2013 in Azerbaijan: Review of the Most Important Events
Before we dress up, head to parties, grab glasses of sparkling and stay up all night to toast 2014, it is important we look back at 2013 and make conclusions.
Let us agree, the year was a handful. Revolutions, international political crises, sudden deaths, natural disasters, celebrity scandals, scientific breakthroughs, achievements and random acts of human kindness kept us glued to our TVs, gadgets and newspapers the entire the year.
Azerbaijan was not an exception. This year has not brought much of a political change, but it was surely eventful. It is time to remember some of the most important events that shaped Azerbaijan in 2013.
January 12–March 10: Protests against soldier deaths are held in Baku
The year had a rocky start. On January 12 and March 10 protests against noncombat deaths, hazing and bullying of soldiers, took place in Baku’s central Fountain Square. The demonstrators demanded resignation of the defense minister Safar Abiyev, who has been holding the position for almost 20 years until removed by the President’s order in October 2013.
The protests were triggered by the death of 18-year-old Azerbaijani soldier Ceyhun Gubatov on January 7. The army claimed that Gubatov died of heart failure, but the family disagreed, saying he was beaten and as a proof, published pictures of his bruised body. According to The New York Times, out of 647 soldiers of the Azerbaijani army, who died between 2003 and 2012, 472 passed in noncombat situations.
While the first protest was held relatively peacefully, the second one was met with excessive force. This time police used water cannons, dispersed the demonstration and temporarily detained around a 100 of them, giving some fines between $500 and $800.
January 23: Protest sparked in Ismayilli
On January 23, thousands of people took to the streets in the town of Ismayilli, demanding the resignation of the district’s governor Nizami Alakbarov. The demonstrators, triggered by offensive remarks of the governor’s nephew Vugar Alakbarov, set the governor’s residence, his cars and a local motel on fire.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrations. According to Human Rights Watch, over 150 people were arrested in the aftermath.
February 8: Azerbaijan’s first telecommunication satellite launched
With the efforts of Azerspace national agency created in 2009, Azerspace-1/Africasat-1a satellite has been launched into orbit from Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
According to Radio Liberty, the satellite is promised to provide digital broadcasting, Internet access, data transmission, and governmental communications services to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and North Africa.
However, experts in the field expressed their concerns over whether the single satellite owner Azerbaijan can stand international competition with owners of hundreds, such as U.S.A., Russia, China, Europe and Turkey.
March 15: The number of political prisoners increases
Seven board members of N!DA youth organization were arrested in the aftermath of March protests
(see Jan. 12-March 10)
against noncombat deaths in army. Three of them Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, and Mahamad Azizov were detained days prior to the protest and charged with planning to incite violence at the demonstration. Four others – Rashad Hasanov, Uzeyir Mammadli, Rashadat Akhundov and Zaur Gurbanly were arrested after the protest. All seven were charged with illegal weapon and drug possessions. Later, in September the prosecution added new charges to the case – organization of mass riots with arson and pogroms, punishable by up to 12 years.
Opposition leaders Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of REAL party and Tofiq Yagublu, deputy chairman of Musavat were arrested in February for allegedly inciting riots in Ismayilli
(see Jan. 24)
. Mammadov, who attempted to run for president in October elections, but was denied in being registered, became one of the most famous political prisoners currently detained in Azerbaijan.
The last political arrest of 2013 was Anar Mammadli, Chairman of the Azerbaijani Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS), a non-profit organization that conducts independent election monitoring. Mammadli, whose organization monitored the latest Presidential elections in October
(see October 9)
was charged with article 308.2 – intention to influence election results and article 192.2.2 of the Criminal Code – earning large sums of money through illegal business activity. The latter is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment, but can only be applied to for-profit organizations.
Mammadli became 144
political prisoner currently detained in Azerbaijan.
April: Mikayil Jabbarov – the new minister of education
After 15 years as the Minister of Education much criticized Misir Mardanov was released from his position, and replaced by Mikayil Jabbarov. At 37 Jabbarov became the youngest high-ranking official in President Aliyev’s government.
As the minister, Jabbarov has made a number of changes: school year has been prolonged, the procedure of choosing directors for schools has been changed and 50 percent of the revenue from textbooks has been allocated to their authors. He also vowed to increase salaries for teachers, the current average of which is $320 per month.
However, critics of the appointment argue, that education system cannot be fixed with reforms only, but needs a deeper approach with major anti-corruption efforts. After several months, Jabbarov’s efforts have not reduced corruption in schools and universities by much.
Prior to the position Jabbarov served as the President of the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Director of the State Reserve Icheri Sheher (Old Town).
June 30: Online defamation criminalized in Azerbaijan
Defamation laws gained more power in 2013 in Azerbaijan. Having taken effect on June 30, online defamation was criminalized, too. Violation of the law is punishable by fine up to $1,300 or detention of up to three years.
The first victim of the controversial new law was Mikayil Talibov, who was sentenced to one year of corrective labor with travel restrictions and deduction of 20 percent of his monthly salary. Talibov fault was criticizing a bank – his former employer, on Facebook.
According to Amnesty International, President Ilham Aliyev expressed plans to decriminalize defamation in Azerbaijan by 2012 in his 2011 National Action Plan on Human Rights.
July: ASAN service is launched
Many Azerbaijanis cite Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network (ASAN) service as one of the positive changes of 2013. Signed into law in July 2013, it is essentially a one-stop shop model, where customers can receive various public services such as notary services, ID, driver’s license or passport issuing and replacement, registration of commercial organizations and many others. The service is located in technologically advanced buildings, where customers can either rely on the personnel, or use self-service.
There are already three of such centers in Baku, one in Sumgayit and one in Ganja.
October 9: Presidential Elections 2013
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of last year’s Presidential elections was AppGate. On October 8 Meydan TV broke the news about the Central Election Commission’s phone application created for the elections. The application showed pre-set results, in which incumbent President Ilham Aliyev had 72.76 percent of vote – a full day before the voting has even begun. The imaginary election results gave Aliyev’s opponent, single opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli only 7.4 percent.
One of the app’s developers made an attempt to contact MeydanTV to explain that it was a trial run with results of previous elections, but failed to explain why the old results featured Jamil Hasanli, who never ran for president before.
The real election results brought President Aliyev his third win with 84.55 percent of votes, while Hasanli was left with 5.53 percent. The elections were widely criticized by international organizations.
October 15: Orkhan Zeynalov
One of the most famous events of 2013 was the case of Orkhan Zeynalov, an Azerbaijani-national resident of Russia, who was accused of a murder.
On October 10 Russian citizen Egor Sherbakov was killed in Birulovo, one of Moscow’s outskirts. The case spurred public outrage in the region on October 13, when masses took to the streets with pogroms and riots.
Zeynalov was arrested the same day. The video of his arrest was publicly demonstrated on Russian television. In the following days after the arrest Zeynalov kept changing his testimony, which led many to think that he was forced to plead guilty.
The case caused major diplomatic disagreement between Azerbaijan and Russia. Pundits and experts voiced a number of theories: that it was President Putin’s was of threatening President Aliyev; that Russia is blackmailing Azerbaijan into joining its Customs Union; or that it was a carefully planned smear campaign against Azerbaijan.
December 2: Gasoline and gas prices
On December 2 Tariff (price) Council of Azerbaijan raised gasoline prices by 30 percent, bringing the price of the cheapest gasoline to 70 qapiks (90 cents) per liter.
The increase caused a brief public outcry in social media. A petition calling President Aliyev to reconsider the council’s decision was quickly signed by more than 20,000 people, but shut down before it was sent out. Experts expressed their concerns about the issue, saying that the increase in gasoline prices will result in higher prices for food and services.
The new prices made Azerbaijan one of the most expensive countries for gasoline among oil producers.
December 20: Shah Deniz II $975 mln deal with BP and Turkish Tekfen consortium
A $975 million deal to build two offshore platforms in Azerbaijan within 42 months as part of Shah Deniz II, was signed by the Turkish construction company Tekfem and BP. The consortium includes companies Azeri Azfen, AMEC and Tekfen, whose share in the project is estimated at $496 million.
In total, costs for Shah Deniz II will make $28 billion. The project will provide gas to Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Italy.
December: Zaur Hasanov
Zaur Hasanov, second group disabled Nagorno-Karabakh war veteran set himself on fire in front of the Trade Unions Confederation building in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and died in hospital three days later. Hasanov blamed his desperate move on the confederation and its chairman, Member of Parliament Sattar Mehbaliyev for taking away his business – a restaurant in Bibiheybat region of Baku, which he has been operating since 1995.
As a response to public outrage over the case, the confederation vowed to provide Hasanov’s five children with a monthly stipend of 300 AZN ($382) each till their coming of age. A compensation of 100,000 AZN ($127,000) would be issued to Hasanov for the demolished facility and he and his wife would be “employed if necessary.”