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President Ilcham Aliyev: Sculptures damage the reputation of Islam

A stir about censorship at the 54th Venice Art Biennale: as a spokeswoman for the international art show confirmed on Thursday, the government of Azerbaijan has had sculptures removed from its pavilion. “We have been informed, but as long as there is no official statement from the Azerbaijani government, we cannot react,” spokeswoman Claudia Zini told dpa news agency. But the government in Baku has been silent so far, while the artist concerned and the curator complain about “censorship”. The artworks are two abstract sculptures by the artist Aidan Salakhova placed at the entrance to the country pavilion. At first they had been veiled under the direction of President Ilcham Aliyev, but now they have finally been removed. Aliyev had visited the pavilion last week and found that the controversial sculptures were damaging the reputation of Islam and thus of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, which had been shaped by Islam.

Removing art is censorship

“Removing art is ‘censorship’, and it damages the reputation more than the sculptures,” protested the Pavilion Commissioner Chingis Farsaliyev, curator Beral Madra and the affected artist Aidan Salakhova. Russian media also spoke of censorship on Thursday. The Azerbaijani pavilion with the works of Aidan Salakhova is one of 89 country contributions that can be seen in the lagoon city from Saturday until 27 November. The artist lives in Moscow and has her own gallery for contemporary art there.

About Azerbaijan


The Republic of is located in the Near East on the Caspian Sea. The southwest Asian country has a national area of 86 600 km² and is thus twice as large as Denmark. It shares borders with Russia in the north, Georgia in the northwest, Armenia in the west and Iran in the south. In the east of the country there is the Caspian Sea, which with an area of 371 900 km² is the largest lake in the world.

The Autonomous Republic of Naxçvan (Russian: Nakhichevan) also belongs to the territory of the republic as an enclave. Within Azerbaijan is the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is claimed by the majority of Armenians living there.

The landscapes of the mountain country are divided into the heartland, which lies in the Kura-Arax lowland formed by rivers. Azerbaijan is also part of the Caspian Caucasus, especially the eastern main and side ridges, which rise to an altitude of 4,466 metres above sea level (the highest mountain in the country, Basardjusju). In the south of Azerbaijan there is the Little Caucasus, of particular geographical importance is the Karabakh highlands, of volcanic origin. In the southern part of the country on the border with Iran rises the Talysch Mountains. The Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan has a share in the highlands of Armenia. Kura and Arax are the most important rivers of the country. The Kura is the largest river in Transcaucasia. It rises in Turkey and flows via Georgia to Azerbaijan. There it is dammed up in the Mingetschaur reservoir to become the country’s largest inland lake with 605 km², and then flows into the Caspian Sea in a wide delta. The Arax (also Araks or Aras) also originates in Turkey and forms the border to Iran. In Azerbaijan it flows into the Kura.

Political System

Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential system. According to the 1995 constitution (amended in 2002), it is headed by a president directly elected every five years as head of state (since 2003 Ilham Aliyev).

The National Council has 125 members of parliament. The executive power lies with the government under the chairmanship of a prime minister appointed by the president (Ilham Aliyev, since 2003) (Artur Rasizade, from November 1996 to August 2003 and again since November 2003). The most important party in the country is the New Azerbaijan Presidential Party.

Azerbaijan’s administration is divided into 59 districts (districts) and eleven cities, as well as the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic.


High structural unemployment with a low standard of living characterise the basic economic situation in the country – although the gross domestic product (GDP) has risen considerably until 2010, followed by stagnation and moderate growth in 2011. The reason for the high growth rates is the increasing production of oil and gas as well as their further processing. However, there is a lack of foreign investment in other economic sectors, partly due to the still uncertain situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The country’s main problem remains the transition from a Soviet-style planned economy to a market economy, and corruption is widespread.

It is estimated that agriculture accounts for 6% of the country’s gross domestic product, industry for 67% and the service sector for 27%.

Approximately 50% of the country’s land consists of arable land, most of which, however, has to be artificially irrigated. The main crops are wine, tobacco, vegetables, cotton, wheat and rice. Tea and citrus fruits are cultivated in the Länkäran lowlands. A long tradition has the silkworm breeding, whose basis are large mulberry tree cultures. In addition to agriculture, cattle breeding (mainly sheep, goats and cattle) is also widespread. The animals graze in the lowlands in winter and in the mountains in summer.

Oil production in the Baku area began at the end of the 19th century. The high quality of the crude oil makes it a valuable export commodity today. But other mineral resources are also mined in the country. The most important are iron and copper ores, rock salt, alunite and pyrites. The majority of the industrial companies belong to the heavy industry: There are iron, steel and aluminium works. Barter trade with the former Soviet republics has declined in recent years, while both political and economic relations with Iran and the EU have increased.

The international airport is located near the capital Baku, which is also the most important (inland) seaport. The currency of Azerbaijan is the Manat (=100 Gepik).