Ganimat Zahidov is the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Azadliq, one of the two major opposition newspapers in Azerbaijan. On November 7, 2007 after a street skirmish in front of the State Publishing House, Ganimat Zahidov had to face criminal charges brought up against him by the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan. Zahidov was convicted on March 10, 2008 for “deliberately causing light injuries” and “hooliganism” in a trial in which the court did not allow key defense witnesses to testify. He was sentenced to four years of imprisonment.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said a four-year prison sentence handed down to the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Azadliq was part of an ongoing campaign suppressing critical voices in Azerbaijan. “By using charges not related to journalism to send Zahidov to prison, a pattern of repression as damaging as actual criminalization of journalism continues,” Haraszti said.
We thought it would be interesting for you to read the translation of the last speech that Ganimat Zahidov made before the judges handed him the four-year prison sentence.
The Speech of the Editor-in-Chief of the “Azadlig” newspaper at his trial
“I consider myself to be honest and powerful in front of the intrigues, immoral slanders and absurd claims”
The novel written by the well-known Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk called “My Name is Red” portrays such a complaint voiced by of one of the characters: “One has to understand that we are trying to be an artist in a Muslim country”. The readers of this novel are aware of the fact that this piece describes the life of painters living in the Ottoman empire of 17th century and the state’s position with respect to the state and the society at that time. And the expression “we live in a Muslim country” is said in this context, as the sharia laws were against painting and painters, the secular laws didn’t protect them.
The danger is always in a close and sensible distance
Under these legal circumstances engaging in any kind of activity, not only in painting, requires a considerable selflessness, since the danger is always in a close and sensible distance. In the Ottoman empire of 17th century, the sharia and secular laws were applied in parallel. The sovereign was at the same time considered to be the caliph of all Muslims. Namely for this reason, the hesitations of the secular sovereign and the caliph was not enough to prevent the death sentence ordered by the religious figures, the heads of factions and the savage radical religious sects. As soon as the progressively minded people stepped a little bit beyond the protection of the secular laws the sharia dogmas crushed them immediately. Now we live in 21st century, not 17th century. The spiritual values and their essence, including the social-legal bases of the society have advanced significantly. Thus the progressive ideas are expected to be protected by the laws governing the country. The mind of XXI century calls on the state to be the locomotive of the progress and direct the community towards the most progressive ideas. We live in Azerbaijan and we are engaged in media activities. We do our best to establish the traditions of media in our country in a way which will correspond to the international standards. But we have to do that taking the risk of death, being beaten half-dead, be arrested because of the articles we wrote. Why? Why does the logic of 17th century shows up to this degree in the present governance of Azerbaijan? It must have a reason. There is no empire-state in Azerbaijan. Our recent history shows we had the states such as Shirvanshahs and Atabays. The Safavid Empire of Azerbaijan has handled it in an indirect way: it preferred to wreak vengeance of Iraj, the mythical Iran emperor from Turan Empire, turning the Shiite sect into a state ideology. Our recent history – 19th century is rich with impressions about the small khanates, the feudal states and 20th century is full of impressions about the state-like administrative bodies, which were in a vassal dependence on the occupant Russian regime.
The feudal country, the vassal dependence…
The Azerbaijani state, re-established in the last decade of 20th century is currently being governed based on the mixture of those impressions about how a state should function – a feudal estate and with the spirit of a vassal. We, the journalists of Azerbaijan, always face various dangers, as we lay bare these abnormalities caused by the traditions of such a “state building”. Azerbaijan is administered like an estate, maybe like a set of combined estates, but not as a country. Who may prove the existence of a country in the mindset of the feudal oligarchs, whose patrimonies are not a secrete to anyone? We can enumerate them name by name, but I wouldn’t take much time. As I already told, the 19th century Azerbaijani history is remarkable for its experience of the feudal khanate states. Currently there are also some people who would like to justify any kind of arbitrariness, the legal nihilism and the policy of dividing people into different casts bringing forward this line of argument. There is no difference between the expression “the Azerbaijani people is not ready for democracy”, a thought, which was pronounced some years ago and the concept “the Azerbaijani people joins the democracy by the will and representation of the monarch”, being currently voiced. It is the result of these faulty, rough and unsophisticated ideas that the expressions “the Azerbaijani state” and the “Azerbaijani citizen” are not seen by many as the definitions, which are equal and not exclusive of each other. The state is presented in abstract in the form of violence, the police bludgeon and as the means of suppression and it is being accepted as such. Even the officials holding senior positions are primarily perceived by the public not as statesmen, but as merchants, traders and fabulously rich persons engaged in the business of selling eggs, bananas, wood and.
The artists, who lived in the 17th century Ottoman Empire, were persecuted by the sharia zealots, because they attempted to introduce the perspective style of the painters of Europe to the Oriental miniature art, which existed for hundreds of years and had its fomented traditions and schools. These artists discussed the advantages of the portrait as a genre. Orhan Pamuk described in his novel the psychological pains and fights in just one direction where the struggle was striving towards progress – the world of artists.
The painful and terrible fight between the backwardness and the progress…
He did not add to his novel the fact that the fierce and terrible fight between the backwardness and the progress takes place in just about every field of life be it at that time or another, or be it in science, economy or any other direction. Today nobody kills artists in the Republic of Turkey, the successor of Ottoman Empire, for their drawing portraits. On the contrary, the British painter, Turkish by birth is known as one of the representatives of the modern post-modernist movements in painting: she is Emin Trakey. Now she is being criticized for her excessive modernism. Interesting, isn’t it? The painters are not murdered in Turkey for their professional belonging, and they are not arrested and beaten in the streets. But the journalists of Azerbaijan are obliged to experience the life of the 17th century Ottoman artists. It must have an important reason.
In April 1999 I made a bow to the grave of Afzaladdin Khagani in Surkhab cemetery of Tabriz. He was a titanic figure in literature, the well-known poet of his epoch. I considered it to be my duty: Khagani exposed the injustices of Shirvanshah dynasty in his poems in 12th century, when there was no idea about the freedom of speech. Khagani was repeatedly arrested as he got not into a sectarian fight but a fight for justice until he finally was expelled from Shamakhi, the capital of Shirvanshahs. Imamaddin Nasimi, another Azerbaijani poet was skinned alive, buried in Aleppo and was quietly vindicated hundred years later, when the sharia dogmas were still ruling the society. Shah Ismayil Khatai, the well-known Sufi follower of his time stood in defense of this titan of literature, as he wrote poems in “analhaq” (I am the God) spirit. Seyid Azim, the stalwart of the Mahammad Fizuli poetry school and a person who strived towards progress was killed, being pressed upon in a literal meaning of this word, when he was pressed against a wall by a mob, fracturing his ribs. These examples can be listed on and on from 12th century to 19th century and it can slip over to the beginning of 20th century as well. We should remember that the repressions, which were common to the 17th century Ottoman empire, also existed in Azerbaijan and other countries of Orient at that time. In these countries a repressive tool, called “state” suppressed progressive ideas. Such a “state” existed in all countries of the Medieval Europe as well. However, this tool, the repressive machine called a “state” exists only in the underdeveloped countries of the world, and they are at the disposal of the worst dictators on earth.
Miserable and Degraded National Interests …
The independent journalism in Azerbaijan is persecuted for this very reason. The Azeri journalists, who are serving as the speaking tongue and the thinking mind of the Azeri citizens are facing sufferings for this very reason. They want to prevent the process in which the nation’s wealth, rights and privileges are turned into the property of the feudals, who became rich using crooked ways. The state must fight against this tendency, but it fails to do so. The journalism is simply obliged to say the truth and the state prefers to suppress the journalism. Why? The reason is very simple. The state is fully under the control of these feudals. I am kindly asking you to pay attention to this fact: there is not a single millionaire, who is not represented in the state administration. And all the people, who give orders on behalf of the state and are in possession of position and stamps, have turned into rich people, possessing millions of dollars. They first assume these authorities in the name of the state, rely on those positions and abuse them turning into huge feudals and then they sacrifice everything which could be called a “national interest” to the interests of their own personal properties. And the miserable and degraded national interests, stop serving as the guarantor of people’s rights and turn into their punishers. This is the reason why the independent journalism is persecuted by the state: On the one side there is non-functioning provisions of the Constitution and, on the other side there is functioning authority of the aggressive feudals . All the state officials are feudals. For them, Azerbaijan is not a sacred motherland, it is a source of profit, in other words the field of economy. And this behavior shakes the foundations of our national security.
Fake Ideologies and Fake Religions which are Thrusting Upon the Society by the Dictators…
The society deprived of the freedom of speech and human rights can never have the ability of strong and powerful resistance. The fake ideologies and the fake religions thrust upon the society by the feudals are not aimed at uniting the society for achieving common goals. They are good for turning the people into a herd of slaves, chasing them in different directions, as it might seem fit to serve the personal interests of the corrupt elite. These are monkey tricks and the journalism of Azerbaijan is speaking up against this and will continue to do so. Azerbaijan is a country where from the outset of the humanity the bearers of progressive ideas struggled, were persecuted, murdered and arrested for all their sacred intentions. The number and the authority of our Sufi ancestors, who lived in the territory of this country, remembered now for their bright examples of struggling against the ignorance of the Middle Ages on behalf of this nation exceed the number of our ancestors, who have taken up swords and guns fighting against the dictators. From the caliphate time till the epoch of Russian empire, Azerbaijan was famous as the source of enlightened ideas. During the Middles Ages, when the world was in darkness, the struggle of the enlightened people of Azerbaijan was a fight of a pessimist and therefore they had to be more selfless. Now, when these dark spots are considerably weaker than the enlightened areas of the world, we can consider the fight for the radiant future as selfless, but, still this cause is not as dead as it was during the dark ages of the Medieval era. It will even be impossible to bury this selfless struggle in the oil-wells, which are used by this government as political chips in order to keep this society in shackles.
Freedom of Speech is the Expression of God’s Will
Naturally, my speech could not be built upon the arguments aimed at proving my innocence. I consider myself to be honest and powerful in front of the intrigues, immoral slanders and absurd claims. The accusation team has to prove its innocence and I regard the aggressive speech of the prosecutor as his defense tactics and see them as very lame efforts. I also understand that for many years the prosecutors have been engaged in defending the government mob, aiding its campaign against the Azeri journalism, so they got used to doing this job. And if one day it becomes impossible to hide the murderers of the journalist Elmar Husseynov, the prosecution will probably resort to the following defense: After murdering Elmar, the murder was forced to run down the staircases and injured his foot in a hurry, hence the late Elmar Husseynov bares his own share of guilt for that. And my friend Bahaddin Haziyev might one day be held accountable for spoiling the saloon of the car of his hijackers with his own blood. I would like to assure you that under the current circumstances in Azerbaijan all these actions are quite realistic.
Recently, one more Azeri journalist was brutally beaten on political orders of some people. Agil Khalil, the contributor of the newspaper “Azadlig”, is just another victim who experienced the wrath of the current political regime of Azerbaijan. It is the fixed ways in which the Azeri government intimidates people, using all means, in order to stop them from thinking in a different direction. It is a rough habit, but it is our reality. Each year the reliable international organizations categorize the world states by their political developments. And each year Azerbaijan occupies the place in the lines of countries ruled by brutal dictators.
Perhaps the term “dictatorship” does not say much many people, exposing the essence, psychological and philosophical aspects of this term. What does it mean and why does the Azerbaijani regime rest upon this ground? Word in itself has a divine meaning. Therefore, the freedom of speech determines the essence of the divine wisdom and reflects the expression of the will of God. The freedom of speech is one of the supreme attributes of the social consciousness. The experience of the humanity, which is thousands of years old, also proves that the state authority is also the superior form of the social will. When the state authority governs people by giving preference to coercion, it become primitive and archaic, resting its behavior on animal instincts. And the modern enlightened theories about state and governance are build on ideas which are contrary to what was described. The state prefers to administer the citizens via persuasion. It is natural and it is the result of the historical evolution. The primitive experience of state building based on satisfying the animal instincts of biological superiority is the past practice of the humanity. Unfortunately, there is a political regime in Azerbaijan, which is not able to reject the mentioned primitive and outdated experiences. Beating, murdering and arresting the Azeri journalists on the basis of slanders and made-up cases are the reflections of governance, which is not based on the supreme will of the society, but built on the primitive instincts of the rulers.
At the end, I would like to thank my colleagues, who supported me and the lawyers, who have been more articulate than me in conveying the thoughts proving my innocence.