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Azerbaijan 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Azerbaijan; Europe > Azerbaijan > Baku

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Azerbaijan has been assessed as Level 2. Exercise increased caution due to the risk of terrorism. Do not travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Baku does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baku as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Azerbaijan-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

Criminal acts committed against foreigners are infrequent in Baku. The majority of reported crimes involve Azerbaijani citizens, with burglary and assault being the most common. Late-night targeted attacks against lone men are the most common crimes perpetrated against foreigners. Petty thefts (pickpocketing), while not common, are sometimes perpetrated against foreigners in Baku. Expatriates are at greater risk of being victims of petty crime in areas that attract large crowds or are very isolated.

Some U.S. citizens, most commonly males, have reported being victims of certain scams in bars frequented by Westerners. In several instances, a male patron was approached by a young woman who asked him to buy her a drink. After buying the woman a drink and conversing, the male was presented with a bill for upward of 375 AZN (approximately US$222). When the targeted male protested, he was approached by several men, detained, and forced to pay the full amount under threat of physical violence.

Some women have reported incidents of unwanted male attention, including touching and other inappropriate behavior while walking on the streets alone and when taking taxis. While the number of reported sexual assaults is statistically very low, they are likely underreported due to cultural stigmatization. The Regional Security Office (RSO) is aware of one instance in which a U.S. citizen female was sexually assaulted while on an early morning jog in a park located in a tourist area.

The introduction of credit/bank cards has given rise to burgeoning crime related to their use. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

The final crime statistics for 2017 were released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). Total Crimes: 26,113 (2.7% less than in 2016). 142 crimes of trafficking in humans were reported in 2017. 1,028 organized criminal groups were disrupted (including 78 criminal groups specializing in narcotics) and 944.5 kg of narcotics were seized.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrimes are not common in Azerbaijan, and their statistics were not published by national law enforcement agencies.

Financial scams are increasingly common. While the majority of Internet-based scams involve Internet dating, there have been complaints regarding fraudulent real estate sales, licensing requirements, and travel advertisements.

Other Areas of Concern

U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise caution if traveling to Nardaran, which is 45 km from Baku on the Absheron peninsula. Nardaran is religiously conservative and has been the site of several anti-U.S. and anti-Israel protests. It has also been the site of government raids, which have sometimes resulted in deadly violence. The government of Azerbaijan established a police station inside the area to monitor and reduce criminal threats.

Travelers are cautioned to avoid travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas. Nagorno-Karabakh is a contested area in the southeastern portion of the lesser Caucasus Mountains. Although a cease-fire has been in effect since 1994, there are regular exchanges of gunfire across the line of contact, and fighting was briefly renewed in April 2016. Land mines may be present in areas near the front line. Photography in these areas is discouraged and may result in detention. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.” It is not possible to enter the self-proclaimed “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” which is not recognized by the U.S. from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has declared it illegal to travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories without its permission. Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action being taken by the Azerbaijani government against individuals and/or businesses, and might make a traveler ineligible to visit Azerbaijan in the future.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Azerbaijan is undergoing a massive infrastructure improvement program with many major highways and primary thoroughfares under construction. Although the newer sections of the road system are significantly improved, the unfinished sections remain dangerous. Road conditions are generally poor with better conditions in larger cities. Driving hazards (debris, sinkholes, potholes) are common. Roadways outside metropolitan areas are poorly illuminated, and reduced visibility at night compounds driving hazards. It is not uncommon to encounter drivers at night not using any lighting. Construction zones may or may not be marked or may be indistinguishable until the driver is already upon them. Pedestrians contribute to the hazardous driving conditions by disregarding lane markings, other vehicles, crosswalks, signs/signals, and demonstrating a general disregard for safe driving techniques.

Traffic police enforce traffic laws inconsistently and at a generally low-level relative to the widespread incidents of reckless driving. Drivers often disregard traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians or other drivers. Drivers often speed excessively, and road accidents are frequent and serious.

Azerbaijan widely uses speed and traffic cameras. All vehicle license plates are equipped with radio frequency identification chips.

Public Transportation Conditions

The Baku metro system is an inexpensive and reliable option for transportation. Security cameras provide excellent coverage of all metro platforms. There are police units at each metro station, and random bag checks may be carried out at entrances.

Only use established taxi companies and/or professional private drivers for travel. Most unmarked, and some marked, taxis are not metered, and foreigners are often overcharged. It is not recommended for people to use unmarked taxis. Visitors should negotiate the fare before entering a taxi. Asking for a reasonable fare is expected and appropriate. The 189 telephone taxi service will provide the fare in advance and specify the license number of the taxi to be dispatched. Purple London-style taxi cabs (9000) may be metered, but passengers should confirm that the meter is activated. The majority of these cabs have established a 3 AZN minimum charge although there are still several cabs that start trips with a 1 AZN minimum. Hiring a private car through a reputable hotel is generally regarded as a safe alternative, although more expensive. Uber is another alternative and general impressions indicate it is a reliable means of transportation. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”

The RSO advises against using the public bus network largely due to the lack of training and the unsafe driving practices of bus drivers. Safety and licensing standards do not meet requirements in the U.S.

Other Travel Conditions

Exercising extreme care during winter is recommended, as local authorities do not clear roadways of snow or ice, increasing the frequency of accidents.

Sidewalks are often uneven with loose or missing stones/bricks and potholes. Many sidewalks, public courtyards, and park walkways are paved with marble. Marble edges of sidewalks and marble paving stones are extremely slippery when wet or icy. The number of injuries resulting from falling on marble-paved walkways increases significantly during rainy or icy conditions.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baku as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

In 2017, Azerbaijan maintained its strong counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. and actively opposed terrorist organizations seeking to move people, money, and materiel through the Caucasus region. The country remained focused on counterterrorism efforts that included prosecuting individuals under statutes related to terrorism, arresting foreign terrorist fighters returning to Azerbaijan from conflicts abroad, and conducting special operations against those the government suspected were planning terror attacks.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baku as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The political situation in Baku is stable.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations are infrequent. However, since January 2013, there have been periodic demonstrations relating to education reforms, military hazing, and disapproval of other government actions (or inactions). Opposition demonstrations are normally accompanied by a heavy police presence. Violence associated with demonstrations is not common but may occur. The authorities may impose high fines on those found guilty of unauthorized protesting/gathering or sentence them to administrative detention. Visitors should avoid demonstrations because of the risk of escalation instigated by hostile elements and agitators.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Travelers should be aware that certain religious activities are restricted in Azerbaijan. Officially, the constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion, equality of all religions, and protects the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs and carry out religious rituals. However, the law states the government – and citizens – have a responsibility to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism.” Some religious groups have faced harassment. The government has been known to arrest or detain religious activists after raids on gatherings of minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists. The number of religious activists considered to be political prisoners increased from 46 to 86 in 2017. “Nontraditional” religious organizations continue to experience difficulties registering with the government and, as unregistered communities, they are unable to meet openly. Authorities have been known to close religious buildings and interrupt religious services. The government also continues to impose limits on the import, distribution, and sale of religious materials. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.”

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Azerbaijan is in a seismically active area, and numerous low-magnitude earthquakes occur throughout the year; however, the majority of them are not felt. A 5.2-magnitude earthquake struck central Azerbaijan on November 15, 2017. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its epicenter was near Barda (131 miles east of Baku). Due to the risk of earthquakes, U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a 72-hour kit with basic emergency supplies, food, medicine, water and clothing.

Economic Concerns

Azerbaijan is traditionally a cash society. Illegal currency markets thrived following two currency devaluations of the manat in February and December 2015, leading to Azerbaijan’s control of the exchange rate through a managed float trading within a 4% band. As a result, illegal currency exchange markets have been estimated to be trading at about 10% above the average bank rate. During this period, there were also a few high profile arrests of bank officials involved in black market sales of currency. RSO have received no reports of fraudulent currency being used.

Privacy Concerns

The government of Azerbaijan has a robust security camera system throughout major cities. Cell phones must be registered with the government in order to access the local network.

Personal Identity Concerns

Sidewalks and stairs leading into underground pedestrian crosswalk tunnels and most buildings are generally not handicap accessible and do not meet U.S. standards.

U.S. citizens of Armenian descent may encounter anti-Armenian sentiments.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) travelers are advised to exercise increased caution. LGBTI individuals are not specifically protected by antidiscrimination laws. Societal intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain a problem in Azerbaijan. It is not illegal to organize LGBTI events, but societal intolerance generally inhibits such events. One of the main concerns for the Azerbaijani LGBTI community is the perceived failure of law enforcement agencies to act on violations of LGBTI individuals’ rights and indifference to investigating reports of crimes committed against them. The Department of State’s most recent Human Rights Report documents incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible.

Police Response

The police presence in Baku is significant, but most officers are not experienced in dealing with Westerners, and the number of English-speaking policemen is low. Outside the capital and in rural areas, the lack of English is more pronounced. The level of police training and response varies among regions and units. Azerbaijani police response times are variable.

Police may stop individuals and ask to inspect identity documents. All citizens and visitors must present an official form of identification (passport, driver’s license, or a certified copy thereof) to an officer upon request. Failure to produce identification may result in temporary detention. If stopped by police, drivers should have all required documents with them: passport or local registration documents, driver’s license, vehicle registration documents, and proof of insurance.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Solicitations for bribes are common during police traffic stops. Drivers are encouraged not to pay bribes; they should request that the officer issue a ticket. Drivers should make note of the presence of any traffic cameras near the scene of any stop or incident and note the time for future reference if any investigation is necessary.

Crime Victim Assistance

The emergency number for police is 102. An English-speaking operator is available 24 hours a day and should be requested.

If U.S. citizens become a victim of crime, they should report the incident to the Embassy’s American Citizens Services at (994 12) 488-3300 or to the duty officer after hours. Additionally, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has established an office to assist foreigners victimized by crime that can be reached at (994 12) 590-9532 or after hours at (994 12) 490-9452.

For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is the central executive agency responsible for public security, including the prevention and exposure of criminal offences within the framework of authorities provided by national legislation.

The Transportation Police Department, which falls under the MIA, is responsible for law enforcement activities on roads, railroad, air, and water transportation facilities, as well as environmental crimes in the Caspian Sea basin and the national network of rivers, lakes, and other aquatic resources.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations is charged with responding to natural disasters, industrial accidents, fires, and collapsed structures. It is also responsible for other public safety response and accident prevention.

Medical Emergencies

The emergency number for ambulance is 103. Emergency response times for ambulances are longer than expected by most foreign visitors/residents. In some urgent cases, an injured/sick person may need to arrange transport themselves to a medical facility via taxi or private vehicle.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

SOS can assist in emergency medical evacuation.

Location: Safarov 1, Baku

Tel: (994 12) 493-5003

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Azerbaijan.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Embassy’s Regional Security Office is organizing a Country Council in Azerbaijan. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

111 Azadliq Prospekt, Baku, Azerbaijan 1007; Mon-Fri, 0830-1730

American Citizens Services hours are by appointment only Mon-Thurs, 1400-1630., and Fri 0900-1200, except for U.S. and Azerbaijani holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Country Code: 994

Baku City Code: 12 (012 if calling from a local mobile phone)

Embassy Operator: (994 12) 488-3300

Marine Post One: (994 12) 488-3333

Website: https://az.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Azerbaijan should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Additional Resources

Azerbaijan Country Information Sheet