Human Rights

FPA Blogs: Peaceful Activists Arrested, Amnesty International Reports The Torture Fear


My first post for Foreign Policy Association Blogs as a regular blogger:

The sanctioned peaceful protest that took place in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on Saturday, Mar. 17 resulted in arrest of three activists. Members of Bulistan band Jamal Ali, 24, and Natig Kamilov, 24, and another activist Etibar Salmanli, 25, were arrested after a fight that broke during Ali’s performance. The singer has used strong language in his song, displeasing some protesters. During the fight he has also insulted President Ilham Aliyev’s late mother. Young men were sentenced to five to 10 days of detention on charges of “petty hooliganism” and are allegedly subject to tortures under custody.


Rafig Tagi and the Concept of Freedom


"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire

Several days ago Azerbaijani writer Rafig Tagi was stabbed and later passed away in the hospital. The alleged motive? In 2006 he wrote an article, in which he expressed his negative views about Islam. He got a fatwa from Ayatollah Lenkerani from Iran. After his death, ayatollah's son issued a statement, congratulating the believers with "this blessed day."

This incident divided Azerbaijani internet public to two camps: those condemning the killing and those condemning the first group... because "they support what he wrote about Islam."

Sad fact: Azeris don't understand the concept of free speech. Why? For many reasons.

We are not flexible to changes unless they're imposed, that's how we got our democracy, equal rights and women empowerment. During the first oil boom in early 20th century, Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, one of our millionaires built the first school for girls. What happened? He had to walk door to door and ask people to let their daughters receive education. Several years later, a group of educated individuals used the collapse of the Russian Empire to build the first Azerbaijani Democratic Republic. And that's how emancipation and equal rights were implemented. Yes, implemented, not fought for.

We are not used to thinking differently, probably, because critical thinking is extremely rare here. I refuse to think it's a result of the Islamic influence, because we've been exposed to too many cultures to limit ourselves to a single concept. No, it's not a classical religious radicalism, it's a cultural one.

During Emin and Adnan's support campaign I've had hundreds of discussions with all kinds of people. Sadly, most of them had one common point: "There are things that shouldn't be said." My response to that was: "Why? Why should we censor ourselves to unwritten rules, especially in cases with media or anything remotely close to it?" The answer: "It's against our culture." Exactly. Our culture, something we are used to believing in, something that is within our comfort zone, something our granpas would approve of.

Azeris don't understand the concept of free speech because they are too afraid of consequences. The consequences of freedom might be more than we can take. Our daughters might want independence; our sons might leave the nest and, God forbid, marry a non-virgin; our own mistakes might get exposed; our people might demand the quality of life they deserve. This is all too much to cope with and takes much more work that everyday chai meetings with friends. As a result, we only understand whatever we agree with, because everything else is too scary to even think about. And even the word "freedom" is something one can rarely hear in Azerbaijan, unless it's an oppositional gathering.

We don't understand the concept of free speech because it doesn't occur to us that it's about every single person. Example: when Azerbaijani police violently dispersed a demonstration of the religious community, I saw atheists and deists and agnostics being furious and sharing videos and information about it. Does it mean they support the religious groups? No. It means they support their rights. That easy.

Freedom of speech is one of the basic rights granted to all of us by the constitution. By opposing the right we compromise our national values to cultural ones, which is a foundation for destruction. Whoever you are and whatever you do, if you compromise someone else's right of free expression to your personal views or religious affiliation and stay silent towards injustice, you betray yourself and your rights.

And the last thought on the case of Rafig Tagi: in a country where Fatwa takes place, it should be included in Criminal Code and prosecuted. Especially, if issued by foreign citizens. Because this is about national values - a concept we are yet to learn and fight for.

"5 years ago I was a minority opposition, today - I am the people."


He was the first person I called when I saw news from Egypt. "I can't talk, dear, I'm pretty teargased right now", he said.

I met him in Berlin. It was a blogger conference with participants coming from all around the world. For him it wasn't the first official international event he was invited to because of his activity. Very soon, we found a lot in common - he would tell me about his society, I would tell him about mine. When the uprise in Egypt began, I couldn't think of a better person to interview about it.

My interview with him for RFE/RL:

"Sandmonkey" is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt getting the message out of the country through Twitter (he is sending his tweets via a friend in Jordan). RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service correspondent Nigar Fatali spoke with him about Internet activism in Egypt and its role in the country's uprising.

RFE/RL: What does it feel like to live in a country where Internet and mobile phone connections can be shut down by the government at any time?

Sandmonkey: It is not fun [laughing]. It clearly affects you. People are being transported back to 1980; they have to go back from technological progress to using landlines. And most of them don't even know the landline numbers of their friends to call and check on them. Having no access to the Internet and a curfew are driving people insane. For activists it means the inability to upload pictures and videos of the horrors that are taking place here, while for many other people it basically means the inability to do their job. No one goes to work because there's no Internet. The banks don't work because of that; the country in general is in paralysis. The fact that the government can shut down the Internet and phone connection anytime they want is simply unnerving.  

RFE/RL: Why do you blog under a nickname? Do you plan to reveal yourself?

Sandmonkey:I've always kept my identity anonymous and I'm not planning to reveal it because some members of my family are affiliated with the ruling NDP party and I don't want to put them at risk. 

RFE/RL: What is it like to be an activist in Egypt? Do you get oppressed or threatened?

Sandmonkey:These days it actually feels strange; scarier and more exciting. One day you're breaking barricades, the next day you get tear gassed, and the day after that you try to escape the gunshots of street thugs. But it's very rewarding because we see ourselves and our people being validated. We're proud of them for taking responsibility for their destiny and saying "No" for the first time in their lives. Everything about being an Egyptian got redefined in the last days. Before, many people would not agree with us. No one would believe that we could take action or do anything together, as a nation. Today, everybody is with us. Now people believe it's possible. Five years ago I was a minority opposition. Today, I am the people. And this feeling is indescribable.



I did it. Onnik spent a lot of time convincing me it's important to have a blog in English. Well, my friend, I finally made it here.

So, my yet non-existing followers, today was a very special day for me - I finally got to see Azerbaijani police department, or the way we call it "otdeleniye". But let me start with a little intro.

Azerbaijan is a young post-soviet country, which fought for its independence for ages and thanks to Gorbachev, finally got it almost 20 years ago. Many things happened since.

We lost Nagorno Karabakh and our friendship with neighboring Armenia became a history, which led to many broken families, civilian casualties and other tragedies on both sides of the border.

After "father" a.k.a "national granpa" a.k.a "nationwide leader" Heydar Aliyev came back as a President in 1993, we immidiatelly attracted the world's biggest oil companies and piles of money in addition.

Thus, today we have a lot of rich ministers, rich relatives of ministers, totalitarian regime, monopoly, corruption and so on. And a McDonald's.

Anyway. Today I was dragged to the police station for walking with flowers on Flower Day. Ridiculous, you say? I agree. Read this if you're interested in more details and pictures from today's arrests.

May 10, 2009 was a very special day for me.

Welcome to my blog.