Azerbaijan Doesn't Like Your Facebook Status

Jabbar Savalan has been jailed for two months pending trial on drugs charges © IRFS

The three-week grassroots protest in Egypt that brought down thirty years of autocracy in the land of the pyramids has authoritarian Azerbaijan, among others, worried.

Amnesty International’s latest statement on Azerbaijan – which, ironically, has a statue of Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian-Azerbaijani Friendship park in capital Baku – details the arrest of a youth activist:

Jabbar Savalan, a 20 19-year-old student, was arrested [on his way home from a political meeting and charged with “possessing narcotics with intent to supply”] in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan, after his Facebook status called for a “Day of Rage” in Freedom Square in Baku, echoing the calls for protest in the Middle East.


On the evening of 5 February he was interrogated without a lawyer, in violation of Article 19 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Procedure Code, and pressured into signing a confession which he has since retracted…. Police reportedly told him that his punishment had already been decided “at the highest level”. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Armenia's Domestic Violence Legislation is Overdue

I was shaking from anger after watching a YouTube video (originally posted in Armenian) describing the 2-year abuse of a young woman that resulted in her death over a week ago. By now I should have been prepared not to shake from what has unfortunately become a pedestrian human rights abuse in my homeland – violence against women. But some words are worth thousands of pictures, and it was the words of Hasmik Petrosyan, a young woman from Armenia, describing the death of her 20-year-old sister Zaruhi at the hand of the latter’s husband and mother-in-law that got me feel nauseous. I did manage to put together a petition, though, and I hope that you will sign it.

You don’t need all the details to grasp my anger over Zaruhi’s death. Here is a summary. On September 30, 2010, Zaruhi Petrosyan, a 20-year-old mother of one from Masis, Armenia, was taken to a hospital for cranial brain hemorrhages, a broken finger, and bruises in different parts of her body. After saying her injuries were from a fall, Zaruhi died in Erebuni hospital. Zaruhi’s sister says the young mother was subjected to continuous domestic abuse since her marriage in 2008. Law enforcement allegedly knew of the abuse. According to media reports, Armenian police have arrested Zaruhi’s husband Yanis Sargisov. But, according to Zaruhi’s sister, Yanis Sargisov’s mother had also continuously beaten Zaruhi. A more detailed description in English (basically summarizing the video) is available at the Armenian Weekly.


Armenia: Video Alleges Army Abuse

My fellow Facebookians from ex-Soviet Armenia are sharing a disturbing YouTube video (and furious reactions) – posted today and likely recorded secretly – which shows a shirtless man aggressively and repeatedly slapping a uniformed young man, pulling his ear and seemingly instructing him to “bring water” in an (albeit hard to understand) Armenian dialect before abusing another serviceman.

While I have no confirmation of the authenticity of the video, originally posted on YouTube by an opposition activist (later reposted by others after the original video was removed – see update below), it does appear genuine and is consistent with reports of human rights abuses in Armenia’s army (generally perpetrated by career officers against drafted soldiers) which has resulted in a number of suicides and killings.

In one week alone past summer, according to Radio Free Europe, “[s]ix Armenian army servicemen reportedly were shot dead… in two separate non-combat incidents highlighting lingering abuse and other serious problems within the country’s armed forces.”

Armenia’s government must investigate abuse in the army and institute drastic improvements. When young men are required to serve 2 years in the army, they must at least come out of service healthy and alive.

SEP 12, 2010 UPDATE: YouTube has removed the original video (although it has not removed other versions of it; in the meantime a blogger has reposted it) and Armenia’s Ministry of Defense has issued a statement (in Armenian) confirming that the men depicted in the video are wearing uniforms of the Armenian army. While the press release says the army will investigate the alleged abuse, it also “strictly condemns the preparation and intentional distribution of the material [which attempts] to discredit Armenia’s armed forces.”

Armenia: Guys Who Struggled for Independence Are Now in Prison

Today marks the 20th anniversary of modern Armenia’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, materialized thirteen months later in September 1991. Some of the founding fathers, however, do not see Armenia as free as they had imagined it two decades ago.

Aram Manukian, the youngest Supreme Court council member who passionately recited the declaration reminds of imprisoned opposition activists he considers political prisoners in today’s Armenia. In the words of Radio Free Europe:

Manukian, who is a senior member of independent Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress opposition alliance, however, sees some serious losses that Armenia has suffered.

“We have taken the way of losing independence in the past ten years,” he said. “All the international treaties, all documents, all resolutions passed on Armenia are a loss for Armenia. It is also a loss that the guys who struggled for independence are now in prisons. This is a disgrace.

Despite a June 2009 amnesty that in effect released many opposition activists arrested for the March 1, 2008 post-election violence in capital Yerevan, a number of political activists remain imprisoned in Armenia.

For ordinary Armenians, however, economic and social rights are as important as political ones:

One elderly resident in Yerevan called it important that two decades after declaring independence Armenians still have an independent homeland. “To be free and independent is good to everyone. We would have a great country if people’s living standards improved,” he added.

Armenia: Anger over Mild Sentence for Serial Pedophile

Activists and victims in Armenia are outraged that a serial pedophile has received mild sentence by a court in capital Yerevan. A speedy trial for a boarding school teacher has sentenced Levon Avagian to two years in prison for sexually and physically abusing orphans and children with special needs.

“Without hearing the victims and examining the evidence they staged a speedy trial. Had the witnesses spoken, the list of criminals would have been extended. We demand that the whole truth be revealed,” complains young activist (and vibrant environmentalist) Mariam Sukhudyan, who broke the news of the abuse in 2008 (later initiating a petition) after volunteering at the boarding school.

Sukhudyan’s reporting alerted Armenia’s pro-government Public Television (H1) to cover the story of the abuse, which resulted in the police opening the case. Soon, however, Sukhudyan was herself in trouble for reporting the abuse allegations (likely, due to her increasing green activism). She was charged with “false denunciation based on lucrative motives” – with a possible five year conviction. (The case was later dropped, and Mariam was awarded “Woman of Courage Award” by the US Embassy in Armenia.)

Mariam Sukhudyan is not the only one openly decrying the mild sentence. According to Ianyan Mag, an Armenian blog:


“The sentencing is very mild for the crimes he committed,” said Lara Aharonian, founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, in an email interview with ianyan. “This man sexually assaulted young girls, humiliated them in front of everyone, they were beaten.”


While Aharonian, who was at the court during the sentencing, does not think the time Avagian will serve is enough, she does believe it is a start to changing the law. Article 141, “Sexual acts with a person under 16″ of the Republic of Armenia Criminal Code is punishable with labor or imprisonment of up to two years.
“At least six years in prison and working to change the law with NGOs would satisfy,” she said.



Armenia: “They made crosses on his chest with a knife.”

Resonating with societal distrust toward law enforcement in this former Soviet republic, an Armenian family’s claim that police tortured their son until he died is quite gruesome.

“They made crosses on his chest with a knife and stabbed him in the abdomen twice. How could my boy make such crosses on himself?” asks the mother of 24-year Vahan Khalafian disputing the police explanation that the young man committed suicide while in detention on suspicion of theft.

While Khalafian’s death is under Prosecutor General’s investigation, an earlier inquiry into a similar injustice had no success.

You Traitor, You Terrorist, You Drug Addict!

Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan’s most celebrated silenced voice, journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, has seen it all: from an unsolved murder of his colleague to ongoing charges that prolong his sentence. Now, a court in Azerbaijan has given a go to prosecute the prisoner of conscience on newest charges: drugs.

First imprisoned for insulting his own people (actually, for daring to interview officials in the Armenian-controlled disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh), he was later convicted of terrorism (for writing an article – while in prison – analyzing possible US strikes against Iran) and tax evasion (for who knows why):

According to Azerbaijan’s government, Fatullayev has gone from “terrorism” to “narcotics” – according to government doctors who first found no proof of illegal drug use in Fatullayev’s blood but, on a second thought, changed their mind.

(Observers are convinced that the drug charge is to prevent possible release of Fatullayev amid pending European Court of Human Rights review of the previous sentences).

On April 9, 2010, Fatullayev had his preliminary hearing for the drug charges, alas unreported by otherwise observant world media. “His motion to not accept the criminal case for consideration and have it returned to the prosecutor-office and to investigate it by a new investigation group,” according to the Baku-based Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, “was not fulfilled.”

Fatullayev may not be surprised by the newest charges and the court’s unwillingness to drop them. But he, surely, is worried about the well-being of his parents. On March 17, 2010, Fatullayev’s father received a phone call ordering him to “shut up” about his son’s case or his “entire family would be destroyed.”

Azerbaijan: Popular Website “Temporarily” Closed

First they came after dissenting newspapers such as Realni Azerbaijan. Then they came after foreign broadcasts such as BBC and Radio Free Europe. Now, just weeks before the March 18, 2009 constitutional referendum that would institute unlimited presidency, the government of Azerbaijan is allegedly censoring the content of a popular and semi-independent website, In the words of Global Voices Online:

“[…] the content of a leading news site considered more independent than most in Azerbaijan was replaced on Thursday with a message informing readers that the “project is closed.

A day later, after the authorities denied allegations that they were behind the disappearance of, a new message instead explained that the site was down for technical reasons and would reappear after 25 February.

Blogs by media specialists and analysts in Azerbaijan, however, were not convinced.”

Given that the “temporary” closure of was done without a court order – unlike in the case of other media restrictions in Azerbaijan – it has been assumed that the website will reopen with censored content.

The mainly Russian-language has been a valuable source of information about Azerbaijan and the region. In addition to original reporting, the website has been republishing information from a variety of regional sources, even posting full articles from neighboring Armenia. Azerbaijan and Armenia are technically at war, although the 1994 ceasefire blocked full-scale clashes, over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition to the news section, the website has been offering a popular forum. One of the most popular online portals in the entire former Soviet Union, the Russian-language forum at has had thousands of active users. One of the hottest sections of the forum has been “Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

In November 2004, as a Russian-language Armenian forum user reported at the time, the administration of the forum promoted its first Armenian moderator, Arthur, giving him the privilege to delete/edit offensive and/or unrelated content from discussions.

The appointment was indeed unprecedented, as the Russian-language announcement from the forum administrator explained:

“For the first time in the virtual world, a user of Armenian nationality – the respected Arthur – has become the Moderator of an Azerbaijani forum.

We should note that we came to [this decision] after a long year… of surveys, nominees, consultations with other Moderators… and taking into account the opinions of well-respected users. […] It shows also high level of the Armenian users, and atmosphere of tolerance which has developed at this forum.


P.S. And now you can throw stones at me.”

Another, more recent, controversial move at the forum has been the creation of a private section where users with over 500 posts could discuss and post adult content.

What will be different on if it reopens on February 25, 2009?

By: Simon Maghakyan, Eurasia Country Specialist