To all the kind Azerbaijani and Turkish people of Austin who treated my husband and me to a delicious, homemade luncheon two weeks ago, I thank you with all my heart for a memorable afternoon of food and song. What I am about to say concerning Azerbaijan is in no way a reflection upon you because I believe you are sincere, generous, and loving people.
Rare opportunities in our lives are handed to us by the kindness of strangers, those who feel we would be a certain fit for an upcoming event or occasion. This was the case concerning my recent invitation to attend “Eurovision”, a wildly popular show with over 600 million viewers, in the host city of Azerbaijan.
All the trips costs were being covered by Socar, a state owned oil company within Azerbaijan. It seemed like the proverbial dream come true: a trip to a small nation that intrigued me among a group chosen to represent the U.S.! We would witness the spectacle and dazzle of the world’s biggest tv show. All the new friendships and sites that would become lifetime memories were at my fingertips.
And then, yesterday, Amnesty International’s letter came in the mail, alongside an NPR piece (http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/05/09/eurovision-contest-azerbaijan) brought to my attention by my dear friend, Robin Macy. Both contained factual, horrifying information concerning human rights issues in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Many of these human rights issues due to Socar and it’s dream to sell oil. No matter who was in the way.
Where houses used to stand, the houses were torn to the ground. Where journalists, human rights activists and musicians were trying to speak out, they were beaten and imprisoned. Why were these things happening? Because of the 25,000-seat, $134 million Baku Crystal Hall, the main venue for the Eurovision 2012 Song Contest. (Baku’s vocal contestants won last year, giving the hosting crown of this year’s event to Azerbaijan.)
According to the World Human Rights Report of 2012, Azerbaijan’s human rights record deteriorated during 2011. The government cracked down on all forms of protest and imprisoned dozens of youth activists after sham trials. Although the number of government-initiated criminal and civil libel cases against journalists decreased, the atmosphere for journalists and other critics remained hostile. The government’s so-called beautification campaign in central Baku, the capital, resulted in forced evictions and illegal demolitions. Restrictions on freedom of religion and torture and ill-treatment in custody also persisted. Azerbaijan continued to deny access to the country for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
You can simply type in “Human rights violations in Azerbaijan” and up will pop many videos, mostly in Azerbaijani.
My decision not to go on this journey is because I want to stand behind those brothers and sisters in Azerbaijan who have been brutalized and forced from their homes. And, due to the fact the trip would have been paid by Socar, I would have become a human rights violator by association.
There will be people outside the arena during “Eurovision”, speaking out with signs and their voices. I hope you will begin speaking out on their behalf, now, and on behalf of those who are being denied human rights everywhere around the globe.