Creative dissent – videos
In June 2009, Adnan Hajizada, the creative "locomotive" of the OL! youth movement, posted a satirical video on YouTube. Titled "Esel Heinz" (German for "Donkey Heinz"), the video was based on a news story alleging that the Azerbaijani government was about to import donkeys from Germany at a cost of 41,000 dollars each. In the video Adnan, wearing a donkey costume, gives a press conference to students posing as journalists. The costume he is wearing was brought by Emin from the US.
The following month, on 8 July 2009, Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli were arrested on trumped-up hooliganism charges. After major news outlets including the New York Times reported "Donkey" video, already popular in Azerbaijan, went viral worldwide. The video has received over 127,000 views on YouTube to date.
But even before "Donkey Heinz" and the subsequent arrest of Emin and Adnan in July 2009, Adnan had attracted the attention of Azerbaijan's young social media users. In November 2006, Adnan posted a video on YouTube, entitled "What do you believe in?" (in Azeri and Russian), which asks young people about their beliefs. In February 2011, Adnan produced Part 2 of "What do you believe".
Adnan, Emin and their friends represent a different approach to politics than the older generation of opposition politicians. For an insight read Radio Liberty's interview (July 2009) with Hikmet Hajizade, Adnan's father, a political scientist and long-time member of the oppositional Musavat party. Hikmet Hajizade explains:
"Adnan thinks that the [Musavat] party represents the older generation, he has his own circle and friends and according to him, youth should define their own behaviour and their own politics …"
Hikmet Hajizade said he did not view his son as a politician:
"No, Adnan is socially active. Is an "Interview with the "politics? No! He wanted to see democracy thriving in Azerbaijan."
Adnan Hajizade with his parents Hikmet and Bahar
"Because I am Azerbaijani"
OL! Media also produced a series of satirical videos entitled "Because I am Azerbaijani" (in Azeri). The short video clips, depicting everyday life situations, poke fun at some aspects of Azerbaijani culture and mentality.
OL! flash mobs
Aside from producing catchy video clips, the OL movement also became known for organizing flash mobs in Azerbaijan and abroad. OL's street actions sought to bring to the fore Azerbaijan's democratic heritage and the legacy of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) as well as the personality of the first Republic's founder, Memmed Emin Resulzade. Photos of the flashmobs are available from OL Youth Movement's Facebook group.
ADR photo shoot, May 2009. Ruslad Asad, Adnan Hajizada, Rashad Shirin
ADR Flashmob on Baku's Bulvar
Resulzade flash mob in Baku
Emin Milli – speaking out
In 2005, Emin Milli and his friends founded the Alumni Network as a common platform uniting Azerbaijan's foreign-educated youth. In the subsequent years, Emin became known for his increasingly critical stance vis-à-vis the government. On 13 November 2008 Emin delivered a speech at an Azerbaijani forum at the House of Lords in London, calling for change in Azerbaijan and denouncing corruption, authoritarianism and conformist thinking. The speech was entitled "Manifesto for Change" (the video can be viewed on "script" that Azerbaijan was following:
"The script" fails to stop and to change the mentality of corruption, authoritarian thinking and attitudes in our families, in our organizations, in our society and in our state. It is turning our potential human gold into black stones without hope, dream and belief …
I believe that it is time to make fundamental changes and to re-write "the script" of our future. We need a new "script" for our FUTURE deeply rooted in our ADR heritage and its spirit. The leaders of ADR, the leaders of the first recognized democratic republic in the Moslem world, started our long way to freedom from the belief in the power of ideas, in the power of dreams and in the power of education."
Emin Milli delivering his "Manifesto for Change" speech at the
House of Lords, London, November 2008
Emin's criticism grew more pointed after the March 2009 referendum which removed presidential Speaking at Columbia University on 15 April 2009, Emin said,
"The recent referendum held on 18th of March was a culmination of the power consolidation of the ruling regime. In my opinion, the whole referendum was not legitimate and it was neither fair, nor legal. Azerbaijani authorities decided to follow the path of Chad, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Algeria, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Venezuela in terms of opening the constitutional doors for lifelong presidency."
Soon after their release from prison, Emin and Adnan published a thank you video addressed to all their supporters. The video can be viewed on YouTube. The closing credits list individuals, organizations and media outlets to whom Emin and Adnan offer their special gratitude.
Free Thought University (Azad Fikir Universiteti)
Free Thought University (AFU) is OL!'s biggest project aimed at organizing public lectures and discussions. The university describes itself as "an alternative education and discussion place for youth and students."
The range of topics addressed at FTU has included:
- What is liberty?
- Post-modernist Philosophy
- What is Civil Society?
- Court System in Azerbaijan
- NATO and Azerbaijan
- Importance of democracy
- Problems of Eurointegration
- The Concept of Human Rights
- Freedom of Expression
- Law, History and Literature
- Web 2.0 and Citizen Journalism
Videos of the lectures (in Azeri) are available from the Azad Fikir website.
Adnan and Emin giving a presentation at FTU soon after their release from prison,
December 2010. Source: Azad Fikir Universiteti Facebook group
Some disaffected Azerbaijani youth have channeled their protest into contemporary music. In recent years, several bands in Azerbaijan have made music a means of expressing their outrage at the situation in the country. One of the better known bands is Shirband, which wrote a rap anthem Ol Azad (download) for the OL! youth movement. The lyrics of the song, translated from Azeri, are as follows:
"This road is our own present to ourselves
Our future won't come with time
We will bring the future ourselves
Here is our manifesto for you to know.
Even if there are mountains and stones on our road
We will break through them all
With the ones dedicated to the idea
and their breaths hungry for freedom"
Shirband also wrote a song “Davar edim 37” about Emin and Adnan’s arrest, drawing a parallel between the suffocating situation in Azerbaijan and the 1937 purges in the Soviet Union. For an overview showcasing examples of protest music in Azerbaijan see Onnik Krikorian’s blog entry “Rapping for freedom and democracy in Azerbaijan (updated)” (30 August 2009).
Adnan and Emin's friends
Adnan and Emin are part of a larger group of Azerbaijani youth activists who belong to Baku's FACEBOOK GENERATION. Many of their friends blog about political and social issues. Many also took part in the campaign calling for Emin and Adnan's release.
"If you ask my opinion - the reason why Emin and Adnan are in jail is that they refused to whitewash a prison called Azerbaijan."
Novruzov tweets under the nickname @LJMaximus.
Erkin Gadirli, born in 1972, is a lawyer and co-founder of the Alumni Network. Emin Milli credits Erkin Gadirli's influence for giving shape to his ideas about activism. Erkin saw Emin and Adnan's arrest as part of the a campaign against the new phenomenon of social media:
"Emin and Adnan have been targeted by the government, because the government could not comprehend what they were doing. The fact that Emin and Adnan had been arrested clearly showed that the preference of many young people to be engaged in networks, rather than old-styled organizations, became a visible trend.
Emin and Adnan have become icons of networking. Their arrest, as the government may think, could possibly be aimed at destroying the niche for such a format. Not being able to identify the process, the government personalized it and criminalized the persons ahead of it. The fabricated accusation of hooliganism is a typical response in such cases. No need for legal arguments here, as everything is evident."
Erkin Gadirli. Photo: irfs.az
Erkin runs a blog (in Azeri) in which he writes about philosophy, law and politics, focusing on the application of theoretical concepts to the situation in Azerbaijan.
For insights into blogging in Azerbaijan and the legal status of bloggers, watch an interview with Erkin Gadirli and Ali Novruzov.
Many Azerbaijani activist youth have also been closely following the developments in the Middle East in early 2011. Nigar Fatali has been blogging extensively about Egypt. She highlighted an interview from Sandmonkey, Egypt's oppositional blogger, whom she had met at a blogging forum in Berlin in 2010. The interview "Egyptian " (1 February 2011) is available from RFE/RL.
Nigar Fatali also reflects on the significance of activism for her personal life, stressing the need to take a principled stand on issues that matter. In her blog entry of 17 February 2011, entitled "Being an Activist", she wrote:
"If the last three years of my life taught me something, it would be the toughness of being firm in what I believe in and standing up for this as long as it's needed.
During recent events in Egypt many people around would ask me and my friends why we cared about it so much to write posts and tweet and facebook about it. We couldn't explain, that their victory will affect all of us. And, apparently, it did.
Now that Jabbar Savalan's case is happening, I know exactly what those close to him feel. When Emin and Adnan got arrested in July 2009 it was also a start to a whole new page of my life – the one when I had to pick a side and stick to it. I did and have never regretted it. I was most certainly sure that my friends were not guilty and did not deserve what they got. It was also the time when I realized that most of the things I cared about before didn't mean a thing.
Ever since, among my oldest friends I was perceived as a "dissident" and would often be asked: "Are you still not arrested?" by the most sarcastic of them. On Facebook, where most of our activity was concentrated, many unfriended or hid me. Losing some of them, was pretty painful, but the cause was worth it. Especially, given that it introduced me to the whole new dimension – the world of activism."
Arzu Geybullayeva. Photo: Salon24
Arzu Geybullayeva is a former ESI analyst and widely-read Azerbaijani blogger writing in English. Her blog is called Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines. Arzu is an outspoken critic of the Azerbaijani government and frequently writes about corruption, social problems and human rights abuses. She has also been writing for Global Voices Online, an international blogging platform. As she commented on the results of the November 2010 parliamentary elections in a blog post dated 15 November 2010:
"There are things I understand about this country- corruption, lack of freedom, '0' tolerance, lack of transparency and much more. But one thing never seems to really settle - when government officials, members of the ruling party or those who consider (and don't mind) being puppets in the hands of authorities say things like democracy, free and fair elections, transparency, freedom of expression while speaking of Azerbaijan in their interviews. It strikes me every time!"
"And once again, I read something I have grown used to by now- when it suits, Azerbaijan is a European country, when it doesn't it's only a new democracy and an ex- Soviet country that cannot be compared to countries of Europe but instead should only be compared to its bordering neighbors."
In her blog, she explains her consistent criticism of the government's policies:
"I want this country to be fair and just to its people. Its economy be transparent and distributed fairly (rather than used by certain individuals for their personal purposes or stacked away in some foreign banks or simply not accessible to the country en masse). Because I simply want truth and no more hidden reality.
It might work perfectly for visitors who come to visit Azerbaijan (though that might not be the case anymore, give the recent visa changes) but not for its people. We all know that renovated facades look great (especially at night) but the actual life underneath those facades continues to rot and fade away. Azerbaijan might have a lot of money and prosper day by day (based on numerous speeches of government officials) but the corruption, lies, distrust and degrading overall approach to the people and general welfare is a sign of spoiled behavior, and definitely not something we should be proud of and pretend as if everything is just absolutely great…"
The Middle East in 2011 seen from Baku
Azerbaijani bloggers, such as Nigar Fatali and Arzu Geybullayeva, have closely followed developments in the Middle East in early 2011. In March 2011, Elnur Majidli, an independent Azerbaijani journalist living in France and the founder of the European Azerbaijanis for Democracy, created a Facebook page for a public event called 11 March - Great People's Day in Azerbaijan / 11 Mart - Böyük Xalq Günü. The page called for anti-government protest actions on March 11. As Majidli wrote,
"Azerbaijani people, community, individuals will do whatever it is they see in March 11 themselves. Maybe there are going to be tens and hundreds of different protests, someone will hang an Azerbaijani flag from their window, someone will wear a t-shirt, others distribute leaflets and etc."
On March 7, the number of people who clicked "attending", was nearing 3,000.
On March 4, one of the organizers of the campaign, Bakhtiyar Hadjiyev, a 2009 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School for Government who ran as an independent candidate in the 2010 parliamentary elections, was arrested in Azerbaijan. He has become the center of an internet campaign "Support Bakhtiyar" calling for his release. There is also a Facebook group "Bəxtiyara Dəstək Ol! - Support Bakhtiyar."
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev at Harvard
graduation ceremony, 2009
On 7 March 2011, the US Embassy in Azerbaijan released a public statement on Hajiyev's detention, which said:
"We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to uphold the rule of law, ensure due process and assure Mr. Hajiyev all rights afforded to accused persons under Azerbaijani law, including access to legal counsel and to medical care, if necessary."
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