How the arrest of a journalist leaks to the infamous agenda of an ultranationalist

Pictured: Hasan Zeynalov, member of Azerbaijan’s “Sicilian” mafia who is more famous for persecuting Azerbaijani journalists and less famous for his sinister agenda in Turkey to keep the Armenian-Turkish border closed.I hope that after the murder of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink there is more appreciation for the work of journalists among Armenians.

I am not sure that my optimism is applicable to the case for Armenia’s journalists yet, who are usually beaten, threatened and harassed in Armenia. Speaking of torture against journalists, I want to continue telling the underreported story of one journalist who was placed in jail yesterday, with the hope that there will be transnational outcry for persecution of journalists worldwide in general, and in Azerbaijan in particular. And not only because persecution of Azerbaijani journalists is too alarming (deaths, unbelievable high fines, regular beatings), but also because it is in the interest of everybody in the Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan and the rest – to have democracy and freedom of speech. Journalists are the only ones in those isolated conflicts that can bring the rails to the truth on the table. They are the ones who can de-demonize “the other” by showing how much common all people have among each other.This is exactly why Eynulla Fatullayev was placed in jail for 2 ½ years yesterday. “Why do you interview Armenians?” This is the question that Fatullayev, in his own words, is being asked.

In his “last words” (before the court decision), published at Fatullayev’s founded Russian-language Realniy Azerbaijan website, the Azerbaijani journalist ridicules the fact that in the twenty-first century people ask him why he interviews Armenians.

“It is my duty to do so,” has uttered Fatullayev, “After I am free again, I will be occupied with the same exact work.”

Fatullayev is not playing games. He knows how serious it is to challenge Azerbaijani authorities. Before establishing his own newspaper, Fatullayev worked with editor Elmar Huseynov. Huseynov was an Azerbaijani journalist who was murdered in March of 2005 after having written “The Godfather,” an article that accused the labeled Azerbaijani authorities “Sicilian mafia.” Before his murder, Huseynov, along with Fatullayev, was taken to the court by an Azeri ultranationalist – Hasan Zeynalov, Nakhichevan’s permanent representative in Baku since at least 1998.  This is the same Zeynalov who made news in 1998 when talking to the BBC he denied state-sponsored vandalism against Armenian monuments – especially the now-gone-to-dust Djulfa cemetery – in Nakhichevan by saying, “Armenians have never lived in Nakhichevan, which has been Azerbaijani land from time immemorial, and that’s why there are no Armenian cemeteries and monuments and have never been any.”

In my research about the Djulfa vandalism – the annihilation of several thousand hand-crafted medieval Armenian monuments called khachkars – I have seen pattern between persecution against journalists in Azerbaijan and destruction of Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan. It is interesting how Zeynalov himself has been apparently involved in both, but there is more to come – something hard to believe.

Zeynalov is now the Azerbaijani Consul General to Kars (unless there are two Hasan Zeynalovs – which would prove my speculation wrong), where he is involved in “proving” that there is no Armenian heritage there (just like Armenians have never lived in Nakhichevan).  For example, only last month Zeynalov alarmed to the Azerbaijani press that an Armenian delegation had visited Kars and “By the study of some historical sites, the delegation tries to prove the relation of these areas to Armenians. During the visit the Armenian representatives discussed the opening of the state border.” In August of 2006, the mayor of Turkey’s Kars city – across the Armenian border – was attacked by Zeynalov for having advocated for the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border.  

I don’t know when Zeynalov transferred to Kars, but I can’t help to speculate that his mission is to stop the border from opening (why would Azerbaijan need a representative in Kars in any way?).  He is further busy organizing a commemoration for “Azerbaijani genocide” in Kars.

I don’t think the line of anti-democracy and anti-“otherness” has ever been this bold in Azerbaijan before. And the bottom line is – ultranationalist Azerbaijanis are not only danger to ordinary Azerbaijanis, but to ordinary Armenians and ordinary Turks likewise and vice-versa.