March 12, 2009 – Reuters
Azeri-Armenian gay love story strains at taboos
by Matt Robinson and Margarita Antidze
Baku (Reuters) – Alekper Aliyev’s mobile phone buzzed on the iron table. "What’s going on is a nightmare," said the text message from one of his readers. "I worry about you. Take care. Don’t give up." The 31-year-old Azeri novelist says he knew his latest book would cause a storm, but he never imagined the police would get involved. ‘Artush and Zaur’ — the story of a gay love affair between an Azeri and an Armenian amid war between their countrymen as the Soviet Union collapsed — is cultural dynamite for mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.
By Aliyev’s own count, 150 copies have been sold since the book was published in January, a tiny number by international standards but not bad for a homegrown novelist in the country of 8.7 million people. That was until this week, when Baku’s popular Ali and Nino bookstore chain — the only one willing to sell Artush and Zaur — said police ordered the book be removed from shelves. A book discussion between the author and readers was cancelled amid reports of threats and intimidation.
"The police told them — if you don’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves," Aliyev told Reuters. "And they withdrew all the books from sale." He said the owner of Ali and Nino had just called to say police had closed two of their stores. They reopened a day later. An Interior Ministry spokesman denied any knowledge of the case, saying: "The police do not interfere in trade and the selling of books."
Freedom Of Speech
But some Azeri Internet forums have seized on the dispute as further proof of Azerbaijan’s disdain for human rights and freedom of expression under President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his late father, former Communist Party boss Heydar Aliyev, in 2003. The country votes in a referendum on March 18 on whether to scrap the two-term presidential limit, clearing the way for Aliyev to continue his rule indefinitely beyond 2013 if he can keep winning re-election. Critics accuse the authorities of curbing freedoms under cover of an economic boom fuelled by reserves of oil and gas piped from the Caspian Sea to Western Europe. Dissent is discouraged, and sometimes stamped out.
"I thought democracy meant freedom of expression, freedom of faith and freedom of the press," read a posting on one blog discussing the saga. Azerbaijan’s authorities say they are committed to international standards of democracy, but that they have an obligation to protect the country from forces they say are trying to sow instability.
Leap From Maiden Tower
The novel, the writer’s sixth, strikes at the hatred that persists between many Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris since ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region broke away from Azerbaijan’s rule in the early 1990s. The conflict still defies resolution or reconciliation. Soldiers continue to die on the frontline in sporadic clashes, and Baku has not ruled out taking back the region by force. Crucially though, the relationship in the book is played out between two homosexual men, still a taboo subject in traditionally conservative Azerbaijan.
"My book is a fight against stereotypes," said Aliyev. "In Azerbaijan there are two main stereotypes, the gay man and the Armenian. The worst thing you can be is gay or Armenian, or to have any relation to Armenia. I want to deprive them of this instrument, and to explain to people they should not be afraid." He said police had claimed the book was "against our values. How could such bullshit be written?," an anonymous blogger wrote on one Azeri forum. "And to make an Armenian one of the main characters! It was disgusting to read. Some things should be respected — your own country, for example."
The owner of Ali and Nino declined to be interviewed. The book cover does not name the real publisher. Currently only in Azeri, Aliyev said it would be translated into Russian, and friends in Yerevan planned to publish an Armenian version. The novel seeks deliberate comparison with ‘Ali and Nino’, the popular love story of a Muslim man and Georgian Christian woman in Baku, first published in 1937. In the end, Nino flees for Georgia and Ali dies defending Azerbaijan from the invading Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. For Aliyev, Artush and Zaur’s love is equally doomed. The two men throw themselves from Baku’s 12th century Maiden Tower, long a symbol of forbidden love.
"Homosexual love is just the background to this novel," he said. "This book is about our pointless conflict, our pointless war, and about how oligarchs rule societies in both countries."
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
July, 2009 – IGLA Europe
The Violations of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Persons in Azerbaijan – A Shadow Report
Submitted during the third periodic report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee
Azerbaijan acceded to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights1 (ICCPR) on 13 November, 1992, as well as the first Optional Protocol of the ICCPR2 on 27 February 2002. On 20 July, 2009 the country will present its third periodic report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee.
This shadow report is a collaborative effort of Gender and Development of Azerbaijan (G&D), International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Europe (ILGA Europe), and Global Rights. This report aims to offer an evaluation of Azerbaijan’s compliance with the ICCPR and the protection of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
We hope that the findings in this report will be useful to the Human Rights committee as well as serving as a catalyst for future advocacy efforts.
27 August 2009 – Gay Armenia
UN Human Rights Committee calls Azerbaijan to combat harassment of LGBT by state employees
I posted about this earlier. Now ILGA-Europe provides details on developments. Not that I think this will have any practical impact on Azeri government, but good to know that LGBT discrimination in Azerbaijan was discussed and noted in the UN.
August 09 Euroletter – ILGA-Europe
UN Human Rights Committee makes recommendation to Government of Azerbaijan to combat harassment of LGBT by state employees
by Beth Fernandez, ILGA-Europe’s Programmes Officer
From 20 to 21 July the UN Human Rights Committee considered the third periodic state report of Azerbaijan on meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
ILGA-Europe together with Global Rights and Azeri LGBT organization, Gender and Development submitted a shadow report in respect of LGBT which can be found here . The joint report contained numerous cases of blackmail and harassment by the police of men having sex with men (MSM) and transgender sex workers in particular.
Once a State has signed the ICCPR, governments are required to provide a report on actions that it has taken, or plans to take, to implement and safeguard the rights contained in the treaty. The practice of shadow reporting provides an alternative source of information concerning state compliance. At the beginning of August the Human Rights Committee released its recommendations after consideration of the State report, shadow reports and other sources of information. With regard to Article 26 (Non Discrimination) the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern ‘at reports that individuals have been harassed by police and prison officials because of their sexual orientation’. It made the recommendation that ‘The State party should take measures in this respect by providing training activities to its law enforcement and penitentiary authorities and by elaborating a relevant Code of Conduct’.
This recommendation is an important recognition of the need for governmental action to tackle a serious human rights violation which Gender and Development have been documenting over the three years of their existence. It therefore constitutes an important advocacy tool which can be used by Gender and Development in persuading the Azeri Government of the need for tolerance programmes in state structures.
4 February 2010 – Gay Armenia
Azeri MPs boycotted Council of Europe (PACE) gay rights debate
Surprise-surprise. You know… same old bullshit (see below re-post from a local news agency in Baku).
As I mentioned in my earlier post, there was a fierce opposition to this debate from certain religious and political circles in Georgia too. It’s not clear what was the position of Armenian MPs re PACE debate and proposed resolution. As we know, Armenia and Georgia endorsed historic UN gay rights statement. So far, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Armenia was consistent by endorsing various EU statements in support of gay rights. However, no practical steps were implemented for legal protection of human rights and equality of LGBT citizens in Armenia.
Back to the debates in Council of Europe, voting was delayed till PACE next session in April. Will keep an eye on developments.
Azerbaijani MPs and religious leaders have spoken out against a debate on sexual orientation to be held at the Council of Europe next week. Two members of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Gultekin Hajibeyli and Sabir Hajiyev, said they would not take part in the debates. "I am not going to take part in these discussions and I think it wrong to raise this issue in PACE," Hajiyev said.
The PACE debate, provisionally scheduled for 27 January, will discuss discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender self-identification and will propose the legalization of same-sex marriages in Council of Europe member-states. "I have a very negative view of the debate. Yes, we have declared integration with European structures as our priority, but we must also protect our national and cultural values. This is unacceptable for us and we do not intend to copy everything that is adopted in Europe," Hadi Rajabli, chairman of the parliamentary committee on social policy, said. "We have our own mentality and we must preserve our cultural values", he added.
The Caucasus Muslims Department expressed its opposition to the debates. They urged MPs to speak against the proposal not only during this session of PACE but in future too: "This is a great sin and Islam condemns such sinful acts." The head of the Mountain Jews community of Azerbaijan, Semen Ikhiilov, also urged deputies not to take part in these discussions.
"Whoever raises these issues is insane. These people have no shame. Such actions are condemned by all world religions. Therefore, I am very negative about it," Ikhiilov said. The Ukrainian council of churches and religious organizations have also protested at the planned PACE debate on the legalization of same-sex marriages.
11 March 2010 – Gay Armenia
US State Department human rights report: "Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan
In past, gay rights were reflected within the US State Department annual human rights country reports very briefly under the "Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination" section (see e.g. 2007 and 2008 reports). In a remarkable shift of policy, this year’s report which was published today and reflects 2009, features gay rights much more prominently under the separate section: "Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" This may be the clearest yet indication of shift in Obama administration’s policy and that gay rights in the region and elsewhere will be monitored and act upon more seriously.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity General societal attitudes towards homosexuality remained highly unfavorable. The country’s endorsement of the UN December 2008 statement against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity caused a public outcry and increased the number of negative articles in the media about homosexuals. Society continued largely to view homosexuality as an affliction.
Persons who were openly gay were exempted from military service, purportedly because of concern that they would be abused by fellow servicemen. However, the legal pretext for the exemption was predicated on a medical finding of gays possessing a mental disorder, which was stamped in their documents and could affect their future. During the year there was at least one reported case of a young man, whose homosexuality was revealed during military service, being diagnosed and hospitalized with "homosexuality disease."
According to local human rights activists, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons experienced some of the most humiliating discrimination in prisons, where they were forced to do some of the most degrading jobs and separated from the rest of the prison population. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation continued to be a problem with respect to employment, family relations, and access to education and health care for sexual minorities.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity There are no laws that criminalize sexual orientation, male-to-male sex, or female-to-female sex; however, homosexuality was not widely accepted in society. There were a few lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) organizations; however, they did not work exclusively as such and instead promoted tolerance more broadly. One reason for this was the strong societal stigma against homosexuality, including its denunciation by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The new public defender (see section 5) stated that among his priorities would be the protection of LGBT groups and individuals, and on July 31, in a debate with another nominee for the post, he said that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was unacceptable.
On December 15, the office of an NGO that promotes LGBT equality was searched by police. Reportedly, officials used antihomosexual slurs, made unnecessary strip searches, unnecessarily damaged organizational posters, and unnecessarily ransacked offices. The Ministry of Internal Affairs denied that any procedural violations took place and maintained that the profile of the organization was irrelevant in terms of the law. The ministry reported that its General Inspection Office gave one officer a reprimand at the "severe" level in accordance with the police code of ethics, as his actions were determined to be nonethical and inappropriate for police officers. Two other officers were also given a reprimand at the "severe" level for not preventing the above-mentioned officer from making the unethical statements.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation. There were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation. During the year there were no investigations into or punishments of those responsible for these acts, although this was largely due to victims’ unwillingness to file claims due to fear of social stigma. In 2007, after an official complaint was made through the ombudsman’s office, two police officers were removed from their positions.
During the year police raided gay bars on four occasions and arrested almost 50 persons. Police reportedly held the individuals and threatened to expose their sexuality publicly unless they paid a bribe. The human rights Ombudsman’s Office intervened to resolve the incidents. One NGO worked on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in the country. This NGO worked to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provided legal advice, psychological assistance, and outreach activities. The NGO reported no official harassment of its work. There were no attempts to organize gay pride marches during the year; however, there was a small gathering on May 17 to commemorate International Anti-Homophobia Day.
There were no reported deaths during the year due to violence based on sexual orientation. However, domestic violence due to sexual orientation remained a large problem.
The government did not officially condone discrimination based on sexual orientation; however, there was societal prejudice against LGBT persons. While being fired from a job for sexual orientation remained illegal, LGBT individuals reported that employers found other reasons to fire them. Discrimination in access to healthcare was also a problem. In 2008 two transgender individuals died from injuries received from a car accident because physicians at Baku Hospital Number 1 refused to treat them.
15 November, 2011 – MSM Global Forum
Interview with Azerbaijani gay activist
by Paul Canning
Interview with Ruslan Balukhin, co-founder gay.az, a website for LGBT people in Azerbaijan:
Q: What is the purpose of your website?
A: This informative-entertainment resource is for LGBT community of the capital, Baku.
After news about the site appeared on the local news outlets, I started to receive SMS messages from supporters but also from people with negative views about this site. I often receive e-mails and calls with threats. Channel One and Euronews also sent me message and asked to give interviews. Then I received similar message from Euronews where BBC and CNN were mentioned. I think, this interest is associated with the victory on Eurovision 2011 and with the calls from LGBT communities worldwide to boycott the show in Baku in 2012.
As far as I can remember, an organization, official representatives of LGBT community in Azerbaijan, exists from 2006 – 2007 [this was ‘Azeri Gay Community’]. During its existence it has done nothing to solve problems of sexual minorities. What to talk about, if even the site lgbt.az, which is the site of the organization, doesn’t work anymore.
Q: What methods do you use in the struggle for your rights?
A: We do not yet have any defined methods. Today, our main goal is to offer psychological help to sexual minorities, and we also try to establish communication. Our site is not associated with politics and therefore we do not put any aims in the struggle for our rights on the government level.
Q: Although homosexuality is legal in Azerbaijan, I understand that it is not tolerated?
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