The government restricted Civil Society Organisations in 2013 from registering legally in Azerbaijan as well as receiving funding from foreign donors.
Moreover, independent civil society organizations have substantially cut back their operations in recent years. The NGOs not working under the control of the government are hardly receiving finances from the state and also cannot apply for the foreign funds legally. This constantly shrinks the space for the natural development of civil society organisations in the country, which is negatively affecting young people and their organisations. The registered organisations are mostly considered pro-governmental, however, Civil Society Organisations are considered against the government.
The “managed civil society” threatens civic space for youth
After 2013 and 2014, the government started restricting everything.
The government doesn’t allow NGOs to register by pointing out there are many organisations and NGOs can’t register more as many NGOs don’t operate currently. If the NGO leaders are interested in applying to register NGOs, they are mostly rejected. Only organisations which are supported by the government managed to register in the last years, this also requires having pro-governmental opinions and actions inside the NGO.
The CSOs cannot get grants outside the country, as the government prohibits it. If you try to get a grant from the outside, it is illegal and it shouldn’t be through Azerbaijani banks. The government does not allow receiving foreign funds and shrinks all the chances. It has a negative influence on our work. Now it is possible to get the small grants only through the embassies in the country.
The international organisation branches cannot register in Azerbaijan. If you can, it means you work with the government and are not totally independent. All of this affects our work. We are always being checked. They see if we receive grants and if that is a thing it is a crime. Whatever we do, we are very careful in order not to be restricted or banned. We try to use these small grants.
It shrinks our spaces, makes the number of people working in civil society organisations fewer and fewer. Even if you are a neutral NGO, not active in civil society, you can be considered as CSO and not get the chance to be registered. You need government’s support in order to get registered. If you want to work, you should look very neutral, choose safe topics.
There are fewer places and chances to enter civil society. You should always have some kind of reference in order to think about entering the field, it is not easy. It is hard to get a great job here. Young people move from this field to private companies. Young people are hardly finding their way to be engaged in the NGO sector and try to find their place in other areas.
You should have reference to people in CSO in order to apply for projects and be successfully selected. I was unemployed for the past 8 months. I managed to write a project, but I knew that I had to find a reference person in order to implement my project. You can have difficulties applying for a project and receive money from the local funds. You may have amazing ideas, a great way of implementation, but if they do not know you, they will not trust and select your project idea. However, in the end, if you have a reference person, your idea can be accepted and you can start implementing a project.
Lack of fair and transparent competition and absence of foreign funds eliminate almost all the opportunities for Azerbaijan’s youth NGOs to develop and become the strong voice of the civil society sector.