May in Azerbaijan was full of arrests: both executives charged with corruption and opposition activists alike. As for country’s economy, serious pandemic aftermath is already on its way.
Corrupted Officials Arrested
May saw continued arrests of executive officials and other authorities in different fields. The State Security Service arrested the head of the executive power of Imishli district William Hajiyev on charges of bribery and abuse of office. As seen in the video footage of the search, 3 million dollars and half a million euros were found in the apartment of the head of the district. He is the fourth head of executive power that has been arrested since December 2019. Some employees of administrations of some districts have also been arrested under charges of appropriation of food assistance.
In one month the State Security Office held operations and arrests of top officials in the State Border Service of Azerbaijan and Ministry of Culture. As for the State Border Service, lieutenant-general Afghan Nagiyev, a deputy head of the service, was arrested as well as other top military officials and civil servants of this institution. According to some non-official sources, Nagiyev and others were members of one corrupted network and covered illegal fishing activities in the sea. According to the State Security Service and General Prosecutor’s Office report, they stopped illegal activities committed by executives in the Azerbaijan Coast Guard. It was not, however, stated which activities exactly.
Both Rafig Bayramov, deputy minister of culture of Azerbaijan and Zakir Sultanov, the head of the state service for the protection of cultural heritage, were arrested in the ministry of culture and tourism. In several days Abulfas Garayev, the minister of culture who had also held various ministerial positions for 26 years, was dismissed from his post following the decree signed by President Aliyev.
Continued Opposition Persecution
May also saw many mass media sharing parts of a video meeting held by the National Council of Democratic Forces, a united alliance of opposition organizations and people. The conference took place via Zoom platform. Pro-government mass media shared the parts of the video conference with negative assessments regarding some journalists, mass media and opposing politicians. The National Council assessed this fact as a cybercrime committed by the authorities.
In May there was also continued blocking of the head of Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), Ali Kerimli, with the arrests of his close associates taking place as well. It has already been one and a half month since Ali Kerimli has been deprived of any connections with the outer world, his mobile and home phone numbers are blocked and his apartment has no Internet connection. Two new numbers were purchased for Kerimli, however, both stopped functioning some 20 minutes after he had started using them.
Niyamaddin Akhmadov, a PFPA activist and Ali Kerimli’s voluntary bodyguard, was under administrative arrest for 30 days and now faces a criminal case on charges of terrorism funding. District court sentenced him to a 4-month detention. The prosecution accused Akhmadov of getting funds to finance terroristic acts from another opposition protester residing abroad. During the trial Akhmadov insisted on his innocence saying that it was simply the money he had previously lent. Another Ali Kerimli’s assistant, Faig Amirli, was put under administrative arrest for 15 days as well.
According to the PFPA statement, Azeri authorities are continuing the wave of repressions against the party, with its main target being the arrest of its leader.
Siyavush Novruzov, a member of parliament and a deputy executive secretary of the ruling party Eni Azerbaijan is accusing Ali Kerimli of allegedly being behind human trafficking and illegal migration. In the course of parliamentary meeting Siyavush Novruzov stated that Ali Kerimli took part in issuing false documents to the citizens of Azerbaijan in order for them to get refugee status in Europe. According to him, there is a lot of relevant evidence and documents in German, Italian and French police offices.
“Four heads of executive power have been arrested since December 2019”
New Free Economic Zone Created
In May President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on creating Alat Free Economic Zone. According to this document, Baku’s Garadagh district will become Alat Free Economic Zone, with former vice speaker of the parliament Valeh Aleskerov being appointed as its top executive.
The Central Bank revoked the licenses of two more banks – AGBank and NBC. Therefore, 2020 already saw four banks closing down. Insured deposits in those four closed banks will be completely refunded, which means AZN 686 mln ($403 mln) that belong to 215 thousands of depositors.
At the same time, against the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic crisis and globally low oil prices the country’s population turned to buying American currency. The Central Bank reported that in May, in the first quarter of 2020, the population purchased $1 bn 38 mln 609 thousand more than it sold to commercial banks against the same period in 2019. Foreign cash buying and selling made up $2.2 bn in the first quarter of 2020. The volume of operations grew by 60.8% against the same period last year.
In the first quarter deposits in Azeri banks made up AZN 20 bn 586 mln 600 thousand, which is AZN 740 mln 100 thousand short if compared to the beginning of the year. Deposits in foreign currency make up 56.5% of deposit portfolio.
Government Started Assessing Coronavirus Damage
According to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, restrictions related to coronavirus spread resulted in the following damage. March 2020 saw Azeri hospitality unrealized loss above AZN 5,9 mln (almost $3.5 mln). In one month the number of tourists staying overnight in hotels went down three times compared to February.
In general, 135.7 thousand economic agents turned to State Tax Service under the Ministry of Economy for financial assistance, including 25,575 companies and 108.2 thousand of individual entrepreneurs. The Service agreed to provide financial help to 23,360 enterprises and organizations that provide jobs to some 205.5 thousand people. The total amount of financial aid to these tax payers will make up AZN 93.9 mln (over $55 mln), including May figures of approximately AZN 47 mln. The total sum of financial assistance to individual (micro) entrepreneurs of 100.7 thousand approved by the State Tax Service will make up AZN 58.5 mln (almost $34.5 mln) in April and May.
A Note to Kazakhstan
At the beginning of May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan sent a note to the Ambassador of Kazakhstan in Baku Serzhan Abdikarimov regarding the incident of Kazakh border guards firing at Azeri fishermen. On April, 30 Azeri citizens were detained by Kazakh border guards in the Caspian Sea, with one of them killed and two more fishermen injured. Khalaf Khalafov, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan met with the ambassador and stated that the usage of weapons leading to human victims does not correspond to the mechanism of cooperation between border guard services of the two countries and the spirit of friendly and brotherly relations between the two states.
USA Extended its Waiver on Section 907
In May the USA extended its waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. The section was first enacted in 1992, during the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Section 907 restricts certain types of US military and other assistance to Azerbaijan. The President George Bush Jr. waived the section prior to military operations in Afghanistan. Every administration has done the same ever since.
Khoda Afarin Triangle
In May Azeri opposition strongly reacted to the agreement “on cooperation on continued construction and operation of “Khoda Afarin” and “Giz Galasi” hydro-junctions and hydroelectric power plants on the Aras River, their exploitation and the use of energy and water resources” signed between the governments of Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The project involves borderline territories of both Iran and Azerbaijan and is subjected to joint use. The Azeri part has been occupied by Armenia since 1993.
The agreement on its implementation was already signed on February, 23, 2016 when Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, paid an official visit to Iran. It was signed behind closed doors, without prior discussions with the public.
Azeri Citizens Returning Home
As the border between the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan was closed during the time of lockdown, those Azeri citizens who wanted to return home gathered in Dagestan. It was only after telephone negotiations between the presidents of both countries Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev that the first citizens were able to cross the border on May, 19.
Photo: State Security Service of Azerbaijan сonducting operational investigative measures
Photo credits: zerkalo.az