Since the war over Nagorno Karabakh began on September 27, scores of peace activists in Azerbaijan have been targeted both online and offline for their views. From public Facebook posts and pages targeting the activists, with threats of violence and physical harm, calls for public shaming and punishment, to questioning at Security Services, this has no doubt been one of the harshest, collective, online public harassment campaigns observed until now in Azerbaijan.
On September 30, an anti-war statement signed by a group of Azerbaijani leftists was published online. Another anti-war statement was published shortly after by an online regional platform Caucasus Talks. In a matter of days, many Azerbaijani activists who signed the statements began receiving online threats, harassment, and deliberate targeting.
A Facebook page called Pinochet Airlines [which was successfully removed after reporting the page to Facebook] was sharing pictures of Azerbaijani signatories, using foul language, humiliating, and calling for public action against them. After the page was taken down, a user, who claimed to allegedly run the page, said in a Facebook post the page lived up to its purpose and although it was taken down, more was yet to come.
Caucasus Talks platform was smeared with allegations to have links to the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife. These allegations were refuted by the platform in a series of tweets:
1/ Dear followers, there is currently a disinformation campaign spreading in Azerbaijan claiming that our platform is linked to the Armenian PM’s wife, Anna Hakobyan. We have absolutely no links to Mrs. Hakobyan.
— CaucasusTalks (@CaucasusTalks) October 9, 2020
On Twitter, some users called for the execution of #nowar activists.
In addition to online targeting, some of the activists were called into questioning at State Security Services over their views shared online on several occasions. Most recently, Latif Mammadov was called for questioning on November 16 where he was threatened for his online activities. “One of them asked me a question and when he didn’t like my answer he grabbed me by the collar and just started shaking me vigorously, I pushed him on his shoulder so he let me go, but then his colleague got up and they pushed me down on the chair […] They said they will kill me and my parents if I don’t stop [my online activity],” Mammadov told OC Media in an interview.
Online and offline harassments and targeting are common in Azerbaijan, especially when targeting high profile political activists and figures. However, this time, deliberate, coordinated targeting against a handful of peace activists and no war advocates, is clearly linked to the nationalist fervor stemming from the on-going fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that ended on November 10 with a deal brokered by Russia.