ESC Azerbaijan Human Rights
May 25, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Look at Azerbaijan! But look beyond the shiny Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) which will be held tomorrow in Baku. Look at the “Dirty Secrets” [SLYT, BBC Panorama, 30 min., English] and at independent film maker Liz Mermin’s film “Glanz und Schatten in Azerbaidschan” [SLYT, 30 min. German but more informative IMHO]. Locals that voted in the music contest for a country that was not in favor of the ruling family were investigated by the police. And then there is the story of two expensive donkeys (€42,000 each) and a comedic video that landed a young man in jail. Let’s not forget the story of a journalist who was blackmailed with secretly shot sex tapes. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch often report of restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Azerbaijan. Shortly before the ESC young musician Jamal Ali fled the country. While US peace corps volunteers don’t feel like criticizing much and sing a song of their own [SLYT], we see more arrests in Baku today.
posted by travelwithcats (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Didn't I read somewhere that Azerbaijan is the single most polluted place on earth? Something about Soviet-era smelting plants...
posted by Afroblanco at 11:38 AM on May 25, 2012

Look at me!
posted by azarbayejani at 12:01 PM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The wording of the FPP reminds me of the feeling I get when I watch a EuroVision contest entry. It's a little giddy, a little intrigued, and largely confusing.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:17 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look at me!
posted by azarbayejani at 12:01 PM on May 25 [+] [!]

I did, and now I say you are handsome but don't steal the attention!
posted by travelwithcats at 12:19 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The wording of the FPP reminds me of the feeling I get when I watch a EuroVision contest entry. It's a little giddy, a little intrigued, and largely confusing.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:17 PM on May 25 [+] [!]

posted by travelwithcats at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Interesting things you learn when you watch pro cycling on Eurosport: apparently Azerbaijan is a desirable tourist destination.

So, apparently, are Macedonia, Albania, and Lower Silesia.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2012

^ Don't forget Croatia, the Mediterranean as it once was...
posted by afx237vi at 1:53 PM on May 25, 2012

Didn't I read somewhere that Azerbaijan is the single most polluted place on earth?

You're thinking of Sumqayit on the north side of the Aspheron peninsula which was a Soviet petrochemical town and where the pollution devastated the local environment and people.

I visited Baku in 1994. Strange place. Oil wells and oil everywhere. But outside of Baku, the environment clears up. The foothills of the Caucasus mountains were nice and some distance from Baku, the Caspian Sea was clean enough to swim in (well, I didn't catch anything).
posted by rhymer at 2:18 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been a couple of times. Its a lot like most places that suddenly get oil money. There's a handful of fancy hotels that no one except the oil guys can afford, a whole bunch of fancy hookers that only the oil guys can afford, and a healthy number of fancy cars that only the officials who are paid off by they oil guys can afford. They like big buildings with lots of glass like the trio highrises in the shape of flames with LED facades. The current President is the son of the last President who was President when it was still a Soviet Republic. Neither had any interest in messy elections or political pluralism or any compunctions and dealing roughly those who did. Why the US would have a peace corps program there is beyond me.

And tourism? Seriously? Maybe if you're stuck there over the weekend and don't have anything else to do. Though they do have the famous crude oil soaking spa. If you're into that sort of thing. Macedonia, Albania and even Lower Silesia - not to mention Croatia - are all in a completely different league when it comes to interesting things to see and do.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:09 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds kinda of trivial, railing at where to host Eurovision, but I feel stuff like this highlights the moral relativism of the West's "liberal" elite just as much as palling up to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia do.

Of course, China has no such qualms doing deals with fellow devils, but I find the arguments that "Hosting Eurovision will lead to free elections!" and the like extremely distasteful.

I realise these decisions can be grubby c.f who does sanctions really hurt etc, but honestly, what does a govt have to do to be internationally shunned, assuming they have something desirable within national borders? Makes you wonder what we'd be making of North Korea if they had some oil there.
posted by smoke at 3:55 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, the 'Baijan. I spent a bit more than a year there in the Peace Corps -- a little ahead of the two guys linked in the clip above. I give 'em a pass for that one, personally -- it comes off more as a harmless bit of fun. The one that really pushed my buttons was this one that they just made recently, which reads to me as a really crass shill for the government. Interestingly, the gov't also pushes these two as Peace Corps volunteers, in a way that makes it look like the US sanctions the Aliyev regime. There's an interesting debate that goes on between PCVs there -- does what we do legitimize and reinforce the government more than it helps the local people we're working with? You make your own peace as best you can.

As mentioned in the BBC spot above forced evictions for those living in any area the government wanted to "beautify" for the events. This includes arresting people on trumped up charges; when they get out the next day, their homes are gone. The money certainly isn't going to find decent housing for the 600,000 or so IDPs from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The "development" (yes, scare quotes intentional) also comes at the price of water and pensions, as the government focuses on prestige projects that increase their own kickbacks (by most fair guesses, more than half of the new apartments that were going up in Baku will sit empty for a long, long time, because no one can afford the rent).

Aside: 1.) Rhymer, you're right about Sumqayit, but it wasn't just a petrochemical factory, it was the biggest petrochem producer in the USSR. You drive past miles of abandoned and semi-abandoned factories between the town and Baku. Which leaves a legacy of heavy-metal poisoning: the only sight in the guidebook, if I remember right, is the baby cemetery. It's also, oddly enough, the site where Peace Corps volunteers spend their first three months in-country. I haven't grown any extra fingers, but I can definitely say that my feet have never felt more foul than after a day spent walking around the dusty streets (most aren't paved) in sandals.

2.) RandlePatrickMcMurphy, you're right about there not being much to do, but the north is better -- Sheki is a pretty decent town to spend a weekend or so, and Zaqatala boasts the prison that held the Potemkin mutineers! (The surly guards at the door will tell you to piss off right quick, even, or especially, if you mention that the sign says it's open for tours.)
posted by wandering steve at 6:19 PM on May 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

k8t has a view.
posted by unliteral at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2012

My cousin spent his Peace Corp time in Lenkaran, and on my trip around the former Soviet states 18 months ago I tried to get into Azerbaijan without success due to a hideous visa snafu.

After I wrote a summary of the experience for a travel blog I got contacted by a couple of opposition journalists who let me know that the blog piece had been translated into Azeri and was quite popular in activist circles. I found it quite bizarre to put it mildly.

The journalists who got in touch with me were both quite despairing of the government and deeply pessimistic about the country's future.

In the end I spent my time in Georgia and Armenia instead.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:47 PM on May 25, 2012

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