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Sex-shops in the South Caucasus: there is sex, but no shops

The Azeri Times

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In many developed and even developing countries, sex-shops are a common phenomenon. But for the South Caucasus they are still taboo.

Güunel Mövlüd, Edita Badasyan and Nona Shakhnazaryan, journalists from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, looked into the issue for the BBC in 2016. No changes have taken place since then.

 Georgia: sex-shops are from the devil

We looked through social media discussions on the topic before writing this article.

In some users’ opinion, such a shop was unacceptable for them and they thought that married couples did not need sex-shop toys, while others believed it was a sin.

Nevertheless, many people admitted that sex-shop products were necessary, but that Tbilisi was a small city and that no one wanted to be caught buying a ‘shameful’ thing.

It is noteworthy that men expressed a negative attitude towards sex-shops more frequently, while women discussed the issue more openly.

Having asked to remain anonymous, one brave woman who co-owned a sex-shop in Georgia told us her story:

“Many people came to the shop. They bought many things, but raised their collars and hid their faces. Even rural people came, who later wrote letters of gratitude to us,” she said.

“It’s not all that simple in this world. Sex is a part of nature, and you can’t escape from your natural needs. Our products helped many people. The sex-shop was helpful in solving natural problems for many people,” the former co-owner affirms.

Although it was the only sex-shop in Tbilisi, it was closed down after two attacks on the store.

She was asked to move the sex-shop to another district after the first attack in order not to aggravate the public further. As a result, the sex-shop, in a more limited form, was relocated to a more discrete place.

A second attack took place several months later.

“In Georgia, there are two topics a writer must not touch upon – religion and sex”

“Waving wooden crosses, a crowd of believers ransacked our shop. We suffered, as did the shop assistants. They shouted that sex was the devil’s child, and that such products demoralized people in what is a Christian country. [They called us] children of Satan,” she said.

“The shop was closed down. Police asked us not to provoke the church and we had to curtail the trade.”

“I would like to note that some of our regular customers were among the attackers”, she affirmed.“Has the idea regarding sex-shops changed in contemporary Georgia five years later? No, perhaps in another country, but not Georgia. Here the church’s influence has increased.”

The mentality hasn’t changed. Georgia is too much of a patriarchal country.

Georgia has no law prohibiting the opening of a sex-shop. In fact, two on-line shops – Sexmarket and Cupid – offer a wide assortments of goods. However, their products are only available online.

According to doctors, couples might diversify and enrich their intimacy with sex products.

Archil Bakradze, a sexologist, thinks that the shops closely cooperate with clinics and treat sexual disorders.

“Of course sex-shops products are necessary, useful and simply pleasant for people. They are readily available,” the doctor said.

Nevertheless, in Bakradze’s opinion, an ordinary sex-shop should not be opened in Georgia.

“The Christian environment should be taken into consideration. That’s why I think an online version is the most optimal one for a sex-shop. People who need it buy, while those against it don’t see the shop and don’t protest,” Bakradze noted.  

Anna Kordzaya, a writer and translator, also shares the opinion that sex-shops won’t be opened in Georgia within the next decade as it is strange and not typically Georgian for the population.

In her words, there are two topics in Georgian literature that should not be touched by writers because they will be persecuted:

“These are religion and sex, the rest of the themes can be written about,” she said.

Armenia: only on-line

Why don’t sex-shops exist in Yerevan?  They do, but not physically. Instead there are many on the internet.

Legally speaking, they are not prohibited in Georgia and Armenia. From ordinary people’s perspectives, sex-shops are a feature of advancement.

It is noteworthy that some people think that underwear shops and corresponding departments in stores are sex-shops.

“If someone visits a sex shop in Armenia, their reputation and life will be ruined for good”

However, other Yerevan inhabitants think that sex-shops are dangerous for one’s health.

According to them, products are mainly imported from China. Good products are expensive and many people can’t afford them. A phallus set for example, of different sizes used for vaginismus treatment, costs EUR 1000.

Shamiram Rshtuni, a psychologist, affirms that Iranian residents are the main clients of Armenian on-line sex-shops along with Armenians.

One site warned us – not for persons under 18. The site is in three languages (English, Russian, Armenian). The assortment is impressive: a whole spectrum of vibrators, masturbators and other sexual gadgets.

Why can’t such shops be found in ordinary shopping stalls? According to one of Yerevan’s cultural anthropologists, if someone decides to enter a sex-shop, by that evening everybody will have heard about it and the resulting gossip will destroy that person’s life immediately.

Azerbaijan: “porno materials”

There are no sex-shops in Azerbaijan, which begs the question – is there any need for them?

Zarifa Qulieva, a gynecologist, has worked with risk groups for over ten years. In her opinion, sex-shops might help lonely women and men. More than that, couples also need such products.

“Over time couples need to experiment in their sexual relations. Our men are not inclined to use sexual novelties with their wives,” she said. “They either use sex-industry services or support another lover. It is disastrous from a financial perspective, unfair towards a spouse or partner and is also associated with health problems.”

“These couples might diversify and enrich their sexual life using products from a sex-shop,” the doctor says. “Given the lack of partners among sexual minorities, sex-shops could be a way out of this situation.”

However, she does not think that opening such a shop is realistic.

“I don’t think that opening a sex-shop is possible in our country. This will be an object for mockery and condemnation from the majority of the population. The people will even be afraid of entering such shops,” she thinks.

“Masturbation paraphernalia is a taboo in Azerbaijan. This is something Islam does not tolerate”

Conservative sentiments aside, there are also legal problems that would impede opening sex-shops in Azerbaijan.

“Under Article 242 of the Criminal Code, the distribution and production of pornographic material and objects with advertising purposes, advertisements and distribution, including illegal trade with publications, movies and video materials, pictures and other pornographic objects, are considered a crime,” says Fariz Namazly.

According to him, objects found in sex-shops are considered to be pornographic material, thus opening such a shop and trading in such objects in these shops will be regarded as illegal trade in pornographic materials.

“Such a company is unlikely to be registered if somebody wants to set it up,” he noted. “However, such practices do exist. There was an attempt made to register a sex-az website, but it was not finalised.”

Islam is the dominant religion in Azerbaijan. We asked Islamic lawyer Niyam Agil to comment on the sex-shop issue.

“From a religious point of view, contraceptives and pills control unwanted pregnancies. Books raising awareness about sexual life, erotic clothes and similar objects can be sold in drugstores,” he explained. “Materials used for masturbation are inadmissible. It’s prohibited by Islam as well as by other religions.“

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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.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

 Where is the red line for Azerbaijan’s journalists?

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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