BAKU—”Today, publication of my and my husband’s photos with crosses on our necks looks like a statement, made by the ruling party’s members of parliament and the members of the Academy of Sciences, calling us traitors, criminals and spies of Armenia; this is a frank appeal for violence and pogrom,” stated Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus in an interview with REX news agency.
The human rights activist noted that she publicly criticizes the authors of Azerbaijan’s school history textbooks, in which children from the age of 10 are taught that Christians are enemies of the Azerbaijani people, and in which Armenians are called “black infidels.”
“I, as a doctor of historical sciences, would never imagine that school history books will suggest that the initiators of the division between Muslim Shiites and Sunnis in Azerbaijan were the Christians and surely the Armenians,” Yunus notes.
A human rights activist says that there were Azerbaijanis and Armenians living in their backyard, as well as Russians, Jews, Tatars and Ukrainians. Yunus noted that there was no difference in nationality and faith for her and there is there still isn’t: “And today, when the pro-government newspapers, Internet websites, radio, and television shows shout out that my husband and I are “traitors and enemies of our homeland” and that I am not native Azerbaijani but a ‘Russian-speaking half-blood,’ when the police colonel publicly, in front of journalists, justifies the policeman who used violence against me stating that I was not an Azerbaijani but an Armenian, then I start fearing for the future of my country.”
Leyla Yunus recalled how during one of the meetings, an illiterate and ignorant citizen called for reprisal against the Christians, and the Armenians in particular. “A nationally-known film director was sitting beside me, I asked him to speak out and stop that nonsense. The honored artist replied that he spoke Azerbaijani not that well to repel rioters, his hands were shaking. Then I took the floor and spoke in Russian and openly said (much in Russian) who the previous speaker was. Of course, my speech was interrupted, and of course, they attacked me with their fists. But the thugs are bold only when there is no resistance there,” said Yunus.
To the question as to why the leadership of Azerbaijan prevents the development of “people diplomacy,” between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, the human rights activist said that the authoritarian regimes always need an external enemy against whom it carries out a propaganda campaign; they use it to link their opponents with it and to accuse them of that linkage. “We have actually returned back to the Soviet times, to the 30’s. The slogan of the day is, ‘Whoever is not with us, is against us.’ The goal of the regime is to control everything and everyone, including ‘people diplomacy,’” Yunus said.
According to her, when “people diplomacy” is limited, with controlled meetings between civil society activists from Armenia and Azerbaijan in the vast expanses of Eurasia, meetings which pass like boxing fights, it is still bearable for the Azerbaijani regime. But when Armenian and Azerbaijani collaboration becomes uncontrollable by the Azerbaijani authorities, then a “warning light” appears immediately.
On the evening of April 28, while departing to Doha at Baku’s airport, famous Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were detained. They intended to fly to Paris, then to Brussels at the invitation of EU to participate in an international event. Leyla Yunus was taken to the Department of Grave Crimes of the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s office for questioning, where she spent 9 hours. Her husband who was detained with her was hospitalized due to a heart condition. Searches of Yunus’ apartment and workplace were conducted.
The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan and human rights organizations, such as the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the International Federation of Human Rights Organizations (FIDH) have condemned the detention of human rights activist Leyla Yunus in Baku.
Earlier, in Baku, Azerbaijani journalist and dissident Zerkalo Rauf Mirkadirov was arrested after being extradited from Turkey. He was accused of conducting espionage for Armenia.