Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azerbaijan's Multiplying Airports

On latest construction site, villagers say their farmland was taken before anyone offered them compensation.
By Gular Mehdizadeh
  •  Elchin Qubadov, whose farmland has been seized to build a new airport. (Photo: Gular Mehdizade)
    Elchin Qubadov, whose farmland has been seized to build a new airport. (Photo: Gular Mehdizade)
  •  The village of Davudoba in northern Azerbaijan. (Photo: Gular Mehdizade)
    The village of Davudoba in northern Azerbaijan. (Photo: Gular Mehdizade)

Residents of three villages in northern Azerbaijan are furious that a new airport is being built on their land with no real consultation or advance warning. They say the money they have since been offered as compensation is totally inadequate. 

The airport, located in the Quba district about 170 kilometres north of the capital Baku, is being built on farmland belonging to the villages of Dovudoba, Hajiqayib and Armakiqishlar.

According to Elchin Qubadov, who lives in Dovudoba, “It was only after the construction work started that someone from local government told me I’d receive 80 manats [100 US dollar] per 100 square metres of unfenced land and 150 manats for every 100 square metres of market garden. But no one asked whether we would agree to that.”

Qubadov said his smallholding kept his entire family supplied with food and produced a 1,500-manat profit every.

“My family needs bread, not an airport or compensation,” he said.

Qubadov’s neighbour Orujali Tajimov said everyone felt they had been short-changed by the compulsory purchase since land prices in the nearest town were as high as 1,000 manats per 100 square metres.

“These are very low prices, and they don’t satisfy us. That is why we are opposed to them building an airport here. We earn our living from this land. We used to keep our livestock on the pasture lands they have taken. We sell the harvest we grow on our smallholdings and live off the proceeds,” he told IWPR. “What are we going to live on once they’ve taken our land away from us? If they pay us 1,500 manats [in total], that’s what we would earn in one year. What do we do the next year?”

Villagers say a company called Azvirt has been contracted to build the airport. When IWPR called Azvirt to find out whether this was the case, a receptionist said, “We don’t give out information about our work”. The company’s website does not list the Quba among its projects.

Vugar Rashidov, a local government spokesman for Quba district, said the airport was a “state project”. Despite this, the airport is not mentioned in this year’s government budget, the current investment programme, or in the accounts of the State Oil Fund, which finances infrastructure projects of this kind.

“None of the local residents will be dissatisfied,” he added.

Whoever is in charge, lawyer Emin Abbasov says that forcible confiscation of privately owned or leased property is against the law.

“Whether it’s a private company or the state, they need to obtain permission from these citizens and fully compensate them for their losses before they start construction,” he said.

The government has powers of compulsory purchase, which apply when land is needed for projects of national importance, such as major roads, communications infrastructure, and defence facilities.

In Abbasov’s view, “Building this airport is clearly not essential to the state.” (See Azeri Farmers Say Land Seized for Ski Resort on a similar case of expropriation.)

The Quba airport is the latest in a series that being built or refurbished around the country under a programme that began in 2007. To date, the airports at Ganja, Lenkoran and Zaqatala have been rebuilt, and a new one constructed at Qabala.

“The plan is to build them in every region in the country,” Jahangir Askarov, head of the national airline AZAL, told reporters recently.
“Prices for internal flights have also been cut. For example, a ticket from Baku to Qabala now costs 30 instead of 50 manats. That means more people will soon use these airports.”

Natiq Jafarli, an economist and head of the opposition REAL political movement, said regional airports would never be profitable, and it made no sense to build one in Quba.

“It’s just 170 km from Baku to Quba – you can drive that in a car in two hours at most. Why do they need an airport? What sense is there in spending all this money?” he asked. “There are three or four airports within a 200 kilometre radius. That’s totally illogical for a small country like Azerbaijan. These airports will never be profitable – the existing ones aren’t.”

Rasul Mammadov, a 46-year-old resident of Baku, was equally unenthused by prospect of taking internal flights.

“I can get to Qabala from Baku by taxi for ten manats in two-and-a-half hours. Why would I spend that much [on flying]? Especially since you don’t save any time anyway, as it takes 90 minutes to get to the airport in the Baku traffic….. Taking a car is cheaper and more comfortable,” he told IWPR. 

Gular Mehdizade is a journalist with the Bizim Yol newspaper in Azerbaijan.