It is a great pleasure to be informed that there is a Research Center or Scientific Association related to the history, languages, and culture of Azerbaijan at one of the world’s ancient and influential universities, at Oxford University. The Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Center (ONGC) is still the only one operating at Oxford University. According to the university website, the Center was established in 2019 “to encourage and support research of the history, languages and cultures of Azerbaijan, the Caucasus and Central Asia” as a part of the Oriental Institute of the University (https://www.ongc.ox.ac.uk/about). The information also noted that “a generous endowment” given by the British Foundation for the Study of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus (BFSAC) in 2018 created possibility to open this Center at Oxford University. As for the BFSAC itself, according to the Azerbaijani media, it was created on September 27, 2016. That is only information about this organization. The website of the Foundation (http://www.bfsac.org.uk/) endowed £10 million gift to the ONGC, is simply down.
The gift was confirmed on May 23, 2018 when professor Louise Richardson, Vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford and professor Nargiz Pashayeva, chair of the Trustees of the mysterious BFSAC signed a special protocol. The Development office of the University of Oxford even called this ceremony as “an academic “Contract of the century”” comparing it, as one can assume, with the 1994-year so-called oil “Contract of the century” which actually made this “generous philanthropic support” possible https://www.development.ox.ac.uk/news/the-oxford-nizami-ganjavi-centre).
It is important to draw attention to the previous project, Nizami Ganjavi Program, “related” to Azerbaijan and “implemented” at the university of Oxford. Nizami Ganjavi Program was established in 2014 as a five-year research project with £1 million fund. Unfortunately, all our efforts to find any reliable information about the projects completed within the structure of this program are failed.
Continuing the Nizami Ganjavi Program mission, ONGC has recently announced of several Thursdays Zoom presentations (https://www.ongc.ox.ac.uk/event/beyond-the-boom-toward-human-and-social-development-in-the-post-oil-era-in-azerbaijan). According to the website announcement the title of the Thursdays’ discussions is “Beyond the boom: Toward human and social development in the post-oil era in Azerbaijan” and the following issues will be submitted for audience consideration:
· Gender, the economy of care and sustainable development in Azerbaijan
· The narratives of “human development” in post-oil Azerbaijan: leveraging critical discourse analysis of influential policy texts
· Rural Azerbaijan: land reforms, migration, and moral economy in the post-Soviet period
· Private sector development and sustainability issues in post-oil Azerbaijan
· Child wellbeing and child savings accounts in Azerbaijan: theory and possible policy design
· The petroleumscape of Baku: past, present and the implications for the future
Presently, we don’t have any idea about the context and content of these presentations, but due to the world media, especially recent publications of Le Mond, The Guardian, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The National Interest, etc. the world/international community has certainly informed about the spheres and the situations these presentations are going to cover. Starting from this point it’d be better to share some ideas about how the university of Oxford, one of the world’s prestigious university agreed its honor and dignity, space and pace, at last the rostrum to be used by one of the world’s most corrupted regime, Azerbaijani authoritarian regime, for its political re-habilitation and social agitations.
Recently revealed and widely discussed Azerbaijani Laundromat scandal has touched upon several members of the European Parliament including also the representatives of the British Parliament. Numerous European politicians, organizations received Azerbaijani money to keep silence against the human rights crackdown in the country. OCCRP investigation describes how $2.9 billion fund handled over a two-year period through four shell companies registered by the way in the UK. It is surprising if all these facts remained unknown to the representatives of the University of Oxford.
The first presentation that opens the Thursdays’ project is about gender and sustainable development in Azerbaijan. Does the Azerbaijani government that uses modern technology to record its political opponents’ bedroom have proper gender policy? Today half of the Azerbaijani population is women. They deeply suffered from domestic violence, political, economic, and social inequality. Unemployment rate is especially high among women living in the rural area. The suicide rate among women is especially high. It’s unknown if the presentation dedicated to the gender and sustainable development will be touched these painful issues.
Another ironic subject is child wellbeing and child savings accounts. Azerbaijan is a single country in the region that has not any child wellbeing program. Right now Azerbaijani political activists start a campaign for the proper child wellbeing program in the social networks. It’s also unknown if the presentation scrutinizes the social conditions of the children growing up in poverty. According to the World Bank report nearly 24% of the Azerbaijani population live in poverty; the independent experts have a different opinion and think that this number is as high as 40%.
Aliyev’s fairy tale about 5% poverty showed to be false since the first months of pandemic. Hundreds of people applied for financial support as an unemployed at once and the Employment Office network was simply destroyed. Is the Oxford University’s rostrum ready to declare fairy tale about human development and economic sustainability in the modern Azerbaijan after oil boom?
It seems to us more attractive and engaging topics are the economic sphere and the private sector. President Aliyev has declared that recent years $65 billion have been spent for the regional development. Under the “development’ the regime means the building of the Olympic complexes and former president’s or acting president’s father’s, former KGB leader, former head of the Azerbaijani Communist Party, former member of the Political Bureau of the USSR Heydar Aliyev’s monuments, museums, centers, and parks. Unfortunately, this development doesn’t allow the regions to set up their own budget, to meet the people’s social needs and interests. Nevertheless, the budgets of all regions of Azerbaijan are subsidized from the state budget, which is formed by 92% at the expense of Baku. Is it possible to speak about private sector in the country where more than 50% of the population get their salary from the state budget, where laws and courts are subordinated to the president and independent lawyers are under unprecedented pressure? Could one imagine to start his business in the country where property law doesn’t work and courts are not able to protect neither people life nor their property?
The greatest romantic epic poet of the 12thcentury Nizami Ganjavi had never have any connection with the any political regimes; he didn’t have any deal with corruption and political putrefaction either. But his name has already been skillfully used for these purposes by the 21st century political regime. And the university which history comes from 11th century closes its eyes on this shameful propaganda.
Cemil (Jamil) HASANLI
Cemil (Jamil) Hasanli — Research Fellow of IHR at the University of London. He is Chairman of the National Counsel of the Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan