“The biggest problem is not being able to live” | Ali Malikov

LGBTQI+ activist Ali Malikov gave an interview to Türkiye’s Bianet media. In their interview, Malikov talked about the history of LGBTQI+ activism in Azerbaijan and the path it has taken. They also shared their own involvement in activism, the struggles they have fought, and the threats they have faced.

Nafas LGBTI Azerbaijan Alliance is sharing the English translation of an interview that was originally in Türkiye Turkish. For original text, please, follow the link.

  • My LGBTI+ activist friend Avaz Hafizli was killed by having his head and genitals cut off.
  • In Azerbaijan in 2017, nearly 100 trans and gay people were kidnapped by the police and subjected to rape and torture, but no political party or major human rights organisation spoke up for the rights of LGBTI+s.
  • The organisation called “Gender and Development” has offices in Baku and other cities in Azerbaijan and works with the Ministry of Health to monitor the places, jobs, and information of trans and queer people in Azerbaijan.
  • Trans woman Nuray was killed by being burned in the forest.
  • They keep talking, listing human rights violations, and complaining that their voices cannot be heard. When you listen to Azerbaijani LGBTI+ activist Ali Malikov speak, you see similarities and differences with the struggle for LGBTI+s’ lives in Türkiye. It’s a system based on hate speech, attacks, and annihilation. Against it, there are struggles and lives dedicated to existence and being.
  • Azerbaijani LGBTI+ activist Ali Malikov is telling their story.
  • “In 2020, QueeRadar awarded me the Queer Blogger of the Year award.”

First of all, can you introduce yourself?

I’m Ali Malikov, an LGBTI+ activist living in Azerbaijan. I have been actively involved in activism for more than three years.

After co-founding “Femkulis,” one of the largest feminist platforms, with my feminist activist friend, I started to become more recognised in civil society and engage in more visible activism.

Later on, I founded “Qıy Vaar!” (“my dear” in Azerbaijani LGBTQI+ community slang), which was initially a closed queer platform but is now open to the public.

Currently, I work for Nafas LGBTI+ Alliance, one of the first free queer organisations in Azerbaijan. My activities cover LGBTI+ and women’s rights issues. In 2020, QueeRadar awarded me the Queer Blogger of the Year award.

I also participate in organising various events, discussions, and education sessions for creating different communities. I was one of the speakers at the first press conference on “Pride Month” in Azerbaijan.

My activism in Azerbaijan has recently expanded to encompass animal rights and general human rights issues. We are also trying to establish a vegan collective and organise numerous protests against the government’s killing of stray animals in Azerbaijan.

“We participated in a demonstration with our own flag for the first time.”

Can you tell me about LGBT+ activism in Azerbaijan?

LGBTI+ activism in Azerbaijan started to emerge freely only in the 2010s with organisations such as Nafas and Azad. We think that we are very young and inexperienced in this regard. In fact, I am only 18 years old, and yet I am known as one of the “most visible” within the community precisely because I am at the forefront of this movement.

For example, last year, for the first time, LGBTI+s in Azerbaijan participated in a protest organised by civil society with their own flags and banners. My activist friend Cavid Nabiyev and I organised that.

In Azerbaijan, it is impossible for LGBTI+s to become politicised due to the depoliticisation of the people and the system that has become monstrous. This is because LGBTI+s receive no support from those who claim to be in power or from their alternatives.

In fact, when about 100 trans and gay people were kidnapped, raped, and tortured by the police in 2017, no political party, no local or major human rights organisation spoke out for the rights of LGBTI+s.

This police and state pressure was repeated again in 2019, but once again we did not receive any support. In fact, there is an LGBTI+ organisation in Azerbaijan that is affiliated with the government and collects personal information about LGBTI+s by distributing condoms and conducting HIV tests.

This organisation, called “Gender and Development,” has offices in Baku and other cities in Azerbaijan and works with the Ministry of Public Health. Their goal is to keep track of the places, jobs, and information of trans and queer people in Azerbaijan.

While no non-governmental organisation (NGO) is registered in Azerbaijan, this organisation has been established since 2007, and there are allegations that they are involved in sexual exploitation and selling people’s information.

When I shared this information, they tried to defame me by accusing me of “human trafficking,” but they were unsuccessful. It is almost impossible to sustain spaces for us in Azerbaijan. Even our organisation, which has been around for 10 years, doesn’t have an open office. No one even gives us space to use.

There is not even an “LGBTI+ space” where the community can go in Azerbaijan, only underground and a few supportive places exist. My LGBTI+ activist friend Avaz Hafizli was killed by having his head and penis cut off.

In late 2021, fascist blogger Sevinc Hüseynova began live-streaming and calling for the killing of trans people. Trans woman Nuray was burned to death in the forest.

“No one heard Avaz’s voice.”

Avaz Hafizli was organising many protests with the trans community. However, the State Security Service of the Republic told us that they wouldn’t protect our lives because “LGBTI+s are not a social group.” As a result, Avaz’s family and others started to threaten him with death.

At the end, Sevinc Hüseynova targeted Avaz too. Avaz was murdered by having his head and genitalia cut off. However, before his murder, Avaz had organised many protests for himself.

For example, he tied himself to the prosecutor’s office and said that his life was in danger, but no one heard him, and we found him dead. Avaz’s killer was given the minimum sentence of 9 years and 6 months. In the trial, there were many irregularities, and the charges were not written.

Even though more than a year has passed, Avaz’s family has not even allowed us to make a gravestone for him.

In Azerbaijan, you have to be ready to lose everything for LGBTI+ activism. Just the other day, I went to a police station because a girl was beaten, and they mocked me by saying “we are waiting for you” in a sarcastic way, meaning they would arrest me. Even when I was detained at a protest the other day, they threatened to rape me.

“The biggest problem is not being able to live.”

What problems do LGBTI+s and activists face the most in Azerbaijan? What kind of problems do you face?

In Azerbaijan, the main problem for LGBTI+s is the inability to live openly and find safe shelter. When people reveal their queer identities or are outed, they are often killed, beaten, or placed under house arrest by their families.

Even when they flee from home, collaborating police often return them to their re-assigned families. It’s not easy to get legal support or psycho-social assistance for those over 18 or under 18. I only know of two lawyers and one organisation that provides psycho-social support. However, I cannot benefit from this service because I know all the employees (two social workers and two psychologists) on a daily basis as an activist.

There are no supportive shelters available. It is very difficult to do anything because Azerbaijan has seriously cut off funding from other countries. Embassies only “help” with social initiatives to maintain good relations with the government, but I do not trust their sincerity. My biggest fear is being alone because even though we are getting stronger every day, we are becoming more marginalised and ghettoised. I am afraid that I will die, be kidnapped, or be imprisoned before I can voice my final words.

In Azerbaijan, even signing a campaign for peace can make you a target because of the Aliyev regime. For example, even before I turned 18, I was on state-run television and insulted.

Other non-state television channels are banned in Azerbaijan, and only online media is available, mostly controlled by other countries. Another internet media outlet affiliated with the government targeted me because I expressed my desire for peace and called for it during the Karabakh war.

“Azerbaijan is worse off than Iran”

Can you make your voice heard to the world?

Most of our problems are compounded by Azerbaijan’s occupation policy during the Karabakh war and the fact that Azerbaijan itself is not known. In the latest report by Freedom House, Azerbaijan is said to be worse off than Iran.

They have instilled so much hatred in Azerbaijanis that they are ready to attack every LGBTI+ person they see, saying “you are Armenian” or “may the blood of martyrs be forbidden.” I experience these things every day. Even when someone asks me for an interview, I am filled with hope.

For me, being LGBTI+ in Azerbaijan means having my life taken away from me.

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