Last week was a busy week in office-land with quarterly reports due to the various ABA ROLI donors. As part of the editing team, I got to take first shot at compiling the reports for USAID and DRL (a State Department program) and I must say, although tedious at times, editing the reports really developed my programmatic knowledge of ABA ROLI’s activities in Azerbaijan. With each report being a combination of status updates, work summaries, statistics, and success stories, I developed a much deeper understanding of the many incredible programs.
Also ongoing in office-land is a manual of labor laws and NGO laws. Myself and a staff attorney have been working for several weeks to put together a ‘how-to’ manual for NGO and labor law compliance for the office. Sorting through the various laws does present the occasional legal ‘goodie’ such as requiring employers to provide for the domestic welfare of their employees and employees’ families. It’s a nice little reminder of the soviet days, even if it’s not really enforced anymore. But generally, working through translated versions of the law is a curious process.
***Warning: Entering Nerdy Legalese Land***
(So skip this if you’re sane and don’t care for legalese.)
The labor laws did provide for one rather intriguing legal discussion. A newly added provision to the labor laws (regarding term contract employees) states: If the fixed-term employment contract continues within more than 5 years without interruptions, it is considered to be indefinite-term employment contract. The first intriguing part is trying to figure out what that actually means in English, let alone Azeri. But the more interesting legal question that we tried to address is whether a term employee working on one-year, consecutive term contracts becomes an indefinite employee if she works for more than five years.
There are rather important differences between term and indefinite employment in Azerbaijan (as there is in the U.S.) so resolving the question is important. We called in outside council for assistance and he too could see a case for multiple readings. Since it’s a Civil Code system here, we can’t look for case law on the subject and sort of just have to reason out how a court might rule. Or so I thought. While sitting in the office, the outside council just called up a justice on the Constitutional Court in Azerbaijan to ask what he thought about it. I think legal interns and first year associates across the U.S. would rejoice if they could simply call a justice and ask what he thought. The ‘final’ opinion of the lawyer was that yes, term employees do become indefinite employees if employed for more than five years, even if the employee was working on independent, one-year term contracts. But he also acknowledged that it is unclear under the current law and may not be applicable to consecutive term contracts.
***End of Nonsensical Legalese***
Returning to the real world, I checked off my main Azerbaijani bucket list items this weekend with a trip to Qubostan to see petroglyphs and mud volcanoes. The petrogylphs were simply incredible. After a trip through a newly built museum, which was surprisingly impressive in its quality and information, I wandered among the 40,000 year old petroglyphs. Early hominids have been in Azerbaijan for 1.5 million years with modern humans arriving during the Upper Paleolithic era. Given that Azerbaijan’s tourism industry is fledgling at best, I was able to walk through the rock formations rather freely and get remarkably close to the carvings. It also meant that if I wasn’t careful, I could easily walk right past one of the unmarked carvings. The terrain itself was also quite unique and required some imagination to picture as a dense forest as it was when the carvings were made.
About 20 kilometers outside Qubostan sits some equally impressive, although admittedly much stranger, mud volcanoes. Unlike ‘real’ volcanoes, mud volcanoes spew (as you might guess) mud rather than lava. The two types of volcanoes are generally similar from what I understand but instead of being fed by molten magma from the earth’s core, mud volcanoes are much shallower and ooze mud instead. The mud itself is actually rather cool (the result of some scientific sounding, natural gas-based cooling process). The mud bubbles and pops all the while releasing methane gas. Curiously, about half of the world’s mud volcanoes are located in Azerbaijan.
The upcoming week is my last full week in Azerbaijan before leaving for Greece, Turkey, and then back to Williamsburg. With a myriad of events next week such as a staff retreat, dinner with Baku’s Chief Prosecutor, and a staff karaoke night, it should be a rather entertaining week.