BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Think about it. Black holes have an event horizon beyond which we cannot observe reality. Azerbaijan has its border beyond which reality is also twisted to fit megalomaniac Aliyev’s fantasies. Both, black holes and Azerbaijan are, for the time being, utterly inhospitable to decent, normal, human beings. Both are incredibly powerful, but destructively so. This time, we’ll focus on Azerbaijan’s mangling of the media.
Over the course of the last few months, there have been at least three different instances which demonstrate Baku’s extreme sensitivity to any criticism. This is unsurprising since that country is not much more than a poorly disguised dictatorship led by an extremely thin-skinned tyrant who is eager to garner international acceptance.
The best known case is that of Alexander Lapshin, the travel blogger, who dared travel to Artsakh. Imagine that! Worse still, he dared write about it. This put him in the crosshairs of the bumbling bureaucrats of Baku. They wanted to make an example of him. In Belarus and its president, they found willing partners in crime. I sense shades of axe-murderer Safarov’s release from Hungary. Just as we learned Azerbaijan had bought a significant part of a bond issuance from Budapest, I suspect we will one day learn of a “polite” bribe that found its way from Baku to Minsk. The idea is to intimidate others, to instill fear among other journalists who will think twice before writing anything truthful about Artsakh. And this is international. If nothing else, remember that Laphin has three citizenships: Israeli, Russian, and Ukrainian.
The next example is Shahin Mirzoyev, the Talysh activist and journalist at the Tolishi Sado newspaper, who fled Azerbaijan and has been granted asylum in Armenia. The Talysh are an Indo-European people who live in southwestern Azerbaijan and speak a language very similar to Farsi. They have been subject to abuses and persecution similar to, if not quite on the same scale as, Armenians in Azerbaijan. There are even rumors that the Azerbaijani army’s leadership uses a disproportionate number of Talysh soldiers on the Artsakh front so more of them die than Turks (However, I have not found solid evidence of this yet). Aliyev’s regime made life miserable enough for Mirzoyev that he felt compelled to escape, leaving behind relatives who are subject to harassment. Once again, we see a media representative being abused by Baku.
Mehman Huseynov, an Azerbaijani blogger and chair of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, is the third example of Baku’s media-bashing bent. Huseynov was sentenced on March 3 to two years in prison for defamation. This case serves a very internally oriented purpose. Aliyev’s minions are not sending a message to the international community (Lapshin), nor the country’s restive minorities (Mirzoyev). They are telling their fellow Turks (I prefer not to call the Islamicized Albanians of the region, who were Turkified, and later known as Tatars, Azeris, which is simply a word based on the Iranian name for the region), “you’d best behave, don’t mess with egomaniac Ilham, else life will become very rough for you.” Huseynov’s sentence is a very good tool for Baku since he is young and in the “new” media, so his age-peers are more likely to get the government’s message of censorship.
These and more are what we should all be conveying to our elected representatives in legislatures and foreign ministries the world over. This kind of ongoing background prepares government officials minds to properly contextualize all future actions and initiatives emanating from Baku. They become more transparent for the empty ploys they are and our efforts to secure definitive justice for Artsakh become easier to bring to fruition.