Bash the backlash
Debunking 8 Myths By Azerbaijani State Against Feminist Peace Collective, Antiwar And Feminist Positions
Upon releasing a statement on August 10th calling for "solidarity with Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh against total war, blockade, and hegemony", our collective faced a barrage of attacks from Azerbaijani state-sponsored media and social media trolls.
A few days after the release of our statement the government released its media from the leash. Instead of engaging in a meaningful content discussion, they started a shitstorm using the usual tactics of inflaming nationalist sentiments. A few examples of their headlines: "A treacherous network working for Armenia, sometimes under the name of 'feminist,' and sometimes 'anti-militarist'" (publika.az); "Another provocation from Azerbaijani 'feminists': What does the anti-Azerbaijani statement have to do with feminism?"(musavat.com); Secrets of the "Feminist Peace Collective" platform (modern.az); "Feminist Peace Collective: A new 'opposition' protecting Armenians is being established in Azerbaijan" (publika.az); "Feminists in the role of patrons of Armenians" (yeniazerbaycan.com) etc.
These attacks targeted not the content of the statement but both the collective as a whole and specific members, branding us as "traitors," "extremists," funded by Soros, Western funds or backed by Armenia. The language went as derogatory as using words such as sluts and whores, clearly showing a familiar pattern of masculine political order silencing any woman daring to become public and political. We even received a warning from the Cyber Security Service of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, with a threat to block our website in Azerbaijan unless we remove specific articles. We did not. It is currently blocked: while some people still can access it, many readers can not open the website in Azerbaijan.
Encountering anger when challenging the established war-driven system is to be expected. Those deeply invested in or benefiting from this system are likely to become furious, as questioning the war threatens the very foundation of the dominance they have diligently constructed over the last few decades. Despite our awareness that our statements may not resonate with the majority, burdened by the realities of war, propaganda, lies, and myths, we stand firm in voicing our dissent. This resistance is not a singular event, and it will persist. Along with us, other activists were swiftly labelled as traitors for organizing an anti-war event a few days after our statement was released. Over the last three decades of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, peace advocates in Azerbaijan and Armenia have consistently been labelled as traitors by the state and/or nationalist groups. Yet, the seeds of radical peace, rooted in anti-militarism and anti-war sentiments, continue to sprout, resilient.
The state's familiar strategy of targeting and isolating anti-war voices has taken a new form this time. The fact that our collective represents two unpopular ideologies -feminism and anti-war sentiments - makes it easier for the state to circulate its popular anti-feminist and war propaganda smoothly in times of paranoia. The state's delusion amplifies as it loses its grip on social order and resorts to violence to suppress politically active groups, silencing them and keeping their messages away from the public. To clarify the Azerbaijani state's current paranoid logic, we debunk 8 myths they have propagated in response to our collective along with feminist and antiwar positions.
Myth 1: Anti-war, feminist, and LGBTI+/queer voices are the product of Western institutions and grant-makers.
Some of these attacks claim that our collective's ideals are products of Western institutions and grant-makers, or that the Feminist Peace Collective represents a new opposition. To begin with, we consciously refrain from being part of institutionalized groups, parties or NGOs to avoid dependency on resources and agendas, being well aware of the mechanisms of influence and control such funding can bring. The roots of anti-war, feminist, and queer resistances are in the global transfer of knowledge and resistance, emerging organically, especially after the decline of NGO-ization process in the country. The NGO crackdown started in Azerbaijan in 2014 and created a vacuum in political activism. As a result, the space previously occupied by NGO-level activism ceased to exist, leading some radical, less institutionalised voices to emerge. Anti-war, feminist, and queer voices grew as a by-product of that vacuum that once was filled with more conventional and less radical ideas due to these funding schemes. Therefore, once the funds stopped or became minimal, grassroots movements started growing.
The Azerbaijani political establishment dismisses our statement by claiming that "Feminists are funded by the West at the behest of Armenia" due to our deviation from their established consensus. This tactic, employing allegations of external influence and bribery, is a well-crafted strategy consistently used by the Azerbaijani regime to shape discourse. It is an open secret that authoritarian Azerbaijan leverages financial influence to sway politicians within the 'democratic' European Parliament and advance certain narratives and politics.
Their inability to envision actions beyond this paradigm leads them to assume that any disagreement must be the result of external directives, labelling us as "ordered" in response. Furthermore, it's important to note that the same Western powers that purchase oil and gas from Azerbaijan, considering it their "most reliable ally," and backing the current authoritarian regime—ironically are disfavoured in the discourse of Azerbaijani political elites.
In reality, the authoritarian Azerbaijani government sustains its legitimacy through financial support from the democratic West, a reality often overlooked by those critical of us. This includes individuals providing interviews against our stance, inadvertently funded by the West, albeit indirectly, perpetuating a cycle of misconceptions and scapegoating directed at feminists. Moreover, they accuse us of bringing alien ideas such as feminism to our society and destroying its harmony.
We reverse the same arguments against the Azerbaijani state. Their rhetoric repeats simplistic right-wing and traditionalist slogans from the West: blame minorities and LGBTQI people, hallucinate themselves as a great nation, call their war anti-terror operation and use some random phrases from decolonial discourse to portray their usual business as an anti-colonial fight against whatever hegemonic states are usual repertoire of average right-wing populists from the West. Repeating these narratives lately became inherent to peripheral dictatorships without much imagination. The state of Azerbaijan relies on the same Western ideas while accusing us of our right struggle for our lives, freedom and dignity. We want to remind that in the aftermath of colonialism, there are almost no "indigenous ideas", especially in a such close periphery of Europe which was always influenced by European ideas and positioned itself as a part of greater Europe.
Myth 2: The West funds Azerbaijani civil society to create a revolutionary force against the regime.
A spectre haunts the autocrats, traditionalists, right-wing and all conservative groups, the spectre of Soros and his "coloured revolutions." It is true that the promotion of civil society globally owes much to Soros's personal liberal vision and capitalist interests in expanding the free market economy in these countries for his own mercantile interests. However, it is ironic for Aliyev and his associates in Azerbaijan to complain about this given their extensive ownership of public resources and capital accumulation. The funds received by Azerbaijan in the name of liberal state-building and free trade far surpass the limited funds civil society and NGOs have received over the past three decades.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the belief in the "end of history" and the enduring universal applicability of Western liberal democracy was propagated through both financial and ideological means within both state and NGO sectors. This fostered novel dependencies between the Global North and the Global South, including the post-Soviet space all under the guise of promoting global peace and democracy.
However, associating civil society's endeavours with foreign aid tends to undermine the genuine efforts of individuals attempting to challenge the existing power structures. Over time, some of these efforts were co-opted, depoliticized, or completely dismantled. In Azerbaijan, the circumstances orchestrated by the state effectively thwarted the formation of a counter-hegemonic or revolutionary force within the civil society realm.
The regime's hypocrisy is glaring not only in its suppression of civil society but also in its actions regarding funding, contracts, and meetings with individuals they accuse. For instance, Aliyev, while accusing us of working for Soros, personally met Soros himself. Similarly, the regime signed agreements with French energy companies like TotalEnergy while simultaneously adopting an aggressive stance towards France. Adding to this, just a few days ago, Aliyev hosted Samantha Power, the head of USAID, whom his footboy, Mirshahin Agayev, accused of promoting liberal values and supporting the emerging opposition.
We question the consistent engagement of the Azerbaijani political elite with the same liberal figures they publicly vilify. It's portrayed as a smart move by the state. Yet when civil society receives legal, fully transparent funding in the state's rhetoric they sell their souls to the devil. We have limited expectations from the ones sitting in parlours, behind highly secured walls and imagining youth as some useful idiots who are sold for cheap to the liberal West, while we could follow their path and sell ourselves for a higher price to Aliyev - for them the world only consists of either liberals or their own kind. For them, the world is simplified into this binary view. Imagining that somebody might have ideas and wishes beyond having dacha in Mardakan is not in their capabilities.
For pocket journalists, next time you draft an article about us, please do your homework correctly. Buy an Alphabet book, go to school, learn to read and then check out our statements again. Maybe then you would be able to notice the difference between our ideas and the ones you try to criticise.
Myth 3: Subversion and disloyalty to the system through being anti-war, means un-Azerbaijanism or anti-Azerbaijan.
We have observed comments questioning our national identity, labelling us as Armenian or at least not Azerbaijani. While some cultural aspects of national identity are worth preserving, we vehemently reject elements tied to victimhood, dictatorship, and blind allegiance. Our struggle is disloyal to the system, and therefore clearly challenges the perception of what it means to be Azerbaijani, created and maintained by the nationalist propaganda established by the very system. As ones who grew up in Azerbaijan, who walked in the same streets, went to the same schools, lost friends and relatives in the war, and shared the same nationalist sentiments in the past we definitely have not less legitimacy and position to speak about and criticise Azerbaijani society not only in the kitchen but also in the public.
People bullying us try to squeeze everything into the frame of state interests. But we are the people, and our concerns are not the interests of those in power in Azerbaijan nor in Armenia, both of which exploit the national identity which they equal to the one of the state. It is all about their very personal benefit sold as usually as interests of the state. We are interested in our fate, the fate of people living under the existing violent, miserable and exploitative conditions in our region.
The main topic that was not touched on during the current shitstorm by state-sponsored media was the link between the Soyudlu uprising in Gadabay which we highlighted in the statement, and the capitalist interests of Azerbaijan. Ignoring the tortures inflicted on Azerbaijanis in the Soyudlu uprising by the regime, and shouting "Look, wow, they support the Armenians" that magnified the collective trauma, they presented and interpreted this approval with the same logic as they presented history with asymmetric information. A question arises here: Why? Because trolls can comment on a topic as far as the Azerbaijani hegemonic narrative allows. Because the regime and its henchmen do not care that people living in Azerbaijan are subjected to state terror. If this regime and its minions really would care about the people they exploit and use, the fates of countless suicide soldiers, the fate of the workers who paved the ground in Zangilan and Gubadli regions, but their wages were stolen by regime minions, fates of people who lost their homes and were left on the street as a result of the war would not be used and abused.
Myth 4: The war in Nagorno-Karabakh is a just war, a necessary evil and therefore is not aggression.
It is believed that a just war is a war that is worth dying for and thus, it is a temporary necessary evil (like the state) to achieve a greater good. But is it really? Wars between states have always historically been a tool for the ruling class to expand their resources, power and hegemony. Wars are slaughter machines and cost not only human lives, but generations of traumas and grievances, and reproduce every oppression in the society under the name of justice. Neither this perpetual war nor any other war is just. Then they shout: “What about the IDPs and refugees who have lost their homes? Isn’t it unfair that they were not able to go back to their lands?”. Our answer is: “Yes it was unfair. It was injustice. But so is war and any war that creates mass displacement systematically and continuously”. Revanchism is just a bargaining tool to infect people’s consciousness with the necessity of war when clearly it is a necessity for the permanency of capitalist patriarchal and imperialist power competitions. Any nation raging war is equally victim and aggressor. This false dichotomy needs to be dismantled before we understand our part of responsibility when we sign up for this “necessary evil”.
Myth 5: It's all voluntary: Armenians in Karabakh were self-blockading and starving themselves and they voluntarily left Karabakh when they were welcomed to integrate into Azerbaijan.
When the blockade of Artsakh started, most people in Azerbaijan did not believe that there was a blockade, and humanitarian disaster there. The propaganda in Azerbaijan claimed that the Aghdam Road was offered, and Armenians refused to use it, thus they chose to self-blockade themselves. The most absurd integration plan into dystopia was that if they accepted Azerbaijani humanitarian aid, it would mean that they were integrated. This integration would happen in case if Karabakh Armenians gave up all of their demands for autonomy, and they should not only accept that they would carry Azerbaijani passports but also, they must be thankful for it. Perhaps in the later stage expectation from Armenians will be to become proud Azerbaijani citizens embracing the civic nationalism the ruling elites are constructing these days. Then considering this scenario, not accepting integration into Azerbaijan was indeed a hunger strike against the regime in Azerbaijan and this necessary struggle was not a choice. Neither was the forced displacement from Karabakh to Armenia was a choice. Today, the entire Armenian population of Karabakh have been displaced when a knife was stuck to their throat after the military attack on 19th of September 2023. It is evident that the majority of the population of Azerbaijan is not in favour of living together with Armenians and they would prefer the de-Armenization of Karabakh. Yet the official discourse “we have no problem with Karabakh Armenians, but the problem is their regime “discourse is falsefully remaining.
Myth 6: Armenia and Armenians are transcendental enemies and therefore Azerbaijan must maintain its security through militarisation and force.
The pervasive animosity directed at Armenians stems from a combination of factors, primarily rooted in the humiliation and grievances resulting from a lost war in the 1990s. Additionally, the widespread dissemination of strong nationalist propaganda in both public and political spheres has contributed to this sentiment. The glorification of war and a romanticized portrayal of masculine heroism have become integral parts of everyday life, further fueling hostility towards Armenians.
Amidst the complex array of feelings harboured towards Armenians, the portrayal of them as a formidable "enemy" and Azerbaijanis as “victims” has been central. This narrative has allowed emotions of hatred, mistrust, and disgust to dominate the discourse over a few decades. The regime's persistent propaganda, woven into the fabric of society through history books, the veneration of martyrs and heroes, and everyday symbols and narratives, has perpetuated the image of a vicious enemy. This perception has been exploited to fortify the repressive security apparatus of the regime.
Rather than allowing this simmering hatred to persist, we call to redirect it towards those perceived as having usurped lives—specifically, the ruling elite and those at the helm of technological and productive networks. This rechannelling of animosity is a means to reclaim agency and take a stand against oppression. The identification of a common enemy—encompassing owners, rulers, and a society built on domination and exploitation—serves as a foundational step towards solidarity with the marginalized, such as the bombed and displaced. With this perspective, we seek to foster a collective movement against the prevailing systems of power and inequity.
Myth 7: War is peace and peace is war: Azerbaijan wants peace and thus is practising war to reach its end goal of peace and stability.
"Peace is war” not only because the ruling class uses peacetime to prepare for future wars, but more significantly because their “peace” is itself carried on as a war. The peacetime economy is enough militarized to prepare us for the upcoming wars. It is hard for people in Azerbaijan to understand that they are part of war economics. Firstly, because most of them are still part of the peace-time economy that calmly prepares us for the wars to come. With the current military technologies and methods, most of us in the capital will rarely experience any significant change in our daily routine due to a war such as the one we have been seeing the last three years. For instance, even during the 2020 war, when people on the borderline regions were suffering war, the majority of people in Baku were carrying on with their everyday lives.
We will continue to experience capital’s “peace”, that fine civilized peace that so bores, yet pacifies us. Who are the forces “bringing” this “peace”? They are the armed military of Azerbaijan. Who are the forces that are going to maintain this “peace”? They are armed and trained police of Azerbaijan. Who are the peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh? They are armed military personnel of Russia, that in Ukraine rage war and genocide against the people of Ukraine. And even on the streets, peace is maintained by armed people in uniform, often with military training. The police also constitute an arm of the state, and those who live in poor neighbourhoods often know what it is like to be occupied and under the threat of death or capture if they make the wrong move. Consider the obvious militarization of the police as well as involvement in crowd control during demonstrations and protests. Peacekeeping and peace-making is really nothing other than war-making. Thus, it can be said that we live in a state of permanent war, the unending violence through which our rulers maintain their power.
Myth 8: What does feminism have to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue?
The most interesting point that manifests itself throughout the articles and reportages attacking us is the allusion to the discourse "they are not real feminists; true feminists must love their state" by writing the word feminist in quotation marks. This viewpoint went to the extent of not only expecting feminists to demonstrate a strong patriotic warmonger position but also extending the expectation to gay individuals, derogatorily referring to them as "ögey" in Azerbaijani, meaning "other" or "stepchild."
These lines of othering serve to dominate the marginalized and our response is: “Feminism is a political struggle that rejects domination!”. This struggle should be understood in the context of the state, police, father and husband. We are aware that change will not happen by co-opting within the existing pus-framed systems. Therefore, considering feminism in isolation from the context of war is naive at best and foolish at worst.
Nationalism and the wars raged for national desires, subjecting our gendered and classified bodies to abuse, and the further reproduction of oppressive gender roles in society is heavily influenced by this. We are against the capitalist war that decides who cries and waits, who fights and dies, who is protected, who is the protector, who goes to war and who does not go to war among the "protectors". We reject the war that makes women into mothers and men into soldiers, where bourgeois men are not seen on the front lines, where only men from the lower class are worthy of the meat grinder of militarism, and where the burden of war is not borne by bourgeois women, but by women of the lower working class. We reject the gendered roles woven into this fascist-nationalist narrative that sustains the war. We reject a national identity that obligates us to be loyal to the state that embodies the violent power structures of our gendered bodies. We reject the domination based on the illusion of "protecting the state and the people" using our gendered bodies as a shield to protect their bourgeois interests, seats and capital and restore social stability in the war between classes!