Friday, January 6

A YouTube video, a rapper, a mother and police

What do all of these have in common you ask? Well if the case is about Azerbaijan it is obvious. A rapper who made a video and posted it on YouTube is now seeing his mom (and relatives) round up by the police for questioning. Police is demanding the rapper takes down the video. The rapper says he won't budge.

Jamal Ali, is a young Azerbaijan musician who have had his share of torture, beating and arrest. In an interview I did with Jamal back in 2015 for a project called Freedom Beat, we spoke about his experience in the aftermath of the arrest and the humiliation he had to endure.

"They place a bag over my head, handcuffed me from behind, sat me on a chair and extended my legs onto another chair. They took off my shoes and then started beating me with a rubber truncheon over my heels. This lasted for about three hours the first time, then another two hours the second time", he told me.

Jamal was 24 at the time. This was in March 2012, two months later Azerbaijan was to host annual kitsch Eurovision pop song contest.

Had it not been for the Eurovision contest, Jamal fears he would have ended up in jail on a much longer sentence. He was released ten days later and warned not to make songs or sing about the president and the authorities anymore.

Shortly after the incident Jamal left Azerbaijan and moved to Berlin where he continued his work. And work he did. Jamal released this video [see below] on December 31, 2016.

Guess what the song is about? Of course it is about authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan, and how it goes after activists and more.

This time, because Jamal himself was not in the country, the authorities have gone after his family members, including his mother.

The family was told Jamal must remove the video. Jamal says he has not intention to do so.

Jamal's work either as an independent singer or throughout his years singing with various rap bands always focused on challenges average Azerbaijanis faced in the country- the poverty, illegal demolitions, the abuse of rights, crackdown on free speech and democracy and so on.

His gift to his fans right before his departure from Azerbaijan was a song called “Vermisel” [Noodles].

The song was about illegal demolitions, people left without homes ahead of the Eurovision song contest combined with what happened to him during his detention.

“Woke up in the morning

Had "vermicelli" [noodles]

At lunch I had same thing

I said enough is enough

And went out to do something

I was beaten for what I said

Shoved into the police car

They showed on AZTV [1st governmental channel]
and called us bandits

What? Am I not right?

My house is demolished

I'm homeless

No roof over my head

Is Eurovision what I need now?

Cameras are all over the place

Someone is watching us

Here is the message to them:
Saint middle finger

You call yourself citizen

"No stone left on stone"

The fountain you are proud of

Is made with your tax money

Dudes are working hard

It's 5 on records, 15 in their pockets

The dirt is eaten anyway

Why am I in charge for that?!

Dear Hajibala [Baku mayor]

What the hack you are doing, man?

If you have big passion for demolishing 

Go demolish "his" houses in Dubai

Cameras are all over the place

Someone is watching us

Here is the message to them:
Saint middle finger.” 

Tuesday, December 6

A note for the Queen

Its been a while since I have made an entry here.

Busy times, and depressing news lines with an exception of occasional good stories here and there have not been too motivating. Just because things are, to put it gently are shit.

Back home crackdown continues unabated. Money is laundered and no one is to take responsibility for what is going on only to blame "others" whoever those others are still a mystery to me.

But then, I stumbled upon a status update shared on Facebook. It was not really a status update but a letter to the Queen of England herself. Below you may find rough translation of the status that for Russian speakers you may find here.

"Thoughts of provincial biopolitics 8 or an open letter to the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Her Majesty Elizabeth II. 

“Nobody tells me anything…” 
 James Galsworthy

You Majesty, Ilham Murtuzayev speaking here, from Azerbaijan. I would like to congratulate you albeit belatedly on your 90th birthday and wish you good health and well-being. However, in this regard, I have a delicate request to make. 

As far as we are allowed to know, our country, namely the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, has allocated a lump sum to celebrate your anniversary. 

I am 67 years old and I have about 50 years’ of professional experience. Currently, my pension is around 50-60GB pounds per month. One million pensioners in Azerbaijan receive approximately the same amount. 

I imagine it would be difficult for you to understand how one survives on this amount, and I won't even try explaining it to you. Perhaps, our president also does not know. 

That is why I hope you would understand my delicate request and refund this money to the poor Azerbaijani pensioners. 

Maybe you would want to donate this sum to a charity, but to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, one can say “Good purposes cannot be reached by bad money”.

I understand that this will not affect my pension (and neither it will yours) and I may as well be accused of international terrorism, religious extremism, drug or weapon trafficking and so on. 

Thank you, Your Majesty. 

Using this opportunity and while I have access to Internet, I would also like to appeal to some of the countries which also receive our money, and ask them not to build various centres, parks, monuments and etc. with the money of poor Azerbaijani pensioners. 

Even religious structures do not recommend that one engages with charity to the detriment of one’s own interests. However, in this case I am not sure that personal interests are being hurt. 

For example, about a year ago, we, a group of citizens from Gusar city sent a letter to the Haydar Aliyev Foundation asking to save from destruction our very ancient city park which has a 200-year-old history. We never received even an answer. 

However, the same Haydar Aliyev Foundation built an entertainment centre in Paris. 

It is hard to stay happy in such cases. I am kindly asking world communities to stop organizing “Eurovision”, “Formula 1”, European and other Olympic games in Azerbaijan. Also, please do not send always-smiling OSCE and other observers to Azerbaijan during various referendums, election monitoring and etc. Or, at least, please choose those who are allergic to black caviar. 

The same smiling observers visited Syria many times. It would be great to send them there nowadays.  
Azerbaijan has a lifetime prime minister, and other ministers (who have privatized their ministries), deputies (who were elected by no one) and even an ombudsman has been here for a lifetime?! 

On 26th September we had the referendum (I even saw three people who went to vote) and now, to call things by their names, even Mr President is here for life. 

80-90 per cent of goods in our country’s grocery stores are imported from Russia, Iran, Belarus, Ukraine and even Georgia!? We don’t even produce plastic buckets. The Baku – Russian border highway (250 km long) has been under construction for almost ten years. One billion US dollars has been spent on it. All the people involved in it have already bought houses, villas in London, Istanbul, Prague and elsewhere. 

But the highway is still under construction. When one section of road is ready, they immediately start to repair the previous one. 

Today is 28th October 2016. We are in Gusar city. There has been no gas since this morning, and at 5pm just when our residents were looking forward to getting their gas back, the electricity went down as well. It is exactly the same like it was 20 years ago…"

I think this letter sums up pretty well the shit show taking place in Azerbaijan right now or shall I say, taking place for the last 20 years?