Monday, February 29

Dispatches from Azerbaijan: News Bulletin February 22-26

On May 22nd of last year, young conscript by the name of Tapdiq Babashov was reported dead at the military base where he did his compulsory military service. But this was the official line or at least the line his military base disclosed because Babashov didn't commit suicide. Babashov's family, who didn't believe their son would end his life just like that (especially given his determination to do the military service) too the case of their son to the court. The most recent hearing was on February 25. 

Needless to say testimonies of other soldiers who served with Babshov, revealed grave rights violations at the base as well as inhuman treatment of soldiers by the base generals and other high-ranking military personnel. 

Men who testified in court said they were humiliated, beaten and even tortured during their service. One young officer recalled being punched in his stomach just at the spot where he recently had an operation. 

Point being, Babashov was not the first conscript to die in "suspicious" circumstances disguised under "suicide". According to Caspian Defense Institute stats, 71 deaths were reported (at least from the ones which were actually reported) in 2015. 35 of these were combat, while the rest were unknown circumstances, incidents, suicides and so on.

In another news the Haydar Aliyev Fund announced it will be helping to restore the catacombs of Rome. Not the first initiative of this sort. What is interesting however is that while we are borrowing money from the World Bank, turns out, we could just borrow here at home but perhaps, President Ilham Aliyev, cannot borrow money from his wife, Mehriban Aliyev who heads the fund. 
On February 24, the Appear Court in the town of Sheki, postponned the cases of Ilgr Mammadov and Tofig Yagublu Both men were arrested during 2013 Ismayilli uprising and were later charged with organizing these protests. Mammadov and Yagublu were as a result sentenced to 7 and 5 years respectively. In the meantime, the European Court of Human Rights issued decisions calling detention and subsequent arrest of the two men unlawful and calling for their release. 

Apart from Mammadov and Yagublu, 4 out of 20 originally detained Ismayilli residents, remain behind bars. Their lawyer believes this is because these men knew their rights and refused to take on any forced confessions and the blame. Funny that while innocent residents who spending their 3rd year away from their families locked up, the head of Ismayilli administrative office [against whose corruption and filthy behavior the Ismayilli residents were protesting in the first place] only got away with job dismissal together with his brother who happens to be [surprise!] the Minister of labor and social protection. 
In another interesting development this past week, official Baku sent a note of concern to Russian MFA for selling weapons to Armenia. Baku demanded confirmation that these weapons won't be used along Azerbaijan's border with Armenia [to which I can only say, are f***ing kidding me?!]. The response from Russia was swift. Turns out the weapon supply is in tandem with the goal to maintain stability in the region.  
The consequences of devaluation on the local people- lets also talk about that. 

Two devaluations later, Azerbaijan's economy is struggling to say the least. As so are the people of course. Not those who are in top that is, but those below the middle class. The biggest issue on the table is bank loans. About two million Azerbaijanis have them. The officials say they need approximately $250million in order to allow people repay their interest rates based on the rates prior to the second devaluation. I am not economist so please excuse my reasoning here- but shouldn't we first tackle the issue of loans rather than invest in road reconstruction [which is what the recent loan from WB is paying for?!]. Couldn't Haydar Aliyev Fund instead of "renovating" Italian catacombs help prevent a catacomb in the making back at home base?

You tell me...
In the meantime the number of suicide cases continues to grow in Azerbaijan. Not a day goes without news of new suicides. In many cases it is fears over outstanding debt. 
Azerbaijan is a country of political prisoners. This is no news. The official Baku however won't tell you this. Which is also no news. But for those familiar with the country, they would know official Baku is twisting the truth. What they also won't admit is that Azerbaijan political prisoners are known internationally, respected, and many have numerous awards attesting to their invaluable contributions in their fields. Most of Azerbaijan officials don't have any awards unless they came from Aliyev [like Aliyev appreciation society award of some sort]. They are getting these awards for a reason anyhow, and this is no news either. 

But let get back to the international fame of Azerbaijan's political prisoners [despite all the dirt the government tries to pour over them]. Azerbaijan's prominent human rights defender, Intigam Aliyev received his 4th award since his arrest. 
And as it is usually with news programs, let us talk about sports. Well, perhaps not really sports but how spot facilities can be used for other purposes. Have you heard for instance that an Olympic Stadium can be an excellent wedding venue? Or a spot to chill and watch sports games on flat screens from cafes there? Or take a driving license test? Well, if you didn't then Azerbaijan is the place. Although the European Games are over [thank GOD] and since Azerbaijan is in crisis, some genius suggested to turn the space offered by the stadium for multi purposes. First were wedding receptions [I have written about this here]. But this is slightly above average salary makers in Azerbaijan could afford when just one seat could cost anywhere between 100-150AZN. Now the space in stadium is offered as part of uber high tech driving license course. But this isn't just any driving class. It is offered to professionals who want to be better at driving. Jamila Mehdiyeva, head of the press office at the stadium explained the idea further, "These classes are first of its kind [well of course, in Azerbaijan everything has to be first of its kind]. We create any weather condition- rain, fog, storm- for the drivers to learn how to control their cars under these weather conditions."

On and there are also tours of the stadium [in some places like in Rome, you do a tour of the Colosseum, or the Vatican but a tour of the brand new Olympic Stadium?!] VIP tours cost 25AZN, high school students can get away with just 5AZN while adults are charged 10AZN on entrance. 
Here we are, this is the end of this past week's bulletin. Hope you enjoy it and I will be in touch with more. 

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