Human Rights in Nagorno-Karabakh
In 1994, the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement that many politicians hoped would put a stop to years of conflict between the two states. When the Russian tsarist regime collapsed in 1917, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over control of the landlocked mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the Caucasus the size of Connecticut. After the Red Army annexed the Caucasian republics to the Soviet Union, the Armenian-majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous region of Azerbaijan.

Seven decades later, when the Soviet Union began disintegrating in the late 1980s, Armenian secessionists and Azerbaijani troops launched a war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The outbreak of violence claimed around 20,000 lives and created one million refugees. After the 1994 ceasefire, Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence, but the international community continues to recognize the war-torn territory as a part of Azerbaijan.

Five Facts About Human Rights in Nagorno-Karabakh

The “Four Day War” in April 2016—an outbreak between the two warring parties that killed at least 200 people—ended more than two decades of ceasefire and put the human rights records of Azerbaijan and Armenia into the spotlight. Here are five facts about human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh:

  1. High-ranking Azerbaijani officials have spread hate speech and incited violence against the country’s Armenian minority, according to a 2016 Ombudsman Report. In November 2012, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev took to Twitter to declare that Armenia “is actually a colony, an outpost run from abroad, a territory artificially created on ancient Azerbaijani land.” Public statements like Aliyev’s violate Article 4 (c) of the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which bars authorities from promoting racial discrimination.  
  2. Azerbaijani forces ruthlessly murdered civilians when they invaded Nagorno-Karabakh on April 2, 2016. Soldiers shot the elderly, infirm and young, and the targeted shelling of residential buildings killed or wounded more than two dozen civilians, many of whom were minors. The Ombudsman found Azerbaijan in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which delineates special protections for the sick, wounded and pregnant during war.
  3. While Armenia has instituted civil and political liberties since its independence in 1991, Amnesty International has called out the Armenian government for silencing journalists investigating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the report, Armenians show little tolerance for “unarmenian” views of the conflict, with individuals disagreeing with mainstream opinion labeled as traitors. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights delivered 12 judgments concerning Armenia, 11 of which found the country in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.
  4. With the exception of The HALO Trust and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helps reunite family members who have gone missing in combat, the international community provides little support for human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh. Many NGOs know that entering Nagorno-Karabakh would make them ‘persona non grata’ in Azerbaijan, preventing them from returning in the future.
  5. Despite Azerbaijan’s threats, the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center—an organization that helps individuals with disabilities—has made substantial progress for human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh. Wars in the early 1990s and, more recently, in April 2016 injured many civilians, leaving some with physical disabilities; infrastructure for wheelchairs and medical facilities for treatment, however, were scarce. The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center provides treatment for 1000 patients annually and supports therapists that travel to individuals who cannot travel to Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, to receive care. In 2017, the Center opened a department for children with autism.

Human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh will improve with increased stability. In July 2018, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that he was ready to talk peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. A month later, Russia and Germany proactively offered to facilitate a settlement that would secure long-lasting peace. Once Armenia and Azerbaijan come to terms with the fate of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is hoped that humanitarian organizations will step in to monitor conditions on the ground and heal old wounds.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Tourism Industry in Azerbaijan Has Potential to Alleviate Poverty
Oil has long been Azerbaijan’s main export commodity. However, a recent switch to an independent economy inspired the birth of a new market- tourism. Along with the increase in country’s GDP and increase in jobs, the tourism industry in Azerbaijan has the potential to alleviate poverty, especially for the 5.9 percent of the population that still lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Azerbaijan and United Nations

In February 2018, United Nations Sustainable Development report detailed the potential that the private business sector in Azerbaijan has to alleviate poverty. If used in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, tourism as a mean for poverty alleviation could produce great results.

The United Nations Development Programme partnered with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Azerbaijan to reiterate the potential the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could have on Azerbaijan’s poverty reduction.

The U.N. SDG’s aim to create 380 million jobs in food, agriculture, urban mobility, energy, health and well-being globally by 2030 by partnering with local and private sector businesses. A commitment of the U.N. to support the government, private sector and civil society in Azerbaijan is a step in the right direction that could link the developing tourism industry with poverty reduction.

American Chamber of Commerce Executive Natavan Mammadova also spoke of the importance of small and medium businesses in Azerbaijan in regards to aligning the county’s economic growth with poverty reduction, which is the number one goal of the SDG’s.

Tourism potential

Tourism is a great opportunity for developing countries as they are rich in culture and have beautiful landscapes.  Being on the Caspian Sea shoreline, Azerbaijan’s breathtaking landscapes, hiking and skiing trails in the Caucasus mountains and developing modern art scene make the country a perfect candidate for the tourism market.

Five percent of the world’s GDP comes from tourism and 235 million jobs are created by tourism (one in 12 jobs worldwide) every year. When focused on the potential to alleviate poverty, tourism provides jobs and sustainable incomes to local people through small community-based businesses. According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in some developing countries, notably small island states, tourism can account for over 25% of GDP.

In Azerbaijan, the success of the developing tourism industry has a potential to provide jobs to those in need. The continued success of the tourism market is being supported by the State Tourism and Agency Board that was created in May 2018. Among other things, this organization has partnered with the UNWTO to enter the 1st annual Tourism Startup Competition in 2018. Events like this will continue to develop new markets, create jobs and help people out of poverty.

Markets indirectly related to tourism like agriculture and transportation can also expect an increase with the tourism development. This is good news, as 54.9 percent of the total land area in Azerbaijan is used for agriculture.

Whether the newly developing tourism industry in Azerbaijan is providing additional income or is supporting small businesses, the jobs this market is developing have the potential to alleviate poverty and help those who are struggling. Continued commitment to growing the tourism market will increase the number of people being helped out of poverty.

– Hope Kelly

Photo: Flickr

ten facts about poverty in AzerbaijanAzerbaijan is the country located in the South Caucuses at the crossroad between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Humans have settled in this area in the Stone Age, and throughout the history, the country location was ideal for trade and commerce. Today, Azerbaijan, from the perspective of the capital city of Baku, has transformed itself into a polished country of luxury with glass skyscrapers and trendy malls. The country even began hosting a Formula One Grand Prix in 2017 and the European Games in 2015. But behind the glitz and glamour of the freshly paved streets of Baku, the country still deals with poverty. Here are ten facts about poverty in Azerbaijan.

  1. Azerbaijan was hit by a major economic shock in 2015 and 2016. In a study done for the Government of Azerbaijan in 2015, the GDP of the nation was decreased from 74.19 billion USD in 2014 to 34.9 billion USD in 2015. Understanding this fact is integral to understanding the poverty in the country, as in one year span the income per capita in the nation fell from $5,359.70 to $2,808.
  2. In 2017 the World Bank noted that Azerbaijan only experienced a “very modest recovery” from the recession that occurred in 2015-16. The country fell short in increasing the nominal average wage and the minimum cost of living enough to offset higher prices. The World Bank stated that poverty likely increased in 2017.
  3. The Asian Development Bank reported that in 2016 5.9 percent of the Azerbaijan population lived below the national poverty line, which is good compared to the neighbor countries Georgia and Armenia that had 21.3 percent and 29.4 percent of their populations, respectively, below the national poverty line in 2016.
  4. The Bank also reported that in 2016, 5 percent of the country’s population was unemployed. This is low compared with higher numbers in Armenia (18.4 percent) and Georgia (11.8 percent).
  5. In 2001 the State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan estimated that 49 percent of the population was below the national poverty line. This fact is a good illustration of the rapid decline in poverty that Azerbaijan has experienced during the 2000s.
  6. People living in rural areas have lower income. In a report done by the State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan in 2017, rural households achieved monthly income per capita of 151 USD, compared to 163 USD achieved in urban households.
  7. The number of households without access to a water was decreased from 37.6 percent in 2002 to 11.3 percent in 2018. In the same time, the percentage of the population connected to the sewage system increased from 86 percent in 2002 to 98.2 percent in 2018. These two figures reflect the macroeconomic trend of massive reduction in material deprivation in the country in recent decades.
  8. Internet access rose sharply from just 16.6 percent of household’s having internet access in 2005 to 77.2 percent in 2016.
  9. The number of graduates from higher education institutions increased in the country from 24,488 in 2000 to 37,506 in 2017, a figure that is extremely well for an economy that is trying to reduce its reliance on oil exports.
  10. Economic growth forecast of the country in 2018 expressed in GDP is projected to be 2.0%. This was reported by Azerbaijani news source in 2018. IMF increased this number for a GDP growth from 1.2% to 2.0%. This is an encouraging sign for an economy that suffered recent hardship and perhaps a realignment on the multi-decade long trend which has seen Azerbaijan experience much less material deprivation.

These ten facts about poverty in Azerbaijan show that the country stands at both a physical crossroad and at a metaphorical one. Extreme poverty in the country has been drastically reduced, but a continuance of the country’s economic dependence on oil makes the country susceptible to the economic crashes, similar to the one that happened in 2015, and the potential for poverty increase again. The country must decide how to diversify its economy and carry out its progress further into the future.

– William Carlos Menchaca
Photo: Google

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Azerbaijan
Since its formation in 1992, Azerbaijan has had positive diplomatic relations with the United States. The U.S. has affirmed its commitment to strengthening democracy in the region, as well as diversifying the economy and promoting regional stability. In 2017, the United States’ government gave $15.31 million in foreign assistance to Azerbaijan.

Over $4 million of that contribution went towards democracy, human rights and governance agendas. Another $3.63 million went towards economic development. Here are the four major ways in which the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Azerbaijan.

Positive U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations Support American Jobs

Azerbaijan purchases American services. In 2010, Azerbaijan signed a $1 billion contract purchasing eight civilian airplanes from the American Boeing company; this contract supported 11,000 American jobs.

That same year, seeking to create its first communication satellite, Azerbaijan signed another contract with the Orbital Sciences Corporation in Virginia. The $205.3 million contract created 1,500 American jobs.

U.S. Companies’ Substantial Stakes in Azerbaijan Economy

Azerbaijan has welcomed U.S. investment in its economy. The Law on Protection of Foreign Investments allows for foreigners to directly invest in any activity of the Azerbaijan economy in which a national investor may also invest.

U.S. companies quickly capitalized on this opportunity. Many have long-standing investments in offshore oil development projects; however, experts predict a decline in this industry.

As a result, several U.S. companies are investing in other fields of the Azerbaijan economy such as agriculture, telecommunications, tourism and transportation services. The U.S. also regularly exports aircraft and heavy machinery to the region.

Azerbaijan: Useful Ally in Combating Terrorism

Azerbaijan has a confirmed commitment to combating terrorism. The country is a member of several international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. The collaborative work of Azerbaijan’s State Security Forces and the Foreign Intelligence Service have made sizeable contributions to the international community’s efforts to combat terrorism.

Furthermore, as a member of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), Azerbaijan has also taken steps to deter money laundering schemes that could finance terrorism.

Given this commitment, positive relations with Azerbaijan could help advance U.S. security goals in the region.

Successful Market Democracy Could Provide a Model for the Region

The primary objective of USAID contributions in Azerbaijan is “to support Azerbaijan’s reform processes by promoting competition and pluralism in the society, laying the foundations for a sustainable market-based democracy.”

As a Muslim-majority country with a history of religious tolerance, Azerbaijan could be a model for countries in the region. Azerbaijan shares a border with both Russia and Iran. If Azerbaijan can successfully become a market economy, perhaps it can provide a model for similar countries in the region.

How the U.S. Benefits From Foreign Aid To Azerbaijan

By providing aid to the Azerbaijan people, the United States is ensuring the continued economic and security cooperation with a proven ally. Though often overlooked by popular U.S. media, Azerbaijan’s development has a notable effect on the American people.

– Joanna Dooley
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Azerbaijan In Azerbaijan, school is compulsory from around the age of five or six to around 15 or 16 and consists of three levels of education from primary school to general secondary. In 2014, 1,474,000 children were enrolled in primary school with 11 percent of school-age children not enrolled.

Of those children who were enrolled, not all of them were able to finish the school cycle as the system is problematic when it comes to ensuring equality of girls’ education in Azerbaijan. This comes from several political and economic changes; however, there are several programs attempting to resolve this discrepancy. In order to make the necessary changes, it is important to understand the current status of girls’ education in Azerbaijan.

Reasons For Low School Attendance of Girls’ in Azerbaijan

In 1998, 10 percent of girls in Azerbaijan were not enrolled in primary school, and the rate of girls dropping out of school was higher than their male counterparts. According to UNICEF, there are four main causes accounting for the lower attendance rates, poorer performance in school and/or higher dropout rates when it comes to girls’ education in Azerbaijan:

  1. Financial difficulties may affect both genders; however, girls will feel a greater impact. It may be hard to invest scarce resources in the education of girls when families see more employment opportunities going to boys. Instead, women are often seen as “stabilizers” which means they are expected to preserve tradition while new opportunities go to men.
  2. Girls are viewed as being more vulnerable to both physical and cultural dangers. There is a concern of inappropriate behavior, whether by the girls themselves or by other males in the community toward the girls, that would result in the girls becoming unmarriageable. There are also concerns about the safety of young girls walking to school, the lack of female teachers and coeducational classrooms that could increase these dangers.
  3. There is a belief that girls have different mental abilities than boys. This comes from gender stereotypes, the girls’ greater societal responsibilities and classroom discrimination. Young girls also begin to lower their own expectations of how they can perform in school as a result of pressures. According to UNDP and its report on Azerbaijan Human Development, more importance is placed in providing males with higher quality education.
  4. Girls often marry early either as a result of religious beliefs or the fact that it is socially desirable to marry young. As high as 11 percent of girls are married by the time they reach 18 with 2 percent being married by 15. Higher rates can be seen around the country where there is a greater importance to marry and start a family. It is difficult to evaluate the exact number of child brides due to a lack of statistical data.

Each one of these factors is relevant to girls’ education in Azerbaijan and can be considered a reason for lower rates in female education. UNICEF has recommended strategies that could be implemented for the improvement of girls education, including alternative programs, interactive learning, bilingual education, scholarships, more female teachers, program based learning and single-sex schools.

While there is a push to have gender equality in school, more research must be done on current educational statistics. Azerbaijan has several challenges ahead while attempting to create an equal school system.

– Olivia Hodges

Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Azerbaijan
May 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). With its independence in 1918, the country was poised for great progress, which included female suffrage and its democratic government.

The ADR was short-lived, however. In 1920 Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union and would not regain independence until the Soviet Union’s fall. Since its independence, Azerbaijan has faced an often difficult history, struggling with human rights and war with neighboring Armenia.

Human Rights

While Azerbaijan may not frequently be the focus of attention in the media, often the media misrepresents Azerbaijan by strictly focusing on its human rights record. In addition to discrimination of the Talysh and Armenian ethnic minorities, Azerbaijan has been known for suppressing the media and persecuting journalists and bloggers.

Yet, this depiction of Azerbaijan as a country with a poor track record for allowing free speech and media access is not unwarranted. With news outlets, including The Guardian as well as human rights advocacy groups, are barred from entering the country, the current Azerbaijani regime is made ripe for international criticism. The groups and people targeted—namely journalists and human rights activists—are the very people who report the country’s reputation.

Thus, beneath the excitement of the 100th anniversary, people, including Rep. Chris Smith, have been keen to remind the world of Azerbaijan’s tricky situation. In an article for The Hill, Smith called the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, a “dictator” and argues that its citizens are not members of a free society. Smith specifically points to Aliyev’s lengthy tenure as president, from 2003 to 2025, and cited concerns with the lack of power in Azerbaijan’s other governmental institutions.

Poverty in a Wealthy Nation

Serving to reinforce the already abundant human rights issues and an overly powerful president, the country, while wealthy from its oil reserves, is mired by issues with corruption and poverty. Thus, Azerbaijan occupies the public’s consciousness in almost contradictory extremes – it’s a country of wealth, yet one with the majority of its population living in poverty.

The depiction of Azerbaijan as a hub of human rights violations, and as a place oscillating between extreme poverty and excess, does, perhaps, ignore the movement to the future. This is how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan—it focuses on Azerbaijan’s economic and political issues, without addressing the hope and shifting dynamics within the country.

The Future

The rhetoric of Azerbaijan surrounding the 100th anniversary is decidedly not pessimistic. Looking backward one century provides the chance to look forward as well as to move in the direction of that early progress that defined the country in 1918. A statement from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses an intent and desire to bring “into the reality the aspirations and ideals” of the ADR.

With trade between Azerbaijan and other European markets increasing over the last few years, the progressive aims expressed on the 100th anniversary may soon be on the horizon and may, one day, be a reality. And, with the European Union and the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) continued support of education, through the EU’s “Modernising Vocational Education and Training (VET) Centres in Azerbaijan” plan, an emphasis is placed on transitioning Azerbaijan into a knowledge-based economy, thus pushing the country further into the future.

Of course one must not forget—surrounding the 100th anniversary of the ADR—writers, like the aforementioned Rep. Smith, have noted that expressing the optimism and excitement surrounding the country is, itself, how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan. A full view of the country, therefore, takes into account both the hope for the future as well as the current skepticism.

It might be the case that Azerbaijan actually isn’t misrepresented in the media, at least not now. The country does have human rights violations, its citizens do suffer from poverty and questions surrounding the efficacy of the government should be raised. Yet, with the shifting conditions in the country, this representation may be how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan in the future.

-William Wilcox
Photo: Flickr

credit access in AzerbaijanAs is the case in many developing economies, credit access in Azerbaijan is not as easy to come by as it should ideally be. That being said, significant efforts are being made to improve the ease of credit access and ensure that the country’s financial system has the capacity to cope with the increase in demand for credit that will likely come with greater ease of access.

Many of the obstacles to credit access in Azerbaijan are similar to the ones present in other countries. It is particularly difficult for businesses to secure a line of credit. Lenders require extensive collateral and often charge high interest rates. Encouragingly, there are government programs that enable particularly small businesses to secure funding even if they cannot secure a line of credit from a private institution.

Poor financial literacy, especially among business owners, is also impeding credit access in Azerbaijan. Many are often denied loans because of problems that they could rectify if given the needed support and education. For example, many Azerbaijani businesses fail to keep written records because they fail to understand that this impacts their perceived creditworthiness.

Improving financial literacy is an important part of expanding credit access in Azerbaijan. The MicroFinance Bank of Azerbaijan has reported that consumer loans in particular are being disbursed at a much higher rate than before, suggesting that creditors are becoming more willing to lend more liberally to reasonably worthy clients.

Also noteworthy are the extensive efforts that are underway to modernize the financial system and promote new lending and borrowing practices. The country’s first private credit bureau was recently established and intends to promote risk pooling and information sharing among the 20 largest domestic financial institutions. It is anticipated that this alone will greatly improve credit access in Azerbaijan by promoting responsible lending and eliminating some of the logistical hassles of applying for and granting credit.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Infrastructure in AzerbaijanAzerbaijan, a country east of Turkey and located between the Black and Caspian Seas, makes for a perfect gateway linking southwest Asia and Europe. The country’s long history of being subjugated under Russia has made it a weak connection in the past, but now with the infrastructure in Azerbaijan strengthening, it is not only gaining a name in the world, but also seeing its citizens’ standards of living improve. While Azerbaijan still has some hurdles to overcome, the world is watching Azerbaijan’s poverty rate decrease and infrastructure improve.

Part of Azerbaijan’s difficulty in overcoming its weak infrastructure stems from its still-recent rule by Russia. After World War Ⅰ, Azerbaijan broke away and claimed independence. Many countries recognized its independence and world leaders appreciated its people’s dream of freedom. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in particular, commented on the parallel ideals of the United States and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s independence did not last long. After only two years of independence, communist Russia invaded Azerbaijan and governed it for 70 years.

After the political subjugation and various wars of that 70-year period, Azerbaijan was able to claim independence again in 1991. Shortly afterward, the country elected Abulfaz Elchibey, although he was quickly replaced by Heydar Aliyev (the current president’s father) in 1993. President Heydar Aliyev was able to stabilize the country and began the journey to using its oil supply to strengthen the infrastructure in Azerbaijan and bring wealth to the country. Some are still concerned that Azerbaijan’s political future is not void of difficulty, although the current president, Ilham Aliyev, is using his experience in the oil industry, continuing in his father’s footsteps and bringing better living conditions to Azerbaijan’s people.

Azerbaijan has been able to grow its infrastructure so dramatically during the past ten years because of the oil market. With the increased profit and wealth coming into the country, President Aliyev is focussing on roads, railways and air transportation. During the last ten years, Azerbaijan has built more than 6,000 miles of road plus 300 bridges and restructured all main roads to make traveling between countries easier. As ground transportation improves and air travel becomes necessary, President Aliyev has also begun pushing for a focus on water portage as well.

Along with the improvements to transportation infrastructure, there have been significant improvements in many other areas, particularly regarding the internet. Azerbaijan has had expensive access, content blocking and slow speeds. While there are no real signs of transparency in what is monitored and blocked, there have been significant contributions to reducing the price and increasing the speed. In 2015, the government set down plans to improve the broadband infrastructure to give citizens faster and easier access.

Even with the improvements to many areas of infrastructure in Azerbaijan, it is still lacking in drinkable water. Gaining clean water for the whole country will be a long process, but the opening of Azersu’s Jeyranbatan ultrafiltration water purification facility in 2015 opened doors for clean water to become a staple. This complex’s focus is on some of the high population areas where lack of water has been an issue. Once Azerbaijan can find cheaper and simpler means of purifying water, then providing clean water to more rural areas will become easier.

Azerbaijan has invested billions into its infrastructure for transportation, internet, water and energy. As the infrastructure in Azerbaijan improves, so will its connection to the continents and its place in the world. Azerbaijan is on a path that will continue to improve its facilities and bring safe and reliable residences to citizens and visitors. Other countries will use their roads, rails and boats as a transit center, which will bring more wealth and jobs into the country. While there is much to look forward to, it will also be a trying time as many countries vie for dominance in using Azerbaijan as an increasingly important part of that North-South route that would link all of Europe to South Asia.

– Natasha Komen

Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in AzerbaijanOver the past two decades, Azerbaijan has transitioned from a struggling young democracy to a major powerhouse in the South Caucasus region. This transition was precipitated largely by capitalizing on increased revenues from oil and natural gas. That being said, poverty is still an issue in Azerbaijan.

Fortunately, there are a number of development projects in Azerbaijan that are currently underway and promise to improve circumstances for many Azerbaijanis. Here is a look at five of them, some completed and some still underway.

  1. Highway Three
    Many development projects in Azerbaijan have focused on infrastructure. However, not all of this new infrastructure has been accessible to all Azerbaijanis. Highway Three and projects like it, which are being financed in part by the World Bank, aim to rectify this gap by creating a fledgling interstate system that better connects all parts of the country.
    Highway Three is notable because, in addition to connecting two of Azerbaijan’s largest cities, the highway and its offshoots will also serve rural areas. The project is being done in conjunction with efforts to modernize Azerbaijan’s existing highways and bring them up to international standards.
  2. A new medical clinic in Kamalli
    Working together with the Azerbaijani government, USAID has just finished helping to replace an aging one-room clinic with a more spacious and better-equipped facility in the rural community of Kamalli. The clinic opened in October 2017, and is expected to serve over 2,000 people from Kamalli and other neighboring communities in the rural province of Saatli. Similar development projects in Azerbaijan in recent years have made a significant dent in morbidity and mortality rates.
  3. Water supply improvements in Shahsevan-Tazakend
    Also in October, residents of Shahsevan-Tazakend, with the assistance of the Azerbaijani government and USAID, installed almost a kilometer of new pipes and two new water storage tanks. These new installations are meant to alleviate the repeated chronic water shortages that this area has been experiencing in recent years, in addition to eliminating the need to walk long distances to collect water each day for the 800 members of this community. This project is typical of the numerous other development projects in Azerbaijan that have helped to improve living conditions for over 150,000 people.
  4. A new agrobiodiversity preservation project
    In February 2017, Azerbaijan and the UNDP launched a new initiative focused on preserving Azerbaijan’s agrobiodiversity as a part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. The project will run for five years and will target the regions of Shaki, Goranboy and Goychay.
    The Azerbaijani government spearheaded the design of the project, which will receive support from the U.N. and focuses on protecting native crops and encouraging their use in commercial farming. The project also aims to promote research and development on native crops and increase market access for small farmers who grow native crops.
    Like many other development projects in Azerbaijan, this was designed with an eye on the future and hopes to promote resilience and productivity in agriculture in the face of climate change, as Azerbaijan also works to reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas as a revenue source.
  5. The National Innovation Contest
    The U.N. sponsored a contest for young scientists and entrepreneurs to put forth their best ideas for helping Azerbaijan accelerate its progress toward meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The ideas may potentially be used to inspire future development projects in Azerbaijan.
    This is the latest in a series of efforts to support research and development for similar concepts. The awards for the contest were presented in a ceremony on December 21, 2017. The winners included projects focusing on improving credit access and access to the legal system, as well as projects focused on alternative fuel sources.

In addition to major improvements in quality of life and major reductions in poverty, these development projects in Azerbaijan all promise to help the country transition to a greener economy and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels as a revenue source. In doing so, these projects will also improve the health outcomes for all Azerbaijani people and help more citizens make a living in sustainable ways. These projects make Azerbaijan an excellent example of how supporting sustainability efforts can also improve health and help to diversify a growing economy.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in AzerbaijanMany have probably heard very little about the small Eurasian country of Azerbaijan. Even fewer have considered how to help the people in Azerbaijan. With regions like the Middle East and countries like North Korea flooding mass media, major human rights violations in lesser known areas can go unnoticed and relatively unspoken of.

Does Azerbaijan need global help? Is the country in some sort of civil struggle requiring foreign assistance? If the breach of free speech and unlawful imprisonment of Azerbaijani antigovernment activists constitutes this need, then the answer is yes.

At the heart of the issue lies what the Human Rights Watch calls a lack of “space for independent activism [and] critical journalism.” Critics of the practices of the Azerbaijani government are not only given no space to speak, but are also being persecuted unfairly for crimes they did not even commit.

“In August, in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum, the government arrested eight activists on a range of false, politically motivated charges, including drug possession, hooliganism, incitement and illegal business activity,” states the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report on Azerbaijan.

Most of this activism is in reaction to allegations made against Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. He first gained office in 2003 in a landslide election, reportedly winning over three-fourths of the votes, and then winning twice more in 2008 and 2013 with even higher percentages of votes. A 2015 report from the U.S. State Department recognizes that Aliyev seems to have dictated both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as his own office and calls suspicion toward the legitimacy of the 2013 presidential election.

How to help people in Azerbaijan is a difficult question to consider, as human rights violations like genocide are often more readily addressed as opposed to a lack of free speech. However, there is a way foreign aid can benefit Azerbaijanis’ rights to free speech and press.

There are strict laws governing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Azerbaijan as the Azerbaijani government sees them as a threat against governmental media control. Some of these NGOs such as the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety and the Media Rights Institute have been harassed by the Azerbaijani government through both legal and economic means. As these NGOs are meant to oversee the freedom of speech and press in Azerbaijan, it is imperative that they remain secure from the government’s mission to seize their influence.

Protecting these NGOs and organizations like them is how to assist people in Azerbaijan. This can be achieved by bringing awareness to the issue or through monetary donation. Contacting a congressperson or donating to one of these NGOs can help secure that the Azerbaijani government does not gain full control of the media and free speech in the country.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr