Demolitions Cause Fury in West Azerbaijan
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||13 May 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Demolitions Cause Fury in West Azerbaijan, 13 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dd261912.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Abbas Abbaszade put his whole life into building up his Elnur restaurant in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second city. So it came as a shock to him when local government officials arrived to shut it down, and told him they were going to knock it down.
"I demanded they show me the basis for their plan to demolish my property. They said that there wasn't a ruling, but that a road was going to be built and my property was in the way," Abbaszade recalled. "We couldn't even do the wedding parties that had been booked, as they disconnected the gas and electricity the same day to get us to leave more quickly."
The restaurant owner tried to see the city mayor, but the latter's secretary said he would not see anyone affected by the demolitions.
"Who can I turn to?" he asked. "There were over 20 people working at the restaurant, each of them with a family of three or four to support."
Abbaszade's story is far from unusual in Ganja, where businessmen and home owners accuse the mayoral administration of total disregarding private property rights.
Mushviq Aliyev sold his house to buy a shop, in the hope of earning enough money to buy another home. The deal cost him an additional 60,000 US dollars.
Now the authorities have knocked the shop down and have offered him nothing in return.
"No one even mentions paying me compensation. How is that possible? How can I feed my family? How can I pay for a flat? I can't even dream about buying a property now," he said.
A month ago, balconies on houses along Narimanov Street were destroyed on the city government's orders. Residents staged a protest over three days, closing the road, but were unable to stop the work going ahead.
One of the residents, Sarvinaz Farajova, said, "I have lived in this two-room flat since 1965, and I brought up four children here. When the children got married, it became very crowded so I had to add on a balcony to fit everyone in. How can seven people live in two rooms?
"Think what it cost us to build it. Instead of providing decent accommodation, the local authorities just came along and destroyed it."
Farajova is one of many people in Azerbaijan who have built on extensions without official approval since 1991. The government has been unable to keep up with the demand for new housing by the economic collapse that followed the Soviet break-up and the need to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees from Nagorny Karabakh.
In Ganja, local government officials denied any malpractice in either the demolition of businesses or the removal of balconies from private homes.
"The balconies were built without official permission, in other words illegally. So we didn't need a court order to remove them," Natiq Binnatov, an adviser to the mayor. "The properties of businessmen have been demolished to make way for projects of national importance."
Binnatov was referring to two highways due for widening, one linking Ganja with Shamkir, and the other with the capital to Baku.
"No one wishes to infringe their rights all the businessmen will be offered plots of land on which to rebuild," he said, adding, "Payment of compensation is not currently being considered."
Opposition activists have accused officials of authorising the destruction of property for their own gain, or for businesses associated with them which want to acquire land.
"Officials are looking for ways to siphon off the huge sums of money coming into the budget from oil revenues. One such method involves construction," Fuad Gahramanli, deputy head of the opposition Popular Front Party, said.
Gahramanli called for changes to a legislative amendment passed two years ago which allows government to set the value of properties that are confiscated; the price used to be assessed by the owner.
At the moment, he said, "If the owner does not accept the price, he has the right to go to court but the courts almost always take the side of government."
Lawyers argue that government institutions cannot demolish private property whenever they want.
"Private property can be removed only after a court ruling," Fuad Agayev, a prominent lawyer, said. "It's recently become fashionable' to remove premises and property without any kind of legal justification. That contravenes property rights, and is unacceptable in any normal society. Article 29 of the constitution say that officials are directly responsible for protecting the rights of property-owners. Yet local government heads appointed by the president are grossly violating these rights."
Gulnur Ragifgizi is a correspondent for Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan.