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April 14 2012

Armenia: Support for Georgi Vanyan

Following the cancellation last week of a festival of Azerbaijani films in Armenia's second largest city of Gyumri amid threats of violence, both the traditional media as well as online commentators have covered the campaign targeting the organizer, peace activist Georgi Vanyan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan remain locked in a bitter conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh and, although the war waged in the early 1990s was put on hold by a 1994 ceasefire agreement, tensions remain high on the front line with scores of conscripts dying in skirmishes each year.

Yet, despite the need to find a lasting peace and to bring the two countries together, the activities of individuals such as Vanyan irk nationalists. Some press reports on last week's incident, for example, quoted two 'security experts,' a term used for those engaged in the online information war with Azerbaijan, attacking Vanyan for his cross-border peace building initiatives.

Ironically, their position, along with other nationalists in Armenia, almost exactly mirrored that of their counterparts in Azerbaijan who welcomed the festival's cancellation and gleefully applauded video of Vanyan being assaulted. Even so, there were also other more alternative voices online.

@KevorkO: What if we put all these petty, small-minded ethno-nationalists in a single cage at the zoo? #caucasus #Armenia #Azerbaijan

@Alisa_Bala: people should understand that #peace is above all things and we must treat peace advocates,the most courageous people

@DiTomtie: Peace activist was beaten in Armenia. Sad proof that our societies are not ready for a change.

Similar comments were also made on Facebook, but there were also posts on a number of blogs and online sites as well. One on the Foreign Policy Association blog, for example, recounted a meeting between Vanyan and the author, an Azerbaijani, in 2009.

From my personal humble experience in conflict resolution I learned that advocating for peace can be a tough job. Mostly, because the majority of people who live in conflict zones and were affected by wars, do not understand the point of reconciliation. All they know is that they lost relatives, possibly were displaced, or had to flee. What they usually want is for justice – what they perceive as one – to be restored. In conflict zones one can rarely meet sincere peace advocates who would stand up to their own people, and tell them the other side of the story.

In South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is one of the few.

That’s why in South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is a rockstar.

And, although unlikely to be speaking for many young Azerbaijanis, Be Positive! sent a message from one side of the contact line to the other.

We, Azerbaijani Youth with common sense, think that recent events in Armenia are exhausting. […]

[…]

We reproach the weak and insensitive events against Georgi Vanyan as we, Azerbaijani bloggers, are in need of and faithful to democratic values […]. We are proud to give moral support to Georgi Vanyan.

There were also posts on blogs such as HİPER QARAGÜRUH`un bloqu [AZ].

Azərbaycanda olduğu kimi, Ermənistanda da sülh tərəfdarı olan, insanların ölmələrini, it kimi bir-birlərini didməmələrini, minlərlə insanın avtoritar hakimiyyətlərin oyunlarının qurbanı olmamalarını, bu mənasız müharibələrə sərf olunan enerjinin inkişafa, tərəqqiyə sərf olunmasını istəyən, ağlı başında, intellektual, ziyalı insanlar var. Bu insanlardan biri də Cənubi Qafqazda tanınmış erməni hüquq müdafiəçisi, rejissor, yazar, “Qafqaz Sülhməramlı Təşəbbüslər Mərkəzi”nin rəhbəri Georgi Vanyandır.

[…]

Qafqazın bu iki ölkəsi aşağı-yuxarı eyni taleni bölüşən dövlətlərdir. İkisində də eyni vəziyyətdir. Sosial-iqtisadi vəziyyət, ölkədəki korrupsiya, təhsildəki biabırçı durum, siyasi repressiyalar, ifadə azadlığı, ordudakı “dedovşina” və s. Hətta deyərdim ki, Ermənistan bizdən biraz irəlidədir. Çünki, pul Sarkisyan hakimiyyətində bizimkilər qədər çox olmadığına görə, rejim cəmiyyəti bu qədər təzyiq altında saxlaya bilmir. Buna görə də nisbətən irəliləyişlər əldə olunub. Amma ümumilikdə vəziyyət eynidir.

As in Azerbaijan, there are rational, intellectual and intelligent people in Armenia advocating for peace, wanting an end to the death of people, to hatred among them, and to the surrender of thousands of people to the games of authoritarian governments, wishing that the energy spent on pointless wars were directed towards development and progress instead. One of those people is the well known Armenian human rights activist, film director, writer and director of Caucasus Center of Peacemaking Initiatives in the South Caucasus, Georgi Vanyan.

[…]

These two countries of the Caucasus share more or less the same destiny. They are in the same situation: socio-economic situation, corruption, the shameful state of education, political repressions, freedom of expression concerns, hazing in the army etc. I would even say that Armenia is ahead of us a little. The reason is that [Armenian President] Sarkisyan’s regime does not have as much money as ours do and this is why their regime cannot apply as much pressure on society. This explains why they have comparatively some progress. But overall, the situation is the same.

The online portal, Kultura.az [AZ], also featured commentary.

Tendensiya budur ki, Ermənistanda türkə, Azərbaycana nifrət etməyəni, Azərbaycanda isə kökündə “erməni” sözü olan istənilən nəsnəyə nifrət etməyəni dışlayırlar. Bu, 2 rejimin bəlkə də yeganə təbliğatdır ki, əhalinin inanmasına nail olublar.

Rejimlər müharibə təbliğatından necə istifadə edir, bunu uzun-uzadı bu yazıda anlatmayacağam. Əsas məsələ budur ki, nifrəti saxlamaqla hakimpreiyyətlərinin ömrünü uzadırlar. Kimsə bu nifrətin əleyhinə çıxsa, hakimiyyət tərəfindən qınanır, gözdən salınır, böhtanlar atılır, bəzən isə cinayət işi açılır və sair təzyiqlərlə üzləşir. Əhali də ona pis baxır, “erməni” və ya “türk” deyib təhqir edir, ona qız vermirlər və ya evdə qalır, onu təhqir etmək caiz sayılır və s..

[…]

Bu iyrənc müharibə təbliğatı, beyinlərə yeridilən nifrət propoqandası bitməyincə nə buralarda bir demokratik ölkə qurulacaq, nə də Qarabağ problemi həll olunacaq.

Bu rejimlər, bu təbliğatlar müvəqqətidir, bizə qalan nifrət yox, sevgidir – Vanyanın humanizm, sülh sevgisi.

The tendency is that those in Armenia who do not hate Turks and Azerbaijan, and those in Azerbaijan who do not hate anything with the word “Armenian” in it, are ostracized. This is probably the only propaganda from the two regimes that their people will believe.

I am not going to explain in this post in details how these regimes make use of war propaganda. The main thing is that by keeping hatred alive these regimes prolong the lives of their rule. Anyone who stands against this hatred is criticized, belittled, defamed by the government, or sometimes criminal cases are opened and pressure is applied. People look down on that person, they humiliate that person by calling them “Armenian” or “Turk”. No one wants their son or daughter to marry that person. Humiliating that person is considered a virtue etc.

[…]

Until this propaganda of a foul war, this brainwashed propaganda of hatred, ends, neither democratic systems will be established in these [countries] nor will the Karabakh problem be resolved.

These regimes, this propaganda, are temporary. What we will end up with is love, Vanyan’s humanity, his love for peace.

Undaunted by the actions against him in Gyumri, Vanyan eventually held his otherwise ill-fated Azerbaijani film festival at a restaurant outside the city limits and plans to hold another next week in Vanadzor, Armenia's third largest city. Moreover, there also appears to be another positive outcome from attempts to obstruct Vanyan's work.

Zardust Alizadeh, an Azerbaijani analyst and a speaker at one of Vanyan's recent cross-border events, was quoted as saying by NewCaucasus that he might now consider staging a festival of Armenian films.

Я считаю, что настоящее искусство – служит добру, гуманизму, сближению народов. И мне пришла в голову идея: а почему бы мне не повторить инициативу Ваняна в Азербайджане?

I think that real art serves the kindness, humanity and reconciliation of people. And an idea came to my mind: why not repeat the initiative of Vanyan in Azerbaijan?

Thanks to Global Voices author Pervin Muradli who translated from Azerbaijani into English for this post.

March 18 2012

Azerbaijan: Opposition youth voice demands in sanctioned protest

On 17 March, opposition youth in Azerbaijan held a rare sanctioned rally in one of the outer districts of Baku, the country's capital. The protest, attended by several hundred people, did not meet resistance or obstruction from the police; uncommon in recent years as most protests have been quickly and sometimes violently dispersed.

As has been customary since the 2011 Arab Spring, those attending shared photos and videos online, using the date's #17Mart hashtag on twitter.  Pro-government voices responded with their own: #teessuflenirem (”I find it regrettable”) which criticized the protest as well as the opposition in general, and #Mart17dubl2, referring to last year's failed protests on 11 March and 2 April.

The Facebook event page for the “March 17 - Demonstration by youth for their future,” which was set up weeks prior to the gathering, listed three demands: the release of political prisoners, no corruption in the education system, and an end to the 20-year old conflict with Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh and the restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

Organized by the Movement for Protection of Youth Rights, the rally featured many Azerbaijani flags as well as those of Turkey and Northern Cyprus. A local photographer and activist tweeted one of the most striking banners of the picket:

@HuseynovaTurkan: Bize #eurovision yoX #Garabag lazimdi #17mart #Azerbaijan http://twitpic.com/8xfsi8

We need Karabakh, not Eurovision!!!

Other placards highlighted the problem of corruption, especially evident in the educational system, sarcastically parodying government slogans claiming incomparable achievements in such areas.

@HuseynovaTurkan: analoqlu tehsil isteyirik #Azerbaijan #17mart #azadliq #tehsil http://twitpic.com/8xll07

We want comparable education [Other placard in photo reads: Tax the teachers for bribes]

A Facebook album by Habib Muntezir features more photos from the protest, with some of the other banners reading “The President is good, those surrounding him are bad,” and “I sold my house to the government and bought a ticket to Eurovision,” which referred to the recent controversial eviction of homeowners as part of preparations for the international music competition

Protesters also held banners referencing the recent attempt to intimidate through blackmail RFE/RL investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova. This young protester holds a banner that reads “Turn off the cameras. We are having sex.”

Blogger Aziz Karimov posted a link to video from the protest on Twitter:

Meanwhile, pro-government users urged their followers to instead gather around the Park Bulvar shopping mall for a petition campaign supporting Azerbaijan's 2020 Olympics bid. Others used the “regrettable” line.

@gunelibrahim: Azad media, azad internet, azad vetendash olan olkede “azadliq yoxdur” deyen genclere gore #teesuflenirem #17mart #mitinq

I find it regrettable that there are young people who say “there is no freedom” in a country that has free media, free internet and free citizens.

Another was the President of Integration of Azerbaijani Youth into Europe, as well as her deputy:

@GulselSafarova: Azerbaycan gencliyi olkesini sevmeli ve deyerini bilmedir.Sabah cixacaq genclerin bele olmadiqlarina gore #teesuflenirem

Azerbaijani youth should love their country and know to appreciate it. I regret that those who will protest tomorrow are not such people.

@NargizXelef: Yeni gencler proqrami qebul edildi, gencler fondu yaradildi, her il gencler siyasetine yeni tohveler olur. Mitingdeki genclere #teesuflenirem

A new youth program was approved, a youth fund was established, there are new developments in youth policies every year. I regret seeing those youths at the protest.

A member of the pro-government youth organization İreli (Forward) also questioned the motive behind holding a protest ahead of Eurovision even though the opposition has already made it clear that they are aware of the increased visibility the international music competition, as well as its hashtag, gives them.

 @niyazaliyev: Maraqlidir, aktivleshme Avroviziya oncesi mushahide olunur,Avropanin diqqeti bizde olduqda… #teesuflenirem #mart17dubl2

It is curious that activism becomes prominent right before Eurovision, when Europe is paying attention to us… #mart17dubl2

While the rally was largely peaceful, police did however detain several people, a musician scheduled to perform at the protest among them.

@turkhankarim: Musicians Natiq Karimov and Jamal Ali have been arrested by police. Also young blogger Etibar Salmanli #17mart #Azerbaijan

Nevertheless, even if sparsely attended, the demonstration was arguably development for criticism in the oil-rich country after last year's protests were quickly suppressed by police. Indeed, subsequent refusals by the city administration to allow new demonstrations, as well as the arrest of young political activists such as Jabbar Savalan, had appeared to have dissuaded activists from taking to the streets again.

But, with Savalan released in December on presidential amnesty, and others on the occasion of Nowruz (also known as Persian New Year and one of the most important holidays in Azerbaijan) as well as the increased attention Eurovision is bringing, there could be some possibility for change. Certainly, with the spotlight on Azerbaijan, both opposition and government supporters are leaving nothing to chance.

March 15 2012

Azerbaijan: Investigative journalist defiant after blackmail threat

According to Freedom House, the situation with freedom of expression in Azerbaijan remains “dire,” with the authorities continuing “to imprison journalists and bloggers who express dissenting opinions.” However, as one outspoken critic of the government again discovered this month, there are also other ways to silence journalists and investigative reporters.

Khadija Ismailova, a journalist with Radio Free Europe's Baku Bureau who has frequently exposed high-level corruption in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, received a letter from an unknown person. Inside, a note, accompanied by photographs taken with a hidden camera, warned her to cease her journalistic activities by threatening to release a video of an intimate and personal nature.

Rather than succumb to the blackmail threat, however, Ismailova responded openly to the blackmail attempt on Facebook in a note written in Azerbaijani and English.

It says if I don’t stop working I will be hugely embarrassed. This threat is not a surprise for me. I have been doing investigative journalism for a long time. My investigation included the secret business of president Ilham Aliyev’s family and documented the facts of corruption on the highest level, disclosed the offshore businesses of members of the ruling family.

Currently I am working on several investigative reports. I have sent inquires to the Government offices about businesses of ruling family.

[…]

I would like to repeat that this is not the first time that these acts of blackmail have been used against fellow journalists. The motives of these acts are very well known to public. It is done to silence people who are outspoken. There are a serious crimes behind these acts.

Ismailova also spoke openly on an independent alternative television station available only on the Internet. “This practice [of intimidating journalists] needs to be stopped,” RFE/RL quoted her as saying. “[…] And I think the least I can do is to continue and fight back.”

Nevertheless, the video was released, and support for the embattled journalist increased. As European Parliament members voiced their support, so too did others such as renowned Azerbaijani photojournalist Rena Effendi.

[…] Here is a disturbing piece of news I got from one of my colleagues, an investigative reporter Khadija Ismayil, who was blackmailed by the authorities today. Khadija Ismayil is a journalist of very high caliber, professional and uncompromising in her integrity! For years, she has been investigating the subject of government corruption in Azerbaijan, a subject that nobody else dares to address in such thorough manner as she has done so far. Please see her statement below, as well as links to her articles. To be honest, given the gruesome state of affairs with civil society in Azerbaijan, I worry for Khadija's safety. I hope that she will stay safe and continue her important work. Please help spread the word […]

Emin Milli, one of the two ‘donkey bloggers' conditionally released from prison after receiving sentences that international organizations considered politically motivated, did just that.

Khadija Ismayil, one of the most professional and bravest journalists in Azerbaijan has been blackmailed by authoritarian system in Azerbaijan. For last several years she has conducted the investigations on shady business deals of the President's family. It is a taboo topic in Azerbaijan which many journalists and citizens are even afraid to talk about openly.

[…] In one of wikileaks cables she is called “ENEMY OF THE STATE” by the president of Azerbaijan during one of the meetings with American diplomats. It is important that international community, journalists around the world support her at this moment, condemn this disgraceful attempt of blackmailing and demand personally from the President Ilham Aliyev to guarantee her safety in Azerbaijan.

Yet, while the Azerbaijani government denied any hand in the blackmail attempt, others such as the South Caucasus Diary were not convinced.

The current case does not come by surprise. On February 23, 2012 CNBC's popular “Filthy Rich” program showed an episode about the filthy rich President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his family. Khadija Ismayil was among the journalists who assisted in preparing the episode and bringing in the evidence.

[…]

Still wonder who ordered the video?

One Azerbaijani youth group even responded by warning tourists visiting Baku for this year's Eurovision Song Contest not to have sex in hotel rooms or rented apartments [RU] because they might be filmed clandestinely, and controversial Azerbaijani author Ali Akper commented too, refering to a similar incident with another journalist.

İqtidar yenə öz sevimli məşğuliyyətinə qayıdıb. Çoxdandır bizə porno göstərmirdilər. Səhv etmirəmsə axırıncı dəfə oteldə masturbasiyaya tamaşa etmişdik. İndi də Xədicə İsmayılovanın yataq otağını çəkib yayıblar. Xədicənin atılan dırnağı belə ola bilməyəcək adamlar, bu video ilə onu nüfuzdan sala biləcəklərini düşünürlər. Zırt!

[…]

[…] biz tabuları qırmadıqca, mentalitetin dalından yağlı bir təpik ilişdirmədikcə, əxlaqçılığa yox demədikcə, bu psevdodəyərlərlə möhtəkirlik edən rejimə məğlub olacağıq. […] zırrama paradiqmalarla yaşayan millət, əsla və əsla azad ola bilməz. Nə qədər çox “eyibdür” desək, bir o qədər əziləcəyik, çünki vuayerist rejim hamımıza bir ağızdan “eyibdür” dedirdəcək […]

The government has returned to its favorite job. It has been a long time since we have been shown porn. If I am not mistaken last time we were watching masturbation at a hotel. And now, they taped the bedroom of Khadija Ismayilova. People who are not worth Khadija's finger nail think that they will belittle her this way. Never!

[…]

[…] until we break taboos, get rid of this mentality, say no to this morale, we will yield to a regime which speculates with pseudo-values. […] a nation which lives with slushy paradigms will never ever be free. As much as we say “it is shameful” we will be defeated that much because this voyeuristic regime will make us say “it is shameful” all together.

Blogger Turkhan also weighed in, sarcastically seeming to refer to wearing the image of an untouchable local political figure.

Hər kəsi bir cür şəxsi intim həyatı var. İntim həyatın olması ayıb deyil. Amma bu intim həyatı gizlincə çəkib yaymaq şərəfsizlikdi. Camaatın yatağına girmək düzgün deyil!

Mən bilirəm ki, mənim də videom adiyyatı qurumlarda var. Amma bu videonu heç zaman yaya bilməyəcəklər. Çünki məlum hadisə zamanı T-shirt-imin qabağında və arxasında bir nəfərin şəkili gülümsəyir

Everyone has their own intimate private life. It is not shameful to have an intimate private life. It is dishonorable to tape an intimate private life secretly and to spread it. It is not correct to sneak into people's bedrooms!

I know relevant institutions have my videos too. But they will never be able to spread that video. Because during the notorious process there is an image of someone on the front and back of my T-shirt with a smile on his face.

The Azerbaijani government has promised to find those responsible for the video and bring them to justice, but critics point out that the undertaking to find those responsible for the March 2005 murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov has so far failed to yield any results. “This is a despicable attempt to discredit a journalist in the process of investigating of government corruption at the highest level,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The participation of state-owned press in this disgraceful smear campaign amounts to officially sanctioned extortion and brings disrepute on national leaders who claim to welcome journalists from more than 40 countries for the Eurovision Song Contest,” added the Committee to Protect Journalists on 14 March. Meanwhile, a petition to support Khadija Ismailova has been launched here.

March 07 2012

Azerbaijan: Journalist responds to threats

Writing on Facebook, journalist Khadija Ismayil responds to threats warning her to stop her investigative reporting. Noting that this is not the first time journalists in Azerbaijan have found themselves the victim of intimidation, beating, and worse, Ismayil calls on the country's government to investigate the matter and for the president to ensure her safety.

February 20 2012

Azerbaijan: Sari Gelin

Əli Novruzovun bloqu [AZ] writes a review on a new novel penned by Ali Akbar, author of “Artush and Zaur,” the controversial tale of a homosexual love affair between an Armenian and Azerbaijani. In his new book, “Sari Gelin, Akbar takes his readers on the complicated journey of a young girl who reaches sexual maturity, explores her sensuality, and enters into the world of seduction. The blog says the novel challenges the patriarchal system, patriotism, traditional customs, and moral values in Azerbaijani society.

December 07 2011

Video Highlights: Identity, Refugees, Conflict and Open Technology

This section aims to showcase interesting and recent posts in Global Voices that show the many ways in which videos are helping people tell stories all around the world. You can follow the activity by regions in our YouTube channel or by clicking on the regional header links.

East Asia

For our Special Coverage page on Languages and the Internet comes an article about the different languages of East Timor. This next short film shows us the importance of receiving education in the mother tongue and the innovative Education Policy for Multilingual Education that East Timor is adopting.

Sub-Saharan Africa

In the post ‘Mali, Niger: Tuareg Voices Barely Heard Over the Sounds of War ‘, a video amplifies the voices of the Tuareg:

In Kidal, a town in north-eastern Mali, an unofficial number of Tuareg people marched to claim the autonomy of the Azawad region on November 1.

In ‘Kenya: Life in Dadaab, the World's Largest Refugee Camp‘ we look through the eyes of different aid organizations the complexities of life in Dadaab, a refugee camp receiving more than 1,400 people every day:

Central Asia and Caucasus

In Armenia and Azerbaijan, video is being used to improve understanding of the complex issues dividing the people of both nations. We linked to this insightful blog post on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as seen through YouTube videos. It included this next video, which shows an interesting experiment on both sides of the border. In the video, a taxi with a camera records passengers reactions to the taxi driver's musical selection: he plays Azeri music in Armenia and Armenian music in Azerbaijan. The passenger's comments have been captioned in English.

You can visit our Special Coverage page on Caucasus Conflict Voices to learn more about the region's situation. To read more about the role of video in the conflict, visit ‘Armenia-Azerbaijan Dialogue Through Film‘ and its second part, ‘More Armenia-Azerbaijan Dialogue Through Film‘ will provide extra information.

Latin America

Global Voices Author and Lingua Editor in Spanish Juan Arellano has been interviewing different Latin American experts. In this one he spoke with Santiago Hoerth of the Codigo Sur project about open technology and Open Software:

In another interview, he spoke with attorney and Creative Commons regional representative Carolina Botero and asked her to give her opinion on piracy.

August 01 2011

Azerbaijan: Eurovision in a non-free country?

A campaign to raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners and restrictions on freedom of assembly in Azerbaijan has been launched by four non-governmental organizations ahead of next year's Eurovision Song Contest to be held in the country's capital, Baku. A video in English detailing the campaign has been posted on Obyektiv TV and a Facebook page set up here.

June 17 2011

Azerbaijan: Jailed activist's mother detained

whatwaswritten translates a RFE/RL Azeri Service report saying that mother of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, an imprisoned youth activist responsible for a Facebook page calling for pro-democracy protests in Azerbaijan, was detained earlier today after placing her ruling party membership card on the grave of late president Heydar Aliyev in protest. The blog reports that she was released after half an hour.

May 29 2011

May 26 2011

Azerbaijan: Eynulla Fatullayev pardoned following Twitter action

Just two days after the UK branch of Amnesty International launched its Twitter campaign to call for the release of Eynulla Fatullayev comes news that the imprisoned journalist and prisoner of conscience has been included in a list of prisoners to be pardoned ahead of the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

Sentenced in 2007 with calls for his release from the European Court of Human Rights as well as many other international human rights and media watchdogs, the news surprised many, but was anyway cautiously first spread on Twitter.

@leylanajafli: #Eynulla Fatullayev FREED?? has anyone confirmed? #Azerbaijan

JafarAbdullayev: Deyilənə görə #Eynulla Fətullayev azad edilib.Təki yalan olmasın.

They say #Eynulla Fatullayev is free. Hope it is not a lie.

@leylanajafli: Gulara Azimzadeh also says she got the news by phone “from smb who wouldn't joke about it”… Will confirm once there's smth solid. #Eynulla

@leylanajafli: List of prisoners to be officially pardoned will be on @RadioAzadliq soon - #Eynulla Fatullayev's name expected to be there!

When the news had been officially confirmed Twitter exploded with tweets from pro-democracy activists in Azerbaijan and elsewhere.

@turkhankarim: EYNULLA IS FREE!

@HuseynovaTurkan: #Eynulla Fatullayev is Free!!! #humanrights #Azernaijan

@mejidli: #EYNULLA FETULLAYEV AZADLIQDA! #azerbaijan #azerbaycan

@Peaceweet: Detained #Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has been freed! Thank you so much everyone, especially @AmnestyOnline This is amazing!

@leylanajafli: Confirmed! #Eynulla Fatullayev has been pardoned ahead of #28may holiday :) @jonsnowC4 @AmnestyUK http://bit.ly/l62UIM

@GozelBayramli: Eynulla fətullayev azadlıqda. Bütün siyası məhbusların tezliklə azad olunmasını tələb edirik…

Eynulla Fatullayev is free. we demand release of all political prisoners…

@IsaGambar: #Eynulla azadlıqda! Danışdım, formadadı! Davamı gəlsin!

#Eynulla is free. talked to him. he is in good shape. let it flow

@mirafgan: Daha bir siyasi məhbus AZADLIQDA! Eurovision yaxınlaşdıqca ümid edirəm Azərbaycanda heç siyasi məhbus qalmayacaq! #azerbaijan #eynulla

yet another political prisoner is FREE. i hope there will be no political prisoner in Azerbaijan as eurovision approaches. #azerbaijan #eynulla

The issue of whether bad press following this year's Eurovision Song Contest victory might have had a role in the pardon was also mentioned by others.

@FuserLimon: Reportedly, #Eynulla Fatullayev is already home, drinking tea. We have yet to see photos.

@lukeallnutt: #Eynulla Fatullayev pardon: So was it #Amnesty or #Eurovision?

The answer to that question remains unknown, but it is possible that a combination of media attention on Azerbaijan ahead of Eurovision as well as increased campaigning by organizations such as Amnesty International played a significant role.

@AmnestyUK: Our twitter action this week was the culmination of years of work by so many organisations. And all of you. Thank you. #Eynulla #Azerbaijan

@lukeallnutt: kudos to @AmnestyUK MT @Golnaz Esfandiari I just interviewed #Eynulla who said Amnesty International played a key role in his release

@jonsnowC4: Utterlly amazing news: Azabaijan has freed the editor Eynulla after Amnesty's massTweet.thanks for everyone's help: the power of Twitter!!

@adewolff: In repressive #Azerbaijan, long-time jailed journalist #Eynulla was freed. Thanks to int'l pressure and #Eurovision. Let's remain watchful.

@emajidli: More good news! Seeing reports that #Eynulla Fatullayev is free! Eurovision can transform #Azerbaijan !

@emajidli: The “Eurovision affect” in Azerbaijan: Most famous political prisoner Eynulla Fatullayev set free after 4 years in jail on politically motivated charges!! Deep sigh for the country!! Wish the other activists staying behind teh bars on politac charges be freed soon!!

However, with pro-government activists from the İRƏLİ Public Union attempting to disrupt the Amnesty campaign to release Fatullayev, many remain concerned that the arrests of outspoken critics might still continue.

@adewolff: And thus, the #Ireli chief concludes this day of disappointment for his band of collaborators. RT @raufmardiyev: We'll be back :)

@parvanapersiani: @adewolff @raufmardiyev with new arrests? oh, we never doubt it :)

For Eynulla Fatullayev, however, it probably doesn't matter… for now at least.

@leylanajafli: #Eynulla Fatullayev at home! Reminds me of the feeling I had after Adnan and Emin were freed. #Azerbaijan

@turkhankarim: Eynulla bütün onu dəstəkləyənlərə çox sağol deyir: “Hamınızı sevirəm…”

Eynulla says many thanks to those who supported him: ” i love you all…”

Azerbaijani translations courtesy of Pervin Muradli.

May 22 2011

Azerbaijan: Eurovision winner Nigar Camal's visa criticism

Dissident blogger and journalist Elnur Majidli, now living in France and facing arrest in Azerbaijan for his Facebook activity, has uploaded a screenshot of a status line written last year by Nigar Camal, one of the two singers who won this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Germany, on the popular social networking site. With concerns already being raised regarding the less than simple visa application process for the oil-rich former Soviet republic ahead of next year's competition, Camal, now a British citizen, says she was refused an extension for her own visa and commented “what an idiotic country with idiotic laws.”

Azerbaijan: Bloggers divided over Eurovision win

Last weekend, Azerbaijan was shaking, with thousands of people flooding onto the streets of Baku, the capital, in the early hours of the morning. No, it wasn't an earthquake or even a popular uprising. It was instead spontaneous celebrations that broke out following the country's win in the Eurovision Song Contest held  in Düsseldorf, Germany just hours earlier.

Nevertheless, while most Azerbaijanis were euphoric following the Eurovision success, some bloggers were more critical, considering that the euphoria surrounding the win, which now means next year's competition will be held in Baku, was futile and meaningless. One of them was UK-based Scary Azeri who asked some of the questions the international media is now starting to raise too.

[…] with all those people who watch the contest, and the attention drawing to Azerbaijan as the possible host for 2012, would at least some things change for the best? Would there be some benefit to the people? Also, as some friends wondered, would Armenians participate? Would they be welcome to?  Would Azerbaijan handle the fact that Eurovision is extremely gay, and will involve a huge gay crowd coming to Baku? Would it show its hospitality to all of the above? How will it actually work, if it does at all?

Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines, another blog based outside the country, also wondered about the significance of the victory and how it might benefit the country.  Following a particularly critical post,  the blogger clarified and expanded more on the subject in a second entry.

[…] let me explain. Azerbaijan won the Eurovision song contest- it has invested a lot, […] and the fact that it won, shows how much effort was put into this. My point was that if Azerbaijan and those responsible for the contest manage to get Azerbaijan come first in some of the (though I still think the most unimportant) most popular competitions held every year- the Eurovision- why cannot it do the same thing regarding everything else that is wrong in this country- freedom of expression, freedom and security of journalists, overall security of its people, respect of human rights, equal rights, “0″ corruption, better salaries, better liberties and much more…

Elə-belə [AZ] also agreed, albeit in a more nationalistic tone, specifically referring to the still unresolved conflict with Armenia over Nagorny Karabakh.

İnsanı üzən isə bu uğuru İqdidarın uğuru kimi qələmə verənlərin çox olmasıdı.Əzizlərim bu nə müxalif insanların məğlubiyyəti, nədə ki İqdidarın qələbəsi deyil.Bu seçkilər deyil, Qarabağı qaytarmamışıq. […]

[…]

Hər kəsi də təbrik edirəm..2012 çox maraqlı il olacaq,Ermənilərsiz Dünyada yaşasaq bəlkə də biz hər zaman qalib ola bilərdik… […] Və ümid edirəm Ermənilər bura gəlməkdən imtina edərlər,çünki Onlar Bakıda qalib olsalar o zaman AZADLIQ meydanında nələr olacaq onun xəyalı belə pisdi..[…]

What is disappointing is that there is a majority who pass this victory off as the success of the Government. My dears, this is not a defeat of the opposition, neither is it the victory of the Government. This is not elections. We have not returned Karabakh. […]

[…]

I congratulate all.. 2012 will be very interesting. Probably if we lived in a world without Armenians, we could always be winners… […] And I hope Armenians will refuse to come here, because if They win in Baku, then the idea of what might happen on the FREEDOM square is horrible. […]

Another blogger, Baxram [AZ], also commented on the mass celebrations and what it believed to be the irrationality displayed by some who attributed the victory to the successful foreign policy of the government (An English version in full is available here).

Dünən gecə və bu gün küçəyə çıxan insaların tv-lərə verdiyi müsahibələrə qulaq asdıqca bir daha əmin oldum ki, bu insanları nə qədər minsən, söysən, təhqir etsən bir o qədər yaxşıdı. Kimisi deyir gün o gün olsun gələn il yevrovizyona Şuşada çayçıda baxaq, kimisi deyir bu qələbə ilə Qarabağın azadlığı yolunda ilk addımı atdıq…Kimi də bunu ucunu Heydər Əliyevin qoyduğu, İlham Əliyevin də dibinə qədər itələdiyi uğurlu daxili və xarici siyasətin bəhrəsi olduğunu qeyd etdi…Sonuncuya qatılıram. […]

Nəhayət, kralımız Avropanı da almağı bacardı…

Seeing interviews with people who took to the streets to celebrate these last couple of days confirmed that, the more you belittle them, the more you insult them, the better it is. There are some who say “May we watch Eurovision in Shusha next year”, those who say “this is another step towards the liberation of Karabakh”… And there are those who say that this is a result of Heydar and Ilham Aliyev's successful domestic and foreign policy. I agree with the latter.

Finally, our king managed to conquer Europe, too.

The saddest thing is that democracy was beaten by dictatorship… By monarchy…

As pro-government supporters used Twitter and Facebook to spread links to articles and videos showing how developed the Azerbaijani capital had become in response to some Europeans voicing concerns about Baku lacking the necessary infrastructure to host Eurovision, bloggers such as XezerXeber [AZ] rejoiced in the win.

Biz bacardıq – öz mədəniyyətimizlə bir Avropa dövləti olduğumuzu, Avropa dəyərlərini bölüşdüyümüzü, Avropa geomədəni çevrəsində yaşadığımızı sübut etdik. […]

2009-cu ildə Azərbaycan İslam ölkələrinin mədəniyyət paytaxtı idi.

2011-ci ildə Azərbaycan Avropanın mədəni paytaxtına çevrildi. […]

We made it - with our culture we proved that we are a European country, we share European values, we live in the European geo-cultural environment. […]

In 2009 Azerbaijan Azerbaijan was a cultural capital of Islamic countries.

In 2011 Azerbaijan has become a European cultural capital. […]

Dissenting voices such as In Mutatione Fortitudo still remained, however. Elaborating on some of the many challenges the country now faces as it prepares to host the competition in 2012, it did not sound too optimistic.

[…] we clearly understand what results this victory can bare - encountering serious legitimacy concerns at home, the Azerbaijani government will use this opportunity to full extent to mobilize popular support for their authoritarian policies. […]

It will become a favorite propaganda toy in the hands of the government. Tightly controlled media has already started to sing dithyrambs in honor of the President, et all (”architects of the victory”) and the victory itself is soon going to be the result of successful foreign and domestic policies of the government.

Serious human rights and democracy concerns will be pushed aside.

Baku will host Eurovision 2012 and as a typical shame-based society, critics will be silenced – with a silent approval from general conformist public - not to spoil the show.

[…]

We don't see any wish and will of the government in Baku to soften the regime yet.

But others such as Pərviz Şükürzadənin bloqu [AZ] held a different opinion.

Ermənistanda isə qeyri-rəsmi matəmdir. Bu onların saytlarından da hiss olunur. […]

[…] Nə qədər təəcüblü olsa da, Azərbaycanlılar arasında da bu qələbəyə sevinməyənlər, müsabiqəyə ləkə yaxanlar da tapıldı. Hərənin bir dərdi var, amma bildiyim qədəri onların bir çoxu bu qələbənin iqtidara işləyəcəyindən ehtiyatlanaraq bu addımı atırlar. […]

In Armenia there is unofficial mourning. You can tell it from their web sites as well. […]

[…] However surprising it might be, there are a few Azerbaijanis who are not happy about the victory and smeared the contest. Everyone has their own issue, but as far as I know most of them do it fearing that the victory will work for the government. […]

However, not all critics of the government considered the victory in such a context, with recently released video blogging youth activist Adnan Hajizada tweeting his hopes for the competition.

@FuserLimon: #Eurovision will change #Azerbaijan, the same way as #Olympics changed #China! I believe in that!

Despite the divided opinion, or perhaps even because of it, the issues surrounding holding Eurovision 2012 in Azerbaijan are likely to become the center of much discussion in the year ahead.

May 20 2011

May 18 2011

Azerbaijan: Eurovision-induced sexual revolution?

Turkhan's blog [AZ] posts video and photos of a woman celebrating Azerbaijan's Eurovision victory in a less than expected way considering the otherwise traditional and patriarchal nature of local society. Stripping to her waist in the center of the capital, Baku, the blog wonders about the likelihood of a sexual revolution in Azerbaijan given that the images and video were shared widely on Facebook.

May 15 2011

Azerbaijan: Eurovision Victory

Surprising many, Azerbaijan won last night's Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf, Germany. Although expected to do well in the annual international music competition, Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Camal, performing under the stage name of Eli and Nikki, clinched the coveted award in front of a 36,000-strong audience and millions of viewers watching the show live on TV.

Naturally, Facebook and Twitter carried the news, including tweets from the act themselves.

Some viewers, however, were confused exactly where Azerbaijan was.

Clapham Omnibus also noted the difficulty that many had in locating Azerbaijan on the map, but pointed out that its oil wealth might make it one of the few countries able to afford to host Eurovision next year.

So, most of Europe reached for their atlases last night - where exactly is Azerbaijan again? That’s right, next year Europe will extend to within 1000 miles of China, and only a hop away from Iran!

[…]

Apart from worries over the state of hotels and gay rights in Azerbaijan, the European television companies will no doubt sigh with relief - Azerbaijan is one of the few countries rich enough to stage the competition in the current economic climate, and they are absolutely desperate to do so. Should be mega - expect something to rival Moscow in 2008.

Nevertheless, with concerns from international human rights watchdogs about the internal domestic situation in the countries, some Azerbaijani activists were not so convinced. Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines, for example, was not so enthused.

[…] Yep, here we are, for yet another Eurovision song contest. And as Azerbaijan celebrates its this year victory with a song called “Running Scared” by Nikki and Ell, one of Azerbaijan's young activists, Elnur Majidli declared wanted by Interpol. You know why? Well, simply because Azerbaijan chooses to spend thousands (if not millions) of government money on things like Eurovision while paying no attention whatsoever to the internal situation on the ground where for the record, journalists and activists get arrested on faked up charges.

So yea people, continue celebrating something as unnecessary and stupid as a Eurovision song contest, while turning a blind eye on human rights, freedom of expression and all the other violations taking place in your country. Because who cares about that right when Azerbaijan won such an important event of the year?!

Others agreed, but some saw Azerbaijan's victory as an excellent opportunity to implement much needed reform in the former Soviet republic.

Because of the still unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, some Armenians were also upset by the win.

Such reaction is not new to Eurovision with Armenians and Azerbaijanis often engaging in petty squabbling and sometimes even worse. In 2009, for example, Azerbaijan obscured the telephone number for viewers to vote for Armenia and its National Security Service called in at least one Azerbaijani for questioning after he managed to do so anyway.

Meanwhile, Armenia displayed the photograph of an Armenian monument in Nagorno Karabakh in a deliberate attempt to provoke Azerbaijan. Indeed, with Armenia hosting the Junior Eurovision contest later this year, and Azerbaijan already stating that it will not participate, the conflict between the two countries did not go unnoticed by the oikotimes.

I have the feeling that a lot of things happened last night in the Eurovision 2011 scoreboard. My thoughts since last night are storming my head and I have to share them with you as I am totally surprised (personally) that Caucasus countries (Armenia and Azerbaijan) are the winners and hosts of the two EBU family events (junior and senior Eurovision Song Contest).

[…]

It wouldn’t also be Baku 2012 if EBU had taken actions in 2009 when Azeri arrested 6 citizens with the accusation that they have voted for their eternal enemy, Armenians. This was never punished but just a small fine. The relations of the two countries are still in the red alert and security issues will definitely emerge next year. Do not forget that those two nations in the 80s were strongly killing each other over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Will Armenia participate next year? If yes, will Azerbaijan allow them in the country? You know that you cannot visit Baku if your passport has a visa from a previous visit to Armenia!

Naturally, key questions about Armenia's participation in the competition if it is to be held in Azerbaijan next year will likely surface although Emmy, this year's entry for Armenia, said that she would perform in Azerbaijan after Eli and Nikki said they would sing in Armenia.

- Если бы «Евровидение» проходило в Ереване, вы бы поехали туда?

-Мы всегда ждем приглашений от всех стран. Музыка, искусство — это не вопрос национальности.  Мы будем рады участвовать в концертах везде.

Q: If the contest is held in Yerevan would you go there?

A: We are always waiting for invitations from all countries. Music, art - it's not a question of nationality. We will be happy to participate in concerts everywhere…

Unzipped: Gay Armenia, perhaps the main blog for Eurovision news from the Caucasus, commented on the situation.

I hope Armenia will go to Baku in 2012.

We should stop - and this is a good occasion to start with - once and for all this complex of losers or complex of inferiority between our countries, whenever either Azerbaijan or Armenia wins any international contest.

All talks of Armenia boycotting Eurovision in Baku I consider ridiculous and loser’s talk. Let’s pass that psychological complex, and rather concentrate on the quality of performance and the act chosen.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan must ensure that Armenian delegation and fans not only from Armenia but worldwide are able to attend the contest without having any problems with their yan/ian surname.

Ianyan also sounds a cautious note of optimism.

The duo are celebrating their win in Düsseldorf, and no doubt will be hailed when they return to Azerbaijan in the coming days, but for Armenia, who was sent home with Emmy’s “Boom Boom” during the first semi-final, the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest presents a conundrum if there ever was one.

The neighboring countries have no formal relations since 1994, due to the longest-running conflict in the former Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The seven year entanglement saw an estimated 25,000 killed soldiers and civilians and one million people displaced, according to Human Rights Watch.

[…]

Perhaps the the presence of the best of the worst (and sometimes worst of the worst) pop music Europe has to offer might start a thaw in relations and hasten diplomacy and dialogue between the two countries. After all, “music has no borders” answered Eldar and Nigar during the press conference.

Others such as Jake Jones, a former democracy worker in Azerbaijan and his Azerbaijani wife, accomplished jazz singer Ulviyya Rahimova, demonstrated that unity was possible via social media alongside other Azerbaijani tweeps.

Away from the politics, however, Facebook was awash with Azerbaijanis posting video of celebrations in Baku, the country's capital, in the early hours of this morning.

April 18 2011

Azerbaijan: The ‘Terror' of Tiny Town

Tamada Tales comments on the detention of a small child and her mother at an opposition protest in Baku on Sunday. Captured on video uploaded to YouTube and shared online, the blog wonders what ‘havoc' could possible be wreaked upon the Azerbaijani capital by the girl.

April 03 2011

Azerbaijan: Chaos as riot police intervene in 2 April protest

Written by Leyla Najafli

Continuing the wave of pro-democracy protests in Baku, the last being held on 12 March, the opposition's latest “unsanctioned” rally took place yesterday. However, the day was to start with Elnur Majidli, one of the moderators of the 11 March Great People's Day Facebook protest tweeting that a criminal case had been opened against him. The charge is “attempting to overthrow the government.”

As with the previous protests, Twitter was the most popular source of information for those interested with participants and supporters using the #2aprel hashtag to quickly spread information regarding any arrests or the direction the protest was going, especially as Fountain Square, where the protest was supposed to start at 2pm, was under police control from early on.

Fountain Square surrounded by police,2 people sitting in the park (no protesters) has been arrested. #azerbaijan#azerbaycan #2aprel #april2

Fevvareler meydanina boyuk bir polis kutlesi tokubler #2aprel#azerbaijan #baku

There is a mass of policemen concentrated at Fountain Square

Arrests started before the protest did, as reports about activists getting detained in their homes or on their way to the protest from tweeps such as @muntezir flooded in.

#12Mart aksiyasında 8 sutka həbs cəzası alan Müsavat Partiyasının üzvü Niyaz Nəsirov saxlanıb. #2aprel #azerbaycan#april2

Niyaz Nasirov, Musavat party member who was imprisoned for 8 days after 12 March protest, has been detained.

Vüqar Qurdqanlı sərbəst buraxıldı. Ölkəm qəzetinin müxbiri İlham və AXCP fəali Dəyanət Babayev isə hələ də bölmədədirlər #2aprel #azerbaycan

Vugar Gurdganli, Dayanat Babayev and another activist have been detained in their homes in Khirdalan.

18 nəfər Sumqayıtdan Bakıya mitinqə aparan mikroavtobus saxlanıb. Sərnişinlərlə birgə Sumqayıt Polis İdarəsi 4-cü bölməyə aparılıb. #2aprel

A micro-bus taking 18 passengers from Sumgayit to the Baku protest has been stopped. It has been taken to Sumgayit 4th Police Department along with passengers.

Simultaneously, pro-government activists carried out some ‘counter-protests' of their own.

50-60 nəfər hakimiyyətyönlü gənc Əli Kərimli evi önündə aksiya keçirib. Polis sonradan əraziyə gəlib,aksiya müdaxilə olmadan dağılıb #2aprel

50-60 pro-government youths held a protest outside Ali Karimli's house. The police came later on, the protest ended without any intervention.

The official site of Azadliq newspaper is hacked. #2aprel#Azerbaijan

http://azadliq.az turned into govt propaganda with photoshop images depicting opposition activists as homosexuals etc. *slow clap* #2aprel

2 April protests in Baku © Turkhan's Blog

Members of what many consider to be the ruling party's youth wing, the Ireli Public Union, also started using the #2aprel hashtag to counter anti-government statements as they had during previous protests. Suddenly there were more pro-government tweets than tweets about the protest.

В Азербайджане будут списаны долги населения за воду http://bit.ly/fkzWjk#2aprel #azerbaijan #protest

Population's water bill debts will be canceled in Azerbaijan

Given the content unrelated to the protests being held, some considered the pro-government tweets to amount to little more than spam and suggested blocking them. At the protest itself, however, as the riot police got involved things became more heated. Reports came in of tear gas being used, but photos and videos later showed that it was in fact mace.

There were also reports of unknown individuals breaking windows in nearby shops.

government started to use provocators #2aprel #2april #Azerbaijan some group who is not familiar started breaking window of shops

mulki geyimli polsiler texribat toredir, tikintilerin pencerelerinin susesini sindirir. #2aprel

Plainclothes officers are being saboteurs, breaking glass in buildings

Aksiya istirakcilarini polis avtobusa basib.Sonra gozyasardici qazi atib iceri. sonra girib yeniden avtobusa baslayib doymeye! #2Aprel

Police rounded up protesters into a bus. Then they threw tear gas in. Then got into the bus and started beating them again!

In fact some felt, were it not for the police the protest would have just been “more of the same” from the opposition.

Gözlənildiyi kimi, müxalifət tərəfdən ciddi heç nə yoxdur. Amma “vintovkalı” polisləri nəzər alsaq, hakimiyyət ciddi təlaşda =) #2Aprel

As expected, nothing serious coming from the opposition. But if we take into consideration the uptight policemen, the government is seriously worried.

With pro-government activists believing that the police had done a good job, and that reports of injuries were simply opposition propaganda, Rauf Mardiyev of the Ireli Public Union posted the same line in a blog post.

Peşəkarların dili ilə desək polis “təmiz” işlədi. Operativ və səliqəli. Bir nəfərin də olsun burnu qanamadı.

Düzdür, müxalitət propaqandası nəticəsində ayağı “sınan” […] yüzlərlə insan olacaq, bəlkə də Xədicə artıq həmin siyahını qafiyəli formada səsləndirir ya da hansısa local “Al-Kaeda” öz veb səhifəsində yerləşdirib. Həqiqət isə Azərbaycan polisinin davranış və peşəkarlığının əvvəlki illərə nisbətən bir xeyli irəlilədiyini göstərir.

As professionals would say, the police worked “cleanly.” Operative and neat. Not even a nosebleed in sight.

Sure, as a result of opposition propaganda there will be hundreds of people whose […] legs were “broken”, maybe Khadija [Ismayilova, RFE/RL]  is already saying this list in verse or some local “Al-Qaeda” has shared this on its webpage. Reality is that Azerbaijan's police made some real progress in terms of conduct and professionalism.

But, contrary to such claims, tweets about the fate of those detained started to emerge as the protest died down, some of which were graver than usual.

Tazakhan Mirelemli (APFP) eye injured by police at #2aprel protest in #azerbaijan. http://twitpic.com/4g90f1

There were also allegations of forcing opposition activists to admit to various crimes so as to detain or charge them.

Sumgayit police accused APFP activists of murder, made some of them sign protocol. now they're at home, waiting for the prosecutor's summon

reportedly,crime case opened against 2prominent opposition members,1op.member sentenced 2 1month of pre-trial detention, no exact source tho

Opposition member detained during #april2 protest rallies in Baku is accused of illegal weapon possession #Azerbaijan

All in all, there were reports that anywhere between 115-200 people being detained out of a reported 600-1000 participants, although some of them have since been released.

APFP vice-chairman Hasan Kerimov taken into resuscitation at #4 Hospital#azerbaijan #2april

reportedly,crime case opened against 2prominent opposition members,1op.member sentenced 2 1month of pre-trial detention, no exact source tho

Opposition member detained during #april2 protest rallies in Baku is accused of illegal weapon possession #Azerbaijan

April 02 2011

Côte d'Ivoire: Who is in control of RTI state television?

Written by Julie Owono

This post is part of our special coverage Côte d'Ivoire Unrest 2011.

Confusion surrounds the question of who is currently in control of the Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), the Ivorian national television station.

On March 31, the Republican Forces (FRCI) rebels loyal to Internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara entered Abidjan, the main city of Côte d'Ivoire. When they reached the RTI's headquarters they were faced with resistance from Gagbo's Defense and Security Forces (FDS). The national television station is mockingly referred to as “Propaganda TV” or “LMP TV” because of the preconception that it favors President Laurent Gbagbo, who denies he lost an election in December 2010 and refuses to step down. RTI has become the stage for a war of control.

The signal was first cut for 24 hours, and on April 1, 2011 Directscoop, a citizen information blog focused on Africa, announced [fr] that the signal of the channel was back:

La Radiodiffusion télévision ivoirienne ( Rti) a recommencé à diffuser son signal vendredi peu après 19 heures

RTI started broadcasting again on Friday shortly past 7pm

Wanyu, a reader, commented:

Un long metrage de Damon : « LA VENGEANCE DANS LA PEAU » est diffusé en ce moment sur la RTI.

A feature film with Matt Damon: “The Bourne Ultimatum” is currently showing on RTI.

Infodabidjan.net [fr], a pro-Gbagbo news website, posted on its YouTube profile this citizen video shot on April 1,2011:

The Caption under the video explains:

Premieres images de la RTI après sa liberation

First images of the RTI after its liberation

A large Facebook group called “The Comittee for the struggle against French interference in Côte d'Ivoire” (Comité de lutte contre l'ingérance Française en Côte d'Ivoire) [fr] gathers roughly 6720 pro-Gbagbo members, shared the video of the RTI's April 2, TV News edition: Militants of the FDS are shown reading a press release, explaining that they were attacked by Ouattara's forces, backed by the United Nations Office in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI). They also said the situation at the RTI - as well as in Abidjan - is now under control, and that people should go about their lives as usual.

On Twitter, citizens reacted to this intervention immediately:

@Gare_au_gorille was outraged:

@Gare_au_gorille: la RTI veut 1 bouclier humain en ne relayant pas couvre feu #civ2010 > RESTEZ CHEZ VOUS et faites passer le mot !!!

RTI wants to build a human shield by not passing the word on the curfew #civ2010. STAY HOME and spread the word!!!

@JusticeJFK also:

@JusticeJFK: Intervenant FDS sur la RTI: “nous appelons les populations à vaquer normalement à leurs occupations”. Quelle irresponsabilité!!!

FDS speaker on the RTI: “We call the population to go about their business as usually” This is Irresponsible!!!!

“The committee for the struggle against French interference in Côte d'Ivoire” shared another video, shot the morning of April 2 in the RTI's offices, and as a proof that the state television was now controlled by the pro-Gbagbo FDS. It was re-posted on Youtube by AfricaWeWish:

Stéphane Kassi, an RTI employee explains what happened on Thursday March 31, 2011:

Le jeudi (…) Suite à l'alerte de l'attaque de la rébellion, nous avons essayés de faire un repli, au niveau de la cité qui est en face se trouve à côté (…) Nous ne somme pas agents de la régie, mais nous avons fait de notre mieux. (…) Les combats ont eu lieu , et nous avons réussi à nous terrer quelque part jusqu'à on ait pu nous exfiltrer. Ce matin nous sommes là, comme le pays nous le demande, Nous sommes là pour défendre notre patrie.”

After the alert on the attack by the rebellion was given, we tried to withdraw to the nearest area. We are not agents of the regime, but we tried our best. (…) Fighting took place, and we managed to hide somewhere until we were ex-filtrated. This morning we are here, as the country demands; we are here to defend our patrimony.

This post is part of our special coverage Côte d'Ivoire Unrest 2011.

March 30 2011

March 19 2011

Azerbaijan: “Great People's Day” Protest Criticism Answered

Written by Leyla Najafli

Following a youth protest held in Baku on 11th March which saw dozens of activists detained or arrested before, during and after the event, some bloggers in Azerbaijan are criticizing the organizers of what became known as “Great People's Day.” Analoqu olmayan bloq :) [AZ], for example, criticizes the fact that six of seven of those responsible for the page were based outside the country.

Xaricdə oturub şüarçılıqdan, hakimiyyəti söyməkdən asan nə var ki? Yerlərdə vətəndaş cəmiyyəti, gənclərin azadlığı daha da daraldı – yaxın günlərdə hamımız bunu əyani görəcəyik.

There is nothing easier than sloganism and criticizing the government from abroad. In some places the freedom of society and youths became even more strained. This will clearly be demonstrated in days to come.

Gulara Azimzadeh's blog [AZ] also criticizes the organizers, although more because there appeared to be no concrete plan for 11 March.

11 mart xalq günü keçirildi ama nə düz əməlli plan oldu nə də şüar. Tarix boyu uduzulmuş  döyüşlərə, qiyamlara baxsaq, səbəbi 90% mütəşəkkilliliyin olmaması, strategiyanın düzgün seçilməməsidir.

The 11 March People's Day took place, but there was neither any real plan nor a slogan. Throughout history, battles are lost 90 percent of the time for lack of organization and the wrong choice of strategy.

She also criticizes the location, a central shopping street, chosen by some of the protesters.

Hamısı bahalı qlamur mağazalar, evlər ya ofisdir ya kirayə qalan xaricilər ya ki, nizamın pozulmasını istəməyən hər şeydən razılar. Kim qoşula bilərdi ordan? Bunu hansısa gününü gündən zorla yetirən kasıb qəsəbədə eləmək məntiqli olmazdımı? Qəsəbədən başlayıb yürüş etmək olmazdımı?

It's full of expensive, glamorous shops, houses or offices. Those who rent them are either foreigners or those, satisfied with the way things are, who want peace and order. Who was going to join from there? Wouldn't it be logical to do this in some poor area, where people are struggling to make ends meet? Wouldn't it be possible to go to this area and start a march from there?

In a new blog, Bloq yolun bir hissəsidir, however, one of those organizers, Mejid Merjanli, responds.

Xəbərlər yayıldı ki bəs şəhərə ordu yeridirlər, hakimiyyət xalqı qıracaq. Burda hamıdan çox qorxmalı olan bizlər olmalı ikən məsələyə aidiyyatı olmayanlar düşdülər üstümüzə ki bəs “oturmusuz xaricdə, burda xalqın balalarını qırğına verirsiz”, “sizə görə burda gənclər haqqsız yerə həbs olundular”, “sizə görə İnsan Haqqları evini bağladılar, NDI bağladılar, AFUnu da bağlayacaqlar”. […] Biz martın 11dən bir neçə gün qabaqcadan ard-arda bəyanatlar verdik, yazılar yazdıq ki heç kim qarşıdurmaya getməsin, provokasiyaya uymasın. “Haranısa dağıdan, sındıran bizdən deyil” dəfələrcə bunu eventin divarına da yazdıq, öz səhifələrimizdə də.[…] Guya bu həbslərin baiskarları bizlərik. Cabbar Savalanlı, Eynulla Fətullayev, Emin Milli, Adnan Hacızadə də bu eventə görə tutulublar? 11 martda da tutulanlar haqqsız yerə həbs olunublar ondan qabaq tutulanlar da. Gedin hakimiyyətə deyin ki gəncləri niyə durduqları yerdə həbs eləyirsən, yox əgər cəsarətiniz çatmırsa bizdən nə istəyirsiniz? İnsan Hüquqları evinin bağlanması söhbətini hələ 1 ay bundan qabaq, Bakıda olarkən eşitmişdim. Çox adam da gözləyirdi bunu, yəni 11 martla heçbir əlaqəsi yoxdu. 12 martda da Müsavatın həsrətində olduğumuz möhtəşəm aksiyası oldu. Mən əminəm ki 11 mart buna güclü stimul oldu.

News spread that they are sending troops to the city, the authorities are going to butcher the people. While we are the ones who should be most afraid, people who have nothing to do with the situation are saying that “you are sitting abroad, sending people's kids to be butchered,” “youths got unjustly detained because of you,” “Human Rights House, NDI got shut down because of you, they'll shut down Free Thought University too.” […] A few days before 11 March we released several statements, wrote articles saying that nobody should participate in confrontations or give in to provocations. “Those who destruct and damage are not one of us,” - we wrote this time and time again, on the event's wall and on our own pages. […] Apparently we are the cause of these arrests. Were Jabbar Savalan, Eynulla Fatullayev, Emin Milli, Adnan Hajizada also arrested because of this event? Those arrested on 11 March were arrested as unjustly as those arrested before it. Go ask the government why they are arresting our youth for no reason - if you don't have the courage to do this, what do you want from us? I had already heard about Human Rights House being shut down one month ago, when I was in Baku. A lot of people were expecting this - it has nothing to do with 11 March. On 12 March, the Musavat Party held a great protest. I am sure that 11 March was a strong stimulus for this.

Meanwhile, some activity continues. On 18 March, Baku Post reports that nine youth organizations in Azerbaijan appealed against the arrests made prior to “Great People's Day” and also called on the authorities to allow freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstrations in the future.

Abbas Atilay/RFE

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