Mass executions of dogs are committed daily across Azerbaijan. International Organization for Animal Protection (OIPA) sent a letter to the relevant authorities of Azerbaijan demanding to put an end to the brutal extermination, but we have received no answer to date.
Now we have received a desperate appeal from the animal rights community of Azerbaijan. We support Azerbaijani animal rights activists and share their witness accounts and requests for the national institutions to put an end to the killings. The world must know what is happening to stray dogs in Azerbaijan!
Here is the appeal of the Azerbaijani animal protection community to the whole world:
Since the 1990s Azerbaijani officials have been conducting an unprecedented campaign to destroy the animals of Azerbaijan, with the involvement of mayors, ministers, and municipalities.
In 2007, Azerbaijan ratified the European Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals, which asserts that only humane methods to regulate the number of homeless animals are allowed (“in ways that do not cause imminent pain, suffering or mental anguish”). In spite of this, the authorities apply the most cruel and inhumane methods: they poison the poor animals, shoot them, slaughter them with shovels, burn them alive in furnaces, and take them to camps where they die without food, water or medical care.
The dog reception camp situated in Balakhani, a suburb of the capital city of Baku, is officially called ‘The Management of Cleanness and Sanitation of the Department of Housing and Communal Services of the Executive Authority of the City of Baku.’ It has turned into a death camp, drawing comparisons to the Nazi camp Buchenwald from animal rights defenders.
There, violently caught dogs were shot dead, until protests began occurring in front of the center. To avoid this attention, the government chose a quieter method of killing: dogs were poisoned in the camp, and then the bodies were taken out and burned nearby.
In May 2018, after years of filing lawsuits and repeated protests in front of the Balakhani Office, the authorities officially stopped the activities of the center. Its former employees were dismissed, and construction began for a new center for stray animals, the so-called ‘Toplan.‘
At that time, the country’s animal protection community was inspired by these initiatives, but in March 2019 the old policy of the authorities began again. The Toplan center, which previously looked like a beautiful postcard, restarted the violence. In the streets of the city, the authorities resumed shooting stray dogs. The responsible authorities have never tried to investigate the brutalities and illegal conduct.
The leadership of Toplan, in violation of laws regarding civil control and transparency, became something akin to a secret organization, providing no information about their activities. Today, the employees are abusive towards animal rights defenders and animals themselves.
Toplan’s territory is patrolled by a heavily armed police unit. During the last peaceful protest action led by animal defenders in front of the Toplan Center on March 18th 2019, local police and several dozen Toplan employees used violence, insults and provocations against citizens.
Nowadays, there is only one dog in the territory of the center. This is a reality which is far from the advertisements and promises made about the function of the center. Moreover, the fact that Toplan is located on the territory of a recycling plant and the main city landfill leads us to understand the intended purpose of the center and the situation of Azerbaijan’s stray animals.
The initial aim of the Toplan was to offer neuter/spay and vaccination treatments to stray animals and reintroductions into their areas of capture. It also promised a public education campaign, as the Azerbaijani public often have a negative stance towards stray animals and want them killed by authorities. In reality, stray dogs are trapped in a brutal way, brought to Toplan, and then they often disappear, as they are killed at night by gunshots. Moreover, Toplan actually promotes cruelty on their Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Videos of the Toplan’s violence and mistreatment of animals uploaded on Youtube can be seen here and here. Warning: these videos contain footage of animal abuse and are likely to be disturbing to many viewers.
The cruel methods used by Toplan employees to capture the dogs include violently forcing them into vehicles with shovels and using a fishing line with baited hooks. These tactics cause serious injuries to the animals, including fractured and broken bones. The sight of this shocks ordinary people, who often record what they witness on video or take photos and send the evidence to various volunteer groups. Even previously sterilized and vaccinated dogs are being killed.
In one of the videos, a man confesses to having paid around 100 Azerbaijani manat (about 58 United States dollars) to a shelter created by Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter of the President of Azerbaijan, to have stray dogs shot dead during the night.
This violence occurs around all the Azerbaijani cities but the animal mistreatment problems are particularly serious in the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Sheki, Khirdalan, Naftalan, Lerik, Lankaran, Khachmaz, Quba, Tovuz, and Yevlax.
The authorities are ordering animals shot dead without regard for the relevant animal welfare regulations and laws. It is evident that the work that should be carried out by authorities is instead being done by activists and volunteers, who tap into their own finances. They are fighting against the authorities who are supposedly in charge of defending the animals, but instead are killing them. In fact, the police officers taking part in shooting animals at night receive the allegations against them from the animal defenders the next morning.
It is important here to highlight that the violence conducted by the municipalities against the animals receives tacit support from the country’s leadership.
The activists and animal defenders are under constant threat, pressure, provocations, and attacks by the local authorities for their demands that the authorities comply with Azerbaijani legislation and fulfill the obligations of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
For many years, animal defenders have proposed the following concrete steps to solve the stray animal problem:
- Conduct a full audit of the activities of the Balakhani camp and the Toplan Center, and an investigation into corruption.
- Facilitate the constant access of animal rights defenders and journalists to all locations involved in the care of stray animals. Public control of the activities of these state institutions is important for animal welfare.
- Ideally, close the Toplan Center and transfer all animals to other shelters, due to its proximity to an unhygienic landfill and its contamination with many dog diseases.
- Prompt work on stray animals’ mass sterilization.
- Mass education campaigns promoting humane treatment for stray animals and the need for peaceful co-existence with them in shared spaces.
- Finally introduce criminal liability for cruelty to animals.
- Toughen punishment for irresponsible and neglectful pet ownership, which is how many animals end up homeless in the first place.
- Introduce a strict pet registration system, including compulsory microchipping.
- Legally mandate pet sterilization in most cases.
- Close all illegal animal sales.
However, the authorities will not fulfill any of these requests. This is why we ask the world to help us!
We ask the world to help the people of Azerbaijan to exert pressure, up to the imposition of sanctions against the Azerbaijani authorities, until they follow Azerbaijan’s own laws, fulfill international obligations, and punish those responsible for torturing and destroying Azerbaijani animals.
Featured image: activists in Azerbaijan carry a sign calling for an end to stray dog killings. Image via OIPA.