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Azerbaijan: Where healthcare lacks, magic reigns

The Azeri Times

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Murad Soltanov, 25, who had a mental disorder, was killed a month ago in the town of Shabran in northern Azerbaijan. At his father’s request, six “exorcists” beat him so badly he died of his injuries. Shortly after news of this tragic incident reached the public, it became clear that this had not been Murad’s first exorcism.

While the investigation continues to determine whether the tragedy was an accident, theologians are actively commenting on it. These kinds of rites have been made up by charlatans, said one of them, Elshad Miri. He stressed that there is no such thing as “driving out demons” in Islam.

But even after this tragedy, people in Azerbaijan continue to turn to exorcists, wizards, and sorcerers for help.

Uncle Kolya’s spirit

Childag, or “casting out fear by fire”, is the name for one of the most popular rites in the country. It is believed that the healer, or childagchi, removes a curse from a person by cauterizing several spots on their skin. The procedure is painful and is an especially difficult experience for children.

Samir Ahadov, 46, recalls his childag with shudder. He was taken to a childagchi when he was ten years old after accidentally seeing a dead body and was struck with fear.

“Our neighbor Uncle Kolya was an Armenian; he was buried the Christian way, with his face uncovered. It was swollen and black, and I became frightened.”

Ahadov began having panic attacks and even hallucinations. During those attacks, he yelled and ran where the road took him. For his parents, who had abandoned hope of calming their son down, the cause was clear: their child had been possessed by his uncle’s spirit. They decided to see a childagchi.

“There, they removed my clothes all the way to my waist and rolled up my pant legs. An elderly man set fire to a rolled piece of cloth and applied it to different parts of my body, one after another. It was very painful, and I twisted and turned with pain,” recalls Samir.

Despite regular visits to the childagchi, the boy continued to experience similar attacks for several years, but his parents never took him to a doctor.

Fear against fear

The childag, Samir was taken to 35 years ago, continues his operations today. Located in the village of Mashtaga on the outskirts of Baku, here masters of “casting out fear” pass their skill generation to generation. The current childagchi, Haji Aga, says that the childag had operated in Mashtaga since anyone can remember, and the rite of casting out fear was no less popular in Soviet years than it is today. Among the childagchi’s regular customers are even officials who visit him. However, he refused to disclose the names or positions of these government employees.

Casting out fear means cauterizing one’s skin with a smoldering tube made out of a piece of cloth. Touches on the “patient’s” forehead, temples, neck, arms and legs cause convulsive winces, through which, it is believed, fear “leaves” the body. It is believed that children go through a more sparing procedure, but Meydan TV reporters, who attended the “treatment” of a five-year-old girl who was familiar with the rite, witnessed her hysterical crying in anticipation of the procedure.
“If a person’s body gets covered in goose bumps during the session, it means that the person has taken a huge freight, and more sessions may be necessary,” Haji Aga explains.

There is no specific price set for these kinds of services, and people normally pay childagchi“whatever they can afford”, most often between 1 and 5 AZN (1-3 USD).

In comparison, a visit to a district therapist will cost one at least twice as much. Although official healthcare is free for citizens in Azerbaijan, in reality, patients often must bribe doctors in order to secure treatment.

The worse the healthcare, the more magicians

Sociologist Javid Imamoglu believes that the popularity of magicians and sorcerers is not only due to the low quality of the education and people’s financial problems, but also the lamentable state of healthcare.
“Educated people with a broad outlook, indeed, normally look for specialists to have their problems resolved,” Imamoglu told Meydan TV.
Nevertheless, you can almost always come across intellectuals among people in the line to see a childagchi.

“In cases where medicine is powerless, people hope for a miracle and visit magicians. The poor quality of healthcare is one more reason for the popularity of these kinds of crafts. The more “patients” sorcerers in Azerbaijan is a telling symbol for how lamentable the healthcare is.

Doctors sometimes refer their own patients to a childagchi, the Mashtaga healer Haji Aga argues: “When they cannot make a diagnosis, they themselves send their patients to me.”

Legal magic

The law does not regulate the activities of magicians, sorcerers, wizards, or fortune tellers in Azerbaijan. Therefore, they cannot be banned from carrying out these activities, says lawyer Samira Agayeva.

“But theoretically, we can talk about having criminal proceedings launched due to swindling,” Samira Agayeva says. She notes, however, that she is not aware of any precedent of the sort.

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Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

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Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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