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

Human Rights in Azerbaijan Continue to StruggleA relatively small nation of 10 million people which borders on Turkey, Azerbaijan faces many challenges regarding its human rights. Much like its larger neighbour, Azerbaijan deals wtih ongoing struggles with censorship and the suppression of free speech.

A nation whose economy relies heavily on its production and exports of oil, Azerbaijan has been hit especially hard by the recession of oil prices in the past year. As a result, the Manat – Azerbaijan’s currency – has seen a drastic fall in its value. Protests held in response to the decline of the Manat have faced suppression – sometimes violent – by the state police and military forces.

Reports of abuse and torture at the hands of police have continued to surface, notably in the cases of youth activists who have been beaten and threatened with sexual degradation and rape in order to force them to confess to drug charges. Although the exact number cannot be verified, the U.S. State Department’s 2016 report notes that at least four cases of death can be linked to abusive and excessive force at the hands of police. In other cases, significant numbers of defendants have reported being beaten by authorities to drag confessions and testimonies against political opponents of the state out of them.

In an act doing little to encourage the populace, the 2016 constitutional referendum increased the duration of Presidential term limits while granting the office additional powers. Most worryingly it granted the ability to dissolve the Azerbaijani Parliament at will.

Reporting critical of the government often leads to the harassment and imprisonment of journalists who are responsible. At the close of 2016, at least 14 prisoners of conscience were still being detained, according to Amnesty International’s report. Human Rights Watch’s report puts the number of political prisoners at upwards of 25, while the State Department notes the number could reach as high as 160.

A bright patch amid the darkness, the president pardoned over 100 prisoners in March of 2016; among them were 14 individuals commonly believed to be imprisoned for their political beliefs. Recently, on September 15, a group of Azerbaijani human rights defenders issued a statement thanking the president and courts of Azerbaijan, saying, “We state that such steps serve defence of human rights and freedom in Azerbaijan, humanization of punishment policy and increase of effectiveness of judicial system.”

Human rights in Azerbaijan have a long way to go before the citizens of Azerbaijan have equal and protected rights. Not least among the challenges before the nation are the continued abuses of power by the government and police, allowed by the complicity of a corrupt judiciary. Efforts from outside the country, such as bills before the U.S. House of Representatives as well as EU-affiliated organizations, hope to pressure the nation’s government into reforming their violations of human rights in Azerbaijan.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in AzerbaijanDiseases and illnesses remain common problems in Azerbaijan. With the exception of residents of Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital), many Azerbaijanis lack access to healthcare services in rural areas. Common diseases in Azerbaijan affect many residents due to these conditions. However, efforts are being made to control the country’s disease outbreaks.

Digestive, nervous and circulatory system complications were among Azerbaijan’s top diseases in 2016. Syphilis, chickenpox, and other intestinal infections have become a growing problem in the country as well. Azerbaijan is also taking measures to reduce tuberculosis, diabetes, and other diseases in order to provide patients with better medical services.

Socioeconomic conditions and agricultural changes are factors that contribute to malaria outbreaks in Azerbaijan. In 2013, the country succeeded in preventing malaria transmissions and fulfilled Azerbaijan’s strategic plan for 2008-2013. Azerbaijan also adopted a national strategy to prevent malaria from re-entering the country.

Fifteen years ago in Azerbaijan, seven in every 1,000 residents were infected with tuberculosis. By 2016, the infection rate had dropped to one in every 1,000 residents. However, Azerbaijan is still working to end the tuberculosis epidemic that is especially prevalent in the country’s prisons.

Since Azerbaijan’s prisons are poorly ventilated and frequently crowded, the prisoners often lack prevention methods for tuberculosis. Azerbaijani prisoners are tested yearly for the disease. Prisoners who test positive are sent to a prison hospital for treatment and support. Theater groups are performing plays in the prisons to teach officers about tuberculosis risk factors as well.

Diabetic Azerbaijanis often face more challenges than the disease itself. In Azerbaijan, a diabetic person cannot qualify for welfare assistance unless the disease has physically disabled them. Also, many diabetic Azerbaijanis do not know what glycemic indexes are, and often buy foods that raise their blood sugar and insulin levels.

The Azerbaijan Diabetes Society (ADS), a branch of the International Diabetes Federation (IDC), is working to improve the lives of diabetic Azerbaijanis. ADS helped Azerbaijan establish seven schools with trained doctors and nurses. ADS also holds conferences with U.N. agencies on World Diabetes Day, acting as advocates for Azerbaijan’s diabetics.

Obesity is becoming highly prevalent in Azerbaijan’s adolescents. In 2015, 586 children registered as overweight–a rate of 23 children per every 100,000. The rate increased to 51 per 100,000 children in 2016. Azerbaijani children who live stationary lifestyles while consuming unhealthy foods and beverages are most at risk.

The country’s state services plan to utilize strategies for countering obesity and other common diseases in Azerbaijan. The state will also take practical measures to create opportunities and conditions that promote healthier lifestyles among the country’s people. Educational work to boost Azerbaijanis’ interest in responsible health practices will be implemented as well.

Educating Azerbaijan’s population on health risk factors could help more Azerbaijanis avoid diseases. Educating prisoners on health risks shows that the country is taking disease control seriously for all residents. With work in place to lower health risks among the country’s people, common diseases in Azerbaijan can continue to be countered.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Why Is Azerbaijan Poor
Though it is a higher middle-income country with a booming oil industry, Azerbaijan is overcome by poverty and corruption. Its emerging energy sector could change the economic landscape by answering the question: why is Azerbaijan poor?

Despite economic growth in recent years, 80 to 85 percent of Azerbaijan’s population makes low wages and lives in poor conditions. However, the upper class makes up only two to four percent of its population.

Agriculture is a major source of employment, as 48 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Unfortunately, agriculture only makes up 6.7 percent of the GDP. In Azerbaijan’s rural areas, people suffer from poor infrastructure and limited agricultural production. This is due to inadequate access to services and equipment and rising food prices. Farmers struggle to compete in domestic markets and develop beyond subsistence levels of production. The rising competition in products from increased foreign exchange in oil revenue and liberalization policies also limit agricultural output.

Azerbaijan hopes to promote social equity by creating a sustainable and thriving economy. According to a report submitted by Azerbaijan’s National Coordination Council for Sustainable Development July 3, poverty has already decreased from 49 percent in 2001 to 4.9 percent in 2015.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Program are discerning why is Azerbaijan poor by studying Azerbaijan’s challenges. The organizations conclude that for Azerbaijan to sustain a thriving economy, it should shift to a green economy. This will improve human wellbeing and reduce environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

Azerbaijan foresees introducing green economic strategies in agriculture in 2018 to continue economic development and reduce poverty. To grow its agricultural production, Azerbaijan must promote stronger supply chains; enhance public-private partnerships with agri-business; promote education and capacity building and enforce stronger regulation on agricultural inputs and outputs. Prioritizing the energy sector to protect soil and water quality is also crucial. Finally, increasing microfinance to benefit the poor in terms of jobs and livelihoods will help grow the economy.

Since agriculture is the main source of employment in Azerbaijan, developing the agriculture sector alongside the energy sector will help alleviate the country’s poverty. Creating progress in the most unfortunate areas improves not only the country’s economy but the individual lives within it.

Sarah Dunlap

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Azerbaijan

Energy-rich Azerbaijan has recently begun to provide its citizens with reliable access to gas and electricity. However, the government is lagging on one key front: potable water. A large percentage, if not a majority, of Azerbaijan’s 8.2 million citizens lacks easy access to drinkable water. Water quality in Azerbaijan is thus a major issue.

Several factors have transformed Azerbaijan into a country where there is dynamic progress in all regions. Successful implementation of public programs and further improvement of infrastructure have all had a positive impact. Incoming modern enterprises have also been a boon to Azerbaijan’s economy. Unfortunately, these improvements come at the expense of environmental sustainability and water quality.

Groundwater pollution from oil spillage and leakage from pipeline and storage tanks results in petroleum, heavy metals and possibly radiation contamination spoiling the water in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, runoff from heavy usage of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as factory waste dumped into rivers, has heavily polluted the water. Finally, the salinity of the water table due to sea water intrusion, rusted water pipes and obsolete and broken equipment in water treatment plants has further reduced the water quality.

Azerbaijan has the reputation of being an environmental disaster zone. Many scientists consider Absheron Peninsula, where 50 percent of Azerbaijanis live, to be the most ecologically devastated area in the world due to severe air, water and soil pollution. Decades of pollution have created medical concerns. Poor water quality in Azerbaijan can facilitate the transmission of bacterial diseases such as cholera and hepatitis. Additionally, traces of heavy metals in the water lead to health complications such as cancer.

The country’s government is motivated and has made efforts to improve the environmental situation in the country. Ten years ago, the centralized water supply system in Baku, the capital, covered only 1.56 million people. Now, 2.366 million people have access. The volume of water usage has also increased. In the last ten years, the volume of water supplied from various sources in Baku and the Absheron Peninsula increased by 23 percent, the U.N. reports. As a result of various projects between 2011 and 2013, 600,000 more people have gained access to an uninterrupted water supply.

The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources also installs modular sewage treatment plants in villages along rivers. More than 200 villages see the benefits of these projects. In the future, it might be possible to acquire drinking water from the Caspian Sea.

Despite these obstacles, Baku’s new water pipeline and the government’s interest in expanding regional water purification facilities suggest that there is a desire to bring about positive change with the water quality in Azerbaijan.

Yana Emets

Photo: Flickr


The disease is rampant in Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries. Azerbaijan, located just south of the Caucasus Mountains and home to 9.6 million people, is no exception. Every day, these people are affected by chronic diseases in Azerbaijan, which ranges from heart disease and cancer all the way to infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS. Here is a list of the top diseases in Azerbaijan that threaten local citizens.

Cardiovascular Diseases

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 54 percent of deaths in Azerbaijan are caused by cardiovascular diseases. Between 1990 and 2013, the annual mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases in Azerbaijan has increased by 18.2 percent, with an average of 0.8 percent per year. The most severe of cardiovascular diseases in Azerbaijan is Ischemic Heart Disease. However, the number of fatal strokes in Azerbaijan has increased by 24 percent since 1990, and the number of deaths caused by Hypertensive Heart Disease has increased by 33 percent since 1990. Cardiovascular diseases are by far the number one cause of death in Azerbaijan.

Chronic and Lower Respiratory Diseases

Data shows that of the communicable diseases in Azerbaijan, chronic respiratory diseases are the most dangerous. From the list of communicable diseases, lower respiratory infections make up for half of the deaths depending on age group, and the annual mortality rate sharply increases for those over the age of 55. However, things are looking better for chronic respiratory diseases in Azerbaijan; since 1990, the annual mortality rate for lower respiratory infections has decreased by 73 percent.

HIV/AIDS

Although HIV/AIDS does not make up for a large percentage of harm, it is still a very dangerous disease in Azerbaijan. HIV/AIDS has one of the fastest-growing annual mortality rates of any other disease in Azerbaijan. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS has increased by 3,247 percent. As of 2015, the number of people in Azerbaijan living with HIV is estimated to be around 11,000, and it is predicted that the number will increase.

Diseases in Azerbaijan are extremely prevalent and have a large effect on citizens’ lives. Organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, and UNAIDS are all working closely together in order to properly treat current diseases and prevent future deaths.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr


In the past decade, access to education has been on the rise in Azerbaijan. As of 2009, the literacy rate in Azerbaijan was 99.5 percent, an impressive number for the Caucasus region. Education in Azerbaijan is well on the way to meeting the Millennium Development Goal 2 of universal primary education in the next few years. However, there are clear, massive inequalities in primary education between refugees and non-refugees.

Azerbaijan has one of the largest displaced populations, as it is currently home to over one million refugees who are internally displaced people (IDP) hoping for asylum status. According to UNICEF, Azerbaijan has the highest IDP population per capita in the entire world; a majority of these people are Azeris, who have been displaced from their own homes due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Refugee Children Require Additional Educational Resources

Azerbaijan is leading the Caucasus region in access to education for refugees. In 2003, Azerbaijan began allowing refugees to attend public school. However, since there is a large IDP population, inequities in refugee education are inevitably holding back universal education in Azerbaijan. Many refugee children do not have the same access to education as native children, affecting early, primary and secondary schooling.

A 2010 report indicates that about 20 percent of Chechen refugee children in Azerbaijan do not attend school, and of those who do attend, many cannot understand their instructors due to language barriers. This is common for many refugee populations in Azerbaijan. UNICEF notes that “most refugees have special linguistic needs since many do not speak the national language, straining teachers and school resources.”

It is common for displaced children to experience violence and hardship due to their refugee status, leading to many children requiring additional special psychosocial learning. Additionally, refugee children enter school later and tend to be less prepared for school, compared with the average Azerbaijani student.

Though Azerbaijan is working to ensure increased access to education for all children, many outside organizations have taken initiative to increase educational opportunities for refugees in Azerbaijan. For example, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that oftentimes, refugee children do not go to school because their school materials are too expensive. To remedy this, the UNHCR created a textbook fund, giving more than 8,000 textbooks to about 2,000 refugee children.

In the future, there is a great deal of hope for the state of universal education in Azerbaijan.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

Rural AzerbaijanIn the 10-year period ending in 2012, Azerbaijan achieved the remarkable feat of lowering its national poverty rate from 49 percent to six percent. Baku, the nation’s capital, has transformed into a modern metropolis where unemployment levels have dropped and a number of social reforms have started to foster greater economic opportunity. However, these improvements have not been felt across the entire country equally; rural areas, particularly near Azerbaijan’s southern border with Iran, are still struggling. To address this, though, new Women Resource Centers signal hope for growth in these locations.

The centers are the result of a project that aims to dramatically alleviate poverty just as much as it hopes to bring about gender equality. Sponsored by an international partnership comprised of UNDP, USAID and Azeri state government bureaus, the project is based on the philosophy that economic growth is the result of social empowerment which drives entrepreneurship and thus employment. Seeing rural women as the most economically disenfranchised, Women Resource Centers became the solution to break Azerbaijan’s vicious cycle of child marriages and poor educational standards.

At the centers, women are encouraged to share creative ideas with their communities and are educated about their personal rights. Women also receive vocational training, often in fields in which they have no prior knowledge. Importantly, these training sessions include basic business operations such as marketing, managing cash flows and filing taxes. Lastly, members can propose business plans and, if they are viable, they will receive financial contributions to help get started. Project success stories include a cattle-breeding business, a clothing store and a baker who doubled her regular clients after participating in the program.

To date, the project has already assisted more than 400 women and indirectly benefitted more than 1500 residents of the area. This includes roughly 50 new businesses led by women in order to provide for their families. From a countrywide perspective, the initiative is also shifting focus toward rural growth, which has traditionally received despairingly little attention (estimated around 11 percent of programs in the past).

Nearing the halfway point of the project’s two-year timeline, four Women Resource Centers have been constructed in Bilasuvar, Masalli, Sabirabad and Naftchala. Their opening ceremonies have touted Azerbaijan’s progress toward sustainable development, and it is clear that officials remain committed to future openings before the March 2018 end date.

According to U.N. resident representative Ghulam Isaczai, the project “helps women and youth improve their lives in a meaningful way by starting successful careers matching their aspirations…By helping them, we are helping the future of our beautiful country.”

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr