Stolen Statehood:   A Summary Report on Talysh Issue in the Republic of Azerbaijan The Talysh National Movement



                                                                    Stolen Statehood: 

                                              A Summary Report

                                                on Talysh Issue

                                    in the Republic of Azerbaijan 
                                  The Talysh National Movement 


The ethnic composition of the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The number of the Talysh.
At present, the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan is estimated at about 9-10 mln. people. However, according to various estimates from 3 to 5 million nationals permanently reside on the territory of Russia and other post-Soviet countries. According to the official census of 2009, there are: 8 172 800 Azerbaijanis, 180 300 Lezgians 112000 Talysh, 49 800 Avars , 25 200 Tats, 12 300 Tsakhurs and 3 800 Udis. However, independent studies and the data of various NGOs are at odds with them. In addition to the Turkic ethnic groups (called "Azerbaijanis” for the last 80 years) which infiltrated the region in XI-XII centuries and made up the majority of the present-day population of the State, the number of indigenous people is considerable: there are 1.5 mln. of the Talysh, about 800 000 Lezgians, up to 300 000 Avars, from 50 000 to 80 000 Tsakhurs, as well as representatives of other Dagestani peoples (Udis, Rutuls, Budukhs, Khinalugs, Tabasarans). The number of Tats (Parses) resettled on the current territory of residence at the beginning of our era is estimated at 300 000 people. Significant in this sense is a two volume study on Studies in Languages of Azerbaijan, published in 2002 and edited by American scientist, Professor J. Clifton (Grands, MI, USA). The second volume of it represents sociolinguistic information on the number of the Talysh in Azerbaijan. 

  According to it, at least five districts with high density of Talysh population tot up to about half a million people. The authors report that Government officials under different pretexts would impede their inspection in Hamosharu district (official name - Jalilabad), where, according to Talysh public figures, about 40% of villages are populated by the Talysh. The Talysh live in the other regions of Azerbaijan, including Salyan (several villages), Sabirabad, Neftchala, Imishli, etc. More than 20% of the population of one of the largest cities of the country – Sumqayit (over 400.000 people) is a Talysh, according to Calvin f. Tiessen (Positive orientation towards the vernacular among the Talysh of Sumgayit, USA, Grand forks, North Dakota). According to Talysh NGOs, the  Talysh represent about half the population of Sumgayit. Talysh population is quite significant in the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan – Baku – and the surrounding area. Some suburbs, such as Bina are almost completely inhabited by the Talysh. 
Back in 1936, the Turks represented slightly more than half of the population of Azerbaijan SSR (about 58%). What concerns the capital, Baku, the Turks constituted ethnic minority there. Due to the fact that later the Muslim peoples of the country were forcibly registered as representatives of the newly created “Azerbaijanis” ethnos, today "Azerbaijanis" (i.e. Turks) are already officially accounted for more than 93% of the population. It should  be noted however, that for the entire last century natural growth rate among non-Turkic indigenous peoples was much higher than among Turks. Therefore, there is no doubt that half the population of Azerbaijan today are the indigenous non-Turkic people. 
None of the country's indigenous peoples has autonomous self-government. The Nakhichevan exclave of the country is isolated as a separate Autonomous Republic, though it is not stipulated by any ethnic background of this area. The Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are promised to be granted "the highest autonomy", in case of the successful resolution of the Karabakh problem.

History of the Northern Talysh (Talyshistan) entrance to Azerbaijan.
Talyshistan has lost its independence as a result of the Russo-Persian Wars of 1804-1813 and 1826-1828. Northern Talyshistan became a part of Russia, Southern – a part of Persia (Iran). By that time mass resettlement of Turkic-speaking tribes of Talysh had already begun - from other areas of the South Caucasus to Talysh. The fall of the Russian Empire marked a new era in the history of many peoples who inhabited it. In 1918-1920 there emerged numerous national republics on the former territories of the Empire. The Talysh didn’t make an exception: May 15, 1919 Mughan Soviet Republic was proclaimed in the territory of the Northern Talyshistan. 
   A few months later, however, it fell as a result of the military aggression of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic supported by the Turkish Army Corps. After all those territories had been integrated into the USSR, Talyshistan, became one of the entities of the Azerbaijan SSR in defiance of the will of the people. Due to the efforts of local public figures Talysh educational establishments were created; academic treatises and the world fiction were translated into the Talyshi language, Talysh newspapers were published and educational centers for national culture promotion were founded. However, this process of resurgence was stopped by repressions sanctioned by Stalin’s protégé – Mir Jafar Baghirov. Were shot Boyukaga Mirsalayev and Razzag Kazimov and many more were executed; many others were exiled - Zulfugar Ahmadzadeh (to Siberia, where he died of a long illness), Muzaffar Nasirli (to Turkmenistan. He died of malaria in two years after returning from exile), Shirali Akhundov (to Siberia. He returned from exile 21 years later and died in two years after that). The use of the Talyshi language in media was banned. As a result of the policies, the data of 1959 censuses about the Talysh population were annihilated - in 1959, the number of the Talysh in the whole Soviet Union "was" about over one hundred people, and in 1970 and in 1979, they just "disappeared". The next burst of selfawareness occurred in the crucial for the USSR 1980s, when  the State made some concessions on civilian selfexpression. In 1989, the Talysh "returned" into the Census: the USSR acknowledged 21 602 of them. In the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 a referendum was held on preserving the Soviet Union. More than 90% of the Talysh voted to retain the state. But when the Azerbaijani Republic was formed, the opinion of the Talysh (and other ethnic groups of the region) about the integration of their territories was not considered, and no referendum was held to inquire the sentiment of the indigenous population. In 1993, the Talysh declared the Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic within the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Despite the existence of the Nakhichevan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous (according to the official position of Baku) Republics within the jurisdiction of the Azerbaijan Republic, the desire to establish its autonomy by the Talysh was viewed as separatism and severely suppressed by the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev. After that, the fight for the collective rights of the Talysh in totalitarian Azerbaijan state advocating the ProTurkic ideology, the core idea of which is a complete assimilation of the indigenous ethnic groups, lost its meaning. The implanted ideology runs contrary to the core European values of democracy and human rights and freedom.
Over the past 150-180 years Talyshistan has seen systematic resettlement of the Turkic ethnic group from Shirvan, Karabakh and other regions of the South Caucasus. 
Studying the Talyshi language at schools is organized only for 2-4 years of primary school on "an optional basis". The country has no educational institutions capable of training teachers of the Talyshi language, so classes, if they ever happen to be, are tutored by the teachers of PE, mathematics or other languages. 
The Talyshi language is excluded from all spheres of public life, so parents try to avoid using their mother tongue lest children might in future be abused for the Talysh accent. There is no broadcast on the Talyshi language in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Talysh newspaper publishers are subject to pressure and harassment. Loyal to the authorities the Editor-in-Chief of the Tolyshi Sado (Voice of Talysh) - a newspaper , which was by one third published in Talyshi since 1992 - Professor Novruzali Mammadov was accused of treason and spying for Iran and sentenced to 10 years in 2007. Then, in 2009, he died under suspicious circumstances in a prison hospital. 
Hilal Mammadov, a human right activist who acted for Editor-in-Chief in place of Professor Mammadov, was arrested in 2012, initially on allegations of drug possession, and later charged with treason, spying for Iran and separatism. Hilal Mammadov has been sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2013. 
The Editor-in-Chief of three Talysh newspapers - Tolyshi Sado (in 1993-1994), Tolysh (in 2002-2004), and Shavnysht (Night Feast) (in 2005-2008) - and famous Talysh researcher and politician Fakhraddin Aboszoda (Abbasov) was forced to emigrate from the country two times - in 1994 and in 2008 (both times to Russia). In February 2019, he was illegally extradited from Russia to Azerbaijan. For the sixth month now, F. Aboszoda (Abbasov) has been in a pre-trial detention facility of the State Security Service of Azerbaijan. 
Word "Talysh" related both to the region and indigenous people is under the tacit prohibition in the Azerbaijan Republic. At all levels, they are replaced by the euphemisms "Southern Region" and "Southerners". The few studies of the Talyshi language set their objective as vindicating the alleged Turkic origin of the language (while in fact it belongs to the Iranian language group). Furthermore, all place-names of the towns, most villages, mountains, rivers and other geographical features have been officially changed. This process aimed at providing grounds for the allegedly Turkic origin of toponyms consequently resulted in acknowledging Turks as the indigenous population of Talyshistan in State rhetoric. However this state of affairs is contrary to the historical truth and jeopardizes Talysh cultural heritage with complete destruction and plundering of ancient and medieval Talysh fortresses, cemeteries, etc. 
The opportunities to preserve and develop the culture and traditions of the Talysh are extremely constrained by the existing state system. 
Schools and other educational institutions alongside with the media which are censored by the state disseminate pro-Turkic ideology and promulgate the personality cult of the former President Heydar Aliyev, who is the father of the current President. 
Due to the unemployment or other financial problems, completely corrupt State system and political persecution the outflow of the population from Talyshistan has become drastic. According to unofficial data only Russia received about more than 700.000 migrants from Talyshistan. As a result of migration and the plight of the healthcare system, the rapid spread of AIDS and drug abuse plague the region. 
The Republic of Azerbaijan exploits the territory and resources of Talyshistan without coordination with the indigenous population. The Talysh are excluded from such  geopolitical processes as the repartition of the Caspian Sea, the use of mineral resources of the Talysh mountain range or stationing of foreign military bases on their territories. 

Political persecution.
The Republic of Azerbaijan has not yet adopted legislation on national minorities, despite the fact that in 1992, then President A. Elchibey (Aliyev) in his decree sought to draft the bill in a-month term. Moreover, the Republic has not ratified the European Charter on minority languages; none of the requirements of the framework Convention for the protection of national minorities, signed by the Republic of Azerbaijan in the year 2001, have been met. 
In 1992, The Talysh People's Party was denied registration in the Republic of Azerbaijan in connection with the direct reference to ethnicity in the name of the party. Nevertheless, there are currently dozens of proTurkic political entities, including extreme nationalist party of the Grey Wolves.  
Regional Talysh Members of Parliament , which in the wake of the recent scandals about the sale of Deputy mandates is not recognized as legitimate by the citizens, in fact never represented the interests of the Talysh. Nor did they voice any grievances of indigenous peoples. Opposite way, they openly advocated the rapid assimilation of the Talysh, as a crucial element of integration in Azerbaijani 
society. It should also be noted that locals have never been allowed into administration of the Talysh regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Traditionally there have been natives of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, where the family of the current President and his closest associates originate from. 
Banned in the Republic of Azerbaijan is not only a discussion of Talysh independence or autonomy, both in public and privately, but also any mentioning of the Republic's indigenous ethnic groups’ national grievances. Most often this is assessed as inciting ethnic hatred and a subversive act initiated by Iranian, Armenian or Russian intelligence. 
The State conducts a policy of oppression against Talysh community leaders. The so-called "case of TMAR” laid the foundation to this process. President of the TalyshMugan Autonomous Republic Alakram Hummatov (Hummatzoda) was arrested in 1993, and in 1996 was sentenced to death. Public pressure compelled the authorities to review the sentence and change it into life imprisonment. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, recognized Alakram Hummatov as a political prisoner. The Council of Europe demanded his release (resolution 1359 (2004)), and under pressure from European countries he was released from prison in 2004, denaturalized and deported to the Netherlands. During his time in prison he caught tuberculosis and lost almost all the teeth.  
A. Hummatov’s brothers and uncle were arrested and sentenced for harboring a State criminal. His wife had been hiding from arrest for a long time, and subsequently emigrated to the Netherlands together with children. According to Talysh and international human rights organizations (such as the "Memorial" society), his 12-yearold son had been tortured in police by searing his hands with burning cigarettes. Together with A. Hummatov more than 30 people were sentenced to different terms of imprisonment in the “TMAR case”. Four of them (Rafaddin Aliyev, Ilham Asadullayev, Naib Mammadov, Azim Nasirov) died in prison. 
The second phase of repression came in 2007. Firstly, in 2007 the Editor-in-Chief of the Tolyshi Sado (Voice of Talysh) - a famous philologist Novruzali Mammadov was arrested and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for treason. He died in prison hospital in 2009. During his incarceration, his sons were abducted several times and subjected to intimidation and coercion. His eldest son, Kamran died under mysterious circumstances at that time. Soon after the death of Novruzali Mammadov his youngest son Emil also died. The only surviving family member - Novruzali Mammadov’s widow - Maryam emigrated to the Netherlands. It is worth noting that, Novruzali Mammadov, among others, was charged with an offence of "collaboration with foreign researchers and writing scientific papers on the Talysh and promotion of Talysh national values", etc. He was considered a political prisoner by international human rights organizations.  
Together with Novruzali Mammadov, the Executive Secretary of newspaper Elman Guliyev was convicted and now he is serving a 6-year prison sentence.  
In 2008, being subjected to constant harassment and coercion of the national security agencies of Azerbaijan, the Talysh activist Atakhan Abilov was forced to leave the country. While in Russia, he was severely beaten by unknown assailants, which resulted in grave hurt to his health. After his recovery he emigrated to the Netherlands. 
In the fall of 2008 the Editor-in-Chief of the Shavnysht Fakhraddin Aboszoda (Abbasov) had to leave the Republic for the same reasons. Like most Talysh public figures in exile, before illegal extradition to Azerbaijan in 2019 he had been living in Russia for 11 years. 
In June 2012, the next Editor-in-Chief of the Tolyshi Sado Hilal Mammadov, who succeeded Novruzali Mammadov, was arrested. The initial charges of drug  possession proved very insufficient and were subsequently replaced with the charge of treason, spying for Iran and separatism. Many international human rights organizations have recognized him a prisoner of conscience. To make it worth he was exposed to psychological pressure and denied medical assistance, although during his arrest he had some ribs broken and was badly injured. Hilal Mammadov was sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2013. 
The third phase of repression against Talysh community leaders began in 2018. The Chairman of the Parliament of Talysh-Mughan Autonomus Republic (1993), Editor-in-Chief of Talysh newspapers Tolyshi Sado (in 19931994), Tolysh (in 2002-2004), and Shavnysht (in 2005-2008) and famous Talysh researcher Fakhraddin Aboszoda (Abbasov) was arrested on 6 September in Russia, where he was forced to emigrate in 2008. On 27 February, the prosecutor’s office issued a decision refusing Azerbaijan to extradite F. Aboszoda, after which he should have been released. However, contrary to the law, he was forcibly expelled from Russia to a country where he was subjected to politically motivated persecution (Azerbaijan), which directly violated one of the fundamental principles under international law — the principle of non-refoulement. The unlawfulness of the deportation was later recognised by the Moscow Regional Court in its decision dated 29 April 2019. For the sixth month now, F. Aboszoda (Abbasov) has been in a pre-trial detention facility of the State Security Service of Azerbaijan. His rights are systematically violated there, with his defenders being under pressure. As a result, the first lawyer was forced to abandon the defense. Even the court order, under which F. Aboszoda (Abbasov) is being detained in the pre-trial detention facility, was provided to him only on the 38th day of the arrest in Baku. 
After the arrest of Fakhraddin Aboszoda (Abbasov), coercion and intimidation is expected to be brought on indigenous people of Talyshistan as the most politically vocal group of the population. The Talysh community leaders are likely to face recrudescence of prosecution and victimization.
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