Wednesday, May 6

As 2015 PEN Literary Gala & Free Expression Awards Begins few thoughts about Khadija

As Khadija receives the prestigious 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award today and as she enters 6th month in pre-trial detention, I wanted to share with you an interview I had with her some seven years ago. Back then I didn't know her well. But I heard so much about Khadija that I had to meet her. Here is a little something to think, to get inspired from.

I have edited the interview.

Khadija Ismayilova- Chief of Bureau at Radio Azadliq

Khadija, a young, Azerbaijani woman, is one of the examples of working young women of Azerbaijan, and also keen supporter of democracy and human rights.

Our interview with Khadija took place at the radio’s office.

Khadija, was at the meeting when I came, she was wearing black pants and a pink shirt. She had short black hair and was wearing no make- up. Very friendly in her approach, she told me about her life, her professional career. She had to apologize for not having enough time for a longer interview as she had to get back to her work. It was busy, the presidential elections just took place the day before, and the radio did coverage of the whole day.

Khadija was born in 1976 in Baku to a family of well- educated parents. Her father was a high- ranking governmental official and her mother was an engineer. Both of her parents were from Baku. Her father passed away five years ago, it was a breaking point in her professional career but more about this further down. Khadija is one of the four kids, one brother and three sisters.

“I went to a normal, local school here in the capital. In 1992 I was accepted to Baku State University. It was the first year when the Ministry of Education introduced test based university entrance exams and I was the pilot child. I graduated from the department of Eastern Studies.

I was always a hard- working person. During the same year I started university I began working as a tutor- teaching neighborhood kids. I started working because our family’s economic conditions worsened, my dad was released off his duties with the new government and with three more kids in the family, someone had to help. But that didn’t stop me from going to school. You see it was always very important for my father and mother to educate us, especially my older sister and me. Because we always studied and were not interested in fashion, soap operas, going out, having boyfriends and etc.


Even while studying at university, Khadija was already interested in journalism.

“I always wrote, even my parents thought I was going to become a philologist but journalism was really what I wanted to do!”

In 1997, Khadija started working as a translator at Avrasya Qazeti (Euroasia Newspaper).

“In four months of my employment at the newspaper, I became a journalist and the director of the newspaper. In between I worked at Hurriyet (Freedom) newspaper. Then my grandmother got sick, so I had take care of her and stay with her at the hospital. So when I came back I was looking for another job (AG: She left Avrasya due to personal reasons)”. 

AG: How did your parents react?
KI: “Well, it wasn’t so much my parents but my brother who reacted. On my first day at work I came home really late, it was almost close to midnight. My brother told me that I wont be going to work the next day and that I should forget about it. But my brother never had a say in things I did, so I went to my dad for the second opinion (smiles). And my dad didn’t say anything negative at all. He was always very supportive”.

After leaving Avroasya, she began working at another newspaper, called Gunaydin as the director of Social department. She stayed there till 1998.

Then there was Uc Noqte (Three Dots), where she worked as the assistant of the director in 1999, Zerkalo newspaper in 2000, followed by Exo.  

“I have an interesting story about Zerkalo. You see in 2000, the director of the newspaper Zerkalo, Rauf Talishinski left with the whole team and I was part that of that team. So Rauf Talishinski created his own newspaper, called Exo. By 2003 the then- objective newspaper Exo, took a stand (pro- government), and this was when I decided to leave”.

After leaving Exo, Khadija, began her work at the Caspian Business News as a the director of the Russian and Azerbaijan department- she was translating the articles. In 2004, she became media program grant manager at IREX and about at the same began writing articles to Eurasia Foundation.

“In 2005, I worked in TACIS project as a PR consultant at the Investment Promotion Fund. And in 2006 I moved to states, to work at the Voice of America as a broadcaster for Azerbaijan service. I stayed with the Voice of America for one and a half years, then came back home.

By the time I returned I already held an invitation to teach at the International Center for Journalist as a Chief trainer. This was in September 2007, in July of 2008 I left teaching position to work as a chief of bureau at the Radio Azadliq”.
AG: wasn’t it hard to work in journalism, as I know that its quite gender segregated job here in our country?
KI: “To be honest, it was until my father passed away, about five years ago. Let me explain: there were always rumors (ses-sohbet) about us- female journalists. And so I was always cautious because I never wanted my dad to hear something about me even though it would have been a fake story. But when dad passed away, such things became so insignificant that I totally stopped caring, and once I did that all the rumors stopped as well. As if people understood that I didn’t care anymore and this was when I became bolder and more straight- forward. 

But I think its hard in our society, I mean its hard as a woman, especially if she works. There are so many expectations to fill, so many people to please. I live with my older sister for example. Both of them work but her husband sometimes makes me feel to break something on his head. You see when both of them come from work, he stops working, whereas she continues- cooking, getting the table ready, dishes, the kids’ homework and also her own work. He on the other hand, doesn’t even lift his finger. He expects these things. And when he sees that their child has missed on the homework or something is wrong he blames her for that. Saying that you spend so much time on that internet that you forget about your own family. Even though, the reason why she is on the internet is because she does research for her job since she is the head master on new teaching ways, material and etc.

Women in Azerbaijan are not allowed, those work are employed at lower positions, rarely you see a woman in higher job opposition, they are discriminated and this is sad”.

She apologizes and tells me that she really needs to get back to work.

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