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Bring Human Rights Home: A Story from Azerbaijan

06 July 2021

One man’s fight to keep his family home

“Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 17

Just outside of Baku, next to a large oil field, stands a large yellow brick house with wrought iron balustrades. Built before World War II, home of many generations, Alif Almanov has been its proud owner since 1968. Alif tells his story with fierce eyes, and a depth that reveals emotional scars, yet a clear determination to fight for what is right.

As a young man, after having served in the army, he bought this house to start a new life. He married, had two children and fourteen grandchildren, who to this day live with him. In the seventies, a state-owned oil company established itself there, and Alif started working for them as a safety engineer.

Pressure and bribery
When the oil company offered its employees apartments, Alif was excluded based on the fact that he already had a house. It wasn’t until much later, in 2011, that the company claimed Alif’s house was too close the oil field and said he had to demolish it. They offered no alternative housing, and ended up suing him. Other residential buildings in the area were just as close, but had received property rights. Alif just felt in his bones there was something very wrong.

For eight years, company officials would knock on their door and leave notices, threatening the family and wanting bribes in return for property rights. The constant fear of eviction became too much for his wife, who died three years ago, from a stress related illness.

As long as it takes
To keep his house for his family, he needed to prove the house was legally his. He contacted Emin Abbasov, a human rights lawyer. Together they tried all legal routes locally and nationally, but to no avail. It became clear to Emin they would have to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. A long process, but Alif was determined to pursue this.

Today, Alif and Emin are still waiting for a decision. They hope the European Court will adopt its decision this year. Until they do, Alif’s house is still at risk of being demolished. If they win however, it will be a very positive example and precedent for the wider community around Baku’s oil fields.

Watch the story here.

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