Under Azerbaijani legislation, torturing and killing stray animals are not regarded as a crime, and those who commit these kinds of acts simply get an administrative penalty – a fine of about 500 Manats (289 USD): “Regarding animal rights, there are only three articles in the Code of Administrative Offences: One of them is more about veterinary medicine, the second is about regulations regarding keeping pets, and the third is Article 274. The article says that if you kill or maim an animal, you will be fined 500 Manats,” Elkhan says. Previously, the fine was only 25-45 Manats (about 15-26 USD), but animal rights activists lobbied for the fine to be raised. Yet they say that is not enough. The activists have been fighting for animal rights for years, and believe that it is high time the state began to implement a programme to sterilize stray animals.
During the protest that took place in the center of Baku on 23 February, the animal rights activists raised a placard reading “Stop Toplan”. Toplan is the name of the care center for stray animals that the animal rights activists pinned great hopes on.
When Toplan (Toplan is the most common dog name in Azerbaijan – editor’s note) opened in February 2019, they first breathed easily, thinking it would be easier for stray dogs to live on the streets of Baku.
Leyla Aliyeva, vice-president of the foundation and daughter of the incumbent Azerbaijani president, took part in the opening of the center which was established within the framework of a joint project by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Baku executive authorities to improve work with stray dogs. She oversees the center.
Toplan operates on money provided by the state. On the location previously stood the sanitary engineering unit of the Housing and Utility Services Department of the Baku executive authorities. The animal rights activists argue that one of the jobs done by the department, which people commonly referred to as ‘the kennel’, was to collect stray dogs from the streets and shoot and kill them or burn them.
“It was previously called ‘Department to fight against stray animals’. In essence, its name shows what kind of work they did. They walked around in the streets and shot stray dogs in broad daylight. In 2013, journalist Nazakat Zeynalli filmed a video of officers from the department shooting street dogs. We used the video as a basis for a lawsuit that we filed against the department. The trial lasted three and a half years. The case reached the Supreme Court, then it was sent back to lower courts. They tried to persuade us to withdraw the lawsuit. We refused to withdraw it. We held protests outside the department, we blocked the roads, we went there every week to feed the dogs and we did not let the dogs be killed. We got the department shut down after all. Last year, Leyla Aliyeva opened a care center for stray animals called Toplan, which is located exactly where the department used to be located, and horror started there again,” Elkhan Mirzayev says.
Both the official website of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Leyla Aliyeva in her speeches at conferences said that in accordance with the law the center was to collect dogs from the street, deliver them to the center, sterilize and vaccinate them and release them back into the streets.