Full Country Name:
The Republic of Azerbaijan
Country Profile: Azerbaijan
86,600 sq km (x sq mi)
Baku (population: 1.8 million)
Predominantly Turkic Azeri, Russian (8%), Armenian (6% mostly fled as a result of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh)
Azeri 89%, Russian 3%, Armenian 2%, other 6%
Muslim 93.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.5%, Armenian Orthodox 2.3%, other 1.8%
Major political parties:
New Azerbaijan Party, Azerbaijan Democratic Party, Popular Front Party (Reformists), Musavat, Liberal Party and Azerbaijan National Independence Party.
Head of State:
President Ilham Aliev
Membership of international groupings/organisations:
BSEC, CCC, CE, CIS, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECO, ESCAP, FAO, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM (observer), OIC, OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)
Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states, bounded by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea. There is also a short border between Turkey and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (pop. 295,000), which is separated from the bulk of Azerbaijan by southern Armenia. Under Russo-Turkish treaty arrangements Nakhichevan's sovereignty cannot be transferred from Azerbaijan. In 1917 40% of the population of Nakhichevan was Armenian; by 1989 the figure was 0.6 percent.
South-western Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia
40 30 N, 47 30 E
total: 86,600 sq km
land: 86,100 sq km
water: 500 sq km
note: includes the exclave of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and the Nagorno-Karabakh region; the region's autonomy was abolished by Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet on 26 November 1991
total: 2,013 km
border countries: Armenia (with Azerbaijan-proper) 566 km, Armenia (with Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan exclave) 221 km, Georgia 322 km, Iran (with Azerbaijan-proper) 432 km, Iran (with Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan exclave) 179 km, Russia 284 km, Turkey 9 km
0 km (landlocked)
note: Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea (800 km, est.)
dry, semiarid steppe
large, flat Kur-Araz Ovaligi (Kura-Araks Lowland) (much of it below sea level) with Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, Qarabag Yaylasi (Karabakh Upland) in west; Baku lies on Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) that juts into Caspian Sea
lowest point: Caspian Sea -28 m
highest point: Bazarduzu Dagi 4,485 m
petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, non-ferrous metals, alumina
arable land: 18%
permanent crops: 5%
permanent pastures: 25%
forests and woodland: 11%
other: 41% (1993 est.)
10,000 sq km (1993 est.)
droughts; some lowland areas threatened by rising levels of the Caspian Sea
Azerbaijan was an independent state in 1918-20. It later formed part of the USSR in 1922, within the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic which combined Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia as a single republic in the Soviet Union. This was then abolished in 1936 and the three constituent parts became Union Republics in their own right. In September 1988 Azerbaijan became the first Soviet republic outside the Baltics to declare its national sovereignty. In January 1990 Ayaz Mutalibov was appointed First Secretary of the local Communist party and in the September 1991 presidential elections he won an unopposed victory with 80% of the vote. In October 1991 formal independence from the Soviet Union was declared.
In early 1992 both Mutalibov and his (ex-Communist) Prime Minister, Hassanov, were forced to resign following mass demonstrations over the ineffective Azeri response to Armenian military advances in Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K). Mutalibov tried unsuccessfully to seize back power in May 1992, when it became clear that the ex-Communists would be beaten in the elections. Popular protests prompted by the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) forced Mutalibov to flee to Moscow and Abulfaz Elchibey won the presidential election with 64% of the vote.
Elchibey's declared objectives were the building of a secular democratic system, very close links with Turkey, and an early victory in Nagorno-Karabakh. He transferred parliamentary powers from the ex-communist dominated Supreme Soviet to a 50-person Milli Majlis (Council), half of whose members were from the Popular Front. But, Elchibey failed to carry through his commitment to hold fresh parliamentary elections.
In June 1993, clashes between government troops and forces commanded by Colonel Surat Husseinov (a major industrialist and N-K hero) in Ganja (Azerbaijan's second city) left over 50 people dead. Husseinov demanded the resignation of those responsible and his men then marched towards Baku. In response, Elchibey felt forced to invite his main rival for power, Heidar Aliev, a popular leader of Nakhichevan, (who became chairman of the Azerbaijani KGB in 1967, head of the Azerbaijani Communist Party in 1969, and was a long-standing Politburo member), to return to Baku as chairman of parliament. Elchibey fled to his native village in Nakhichevan and Aliev became acting President. Surat Husseinov was appointed Prime Minister.
The population of Azerbaijan reacted calmly to the overthrow of Elchibey. Many identified Aliev with strong leadership and with a period of relative plenty during the Soviet Union years. Presidential elections took place in October 1993, with Heydar Aliev gaining 98.8% of the vote (according to official results). The UK funded team of observers, together with other Western observers, concluded that a genuine majority of voters supported Heydar Aliev.
A series of events beginning in late September 1994, led to what Heydar Aliev described as an 'attempted coup'. Interior ministry troops, led by the deputy interior minister, Rovshan Javadov, rebelled and attacked the Chief Prosecutor's department. Meanwhile, an uprising in Ganja, alleged by Heydar Aliev to have been orchestrated by Husseinov, was taking place. Heydar Aliev responded by invoking a state of emergency in Baku and Ganja and calling for mass demonstrations of support. He sacked the Chief Prosecutor and Husseinov, who is believed to have fled to Russia. A reconciliation took place between Heydar Aliev and Javadov: Aliev retained control, and Javadov kept his position.
Similar events took place in March 1995. The same interior ministry troops, under the control of Javadov, rebelled following a dispute with the local police and civilian authorities. The troops were ordered to surrender - Javadov retreated to his barracks on the outskirts of Baku, and government forces brought the rebellion to a violent end on 17 March, killing Javadov. There was a crack-down on opposition parties accused of involvement in the events, and Aliev claimed to have been the victim of several assassination attempts. In February 1996, 20 former Interior Ministry troops and 25 others accused of involvement in the rebellions were convicted and sentenced to 10-15 years imprisonment.
The main opposition parties boycotted the presidential elections that took place in October 1998, in protest at the composition of the Central Electoral Commission, which they saw as biased in favour of Heydar Aliev. Aliev was declared winner with 76.11 % of the vote. His nearest rival, Etibar Mammedov, was a distant second with 11.60 %. The OSCE/Council of Europe concluded that the election process did not comply with international standards.
Azerbaijan held parliamentary elections in November 2000. International Observers noted improvements in new electoral legislation, but the conduct of the election itself was seriously flawed. The turnout was hugely inflated and observers noted widespread ballot stuffing. International observers from the OSCE and The Council of Europe strongly criticised the elections. In response to the criticism, eleven of the seats were re-run in January 2001. Many of the deficiencies observed in November were repeated, but International Observers acknowledged an improvement in standards.
A constitutional referendum took place on 24 August 2002, proposing 39 amendments to 24 articles of the constitution. An overwhelming majority of the alleged 88% of the electorate who participated endorsed the changes. However, there were numerous reports of irregularities in the voting process and the OSCE Office in Baku expressed concern about the reliability of the official figures.
Longer Historical Perspective
Heydar Aliev suffered a deterioration in his health in June 2003. He did not recover from this condition and died in December 2003. After a short term as Prime Minister, his son Ilham became the New Azerbaijan Party’s candidate for the Presidential elections that took place in October 2003. Before these elections, opposition leaders had unsuccessfully attempted to unite behind a sole opposition candidate. According to official results, Ilham Aliev won after the first round of voting with 76.84% of the vote. His closest rival Isa Gambar (Musavat Party) came second with 13.97%. On 16 October 2003 there were violent clashes between opposition supporters and the police in central Baku, which led to at least one death. Afterwards there were widespread arrests and detentions.
The election was observed by a large OSCE/ODIHR mission. The OSCE concluded that although the electoral process was an improvement on previous elections, it still fell short of international standards in a number of areas. The final OSCE report called on the Government of Azerbaijan to implement 26 recommendations covering the election administration, the legal framework and the media. Fresh parliamentary elections are expected to be held in November 2005.
US$ 8.5bn (2004)
GDP Per capita:
Net Assets of State Oil Fund 2003 US$ 817.6 (stood at US$ 835.5 at 31 August 2004. Source State Oil Fund).
Net Assets of State Oil Fund 2003 US$ 984m 31 March 2005
13.1% (Jan-March 2005 over Jan-March 2004)
US$1 = 4829 Manat (at15 April 2005)
Azerbaijan has major infrastructure projects nearing completion in 2005. Celebrations on the 10th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s first oil contract with a consortium of foreign petroleum companies took place in September 2004.
Azerbaijan's economy had suffered large shocks from the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, which disrupted trade routes and markets, and the drain on resources caused by the N-K war effort. However buoyancy in the oil market has eased the pressure. 2004 showed good growth in the economy of 10.2%. Oil remains the country’s main export commodity. However, consumer price inflation rose sharply in the last six months of 2004 and the currency is appreciating in real terms.
Growth is being fuelled by investment in Azerbaijani oil reserves. The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan grew from US$692 million on 1 January 2003 to US$ 984 million by 31 March 2005. GDP grew by 10.6% in the first 3 months of 2005. Inflation over the same period has continued to increase significantly and is currently running at 13.1%. Food and energy prices are running at a higher rate of inflation.
Approximately 48% of people are estimated to live below the poverty line. The Government of Azerbaijan adopted a Poverty Reduction and Development Plan in October 2002. The programme focuses on poverty reduction, increased growth in the non-oil sector, reduction of corruption, continuing strong monitoring of monetary policy, governance measures such as reform of the Cabinet of Ministers and improving expenditure control.
The present phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict began in 1988 after the Regional Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a resolution on the transfer of N-K to Armenia. The resolution was rejected by the USSR and Soviet troops deployed to N-K to suppress nationalist sentiments. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, N-K declared its independence. Azerbaijani forces then attempted to re-establish control but met fierce resistance. In 1992 N-K forces captured Shusha (a previously Azeri-populated town within N-K) and established a corridor to Armenia through Lachin. In 1993 N-K forces, with help from Armenia, retook northern N-K and occupied the entire south-west corner of Azerbaijan, some 20% of Azerbaijani territory. This encroachment onto Azerbaijan’s territory led to wide-scale international condemnation, including four UN Security Council Resolutions demanding that 'local Armenian forces' withdraw from the most recently occupied areas outside N-K.
The 1994 spring offensive began in early April with each side accusing the other of renewed attacks and shelling of civilian targets. Fighting was intense along the entire front line, with both sides seeming better prepared militarily than in previous years. However, on 12 May 1994 a cease-fire was brokered in direct talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and on 27 July 1994 the Armenian and Azerbaijani Defence Ministers and the Commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Army signed an agreement consolidating it. With the exception of minor violations the cease-fire has held. Armenia, Azerbaijan and the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have all confirmed their readiness to continue it indefinitely until a political agreement is concluded. The number of deaths in the conflict probably exceeded 15,000 with at least 900,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 Armenians displaced.
The issues in dispute include the future political status of NK and the nature of any international guarantees of that status. Armenia points to a 1991 referendum (ruled illegal by the Government of Azerbaijan) in which the people of NK voted for independence. The Armenian Parliament refuses to accept any solution to the conflict which refers to NK as part of Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan has annulled NK's former autonomous status.
In 1992 the (then) CSCE established an international peace process, known as the Minsk Group, with the aim of undertaking negotiations with the parties to the conflict, to reach a peaceful political settlement. At its December 1994 Summit in Budapest the OSCE agreed to integrate the mediation efforts of the Russian Federation and the Minsk Group making Russia a co-chair of the Minsk Group (initially with Sweden, then with Finland, and now in a Troika with the US and France). The summit also agreed in principle to the deployment of a multi-national peacekeeping operation, following the conclusion of a political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, and establishing a High Level Planning Group (HLPG) to work on details of an operation. There is as yet no sign of the political agreement being reached although the Troika have presented confidential proposals to the parties for consideration. The Minsk Group now comprises Russia, USA, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, Belarus, Austria, Norway and Finland. The UK is not a member.
President Kocharian and Heydar Aliev met regularly to discuss the N-K dispute. There was widespread optimism of a breakthrough at US hosted talks in Key West, Florida in April 2001. The talks failed to achieve agreement, the detail of which has been kept close. There has been little recent signs of a political breakthrough.The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan have however met several times since May 2004 to discuss NK.
As a result of the conflict, the OSCE imposed an arms embargo on both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1992. The UK observes this embargo.
The UK (and our European partners) has argued that any solution should be based on the sovereignty of Azerbaijan with real autonomy for the people of NK. The international community does not recognise N-K independence. Our policy on the NK dispute is that we will support any mechanism for its resolution which both parties can accept and which has a realistic chance of delivering a lasting political settlement. Although the UK is not a member of the Minsk Group, it strongly supports the Group's work. Heikki Talvitie was appointed the EU’s Special Representative to the South Caucasus in September 2003. Sir Brian Fall was appointed as the UK’s Special Representative to the South Caucasus in 2003.
Azerbaijan's Relations with its Neighbours
The majority of Azerbaijan's population is Shia Muslim. There are strong ethnic and cultural links with the large ethnic Azeri population of Iran. Azerbaijan's system of government is secular, and the country has a westward-looking foreign policy. It sees Turkey, whose people and language are closely related, as its natural bridge to the west. Azerbaijan shares a number of affinities with its large regional neighbour from which it draws considerable support. Turkey’s stance on Azerbaijan’s dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is to maintain a closed border policy with Armenia until it makes concessions over Nagorno-Karabakh. On energy issues, the context of Caspian oil and gas pipeline routes linking Azerbaijan via Georgia and through Turkey represents an important area of close co-operation which moves into another gear with the official opening of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline in May 2005.
Since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, ties between Baku and Tehran have not been without their problems. Iran's relations with former President Heydar Aliev were closer than they were with Elchibey, based on links forged during Aliev's rule in Nakhichevan. But these became strained following Iran's exclusion by US companies from the Azerbaijan International Operating Company set up to exploit three Azeri oil fields in the Caspian. The admission of Iran into the international consortium set up in 1996 to explore the Shakh Deniz prospect in the Caspian may have helped to improve the relationship. In the past, Heydar Aliev accepted Iranian help in setting up large tented refugee camps in Azerbaijan (Iran was fearful of a huge influx of Azerbaijani refugees, which might add to the sizeable ethnic Azerbaijani minority in northern Iran). Azerbaijan joined the previously moribund Economic Co-operation Organisation in Tehran in February 1992 which Iran sees as a forerunner to an Islamic Common Market. Azerbaijan and Iran signed an agreement in October 1996 for the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Nakhichevan. President Khatami’s visit to Baku and Ganja in August 2004 and President Ilham Aliev’s own official visit to Tehran in January 2005 have helped to contribute to modest improvements. During the latter visit, Iran agreed to find better cross-border transport links, including a bridge to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan enclave. However, a number of fundamental differences remain.
Former President Heydar Aliev sought to increase Azerbaijan's independence from Russia, and declined to accept Russian bases or border guards. A new warming in ties between Baku and Moscow partly stemmed from a visit to Baku by President Putin in January 2001, which was reciprocated the following year when President Aliev signed a number of agreements in Moscow. Good relations with Russia are essential for a settlement to the N-K conflict. Bilateral agreements have been reached between Azerbaijan, Russia and Khazakhstan on delimitation of national territorial waters in the Caspian Sea. President Ilham Aliev has visited Moscow several times since October 2003 and has expressed his wish for good bilateral relations on trade and international security.
Azerbaijan's Relations with the International Community
Integration to the Euro-Atlantic political, security and economic institutes is one of Azerbaijan’s main foreign policy priorities. In May 1994 former President Heydar Aliev signed the NATO 'Partnership for Peace' (PfP) Framework Document at a formal meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC). In July 2004 Azerbaijan presented its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) which forms the basis of Azerbaijan’s future co-operation with NATO. Azerbaijan, together with Armenia, have been members of the Council of Europe since January 2001. Upon accession both Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves to use only peaceful means to find a resolution over N-K. However, Defence spending in both countries, particularly Azerbaijan, has increased significantly since 2002.
EC aid in Azerbaijan (UK`s share is 16%) is mainly humanitarian assistance. Total food and humanitarian aid of nearly 160 million ecu were allocated from 1992 to 1999. Technical assistance is provided through TACIS (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States) and TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Central Asia). TACIS support is mainly in the form of policy advice, institution building, training and the design of legal and regulatory frameworks.
A Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Azerbaijan was signed in April 1996 and ratified by the UK in April 1998. The PCA governs political, economic and trade relations between the parties and lay the basis for social, financial, scientific, technological and cultural co-operation between them. The then Presidents of Georgia, Armenia and the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan met with EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg in June 1999 to mark the entry into force of the PCAs on 1 July 1999. The first co-operation council meeting between the EU and Azerbaijan took place in October 1999. The sixth such meeting took place on 14 September 2004.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) sets ambitious objectives for partnership with countries neighbouring the EU’s borders. These objectives are based on strong commitments to shared values and political, economic and institutional reforms. Partner countries are invited to enter into closer political, economic and cultural relations with the EU, to enhance cross border co-operation and to share responsibility in conflict prevention and resolution. The Union offers the prospect of a stake in its Internal Market and of further economic integration. The speed and intensity of this process will depend on the will and capability of each partner country to engage in this broad agenda. The policy builds upon the existing framework of co-operation.
In June 2004 the ENP was extended to Azerbaijan. The European Commission completed a Country Report on Azerbaijan in March 2005. This is the first step in developing ENP and is a detailed assessment of bilateral relations between the EU and Azerbaijan. It also reflects progress under the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCA) and describes the political, social and economic situation in Azerbaijan. The next stage of the process is the development of a three-year Action Plan setting out priorities for reform in Azerbaijan and proposals for closer co-operation with the EU. The European Commission and Azerbaijan are now working together on the content of the Action Plan.
AZERBAIJAN'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK
The UK recognised Azerbaijan on 31 December 1991 and an agreement on diplomatic relations was signed in Baku in March 1992 by Mr Hogg, the first British Minister to visit independent Azerbaijan.
UK representation in Azerbaijan
The British Embassy opened in Baku (as a trade office) in September 1992. The first resident Ambassador to Azerbaijan arrived in September 1993. The Embassy moved to new premises in May 2003.
UK Development Assistance
Over £3.5 million was spent through the bilateral programme from 1997. DFID (Department for International Development) maintains a Small Grants Scheme (SGS) managed by the British Embassy in Baku and allocated £36,000 in the 2004/05 financial year.
Although DFID's bilateral assistance to Azerbaijan is limited, HMG continues to play a significant role in a number of key areas. For instance, the UK is making a significant contribution to poverty reduction in Azerbaijan through the Early Transition Country Initiative, which is being administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. EBRD launched the initiative in November 2004. The UK has committed £4 million towards the initiative over a 3-year period. The initiative will help Azerbaijan reach the goals it has set in its State Programme for Poverty Reduction and Economic Development and successor programmes.
The UK is also funding a consortium of international non-governmental organisations in order to address the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Consortium members (Conciliation Resources, International Alert, LINKS and Catholic Relief Services) work closely with governments, parliaments, international organisations, civil society, media and grassroots organisations to support other international and local efforts that contribute to a peaceful transformation of the Karabakh problem. The Consortium Initiative is funded by HMG’s Global Conflict Prevention Pool.
In 2004, Azerbaijan was included in the Re-Uniting Europe strand of the FCO’s Global Opportunities Fund. In 2005, GOF will finance projects in Azerbaijan that aim to support municipal development, as well as corporate governance and business ethics in Azerbaijan.
Trade and Investment with the UK
UK exports to Azerbaijan in 2002 were officially worth £56.29m, imports were £11.07 million.
Azerbaijan presents UK companies with excellent current and long term commercial prospects. BP Amoco lead a consortium of 12 companies in the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), including Ramco (UK), LUKoil of Russia and SOCAR, which on 20 September 1994 signed a Production-Sharing Agreement to develop the Azeri, Chirag and deep water Gunashli fields. BP Amoco lead the Shakh Deniz consortium (51%), with TPAO (Turkey) 9%, LUKoil 10%, Elf (France) 10%, OIEC (Iran) 10% and SOCAR 10%. The consortium announced in July 1999 that considerable reserves of gas had been discovered. BP Amoco and Monument lead the Inam consortium, BP Amoco the North Apsheron consortium, and Ramco the Muradkhanli consortium.
AIOC agreed in October 1995 to pursue dual 'early oil' (around 70,000 barrels per day beginning in November 1997) export routes for Gunashli/Chirag/Azeri fields, with a pipeline North to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, and one West across Georgia to the Black Sea port of Supsa. Both are now operating; the Baku-Supsa pipeline was formally opened on 17 April 1999. Agreement has been finalised on a main oil pipeline through Georgia and Turkey (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhaan), and a gas export pipeline (Shah Deniz) to run parallel to the oil pipeline. The BTC ground-breaking ceremony took place in September 2002. The pipeline is expected to enter into operation in the second half of 2005.
There are over 100 British companies active in Azerbaijan, not all of them in the energy sector, e.g. GBI International, who import Azeri cotton to the UK, the British Bank of the Middle East and Sedgwick (insurance).
The Azerbaijan-Britain Trade and Industry Council, on which 15 British businessmen sit, had its inaugural meeting in Baku on 15 June 1996. ECGD medium-term cover is now available for Azerbaijan following a review in April/May 1996. A Double Taxation Convention entered into effect on 3 October 1995 and an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement was signed in January 1996.
Cultural Relations with the UK
The British Council manages on behalf of the UK government a Peacekeeping English programme for the Azerbaijani armed services in support of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Chevening scholarship programme which enables promising young Azerbaijani professionals to pursue postgraduate education in the UK. The British Council also delivers English teaching services under contract to corporate clients, primarily in the oil industry.
The British Council began operations in Baku in March 1993. The (then) Prime Minister and Heydar Aliev signed an Agreement on Co-operation in the Fields of Education, Science and Culture during Former-President Heydar Aliev's visit to London in February 1994.
The British Council celebrated its 10th anniversary in Azerbaijan in 2003. Its objectives are to promote the UK as a partner in reform; strengthen the learning and use of English; demonstrate the UK’s creativity and diversity through arts and culture; and promote British educational excellence in support of professional development. Its programmes are primarily focussed on young Azerbaijanis under the age of 35, and delivered through local and multilateral partnerships. Operating from a combined office, teaching and information centre in Baku's Old City the British council has a staff of 38 and an annual budget of £350,000.
Mr Wilson, then Minister for Energy, visited Baku in June 2003 to attend the Caspian Oil and Gas Show, an event he attended again in June 2004. HRH the Duke of York attended the 'First Oil' celebrations on 25 May 2005.
Former President Heydar Aliev visited the UK as a Guest of Government from 19-24 July 1998. During the visit he had an audience with HM The Queen and talks with the Prime Minister at Downing Street, after which a political declaration was signed. Three major commercial agreements were also signed after this meeting, witnessed by the Prime Minister and Heydar Aliev, between SOCAR (the State Oil Company) and BP, RAMCO and Monument Oil and Gas.
President Ilham Aliev paid an official visit to the UK as a Guest of the British Government from 13-14 December 2004. He met both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister and the President reaffirmed the Joint Declaration on Friendship and Co-operation signed in 1998. They expressed their support for further expansion of bilateral relations in support of the development in Azerbaijan of a market economy and multi-party democracy based on the rule of law and promotion of human rights and liberties. During the visit, the Prime Minister and President Aliev issued a Joint Communique outlining the basis and future direction of the bilateral relationship.
President Aliev had previously visited the UK in June 2003 as Vice President of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. During that visit, he committed Azerbaijan to implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). On 15 March 2005, Azerbaijan became the first oil producing country in the world to publish EITI reports examined by an independent audit firm, and the first country to involve civil society in the implementation of the initiative. The reports represent a significant and public step forward in the implementation of the Initiative in Azerbaijan and worldwide. The full text of the government reports and accompanying accountants’ reports are available on the website of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan www.oilfund.az and the British Government’s EITI website www.eitransparency.org. Further information and background on EITI is also available on this site.
The Director of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan, Samir Sharifov, attended the second international conference on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in London on 17 March 2005.
Azerbaijan has ratified the following human rights instruments:
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - 1992
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - 1992
- International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination - 1996
- Convention on Rights of the Child - 1992
- Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women - 1995
- Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - 1996
In addition to signing these international conventions, over recent years the Government of Azerbaijan has taken some positive steps in the area of human rights including: Abolition of the death penalty (Feb 1998); the removal of censorship (Aug 1998); regular amnesties for prisoners; the establishment of an Ombudsman's Office (June 2002) and the establishment of a Constitutional Court. In December 2002, former President Heydar Aliev signed the Constitutional Law on Regulating the Exercise of Human Rights and Freedoms in the Azerbaijan Republic (the 'Constitutional Law'). The object of the law was to bring into correspondence with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) the exercise of human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan.
All religions are tolerated provided there are no overt campaigns to convert. It is against Azeri law to proselytise.
Despite the positive steps noted above, Azerbaijan's human rights record remains poor. There are number of areas of serious concern:
The Judiciary does not function independently of the executive, laws are applied inconsistently, and the judiciary is widely believed to be inefficient and corrupt. Human Rights Watch has noted that 'physical abuse and torture are rampant in police custody', and that some police officers routinely beat detainees to coerce confessions. Very few perpetrators have been prosecuted by the Government, thereby creating a climate of impunity.
While censorship was formally abolished in 1998, the Government still exerts tremendous control over the media. The electronic media continues to be controlled by the State or people close to Government. Other examples include the availability and cost of newsprint, and harassment of the distributors of opposition newspapers. In 2004, the authorities and serving (or former) government officials continued to bring large numbers of libel cases against journalists and newspapers critical of the Government. The expense of defending these cases threatens the commercial viability of the newspapers. In March 2005, Azerbaijan was shocked by the murder by persons unknown of prominent journalist and critic Elmar Huseynov. The Government of Azerbaijan has declared the murder a ‘terrorist act’.
Despite the adoption of new legislation designed to speed up the registration process, the Ministry of Justice continues to deny registration to many local human rights NGOs, hampering their work. On the positive side, prison conditions, while still poor, are generally acknowledged to have improved since Azerbaijan's accession to the Council of Europe.
FCO Human Rights Projects:
The British Embassy in Baku sponsors a range projects aimed at strengthening human rights, democracy and good governance in Azerbaijan. Recent (2004) examples include: Projects aimed at rehabilitating women prisoners; Raising human rights awareness via civic education and the mass media; Sponsorship of a regional health awareness campaign; Supporting the creation of a rehabilitation centre for special needs children in Ganja; and the restoration of an irrigation system in two villages in western Azerbaijan.
Travel advice: Azerbaijan
Last updated 26 July 2005