Khadija Ismayilova: Unsent letter from prison

In a Facebook post, Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova published a letter of hers which was censored in 2014 while she was in prison. Index on Censorship republishes it here.

14 Jul 2016
Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova

I wrote this letter during my time in prison. I don’t remember the exact date but it was in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis and the so-called “trial” of Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev. The prison management had learned that I was writing something and sent officers in search of it. All my writings were taken including this letter. It was returned to me two months later when it was outdated no longer made sense to send. I am sharing it with you now:

There is an attempt to obscure human rights discourse with “mind your own business” arguments. As if human rights problems of, let’s say, the United States somehow justify the violation of human rights in Azerbaijan. This is another attempt to obscure the discourse by bringing up non-relevant “patriotic-sensitive” topics.

When the US Department of State or international organisations bring up the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, or the corruption of government officials in Baku, they may ask something like: “Why did you keep silent about two internally displaced Azerbaijanis who attempted to visit their homeland under Armenian occupation despite the ongoing war and were taken hostage and are being ‘tried’ by mock trial of separatists?”

The question is surely legitimate but has nothing to do with the issue of human rights violations and political oppression in Azerbaijan.

Of course the lives of Dilgam and Shahbaz matter and the world’s ignorance with regard to criminal actions of Armenia and a separatist regime in occupied Karabakh has been an issue for a long time.

I do admire the courage of Askerov and Guliyev, who ignored the “de-facto” results of the occupation and paid continuous visits to the graves of their siblings and their homes under occupation. They have been doing it for the past ten years, using mountain paths, bypassing Azerbaijani troops and occupants, right up until they were captured.

The occupation of their homeland of Kalbajar, which has never been an Armenian settlement and has never been disputed, was a crime. Their custody in occupied Shusha by a criminal regime of the separatists is also a crime. Azerbaijani society is right in expecting the world to react adequately. Separatists in Karabakh are no different from those in Ukraine’s seized regions and it is fair enough to expect that the world would react to the ongoing occupation of Nagorny Karabakh as strongly as it did react to the occupation of Ukraine’s seized regions.

However, another fair question is: what does this to do with the crimes of president Ilham Aliyev’s regime? How can it be used as justification? This lame attempt by Azerbaijan’s ruling regime to obscure the human rights discourse is a very dangerous one. Is the Azerbaijani government trying to tell the world that they must have the same expectations of the criminal regime in Nagorny Karabakh as they have from the government of Azerbaijan, a sovereign state, a member of the Council of Europe, OSCE, UN etc?

My problem is not the law self-esteem of Aliyev’s regime. I am rather troubled with what role they give to the statehood of Azerbaijan in this lame argument. No matter how low my expectations are of Aliyev and his clique, I have never ever thought of comparing the state of Azerbaijan with the criminal separatist regime.

I don’t think the officials in Baku have paid due attention to this side of the story. In the tit-for-tat business of politics, the argument put on the scale must not be the state’s dignity. The Azerbaijani government had put too much into the game of securing power for Aliyevs. As dictatorships rarely have solid arguments, I do understand that justification of oppression is not an easy task. I don’t know if leading schools of the world teach it or not. The Soviet-era schooling system of partshkola exhausted its limits long ago and its remnants are only good for addressing uneducated masses inside the country. It is for those who are oppressed so much they cannot demand their government stop using the conflict as justification for all mismanagement, corruption and crime.

The people of Azerbaijan deserve better than what they have. The world and the organisations Azerbaijan is a member of deserve better representation from the country so it would be possible to carry out civilised discussion. And more than that, the 21st century deserves better than remnants of old Soviet partshkola in diplomacy.

Khadija Ismayilova
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One response to “Khadija Ismayilova: Unsent letter from prison”

  1. greg says:

    What makes the NKR regime a “criminal” regime, but the regimes of the US, Texas, the former Yugoslav republics, and south Sudan legitimate? When the populations of these jurisdictions declared their intent on self-determination from their prior governments (Britain, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Sudan respectively), they were also declared by their prior governments as criminal regimes. So what strips the NKR people of the same rights that communities for several centuries have been exercising – in spite of brutally oppressive governments that declared them criminal regimes?