Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Azerbaijan Wrestles With Nationality Poser
Akif Abishov just wants to be an ordinary Azeri young man, but he has an awkward secret in a country that still lacks diplomatic relations with Armenia. He is an ethnic Armenian.
He was handed to a state children’s home in the town of Sheki in 1988, the year when growing ethnic tensions forced many Armenians to leave Azerbaijan, and his relatives left him behind when they fled.
He has no documents to confirm his identity, but such documents might do more harm than good, since his real name – Artur Avakyan – identifies him clearly as an Armenian.
He left the children’s home when he turned 18 in 2002 and since then has appealed to numerous state bodies for help in securing documents, but without results. His only ally has been Khalida Bayramova, deputy head of the administration in the Sabail region of Baku.
“I am very grateful to Khalida khanum,” he said, using the respectful Azeri term for a woman. “Only she has sympathised with me. She found me this accommodation, and helps with money. But every time when I ask about documents, she tells me to be patient, that work is going on. But the years are passing.
“I had a high school diploma in the name Akif Abishov, and when I went and asked for documents they took it from me, supposedly to use in preparing them. Now I only have a copy of it and I have never seen the birth certificate where I have an Armenian name.”
Without documents, Abishov cannot travel, make a doctor’s appointment, receive state benefits and much more. Azerbaijan has inherited the bureaucracy-heavy Soviet system, and it is impossible for him to enjoy the rights of a citizen without being able to confirm his identity.
Bayramova herself told IWPR that the young man’s fate was unresolved because it raises so many legal and ethical questions, and officials are not sure how to proceed. Their indecision, combined with the problems caused by his lacking the papers required to receive identity documents, has left him in a legal limbo.
“This question is being discussed in the government, in the president’s administration, in the parliament in the ministries of justice, internal affairs and national security,” she said.
“This is a political question, and publicity for this question will just harm Akif himself. Of course, he is not to blame that he is an Armenian, but a fact is a fact.
“We do not know what name to put in documents for him. We cannot make them in his Azeri name. But to go around Azerbaijan with an Armenian name is a death sentence. Or else he could just be deported from the country.”
According to Arif Yunus, a specialist in conflict resolution and co-founder of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, there were just 25 Armenian men with typically Armenian surnames living in Baku in 1999, but that did not mean Akif Abishov did not deserve documents.
“Not giving documents to someone for reasons of ethnicity is a violation of the law,” he said.
A spokesman for the ministry of national security denied any knowledge of the case and referred IWPR to the ministry of the interior, where a spokesman in turn denied any knowledge.
“If the person you are speaking about appealed in the correct manner to the ministry of the interior then, independently of his ethnicity, he could receive documents confirming his identity,” the spokesman said.
Bayramova said there are three other young Armenian men in the same position as Abishov. One works as a hairdresser, a second has been adopted by an Azeri family, and the third still lives in a children’s home despite being 23 years old.
IWPR visited the children’s home where Abishov lived until the age of 13, before he was moved to Baku, and discovered a letter confirming his real name as Artur Avakyan, and his year of birth as 1984. But there was no information as to the identity of his parents, since his birth certificate had vanished somewhere along the way.
Fazil Mustafa, a member of parliament and chairman of the Party of Great Creation, said documents should be provided for Abishov without delay, and that the young man would then be able to move freely.
“If he wants Akif could then move to another country,” he said, perhaps expressing a broader wish among officials to get rid of the problem.
But Abishov himself does not want to leave, and just wants to live like any other young man in Baku.
“I have recorded on my phone a quote from Heydar Aliyev,” he said, referring to the father of the current president of Azerbaijan who headed the country until 2003.
“It says ‘I have always been proud and am still proud that I am from Azerbaijan’, and I listen to it all the time. I was born here, I know Azeri as my native language. I want to work and to live in Azerbaijan, I don’t want to leave my homeland,” he said.
Aytan Farhadova is a journalist with Express newspaper. Mammad-Sadiq Fataliyev is a freelance journalist.
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