Op-Ed: Why it is so hard to be a pacifist in Azerbaijan
n Azerbaijan, there is a popular opinion that the war in Karabakh needs to be waged again. And the army is like a sacred Indian cow that cannot be criticized.
For almost thirty years the government media has led an aggressive military propaganda campaign. And not just the media: schools, institutes, and kindergartens all implant the same idea – love for the Motherland means being prepared to die in war.
People who think that war is not the answer usually keep quiet so as to not be confronted with society’s righteous anger. In the Caucasus, one can often get into trouble in general for expressing the “wrong” opinion.
ecently, one of the Azerbaijan Air Force MiG-29 fighters crashed in the Caspian Sea. According to the official investigation, it was caused by a collision with a bird. The pilot did not survive. Officials gave condolences to the pilot’s relatives, and it became one of the most discussed topics on social media in Azerbaijan.
One young man with several thousand Facebook “friends” posted that he was tired of seeing pictures of the pilot everywhere – the man was trained to kill people and died in the line of work, nothing special.
The post was shared hundreds of times by people demanding punishment for the “traitor.” Some of the more persistent were planning to find him and punish him themselves. They wrote insults and threats in the comments section and even sent them in personal messages.
“My thinking was that I wanted to express humanist ideas, to demonstrate the fallacy of everything connected with military propaganda. Maybe it seemed as if I was debasing a man’s death, but my goal was to debase death in a way that stripped it of its attractiveness. I wanted to keep people from killing and dying for one cause or another.”
And beneath that post were more than five hundred comments saying things along the lines of, “I will slaughter your whole family.”
here was another similar case in 2010, when Mubariz Ibrahimov, who posthumously received the title of National Hero of Azerbaijan, died as a result of an Armenian attack, as the story was painted by the authorities. His death began to spawn myths about his life: they say he was tired of waiting for an order and voluntarily charged the front line, knowing he would die, taking as many enemies with him as possible.
His picture was pasted on cars and buses, and used as profile pictures. In December 2018 a psychology student expressed doubts about his “feats” on her Facebook page. She wrote that the soldiers who had killed Mubariz were normal people who also just wanted to go home, they were not to blame for the occupation which may well have happened before they were even born. That in acting without a direct order, Mubariz had committed a crime and had endangered national interests.
People rushed into the comment section, spouting insults, threats, calling her an Armenian (for many in Azerbaijan this is an insult), demanding punishment, there was even a video made of people trampling her photo. One deputy suggested suing her, but the courts refused to consider the lawsuit. The media only added fuel to the fire. Over time, the turmoil eventually subsided and was forgotten.
think that these things occur not just because of the propaganda and a distorted sense of patriotism. There is also the fact that the society, embittered by a low standard of living and suppressed by a fear of the authorities, is afraid to protest. Instead of attacking the real targets, their aggression turns to the vulnerable, the dissenters – those who one will not be punished for bullying.
The Azerbaijani education system and all systems through which the state communicates with people, will teach anything but critical thinking, respect for the opinions of others, or loyalty to alternative points of view.
The trend of ostentatious patriotism has become a convenient weapon for us, and it is easy to direct it towards a goal.
And the military conflict is an excuse to push all other problems into the background and declare all who waver in their support as traitors. We are in a war!
It is unlikely that the rhetoric of the authorities will soften anytime soon. One can only hope that the people will wake up to common sense and understand that seeking retribution against those who “think wrong” means lawlessness. At the very least, it is unconscionable. And this lawlessness can come down on anyone, not least of all you.