In Azerbaijan, an entire village was vacated for the President's son-in-law

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

This article was first published on Abzas Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.

The village of Garachayli, Azerbaijan, was once home to ten families. Their livelihoods depended on the land they farmed. But in 2017, the territory of the village was leased to a company named Shabran Agrocomplex LLC for 49 years. Eventually, all of the families were forced to relocate to nearby villages, including the family of Tahir Rasulov, who, in pursuit of fair remuneration for his land, fought the forced eviction in the courts. But two years later, Rasulov, too, was forced to leave empty-handed.

Residents of the village told Abzas Media that the land belonged to the grand mufti of Azerbaijan, Allahshükür Pashazade — the spiritual leader of Muslims in Azerbaijan. Pashazade leased the land to the residents, who cultivated the land and made a living out of it. Then, Agrocomplex came to the village, informing the residents they had to move. Rasulov told Abzas Media about the trouble the company caused him and other residents, “They tortured and tormented me a lot. They threatened me with the police. They took me out of my ancestral home.”

Since 2017, all previous occupants of the village have remained landless. In an attempt to investigate the deal and the ownership of Shabran Agrocomplex, Abzas Media spoke with local residents and went through a database of available documents to find out more.

The investigation revealed that the founder of Shabran Agrocomplex is Baku Agropark, formerly known as AzEcoFarm. Baku Agropark belongs to a businessman Samad Gurbanov, who is married to Arzu Aliyeva, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev's youngest daughter.

Following the opening of Baku Agropark's first greenhouse in 2017 (which grows tomatoes), Gurbanov's company was provided with ample opportunities by state institutions. Investigations show that Gurbanov's personal investment of a total of AZN 11.7 million (USD 6.9 million) was matched with an additional AZN 10 million loan from the Entrepreneurship Development Fund financed by the state budget. The loan was given to Gurbanov for a period of ten years, with a fixed interest rate of 5 percent per annum.

Gurbanov's company was also exempted from paying for the electrical wiring installation during the construction of the greenhouse, which was done by a company named Retro Holding, owned by Arif Pashayev, Ilham Aliyev's father-in-law. Other investment favors included favorable loans for the irrigation infrastructure of the agrocomplex — all on the state's dime, with many of the companies involved not disclosing the total costs.

Meanwhile, farmers in the vicinity of the complex can't find water to irrigate their fields. In an interview with Abzas Media, one resident of the nearby village said, “Look, we need water right now. The crop is at its height. The less harvest is collected, the higher the chances of the government taking over the land and giving it over to whoever sows grain better and yields higher produce.”

Water shortages in nearby villages are not the only issue. Residents of another village say their homes are not supplied with gas even as the agrocomplex is provided with gas through a separate gas line. One resident told Abzas Media the families burn whatever wood they can find to heat their homes and sustain their living.

In these remote regions of Azerbaijan, there are virtually no employment opportunities for the villagers. Those who spoke to Abzas Media said the agrocomplex is their last resort for employment and yet, they are refused jobs or are offered low salaries ranging between AZN 300–350 per month (approximately USD 200). As one resident put it, “It's modern day slavery.”

Court documents show that Baku Agropark also pays incredibly cheap rent for the land it has leased in the village of Garachayli — an annual rent of AZN 2,520 for 1,738 hectares of land. Tahir Rasulov, the village resident, told Abzas Media that until 2019, he paid a rent of AZN 30 per hectare of that land. And yet, Baku Agropark pays just 1 manat and 50 cents per hectare for its multi-million manat investment.

Samad Gurbanov's ownership goes beyond the Baku Agropark. There is the Baku Agropark Trading House, engaged in the wholesale trade of fruits and vegetables; Maxitrading LLC, engaged in the import and distribution of food products; as well as several other companies belonging to Mirlex Group (Mirlex Development and Mirlex Construction LLC), engaged in the sale of fire extinguishers, installation of automatic fire alarms, parking, and video surveillance systems.

The offices of many of Samad Gurbanov's companies are located in Port Baku Towers, an elite business center owned by Pasha Holding.

The company has a food warehouse in the Absheron region.

Attempts by Abzas Media journalists to speak with the managers of the agro complex in Shabran proved futile. Our film crew was stopped by a security guard and told none of the managers were at the complex.

Journalists were not the only ones unable to enter the premises of the plant. After the residents of the village were forced to flee, they left behind the village graveyard. Ever since the complex was built and their land was taken, they must seek permission from the agrocomplex management even to visit the graves of their late relatives.

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