BAKU (Reuters)—Azerbaijan’s president has built a glittering “Crystal Hall” to host a song festival watched around the world, but critics say the government has trampled on people’s rights in razing homes for the country’s big night in the spotlight, the Reuters writes.
Gleaming glass and concrete skyscrapers already dominate Baku’s skyline and expensive cars cruise past Dior, Armani and Tiffany & Co. boutiques on Oilman Avenue by the Caspian Sea.
But, flush with cash from oil and gas sales, mainly Muslim Azerbaijan has spent 50 million manats on a city facelift intended to show its achievements since it became independent of in 1991.
It has also spent an undisclosed sum on building the spectacular 23,000-seat rectangular Crystal Hall on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
In the past few years, entire districts have been swept away to make space for parks, roads, luxury apartment blocks and a shopping center as part of a redesign of the city of 2 million that preceded the Eurovision victory.
Human rights groups say some buildings in the center have been razed specifically with the song contest in mind and that the forced eviction of residents, especially in areas around the Crystal Hall, casts a shadow over the whole event.
“The Azerbaijani government is not just demolishing homes, it’s destroying people’s lives,” said Jane Buchanan, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog.
“Eurovision gives the government an opportunity to showcase Baku to thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers,” she said. “But instead, Azerbaijan’s government is showcasing its disregard for human rights by forcing people from their homes steps away from the contest site.”
Armenia pulled out of the contest, underscoring tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh. “Armenia’s Public Television said that despite security guarantees by the Azeri authorities, Aliyev had described his country’s neighbor as enemy number one.”