Exclusive interview of Panorama.am with head of Xenophobia Prevention Initiative NGO Armine Adibekyan (Part 1)
- The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has published a report on human rights situation in Azerbaijan, in particular rights and freedoms of national, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as state of the media and freedom of expression. What is your assessment of the report? ?
- On the one hand, in its report on Azerbaijan, ECRI mentions the progress in adopting relevant laws and by-laws called to protect the rights of vulnerable groups like religious and ethnic minorities, migrants, prisoners, servicemen, refugees and persons having no citizenship. On the other hand, it is noted that the legislative base on national and ethnic minorities is still weak. The minorities keep facing difficulties in access to teaching in their native language and state negative consequences in the examination of cases related to launching and registration of national minority unions.
That is, laws are adopted on paper stipulating that the state is the guarantor of protection of rights of national minorities and tolerance in Azerbaijani society, but in practice there is a total discriminatory and xenophobic policy, engaged by the state, reflected in the statements and conduct of the country's top officials.
That also goes for religious communities, migrants, citizens liable for call-up, refugees and persons having no citizenship. On the one hand, Article 25 of Azerbaijani Constitution stipulates that every person shall be equal to the law and court. Point 3 of the article specifies that the state ensures equality of rights and freedoms of everybody irrespective of origin, religion and convictions. On the other hand, we see demolition of Sunni mosques for Lezghins, seizure of Talysh literature and closure of the Armenian church to the Armenians living in Baku. The Azerbaijani authorities play on their presence or absence depending on momentary necessity – if there is a need to show a high level of tolerance, they declare their presence and the big number, but when it comes to launching a church, a newspaper or a school, they either do not exist or statements are made on their behalf that allegedly "they do not want it themselves," although no Armenian has so far spoken about it in the press. All these contradictions are indicated in the report as recommendations.
I would like to focus on another aspect of no less importance. The Azerbaijani authorities understand perfectly that they will face problems in the Council of Europe if they do not make real changes in protection of national minorities' rights in the country. But they also understand that by fulfilling all the demands of ECRI, they will face the danger of "parade of self-identifications," something which the country fights severely. They found an original way out of that "pin" – they substituted one minority for another! Thus, recently, Azerbaijan's Kurds told Ilham Aliyev that the Kurds in Azerbaijan faced the risk of disappearance as a nation. That is why it is necessary to create schools, theaters, folk groups for them and carry out cultural propaganda by television. Since nothing takes place in that country without the permission and sanction of the authorities, it can be easily assumed that the authorities artificially create "dying out minority" that needs to be saved urgently, while those who actually need to be saved are deprived of the right to turn to the country's top official with a call like this. It could cost dear both to the applicant and members of his family. So, by protecting the "disappearing" minority, which is not disappearing as such, they gave an account to Europe, on the one hand, and prevented the dangerous trends in the country from unfolding, on the other hand.
- It is noted that the state of the media virtually has not improved since the publication of the previous report. Can it be considered that pressure of the Azerbaijani authorities on the freedom of speech and free press or control over the media is, on the whole, the cause of xenophobia and particularly Armenophobia? What is the state of tolerance towards the Armenians in Azerbaijan?
- In regard to the freedom of speech, the report contains a call to the authorities to impact the media, without interfering in the editorial policies, to prevent them from aggravating the atmosphere of intolerance, hostility and unacceptance of members of a certain group. That is, the Commission is well aware of that habit of the country's authorities and given this fact, it is easy to draw a conclusion that the xenophobic and in particular anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijani media is directly ordered by the country's authorities.
As for tolerance in Azerbaijan in general and to the Armenians in particular, the declaration and the real state of facts must be separated. In one society, mutually contradictory statements are made about the Armenians, divided into groups opposed to each other. For instance, they have not decided yet on who is better (or worse) – whether the Armenians from Armenia, the Armenians from Artsakh or the Armenians residing in Baku. For instance, the so-called head of Azerbaijani community of Karabakh B. Safarov exactly determines the category of Armenians of Karabakh which he sympathizes, and is ready to be tolerant to them. But parallel to it, the Azerbaijani press, citing the country's top officials, expert and intellectual elite, teems with "politically incorrect" definitions about the very "citizens who enjoy full rights," using obviously insulting terms, phrases and threats, based on the thesis that "the Armenians are to blame for everything."
Others declare their commitment to spreading tolerance to "the Azerbaijani Armenians," that is those who live in Azerbaijan until now, whose number, according to the report, fluctuates between 700 and 30,000, and who are opposed to the Armenians from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh which are populated by "occupants" and "separatists."
On the one hand, Azerbaijan considers the fact that Armenians live in Azerbaijan (in mixed marriages) an indication of its tolerance. On the other hand, the Commission definitely states that the Armenians are exposed to risk and discrimination there in their daily lives and that less than 3 percent are ready to officially declare their ethnicity. An eloquent testimony to this is the materials about the Armenians in the Azerbaijani press to the effect that the Armenians have so far failed to get documents and change their surname to establish a normal life or at least leave Azerbaijan.
Another significant factor is the fact that they connect with the Armenians residing in Azerbaijan and beyond its boundaries any negative events taking place in Azerbaijan. Thus, in connection with the opposition youth's recent attempts to organize a "Day of Rage" in Baku, the rector of Baku State University said that "many of them have Armenian descent and they plan to incite unrest in the country." What can also be noted is the recent scandal related to the director of a Baku school who turned out to have Armenian roots on the maternal side. The press teemed with headlines about the "glaring incident," with the opposition news outlet Pia.az wondering, "How can an Armenian be trusted to educate our children?!" (To compare, instructor and teacher Felix Aliyev, an Azerbaijani, has been living and working in Armenia for many years and parents willingly trust him to educate their children).
In Azerbaijan, there is a popular thesis that "our tolerance extends to everyone except the Armenians and it is their fault." Even relatively liberal representatives of Azerbaijan's intellectual elite demonstrate a unique view of tolerance and patriotism. In particular, this is how famous Azerbaijani conflictologist Arif Yunusov describes an Azerbaijani hero: "Vahid Musayev, ardent patriot of Azerbaijan, hated the Armenians and disliked the Russians, actively fought on the frontline." These are the current criteria of patriotism cultivated in the population.
That is, this is not an independent editorial policy of media, but a purposeful state policy encouraging xenophobia and Armenophobia. That is why in point 50 of its report, ECRI recommends the Azerbaijani authorities to step up their efforts to create a climate where the Armenians would feel safe and urges to ensure an adequate reaction to fueling of hatred for the Armenians.
However, it cannot but be noted that the report indicates "tolerant attitude to the Armenians" on the level of interpersonal communication (among the population).
- The report repeatedly focuses on the fact that a negative image of the Armenians is formed by means of "special" publications on the Karabakh problem. What can you say about this?
- Of course, at the instigation of the authorities, the Azerbaijani propaganda machine forms a stereotype of an Armenian as an "aggressor," "occupant" and "murderer," pointing to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as the reason behind it. However, they substitute the cause for the effect as the conflict is not the cause, but the consequence of the many-year policy of deArmenization of the region with the subsequent far-reaching plans, something clearly confirmed by the rhetoric of the country's top official declaring in his speeches that "the territory of the Republic of Armenia belongs to Azerbaijan," etc.
Presenting the consequence as the cause distorts the picture and the essence of what is taking place and it creates an "image of the enemy that has to be defeated, and the wellbeing of ordinary citizens of Azerbaijan depends on that victory." That is why any attempt to present the Armenians at least neutrally is stopped fundamentally. An example of this is the recent ban of the film Hostage by Azerbaijani director Eldar Guliyev presenting an Armenian in a positive light.
Moreover, the report mentions the discrimination of non-Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan suspected of sympathy or links with the Armenians and Armenia (the much-talked-of voting of Azerbaijani citizens for Armenia at Eurovision or the declaration of the Ministry of National Security that all persons suspected of it are under constant surveillance).
- What is the difference between the Soviet authorities of Azerbaijan, who incited the policy of Armenophobia resulting in pogroms of the Armenians in Sumgait in 1988 and in Baku in 1990, and the current leadership of independent Azerbaijan?
- The only difference is that spontaneously provoked violence occurred in the 1988 and the 1990s, it was not prepared in advance, for years, while what takes place now is a purposeful policy to train murderers (opening of sniper schools for housewives who think that "the damned Armenians are to blame for everything," and are sincerely ready to kill, hopeful that it will make their lives better).
I don't think that in 1987 some Azerbaijani would express a readiness to kill an Armenian, while what we see now is not only readiness, but also longing. Then they killed guided by emotions, without understanding the consequences, however, now they prepare to kill with an awareness of it.
It is a different thing, however, that the crimes of 1988 and 1990 against the Armenian population of Azerbaijan cannot be justified by any excuse about provocations from without or those that arose spontaneously.