Scandal over a closed hostel in Baku
The Baku police decided to abruptly close a private hostel, which left some foreign tourists out in the street. However, a big scandal in social networks was caused not by the hostels closure, but instead by a comment made by the head of press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ekhsan Zakhidov, who said that hostels are ‘inappropriate’ for the Azerbaijani mentality.
The police arrived at the Freedom Hostel on the night of 8 April, following complaints received by a neighbor living in the same building, and promptly asked the guests to leave their rooms immediately. Only only through major effort did the owner of the hostel, Jamiddin Murtuzayev, manage to convince the police officers to give them time until morning, so that the guests would not be forced out in the middle of the night. Next morning, Murtazayev arranged new rooms for his guests – one from the USA, another from Japan, one from Australia and two Ukrainians in various hotels in Baku, at his own expense. He also had to quickly find lodging for six other tourists, which had already booked rooms in his hostel.
Commenting on the issue, the head of the press service at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ekhsan Zakhidov, told 1news.az news agency:
“Opening hostels in apartment buildings often becomes a cause of concern for residents of those buildings. In this case, two apartments of a four-story building were transformed into a hostel. But this building has a common entrance which is used both by citizens and foreigners. Also, tourists frequently come back late, listen to music, make noise and creating problems for neighbors. In this specific case, the neighbors complained that having a hostel in the building disrupts their peace. The police have sent the case to court, which will decide whether there can be a hostel or not.”
“Hostels do not fit into our mentality,” he added.
The head of Azerbaijan’s Tourism Association, Nakhid Bagirov, thinks that shutting down the hostel is unacceptable: “It will cause harm to the development of tourism. The owner did not violate the law, all his documents are in order, he works in accordance with the country’s law. I have applied to the relevant bodies, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and will do my best to re-open the hostel. But my influence is not unlimited. It seems that the government of the country should be involved and should help resolve the situation.”
A prominent economist in Azerbaijan, Natik Jafarli, who is the executive secretary of the opposition movement Real, strongly denounced such an approach by the government. “Shutting down a hostel citing its unsuitability to the people’s mentality once again shows that the economic reforms do not lead to any outcome. Until we have a normal system of law enforcement and fair trial, it is pointless to talk about the effect of economic reforms. In our country, the government policy is based on “the rules of the game” imposed from above, rather than on the laws.”
Below are some of the comments posted by users in the social networks:
- “It turns out that bribes, corruption, embezzlement, ordered judicial sentences – all of these correspond to our mentality, but giving lodging to foreign tourists – does not?”
- “Let’s shut down the whole country. Tourism is also in conflict with our mentality. And we have to set up an agency for controlling the mentality.”
- “All is well. Nuclear powers such as Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea have managed without hostels, so why should we get to the level of the decaying west?”
- “All is simple. Hostels may take ‘bread’ from expensive hotels, which belong to the high-ranking officials.”
Baku’s Freedom Hostel attracted visitors for multiple reasons: convenient location, affordable prices, professional management and good service. One bed at the hostel costs just USD 15-20. Tourists from Europe, China, Ukraine, Russia and the USA have started to recommend it for their friends as a cozy place in Baku. Until recently, rooms at the hostel have been booked in advance for long-term stays.