Tuesday, June 23

And now, its time to crush NGOs

So, I was meaning to write a post about recent developments in Azerbaijan, but I was putting it off, first because I was traveling and then because I got robbed and the feeling of anger, annoyance, fright, and everything that comes with the robbery that takes place while you are asleep in your own house and someone you don't know breaks in, walks around your house as if it was theirs was slightly putting me off but now, a day later after the robbery, though I am still very angry and annoyed by what happened I shall do what all bloggers do- despite my feeling of being stripped off my identity- write and spill out everything.

Last week, while I was in Baku, the most shocking (though I shouldn't be, as by now I shouldn't get surprised when these things happen) news broke out- the government of Azerbaijan was changing legislation on NGOs. And these were not some minor changes, these were changes that might end existence of NGOs in Azerbaijan, well, apart from those that are in "partnership" with the government (the devil himself).

The international as well as local reaction was full of disappointment, anger, frustration. During the NGO forum held on 18th of June, an outraged NGO employee shouted at Rauf Zeyni, the head of the NGO forum, that was sitting at the round table "Because you are a coward! You don't have an NGO" when he offered to refrain from drastic actions such as no negotiations with the government on this issue. 

While, international actors claim the importance of NGOs as a tool in implementing democracy, the government thinks otherwise. What seems like a path of serious limitation on freedom began with the strict control over political parties, then existing media outlets (with of course the most scandalous news of closure of foreign radio stations) and now NGOs. According to Novella Jafaroglu, this step taken by the government is simply because "NGOs were able to do and to say something. These organizations had the opportunity to travel, to lobby and tell the world of what was going on in Azerbaijan. So the government knowing NGO activity decided to cut NGO rights in fact given to us by our own constitution, simply because the government is not responsible to anyone". 

- not only the registration of NGOs is going to become a lot harder (than it already is), but the new changes also impede ban on the activities of local as well as international NGOs;
- it outlaws the activities of NGOs that have more than 50% of foreign funding;
- NGO activity could not begin until its fully registered (which takes at times months);
- an NGO won't be able to have a foreign national as its director or a founder;
- if an NGO was closed based on the court decision for law violations, the founder gets a five year ban on founding another NGO
and many other troublesome new changes.

According to Ekrin Gadirli, the co- founder of Republican Alternative (REAL)"the proposed changes contravene basic freedoms- association, expression, assembly". Isa Gambar, leader of one of the opposition parties in Azerbajan also stressed during the same forum the limits the government was trying to put on the civil society movement in the country. "We need to be able to say "NO" to the government" exclaimed opposition leader at the end of his speech.

It should be come as no surprise that restriction on NGO funding, will seriously undermine their effective work. On this note, in his speech at the NGO forum the head of the Economic Research Center, Qubad Ibadoglu, said, these changes will worsen the NGO activity especially given new financial restrictions. According to the available data for 2008, the total number of NGO employees and volunteers stands at 222,000 and a total 15 million dollars of financial assistance was rendered to NGOs by foreign donors in the same year (in comparison with 1.19 billion dollars received by the government of Azerbaijan from the foreign sources). This remains an insignificant number when compared to another ex- Soviet country- Hungary- which has around 57.000 NGOs (Azerbaijan has 2.500 officially registered NGOs) whose grant turnover is 3.5 billion EUR per year. 

The discussion was postponed to be held at the National Parliament on June 30th according to Turan news agency (http://azerireport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1368&Itemid=42)


Anonymous said...

Arzu, tell us more about the robbery. we are worried/

Arzu Geybulla said...

No need to worry, I am ok, it was my mistake, I didn't turn the alarm on, thinking that it will be fine, since I also have a friend over staying who sleeping in the living room, so I figured that it will be ok.
The burglar climbed from my living room window into the house (the neighbor below has metal bars on his window, so it was pretty easy as i live on the first floor) took my guest's purse with her wallet, i-pod, phone, and camera. Then I am guessing he came into my room and took my self phone, as well as all my valuable belongings and then left through the front door. That easy! I am freaked out, upset, angry and I don't know, probably every other negative feeling one might have when something like this happens. I am mad because that b*****d took everything valuable to me that i have accumulated over my life. I am frightened because he was actually in my bedroom while i was asleep. I am frustrated because local police seems absolutely not concerned about what happened- its like so what someone broke in, you shouldn't expect that he will get caught or that your things will be returned. So, yea, I am just not a happy person right now!

Jim said...

I have been following your blog for a couple of months now; I have a good friend in Baku but she can only talk about what happens in your country when she's abroad. I am worried for you (and her & her husband), and your country, but I know that no dictatorship lasts forever. Be brave! We support and respect you. And I'm sorry to hear about the robbery, too - but that really is a universal human problem. :(

Eric said...

I'm very sorry to hear about the robbery. How horrible and frightening! And you are lucky that you are physically OK.

Regarding the NGO restrictions, a friend in Baku told me recently that he was optimistic that the parliament wouldn't go so far. To be honest, I am not so optimistic.

Arzu Geybulla said...

I am not optimistic either Eric, but maybe a miracle will happen this time? Well, we will see what happens on June 30th. And thanks, I am ok, its just a very strange feeling, i feel like my personal life has been violated but the feeling will go away I guess, i just hope it goes away soon.

And thank you Jim for your support!

Solidus said...

Do you have the link to the original version of the amendment (i.e. In the Azerbaijanis language)?

I’m somehow optimistic about the amendment as I think of Iranian influence in Azerbaijan. This could hamper Iranian or Russian conspiracy in Azerbaijan to a great extent. Despite some restrictions I presume that the amendment wants to hold NGO’s accountable for all of their activities and to me, the most concerning clause is the article no. 10.4.