Events that occurred in Azerbaijan in 2015
1. Manat rate drop
On February 21, US Dollar increased by one third against AZN.
Before that, there had been unclear rumors in Baku about devaluation linked to the oil price drop. Then the head of the Azerbaijani Central Bank pledged that the rate would change smoothly even if it was tied to bi-currency basket.
Panic reigned in the city on the day of Manat rate drop. Currency exchange offices stopped selling Dollars and Euros. Shops were closed to change the price labels. Prices for goods increased approximately twice. The authorities stated that ungrounded increase of prices would be punished, but global measures were not taken.
People were feverishly buying food for the future. Those, who had credits in Dollars, raved over their misfortune, people tried to transfer deposits in AZN to Dollars or to withdraw money from banks.
The second wave of devaluation on December 21 caused the same panic, but people were not surprised.
2. The European Games
The first in history European Games were held in Baku on June 12-28, 2015. The sportsmen competed for 253 sets of medals. 5739 sportsmen from 50 European countries participated in the games. The excitement, similar to that one caused by the Eurovision in Baku, was observed in the city. New sports facilities, new buses and many signposts in the English language appeared in the city due to the European Games. Nar (pomegranate) and Jeyran were chosen as the Games symbols. These characters gave grounds to lots of cartoons and jokes.
The games official budget totaled US$1,12 billion. Sportsmen and other participants of the games were invited at the expense of the “host state – Azerbaijan covered their expenses. Lady Gaga and other celebrities performed during the opening ceremony.
Such generosity and pomposity could not help influencing the civil society’s representatives on the background of their poor condition: the year 2015 was tough for the independent press, NGOs and human rights activists. The Mass Media and international organizations tried to use the situation as the country was in the focus and to draw attention to the problems in the sphere of human rights and freedom of speech, but the situation did not change. Government officials reiterated that human rights of each and every citizen were observed in Azerbaijan. Mass Media, the major part of which is under the government’s control, praised to the skies the European Games special character and their importance for the country’s future prosperity.
4. Fire in a residential building
16storey residential building at Azadlig Avenue in Baku caught fire on May 19. The whole building caught fire for a second. It took four hours to extinguish the fire. 15 people died, 63 were injured.
The state undertook to cover medical aid costs and provide homeless fire victims with residential area and later repairing their flats.
Polyurethane wall tiles were in the focus of a scandal the following week. It should be noted that there were 800 buildings, covered with similar dangerous polyurethane wall tiles in the city. Infuriated residents stripped the tiles from the buildings; later the authorities did it, trying to put order in the city ahead of the European Games. Within the shortest period of time the tiles were replaced by new ones.
Investigation was launched and several officials were arrested, but nobody knows whether it has been finished and who was guilty in covering the building with inflammable material. Anyway, no official statements were made.
5. Fire on off-shore oil platform
On December 4, the Guneshli oil platform caught fire. The storm damaged a high pressure gas pipeline. There were 63 people on the platform at that moment. 33 people were evacuated successfully, seven workers died, 23 persons have been missing. The point is that rescue ships could not approach the burning platform because of a strong wind and high waves. The oil workers were in two rescue boats that were lowered to the water from 10 meter height over the sea level. One of the boats fell into the water and was broken into pieces. Only three workers survived.
The public condemned the oil company SOCAR for not observing safety operation procedures. The people were indignant most of all with contradictory statements, made by the company’s management in the pro-governmental Mass Media: it was announced that there were 63 people on the platform and they were all evacuated. Later, there came reports that there were 42 workers on the platform and that they all were safe and sound.
December 6 was announced the mourning day in Azerbaijan. People were bringing red carnations to the sea (in Azerbaijan these flowers are considered to be a symbol of mourning) to commemorate the victims.
6. Unrests in Nardaran
On November 26, six people were killed in Baku’s Nardaran settlement during the arrest of Taleh Bagirov, leader of the Muslims’ Unity movement. Actually, a large-scale operation on complete eradication of that movement was launched on that day. The operation is still underway.
The Interior Ministry terms November 26 developments as an anti-terrorist operation and states that Taleh and his accomplices had armed their supporters in order to carry out a coup and to turn Azerbaijan into a Muslim state, living under the Sharia laws.
On the whole, the public supported the authorities as Nardaran is considered in Baku to be a certain kind of Iran’s “branch because the settlement has been populated mainly by Shiite Muslins, “practicing Muslims. Secular Baku does not like their adherence to Islam. Residents live isolated and do not like any interference into their affairs, including on part of the officials or police. There were two MoI officers and four residents of Nardaran among those, who were killed. Fourteen individuals were detained and there is no information on their future fate. Neither is there any information about Taleh Bagirov.
After Taleh had been detained, his supporters gathered in the square outside the mosque, demanding to give bodies of four killed persons and give explanation concerning the arrest of their leader. They blocked a road to the settlement and did not let strangers enter it. The authorities, in turn, placed their posts and the settlement turned out to be in blockade. Besides, the next day, the settlement was cut off power supply and mobile communications were blocked.
Power supply was resumed soon, but the second phase of the operation was launched, which, the Mass Media actually ignored. Nardaran was cordoned and any communication with it was suspended. If earlier, journalists managed to take some video footages there, since December they could only take photos of posts. It is unknown what is going on in the settlement.