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Azerbaijan 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Azerbaijan; Europe > Azerbaijan > Baku

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 ACS Unit 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 webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

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. Commonly, a male patron is approached by a young woman who asks him to buy her a drink. After buying the woman a drink and conversing, the male is presented with a bill for 375 AZN (approximately US$200). When he protests, he is 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 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 Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) published figure for rape or sexual assault in 2016 was 15. Compared to the same period of 2015 (18) sexual assaults decreased by 16.7%. 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, as well as instances in which serious social miscues between men and Western women led to precarious situations for the women, although no crimes were committed.

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

Azerbaijan is traditionally a cash society. However, the introduction of credit/bank cards has given rise to burgeoning crime related to their use, and at least one U.S. Embassy employee’s bank card was compromised although it is unclear whether the compromise originated from its use in Azerbaijan. 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.

Total crime statistics for 2016 will not be published until mid-2017. Mid-Year Total Crimes: 14,251 (+718 or + 5.3 % compared with same period of 2015). MIA reported that 90 people were prosecuted for illegal possession of firearms in the first six months 2016. That number is +22 compared to the first six months of 2015. Human trafficking is systemic and increasing. 93 crimes of trafficking in humans were reported in the first half of 2016 (+16.2 % more compared to the same period of 2015). Azerbaijan prosecuted 16 people (+5 from 2015) responsible for 52 victims (+4). In the first half of 2016, charges involving 31 (+9) criminal groups led to 75 people arrested on narcotics charges and 628 kg of narcotics seized. Over 102 tons (+111 tons) were destroyed. 2,534 fugitives were detected, including 73 by other INTERPOL countries and 74 for non-INTERPOL countries.

Cybersecurity Issues

ATM, banks, petty theft, cybercrimes, and scams are not significant in Azerbaijan, and their statistics were not published by national law enforcement agencies 

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. 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. 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, and fighting briefly renewed in April 2016. Some areas may be heavily landmined. Photography in these areas is discouraged and may result in detention. It is not possible to enter the self-proclaimed “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh,” which is not recognized by the U.S., from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan considers unauthorized travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories unlawful and could make a traveler ineligible to visit Azerbaijan. Engaging in any commercial activities in the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action being taken against individuals and/or businesses within the Azerbaijan judicial system; it may also prevent future travel to Azerbaijan.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Azerbaijan is 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 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 pernicious level of reckless vehicle operation. Drivers often do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians or other drivers. Drivers often speed excessively, and 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.

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 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 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) are 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 safe, although more expensive. Uber is new, but initial impressions indicate it is a reliable means of transportation.

The RSO advises against using the public bus network in Baku largely due to the lack of training and unsafe driving practices of drivers. Safety and licensing standards do not match those found in the U.S. Despite the significant number of newly purchased Iveco brand buses related to the 2015 European Olympic Games, it is imprudent to use these buses for travel around Baku.  

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.

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 2016, 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.
On December 3, 2016, State Security Services (SSS) officers killed a man the government said was carrying an explosive device and who planned to commit acts of terror on Azerbaijan's territory. The SSS said in a statement that officers tried to arrest the 38-year old male near a shopping center in Baku and killed him when he presented a threat to the officers. According to the government, the suspect swore “allegiance to representatives of international terrorist organizations and illegal militias involved in conflicts abroad." 
On November 25, 2016, one terror suspect was killed during an SSS operation in Khachmaz District. A 42-year old male was suspected of leading a terrorist organization involved in armed conflicts outside Azerbaijan and of recruiting Azerbaijani citizens to fight abroad. A government statement said the suspect illegally acquired firearms and explosives and planned to carry out terrorist attacks and kidnappings.
On October 27, 2016, the SSS announced that its officers had conducted raids in which two men suspected of planning terror attacks in Azerbaijan were killed and a third was wounded. The SSS said in a statement the men had created an armed group in Azerbaijan and pledged allegiance to terrorist groups involved in armed conflicts outside Azerbaijan.
On February 12, 2016, the SSS arrested eight suspects in a counterterrorism operation. Several of those have since been convicted and sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges.

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.

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. As the manat continues to decline into 2017, the likelihood of additional protests will increase.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Azerbaijan is in a seismically-active area, and minor earthquakes are common. 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.
An earthquake measuring 4.5 affected Baku on February 10, 2014. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its epicenter was Saatli (60 km southwest of Baku).

Economic Concerns

U.S. and multinational companies did not report any major incidents of espionage or intellectual property theft in Azerbaijan in 2016. Several stores in Baku and in other cities prominently feature the logos of major U.S. companies on their storefronts, and the government has not taken any overt steps to end this practice.

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 camera security system throughout major cities. Cell phones must be registered with the government in order to access the local network.

Personal Identity Concerns

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

Sidewalks and stairs leading into underground pedestrian crosswalk tunnels and most buildings do not meet U.S. standards for handicap accessibility.

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, this is more pronounced. The level of police training and response varies among regions and units. 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. Visitors should carry a copy of their passport and visa. 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. The Ministry of Emergency Situations 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 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.

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

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 Available Medical Services

SOS International:  A private urgent-care clinic staffed by Western doctors 24/7.  Payment is in manats or by credit card.  Billing receipts are insurance-ready.
Location: Safarov 1, Baku
Tel: (992 12) 493-5003

Central Clinical Hospital: A private clinic and hospital with a strong 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

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

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Azerbaijan. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Baku or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

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, 2:00p.m.-4:30p.m., and Fri 9:00a.m.-12:00noon, except for American 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
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
Website: http://azerbaijan.usembassy.gov/index.html.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and 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 U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Additional Resources

Azerbaijan Country Information Sheet