This is part II in a series of articles about GONGOs by Aynur Imranova.You can read the first part here.
In recent months, crackdown on the NGO sector intensified. Intigam Aliyev, head of the Legal Education Society; Rasul Jafarov, chairman of the Human Rights Club and also a human rights defender; Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy and her husband Arif Yunus are behind bars for their work. The director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov is in hiding. The office of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety was searched while all organizational files confiscated.
Arrests have been imposed on the bank accounts of dozens if not more organizations. Searches are ongoing in the offices of the international organizations, which supported the work of the local organizations in the field of human rights and media freedom. These international organizations are also undergoing major tax inspections.
On August 21st Ilgar Nasibov, human rights defender and husband of Malahat Nasibova, the head of the Nakhchivan Resource Centre for Democracy and NGO Development, was severely beaten. He sustained a number of serious brain and body injuries. He has lost his vision and is suffering from a closed craniocerebral injury.
An extract from the first article on NGOs
There are approximately 3000 registered NGOs in Azerbaijan. Only 1% of them [25-30 organizations] work in the field of democracy and human rights.
The National NGO Forum - government watchdog - was set up in 1999 with an aim to “broaden the NGO movement, develop the civil society, coordinate NGO activities in accordance with the current legislation, provide cooperation between the non-governmental organizations and the government, municipal administrations, national and international donors; and help the actors of the NGOs cooperate with media and private sector”.
The notorious “State Council for NGO Support", founded in 2007 by the order of the president of Azerbaijan was the finishing touch. With the help of this council today, the government continues its traditional methods of keeping a tight lid on the NGOs in Azerbaijan. The council provides financial support only to those NGOs, which serve government interests.
But the policing methods are changing. What we see happen in Azerbaijan is a direct assault. Just look up the case of Anar Mammadli, head of an independent election observation organization and the role the NGO Council played in his case [Mammadli is currently in jail serving 5 1/2 –year sentence for illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of authority for allegedly seeking to influence election results].
The authorities have been building up ground and waiting for the right moment to strike at the NGO representatives who are quite professional and could set up successful legal struggle mechanisms. In the meantime, they [authorities] continued attacking these NGO representatives from as many ends as possible.
One of these strategic “attack” positions was the set up of GONGOs [Governmental Non-Governmental Organizations] and/or the process of switching the existing organizations to GONGOs. These organizations were established, and continue receiving support from the government of Azerbaijan, challenging those NGOs that deal directly with human rights and democracy work.
In fact, it is not surprising that the main GONGOs receiving on-going support from the government in Azerbaijan are under Ali Hasanov’s direct supervision [Ali Hasanov, National Adviser to the President of Azerbaijan and Head of Department on Social Political Issues, Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan Republic]. There are plenty of the so-called NGOs mostly run under the auspices of state ministries and other government institutions.
Plenty of NGOs also switched sides by becoming GONGOs. But switching sides, have not prevented these organizations from continuing to receive international funding, putting these donors under the spotlight. Indirectly these donors end up supporting the authoritarian regime. The most well known case for this was when USAID gave 1.5 million worth of US tax payers’ money to “Azerbaijan Lawyers Federation” run by Member of Parliament Ali Huseynli himself.
The list contains hundreds of other cases and also includes organizations such as “Hayat” run by another MP Hadi Rajabli; “Umid” Humanitarian and Social Support Centre, which belongs to Ali Hasanov and run by Israil Isgandarov, has been receiving financial support from the UNHCR for nearly twenty years. These organizations also receive grants for social projects from BP.
Why does the Government need GONGOs?
In Azerbaijan, local media and political institutions are consistently subject to the pressure imposed by the authorities. This has been more visible in recent years. So it was expectant that soon the turn will come to NGOs. The reason for this being the work and reports produced by the independent NGOs working on a variety of issues revealing the Government’s true colours, and providing objective information to the international community on the events happening inside the country. The government managed to achieve some of its aims by artificially increasing the number of pro-government NGOs, which included:
- Creating an imitation of government-civil society collaboration;
- Decreasing number of NGOs involved in human rights and democracy work making them thus seem insignificant due to their small numbers in the presence of any government pressure;
- Forcing international organizations to work with GONGOs and preventing any flow of funding to independent NGOs;
- Provoking controversies in international events (e.g., Council of Europe) through GONGOs’ participation; representing the government’s interests;
- Limiting participation of independent NGOs in international events and the dominance of GONGOs in such events enabling them to speak with their “alternative” reports;
- The emergence of a group of avaricious people that would stand against any potential uprisings in the presence of growing popular discontent;
The humanitarian list of Ali Hasanov
I read the statement of IREX in a time of increasing pressures on NGOs. The statement says: “IREX Azerbaijan states that all of its activities within the country have been implemented, and are still implemented, in conformity with the domestic legislation. All activities have been closely coordinated with the Republican Commission for International Humanitarian Assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan, which is chaired by Ali Hasanov. It has continued its activities through mutual coordination and information-sharing with the Commission”.
“The Republican Commission for International Humanitarian Assistance to the Republic of Azerbaijan, which is chaired by Ali Hasanov?!”
[Note: The Republican Commission for International Humanitarian Assistance (hereafter the Commission) was established in accordance with the decree [dated 15 January 1995] of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan].
In accordance with provision 3.6 of the Action Plan related to the implementation of the State Program on improvement of living conditions and employment opportunities of refugees and IDPs (approved with the order [dated 4 November 2004] of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan), the Commission shall realize its activities through the department of the Cabinet of Ministers’ apparatus which is in charge of the problems of refugees and IDPs, migration issues, and collaboration with international organizations.
The Commission is responsible to register organizations (i.e., organizations dealing with refugee and IDP problems) or liquidate registrations issued to organizations, instruct on amendments to the charters of organizations, confirm tax and customs exemptions, and provide free-of-charge visas to foreign employees of organizations, etc. As noted, international organizations and international NGOs fall under the direct influence of Ali Hasanov simply with the power of this sentence. While looking into the relevant legislation, I failed to find a provision empowering the Commission with such an authority. In addition, the international NGOs that are recognized as humanitarian organizations by this Commission are eligible for tax exemption.
I presume things are clear. The only thing that could be difficult to realize is the mere fact that international organizations become part of this bargaining; whether due to the small budgets of their local offices, their reluctance to pay the 22% tax fee, or the opportunity given to them to avoid hassles in transporting cargos and vehicles through the border. We found out that the US organizations work in the country with the agreement signed and ratified in 2000 by the Parliament. According to this agreement, any US organizations must agree their activities with this Commission. Presumably, this provision is also applicable to the European organizations.
A closer look into the activities of the Commission allows one to realize that it, indeed, takes care of other duties. The signature of Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov should suffice to recognize a humanitarian status to a local or an international organization, and terminate the operation of an international organization in Azerbaijan. I compared the lists compiled by this Commission over several years, and I found out that the number of international organizations operating in the country has fallen by half. This was the consequence of the persistent pressure imposed, which inadvertently reflects the government’s desire. Those who do not cooperate should leave. Those staying shall be forced to cooperate. For example, organizations such as Counterpart International, USAID, Oxfam and Global Fund that provide large grants set a condition requiring that a government structure be a partner in any potential projects submitted for funding. So, the government accomplishes its aim, while this is against the law.
The point is that Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the Republican Commission for International Humanitarian Assistance Ali Hasanov does not possess any authority to approve a humanitarian or non-humanitarian status to any organization. Neither the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (public associations and foundations) nor the decree of the President related to the implementation of this law identifies any such norms and authorities.
The text of the official information on the Commission and the list compiled by the Commission will be added at the end of this piece. Anyone reviewing this list will notice that many of the organizations mentioned in this list have never been involved in any humanitarian activities. These are just GONGOs. We can draw a conclusion that through this commission and the notorious list, the authorities let the incoming international organizations know that “they won’t experience any problems if they work the way approved by the Commission.”
The squandered millions
An extract from the Justice Ministry’s web-page: In accordance with Article 4; Item 4 of the Law on Grants of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the agreements on grants issued by physical or legal entities (donor organizations) of Azerbaijan to foreign beneficiaries, as well as the agreements on grants received by Azerbaijani beneficiaries shall be registered in a relevant executive structure.
By the decree of the President of Azerbaijan dated 2 January 2003 (Item 3), the grant agreements (decisions) signed with non-profit legal entities shall be registered at the Justice Ministry of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
In 2013 only, 737 applications were submitted by 220 organizations to the Justice Ministry to register 1,817 grant agreements (decisions).
Based on these agreements (decisions), AZN 67,217,026 grants were received from 173 donor organizations. Of the overall amount, AZN 23,550,942 represent the grants provided by foreign donor organizations (education, awareness-raising, youth, social issues, civil society development, human rights and other projects). The 65% of the overall grants have been awarded by local donor organizations (12 of them are state organizations).
Based on the analysis of grant agreements (decisions), the following areas have been identified as per the grants awarded:
- Science, education and awareness-raising – 28.7%
- Children and youth – 26.6%
- Social issues – 5.1%
- Public health – 4.8%
- Human rights – 4.5%
- Mass media – 4.2%
- Refugee and IDP problems – 3.7%
- Tourism and culture – 3.5%
- Women’s problems – 3%
- Economic development – 2.7%
- NGO support – 2.3%
- Other areas – 2.2%
- Ecology and environmental issues – 2.1%
- Agriculture – 2%
- Charity – 1.7%
- Local governance issues – 1.6%
- Anti-corruption – 1.3%
In 2013 only, AZN 67,217,026 grants were received in total based on the grant agreements registered, and AZN 23,550,942 grants were awarded by foreign donor organizations. AZN 43,666,084 come from local donor organizations, mainly those provided by the State Council for NGO Support. From our tax payments… Do you believe that such amounts would be given to NGOs that are not GONGOs?
If you wish to find out more about these GONGOs, check the web-page of the State Council for NGO Support and get to know the organizations that participate in the foreign travels organized by the Council. You measure the value of these travels.
We came across another element that drew our attention. Out of the total AZN39,542,569 in received grants in 2012 AZN21,090,811 grants were awarded by foreign donors and AZN 18,451,758 by local donors. If you noticed, the amount of the local “misallocated” funds has increased nearly by 2.5 times. Why misallocated? Because, everyone who investigates the work of GONGOs can see that the money they receive is misallocated or squandered funding, and the projects they implement are of no value. But this is the topic of another large-scale piece.
Heydar Aliyev Foundation
As a matter of fact, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is also an NGO. Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of the President of Azerbaijan, is the president of this foundation. The organization’s first goal is described as: “to support the learning, promotion and implementation of the policy guidelines developed by eminent political figure Heydar Aliyev envisioning the country's social, economic and cultural prosperity and civil integration, as well as the improvement of people’s welfare.”
It should be admitted that several projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation could be regarded as interesting and successful. For instance, the project “Let’s get to know Azerbaijan”, which is carried out amongst the country’s secondary school students looks attractive. However, it is impossible to get any information on the connection of the bribes gathered at schools with this project, the budget of the Foundation for its numerous events, the grants it awards or receives, or the sources of funding for the projects it implements. We failed to trace any sign of accountability and transparency. We must emphasize that if someone represented in the government establishes an NGO, then this enables corruption. One of the goals to establish an NGO, and its future activities should be to identify the problem areas that authorities may have overlooked, and assist in addressing those issues. But we do not see this in the projects of the Foundation. Rather, the government institutions provide financial support to the projects of the Foundation and these projects are implemented as state programs.
You cannot see such a deplorable case in any democratic country. While NGOs must contribute to transparency in the society, our NGOs, fulfill the opposite function.
Mills don't grind if you given them no water
It should be noted that Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the President Ilham Aliyev, is also the head of an NGO. She is the head of the organization called AMOR (Azerbaijani Youth Union in Russia). The organization’s goal is to foster organizational skills of Azerbaijani young people living in Russia in promoting our national values.
Another organization belongs to Anar Mammadov, son of Minister Ziya Mammadov. The Azerbaijan-America Alliance (AAA) is active in the United States with its lobbying activities.
The son of Emergency Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov is the chairman of the European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS). Minister’s son, who lives in London, is engaged in diaspora activities that also raise the awareness of Europeans on the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.
In the meantime, Nazim Ibrahimov, politician Chairman of State Committee of Azerbaijan Republic on Work with Diaspora, also owns a number of NGOs that are involved in diaspora activities in various countries.
Azerbaijan is the main source of funding for the work of these organizations. No information is available on funds received; the activities implemented and their beneficiaries.
There are also a number of NGO coalitions functioning in Azerbaijan such as the NGO Coalition against Human Trafficking, Azerbaijan National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, Coalition for Improving Transparency in Extractive Industry, Anti-Corruption NGO Information and Cooperation Network, National Budget Group, and etc.
Nevertheless, the situation with coalitions is not much better than the cases mentioned above. Some of these networks switched sides to being GONGOs. For example, the NGO Coalition against Human Trafficking has been established in the building of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Office.
Mirvari Gahramanli, head of the Committee for the Defense of Oil workers’ Rights, says that she is a member of three coalitions.
“All coalitions have “’troopers” inserted by the government. Currently, these coalitions have lost their independence as 80% of its members are represented by GONGOs. Therefore, it is impossible to reach the goals these coalitions have originally set. Any internal communications and correspondences are under the influence of relevant state agencies through GONGO members.
The Coalition for Improving Transparency in Extractive Industry in which I am also a member used to be independent when it was first established. However, now the government authorities have almost occupied this coalition and the National Platform. It has turned into a singing and dancing ensemble. Since independent NGOs constitute a minority in these coalitions, decisions are adopted under the influence of GONGOs that own the majority of the votes. The picture in the Anti-Corruption NGO Information and Cooperation Network is different. Unlike the coalitions, here fewer GONGOs and relatively more independent NGOs are represented, which makes it far more independent. It should also be noted that a representative from the State Commission on Combating Corruption is also a member of this Network.
Towards end of the piece, I would like to mention names. I will also add the humanitarian list of Ali Hasanov (almost all organizations in this list are GONGOs) to this article. Yet, I would like to mention the names of famous GONGOs that receive large grants.
- Azerbaijan Lawyers Confederation; its board is chaired by MP Ali Huseynli
- Constitution Researches Foundation, Alimammad Nuriyev
- Azerbaijan Young Lawyers Union
- Transparency Azerbaijan Anti-Corruption Public Union
- Citizens’ Labor Rights Defense League, chaired by Sahib Mammadov
- International Relations Research Center, chaired by Rufiz Gonagov
- Azerbaijan Youth Union
- “Umid” Support to Social Development Public Union, chaired by Israil Isgandarov (Israil Isgandarov has long served as an expert at BP, influenced BP’s grant awarding decisions, and has been a recipient of BP’s large grants)
- Democratic Reformist Youth Public Union, chaired by Vusala Huseynova
- Azerbaijan Economic and Political Researches Center, chaired by Sabit Baghirov
- Azerbaijan Democracy and Human Rights Institute, chaired by Ahmad Shahidov
- Social Rights Monitoring Group, chaired by Azad Isgandarli
- “Yeni Hayat” Humanitarian and Social Support Public Union, chaired by Naila Ismayilova
- Women of the 21st century – Public Union, chaired by Mahira Amirhuseynova
- Reliable Future Youth Union, chaired by Nabil Seyidov
- Leader Women Public Union, chaired by MP Malahat Ibrahimgizi
In the meantime, there are other NGOs that are linked with certain government structures and individuals. For example, MPs Hadi Rajabli, Malahat Ibrahimgizi, Rabiyyat Aslanova, Sabir Rustamkhanli, Azay Guliyev, Asim Mollazada, Ganira Pashayeva have their own NGOs. The ministries and committees closely work with various organizations. No doubt it will be implausible to elaborate on 3000 organizations in one report. Nevertheless, I will make an effort to group the famous GONGOs and the government structures they are connected with. I would like to emphasize that this categorization has been drawn following the monitoring of the statements made by a number of NGO leaders, experts and media professional.
- Defense Ministry’s sub organizations – Union of Public Oversight of Armed Forces, Retired Soldiers’ Youth Enlightenment Public Union – both organizations are chaired by Emin Hasanli; Confederation of Retired and Reserved Officers, chaired by Dadash Rzayev; Society of Karabagh Disabled Persons and Veterans, chaired by Novrasta Yusifova.
- Ministry of Youth and Sport – “Youth’s Contribution” Public Union, chaired by Asim Valiyev; Azerbaijani Youth Integration to Europe, chaired by Gulsel Safarova; Democratic Reformists Youth Union; Youth Tourism Public Union; “Friends of Nature” Youth Public Union; “Ireli” Public Union; Azerbaijan Democratic Students Youth Union.
- Penitentiary Service – Public Union for Human Rights, chaired by Eynulla Fatullayev; Azerbaijan Anti-Torture Committee, chaired by Elchin Behbudov; Public Committee under the Justice Ministry’s Penitentiary Service.
- Transport Ministry – Public Union of Transport Employees of War Victims, chaired by Khadija Babayeva.
- Interior Ministry – Public Union of Support to Police; Clean World Assistance to Women Public Union; Azerbaijan Children Union;
- Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population – Public Union “Hasrat Yolu” Assistance to Prisoners and Hostages, chaired by Esmira Orujova; “Hayat” International Humanitarian Organizations; “Dayag” Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organization
- State Council for NGO Support’s sub organizations – Members of the Council receive funded-projects in addition to monthly honoraria. The budgets of these projects are larger compared to other projects submitted for funding. You can find this information when reviewing the results of the grant competitions. We did not want to mention the facts circulated by the media.
The grants awarded to GONGOs
Below we provide information describing the grant amounts received by NGOs in 2013. According to Article 9 of the Law on Access to Information, state bodies and municipalities, as well as all legal entities performing public functions are recognized as information owners. Article 29 of the same Law obligates all information owners to make public the information concerning the conditions and amounts of the grants they receive. In the meantime, the specific state authorities possess information with regard to the grants awarded to NGOs, and they obtain this information through their authorized functions. They must publicize the information on the grants they receive, and the information they obtain through their authorized functions that concern the grants awarded to NGOs.
However, since the Law is not complied and the NGOs do not publicize the information on the grants they receive, the information provided below only covers those grants that have been obtained through various possible ways. We leave it up to you to judge on the amounts of the grants, effectiveness of the activities and anything you may have heard about these organizations.
- Azerbaijan Youth Union – in total: USD 225,000; NOK 550,000; AZN 21,800.
- “Umid” Support to Social Development Public Union – in total: USD 77,245; AZN 136,522 (while we found out about the BP awarded grant, but we failed to get any details about the amount of the funding received.)
- Azerbaijan Lawyers Confederation – in total: USD 345,850 (As known, USAID terminated its funding worth of USD 1.5 million under the persistent influences. The interesting fact here is that the Confederation itself has funded a project of the Citizens’ Labor Rights League worth of USD 247.770. Another project funded (USD 180.850) by the Confederation belonged to the Constitution Research Foundation which is chaired by Alimammad Nuriyev.)
- Citizens’ Labor Rights League - in total: USD 308,736
- Reliable Future Youth Union – in total: AZN 100,330 plus USD 7,000
- Bridge to Future Youth Union – USD 59,000+EUR 240,934+AZN 12,142
- Transparency Azerbaijan Anti-Corruption Public Union – EUR1,04310.23+AZN 125,498
Let us also emphasize the fact that The Youth Fund under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan has provided around a half million to a variety of organizations, and all of these organizations are GONGOs. None of the organizations funded by the State Council for NGO Support and the Media Support Fund are involved in human rights, democracy and free elections. The State Council for NGO Support provides financial assistance four times a year.
Mehman Aliyev who is the director of Turan News Agency also confirmed to 365.com that GONGOs are the most commonly funded NGOs in the country.
“I have been the last chairman at SOROS Foundation in Azerbaijan. During that time, one of the important figures of the Foundation was in Baku. He said they did not know anyone else to appoint as a chairman. He said they needed someone who would help them better understand the internal situation. Unfortunately, hazy stuffs were also happening in the office in Azerbaijan. For that reason, we launched investigations and revealed cases of misconduct. Those who received and provided grants had pursued their own personal interests. Thieves were also found amongst the persons the organization trusted. I should also note that the Foundation also funded critical projects that were beneficial to the country.
In Azerbaijan there is no such organization that has not received grants from international organizations. Alimammad Nuriyev and Azay Guliyev have also received money from the Foundation. Everybody gets a grant. Apparently, half of the grantees have become enemies. I should also mention that 90 percent of the large grants had also been delivered to the authorities. If investigated, a number of misappropriation cases can be revealed.”
In addition to Mehman Aliyev’s clarifications, we also provide the following list of grants awarded in 2012 by the Open Society Institute (SOROS). As such, every reader will be able to compare the number of GONGO grantees with the number of independent NGOs involved in transparency, human rights and democracy
- Azerbaijan Children Union – USD 29,195+USD 25,394+USD 27,164+USD 34,003;
- Public Union for Combating Communicable Diseases – USD 18,200;
- Reliable Future Youth Union – USD 23,592;
- Sumgait Youth Legal Education Public Union – USD 17,000;
- Phoenix Healthy Life Public Union – USD 20,000;
- “Chirag” Child Development Public Union – USD 20,000;
- Origami Child and Underage Public Union – USD 1,500;
- kultura.az – USD 2,995;
- Legal Development and Democracy Public Union – USD 30,046;
- Dickordant Public Union – USD 17,600;
- Azerbaijan Media Center – USD 17,510;
- Independent Life Public Union – USD 30,000;
- Media Rights Institute – USD 8,818; Fights against AIDS Public Union – USD 20,000;
- The Free Likeminded-Youth Enlightenment Public Union – USD 20,000;
- Economic Researches Center – USD 7,880; Child Rights Defense League – USD 20,000;
- “Aran” Healthy Future of Children Public Union – USD 20,000;
- Legal Education Society – USD 20,000;
- Economic and Social Development Center – USD 10,000;
- Equality in Education NGO Alliance (UMID is indicated as an intermediary organization) – USD 51,275;
- School of Democratic Journalism – USD 35,000;
- Retired and Reserved Officers Public Union – USD 3,000;
- Entrepreneurship and Market Economy Assistance Foundation – USD 19,580;
- Public Union of Support to Society-School Cooperation – USD 15,935;
- Law and Development Public Union – USD 20,000;
- Young Public Group – AZN 2,500;
- For Gadabay’s Social-Economic Development Public Union – AZN 4,200;
- Wikipedia Azerbaijan Public Union – AZN 4,300;
- Gender and Prosperity – USD 20,000;
- Independent Education Assistance Center Public Union – USD 30,774;
- Azerbaijan Human Rights Defense Center – USD 1,620;
- Youth Education Center Public Union – USD 23,550;
- Social Services Initiatives Public Union – USD 125,484;
- Call for Healthiness Public Alliance (intermediary organization – Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Public Union) – USD 19,082;
- Azerbaijan Parent-Teacher Association Public Union – USD 13,018;
- Economic Research Center Public Union – USD 14,940;
- Public Union for Defense of Oil-workers’ Rights – USD 12,490;
- Azerbaijan Security and Defense Public Association (intermediary organization: Public Union for Retired and Reserved Officers) – USD 7,320;
- Economic and Social Development Center Public Union – USD 75,000;
- Social Services Initiatives Public Union – USD 305,345;
- Public Union of Young Women Lawyers for Legal Reforms – USD 25,000;
- Modern Education Assistance Center Public Union – USD 11,435;
- National Budget Group (intermediary organization: Economic Researches Center Public Union) – USD 89,919;
- “Mushvig” Public Union of Assistance for Karabagh Disabled Children – USD 12,970+USD 14,605
Apart from the list of the Open Society Institute, I also examined the lists of grants awarded by donor organizations for the last three years. I discovered that international organizations along with the government structures have been part of the process of supporting and expanding GONGOs in Azerbaijan. These organizations include OSCE, USAID, IREX, OXFAM, US Embassy and the embassies of European countries.