After Munitions Plant Explosion, Baku Takes Pains with Public Response
Azerbaijan's government has responded with uncharacteristic solicitousness to an explosion at a state munitions factory that killed two workers and injured 24 more, underscoring the importance the state places on its defense capacity.
The explosion occurred at the Araz munitions plant in the city of Shirvan, southwest of Baku, on July 26. Azerbaijani authorities said it was caused by a stockpile of old ammunition that had been slated for disposal.
The government's response was swift and active: the Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov visited the injured at the hospital and went to the funerals of those killed. The ministry's press service is releasing regular updates on the health of the injured. An investigative commission was formed and the state prosecutor's office opened a criminal case. This level of responsiveness is unusual for a government that tends to rule in a distant, imperious manner and to punish the messengers who call attention to bad news in the country.
One reason for the active response is the sensitivity of anything to do with the military, said Zaur Shiriyev, a Baku-based political analyst, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. The government has in the past been dogged by bad publicity about the conditions of the military -- for example, in 2013, citizens protested against hazing in the military. But the four-day war with Armenia in April over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, in which Azerbaijani forces performed well, gave the government "some good momentum" that it doesn't want to lose, Shiriyev said.
The defense industry has been a priority project for the government over the past few years. President Ilham Aliyev personally opened the Araz plant in 2010, and also attended the inauguration of its new ammunition disposal facility in 2013. "The establishment of the center for the disposal of ammunition at the 'Araz' plant in Shirvan is also evidence of the development the Ministry of Defense Industry has achieved in recent years," a ministry press release said at the time, noting that the new facility offered a "more advanced and secure method" of munitions disposal.
In addition, Shiriyev noted that the government is wary of repeating the experience of last year, when a huge apartment fire in Baku killed 15 people and sparked widespread public outrage. "I think that was a lesson to the government," he said.