It started with chic shops and restaurants, and a hipster modern art museum. Now, in a bid to lure international conferences and events, Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, is experiencing a luxury hotel building boom.
Wanting to diversify its energy-export-dependent economy, officials in Azerbaijan have expressed a desire to turn Baku into a high-tech hub. But industry executives in Baku say the government is not backing its words with actions.
Following violent clashes between police and Islamic activists in Baku in mid-February, the government has ordered all state employees to remove Islamic symbols from their offices, a source in Azerbaijan's Ministry of Internal Affairs tells EurasiaNet.
Human rights activists in Azerbaijan characterize the criminal prosecution of opposition editor Eynulla Fatullayev, as well as the recent convictions of youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, as politically motivated efforts to repress dissenting voices. Activists add that more Western pressure on Baku is needed to arrest the government's efforts to stifle freedom of speech.
Azerbaijani officials have taken aim at the West in recent weeks, in what some analysts believe could be an attempt to secure Russia's support for a Baku-friendly settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.