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A well-known historian of Transcaucasia cautioned that "...the history of the Caucasus peoples, when taken at the level of political narrative, is nearly incomprehensibly complex...."1 The area that is now modern Azerbaijan is still a cross-roads of empires, and since the dissolution of the USSR and the discovery of oil beneath the Caspian Sea, its society has been evolving very rapidly. Like other Middle Eastern societies, it is multi-layered and often opaque, particularly to outsiders. Family, clan and regional loyalties both co-exist and conflict with the newly emergent nation-state. In addition, seventy years as a Soviet republic has made Azerbaijan, although Islamic, quite distinct from its Islamic neighbours. Finally, there are the inevitable internal contradictions, legislative as well as social, of a post-colonial society.

It is hoped that the following report adequately respects the ambiguities of this transitional period, taking into account the brief period of time that has passed since independence.

IWRAW interviewed representatives of external agencies, representatives of local non-governmental human rights groups, and individual political and social activists on a visit to Baku in August 1997. Every Azerbaijani who contributed information for this report did so at some personal risk. In addition to general information obtained from published books, articles and UN agency documents, this report attempts to convey, with as little distortion as possible, the concerns these individuals expressed at that time.


For the past few months, world press reports have tantalised readers with accounts of developments surrounding control of the vast oil and gas reserves in Azerbaijan, until recently a relatively obscure Transcaucasian republic in the former USSR. Arresting phrases, such as "the most concentrated mass of untapped wealth known to exist anywhere is in the oil and gas fields beneath the Caspian and the lands around it...,"2 have stirred global interest in who the big winners will be, how competition for control of the oil flow will alter the already complex geopolitics of the region, and, as one commentator has said, whether the rush will end up turning Central Asia into "a strategic volcano."3 Not surprisingly, fewer people have been reading about the economic and social crisis taking place within Azerbaijani society.

Three times since 1991 the United Nations has renewed a declaration of emergency conditions in the southern Caucasus, and although it was agreed not to declare another emergency after May 1997, the situation in Azerbaijan is still quite serious. Over sixty percent of the population of Azerbaijan is impoverished. Daily life is conditioned, not by the remote promise of state oil revenues, but rather by the collapsing Soviet system, a multifold crisis which has been exacerbated enormously by the added social and economic pressures of nearly a million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the other areas of Azerbaijan that have been occupied by Armenia.

In addition to its famous oil reserves, Azerbaijan is rich in agricultural resources and has a well-developed industrial sector. However, production during the Soviet period was typically over-specialised by central planning,4 and the disintegration of the USSR hit hardest in the Apsheron peninsula, where industry was mainly concentrated.5 Fully ninety-five percent of the industrial enterprises in Azerbaijan were integrated into a united cycle of production and distribution within the USSR. There are few reliable figures about the Azerbaijani economy, but according to a UNHCR Situation Report, during the period 1991 - 95 machinery production decreased by over eighty percent, and chemical and petrochemical production decreased by eighty-five percent. Capital investment in industry in the same period decreased by nearly ninety-five percent.

Unemployment, though underreported at the time, was a growing problem in Azerbaijan during the 1980s. The collapse of the USSR, however, transformed a chronic problem into a critical one. Agricultural production was disrupted in much the same way as in industry and manufacturing. In addition, over 300,000 working places were lost in the territories occupied by Armenia, creating an influx of unemployed farm workers who, with their families, began crowding into urban areas. Despite some claims that the macroeconomic indicators are beginning to show a turnaround this year, productive activities remain stalled, and the society continues turning to other means of survival.

Although the state is still the main employer, the Government report to the ESCR Committee is disingenuous about the employment situation in the country. Large numbers of employees in defunct factories and other state enterprises are not registered as unemployed, although they are on permanent unpaid leave. In addition, very few unemployed workers register with the state as unemployed, because the compensation they would receive doesn't make it worthwhile, and the state employment service has virtually nothing to offer job seekers. What is more, state salaries in real terms no longer provide a living wage. Most people who are still employed by the state must supplement their income in other ways. Azerbaijan's traditionally vigorous black market continues to thrive, and small-scale buying and selling has dramatically increased. Buying into the bureaucracy is another survival technique. It is common knowledge that for a certain sum, and perhaps subsequent payments to a supervisor, an individual can buy a state job, as a policeman, for example, or a nurse, or even a governor. The desirability of these state jobs has nothing to do with official salaries. Bribery, or informal payoffs in one form or another, have become one of very few ways to earn a living.

The health service is no different from other state services, where informal fees supplement state salaries. Many stories circulate in Baku about friends or acquaintances being refused emergency medical care, by an ambulance driver or a nurse or an intake worker in a hospital, unless these officially free services are paid for in advance. Women pay to deliver their babies in state maternity houses, and state doctors depend on "gratitude" from their patients. Systemic corruption is not new -- indeed, President Aliyev complained publicly and often about the need to clean up corruption when he was First Secretary of the Communist Party in the 1970s6 -- but in the current period of institutional crisis, without Moscow to provide central authority, demand production figures or impose discipline in other forms -- the state system has been deeply corroded by a process that has been referred to by economists as "hidden privatisation."

The Aliyev leadership

A former university professor in Baku remarked that it must be difficult for foreigners to grasp how it felt for Azerbaijanis to live through this period. While most people agree that an independent Azeri nation is a long-awaited achievement that brings with it many benefits, they also feel extremely vulnerable. Not very long ago, Azeris, Ukrainians, Tajiks, Georgians and many others perceived themselves, like it or not, as part of a powerful and united Soviet state. Distinct ethnic identities always existed, but there is now considerable fear among the majority Azeri population of separatist movements, and fear among nearly everyone that the new state is in a struggle for its survival. Despite their desire for genuine economic reform -- and lack of confidence in the current government to bring this about -- many people feel nonetheless that President Aliyev is the best insurance they have for surviving the chaos of this period.

However, critics say that President Aliyev's popularity is linked to his regime's careful control of information. Although the new Constitution forbids censorship of the mass media, the state censor is very active. Freedom of the press, is observed, but only to an extent. The appearance of a free press reassures the outside world, but carries relatively little risk, since few Azerbaijanis outside of Baku read newspapers. Also, journalists tend to censor themselves; otherwise they risk detention or physical violence.

State-controlled television, as in Soviet times, continues to be an important tool for central government to control opinion in the rural population. Former President Elchibey, who was forced out of office in 1993 by Aliyev, will have to contend with the negative television campaign already being waged against him if he wishes, as he has declared, to compete against Aliyev in the upcoming presidential elections. In addition to the misinformation directed against him, he is obliged to campaign without the Constitutional protection of free speech, since the Criminal Code currently bans criticism of the President.

The opposition contends also that the Aliyev propaganda machine regularly manufactures death threats and attempted coups, and thereby sustains the President's reputation as the nation's great protector. The regime wages an ongoing campaign to discredit the opposition, including accusations of sabotage against human rights activists identified with the opposition, in order to sustain public insecurity and the widely held belief that the current leadership is the only viable leadership.

Patronage politics

Commentators say that when Aliyev was chosen First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party in 1969, Moscow expected him to clean up an entrenched patronage system that was considered responsible for Azerbaijan's poor economic performance in relation to other Soviet republics. It was not until Aliyev was expelled from the Politburo in 1987 that his past performance as a 'reformer' in Azerbaijan came under scrutiny. While Aliyev attacked corruption publicly, he managed to establish for himself, in only a few years, a far more powerful patronage network than he had been assigned to dismantle. Despite pressure and criticism from Moscow in the Gorbachev years, rejection by the Baku intelligentsia, and the advent of a reformist government for a brief period after independence, the Aliyev network has survived,7 and continues to dominate a highly centralised political and economic system.

During a recent ceremony to mark an agreement between Socar, the Azerbaijani state-run oil company, and the US company RV Investment Group Services to develop six gold, silver and copper mines, the President was quoted as saying "Azerbaijan is rich not only in oil and gas, but in gold, silver, copper, tin and zinc. We have not been able to mine these deposits for a long time, but now we intend to mine all our riches."8 Critics say there is no reason to believe that profits from the country's oil and mineral resources will be used any differently than they have been in the past, when oil became known in Azerbaijan as "a family business."

Despite the growing numbers of executives, geologists and high-level technicians visiting their country, and the vast sums of money being negotiated to extract Caspian oil, there seems to be little confidence among the Azerbaijanis interviewed by IWRAW that these high-level deals will have much positive effect on the lives of ordinary people, unless a genuinely reform-minded leadership emerges. President Aliyev is credited with brilliant statesmanship in his use of oil to leverage a position of advantage in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, and for elevating Azerbaijan's regional status as a newly independent republic. Many Azerbaijanis fear, however, that he is paying too high a price, and that this rapid flurry of oil and mineral agreements will lead to prosperity for only a few, rather than long-term development for the nation as a whole.

Article 2 - Obligations of States parties

The government of Azerbaijan has acceded to the major human rights conventions, but sources say that awareness of these conventions is extremely rare, even among intellectuals.


The focus of national legislation thus far has been to create a favourable environment for outside investment. The discussion of Article 2 in the Government report9 illustrates the nature of the Parliament's legislative priorities. The ESCR Committee has asserted that this is one of the most important articles of the Covenant, but paragraphs one and two of Article 2 are not discussed at all. The lengthy discussion of Article 2, paragraph 3 in the Government report essentially ignores the ongoing refugee crisis -- in housing, health, education and employment -- and focuses, not so much on the rights of refugees and stateless persons, as on the rights of the expatriate community. Sources felt that this section of the government report was speaking to the concerns of the growing number of specialised technicians, executives and other foreigners, particularly in the oil and mining industries, considered by the current government to be vitally important to the nation's future.

A high-level UN source defended Parliament's slow pace of progress in drafting progressive legislation by commenting that few people in government had any previous experience with the legislative process. The representative of an external NGO who observes the workings of Parliament was not so forgiving, commenting that there has been no lack of outside help, and that the nation's lawmakers "can only play at being neophytes for so long." He added, by way of example, that legislators were unnecessarily preoccupied with dispensing rewards to individuals with personal bureaucratic grievances.

Only specialised professionals are knowledgeable about current legislation, and, according to one lawyer, the legislation is so opaque that it is difficult to interpret. Another lawyer in private practice noted that a parliamentary bulletin does exist, but it is only available through semi-private firms that photocopy and sell it, mainly to lawyers.

The new Constitution

A new Constitution was adopted by referendum in November 1995. Those who commented said that, the national referendum notwithstanding, only a tiny fraction of the population, at least up to now, have even the vaguest idea what it contains. There also seems to be agreement among both the political opposition and human rights activists -- whose roles are not particularly distinct at this point in time -- 1) that the Constitution contains a number of important special protections, and 2) that these protections are consistently violated. It is said that there has been almost no new legislation to put the provisions of the Constitution into effect. In some cases, legislation passed after the adoption of the Constitution violates its provisions.

For example, the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. In practice, the Ministry of Justice prepares a list of candidates, who are voted into office by a simple majority of the Parliament, which, of course, is controlled by the President's party. Another example -- according to the Constitution, an accused person is entitled to a lawyer, but the existing Criminal Code states that a detained person can only obtain a lawyer when the police investigator gives his permission. Similarly, the Constitution provides for the right to assemble, but a Mayor's Decree in Baku states that public meetings can only be held with the permission of the mayor. And violations of the free speech provision in the Constitution have been documented extensively by international as well as local groups.

There is no Constitutional Court, and thus no possibility of appeal to a higher authority.


Providing and protecting the mechanisms for an equitable distribution of state assets is the greatest single opportunity the political leadership has had to demonstrate its commitment to using "all appropriate means" "to the maximum of its available resources" to promote the realisation of the substantive rights contained in the Covenant. However, numerous observers, both foreign and local, who have tried to see into this relatively impermeable process, believe strongly that thus far it has not been free and fair.

While some small industries have privatised, sources say that there has not been an honest attempt to privatise larger manufacturing or industrial enterprises. Wherever privatisation has occurred, sources say the entities have been released or sold to former directors, or to the President's family or inner circle. The State commission that was established to organise and control privatisation is not subject to any effective audit or control.

Local human rights organisations have complained vehemently that the state controlled media has not given citizens enough information about how the privatisation process works. No concrete procedure has been made known, so most people simply sell their vouchers to speculators. The activities of opportunists or criminal networks are protected, however, since there is no requirement to publicise the identities of anyone who purchases vouchers.

Moreover, human rights groups contend that, extreme poverty, particularly in the rural areas, makes it virtually impossible to conduct a fair privatisation process, especially using the same sort of voucher system that failed so miserably in Russia. It is said that most people sell their vouchers to pay off debts, or simply to buy food.

Articles 6, 7 and 8 - The right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work, and the right to form and join trade unions

The Baku oil industry

The 'golden age' of Baku oil in the early part of this century receded during the Soviet period, as the oilfields were depleted through overexploitation and underinvestment in exploration.10 After World War II the centre of USSR oil extraction moved to the Volga basin and the Ural mountains. In the 1960s, development of the Siberian oilfields began, making the USSR the world's largest producer. By the 1980s the oil industry in Baku had declined and was contributing only about three percent of the total Soviet production.11

Oil came into prominence again during the first year of the Aliyev presidency with "the contract of the century" in September 1994. This thirty-year agreement, valued at more than seven billion dollars, was concluded with a consortium of foreign companies -- four American, one British, Norwegian, Turkish and Russian. Since that time several additional agreements have been concluded with foreign companies. However, serious geopolitical problems have prevented the Azerbaijan government from realising more than a fraction of the profits it anticipates. These problems include conflict over the routing of the pipelines, and the legal issue of whether the Caspian is a sea or an inland body of water. If it is considered an inland body of water, it would be subject to joint exploration rather than demarcated into coastal zones belonging to specific states.12 Many in Russia are quite militant about joint exploration, in order to preserve what they consider Russia's fair share of Caspian oil.

The World Bank Azerbaijan Poverty Assessment 13

While World Bank and IMF economists have been impressed with the Azerbaijan government's ability to control inflation, and with the level of foreign investment it has attracted, they are nonetheless concerned that Azerbaijan is in danger of becoming an 'oil-specific economy,' in which very little development takes place in other sectors. Local sources expressed alarm at the tendency in government to assume that oil would be a panacea to cure the country's economic and social ills. The Poverty Assessment supports this perspective with the argument that oil revenues are not a substitute for jobs, which can only be created in sufficient numbers through support and development of all sectors of the economy.

Assuming that the bulk of state oil revenues are channelled into national development, rather than diverted for personal gain -- which has tended to be the case in the past -- development of oil and mineral resources are not activities that significantly increase employment. The recent World Bank study of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan Poverty Assessment, refers to a different World Bank study covering ninety-seven developing countries during the period 1970 - 89.14 This study found that countries with high export earnings based on natural resource wealth have been growing more slowly than those without such natural resources. "...The competitiveness of the non-oil sectors of the economy has been found to be a problem in almost every country that has experienced a rapid expansion in foreign exchange earnings from petroleum exports."15

According to the Covenant, States parties have an obligation, which is not dependent on available resources, to actively promote a social and economic environment in which people not only can work, but can become skilled at what they do, and can form a base of power through free association with other workers. Oil wealth may finance abundant social services, but if the Government does not place equal priority on employment creation in a society that has become largely unproductive, it is not promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It has been little more than six years since the August 1991 coup in Moscow and the subsequent independence of the Azerbaijani republic. It is easy to make unrealistic demands on a state system that needs a period of time to evolve and to produce a first generation of civil servants. However, to borrow the rather euphemistic language of the Poverty Assessment, it will not be long before the 'transitional' poverty Azerbaijan is experiencing will evolve into 'structural' poverty. In layman's terms, this means the emergence of a sizeable and entrenched underclass. Thus it is critical for the leadership to demonstrate political will in a serious attempt to restructure both the industrial and the agricultural sectors of the economy, in order to bring the society out of poverty, and out of the vicious cycle of corruption that currently threatens it.

Government policies and interventions for productive employment

From the standpoint of employment creation, state policies and mechanisms that will encourage the formation of small to medium scale enterprises, in both the service and industrial sectors, are enormously important. However, current practices discourage the establishment and the sustainability of such enterprises. The Poverty Assessment points out that small-scale entrepreneurs are "burdened with informal 'taxes' levied by a variety of officials for their personal profit...."16

The problem of corruption came up in virtually every interview IWRAW conducted. One individual, a lawyer who is often hired to help clients through the labyrinth of legal and administrative obstacles, said that many people in Baku were deceived at the promise of a free market. Early on they invested in or tried to start up new enterprises, only to go broke when they came up against the expense of doing business without special connections. Other informants echoed this man's comments, claiming that the few small and medium scale entrepreneurs who are thriving are doing so within a 'protectionist' system. Navigating the tariffs, taxes and payoffs that are built into the cost of doing business in Baku and elsewhere in the country depends largely on having the right connections. One of the reasons women are said to have particular difficulty becoming entrepreneurs is that they rarely have the connections one needs to import goods, produce products or license and operate a commercial enterprise at competitive prices. A June 1997 UNHCR Situation Report states that existing taxation legislation is also a handicap to the development of small-scale businesses among the country's large displaced population.

Much less publicised internationally than the oil rush has been the influx into Azerbaijan of entrepreneurs from neighbouring countries. Again, the concern is that the government is being short-sighted by attracting foreign investment at the expense of local entrepreneurs. A Baku newspaper recently reported that Azerbaijani companies find it more profitable to invest their capital abroad, and as of May 1997 have invested USD$749 million in the Turkish economy alone, while the volume going to Western countries is even greater.17

Thus, sources maintain that, at least up to now, there has been very little evidence of a serious government commitment to the legislative and sectoral reforms that would promote domestic small to medium scale enterprise development. Because of the rapidly growing expatriate population in Azerbaijan, a small, upscale entrepreneurial class is indeed emerging, but most people feel that the political patronage system still precludes very much 'trickle down' benefit from the economic growth that has been occurring thus far.

There was some hope that the foreign companies moving into Azerbaijan might introduce new labour practices in addition to providing employment opportunities. Unfortunately, sources say that foreign companies do not employ local labour to any great extent. In fact, considerable ill will has already been generated by Turkish-owned construction companies, restaurants, banks, and other businesses that employ Turkish nationals for skilled positions, while hiring Azerbaijanis mainly as unskilled labourers. The general perception is that there has been very little Azerbaijani penetration into these enterprises.

Women in the oil industry

In Soviet times, women played a relatively important role in the oil producing industries in Azerbaijan. Their importance increased during the Second World War, when women replaced men in nearly all professions. As the numbers of women in higher education and technical institutes rose after 1945, women became part of the 'technocratic elite' of the republic.

The prestige of the oil professions, which included high wages and social benefits, attracted thousands of women. According to the representative of an association of women oil workers, some of those benefits have been retained, even in the present economic situation.

One informant said that foreign firms now employ women mostly at the secretarial level, or at best as personnel managers. She claimed that these new firms are reluctant to hire women in professional technical positions, and even more so at the managerial level.

At the state oil company, the highest executive level position women currently occupy is that of department head, but very few women hold these positions. In the Soviet system, largely because of a quota system, it was not uncommon for women to become deputy directors.

Street vendors

A city ordinance prohibits hawking, but a growing number of hawkers, mainly women, line the sidewalks at the metro stops and along busy streets. According to one human rights activist, the police often chase them away, occasionally beating them with sticks and destroying their merchandise. As in higher forms of commerce, the hawkers who can pay off the police tend to be the ones who remain to carry on with their trade. Sources criticised government's failure to recognise or support the informal economy, particularly as it has become the main source of survival for so much of the population.

Much of the discussion of employment in the Government report18 exemplifies a similar reactive or regressive tendency, a problem which some commentators attribute to the government's (and the society's) "identity crisis," and the continuing influence of the Soviet way of thinking. Thus, most of the explanation concerning the employment situation is out-of-date, a formalistic analysis of a state employment sector which, although it was once the only sector, other than the black market, hardly exists any longer except on paper.

Gender and age discrimination

Professional women IWRAW interviewed felt that gender and age discrimination in foreign firms and joint ventures was not observably different than the discrimination women experienced in locally managed firms. In part, this was attributed to the general practice in foreign firms of employing Azerbaijani managers to hire and supervise local personnel. Nonetheless, regardless of any existing non-discrimination legislation, there is nothing in practice to discourage employers both foreign and domestic from discriminatory advertising, hiring and promotion practices. It was also noted by informants that employment discrimination against women over thirty or thirty-five years of age makes the worst of a bad situation, since the country suffers from a serious brain drain, and there are many qualified, unemployed women professionals in the country.

Article 10 - Protection and assistance for the family

Protection during pregnancy and childbirth

Sources claim that, as state funding dwindled for supplies and salaries in the public health sector, an informal fee-for-service system has become pervasive, so that by now only privileged women give birth in maternity houses. The cost runs anywhere from USD$100 to $400, far beyond the means of the average family. By now most women contract the services of midwives and give birth at home.

Sources also claim that state maternity houses post lists of fees for services, tests, medicines and supplies. One informant remarked that a number of these clinics have good quality, foreign made equipment obtained from humanitarian agencies. Fees are charged nonetheless, and the income is deposited in bank accounts controlled by the clinic administrators, who operate the houses as private maternity hospitals. As in other sectors of the state system, jobs in the maternity houses are often "sold" by corrupt administrators, who therefore do not always hire the most qualified professionals. The government report, by limiting its discussion to the serious decline in the state salaries of medical professionals, is again disingenuous, because most maternity houses are operating with a full staff who do not depend for their income on state wages.

According to a Baku newspaper article that appeared in April 1997, Parliament discussed a bill on public health policy which proposes three systems of medical services -- federal, municipal and private, and authorises all three to charge fees for their services. The bill relegates all decisions concerning fees "to the responsible organ," and contains practically no restrictions. However, the bill stipulates -- and this is the only category excluded from the new fee system -- that free medical care will be guaranteed to pregnant women in federal and municipal clinics and hospitals.19 The status of this important legislation is unknown, but if it has been described accurately by the Baku press, it raises the question of how Government can reconcile such a radical abdication of responsibility for public health with its stated commitment to provide "universal access to a basic package of medical services."20


In the course of an interview with the representative of an organisation established specifically to monitor the rights of children, adoption emerged as a special concern.

In February 1997 Parliament adopted an amendment to existing legislation on marriage and family which lifted the restriction against adoption by non-citizens. The problem IWRAW was asked to bring to the attention of the ESCR Committee is that there is no clear mechanism for adoption, so that, given the current economic crisis, the easing of restrictions has made some children unnecessarily vulnerable to the increasing threat of sex traffickers. There are now two state agencies monitoring adoptions -- the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. They are both authorised to supervise maternity houses and orphanages, but it is claimed that there is a struggle, or at least a confusion, between them over control of adoptions.

The source said that neither his organisation nor any other independent observer, to his knowledge, has been given official permission to monitor the situation.

Article 11 - The right to an adequate standard of living

The severe agricultural problems Azerbaijan is currently experiencing are attributed to its transition from Soviet style central planning and communal farming to the new state policy of small-scale production. With fertile soil and a variegated climate that would allow for cultivation of a wide variety of crops, grapes, cotton and tobacco alone at one time accounted for over half of all production.21 Although production problems and large-scale unemployment existed in Azerbaijan for many years before independence, the collapse of the Soviet marketing structure, combined with the influx of refugees and IDPs after 1988, resulted in a drastic decline in productivity and a steady migration of the rural population into urban areas.

The State has declared its commitment to privatisation, although the transition from large-scale communal farming to smaller, mainly family farms, has been fraught with difficulties. Before the transition began, roughly 2,000 people worked a variety of jobs on the average state farm, so that many of the new independent farmers have experience as teachers, bookkeepers or machine repairmen, but no real farming experience. The new private farms -- most of them between one and ten hectares -- are being apportioned to heads of extended family households. At their current level of productivity, these are subsistence farms that rarely have enough surplus for marketing. For those who do manage a surplus, serious disruption of the marketing routes has created a situation where, as one NGO put it, disorganisation is supreme.

It has been suggested that, given the fertility of the land and the previous level of agricultural development, a privatised agricultural sector could recover relatively easily and greatly increase productivity -- provided it received the kinds of inputs small farmers require, particularly credit and marketing facilities. 22 Unfortunately, because of economic constraints, central government has retreated from the agricultural sector. Although this has inadvertently hastened the process of decentralisation and helped to deregulate the market, critics say that small-scale farmers are not getting the kinds of assistance that government, despite its economic constraints, could provide.


There are virtually no local markets and no marketing board. Most farmers still lack trucks, so produce is moved by wholesale buyers and distributors. (International markets are still practically non-existent, with extremely restricted flows through Georgia and Russia.) A major grievance directed at government is that farmers lack basic information that would help them to make rational plans and to protect themselves from unscrupulous traders. Farmers simply do not have information about prices in Baku or even neighbouring villages, so they are at the mercy of the wholesale buyers.

Critics say that government inhibits productivity and rural development in other ways, mainly through the multiple forms of corruption and protectionism which continue unabated at all official levels.

Local government

Observers say that the rural privatisation process has been controlled, not at the national level, but rather at the district level, by executive committees. These committees are composed of governors who are appointed by the President, and their deputies. Although the President maintains political control of the districts through the governors, the governors and their associates dictate what happens in their districts. Thus the privatisation process has been extremely variable. For example, in the district of Masalli in the southeast, at least 5,500 small farms had been created by mid-1997, while in Seki, a district to the north whose governor is considered 'old guard,' only one farm had been privatised.

Farmers complain that they don't have security of tenure, because no process has been established yet to register private farms. Sources say that local governments do not register ownership, or provide any practical services for that matter, partly because nobody in local government has been trained to do so, but also because there is resistance on the part of most regional governors.

According to the new Constitution, local elections were to be held throughout the country in November 1997. Parliament very recently decided to postpone these elections, thereby postponing for a time the inevitable conflict that is expected to ensue between the governors, sometimes referred to as the President's "storm-troopers," and locally elected representatives.

The European Union (EU) Technical Assistance Programme

Two years ago the EU established an agricultural assistance programme in Azerbaijan through the sale of wheat and flour, which raised USD$16 million to assist the wheat and grain sector in the form of a credit union for small farmers. This important project has been called "a disaster," because government has insisted that every small loan application to the programme be reviewed by central government. Apparently, although this is unconfirmed, any ministry can ask to join the queue and have a say in the granting of the loans. The EU has refused to accept these terms, and the $16 million for credit to small farmers is apparently still sitting in the National Bank of Azerbaijan.

Article 12 - The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

A medical doctor IWRAW interviewed objected to the unsystematic manner in which Article 12 was discussed in the Government report, in particular the report's haphazard approach to life-and-death problems. For example, the random listing of unsourced statistics concerning the leading causes of infant mortality (paragraph 155), is followed by the declaration that the water supply in many urban settlements failed to meet hygienic standards (para 156), and then by the statement that in 1994 a certain number of children, of unspecified age, somewhere in the country, were vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus (para 157). This kind of disordered presentation showed just how chaotic and ineffective the public health system was, and how seriously the government lacked a coherent national health policy.

This doctor, a paediatrician with over thirty years' experience, agreed with the statement in the government report that contaminated water was a major threat to national health. However, she said the report should have gone even further and also have stated that every summer cholera bacteria are found in the water supply, and that people regularly face the threat of a cholera epidemic.

She said that while government conducts endless health tours for international agencies, and political candidates make endless promises about improved health facilities before they get elected, the government fails to take basic and systematic measures to prevent the outbreak of disease. The doctor declared that "it is all very well for the government to report that a large number of children were vaccinated for various diseases in 1994, but it would be much more reassuring to know that vaccination campaigns were conducted regularly, in a systematic fashion, and targeted for children at the appropriate ages, rather than have to wait for an epidemic to flash out, as it did between 1996 - 97." This informant's heartfelt opinion was that the government could not justify exposing the population to an outbreak of disease by appealing to the constraints of the national budget.

This informant also wished the ESCR Committee to be aware that tuberculosis in Azerbaijan is on the rise among both children and adults, and that it is a national health issue that has only received sporadic attention. Until fairly recently, there was no tuberculosis in the country. A medical check-up for a TB patient costs roughly the equivalent of USD$20. The average person earns less than that amount per month.

Sources complained that the government's insistence on sustaining the fiction of an intact state system led to an exceedingly anomalous discussion of the important issues. One person exclaimed that "everyone knows it is impossible to provide qualified medical care at no cost if the average doctor's salary is under fifteen dollars a month." Virtually all doctors now expect some form of "gratitude" from their patients. In the current 'hidden' fee-for-service health care system, hospitalisation is becoming extremely rare, since few people can afford to pay for hospital tests, x-rays, and the like. What is more, many state hospitals no longer even have such things as film for x-rays, or chemicals for running tests.

Relief Efforts

Government's inability to assume so much as a co-ordinating role in the delivery of public health and welfare services has created something of a crisis in the relief community. Relief agencies provide all the help displaced people receive, but, as many people see it, government ministries and individual ministry officials have hindered more than helped relief efforts. A June 1997 UNHCR Situation Report described the work of a reproductive health field co-ordinator, who conducted a study of women in five IDP settlements. Through a questionnaire, this co-ordinator discovered that IDP women overwhelmingly considered family planning as their primary health concern. The Ministry of Health, however, has been unable to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that would allow, not the government, but UNFPA to supply condoms for the Ministry of Health and NGO reproductive health programmes in the country. UNHCR had to step in to fund the purchase of a six month supply of condoms to share among existing reproductive health programmes.

Articles 13 and 14 - Education

The representative of an agency that has been working in Azerbaijan since the first UN emergency remarked that, in the current international struggle for the hearts and minds of the Azerbaijanis, the Iranians and Saudis were focusing their efforts on the young and were supporting religious education as the secular state system was collapsing. In another interview, a secondary school teacher explained that he was lucky to be working in one of the new private schools that had opened in Baku, where it was possible to be innovative and where the administration was receptive to new teaching methods and curriculum. Indeed, there is abundant support from all quarters for the warning in a recent UNDP report that the crisis in secular, coeducational state education in Azerbaijan could have more lasting consequences to the society than any other aspect of the current economic crisis.

It has often been said that Azerbaijan is a very educated country. As in other former Soviet republics, free primary and secondary education was guaranteed, and there were no significant gender differences in primary through tertiary education.23 The country's strong educational system and traditional respect for education have been used as positive indicators of the country's future economic prospects. But Azerbaijan's educational advantage is rapidly eroding. "All aspects of the system are undergoing a critical period of stress."24 A system which was once uniform has become radically diverse, in quality, levels of financing, access and all other factors, so much so that generalisations about education in Azerbaijan are virtually impossible.25

The representative of a rural-based NGO related the story of an Azeri who now works for his organisation. The man was formerly a rural teacher who was earning the equivalent of USD$ 15 per month when he finally quit the profession, the last teacher to leave his school. Sources claim that while most primary schools in the cities have weakened but may still be functioning, most primary schools outside the urban centres have closed. Dedicated parents who are able to do so are resorting to homeschooling. As the Poverty Assessment cautions, conditions are extremely variable, depending on the degree of community or parent participation, among other factors.

According to a 1995 UNDP report, agricultural workers and teachers share the distinction of being the lowest paid workers in the country. Until at least 1995 they also made up the second and third largest group of state employees. State teachers as of mid-1997 were earning roughly USD$10 - 15 per month. In addition, many of the special benefits they enjoyed in the past, such as free electricity and transportation, have been phased out, creating an atmosphere, if not hostile, at best uncomprehending.

Although the government attempted to improve education's share of the state budget in 1995 and 1996, expenditures for education in real terms had fallen by 1996 to less than twenty-five percent of their 1992 level.26 Compounding the strain on the educational system has been the influx of refugee and IDP children, and the simultaneous loss of about twenty percent of available schools, which are used as emergency housing for the displaced.

Not surprisingly, the drastic decline in state funding for education has had a disproportionate effect on the poor. Families now regularly pay for textbooks and other items, and those who can afford to do so also pay for private tutoring to supplement increasingly poor quality state schooling.27 Sources often refer to "hidden" privatisation in education in the same way they do to public health services. For example, informants claim that school administrators now charge levies for school maintenance and repair. People commonly expressed their belief that the state had abandoned its responsibility to educate the population. Poor refugee and IDP households in rural areas often have access to humanitarian assistance, so they spend much less on education per child than ordinary families. This has contributed to dissatisfaction among the non-displaced population, and has increased social conflict.

An indication of how seriously the quality of education in the country has deteriorated is the fact that graduation rates from state secondary schools fell to fifty percent of their 1985 level by 1994, and as much as thirty percent between 1993 and 1994.28 According to the Poverty Assessment, there are no significant gender differences in this otherwise alarming picture.

Corruption further erodes confidence in the state educational system. According to one visiting university professor, "bribes abound in state institutions, where salaries are low and young men on military deferments...are intent on staying enrolled."29 He goes on to say that tuition for higher education has become so costly for the average family that "a failing grade is a crisis,"30 and there are enormous pressures on faculty, by parents and students alike, to view good grades as commodities for which they have already paid dearly.

The 1992 Education Law

The 1992 Education Law made some progressive changes in the basic model of education, introducing the four-year baccalaureate in order to postpone specialisation until the graduate level.31 However, according to the World Bank Poverty Assessment, the management of general education has been decentralised to such an extent that it is questionable whether the Ministry of Education has retained any control at all over quality and learning outcomes.32


1 Ronald Grigor Suny, ed. Transcaucasia, Nationalism, and Social Change: Essays in the History of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, University of Michigan Press, 1996. back

2 Stephen Kinzer, "A Perilous New Contest for the Next Oil Prize," The New York Times, 21 September, 1997. back

3 Jim Anderson, "The new 'Great Game,' a 'squalid geo-political tale,'" Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 26 September, 1997, on-line. back

4 Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: Country Studies, p.115 back

5 Professor Vagif Arzumanli, Director of the Institute of International Relations of the Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan Republic, "Conditions of Present Migration Process in Azerbaijan Republic," Baku, 1997, an unpublished draft. back

6 John P. Willerton, Patronage and Politics in the USSR, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 216. back

7 Willerton, p. 218 back

8 "Azeri, US Companies to Develop Disputed Gold Field," ASSA-Irada news Agency, Baku, in Russian, 22 August, 1997, on -line. back

9 E/1990/5/Add.30, dated 17 June, 1996. back

10 Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition, Columbia University Press, New York, 1995, p.179. back

11 Swietochowski. back

12 Swietochowski, p.226-7. back

13 Azerbaijan Poverty Assessment (In Two Volumes), The World Bank, Human Resources Division, Country Department III, Europe and Central Asia Region, 24 February, 1997; Report No. 15601-AZ. back

14 Poverty Assessment, pps. 16-17. back

15 Poverty Assessment, p. 16. back

16 Poverty Assessment, p.18. back

17 "Economic and Political Factors Force Azeri Investors Abroad," Azadlyg, Baku, in Azeri, 28 May, 1997, on-line. back

18 E/1990/5/Add.30 back

19 Situation Report, UNHCR, June 1997 back

20 Poverty Assessment, p.47. back

21 Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: Country Studies back

22 Poverty Assessment, p. 18. back

23 Poverty Assessment, p.39. back

24 Poverty Assessment back

25 p. 78 back

26 p. 38 back

27 p. 82 back

28 p. 39 back

29 Nicholas Daniloff, "Teaching Democracy in an Authoritarian Country," Chronicle of Higher Education, USA, Vol. 43, No.19, 15 August, 1997. back

30 Daniloff back

31 Daniloff back

32 Poverty Assessment, p.40. back




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