This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
A group of environmentalists staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources in Baku on July 6. They cited ongoing deforestation and the long term lease — up to 49 years — of forest lands to private holders as the reason for the demonstration.
The protest was organised by Ecofront, an Azerbaijani environmental NGO.
Before the demonstration, Ecofront posted a list of demands on Facebook. These included the termination of a recent contract with the Beta Tea company which plans to clear 43 hectares of forest to create a tea plantation, the suspension of all excavation works on lands owned by the Azerbaijan Forest Fund, and the opening of all Forest Fund land lease agreements to the public.
At the protest, activists announced that they wanted to meet with the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Mukhtar Babayev to convey all their demands. However, a ministry spokesperson told them that the meeting was not possible due to pandemic safety measures.
“With this action, we are saying: stop cutting down trees and destroying nature,” Ecofront co-founder Javid Gara said in a live broadcast during the protest. “Otherwise, huge natural disasters await Azerbaijan.” He also specifically placed blame on “oligarchs, officials, and entrepreneurs” for the ongoing deforestation.
The recent forest lease agreements are part of Azerbaijan’s Agro Park program, established on April 16, 2014. According to the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, over 50 agro parks will be established in the country. So far, only 16 of these agro parks were set up while information on exact time frame for the agro parks does not appear in any of the official documents.