Eco-front: Guarding the environment in Azerbaijan

Eco-front: Guarding the environment in Azerbaijan

Eco-activism is gaining momentum in Azerbaijan. Until recently, there as only a handful of people who were ready to clear reservoirs of garbage and protest against deforestation, but now there are hundreds. These people know how to communicate with the public and attract more and more like-minded people to their cause. One such group is “Eco-Front”.

Several local non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan have implemented projects on environmental problems before, and small civic initiatives s been carried out as well. However, prior to the establishment of the Eco-front movement, environmental problems had not turned into a serious topic for discussion in society. These young people believe that the formula for their success is that they lead by example, showing how one can and should take care of the environment.

"Think globally, act locally"

Eco-front was established about two years ago on the initiative of just a few activists. However, the movement now has more than a hundred active members and has been able to unite different people in its ranks – from experts in the field of environmental protection, zoologists and biologists to rank and file residents.

"In fact, everyone can contribute to the environment as a whole by tackling a local problem at the local level. One of our main slogans is ‘Think globally, act locally’”, says eco-activist Javid Gara, one of the initiators of the movement.

As examples of local solutions, he cites the Eco-front campaign to fight tree-felling in Azerbaijan's Gakh and Sheki districts.

"For example, mass tree-felling in an area affects the eco-system as a whole, leading to mudflows and landslides in larger areas and cannot but affect people's lives," Javid explains.

Within a short period of time, Eco-front managed to draw public attention to environmental problems and solve them through environmental campaigns. Javid Gara believes that they were successful largely due to social media.

Eco-front at work

"Our most successful campaign has been against mass deforestation and for the protection of deer. We came out against the seizure of winter pastures in Gakh and Sheki and against deforestation," the environmental activist says.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined the campaign, which helped the movement achieve significant successes.

At the time, a local company was going to grub trees in the area and plant hazelnut gardens in their place.

"Deer were brought to the areas several years ago and their number increased over time. We published illustrations featuring deer running in front of a tractor. It made an impact, we achieved our goal, and the campaign got us even more attention," says Elvin Mamedsoy, one of the initiators of Eco-front. He adds that they also try to be more creative in their approach to issues and to deliver interesting presentations.

Real help

This summer Eco-front started clearing garbage from lakes. Together with local residents, members of the movement have been able to clean three lakes in the country. The most recent and largest of them is located in the settlement of Binagadi in Baku. Local residents themselves had asked Eco-front to help them clean the lake.

"The guys and I went fishing, there was a lot of garbage there. Sometimes we collected the garbage ourselves, but there were too few people to manage it," says Bahlul Ismayilli, who lives in the settlement. "So, we wrote Eco-front's Facebook page. They came and cleared the garbage. We helped them together with local fishermen."

The cleaning of the lakes raised special interest in society. The movement has become even more popular owing to these events and has been able to attract a large number of participants, as well as financial support.

"There is a real side to cleaning events. Not only can people express their opinions on social media, but they can also come and take a real part," Javid Gara explains. "Our event to clean the Binagadi lake lasted a long time. We worked intensively for more than a month, we carried out fifteen cleaning events, and hundreds of people came and really worked there. An even greater number of media outlets arrived to cover our events. We were invited to appear on television, owing to which we were able to reach even wider masses."

Eco-front at work

Consistent approach, positive results

Environmental activists believe that consistent and continuous activity is one of the main principles for gaining access to wide masses.

"It is not enough to hold just a few events. People like to see results. Both the cleaning of the local lake and previous successful projects, and the prevention of mass deforestation are already building people's trust in us. They see that we are capable of real work and therefore they join us and start to take on an active part in our other environmental projects."

Javid Gara says that the main problem facing lakes in Baku is contamination with household waste and wastewater. Wastewater is discharged into the Binagadi lake, too.

"The thing is that from here wastewater flows into the nearby Masazir lake, from which salt is extracted. Currently, this issue is at the centre of public attention. According to information we have, the prosecutor's office has launched proceedings against the Azerduz company which operates on the Masazir lake, and a serious investigation is under way."

Illegal hunting and net fishing are other problems facing Baku's lakes.

Eco-front is trying to do certain work regarding these fields as well. Elvin Mamedsoy, who is especially interested in wild birds, says that the Binagadi lake has great potential, in particular, regarding migratory water and wading birds. After cleaning the are, members of the movement together with local residents try to conduct regular observations around the lake to prevent further illegal acts. However, preventing illegal hunting and fishing requires a long fight and a continuous public awareness campaign.

Felled trees in the area

"Here, in the Binagadi lake, there is a fairly large number of living creatures. When you know that they live in a clean lake, you just feel good," says Nurlana Shahin, who has been involved in cleaning the Binagadi lake from the very first day. She says that she had been worried about environmental problems previously, too, and as soon as she saw an invitation on Facebook to take part in the movement's event in Binagadi, she joined it and is now one of the most active members of Eco-front.

Kenan Khalilzade is another young man who joined the ranks of Eco-front after learning through social networks about campaigns conducted by the movement:

"In addition to us, there are also other living creatures living in this world, and one needs to think about them, too. Some people really do not realize it. Both while I was collecting facts, together with Javid, about tree-felling in the forest area and while I was cleaning the lake, I realized how much damage we may be inflicting on nature by, for example, littering, felling trees, or hunting."

With the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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