Gay Azerbaijan News & Reports

1 Azeri-Armenian gay love story strains at taboos 3/09

2 The Violations of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender 7/09

3 UN Human Rights Committee calls Azerbaijan to combat harassment of LGBT by state employees 9/09

3a Men make up 88.3% of HIV-infected patients in Azerbaijan 12/09

3b Azeri Transexuals Face Social Stigma 1/10

4 Azeri MPs boycotted Council of Europe (PACE) gay rights debate 2/10

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 Azerbajian
– 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.

Read Full Report

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.

28 December 2009 – News.AZ

Men make up 88.3% of HIV-infected patients in Azerbaijan

Milli Majlis (Azerbaijani parliament) has passed Bill on Protection of HIV-infected Patients in the first reading.

Musa Guliyev, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Social Policy Committee, says that the country registered 2,224 HIV/AIDS-infected persons, including 274 ones who died. 88.3% of the HIV-infected patients are men and 11.7% are women. People become infected mainly in the process of injecting drugs into the body (63% of the patients) and sexual relations (23.3% of the patients).

The Bill introduces compulsory examination for HIV/AIDS during blood donation and work with children.

15-January-10 – IWPR

Azeri Transexuals Face Social Stigma
– Sex change just the first hurdle as society fails to accept gender reassignment.

by Leyla Leysan in Baku
Inga Ivanova seems like a normal 23-year-old woman as she sits in central Baku in light make-up, a jumper and jeans, but her story is one rarely heard in Azerbaijan. She was born a boy.
“I felt like a woman in a man’s body … passers-by used to avoid me. I was never flamboyant, I did not shock people, I tried to hide who I was, that I was breaking away from normal modes of behaviour, but all the same I was different,” she said.

On leaving school, like any young Azeri male, she had to report for military service, and was sent for a hospital examination. Experts declared her unfit to serve in the army, clearing the way for her to do what only 100 or so Azeris had done before her – undergo gender reassignment surgery. She turned to the internet for information on the procedure, since the Azeri health authorities offered no help. Without medical supervision or support she put herself through the necessary hormone therapy. A year later, the Funda medical centre completed the physical operation to remove her male sexual organs.

But that was not the end of her troubles. Azerbaijan has inherited the bureaucracy-heavy system of the Soviet Union, and she must gain a new passport in her new name to have access to any state services. There is no legal regulation of gender reassignment surgery or transsexuals, so this is proving difficult, not least because doctors refuse to conduct any tests on her. “Now I am trying to get a psychiatrist to give me the correct diagnosis – transsexualism – and even this is proving very hard. It is a rare case, and legally there is nothing written down about the basis or conduct of sex reassignment surgery and the rights of a citizen afterwards. To get a passport, I will need – after getting a certificate – to appeal to a court,” she said.

Transsexualism was classified as a psychological illness early in the 20th century, and there has been no modernisation of the state’s position since.

“All attempts to ‘normalise’ transsexuals have always failed. The only successful way to ‘treat’ such people is for them to live as a person of the other sex, which is what they psychologically are,” said Jamal Azimzade, the senior specialist at the Funda medical centre. He said the first sex change operation in Azerbaijan was conducted in 2002. “A 26-year-old man, who completely felt himself to be a woman, appealed to me. He thought of his sexual organs as revolting. The operation was conducted over three stages and ended well. However, the ‘new’ young woman was forced to leave the country for social reasons. People who change their sex in our country are forced to live with their old documents, to undergo military service and struggle with a load of other unpleasantness as a consequence of their lack of documents.”

He said transsexuals were also often the target of aggression and hatred, for example when they try to work or have to present their documents.

“Before undergoing the gender reassignment operation, the patient must go through several stages, including talking to a psychiatrist, since this is a serious step in a person’s life that cannot be undone,” Azimzade said, adding that he normally refused to talk to the media about his work. “Representatives of the media normally are looking for sensation, and report this problem non-objectively, misinforming their readers and viewers, thus plunging the problem into even deeper misunderstanding.”

Azerbaijan has very few resources for transsexuals, although one man trying to help is Kamran Rzayev, chairman of the Union for Gender Development and Enlightenment, who said around 60 people had turned to his organisation for help.

“Of course, there are many more of them, but many do not know that there is somewhere they can go for help. In Azerbaijan, people with ‘gender denial syndrome’ are completely without rights. The level of discrimination against these people is very high, since transsexuals lose their right to work, to leisure and even to security. Going outside they risk not only being mocked, but also being beaten,” he said. “It’s not just that these people suffer from childhood and made to feel outcasts, they do not even have the right to a normal life. Because of the ‘disagreement’ between their external appearance and what is written in their documents, they cannot get a decent job. Therefore they are often forced to earn money from prostitution, which turns society against them even more. Many turn to this to earn money for the operation and the hormone therapy, which does not come cheap.”

He said the government needed to change the law to allow transsexuals to gain new documents without the humiliation they currently face.

“Specifically, we need a new law on gender identity, which would regulate the process of getting new documents. Then a transsexual could gain a new passport without a court decision, just on the basis of a psychiatrist’s decision,” he said. “Even in Islamic Iran, where homosexuality is prosecuted, they address gender dysphoria issues normally. According to Islamic law, transsexuals are considered acceptable on the basis of religious teaching.”

Leyla Leysan is a freelance journalist.

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.