Protests in Soyudlu raise concern over mining operations, influence, and corruption

Author of the photo in the background: Elmeddin Shamilzadeh // Collage: Meydan TV

Residents of Soyudlu village in Gadabay district staged protests on June 20 and 21 against the construction of a second lake used as a dumping ground for gold mines. The demonstrations were met with police violence, and activists protesting the violence were also arrested. Journalists covering the events have faced pressure and threats.

Officials from the Azerbaijani government, media outlets aligned with the authorities, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and Members of Parliament (MPs) labeled the incident as a provocation, suggesting the involvement of a foreign country. However, this recent demonstration is not an isolated incident in Soyudlu village.

June 21, 2023, Agility Police Regiment in Soyudlu village of Gadabay Source: Ulviyya Ali

Back in 2012, the residents of Gadabayli voiced their concerns, alleging that the gold extraction activities in their village had caused impoverishment. They claimed that the lands belonging to 95 residents were seized, forcing 70 individuals to accept inadequate compensation. Reports suggested that approximately 54 hectares of land had been forcibly taken from the villagers. But which companies were responsible for these land seizures, aided by the support of the authorities?

After the oil and gas industry, the gold, copper, and silver export sector stands as one of the most lucrative sectors in Azerbaijan. Remarkably, just as in the oil and gas sector, the primary exporter in this field is Great Britain, represented by its companies. One such company is Anglo Asian Mining PLC.

In 1997, a contract was signed between Azerbaijan’s state-owned company, Azergizil, and the US-based company, RV Investment Group Services LLC, for the exploration, development, and production sharing of gold ore deposits in Gadabey, Gosha, Ordubad group, Soyudlu, Gizilbulag, and Vecnali. The Gadabey gold-copper project is a joint effort between the Azerbaijani government, holding a 51 percent share in revenue, and the AIMCL Company, responsible for 49 percent of the project. The project’s inaugural plant began operating in 2009 with the participation of President Ilham Aliyev.

On September 10, 2013, President Ilham Aliyev was present at the opening ceremony of the new plant of Azerbaijan International Mining Company Limited (AIMCL) in Gadabey. This plant processes 100-150 tons of ore per hour, resulting in an 85 percent extraction rate of gold from the ore, compared to the previous plant’s 70 percent.

Ilham Aliyev and Reza Vaziri during the opening of the plant in Gadabay on September 10, 2013 – Source: Azertac

It is important to note that Anglo Asian Mining PLC (AAM) is the parent company of AIMCL, as mentioned on the latter’s website. Likewise, Anglo Asian Mining PLC operates under the umbrella of RV Investment Group Services LLC. All of these entities are under the control of Mohammad Reza Waziri, an Iranian-American gold magnate.

Waziri is not only the co-chairman of the US-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce but is also known for his close association with Hafiz Pashayev, the uncle of First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva.

The relationship between Waziri and Azerbaijan dates back to 1995 when he met with Heydar Aliyev during the former Azerbaijani president’s attendance at the United Nations meeting in the United States. The US-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce was established with the support of Hafiz Pashayev, who served as Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States at the time. Waziri subsequently had multiple meetings with Heydar Aliyev.

Former President Heydar Aliyev and Chamber Co-Chairman Reza Vaziri during the fourth annual meeting of the US-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce in Washington in 2000 – Source: 

According to reports from 2007 to 2015, Khagani Bashirov held the second-largest share in Anglo Asian Mining PLC (AAM) after Reza Vaziri, ranging from 16% to 12%. However, Bashirov left the company after May 2015.

He gained public recognition after 185 million AZN disappeared from the International Bank, with allegations suggesting that he, a French citizen, was previously involved in foreign projects at the bank. Bashirov and Jahangir Hajiyev have been friends since 1994.

For the first time in 13 years, Khagani Bashirov gave an interview to the media. Although he confirmed to openDemocracy that he was in prison in the past, he explained that he cooperated with the Azerbaijani government and helped to return bank assets. 

“My criminal past is clean everywhere. This can be easily proven,” he said.

Bashirov stated that his relationship with Jahangir Hajiyev deteriorated in early 2013 and completely ended in November 2015, with Hajiyev accusing him of betrayal.

On the left is Azerbaijani businessman Khagani Bashirov and on the right is Iranian businessman Reza Vaziri – Source: Radio Liberty and ITV

Interestingly, the state-owned Azerbaijan International Bank (IAB) has been providing millions of AZN in loans to Anglo Asian Mining PLC over the years. In 2023, AAM signed a loan agreement worth 55 million manats with ABB.

At the annual report meeting held in London on June 22, Reza Vaziri mentioned positive financial performance, reporting revenues of $84.7 million and pre-tax profits of $7.5 million for 2022. Vaziri also highlighted changes made to the revenue-sharing agreement with the government of Azerbaijan in July of the previous year. Under the revised agreement, the company obtained a 5-year contract for three new areas: Kharkhar, Demirli, and Garadag.

Furthermore, it has been uncovered that the Gadabay region is home to not only one but two gold mines. The Radio Liberty and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) investigations have revealed evidence suggesting that the company operating the plant in Chovdar village is owned by the daughters of President Ilham Aliyev.

As the protests in Soyudlu village continue and the allegations surrounding the gold mining operations persist, the residents’ voices demanding justice and fair treatment grow louder, challenging the relationship between influential figures, foreign companies, and the Azerbaijani authorities.

Author: Habib Muntezir

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