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Armenia and Azerbaijan Face-off at 20...
Baku
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

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The inaugural European Games opened in the Azerbaijani capital Baku on the 12th June, 2015. A continent-wide sporting extravaganza costing an estimated $10bn featuring 6,000 athletes from over 50 different countries. As is so often said, sport is above politics. But for one national team competing in Baku, that could hardly be further than the truth.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into full-scale war. The mountainous lands where Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians used to live together in relative harmony, had become a source of dispute thanks in large part to divide and rule strategies by the Russian, and then Soviet, empires. When fighting finally subsided in 1994 following a Russian-brokered ceasefire, over 100,000 had been killed and Karabakh became de-facto state administered by Armenia but not officially recognised by any countries in the world. Azerbaijan lost 20% of its territory, including land outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh hotspot, which is internationally recognised as occupied Azeri territory.

Although Armenians and Azeris meet peacefully around the world, they are practically banned from each other’s countries and the level of mutual hostility is comparable to Israel-Palestine. The European Games in Baku is the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the South Caucasus and for both sides, there is huge pressure for their athletes to better the opposing team. For the Azeris, it means a victory over the ‘occupiers’ to whom they lost the war, for Armenians, the chance to raise their flag and sing their anthem in the enemy capital has incredible symbolic power. So much for the Olympic truce.

Meanwhile, despite a ceasefire in place, villagers living on both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border live in the shadow of sniper positions, and endure regular exchanges of fire. Far away from the capitals of Yerevan and Baku, people here speak respectfully of their brothers on the other side and express their frustration that their governments prolong and provoke endless conflict.

In a little-known region, a forgotten conflict divides peoples that in living memory were neighbours and friends. With no direct dialogue between the warring states and no progress by international institutions, many people ominously warn of a renewed conflict which could devastate the region and catch the world by surprise.

As the athletes face each other in Baku, (ironically both sides excel in fighting sports such as boxing and wrestling), the mantra of sport as an apolitical tool for peace risks being overshadowed by raw geopolitics, and an opportunity for nationalism and chauvinism to be exhibited, in a region which can ill afford more.

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Armenians in Baku Games 07
Berkeber, Armenia
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Daily life in the armenian village of Berkeber. The other side of the lake is Azerbaijan and there are regular shootings beetween the military positions on both sides but often targeting also the villages.

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Armenians in Baku Games 19
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The final torchbearer of the European Games Ilham Zakiyev portrayed in Sumgait. Ilham Zakiyev was a soldier on the frontline before he was shot in the head by an Armenian sniper and blinded. He is now a world champion blackbelt Paralympic judoku. "My partecipation was a secret until the last hour, I know I was chosen to be a scream to the world to remind that 20% of our land is occupied by Armenians"

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Armenians in Baku Games 20
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Training on the seafront in Sumgait. Sumgait was the teatre in 1988 of the first post-soviet etnic conflicts between armenians and Azerbaijanis.

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Armenians in Baku Games 21
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The trainer of Armenia during a match of Sambo.

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Armenians in Baku Games 22
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Reaction of the public to the elimination of Armenia during a wrestling match. Armenian athletes get a hostile reception from the Azerbaijani audience at the European Games in Baku.

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Armenians in Baku Games 23
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Greco-Roman wrestlers Roman Amuyan from Armenia and Elman Mukhtarov from Azerbaijan square off in the Heydar Aliyev Sports Centre.

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Armenians in Baku Games 24
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
14 Jun 2015

Armenian Greco-Roman wrestler Mirhan Harutyunyan takes a silver medal, while his opponent Hasan Aliyev from Azerbaijan took bronze. Russian gold-medal winner Artem Surkov brings the athletes together on the podium.

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Armenians in Baku Games 18
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
12 Jun 2015

The elaborate opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku. A gigantic pomegranate opens up to release a flurry of heart-shaped balloons. The fruit is abundant in both Azerbaijan and Armenia and both countries consider it a national symbol.

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Armenians in Baku Games 17
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
11 Jun 2015

Azerbaijani team dancing in the Olympic Village in Baku. It has been speculated that the Azerbaijani government spent up to $10bn in preparation to host the European Games. Of more concern for Armenia is Azerbaijan’s dramatic increase in their military budget up to almost $5bn, more than Armenia’s entire domestic budget. Baku has consistently promised to use military force to regain captured territory if peace talks fail.

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Armenians in Baku Games 06
Chinari, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A villager in the town of Chinari in northwestern Armenia, shows the bullets found in his own garden. In the mountains above, Azeri and Armenian sniper positions stare at each other. Violations of the 1994 ceasefire are frequent not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also along the main border between the two countries. Most of the casualties are soldiers but villagers are often targeted and have lived in an atmosphere of tension for over twenty years.

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Armenians in Baku Games 16
Berd, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A signpost in Armenia points to the road leading to Azerbaijan, a relic from a time when the countries were at peace.

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Armenians in Baku Games 03
Voskevan, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

Armenian children walk to the football ground in the village of Voskevan on the Azerbaijan border. The ground is in the shadow of sniper positions and the children have to consult with their parents, or the military, to play at times when there is calm on the frontline.

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Armenians in Baku Games 15
Koti, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

A Taekwondo class in the village of Koti, a village in the northeastern Tavush province of Armenia where some buildings bear the bullet holes of recent sniper fire.

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Armenians in Baku Games 12
Abovyan, Armenia
By lordcob
29 May 2015

Vovik Khojanyan trains youngsters in the art of Sambo in the gym that he built himself in the village of Abovyan, Armenia. Vovik was born in Azerbaijan but his family left in the fifties.

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Armenians in Baku Games 02
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Felix Aliyev, 76, trains a pupil in a gym in the village of Geghakert, Armenia. Despite having coached children who would become world champions, Aliyev’s gym lacks even toilet or showering facilities. During the ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis that erupted in the early nineties, many escaped to their respective countries. Some decided to stay and change their identities but despite sharing the same surname as the president of Azerbaijan, Aliyev has lived in peace ever since. During the war, his pupils took shifts to sleep at his house to protect him just in case. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis remain virtually banned from each others countries.

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Armenians in Baku Games 14
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Yuri Sargsyan, 54, supervises a young wannabe weightlifter in a gym in the village of Geghakert. A weightlifting world champion several times over, he is now the coach of the Australian Olympic team. Many athletes choose to migrate to other countries due to the dire economical situation of Armenia. After 1991, the country remained geographically isolated, cut off from Azerbaijan and Turkey, and industry formerly dependent on the Soviet Union all but collapsed. Most of the country survives on remittances from family living abroad.

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Armenians in Baku Games 05
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
13 May 2015

Armenian boxers take a timeout during a training. Some will visit Baku for the inaugural European Games though most Armenians have never seen the country with whom they are at war.

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Armenians in Baku Games 11
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
12 May 2015

Businessmen stop to pump some iron at an open-air gym in Yerevan. In the run-up to the European Games, a big debate raged in the country dover whether Armenian athletes should participate. Ironically, both countries excel in fighting sports such as wrestling and boxing.

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Armenians in Baku Games 13
Tsakhadzor, Armenia
By lordcob
15 Apr 2015

Taekwondo champion Armen Yeremyan, takes a break in the restaurant of the high-altitude training centre in Tsakhadzor, Armenia. He sits with his with his trainer, and his Iranian sparring partner. Armen used to be good friends with a Taekwondo athlete who plays for Azerbaijan until his friend told him that he was forbidden to speak with him. These days, when they meet at international competitions, they merely nod at each other.

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Armenians in Baku Games 08
Abovyan, Armenia
By lordcob
14 Apr 2015

Sambo champion Ashot Danielyan, during a training for Baku with the Armenian National Team in Abovyan, Armenia. Ashot was born in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. During a recent medal ceremony in Moscow, his Azerbaijani opponent squatted in protest during the national Armenian anthem. Sambo, a mixture of judo and wrestling is common in post-Soviet countries and has its origins in the Red Army.

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Armenians in Baku Games 09
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
13 Apr 2015

Greco-Roman wrestler Arsen Julfalakyan is served lunch during a training camp in Yerevan.In addition to sports, Julfalakyan is also completing a PhD in International Relations and speaks four languages, including Turkish. He is boycotting the European Games in protest at Azerbaijan'€™s human rights record. In addition, he has bad memories of his previous visit to Baku in 2007 where security was too overbearing, and the audience hostile.

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Armenians in Baku Games 04
Yerevan; Armenia
By lordcob
10 Apr 2015

Armenian shooters train at a range in Yerevan underneath a poster of Nagorno-Karabakh surrounded by photos of war veterans. The region is currently a de-facto independent state, not recognised by any countries in the world and supported by Armenia. The territory is considered by the international community as part of Azerbaijan.

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Armenians in Baku Games 01
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
03 Apr 2015

Albert Azaryan, 86, observes one of his pupils at his eponymous gym in Yerevan, Armenia. Azaryan is a sporting legend of the Soviet era, in a time where it was harder for smaller republics of the Union to shine. Thanks to the strength he gained working as a blacksmith in Kirovabad (currently Ganja, Azerbaijan), he was the first gymnast to win two consecutive medals for rings. The incredible contortion of his signature ‘Azaryan cross’ move has never been copied, though many try.

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Armenians in Baku Games 10
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
06 Oct 2013

A military shop in Sumgait, Azerbaijan with a poster of Ramil Safarov. Safarov was an Azerbaijani soldier that murdered a sleeping Armenian soldier with an axe during a NATO language training in Budapest in 2004. Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan in 2012 and immediately lionised as a national hero prompting waves of outrage in Armenia.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (11 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

With Azerbaijan winning a temporary seat in the UN Security Council last year and becoming a member of PACE (Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly).
It would be easy to think that leaders in the west would criticise and put pressure on the president Ilham Aliyev to implement democratic reform and release political prisoners. This is however not the case.
In a recent article featured in the Danish national daily newspaper Politiken a report was mentioned which documents that some PACE members who are perceived by the Azeri Government to be the country’s “friends” receive 0,4-0,6 grams of caviar at an estimated value per kilograms of almost 1700 dollars. Trips and conferences in the land of fire, as Azerbaijan is called, are seen as well with lavish gifts to follow.

With this kind of behaviour it has managed to stop it’s critics. One of PACE’s jobs are to overview that new members in the east uphold the promise they made when they joined, to uphold human rights and release political prisoners.
The writers of the report say itself that the government in Baku has managed to avoid its obligations towards the European Council.
According to Amnesty international the lack of criticism is to be found in Azerbaijan being a very strategic country. Being next door to Iran and a stop over for equipment and personnel to Afghanistan and of course the vast resources of oil and natural gas.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (12 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

A museum that was built by Ilham Aliyev to commemorate his father Heydar Aliyev. The museum was opened during the week Eurovision was held in the capitol. It is normal procedure that families are being asked to move when the government wants to expand and build on a large scale.
If people refuse they are forced to give up their homes. There are accounts of people being threatened and forced to sign contracts to sell their own house and of houses being demolished with people’s belongings still in them.
The government makes an agreement of payment but either the money is not paid or the amount paid is below market price and not sufficient for families to buy something similar in a new location.
Go to www.andreasbro.com to watch and read personal accounts.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (1 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

when you hop in a taxi from the airport and drive along the massive high way towards the “windy City” Baku you see building upon building half way done. Standing as skeletons side by side as grim monuments of the wealth and prosperity the country is undergoing.

The country’s president Ilham Aliyev and the government aims to convince the world that they are an emerging democracy with respect for its population and human rights. It has spent millions on hiring companies for PR and engaging former European top politicians to speak on their behalf.

But the facts show Azerbaijan as a nation with severe issues like massive corruption, poverty and a disregard for human rights. Examples are; multiple arrests, often violently, during peaceful protests. Forced evictions of families from their homes. Harassing and imprisoning independent journalists. A basic disregard for free speech.
In creating a toxic environment of paranoia and fear the leaders of Azerbaijan are violating civil rights.
The capitol is an awesome show city with massive boulevards and elaborate buildings and immense beauty.
Though if you try and go to the outskirts of the city you stumble upon another landscape and poverty becomes an integrated part of the scenery. The wealth of the nation does not trickle down from top to bottom.
If you lead a quiet life and do your job raise a family and do not ask question you are well of and most people do. But the country’s leaders do not tolerate too critical look at themselves from anyone. The fact is that the people of Azerbaijan do not have the liberty to live a free life.
The Land of Fire, which is Azerbaijan’s nickname borders on Iran, Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea. It has an enormous diverse nature ranging from desert to mountain chains and underneath it all oil and natural gas are found in large quantities.
Azerbaijan was a part of the former Soviet Union but gained independence in 1991. A formal constitution was signed and put into effect on November 12, 1995

The capitol of Baku is scattered with buildings like this all over the city. The big boom in the economy has made it all possible.
But many of these elaborate financial gestures are not inhabited. According to Max Tucker Amnesty International’s Azerbaijan spokesman it is partly because people cannot afford to live there and partly because the large building sites in some cases are used to extract money from the government to private companies often owned by a secretary from the government. One of the examples of ways corruption is a central part of the way business is done here.

If the government needs space for new construction, as it was the case with the Eurovision venue, Crystal Hall, it is not uncommon that people are forced to sell their houses at very low prices. The houses are then demolished. If people speak out or refuse to sell, they are harassed or the house is demolished with their things still in it. In some cases violence is used to get people out of the way.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (3 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

One of the acts rehearses in Crystal Hall.
Last year Azerbaijan won the kitschy European song contest Eurovision that is watched by around 100 million people every year. That means they won the right to host the lavish competition.

The budget for this year was set at 64 million dollars. Other countries spend 30 million. But independent reporters talk about that the unofficial number lands on up to 270 million dollars.

When the Azeri pop singers won in Germany the president Ilham Aliyev treated it like a military victory and quickly put his wife in charge of making Eurovision in Baku happen. The crystal hall was built as a monument over the city and president’s son-in-law was hired to perform in the half time show.
Most of the tourists and journalists that came to the city for the show mostly saw this illusion but the repeated crackdowns on peaceful protesters and groundless evictions did not go unnoticed around the world.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (2 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

When you reach the large boulevard in Baku that is placed a long the Caspian Sea, you see families strolling around, vendors selling snacks and restaurants serving shish kebab; all of it bathed in soft yellow light. All in all it looks something out of a city fairytale.
The people you meet on the streets are extremely friendly and open to foreigners and walking around Baku you get a lot of curious looks and always a helping hand if you are lost.

According to Time Magazine and an independent economics site, budget.az, the government spent at least 38 million dollars promoting Azerbaijan in 2011. It ranges from passing out USB keys and commercials on TV about the country. The country’s leaders do a lot of work to hide the fact that the country has a very poor human rights record.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (4 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

The Eurovision Song Contest 2012 was held in Azerbaijan. The land of fire, as it is called, put on a massive and spectacular show but the festivities was tainted by the countries poor human rights record and its harsh crack down on peaceful protests. The country’s own opposition tried to draw attention to the fact that the country is not a fair democracy even though the government try to present themselves as such.
A protester is getting taken away and shut up at a peaceful rally at the lavish boulevard along Baku’s harbour front. The secret police would walk around the protesters and single them out. The minute they started shouting slogans they would be shut up dragged of into a police car that would speed of or they would be put in a bus and taken to a police station. Often this would be done very quickly and violently.

According to Amnesty International it is not a rare sight to see protesters getting arrested, registered and then left somewhere. If you are a part of arranging the protest you could look at jail time. Normally the regime charges people with hooliganism if they need someone to disappear for a few years. That or send them to do military service.
Unfortunately there are reports of alleged torture of people that are incarcerated.

Independent journalists work under tough conditions with no protection from the government and are subject of targeting. In that regard there have been two murders on journalists that the authorities have lacked investigating.
The independent journalist Khadija Ismayilova experienced the wrath of the elite. She was investigating corruption within the government when she was threatened to stop. She kept going forward with the investigations when she was filmed with a hidden camera having sex with her boyfriend. The footage was then leaked in order to defame her. There have also been accounts of people being falsely charged with possession of drugs to discredit them. According to NGO’s this is a normal procedure used by the government to crack down on any critical voices.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (5 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

The statue of the country’s modern founding father Heydar Aliyev is standing tall on one of Baku’s many large city squares. The sight of the man that sculptured the country is not rare. The capitol and the country are scattered with portraits of him. Heydar Aliyev was leader of communist Azerbaijan from the late 60’s until 1987. He seized the presidency in 1993 in a bloodless coup a couple of years after Azerbaijan gained its independence.

He was the man to modernize the country and help transform it from a communist satellite state to a sovereign nation. Although not the first president after the Russians left he is the one that formed the country’s modern history.

His son Ilham became president in 2003 after an election that did not meet international standards and were scattered with irregularities.
Some international observers called the latest election in 2010 a farce.
In a 2009 referendum the president removed limits on the maximum terms a president can preside in office. The decision was widely disputed. Critics of the government state that the country is in reality an autocracy.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (6 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

The area District 205 is located half an hour drive from the city centre of Baku.
When you meet people on the outskirts of the city they are friendly but not much to talk about the conditions that they endure.
It is dirty, dusty with poor infrastructure and buildings that in no way can match those of Baku. A working railway splits the area.

Although according to The World Bank and IFAD the nation has seen considerable improvements the last years. But the rural areas are still very impoverished. In the rural areas poverty was in 2008 at circa 18 percent and the national level was at 15,8 percent.

According to IFAD the problem is lack of development in the agricultural sector over recent decades. The conditions of farm labourers are very unfavourable and there are few alternative means of income in those areas. The lack of infrastructure and power supplies is a problem as well.

The most impoverished people are the around one million refugees and internally displaced persons. They come from the collapse of the Soviet Union and from Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia. These people are mainly being housed in urban areas and many rely on humanitarian aid for survival.
IFAD is an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (7 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

Woman screaming before she is driven of by police.
The woman was a part of a peaceful protest during the Eurovision. After the woman was targeted she was quietly taken to the vehicle by several police officers and undercover agents.
There is a lack of freedom of speech. You have a certain space to speak out but only light criticism is tolerated. During the Eurovision the authorities struck down hard on anyone trying to draw attention to Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record.

According to Max Tucker of Amnesty international it can be very dangerous to be a part of a protest and that way speak your mind.

“Protesters are arrested just for shouting the word freedom. It can get you up to 10 days in prison. If you are organizing the protest you can get several years in prison.”

Another approach is to arrest everyone that is believed to be a part of the protest take them to the police station and registrate them. There have been reports of people being interrogated about their political persuasion. When the interrogation is over people will be driven out into the desert and left to find their way back on their own. It is an effective way to dismantle the protest.

During the Eurovision this happened during at least one demonstration that took place in front of the national TV station.
As of now there are at least 5 political prisoners in jails in Azerbaijan and other ongoing investigations into opposition people.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (8 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

The desert outside Baku is scattered with oilfields. It is an unbelievable forest of metal and oil intertwined with people living in the middle of it all. As seen on the picture the oil is everywhere and the industry has an impact on the environment.
According to the U.S. Department of State:

”Azerbaijan is considered one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development. Proven oil reserves in the Caspian Basin, which Azerbaijan shares with Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, are comparable in size to North Sea reserves several decades ago.” The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which opened in May 2005, is a part of the country’s significance.
The economy is tied up in natural gas and oil and is dependent on that. Much of the oil industry is subject to SOFAZ, which is the state oil fund. The fund manages all state revenues from gas and oil.
The country has had a boom in its economy fuelled by the oil and made it the fastest growing country in the world for a short while with its real GDP pushed up by 35 % in 2006 according to the World Bank.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (9 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

According to the oil workers in the photograph the regular oil worker here earns 450 dollars a month. They have to take care of food and gloves out of their own pocket.

They work 12 hours a day. 8 am till 8 pm with one-hour lunch break.
They used to have unlimited contracts but now they are on 6 months contracts. In reality they can fire them when they want.
The vast oil and gas reserves produce a large income but according to Max Tucker, Amnesty International expert on Azerbaijan the surplus from this industry mostly does not benefit the general public.

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Azerbaijan: An Illusion (10 of 12)
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
21 May 2012

Transparency International (transparency.org) currently rates Azerbaijan number 143 out of 183 on the corruption chart with a score at 2.4 out of possible 10.
Azerbaijan is believed to have corruption on the highest levels of government.
A lot of commerce and business in the country is monopolized and so it is hard for regular people to break into business and make their fortune. To do so you would most likely have to pay the people that control the business a bribe to get a foothold, which for many people is out of the question.
It seems impossible to work your way up from nothing.
If this is not possible you can work for the government then you have a good chance to make a decent living. But if you are affiliated with any of the opposition parties it is almost impossible to find employment.

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THE ILLUSION OF AZERBAIJAN
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Mais Istanbuli
21 May 2012

when you hop in a taxi from the airport and drive along the massive high way towards the “windy City” Baku you see building upon building half way done. Standing as skeletons side by side as grim monuments of the wealth and prosperity the country is undergoing.

The country’s president Ilham Aliyev and the government aims to convince the world that they are an emerging democracy with respect for its population and human rights. It has spent millions on hiring companies for PR and engaging former European top politicians to speak on their behalf.

But the facts show Azerbaijan as a nation with severe issues like massive corruption, poverty and a disregard for human rights. Examples are; multiple arrests, often violently, during peaceful protests. Forced evictions of families from their homes. Harassing and imprisoning independent journalists. A basic disregard for free speech.
In creating a toxic environment of paranoia and fear the leaders of Azerbaijan are violating civil rights.
The capitol is an awesome show city with massive boulevards and elaborate buildings and immense beauty.
Though if you try and go to the outskirts of the city you stumble upon another landscape and poverty becomes an integrated part of the scenery. The wealth of the nation does not trickle down from top to bottom.
If you lead a quiet life and do your job raise a family and do not ask question you are well of and most people do. But the country’s leaders do not tolerate too critical look at themselves from anyone. The fact is that the people of Azerbaijan do not have the liberty to live a free life.
The Land of Fire, which is Azerbaijan’s nickname borders on Iran, Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea. It has an enormous diverse nature ranging from desert to mountain chains and underneath it all oil and natural gas are found in large quantities.
Azerbaijan was a part of the former Soviet Union but gained independence in 1991. A formal constitution was signed and put into effect on November 12, 1995

The capitol of Baku is scattered with buildings like this all over the city. The big boom in the economy has made it all possible.
But many of these elaborate financial gestures are not inhabited. According to Max Tucker Amnesty International’s Azerbaijan spokesman it is partly because people cannot afford to live there and partly because the large building sites in some cases are used to extract money from the government to private companies often owned by a secretary from the government. One of the examples of ways corruption is a central part of the way business is done here.

If the government needs space for new construction, as it was the case with the Eurovision venue, Crystal Hall, it is not uncommon that people are forced to sell their houses at very low prices. The houses are then demolished. If people speak out or refuse to sell, they are harassed or the house is demolished with their things still in it. In some cases violence is used to get people out of the way.

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Azerbaijan demonstrations during Euro...
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
20 May 2012

During the Eurovision Song contest there were protests, most of them organized by the opposition. One man was arrested by undercover agents/police during a protest in front of the national TV station.
The agents would go through the crowd and arrest anybody who was not press or police. This man turned up with a few others and started to give a speech, within seconds he was detained and taken away. One other protester that was arrested had heard the man saying that he was a member of the government party.

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Azerbaijan demonstrations during Euro...
Baku, Azerbaijan
By Andreas bro
20 May 2012

The Eurovision Song Contest 2012 was held in Azerbaijan. The land of fire, as it is called, put on a massive and spectacular show but the festivities were tainted by the country's poor human rights record and its harsh crack down on peaceful protests. The country’s own opposition tried to draw attention to the fact that the country is not a fair democracy even though the government tries to present such an image.
A protester is getting taken away at a peaceful rally at the lavish boulevard along Baku’s harbour front. The secret police would walk around the protesters and single them out. The minute they started shouting slogans they would be shut-up, dragged off into a police car that would speed off, or they would be put in a bus and taken to a police station. Often this would be done very quickly and violently.
The protest was held by critics of the current regime and was partly held to make the foreign media aware of the problems in the country.
According to Amnesty International it is not a rare sight to see protesters getting arrested, registered and then left somewhere. If you are a part of arranging the protest you could look at jail time. Normally the regime charges people with hooliganism if they need someone to disappear for a few years. That or send them to do military service.
Unfortunately there are reports of alleged torture of people that are incarcerated.
Independent journalists work under tough conditions with no protection from the government and are subject to targeting.