Azerbaijan 2016 Crime & Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Theft; Burglary; Assault; Rape/Sexual Violence; Financial Security; Human Trafficking; Drug Trafficking; Winter weather; Riots/Civil Unrest; Religious Violence; Earthquakes; Hate Crimes; Bribery; Fraud
Europe > Azerbaijan; Europe > Azerbaijan > Baku
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Post Crime Rating: Medium
Criminal acts committed against foreigners are infrequent in Baku. The majority of reported crimes involve Azerbaijani citizens; burglary and assault are the most common.
Expatriates are at greater risk of being victims of petty crime in areas that attract large crowds or are very isolated. Petty thefts (pickpocketing), while not common, are frequently perpetrated against foreigners in Baku. Late-night targeted attacks against lone men are the most common crimes against foreigners and often involve alcohol.
Some Western women have reported incidents of unwanted male attention, including groping 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 internal affairs ministry has not published any figures for rape or sexual assault for 2015. The RSO is aware of instances in which men have forced their way into a woman’s apartment in an apparent attempt to have sex and instances in which serious social miscues between local men and Western women have led to precarious situations for the women, although no crimes were committed.
Financial scams are becoming more common. While the majority are Internet-based scams involving dating, there have been some complaints regarding fraudulent real estate and travel advertisements.
Azerbaijan is traditionally a cash society. However, the introduction of credit/debit cards has given rise to crime targeting their use, and at least one American U.S. Embassy employee’s bank card was compromised. It is unclear whether the compromise originated from its use in Azerbaijan.
Registered Crimes for 2015 (The MIA has posted its 2015 statistics at this link: http://www.mia.gov.az/?/en/content/29865/)
Total Crimes: 26,916 (15.8 percent grave crimes, 84.2 percent non-grave crimes)
While in 2014 Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) reported that 167 people were prosecuted for illegal possession of firearms, they did not publish figures for 2015.
Eight criminal gangs comprised of 17 people were arrested for human trafficking in which 63 victims were identified.
2,935 cases (786 cases of possession for sale) involving 63 criminal groups led to 150 people arrested on narcotics charges and 804 kg of narcotics seized.
In 2014, 1,223 crimes were reported as a result of victim/witness calls to 102. MIA did not release any numbers for 102 calls for 2015. In 2014, MIA reported that 269 crimes were identified via the use of cameras throughout Baku, but they did not release any official figures for 2015. Some 2,534 fugitives were detected, including 73 by other INTERPOL countries and 74 for other INTERPOL countries.
Total number of people fined: 13,392
Other Areas of Concern
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise caution if traveling to Nardaran, which is 30 km from Baku on the Absheron Peninsula.
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. Fighting erupted over control of the region in the early 1990s. Although a cease-fire has been in effect since 1994, there are regular exchanges of gunfire across the line of contact. Some areas may be heavily landmined. It is not possible to enter the self-proclaimed “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” which is not recognized by the U.S., from Azerbaijan. Photographing these areas is discouraged and may result in detention. Traveling to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories via Armenia without the consent of the government of Azerbaijan is unlawful. Engaging in any commercial activities in the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, without the consent of the government of Azerbaijan, may result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action against individuals and/or businesses in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan considers travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories unlawful and could make a traveler ineligible to visit Azerbaijan in the future.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Azerbaijan has been undergoing a massive infrastructure improvement program, with many major highways and main 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 of metropolitan areas are poorly illuminated, and the lack of visibility at night compounds daytime driving hazards. It is not uncommon to encounter drivers who do not use any lighting on their vehicles while. 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 safety driving techniques.
Driving is risky. Traffic police enforce traffic laws inconsistently and at a generally low level relative to the pernicious level of illegal vehicle operation throughout the country. Drivers do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians, or other drivers. Drivers often speed excessively; accidents are frequent and serious.
Exercising extreme care during winter is recommended, as local authorities do not clear roadways of snow or ice, increasing the rate of accidents.
Public Transportation Conditions
The Baku metro system is an inexpensive and a good option for transportation. Security cameras provide excellent coverage of all metro platforms. There are police units at each metro station, and bag checks may be carried out at entrances.
Use established taxi companies and/or professional private drivers. Most unmarked, and some marked, taxis are not metered, and foreigners are often overcharged. 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) are metered, but passengers should confirm that the meter is activated appropriately. 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. It is not recommended to use unmarked taxis. Hiring a private car through a reputable hotel is generally regarded as safe, although more expensive.
The Regional Security Office counsels against using the public bus network in Baku due to the lack of training and poor driving practices. Despite the significant number of newly purchased Iveco-brand buses related to the 2015 European Olympic Games, it is imprudent to use the buses for travel around Baku. Buses operating in regions outside of, and the majority of buses running in Baku, are generally poorly maintained or even outright neglected. Azerbaijani bus maintenance tends to mirror their driving habits.
Other Travel Conditions
Sidewalks are often uneven with loose 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.
Sidewalks and stairs leading into underground pedestrian crosswalk tunnels and most buildings do not meet U.S. standards for handicap accessibility.
Post Terrorism Rating: High
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
With the recent devaluation of Azerbaijan’s manat (AZN), several protests involving groups numbering in the low hundreds took place during the last weeks of 2015. These protests occurred in towns and villages north, south, and west of Baku. While they were largely peaceful, a handful of arrests were made at some of the demonstrations.
The political situation in Baku is stable.
Post Political Violence Rating: Medium
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.
Violence motivated by religious or ethnic differences does occur, albeit rarely. Rural areas are generally considered less tolerant of religious and ethnic differences than metropolitan areas.
In late 2015 Nardaran, a largely Shia area outside of Baku, was the site of numerous protests concerning the treatment of certain Shia clerics at the hand of Azerbaijani police and internal ministry personnel. The town was sealed by police and security units for a few days. The community has had several violent confrontations with the government over social and economic issues. The people of Nardaran tend to be suspicious of outsiders, including other Azerbaijanis and have an anti-Western outlook. Such protests and clashes with government are an annual affair. While the government’s treatment of certain people in Nardaran is apparently harsh, government assertions that some of those clerics instigating protests having terror ties are likely not wholly unfounded.
Azerbaijan is in a seismically-active area, and minor earthquakes are common.
A significant earthquake occurred on November 25, 2000, measuring 5.9 with a second quake measuring 6.3 followed a minute later, the strongest experienced in 150 years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the epicenter was in the Caspian Sea, some 25 km to the south south-east of Baku.
An earthquake measuring 4.5 affected Baku on February 10, 2014. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its epicenter was Saatli (60 km to the south-west of Baku).
Due to the risk of earthquakes in the region, U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a 72-hour kit with basic emergency supplies, food, medicine, water, and clothing.
Baku is quite metropolitan, and its population is more experienced with and tolerant of foreigners. This is not necessarily the case outside Baku in more rural areas.
While Azerbaijani society is not particularly tolerant of open expressions of homosexuality, there have been no incidents of physical violence toward these individuals. In Baku, there is an active LGBT community, but in the regions there is little/no tolerance.
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 of the capital and in rural areas, this is more pronounced. The level of police training and response changes from region to region and unit to unit. Azerbaijani police response times can best be described as 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 also 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. The Ministry of Emergency Services also connects calls made to 911 directly through to 112 for those foreigners who are unaware of the 112 number.
If U.S. citizens become a victim of crime, they should report the incident to the Embassy’s American Citizens Services section at (994 12) 488-3300. Additionally, the internal affairs ministry 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.
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, are responsible for law enforcement activities on roads, railroad, air, and water transportation facilities, as well as environmental crimes in the basin of the Caspian Sea 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. They are also responsible for other public safety response and accident prevention.
Emergency response times for ambulances in Baku are longer than expected by most expatriates. In some urgent cases, an injured/sick person may need to arrange transport themselves to a medical facility.
Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics
SOS International: A private urgent-care clinic staffed by Western doctors 24/7. Payment is in Manats or credit cards. Billing receipts are insurance-ready.
Location: Safarov 1, Baku
Tel: (992 12) 493-5003
Central Clinical Hospital: A private clinic and hospital with a large Turkish influence and 24/7 emergency room. This is an adequate, basic-care hospital with excellent care in cardiology. Some doctors speak English. Payment is in Manats only. The equipment is new, but skill in using and interpreting results may be rudimentary.
Location: 76 Parliament Prospect
Ambulatory: 5 Zarifa Aliyeva Street
Tel: (994 12) 492-1092
MediClub: A primary health care clinic that also provides basic emergency care and some pediatric care and can do minor surgery. Best emergency pediatrics.
Location: 45 U. Hajibayov Street
Tel: (994 12) 497-0911
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
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the CDC’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747). For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/azerbaijan.htm.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the WHO web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
OSAC Country Council Information
The OSAC Country Council meets quarterly in Baku. The primary point of contact is RSO Jeffrey B. Hicks, reachable by email at HicksJB@state.gov or BakuRSO@state.gov or by telephone at (994 12) 488-3300. To reach OSAC’s Europe team, please email OSACEUR@state.gov.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
111 Azadliq Prospekt, Baku, Azerbaijan 1007
American Citizens Services hours are by appointment only. Mon-Thurs, 2:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m., and Fri 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, except for American U.S. and Azerbaijani holidays.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Azerbaijan Country Code: 994
Baku City Code: 12 (012 if calling from a local mobile phone)
Embassy Operator: (994 12) 488-3300
American Citizens Services (Consular Section): (994 12) 488-3300; ask for the duty officer after-hours
RSO: (994 12) 488-3300; ask for the RSO
Marine Post One: (994 12) 488-3333
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to become part of the Warden System in order to receive important information in the event of an emergency or crisis.
Because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Some U.S. citizens, most commonly males, have reported being victims of crimes that occur late at night and in bars frequented by Westerners. Crime occurs when a patron is approached by a young woman who asks a male to buy her a drink. After buying the woman a drink and talking for a while, the male is presented with a bill for 250 AZN (approximately U.S.$200). When he protests, he is approached by several men, detained, and forced to pay the full amount under threat of physical violence.
Situational Awareness Best Practices
The RSO recommends that U.S. citizens remain aware of their surroundings and travel with a companion if possible. The potential for crime is real, and basic security precautions should always be exercised. Visitors are advised not to walk alone at night.
Visitors should carry a copy of their passport and visa. Visitors should vary their times and routes, especially from their place of residence or hotel to their work locations.
Visitors are advised to maintain a low profile and to carry only the amount of money necessary for the day’s activities. Whenever possible, visitors should keep cash and identification in their front pockets. A lost credit card, driver’s license, and/or other documents can be difficult to replace. Purses should be tucked into the crook of the arm and protected while going about daily activities. If carrying a bag with a shoulder strap, keep a hand over the clasp and do not allow the bag to hang freely.
To help protect against credit card fraud, the RSO recommends that U.S. citizens notify their banks and credit card companies with the dates and locations of their travel and closely monitor their accounts once they have returned from travel. Credit cards typically have more protection than bank debit cards. Avoid using debit cards tied directly to checking or savings accounts.