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SUICIDE rocks AZERBAIJAN’s LGBT COMMUNITY

The Azeri Times

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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's funeral
Umid’s funeral.

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.”

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Corruption

UK aims at shady Azerbaijani money – but is it missing the target?

The Azeri Times

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Some have expressed concern that the UK’s first use of the “unexplained wealth order” targeted someone already out of favor with the Azerbaijani government.

The announcement that the wife of an Azerbaijani banker is the first target of British efforts to crack down on foreigners’ illicit wealth was welcomed by good government advocates, but raised concerns that London may only be aiming at figures who are out of favor with their home governments.

On October 10, British media reported that the target of Britain’s first “unexplained wealth order” is Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. The order is a recently introduced instrument allowing British law enforcement officers to demand explanations when a person’s wealth does not correspond to their declared income. It is aimed at cracking down on the vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth – much of it from the former Soviet Union – parked in London.

There is no shortage of dodgy Azerbaijani money in the UK. The investigation into the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” for example, found that shell companies based in the UK played a key role in the Azerbaijani political elites’ money-laundering and influence-buying operations.

The Hajiyevs, meanwhile, had already been cast out of the Baku political elite: In 2015, Hajiyev was sentenced by an Azerbaijani court to 15 years in prison for misuse of funds.

The government-friendly Azerbaijani press – not typically a fan of stories about Azerbaijanis falling afoul of investigators in the West – widely reported the news about Hajiyeva. “All of England is talking about Zamira Hajiyeva,” crowed a headline on Haqqin.az, a news site connected to Azerbaijan’s security forces.

Two days before the news broke in the UK, in fact, Haqqin had already reported that Hajiyeva was the target of the order. The story cited the Telegram channel Banksta – a Russian-language channel covering banking affairs – but a sister website of Haqqin, Azeri Daily, had named Hajiyev as early as July.

That Hajiyeva was targeted, out of the many potential subjects of the order, raised some consternation among observers.

“There is an interesting issue with the case of Zamira Hajiyeva,” tweeted Anar Mammadli, an Azerbaijani human rights activist. “After all, she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, are not the first Azerbaijani civil servants to buy property in London. Will the other official-families’ ‘contributions’ to the British economy be investigated? After all, they are not alone!”

“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”
“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”

“Hajiyev and his wife have already fallen foul of the system in Azerbaijan. I don’t imagine the Azerbaijani regime will be overly concerned to see this investigation. Who knows, maybe they even had a hand in triggering the investigation,” tweeted analyst Alex Nice.

“My take on the UWO is that it looks like a missed chance to send a big message,” tweeted Oliver Bullough, a journalist who has extensively covered post-Soviet wealth in the UK. “Jahangir Hajiyev had already been jailed in Azerbaijan so why not use the standard asset recovery route, as with Gulnara Karimova? UWOs are supposed to be for assets that can’t be seized otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the move was welcomed by good government advocates. “UWOs should now be used more widely to pursue more of the £4.4 billion worth of suspicious wealth we have identified across the UK,” Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, told the BBC.

And some in the region wondered if their oligarchs would be next. “It seems that investigators from the National Crime Agency started from the letter ‘A,’” joked Uzbekistani writer Hamid Ismailov on twitter. “Uzbek ‘nouveau riches’ might think that they are last in the running order:) in between Uganda and Zambia.”

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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Politics

Political émigré who returned home to visit critically ill father arrested on fraudulent drug-related charges

The Azeri Times

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Azad Hasanov, Musavat party member and political exile living in Lithuania, has been arrested during a short return to his home country and charged with drug trafficking.

According to his lawyer, Osman Kazimov, the Khatai District Court sentenced him to four months in detention on drug-related charges. Under Article 234.4.3 (illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or selling of sale of drugs), Hasanov faces between five and twelve years in prison.

On 11 October, Musavat deputy chairman Sakhavat Soltanli reported that Hasanov had disappeared and was likely arrested. He has been a member of the Surakhany Musavat branch since 2003 and had relocated to Lithuania in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

He returned to Baku on 10 October, upon learning that his seriously ill father was about to die.

According to his spouse, Tarana Hasanova, he did not have any problems flying into Baku airport: “His father has been seriously ill and is about to die. He arrived on 10 October during the night. He did not have any problems crossing the border and stayed with his father until noon. He later went to the Mosque to pray. That’s where people in civilian clothes stopped him and forced him into a car. When his brother tried to help him, they pushed him aside and told him they are from the police.”

Hasanov’s fate recalls the case of lawyer Emin Aslan who was forced into a car by people in civilian clothes a few days after returning from his studies in the US. He later was found to be held at the Office for Combating Organized Crime, and spent 30 days in detention for failing to obey a police officer’s orders.

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Society

European film festival in Baku: a Dutch cat, a Hungarian horse and a ‘faceless’ French artist

The Azeri Times

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The 9th European Film Festival has officially begun in Baku.

The event is organised by the European Union in Azerbaijan and will end on 21 October, until which time the public is invited to view 19 European films free of charge.

Here are some of the films we recommend:

The documentary film Wild Amsterdam, accompanied by director Mark Verkerk and producer Ignas van Schaick, will be screened at the festival. The film centres around the animals of Amsterdam, but not in a way you might expect: the story is told from the perspective of a cat, who shows us how squirrels, pigeons and waterfowl live in Amsterdam’s canals and parks.

The directors say that the consultation with ecologists and other specialists took half a year by itself. The film is a viewing wonder, dynamic and modern. For example, one scene depicts the retrieval of bicycles from the bottom of the canal with the help of special machinery. The scene looks as if it has been cut right out of a thriller because of how it traumatises the crabs living on the bottom.

The film Kincsem – Bet on Revenge is from Hungary, and also concerns the fate of an animal – a racehorse who belongs to a broke aristocrat forced to earn money through racing. However, the film is not about horseracing, but rather about competition between members of high-class society in the Austrian Empire. The film’s action revolves around the young aristocrat who becomes involved in a dispute with an Austrian officer, whose daughter later falls for the main character.

Barbara, a film by Christian Petzold, is a drama shot in 2012 which takes viewers back to 1980 when Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall. The main heroine of the film lives in the German Democratic Republic and dreams of leaving. Forced to work in the country and under constant surveillance, she methodically prepares her plan to escape. At first it seems everything will work out and that nobody can prevent her from leaving, including the all-powerful Stasi. However, an inconvenient and unexpected attachment to one of her colleagues jeopardises her escape.

Latvian film Dream Team 1935 by Aigars Grauba was also shot in 2012 and also offers an excursion into the past – to the pre-war period of 1935 when the first European Basketball Championship took place in Geneva. Participation in the championship was a great chance for national teams to go down in sports history. The Latvian team seizes the opportunity, though young trainer Baumanis soon comes to understand that it is far more important to overcome oneself than one’s enemy…

Halima’s Path is the work of Croatian director Arsen Anton Ostoyich, and is dedicated to one of the bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century – the war in former Yugoslavia. The action takes place in the post-war years in Bosnia. A woman by the name of Halima who lost her husband and son (though not biological) dreams of finding their remains in order to give them a proper burial. She is only able to do this with the help of DNA analysis. While she is able to find her husband’s remains, she finds it difficult to do so in the case of her son. Halima must then go through some hardship to find the biological mother of her son in order to find him.

The French film See You Up There is also devoted to war and its consequences. This time, the action takes place during World War I. The story begins in the final days of the war, when two young soldiers – an artist from a wealthy family, Edouard, and a former bank employee, Albert – are forced to go to their certain deaths on the orders of a malicious captain. Edouard, whose face has been disfigured, saves Albert, which firmly binds the two friends together: now Edouard is an ‘invisible’ artist, and Albert his impresario.

In addition to film screenings, the festival includes workshops and discussions with European directors.

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