On 14 November a 17-year-old LGBT person committed suicide in Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan. His friends all called him Umid, although that wasn’t his real name. The following story is based on a recording of his friends’ reminiscences which was given to Meydan TV by LGBT activist Vahid Ali.
You’re disgracing me in public
“Umid’s parents divorced a long time ago,” says one of his friends. “He lived in Ganja with his stepfather, mother and two sisters. His biological father had moved to Baku. Umid worked at a children’s toy store called ‘Disney Land.’ He wore costumes to weddings and birthday parties.”
His friends say that Umid was always upset because he didn’t have enough money. His stepfather had asked his boss how much Umid earned each day:
“His stepfather strictly monitored his spending. This was one of the problems that gave Umid a particularly hard time. They took all of his money away from him. Their excuse was that he supposedly ‘spent all his money on gays.’ His family didn’t like the fact that he hung out with us. For example, a friend of his father’s recently saw Umid with gay people in the street. That person called his father in Baku to tell him about it. Umid’s father called him and said, ‘I’ll come and kill you because you’re disgracing me in public. Everybody knows about it now. It’s an embarrassment for me.’ Umid was very frightened by that.”
His hands were shaking, and tears were uncontrollably running down his face
A friend met up with Umid after that phone call. Umid was in a bad state.
“He didn’t look good at all,” the friend says. “His hands were shaking, and tears were uncontrollably running down his face. I told him to go and talk to his mother. His mother worked at the market. He went to her to tell her what his father had said. ‘Don’t be afraid, your father can’t do anything to you,’ she said to calm him down.”
Tell my mother that I loved her very much
A friend recalls the last time they saw Umid, on the day of Umid took his own life. He says they met up, had a chat and, after having a nice time, Umid said goodbye to everyone and went home. At about 10 pm, he wrote a farewell text to his friends, saying he would commit suicide. His friends didn’t believe him, thinking he was joking. He didn’t respond to texts that his friends sent him to comfort him. The last time he was online was at 11:11 pm.
“He gave a hug and said goodbye to each of us. We couldn’t have imagined that he was going to commit suicide. It was about 10 pm. Umid texted me and several friends: ‘I’m leaving, this world isn’t for me’. He attached a photo of himself with a rope around his neck. We thought he was joking because he’d made that kind of joke before. We started to comfort him again. We told him that he had a job, that he should be patient for a bit longer. When he turned 18 he would be free and everything would be better than it had been. He didn’t agree with us. ‘Tell my mother that I loved her very much,’ he said. He thanked us for all that we had done for him. He said there was no one to blame for his death and that it was his own problem.”
He deleted his profile picture and removed his account
His friend says that Umid was online for up to 30 minutes after he stopped responding to messages:
“Then he deleted his Facebook profile picture and removed his account. The last time he was online was at 11:11 pm. In the evening, one of our friends suggested that we call the police and go to his place. But his parents wouldn’t let him, they said, ‘Don’t do it, guys, he might be joking. Don’t get yourselves in trouble. It’s not right to misinform the police.” And nobody knew where Umid’s house was. I even asked him the last time we exchanged texts to give me his mother’s phone number, so I could talk to her and ask her to calm him down. But he didn’t respond to me.”
His family were aggressive towards us
The next morning Umid’s friends heard the news:
“I woke up in the morning to find about 20 missed calls on my phone. My lesbian friends had sent me a lot of texts and called me. When I called them back they said, ‘We’re at the wake, Umid hanged himself. His body is being examined, it’s not here yet. Come if you can.’ We all went over to his place in shock. His family were aggressive towards us. His stepfather grabbed us by our arms telling us not to stay in the room and congest it and to go outside. We stayed for a while, gave our condolences to his mother, and left.”
If this society lets us survive…
Umid was buried on 15 November, but his friends said they wouldn’t be attending his funeral:
“We know that there will be the same kind of aggression that Isa’s family displayed towards gay people when he died.”
Almost four years ago, on 22 January 2014, the chairman of the Free LGBT organization, Isa Shahmarli, wrapped a rainbow flag around his neck and hanged himself in his home. After his death, Azerbaijani LGBT people and supporters of Free LGBT have marked that day as the Day of the Fight Against Homophobia in Azerbaijan.
“We decided to visit his grave later, on our own. If we survive. If this society lets us survive…”
An Investigation is under way
The Ganja police department told Meydan TV that the young man’s body was at the Medical Expert Examination Centre. An investigation is underway.
Azerbaijan decriminalized homosexuality in 2000, but in the last two weeks of September 2017, police detained 83 LGBT people. Later, law enforcement agencies claimed the arrests were part of anti-prostitution raids.
The people detained told rights activists that police had used violence against them. The detainees were released after international organizations and activists reacted.
In Azerbaijan, the rights of all groups of people are ensured
Speaking at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014, President Ilham Aliyev gave the following response to a question from a Norwegian MP about LGBT rights:
“Human rights of all groups of people are provided in Azerbaijan. There are no restrictions and, you know, the situation with freedoms is, as I said, not different from the situation that is in your country.”