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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs


Europe and Central Asia

AZERBAIJAN

I. Summary

Azerbaijan's main narcotics problem arises from its location along the transit route from Iran and central Asia north to Russia and central and Western Europe. Consumption and cultivation are at low but increasing levels. The main seizures were in opium and cannabis. As a result of increased levels of local drug usage, greater evidence of being a transshipment point, and increased international attention, the country has come to realize the threat of narcotics. Azerbaijan is devising a national drug control strategy, including appropriate legislation. The UNDCP has initiated a program of counternarcotics assistance. Azerbaijan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

II. Status of Country

Azerbaijan's main narcotics problem is the transit of drugs through the country. Government officials point out that the shutdown of the "Balkan Route" due to conflict in the former Yugoslavia has increased Azerbaijan's attractiveness as a transit route. Narcotics from Afghanistan and south Asia enter from Iran and across the Caspian Sea from central Asia, and continue on to markets in Russia and Europe. Azerbaijan has a nearly 700 kilometer frontier with Iran, but its border control forces and their equipment is inadequate to patrol it effectively. Iranian and other traffickers are exploiting this situation. Cross-Caspian ferries are also used to ship narcotics. Consumption is growing, with nearly 6,000 persons registered in hospitals for drug abuse. However, government officials estimate that the actual level of drug use is many times higher. Illegal poppy and cannabis cultivation occurs, mostly in the south of the country. The unregulated casino industry and the burgeoning underground economy provide a potentially fertile ground for money laundering. Corruption permeates the economy, government structures, and law enforcement, severely impeding counternarcotics efforts. Government authorities fear that many among the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and displaced persons from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are being drawn into drug trafficking as a source of income. The government also claims that ethnic Armenians in the Armenian-occupied areas of Azerbaijan engage in drug cultivation and transport, and that narcotics are transported across the approximately 100 kilometers of Azerbaijan's border with Iran that is under Armenian control.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. A government commission appointed last year promulgated a national program to combat drug addiction and trafficking. The plan includes proposed legislation and organizational measures, and technical requirements. The decree also instructs the Foreign Ministry to conclude counternarcotics agreements with neighboring countries and other states. Azerbaijan is drafting new narcotics legislation. The UNDCP has begun implementing a two-year $740,000 counternarcotics assistance plan, which includes training of police, customs, and the border guards, and a technical assistance program focused primarily on laboratory equipment. Laws already exist that criminalize drug use and trafficking. Current legislation does not cover money laundering and is inadequate to tackle police and judicial corruption.

Azerbaijan cooperates with Black Sea and Caspian Sea states in tracking and interdicting narcotics shipments, especially morphine base and heroin. Caspian Sea cooperation includes efforts to interdict narcotics transported across the Caspian Sea by ferry. Law enforcement officials report they have good cooperation with Russia but encounter considerable reluctance from Iran.

Accomplishments. The government made modest progress toward creating a national counternarcotics strategy. It also stated its willingness to cooperate with other countries and international organizations to meet the threat. The government's cooperation with UNDCP is increasing.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Data on drug seizures and arrests are not yet available, but all available evidence suggests that they continue at approximately 1996 levels. Police discovered and destroyed 339 tons of illicitly cultivated narcotics plants, hemp and poppy. Police lack basic equipment and have little experience in modern counternarcotics methods. Border control facilities on the Iranian border are inadequate.

Corruption. Corruption impacts severely on law enforcement. Government officials including the President and Prime Minister have admitted the gravity of the problem. Anti-corruption legislation is being prepared. There have been no prosecutions of prominent offenders that would have a broader deterrent effect.

Agreements and Treaties. Azerbaijan has no narcotics-related agreements or treaties with the US, and no extradition agreement. Azerbaijan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, and has submitted the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to parliament. Last year, Azerbaijan signed a Protocol of Intent on counternarcotics cooperation with Iran.

Cultivation/Production. Cannabis and poppy are cultivated illegally in Azerbaijan. Authorities discovered and destroyed 339 tons of cannabis and poppy under cultivation, mostly in southern Azerbaijan.

Drug Flow and Transit. Opium and poppy straw originating in Afghanistan and south Asia transit Azerbaijan from Iran, or from central Asia across the Caspian Sea. The government provides no figures of amounts seized on these routes, or about foreign-origin as a percentage of all drugs seized.

Demand Reduction. The government has begun to realize the need for national drug control education initiatives aimed at curbing consumption. A small part of the UNDCP assistance program is directed at this goal.

The Road Ahead. The USG will continue to encourage Azerbaijan to expand its drug control activities and to establish the necessary legislation and institutional capabilities to improve intra-government cooperation and ensure effective prosecution of drug-related crimes. The USG will urge the GOA to implement the provisions of the 1988 UN Convention.

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