Six dogs and about ten cats live at animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev's village home.

Source: Meydan TV

Caption: Six dogs and about ten cats live at animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev's village home.

"We immediately decided to take the dog with us"

Animal rights activists were detained after a protest they held in defense of stray animals and taken out of the city. They returned to the city with a pregnant stray dog and named her Gizil.

Animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev and his friends found the dog, whom they nicknamed Gizil (Azerbaijani for “Gold”), in a wasteland on the outskirts of Baku a little more than a month ago. The dog was about to give birth, and so they immediately decided to take her with them.

A dog named 'Gizil'

The animal rights activists found themselves in the deserted area about 20 km off Azerbaijan's capital city after they held a protest in defense of stray dogs in the city center on 23 February. As has become common lately, police officers quickly dispersed the protest, forcibly pushed the protesters in buses, drove them a long way out of the city and dropped them off. This had the effect of ending the protest without much hassle.

There, a stray dog approached Elkhan Mirzayev and the other protesters, who were waiting for friends to arrive by car to pick them up.

"She was yelping and crying. I could see immediately that she was pregnant and she would deliver soon. When labor approaches, dogs always try to be close to people," Elkhan says.

"It was the first time I had seen the place where the police officers dropped us. We learnt later that the wasteland is located in the village of Gizildash (“Golden rock”) in Garadag district. So, we decided to give the name Gizil to the dog that we found there."

On the very day Gizil arrived in Baku, she gave birth to eight puppies. The animal rights activists put Gizil together with her puppies in one of their garages. They visit them every day, feed, and look after them. Mirzayev says that they had to put Gizil in the garage because all other shelters were packed. And, they do not trust state institutions, which operate under the guise of shelters for stray animals.

"Certainly, the garage is not the perfect place for them, but it is still better than a wasteland. And, unlike thousands of puppies born on the streets, Gizil's puppies stand a greater chance of surviving here. After the puppies are two months old, we will try to find people who will adopt them and then sterilize Gizil," Elkhan says.

Gizil's puppies are currently housed in a garage. Baku, March 2020.

Gizil's puppies are currently housed in a garage. Baku, March 2020.

Source: Meydan TV

Horses, dogs, and cats

Animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev is a journalist by profession. He graduated from the journalism department of Moscow State University and lived in Russia for many years, working for NTV and Channel One as a correspondent, editor, and producer. One day, however, he decided to leave everything and return to Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, he bought a plot of land in the village of Gunashli in Lerik, built himself a house and realized his long-standing dream: To live far away from the hustle and bustle of the city together with his favorite animals. He has horses, six dogs and about a dozen cats. All these cats and dogs were strays who suffered violence at the hands of humans. Elkhan found them all in different places, nursed them back to health, and gave them names that matched their characters - Bertha, Jesse, Pirate, Deniz, Kazbek, Minashka.

The dog nicknamed Pirate, who is extremely disobedient, is missing a leg and an eye.

"Some punk set a pit bull on him. The pit bull severely maimed his leg and damaged his eye. And there was a large wound on his back that look liked something hot had been poured on it. Our doctor friends tried to attach a prosthesis to Pirate's leg, but it did not work out. The leg started to fester and had to be amputated. The eye was also operated on," Elkhan tells us about his pets. "And this is Jesse. She acts like a cat, and her favorite thing to do is to lie at people's feet."

'Pirate' at Mirzayev's home. Guneshli village, March 2020.

'Pirate' at Mirzayev's home. Guneshli village, March 2020.

Source: Meydan TV

Under Azerbaijani legislation, torturing and killing stray animals are not regarded as a crime, and those who commit these kinds of acts simply get an administrative penalty - a fine of about 500 Manats (289 USD): "Regarding animal rights, there are only three articles in the Code of Administrative Offences: One of them is more about veterinary medicine, the second is about regulations regarding keeping pets, and the third is Article 274. The article says that if you kill or maim an animal, you will be fined 500 Manats," Elkhan says. Previously, the fine was only 25-45 Manats (about 15-26 USD), but animal rights activists lobbied for the fine to be raised. Yet they say that is not enough. The activists have been fighting for animal rights for years, and believe that it is high time the state began to implement a programme to sterilize stray animals.

"Stop Toplan"

During the protest that took place in the center of Baku on 23 February, the animal rights activists raised a placard reading "Stop Toplan". Toplan is the name of the care center for stray animals that the animal rights activists pinned great hopes on.

When Toplan (Toplan is the most common dog name in Azerbaijan – editor’s note) opened in February 2019, they first breathed easily, thinking it would be easier for stray dogs to live on the streets of Baku.

Leyla Aliyeva, vice-president of the foundation and daughter of the incumbent Azerbaijani president, took part in the opening of the center which was established within the framework of a joint project by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Baku executive authorities to improve work with stray dogs. She oversees the center.

Toplan operates on money provided by the state. On the location previously stood the sanitary engineering unit of the Housing and Utility Services Department of the Baku executive authorities. The animal rights activists argue that one of the jobs done by the department, which people commonly referred to as 'the kennel', was to collect stray dogs from the streets and shoot and kill them or burn them.

"It was previously called 'Department to fight against stray animals'. In essence, its name shows what kind of work they did. They walked around in the streets and shot stray dogs in broad daylight. In 2013, journalist Nazakat Zeynalli filmed a video of officers from the department shooting street dogs. We used the video as a basis for a lawsuit that we filed against the department. The trial lasted three and a half years. The case reached the Supreme Court, then it was sent back to lower courts. They tried to persuade us to withdraw the lawsuit. We refused to withdraw it. We held protests outside the department, we blocked the roads, we went there every week to feed the dogs and we did not let the dogs be killed. We got the department shut down after all. Last year, Leyla Aliyeva opened a care center for stray animals called Toplan, which is located exactly where the department used to be located, and horror started there again," Elkhan Mirzayev says.

Both the official website of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Leyla Aliyeva in her speeches at conferences said that in accordance with the law the center was to collect dogs from the street, deliver them to the center, sterilize and vaccinate them and release them back into the streets.

All of the animals at Mirzayev's home are former strays. Guneshli village, March 2020.

All of the animals at Mirzayev's home are former strays. Guneshli village, March 2020.

Source: Meydan TV

"The animals awakened humanity in my heart"

There are about 500 animal rights activists in Azerbaijan who collect maimed stray animals from the streets, nurse them back to health and keep them. There are three official and about 20 non-registered shelters.

Elkhan Mirzayev, however, is against shelters in principle.

"For example, do we want to be in jail? Even if they give us food and sometimes come to check on us, so what? A shelter is almost the same thing. Therefore, there should be not shelters, and every dog and every cat should have a family."

Mirzayev believes that it is not that hard to resolve the problem of stray animals. It is just necessary to toughen the penalty for the killing of animals and cruelty toward them and to launch a program to sterilize and vaccinate animals. And it is also very important to teach people to love animals.

"If people keep dogs, they will find indispensable friends," says Elkhan Mirzayev. "The more I communicate with dogs and cats, the more I understand that in reality we do not save them but they save us. The animals awakened humanity in my heart."

/with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

All of the animals at Mirzayev's home are former strays. Guneshli village, March 2020.

All of the animals at Mirzayev's home are former strays. Guneshli village, March 2020.

Source: Meydan TV

"The animals awakened humanity in my heart"

There are about 500 animal rights activists in Azerbaijan who collect maimed stray animals from the streets, nurse them back to health and keep them. There are three official and about 20 non-registered shelters.

Elkhan Mirzayev, however, is against shelters in principle.

"For example, do we want to be in jail? Even if they give us food and sometimes come to check on us, so what? A shelter is almost the same thing. Therefore, there should be not shelters, and every dog and every cat should have a family."

Mirzayev believes that it is not that hard to resolve the problem of stray animals. It is just necessary to toughen the penalty for the killing of animals and cruelty toward them and to launch a program to sterilize and vaccinate animals. And it is also very important to teach people to love animals.

"If people keep dogs, they will find indispensable friends," says Elkhan Mirzayev. "The more I communicate with dogs and cats, the more I understand that in reality we do not save them but they save us. The animals awakened humanity in my heart."

/with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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