Azerbaijan: Uprising unemployment vs Government

 
13th January 2016
Azerbaijan is an oil rich country, but it remains plagued by high levels of unemployment and a lack of essential services. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 crippled the country’s infrastructure, while conflict with neighboring Armenia created a wave of displacement. The  economic situation based on oil sector and other main services are located in the capital – Baku, which is why probably half of population lives there.

 

Baku is the biggest city in Caucasus. It is bustling with its new office  buildings, homes, highways, bridges, parks and enormous flags, that dominate the city’s landscape. Thanks to its oil riches, this country on the South Caucasus has one of the fastest-growing economies in the  region.

 
But drop in oil prices showed the real “prosperity”. Oil prices drastically fell over the past seven months an now approximately mark $30.00 per barrel. Oil price slump changed the economic prosperity of the country. Most great companies as British Petrolium, SOCAR and others started to cut jobs. The economic crisis strengthened after Azerbaijan’s currency has  plummeted after moving to a floating exchange rate. The Manat lost 32% to the Dollar on 21st December 2015 following the central bank’s decision to stop protecting its value in the face of decreasing prices on oil. It’s the second time this year the Manat has lost  significant value due to government actions. In February, a devaluation caused it to lose more than a third of its value against the US dollar.
 
Therefore, from 12th January people started to protest in some regions of Azerbaijan. Protests took place across Azerbaijan in the latest sign of mounting frustration over unemployment, price hikes and other economic woes in Azerbaijan. Demonstrators showed their grievances,  basically, including anger over price rises on essential items as flour and bread. The protesters rallies took part in the districts of Fuzuli, Aghsu, Aghjabadi, Siyazan and Lankaran on the 13th of January.
 
Forces  were deployed to suppress the rallies by demonstrators, using rubber  bullets and tear gas. Reports say there were detentions in several  districts. As per witnesses, at least two protesters were detained in Siyazan and in Lankaran district. The police detained several more  demonstrators, some of them were reportedly found guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned rallies protesting high unemployment and were sentenced to one month in jail. Several demonstrators have been fined and released.
 
Currency devaluation always comes with the double whammy of reduction in spending power and rising of prices. As a result, the cost of many items, such as tomatoes and grapes, has shot up, in some cases by as  much as 100 percent. Flour and bread prices increased by 25 percent. And  these were the main reasons for the people to walk the streets and join the rallies. A man from Fuzuli, south of Azerbaijan said while protesting: “We are here because we’re hungry.” Three demonstrators were attempting to commit suicide because of bank loans, they could no longer make payments on.
 
These demonstrations are the sparks for the reforms, that have to be done by the government immediately. People still protest against price hikes and demand employment and the protest is getting bigger, including other regions of country. The opposition leaders have suggested a package of proposals to the government, which surely will help to get in better condition the  economic that based on oil and will make the non-oil sector prosper.
 

Vahid Ali