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“We immediately decided to take the dog with us”

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Animal rights activists were detained after a protest they held in defense of stray animals and taken out of the city. They returned to the city with a pregnant stray dog and named her Gizil.

Animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev and his friends found the dog, whom they nicknamed Gizil (Azerbaijani for “Gold”), in a wasteland on the outskirts of Baku a little more than a month ago. The dog was about to give birth, and so they immediately decided to take her with them.

The animal rights activists found themselves in the deserted area about 20 km off Azerbaijan's capital city after they held a protest in defense of stray dogs in the city center on 23 February. As has become common lately, police officers quickly dispersed the protest, forcibly pushed the protesters in buses, drove them a long way out of the city and dropped them off. This had the effect of ending the protest without much hassle.

There, a stray dog approached Elkhan Mirzayev and the other protesters, who were waiting for friends to arrive by car to pick them up.

"She was yelping and crying. I could see immediately that she was pregnant and she would deliver soon. When labor approaches, dogs always try to be close to people," Elkhan says.

"It was the first time I had seen the place where the police officers dropped us. We learnt later that the wasteland is located in the village of Gizildash (“Golden rock”) in Garadag district. So, we decided to give the name Gizil to the dog that we found there."

On the very day Gizil arrived in Baku, she gave birth to eight puppies. The animal rights activists put Gizil together with her puppies in one of their garages. They visit them every day, feed, and look after them. Mirzayev says that they had to put Gizil in the garage because all other shelters were packed. And, they do not trust state institutions, which operate under the guise of shelters for stray animals.

"Certainly, the garage is not the perfect place for them, but it is still better than a wasteland. And, unlike thousands of puppies born on the streets, Gizil's puppies stand a greater chance of surviving here. After the puppies are two months old, we will try to find people who will adopt them and then sterilize Gizil," Elkhan says.

Horses, dogs, and cats

Animal rights activist Elkhan Mirzayev is a journalist by profession. He graduated from the journalism department of Moscow State University and lived in Russia for many years, working for NTV and Channel One as a correspondent, editor, and producer. One day, however, he decided to leave everything and return to Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, he bought a plot of land in the village of Gunashli in Lerik, built himself a house and realized his long-standing dream: To live far away from the hustle and bustle of the city together with his favorite animals. He has horses, six dogs and about a dozen cats. All these cats and dogs were strays who suffered violence at the hands of humans. Elkhan found them all in different places, nursed them back to health, and gave them names that matched their characters – Bertha, Jesse, Pirate, Deniz, Kazbek, Minashka.

The dog nicknamed Pirate, who is extremely disobedient, is missing a leg and an eye.

"Some punk set a pit bull on him. The pit bull severely maimed his leg and damaged his eye. And there was a large wound on his back that look liked something hot had been poured on it. Our doctor friends tried to attach a prosthesis to Pirate's leg, but it did not work out. The leg started to fester and had to be amputated. The eye was also operated on," Elkhan tells us about his pets. "And this is Jesse. She acts like a cat, and her favorite thing to do is to lie at people's feet."

Under Azerbaijani legislation, torturing and killing stray animals are not regarded as a crime, and those who commit these kinds of acts simply get an administrative penalty – a fine of about 500 Manats (289 USD): "Regarding animal rights, there are only three articles in the Code of Administrative Offences: One of them is more about veterinary medicine, the second is about regulations regarding keeping pets, and the third is Article 274. The article says that if you kill or maim an animal, you will be fined 500 Manats," Elkhan says. Previously, the fine was only 25-45 Manats (about 15-26 USD), but animal rights activists lobbied for the fine to be raised. Yet they say that is not enough. The activists have been fighting for animal rights for years, and believe that it is high time the state began to implement a programme to sterilize stray animals.

"Stop Toplan"

During the protest that took place in the center of Baku on 23 February, the animal rights activists raised a placard reading "Stop Toplan". Toplan is the name of the care center for stray animals that the animal rights activists pinned great hopes on.

When Toplan (Toplan is the most common dog name in Azerbaijan – editor’s note) opened in February 2019, they first breathed easily, thinking it would be easier for stray dogs to live on the streets of Baku.

Leyla Aliyeva, vice-president of the foundation and daughter of the incumbent Azerbaijani president, took part in the opening of the center which was established within the framework of a joint project by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Baku executive authorities to improve work with stray dogs. She oversees the center.

Toplan operates on money provided by the state. On the location previously stood the sanitary engineering unit of the Housing and Utility Services Department of the Baku executive authorities. The animal rights activists argue that one of the jobs done by the department, which people commonly referred to as 'the kennel', was to collect stray dogs from the streets and shoot and kill them or burn them.

"It was previously called 'Department to fight against stray animals'. In essence, its name shows what kind of work they did. They walked around in the streets and shot stray dogs in broad daylight. In 2013, journalist Nazakat Zeynalli filmed a video of officers from the department shooting street dogs. We used the video as a basis for a lawsuit that we filed against the department. The trial lasted three and a half years. The case reached the Supreme Court, then it was sent back to lower courts. They tried to persuade us to withdraw the lawsuit. We refused to withdraw it. We held protests outside the department, we blocked the roads, we went there every week to feed the dogs and we did not let the dogs be killed. We got the department shut down after all. Last year, Leyla Aliyeva opened a care center for stray animals called Toplan, which is located exactly where the department used to be located, and horror started there again," Elkhan Mirzayev says.

Both the official website of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Leyla Aliyeva in her speeches at conferences said that in accordance with the law the center was to collect dogs from the street, deliver them to the center, sterilize and vaccinate them and release them back into the streets.

"The animals awakened humanity in my heart"

There are about 500 animal rights activists in Azerbaijan who collect maimed stray animals from the streets, nurse them back to health and keep them. There are three official and about 20 non-registered shelters.

Elkhan Mirzayev, however, is against shelters in principle.

"For example, do we want to be in jail? Even if they give us food and sometimes come to check on us, so what? A shelter is almost the same thing. Therefore, there should be not shelters, and every dog and every cat should have a family."

Mirzayev believes that it is not that hard to resolve the problem of stray animals. It is just necessary to toughen the penalty for the killing of animals and cruelty toward them and to launch a program to sterilize and vaccinate animals. And it is also very important to teach people to love animals.

"If people keep dogs, they will find indispensable friends," says Elkhan Mirzayev. "The more I communicate with dogs and cats, the more I understand that in reality we do not save them but they save us. The animals awakened humanity in my heart."

/with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

"The animals awakened humanity in my heart"

There are about 500 animal rights activists in Azerbaijan who collect maimed stray animals from the streets, nurse them back to health and keep them. There are three official and about 20 non-registered shelters.

Elkhan Mirzayev, however, is against shelters in principle.

"For example, do we want to be in jail? Even if they give us food and sometimes come to check on us, so what? A shelter is almost the same thing. Therefore, there should be not shelters, and every dog and every cat should have a family."

Mirzayev believes that it is not that hard to resolve the problem of stray animals. It is just necessary to toughen the penalty for the killing of animals and cruelty toward them and to launch a program to sterilize and vaccinate animals. And it is also very important to teach people to love animals.

"If people keep dogs, they will find indispensable friends," says Elkhan Mirzayev. "The more I communicate with dogs and cats, the more I understand that in reality we do not save them but they save us. The animals awakened humanity in my heart."

/with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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Azerbaijani oil prices decline

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The price of Azeri LT CIF Augusta, produced at the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli (ACG) oil field amounted to $18.6 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.14 less compared to April 23, Trend reports with reference to the country’s oil and gas market.

The price of Azeri LT FOB Ceyhan amounted to $16.56 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.12 less compared to April 23.

Azerbaijan has been producing Azeri LT since 1997 and exporting it via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and Baku-Supsa Western Export Pipeline, as well as by rail, to the Georgian port of Batumi.

Azerbaijan also sells its URALS oil from the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, delivering it through the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline.

The price of URALS with shipment from the port amounted to $17.32 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.1 less compared to April 23.

The cost of a barrel of Brent Dated oil, produced in the North Sea, amounted to $16.01 per barrel, indicating a decrease of $0.29.

(1 USD = 1.7 AZN on April 25)

News.Az

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Six more opposition activists arrested in Azerbaijan

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Six more opposition activists have been sentenced to administrative detention in Azerbaijan in the latest of a series of arrests of members of the opposition. 

On Friday, Nijat Abdullayev, a member of the Supreme Council of the opposition Popular Front Party, was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention.

The party reported that he was detained by men in civilian clothes while travelling to a grocery store near his home. 

Abdullayev after leaving court. Photo via Ali Karimli.

A day earlier, Faig Amirli, financial director of opposition newspaper Azadlig and assistant to the head of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, was also sentenced to 30 days. 

His wife, Lala Amirli, reported on Facebook on Wednesday that three cars pulled up near their house and the men inside ‘grabbed him by the neck’ and put him in a car and drove away. 

Later that day, two other Popular Front Party members — Ali Karimli’s bodyguard, Ruslan Amirli, and video blogger Natig Izbatov — were also sentenced to 30 days. 

Two members of the Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Movement (ADR), Shakir Mammadov and Vafadar Aliyev were also sentenced to 15 and 30 days on Monday and Tuesday respectively. 

All six men were found guilty by the court of violating the quarantine regime. 

The Popular Front Party stated that the arrests were politically motivated. 

According to the Administrative Code, violation of a quarantine regime is punishable by fines of ₼100–₼200 ($60–$120) or detention for up to 1 month.

Opposition youth activist ‘warned’

On Wednesday, Ilkin Rustamzade, one of the leaders of pro-democracy youth movement NiDA, reported on Facebook that he expected he might soon be arrested. 

Rustamzade, who recently moved to a rented flat with his wife, said police officers showed up to his parents’ house, where he is registered, earlier that day. After not finding him there, he said officers took his father to a police station before releasing him shortly after. 

According to Rustamzade, the police claimed he had violated the quarantine regime by moving to another flat. 

He said police officers later came to his flat and surrounded the building, but that he refused to leave demanding an official request.

Ilkin Rustamzade during his Facebook broadcast on Wednesday.

‘I moved to the new flat on 2 April and left the house only once by notifying authorities by SMS. Of course, it’s not about the quarantine rules […] it is the continuation of repression against me’, he said. 

According to Rustamzade, ‘about 10 days ago’ he launched a petition urging the government to allocate social benefits to the public and to cancel bank loans and communal bills.

He said that several days later, he received a message on social media from a fake profile who presented himself as a ‘man of the intelligence service’, and warned him that if he did not stop the petition, they would ‘do very filthy things to my wife’. 

Later that day, Rustamzade said that dozens of fake profiles on social media had started writing insulting posts about him and his wife. He said a profile of his wife was created on an escort website.

Later, he reported that their landlord had demanded they move out. 

On Thursday, Amnesty International condemned the harassment of Rustamzade and his family. 

‘Recently, the Azerbaijani authorities have used the COVID-19 pandemic to increasingly crack-down on their critics’, their statement said. 

‘As the arrests and politically motivated prosecution of critics continue, Azerbaijan remains closed to human rights scrutiny.’ 

Rustamzade was pardoned in March 2019 after serving six years in prison on charges of hooliganism, and later ‘inciting violence and organising mass disorder’, for planning a peaceful protest in 2013. 

In a statement on Friday, the National Council of Democratic Forces, an opposition coalition, said the government had been ramping-up its repression of the opposition during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They urged the Azerbaijani people and the international community to loudly condemn ‘these anti-national and anti-human acts’ and to organise a strong protest campaign to stop the policy.

A new wave of repression

In a speech delivered on 19 March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called any opposition group that did not enter ‘into dialogue’ with the authorities, ‘traitors and corrupt representatives of a fifth column’.

‘Look at what they say on social networks, they are full of hatred and provocation. They seem to want riots to happen. They want turmoil. They want panic’, Aliyev said. 

He added that if a state of emergency were to be declared due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the ‘isolation of representatives of the fifth column’ would become ‘a historical necessity’. 

Ali Ahmadov, the deputy chair of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, wrote on Facebook on 23 March that there were ‘two viruses’ in Azerbaijan, COVID-19 and the ‘political virus’ that was the opposition, specifically Ali Karimli. He wrote that the two should be fought against at ‘the same time’.

The National Council of Democratic Forces condemned Aliyev’s speech, calling it ‘fascist’. They also accused Aliyev of planning false ‘plots’ that would give him justification for repressing the opposition. 

Two days after Aliyev’s speech, Samir Babayev, a member of the opposition Muslim Unity Movement, was the first opposition activist to be arrested during the pandemic.

He was detained while he and other members of the movement distributed medical masks and information brochures about COVID-19 outside a central metro station in Baku. He was placed under administrative arrest for one month. 

The following day, Tofig Yagublu, an opposition politician from the Musavat Party, was sentenced to three months in prison on the charges of hooliganism.

Tofig Yagublu in front of the Nizami District Court. Photo: Nigar Hazi/Facebook.

Later that day, Anar Malikov, a member of the Popular Front Party, was placed under administrative arrest for 10 days accused of ‘violating quarantine’.

Popular Front Party leader Ali Karimli called Babayev, Yagublu, and Malikov, ‘coronavirus prisoners’.

[Read more on OC Media: Azerbaijan arrests opposition activists during COVID-19 outbreak

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Georgia coronavirus cases reach 385

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The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia has reached 385, according to local media.

So far, 3 patients have died from the infection and 84 others have recovered in Georgia.

Georgia confirmed the first case of coronavirus on February 26.

As many as 4,971 citizens are under quarantine.

News.Az

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