- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 2, 2003 

Guilt by Association: Azeri activist under attack for visit to Karabakh

After his visit to Karabakh Eldar Zeynalov is being threatened and accused of national treason.

A human rights activist from Azerbaijan who visited Nagorno Karabakh last week returned to Baku to find that his office had been vandalized.

Eldar Zeynalov, director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, said several dozen protestors threw eggs and rubbish at his office and broke windows. The Azeri press and Zeynalov himself are blaming political action groups "National Front-3" and "Karabakh Liberation Organization" for the attack.

Zeynalov and his wife were in Stepanakert as part of a Caucasus human rights forum.

While Zeynalov was in Karabakh a television station in Baku aired Azeri attorneys' angry criticism of Zeynalov. The television report broadcast Zeynalov's telephone number and, he told ArmeniaNow "encouraged people to do everything not to let me walk the streets".

Protesters burnt Zeynalov's and Ghukasyan's photos attached to wooden crosses in front of his office.

"On April 25 it was announced on Baku Lider-TV that I am Armenian and it was offered to detain me," says Zeynalov, who informed diplomatic corps in Baku of the threats against him. "They were inducing to blow me and my office up and demanding to bring me to responsibility in reference to the paragraph of the treason against the fatherland."

Zeynalov says the action against him may be linked to upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan, but that his visit to Karabakh was un-related to politics.

"I was invited to Khankendi (the Azeri name for Stepanakert) to read lectures to my colleagues visiting the city from different countries (Abkhazia, Chechnya, Northern and Southern Ossetia, Karabakh)," says Zeynalov.

Protests and accusations of anti-Azerbaijan activity against Zeynalov lasted for several days upon his return last weekend. Zeynalov says he reported the incidences to police, but was told that his adversaries had objective grounds for their behavior.

In response to the protests, the Coordinating Board of Caucasian Forum sent a letter to the president of Azerbaijan Heidar Aliev. The letter states that its seminar discussed development of civil society but not the political status of the countries in conflict.

Avaz Hasanov, the coordinator for Azerbaijan of the “International Working Group” organization dealing with questions of POWs, hostages and missing persons.

This week another Azerbaijani activist, Avaz Hasanov, who is a coordinator for Azerbaijan of the International Working Group organization dealing with questions of POWs, hostages and missing persons, visited Yerevan. He had also visited Karabakh.

"I don't think I will be treated like that as well," says Hasanov. "I represent an international organization but it's possible journalists will poison the atmosphere making reports against me. In any case there is a danger. It's possible I'll have to offer explanations to Karabakh Liberation Organization concerning why I'm so often making trips to Armenia."

Hasanov says the incidents involving Zeynalov is instigation before presidential elections.

"It's an instrument for making people busy with something before elections. Eldar Zeynalov has done numerous things for enjoying respect among people. So, it's clear that in Azerbaijan they don't want non governmental organizations, especially activists, to cooperate with Armenian activists," he says.

"What happened with Zeynalov is natural for such countries, where democracy is just an illusion for entering international institutions. Today nationalistic forces are more powerful in Azerbaijan and that is the reason for what has happened."

Chairman of the Helsinki Association of Armenia, Mikayel Danielyan says Zeynalov, while a-political, holds strong views about Karabakh.

"When Eldar stated that civil society is being developed in Karabakh, he didn't mean that Karabakh is not a part of Azerbaijan. Like all Azeris Eldar considers Karabakh as an inseparable part of Azerbaijan."

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