Being An Activist

If the last three years of my life taught me something, it would be the toughness of being firm in what I believe in and standing up for this as long as it’s needed.

During recent events in Egypt many people around would ask me and my friends why we cared about it so much to write posts and tweet and facebook about it. We couldn’t explain, that their victory will affect all of us. And, apparently, it did.

Now that Jabbar Savalan’s case is happening, I know exactly what those close to him feel. When Emin and Adnan got arrested in July 2009 it was also a start to a whole new page of my life – the one when I had to pick a side and stick to it. I did and have never regretted it. I was most certainly sure that my friends were not guilty and did not deserve what they got. It was also the time when I realized that most of the things I cared about before didn’t mean a thing.

Ever since, among my oldest friends I was perceived as a “dissident” and would often be asked: “Are you still not arrested?” by the most sarcastic of them. On Facebook, where most of our activity was concentrated, many unfriended or hid me. Losing some of them, was pretty painful, but the cause was worth it. Especially, given that it introduced me to the whole new dimension – the world of activism.

***

Admitting inconvenient truth is not easy by definition: first you need to learn to be objetive about yourself and your family. Then, you learn to do the same about your country, which, trust me, is the toughest one. You have to see both good sides and the ones people around you prefer to forget about. You have to admit that your country is NOT perfect. Then you start acting.

If life was a high school – activists would probably be these crazy kids who give away flyers and care about an old tree to be cut. They make it seem as if they don’t care what others think. They have secret crushes on cool kids, they want to go to parties, but usually don’t get invited.

But life is not a high school. And they’re not pathetic weirdos.

Activists, are the ones to start telling the truth, when others prefer to ignore it. They go against the flow, when many settle for what’s given. They go to prisons, for those who are not ready to stand for their rights. Activists are the ones to advocate for those who are not ready to speak up. They experience fear for themselves and their families. They lose some friends to prisons; they understand when others stop saying “Hello” because of fear. They patiently wait until these people come back, and in most of the cases, act as if nothing happened. But the main thing to understand about activists is that their goal is to make people think, while people are the ones to eventually go out to the streets and demand the justice.

Activists are activists not because they’re bored, not because it’s cool to be ones and certainly not because it’s easy. Most of them suffer personality disorders and periodically doubt themselves. But every morning they wake up to do what they do.

Simply because someone has to do it.

***

There are two women among many of my friends who I admire and adore in a very special way. Both happily married, both having pretty much everything a person needs to have a stable and careless life. Nevertheless, both among the most passionate activists of our country. Arzu and Mehriban, this post is for you, for all the other activists around the world and for those who don’t, and probably, will never get us.

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Free Hugs

About being positive: a group of young Azeris held a “Free Hugs” flashmob on the streets of Baku – one step closer to my idea of a Kissing Flashmob. 😉

Yes, we are a Muslim majority country.

Corrupted No More

One of the good things about living in small communities is that rumors usually turn out to be true. No, not the gossiping-about-people-and-their-sex-lives kind of rumors, but the ones about important news.

Right after Tunisia held the revolution and in the middle of the Egyptian one, the air in Baku started to change. A wave has flown around Baku, whispering that, taking bribes is now forbidden – there is no corruption anymore. And, well, after living your whole life in a country, where you know you’ll have to bribe whatever you do and wherever you go – it sounds kind of shocking at first. And since you also know “where the news come from” you don’t believe the media sources either.

And that’s when you go to the people and ask them if it’s true. It turns out it is. A friend of a neighbor was supposed to pay 100 000 EUR annual bribe for his 4 supermarkets. When he came to the Tax guys, they silently sent him to the cashiers, where he paid his official 10 000 EUR and went back home absolutely happy.

Another guy brings cars for sell from Europe to Azerbaijan. He would usually pay around 80 000 EUR for several cars on the customs. This time, however, he was also sent to the cashiers and paid 5 000 EUR. He went back to “his guys” and offered to give them the rest, but the horrified used-to-be-bullies sent him home and told not to come back with these kind of offers. The guy celebrated all night and all day.

Then you read about dozens fired in ministries, reforms to be implemented in the most corrupted structures and special services created to address people’s problems and complaints. And for the first time in your life you feel the scent of the Change.

But the saddest part is, the first thing to come to your mind is: “I wonder how long it will last”. Because, let’s be honest, why does it take two revolutions thousand miles away to fix the biggest problem, that harmed and drove away two generations of your people and made the country #134 in the world corruption index?

However, since as any desperate activist I’m not only a cynical critic, but also a believer, I’ll lean back in my chair and wait. I’ll wait for the 19-year-old to be released from the prison; I’ll wait for my friends to be taken off the hook of a conditional release for the crime they did not commit; I’ll wait for the irrational projects and economical solutions to be abolished or fixed; I’ll wait for the day when I will not need rumors to believe the news.

Amen.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Sandmonkey on MSNBC

Famous Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey, who I recently interviewed for RFE/RL and who later was arrested, assaulted and basically robbed by the Egyptian police, is talking on MSNBC from Tahrir square here.

A Teenage Convict

On April 30th, 2010 I was taken to the police station for participating in a peaceful protest action along with a number of other people. It was my second time (the first one was also for peaceful protest) and I knew exactly what they were going to ask me.

“What were you doing there?”

“Who were you with?”

“Are you a member of any opposition party?”

“Are you a member of any opposition party?”

“Are you a member of any opposition party?”

They pressed no charges, didn’t open a case and let us – non-partisans – go in several hours. All the members of oppositional parties were taken to the court and sentenced 10 to 15 days of detention. Not their first time, not their last time.

***

On February 5th a 19-year-old member of AXCP’s Youth Committee (one of two biggest opposition parties in Azerbaijan) Jabbar Salavan was arrested in Sumgayit city for drug possession. Police found (?) 0.17 grams of narcotic substances (the kind is unclear) with him.

His family was looking for him for 6 hours. While he was held in the police station, his phone was taken away, he was being interrogated. When his mother finally called the police to report her missing son – they told her he was in the police station the whole time.

His friends claim he doesn’t use drugs. The fellow party members say, he was spotted and ever since followed by the police after a conflict between opposition and police on January 20th.

Today, the court sentenced Savalan 2 months of pre-trial detention.

Why I don’t believe he’s guilty? Because using drugs and being in opposition in Azerbaijan is a suicide. They’re usually being followed and threatened, their parents lose their jobs, their phones are under surveillance.

But, since we’re supposed to analyze things objectively, let’s pretend he was. He’s 19, he’s fed up, bored, angry and is using drugs (as most of the young men in his city).

Will imprisoning teenagers solve a pretty serious drug problem in Azerbaijan?

Why are so many people who use and sell are still free?

Are those who imprisoned Savalan aware that convicts use drugs while IN prisons?

I think they are.

I also think, they know exactly what this detention will turn this young guy’s life into.

And it’s heartbreaking. Not the first time, not the last time.

***

The blog young activists prepared for this case. News there are being posted in Russian, English and Azerbaijani.

The Facebook group for Savalan.

The case of Jabbar Savalan and other oppressions of Azerbaijani youth on RFE/RL by Ali Novruzov.

Eurasianet about the Egyptian influence on Azerbaijani politics.

10 Best Super Bowl Ads

I love creative commercials. I mean, who doesn’t?

Viral Video Chart has put together Best Super Bowl Ads, according to the number of times they have been shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Mashable shows the top 10. Enjoy.

1. Volkswagen Commercial: The Force.

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