Azerbaijan’s state-owned media’s making another play for the homos. Or, rather, imagined homos.
The post-Soviet nation grabbed a surprisingly few headlines last month after (allegedly) trying to discredit journalist Agil Khalil by claiming he’s a gay. Khalil, who works for opposition-connected newspaper Azadlig, began writing about how members of the ruling party, New Azerbaijan Party had been selling state-owned property for private funds. Soon after the reports, Khalil was beaten and then later stabbed. State prosecutors claimed his gay lover stabbed him and even produced a shoddily edited video as “evidence” of the mens’ tussle.
Khalil denies those claims.
Now the same tricks are being pulled on Ali Karimli, leader of opposition party Popular Front of Azerbaijan…
On April 22, Lider TV broadcast a 40-minute program that presented both Karimli and Khalil as the alleged representatives of a “sexual minority.”
“Agil Khalil not only shares the same personality as Ali Karimli, but he also shares the same color,” the program’s narrator alleges, making a reference to “goluboi” (light blue), the colloquial Russian expression for a gay man. “It looks like the inclination toward [this] sexual minority is a weakness of Ali Karimli’s and his circle.” The program cites a “list of people with whom Agil Khalil has friendly relationships” to substantiate its claims. The broadcast added that Karimli supposedly “directed” Khalil’s “youthful passion in the wrong direction.”
Fuad Mustafayev, deputy head of the Popular Front, contends that the broadcast was defamatory and intentionally styled to inflict political damage on the opposition. To underscore the political intent of the program, Mustafayev added, it was rebroadcast a second time on April 29, Karimli’s birthday.
The president’s office denies they’re trying to discredit these oppositional figures. And that may be true.
Journalist Mina Muradova points out that Karimli no longer has as much power as he once had, thanks to his party’s devastating loss in the 2005 elections. Rather than attacking him, some hypothesize, the state-run media hopes to demonize the entire Popular Front:
Partisans of the Popular Front, arguably one of the best known and organized of Azerbaijan’s opposition parties, claim that the television program is designed to encourage the party to boycott the presidential election. Under the present circumstances, opposition leaders say they feel disinclined to participate.
“There are no conditions for an election campaign; in particular, there is no real freedom of assembly, while freedom of speech is dramatically limited,” the Popular Front’s Mustafayev complained to EurasiaNet. “Under the current conditions, it is naÃ¬ve to think about democratic elections in Azerbaijan. It is a farce, a tragicomedy and we do not want to contribute to this by our participation [in the elections].”
Former presidential advisor Eldar Namazov, now an opposition leader running for president, sees a broader purpose behind the broadcasts. “A smear campaign against opponents like this is used to prevent an outburst of people’s political and social [welfare] frustrations,” suggested Namazov.
Planting a gay seed in an oppositional land rife with homophobic sentiment? Works every time!