initiative began to mobilize help and successfully provided aid to many families. Its Holiday Backpacks project for Artsakh provided over 4,000 backpacks to children who the war displaced. The backpacks contained school supplies, personal care items and clothing.

A Humanitarian Crisis with Hope

Since The Republic of Artsakh does not have international recognition as a nation, others cannot consider its people refugees. Thus, receiving aid and recognition from intergovernmental organizations like the U.N. is difficult. Nonetheless, it is positive that the Armenian Government has tried to make it easier for displaced Artsakh Armenians to integrate. Moreover, NGOs and civilians have taken a more active role to ensure that families are safe and receive proper assistance.

Paronyan states, “we grew during this war. We turned into one big family. Even though some of us didn’t know each other, we would cry for the loss of one another’s family member because we viewed it as our own. We can help one another by spreading kindness. That’s truly all that is needed. Kind actions will bring kindness forth to those who spread it. Life is extremely short.”

– Andy Calderon Lanza
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in Nagorno-KarabakhNagorno-Karabakh is a region in the country Azerbaijan and is home to an Armenian majority. While the region is within Azerbaijan’s borders, Armenia has claimed the region for itself. The first intense conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region was in 1988 when the Soviet Union was nearing the end of its existence. Recently, conflict in the region began again in late September 2020 and lasted for about a  month until a ceasefire was brokered by Russia. Additional ceasefires were brought into fruition by France with the help of Russia and the United States. Despite the ceasefires, the conflict in the region is continuing. The fighting in the region has drastically impacted the civilian population of the region. This has in turn created a strong need for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Union Assists

The European Union (EU) is actively providing aid to the civilian populace affected by the conflict and has done so since early October 2020. The initial amount of aid provided by the EU was €900,000. Then, in November, the EU commissioned an additional €3 million to the civilians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the EU, this humanitarian aid will provide the necessary assistance that humanitarian organizations partnered with the EU need to carry out their duties. This includes providing food, winter clothing and medical assistance.

The United States’ Aid

The United States is also providing its share of financial assistance. In total, the United States has provided around $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 2019 fiscal year. Of the $10 million, $5 million has been allocated to the International Committee of the Red Cross and similar humanitarian organizations to help civilians caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Assistance coming from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also be used for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh. The support these two institutions will be providing will come in the form of food, shelter and medical support for the people impacted by the conflict.

People in Need

There are also NGOs that have provided humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. One organization, People in Need, has done just this. People in Need is an organization dedicated to providing immediate aid to countries should a natural disaster or war take place.

People in Need has provided support, not to Nagorno-Karabakh, but to the city of Goris in Armenia. People in Need directed its humanitarian aid to this Armenian city because many of the displaced civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have gone there for refuge. The displaced people either move on or stay in the city. People in Need have been able to provide hygienic supplies to 1,200 displaced families in Goris. Additionally, People in Need have provided 480 children, 600 women and 110 seniors with their own individual hygienic kits. People in Need have also taken into consideration the psychosocial needs of children impacted by the conflict. To help these children, People in Need opened a child-friendly space in the city library where children can engage with other children and partake in other activities.

While the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continues, international institutions, individual countries and humanitarian organizations are trying to provide all the support possible to help the civilians impacted by the conflict.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Elderly poverty in Armenia
Armenia is not a country at peace. For the past three decades, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have increased. As the border dispute turned deadly in September 2020, rumors emerged of potential involvement from outsider countries, such as Turkey and Russia. However, the country struggles with a concurrent problem. Elderly poverty in Armenia is a stifling issue in the country, which needs just as much attention.

The Current Crisis

In addition to a looming war, Armenians have suffered a vast diaspora. More Armenians live outside Armenia than inside the country. Armenians who live outside the country total anywhere from double to quadruple the number of those living within Armenia. The older generation is the main group still residing within the border. One reason is that older groups have fewer professional opportunities outside of Armenia, so they often stay put. This affects a large portion of society. Over a quarter of Armenia’s population is over 54, one half of this demographic is over 65 years old.

The global recession of 2008 led to increased poverty rates across all demographics in Armenia. At that time, the rate of extreme poverty among Armenians above the age of 65 was 2.0%, and the rate of non-extreme poverty for this group was 29.5%. By 2017, the rate of extreme and non-extreme poverty had fallen, for Armenians over 65, but either increased or remained the same for Armenians between the ages of 50 and 59.

All of these crises leave the elderly in Armenia underserved. However, there are organizations fighting on behalf of this group.

Armenian Caritas

Armenian Caritas, a community-based NGO, operates in Shirak, Lori, Gegharkunik, Ararat, and Yerevan. Over a third of its staff are volunteers, and the organization’s goal is to provide “social inclusion and care of the elderly.”

Armenian Caritas uses a comprehensive method to address elderly poverty in Armenia. Since 1995, the NGO has taken a long-term approach to anticipate the needs of its clientele. Thus, it recognizes that by 2050, a quarter of Armenia’s total population may be between the ages of 60 and 64.

Armenian Caritas focuses on providing “rehabilitative items,” like crutches and moving toilets, to elderly patients. Similarly, they offer psychological and physical health care to patients with chronic diseases. These tactics are part of a larger strategy of social inclusion.

Elderly Armenians represent a large and growing percentage of Armenia’s domestic population. As such, Armenian Caritas works to ensure that elderly Armenians are never marginalized. The organization shares its methodology of elderly care with Armenian medical colleges and institutions. In this way, elderly care is woven into an Armenian practice — the tradition of caring for its vulnerable and aging populations.

An End to Elderly Poverty

A solution to the border skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan will hopefully be resolved through international mediation and earnest peace talks between the belligerents. Since the economy is still recovering and has continued to focus on growth, the government must address the diaspora by providing opportunities to draw the younger generations back to the country. In the midst of all of that, the country must not forget about older Armenians. There is hope for an end to elderly poverty in Armenia. However, it needs concerted, sustained efforts to address it.

Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh
The news has spotlighted the region of Nagorno-Karabakh once again as conflict has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh is a landlocked territory in the South Caucasus in Eurasia between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some also know it as Artsakh, the (unrecognized) Republic of Artsakh or the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, not everyone views it as a country. For example, Azerbaijan does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and claims the region is Azeri territory. Here is some information about poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh and its challenges to date.

The Conflict

One can trace the roots of the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan back to before the formation of the Soviet Union. However, tensions resurfaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Prior to this, the Soviet Union had established the region of Nagorno-Karabakh as within Azerbaijan. Around 95% of Artsakh’s population is Armenian and has been resistant to Azeri rule and continues to receive support and backing from Armenia. In 1992, a full-scale war called the Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out, which killed around 30,000 people and displaced a million. Eventually, Russia brokered a cease-fire between the two countries, and by 1994, Armenia had established some amount of control in Artsakh, though it still had international recognition as a part of Azerbaijan. In 2016, skirmishes reemerged and several soldiers lost their lives in an exchange of artillery fire.

Shelling and combat broke out along the outskirts of Azerbaijan and Armenia in late September 2020. Disputes have occurred over who started the hostilities as both parties insist the other was responsible. The violence that ensued has already claimed the lives of more than 200 people, both civilians and soldiers.

Poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh

The National Review on Implementation of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh Republic) reported the following statistics as of 2019:

  • About 21.6% of the population lives under the national poverty line of $2.40 USD a day out of which over 6.1% live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.60 USD a day.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh has a low preschool enrollment and a high school dropout rate.
  • There is a lack of access to sanitation and waste disposal in rural areas.
  • About 22% of the employed population is still poor.
  • There is a high rate of non-communicable diseases and cardiovascular diseases were the cause of 67.4% of deaths in 2018.
  • Poverty levels are higher in regions that refugees inhabit.

There are also positive statistics that have showcased Artsakh’s progress towards achieving the SDGs:

  •  All citizens of Artsakh have some level of education with around 30% having higher education.
  • More than 90% of households have access to safely managed drinking water services.
  • About 97.1% of the population has access to reliable energy.
  • The average economic growth rate in the last decade was 10.2% annually.
  • About 81.7% of the population lives in their own houses.

Internally Displaced People and the Economies of Azerbaijan and Armenia

The wars in the region have no doubt played a hand in the quality of life of the locals. The conflict has created thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. As of 2017, more than a quarter of Artsakh’s population are refugees and IDPs. Displaced people are especially vulnerable as they lack protection from international organizations and, when living in conflict areas, may not have access to humanitarian aid and support. Many of these refugees and IDPs are Armenians who fled Azerbaijan in the 80s and 90s during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Others have experienced displacement because of subsequent conflict in the region. The current flare-up is likely to increase their numbers.

The Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended in 1994, also took a toll on the economies of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The United Nations assessed at least $53.5 billion in economic damage. Despite this, Azerbaijan was able to recover and achieve a high GDP growth due to its oil resources and trade. In Armenia, however, poverty increased to 55% in 1996, and its economy was vulnerable and unstable. The disparity between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s economies shifted power in the region and made Azerbaijan a more militarily powerful country.

The Future of the Region

Resolving the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Artsakh will go a long way to alleviating poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh and ensuring a safer and more secure livelihood for the locals. A potential war makes the future of civilians in Artsakh uncertain. However, mediation efforts seem more plausible and many local organizations are working to provide them with humanitarian relief and financial support. The Armenian General Benevolent Union (ABGU) and the Hayastan All Armenian Fund have launched a global emergency fundraising campaign for Artsakh. The Armenia Fund has also been providing ongoing assistance to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh through infrastructure development and humanitarian aid.

Most of the nonprofit work occurring in Artsakh has involved relief work and humanitarian aid due to the fact that it is a conflict-prone zone and home to many refugees. However, this is changing. In January 2020, World Vision Armenia and the My Step Foundation began working together with vulnerable families in the Republic of Artsakh living in poverty. This is an extension of work that World Vision Armenia had already been conducting in Armenia where it helped families improve their socio-economic condition through life-skills training and coaching from professionals, mentorship and monetary support in order to be more self-reliant.

Months of this social work proved to have positive effects as 48% of the families they worked with were able to overcome extreme poverty and there was a noticeable improvement in the quality of life for 82% of the families. The organizations are hopeful that their partnership will yield similar successful results in Artsakh where its priority is child well-being. The recent conflict has only made the implementation of this program more urgent and has the potential to give many families hope for the future and reducing poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh.

– Manika Ajmani
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan
In 1919, Azerbaijan became the first Muslim majority country to grant the right of suffrage to its female population. Following this, the country experienced half a century of Soviet rule, which maintained the right of women to suffrage, as well as established government provisions to ensure representative equality. When the country became an independent republic in 1991, one of the greatest challenges was that though government rules guaranteed women’s rights in Azerbaijan and equality, social norms and rules still inhibited women from reaching their full potential.

Once independent, the first measure Azerbaijan took in 1998 to safeguard women’s rights was the implementation of the State Committee on Women’s Problems (SCWP). Moreover, shortly following in 2000, the president decided to enforce “state policy regarding women in the Republic of Azerbaijan.” These both identified which roles women could participate in regarding social and state administration. This marked a period of growth in female participation in Azerbaijan where women received easier access to running businesses, working in the government and participating in the military.

Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan Today

Today in Azerbaijan, female activists work diligently to change the attitudes of society and to increase the representation and safety of their country’s women. Most of these women operate through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which people have come to know as the government’s “third sector.” This third sector is able to work on philanthropic policy that increases access to education, health care and women’s representation.

NGOs provide women access to the political field that societal prejudices usually exclude them from. In fact, men hold over 90% of all of the highest offices in the country (ministers, chairs, etc.) and around 80% of judicial positions, meaning that women lack the foundational representation in public office that would ensure that others hear their voices. Through the NGOs, women are able to affect policy without submitting themselves to a political process that is not yet ready to accommodate them.

Domestic Violence

Some of the larger issues these women are fighting against are domestic violence and access to reproductive healthcare for women. About 74.2 % of husbands beat their wives, and on average, women report only 44 rapes nationally per year though estimates have determined that there are many more that go unreported due to societal condemnations of victims of rape. To combat this violence against women, activists have worked to first change the attitudes of both men and women who traditionally see domestic violence and rape as just a part of gender relations.

As for reproductive health care, NGOs have primarily worked to establish more health care centers and women’s crisis centers because there is a severe lack of them throughout the country, specifically in rural areas. As they establish these centers, activists have worked to distribute education, hoping to establish generations of Azerbaijani citizens who recognize the necessity of women’s health care.

Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD)

One of these NGO leaders, Shahla Ismayil, has been working since 1998 through her organization: Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD). She stated that the mission of WARD “is based on the notion that full democracy, justice and development cannot be reached if there is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of gender, age, religion, ethnicity and affiliation.” One such way she has accomplished this is through her gender school, which exposes civil and academic society to the issues of women. Her organization has also established a maternity school, both as a way to ensure women remain safe in childbirth, while also encouraging other women to pursue careers as midwives.

Like many other nations on earth, there is still quite a bit that needs to occur to maintain women’s rights in Azerbaijan so that the country sees complete gender equality. However, due to the dedication of female leaders and policymakers, the country is seeing great strides in reaching equality.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in AzerbaijanHunger in Azerbaijan has been widespread for the last three decades. The country is located to the south of Russia, to the west of the Caspian Sea and to the east of Armenia. Saida Verdiyeva, a mother of two, lives in Toganali, a village in northwest Azerbaijan. Verdiyeva fears that social-distancing measures, which her government established in response to COVID-19, will make it impossible for her to feed herself and her two children.

In October 1991, two months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence from the soviet block. The subsequent years of economic turmoil in her country led to widespread poverty and hunger in Azerbaijan.

Degeneration of Azerbaijan’s Economy Between 1991-1994

By 1995, Azerbaijan had endured a critical socio-economic crisis. According to the IMF, Azerbaijan’s Gross Domestic Product, industrial production, agricultural production, real average monthly wages, household consumption- virtually every meaningful factor of the country’s economy- plummeted between 1991 and 1994. It wasn’t until the end of 1994 that the government took some control over the economic crisis. In 1995, state-led programs were successful in addressing issues of economic degeneration and adverse living standards.

Azerbaijan’s Economy and Global Hunger Index

In 1995, after four years of economic crisis, Azerbaijan had a Global Hunger Index score of 28.30. Consistent with the relatively steady economic improvement between 1995 and 2000, Azerbaijan’s GHI score reached a value of 14.60 in 1996. It remained close to this benchmark in 1997. However, between 1997 and 2000, Azerbaijan’s GHI score increased from 14.89 to 27.50.

For about two years, the numbers show a direct relationship between Azerbaijan’s GHI score and its economy. However, the macroeconomic solutions implemented by the government at the time were deficient in addressing the specific needs of certain regions and populations. In all likelihood, Verdiyeva was among those Azerbaijani whose local problems were not fixed.

Hunger and Poverty in Toganali

Hunger in Azerbaijan, as elsewhere, is linked to poverty, and poverty is often a result of unemployment. Before COVID-19, Verdiyeva worked as a dishwasher for large events. Due to social-distancing measures, there have not been many large events in or around Toganali. As a result, Verdiyeva has struggled to find work.

Many countries around the world are scrambling to prevent hunger crises caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. However, nations that had already implemented relevant social policies and established the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure to handle hunger crises will now have a more nuanced ability to cope.

The Agenda for Sustainable Development in Azerbaijan

In 2015, all United Nations Member States agreed to pursue domestic policies in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The priorities of the SDGs are to end global poverty and ensure environmental protection. In addition, the SDGs aim to create conditions whereby all people can enjoy peace and prosperity. These objectives are to be fulfilled by 2030.

Among 166 other countries, Azerbaijan ranked 54th in its commitment to the SDGs. Much of Azerbaijan’s success in this regard is owed to the diligence in creating bureaucratic mechanisms to track vulnerable populations and organize data on age, gender and location of such groups.

The SDGs’ principle of “leaving no one behind” involves a preliminary method of accumulating a body of information about vulnerable demographic groups. The implication is that being seen is a prerequisite for being helped.

Verdiyeva and her two children are among those Azerbaijani who will benefit from their country’s commitment to the SDGs and its principle of “leaving no one behind.” In 2013, only 24% of preschool-aged children were enrolled in preschool education in Azerbaijan. By 2017, 75% of preschool-aged children were enrolled in a school where they have access to daily meals.

Likewise, the hourly earnings of female employees and unemployment rates improved from 2010 to 2017. Comprehensive domestic policies, like the SDGs, are institutional methods of ending hunger in Azerbaijan. COVID-19 is an obstacle to reaching this end goal. However, the Azerbaijani government made valiant efforts, especially from 2015 to 2020, to ensure healthier living conditions for its vulnerable populations through the next decade.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Hunger in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a small country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Republic. Some call it the Land of Fire due to a continuous, naturally burning mountain fire in its Caucasus mountains, and the country consists of both urban and large agricultural areas. Over the past 19 years, Azerbaijan has been steadily addressing its hunger issues and making important improvements. The proportion of undernourished citizens has decreased from 22 percent to less than 1 percent since 2000. Along with this advancement, here are 10 facts about hunger in Azerbaijan.

10 Facts About Hunger in Azerbaijan

  1. Azerbaijan has a global hunger index of 9.5, which is a low level of hunger. The global hunger index is a scale ranging from zero to 100, with zero being zero hunger and 100 being the most severe hunger. Numbers below 9.9 indicate low levels of hunger and numbers between 10-19.9 represent moderate hunger levels. On the other hand, numbers between 20-34.9 represent serious hunger levels, 35.0-49.9 reflect alarming hunger levels and anything above 50.0 refers to extremely alarming hunger levels. The global hunger index is based on four factors – child stunting, child mortality, undernourishment and child wasting.

  2. As of 2018, Azerbaijan ranks 40 out of 119 countries on the global hunger index scale. In 2000, the country’s global hunger index was 27.0, placing Azerbaijan in serious hunger levels. As the years have passed, Azerbaijan’s partnerships with UNICEF and the United Nations have developed programs addressing its hunger issues. As a result, the country has made significant progress, allowing its hunger index to decrease to 9.5.

  3. Child stunting refers to the proportion of children under the age of 5 who experience low height as a result of undernutrition. The percentage of child stunting in Azerbaijan has decreased by almost 5 percent since 2000. This improvement is partially because of one of UNICEF’s health programs that creates more educational resources and services for new mothers. Through the memorandum that UNICEF signed in 2019, mothers should receive more breastfeeding counseling in a baby-friendly hospital environment. Breastfeeding children for the first six months is the most effective method of ensuring a child’s healthy development and preventing child stunting.

  4. Child wasting is the number of children who are underweight for their age, reflecting undernourishment. Similar to child stunting, the percentage of children who undergo child wasting has dropped by nearly 5 percent in Azerbaijan since 2000. Although this is positive, 4.9 percent of children still experience child wasting. UNICEF has found that iron-deficiency anemia is a major cause of this problem.

  5. Iron-deficiency anemia is a condition in which a person does not have enough red blood cells. A leading cause of iron-deficiency anemia is the lack of iron in one’s diet. This can often lead to headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness and cold hands or feet. Iron-deficiency anemia in Azerbaijan affects 38.2 percent of women of reproductive age and 39.5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11. A solution to combat this problem is flour fortification, which is the addition of nutrients such as folic acid and iron to flour. UNICEF is currently working with Azerbaijan’s government to pass legislation that will mandate flour fortification in hopes of reducing child wasting and improving overall health.

  6. The United Nations created a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 to end poverty and achieve peace around the world by 2030. The second SDG is to achieve zero hunger by ending malnutrition and providing nutritious food. In October 2018, Azerbaijan hosted the first forum to discuss methods and solutions towards meeting these goals, especially targeting hunger in Azerbaijan. This forum covered issues mentioned in these 10 facts about hunger in Azerbaijan. Its government will focus on renewable energy sources to reduce oil use. The country will also aim to increase business and individual participation within a circular economy viewpoint, encouraging continuous resource reuse and waste elimination.

  7. An important aspect of a circular economy is creating sustainable farming methods that will allow a country’s lands to stay healthy, resulting in more food production in the long run. Azerbaijan recognizes that one of its struggles is the sustainability of its natural land ecosystems. The government claims there is not a high awareness among the general population about protecting the environment, which poses a barrier in progressing with the SDGs. Fortunately, there has been a recent push to engage the population with the first national innovative contest in which young citizens submitted over 220 proposals with economic and sustainability solutions. With initiatives and positive mindsets like these, Azerbaijan is getting closer to its zero hunger goal.

  1. Azerbaijan has historically been an agricultural country with a high percentage of genetic diversity in its local seeds and plants. However, the country produces only 15-20 percent locally, while the rest come from imported plants. This poses a risk to food security, so the U.N. created a three-part program in November 2016 to protect biodiversity and increase food production. This is a five-year plan that should end by December 2021. The U.N. hopes that the construction of bigger agricultural institutions and the improvement of the skills of local farmers will allow for the planting of crops from native species.

  1. So far in the first year of the agrobiodiversity program, two field gene banks have emerged for cereal plants and forage crops, and there has been an increase in wheat varieties (1.5 percent), vegetable crops (0.7 percent) and forage crops (0.3 percent). The Agrarian Science and Informational Consulting Services buildings received vital repair works that will enable the institution to host farming seminars. Most importantly, two vegetable farmer-farmer networks constructed in the Goranboy region. The next steps will be to maintain the established field gene banks and the specified, conserved farm areas. While Azerbaijan is meeting these goals, the country will continue to grow the farmer networks it developed to teach them sustainable farming techniques with native crop species. The program will release more information regarding the number of farmers involved and the areas it reaches once the U.N.’s baseline study finishes.

  2. In Azerbaijan’s Shaki region, over half the population works in agriculture, contributing to 14 percent of the country’s wheat harvest. Since this region plays a vital role in Azerbaijan’s food production, the country intends to implement another agricultural program the UNDP Agro-Biodiversity funded to introduce new technology to traditional practices. In 2019, farmers are receiving new irrigation methods, small grants and training in the Shaki region. UNDP predicts that after receiving these resources, farmers can efficiently harvest more produce using less water. There will be economic benefits that enable farmers to buy more food themselves while providing more food for citizens. So far, four farming families have changed their irrigation methods to the drop-by-drop system and are using fewer pesticides.

With the rise of innovative programs and worldwide discussions, Azerbaijan has improved the state of its population’s hunger levels. By working with the United Nations and UNICEF, the country has been able to incorporate important research regarding child nutrition and farming techniques into achievable goals and programs. These 10 facts about hunger in Azerbaijan show the government’s dedication to further reducing hunger levels through educational resources and economic changes.

– Jane Burgan
Photo: Flickr