Who's behind attacks on feminists in Azerbaijan?
Social media reveals some disappointing facts
The feminist movement in Azerbaijan has managed to turn the March 8
march into a tradition – it has been held for three years in a row
now. In 2020, police attempts to interfere with this event only made it
larger, and this year, so many police officers were
involved that the rally was suppressed very quickly.
Feminists in Azerbaijan are constantly being attacked, but in March
2021 they had a particularly difficult time: in addition to having
their personal data stolen and a smear campaign involving fabricated
‘correspondence’ between the leaders of the movement on social media,
there have been thousands of angry comments and even condemnation from members of parliament.
The question arises: is this the spontaneous resistance of a
patriarchal society or a pre-orchestrated campaign? And if so, who is
Social media attacks
The profile of the activist Narmin Shahmarzadeh was hacked in early
March. Narmin believes that the hackers used the details of her
identity card, mobile operators were involved in this, and that the
hacking itself was commissioned by the country’s authorities. This
version seemed plausible to many, because mobile operators had already
worked together with the police more than once, helping to track down
participants of previous rallies. In addition, as Narmin says,
individual hackers do not have the resources to carry out an attack of such a nature.
After the hack, the attackers posted personal correspondence and other
data on the Internet, and half of the leaked material was fabricated.
The fake correspondence was supposed to convince the reader that
feminists are using young girls on the verge of suicide to gain money
Apparently, this is due to several recent suicides of young girls, to
which feminists have tried to draw attention. The fact is that both
these suicides and numerous cases of femicide are directly related to
the “rules of conduct for women”, which many in Azerbaijan refer to as
This idea of national values is well reflected in the anti-feminist
slogan “Feminism kills (protect your children)”.
This is exactly how many commentators reason their criticism under any
posts about feminists in Baku: “Feminists inspire young girls not to
obey their elders, not to dress modestly and not to come home before
dark. Because of this, many girls end up having arguments with their
parents and, as a result, commit suicide”.
- Feminist rally held in Baku ends with detention of around 30
- Azerbaijani MP comments on feminist rally, speaks about meeting prostitute
- Azerbaijani feminist movement at centre of scandal after protester’s attempted suicide
Popular anger or troll attack?
One of the most popular anti-government websites in the country is Meydan TV. This is why government troll attacks are easiest to track down there.
To a recent video depicting the police break-up of the feminist rally in early March, a number of trolls decided to weigh in, with comments such as:
- The police is acting right here. They did everything right
- These women do not have men, since they went to the rally (men, not in the sense of a couple, but in the family as a whole)
- Women in Azerbaijan have no problems, here they are respected and loved
- They are all spoiled women
- I, myself, am a woman, I do not approve of such. They spoil the image of our country
Government officials ‘protecting morality’
Azerbaijani officials spoke negatively about the rally of feminists,
which they did before, but perhaps not so massively.
Razi Nuraliyev, Milli Mejlis deputy (selected quotes from an interview
“Our feminists portray ordinary violence as a violation of women’s rights”
“You should not confuse everyday problems with gender equality”.
“The conspicuous consumption of alcohol, smoking, photographing in
poses that contradict our culture for social media, acting in public
places in way that might affect the morality our youth”.
“Unfortunately, some feminists believe that equality is all about behaving
irresponsibly and not being pushed around by men”.
Mehriban Zeynalova, Chairperson of the Public Association for Aid to Women:
“We have Article 25 of the Constitution, which speaks of the equality
of men and women. Are there any decrees restricting the rights of
About the Istanbul Convention: “If we can regulate all these
mechanisms with the help of our laws, why should we take on
“They made statements during the rally that affected the feelings of
many people. They created panic”.
MP Tahir Karimli at a meeting of the Milli Mejlis said that feminists
“are trying to destroy our families”.
Serdar Jelaloglu, Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party:
“No country in the world allows radical feminism”.
“What is freedom? If the constitution says that you have freedom, then
you are free”.
“In India, a woman cannot go out on the street alone, and in Azerbaijan, women are given a seat on the bus. How can such a people feel discriminated against? What kind of violence are we talking about?”
‘Tell Them that feminism kills’
‘Tell them’ preaches Islam, but unlike other sources of similar nature, it does not stop at quoting the Koran and preaching good behavior. There is a whole section dedicated to a systematic criticism of atheism, there are requent references to Western preachers. The same systematic “Tell them” is engaged in criticism of feminism.
The administrator of the page and the author of most of the articles on the site is Ziya Balyev, a blogger who used to be an atheist, but converted to Islam a couple of years ago.
Both the website and the Facebook page are clearly not created by an
amateur and the attacks on feminists were also taken seriously there,
so much so that the most popular propaganda pictures appeared from
that particular source. For example, the one where the devil gives a
feminist the task of “breaking up 40 families” and “leaving 15
children without parents.” Although it looks like a parody, it turned
out that this is how commentators on social media see the essence of
The author of the cartoon is the popular cartoonist Elmail Gulami. He
has worked for pro-government websites such as az.shafaqna.com and
Another popular picture with the slogan “Feminism Kills” was even posted on the Instagram account of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers, to the dismay of civil society. However, later it turned out that this is an unofficial page that has nothing to do with the Operational Headquarters.
On “Tell them” one will find that the authors who collaborate with it are most often not just religious figures, but rather scientists-theologians, often foreign-educated. Our attempts to reach the sponsoring organization through the authors did not lead to anything concrete. Perhaps, the Islamic “Scientific and Educational Center” Darul Hikmət in the Azerbaijani language may have been linked to it.
The popular youth video channel Cavan TV, which seemed to have
spoken out in defense of women’s rights before, unexpectedly released
an anti-feminism video.
In this video, the presenter says “we all know that they took to the streets for money” and accuses the protesters of lacking morality and patriotic feelings.The presenter then goes on to accuse them of sympathizing with the Armenians during the second Karabakh war.
This video caused outrage among young people, as one could easily tell
that the video was pre-requested by someone. The channel itself is pro-government, which explains its connection with Cavan Gənclər Hərəkatı İctimai Birliyi (Public Association “Youth Movement”), which is funded by the state.
Who is behind this?
Is it possible to say unequivocally that the state is “fighting” against the feminist movement in Azerbaijan? Yes. But the state propaganda does not have to strain for this, it is enough to provide “compromising evidence” on the leaders of the movement, and then the crowds will do the rest. A simple chain of fallacious logic is used: ‘these women are immoral – everyone who supports them is immoral themselves – these women are feminists and other feminists support them – all feminists are immoral.’
The propaganda has fallen on very fertile soil, as by only planting the seed of discord, it has nothing else to worry about now. The society itself will create content that defames any girl who fights against patriarchy.