Last Updated: Thursday, 02 October 2014, 13:24 GMT

Iran Holds Azeri Poets on Mystery Charges

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Shahla Sultanova
Publication Date 13 July 2012
Citation / Document Symbol CRS Issue 650
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Iran Holds Azeri Poets on Mystery Charges, 13 July 2012, CRS Issue 650, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/500553a12.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The arrest of two young poets from Azerbaijan will have done nothing to improve the already tetchy relationship between Baku and Tehran, especially as Iranian officials have so far offered no reason for their detention. 

There are fears that Farid Huseynzade, 23 and Shahriyar Hajizade, 21, have fallen victim to the deteriorating diplomatic relationship.

They were returning by bus from a poetry festival in the Iranian town of Maraga when they were arrested in the city of Tabriz on May 3.

The foreign ministry in Baku sent five formal notes requesting an explanation before Tehran replied, saying merely that the two were accused of committing "a crime".

"The message from Iran is incomplete," foreign ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev said. "It does not explain what type of crime they committed."

In phone calls home, Huseynzade and Hajizade have said they are accused of entering the country illegally, while Iran media reports suggest they might have been spying for Israel.

Friends and relatives of the poets said suggestions that they had committed a crime – espionage or anything else – were absurd.

"My son is a poet – he writes about love and the motherland, and nothing about Iran. How can he be a criminal or a spy?" Farid Huseynzade's mother Tahira said. "Also, how could my son enter Iran, yet the Iranians take steps only when they're about to leave the country?"

Citizens of Azerbaijan can travel to Iran without a visa, unless they are going as journalists. The Iranian embassy's web site does not specify that poets or writers need to obtain visas to attend literary events.

Kamal Abdulla, rector of the Slavic University in Baku, where both Huseynzade and Hajizade were involved in the creative writing faculty, called for their release.

"Individuals who have nothing to do with politics should not be made part of political games," he said.

Abdulla is not the only one who suspects the poets have fallen prey to politics.

Ramin Hajili, head of the European Movement in Azerbaijan, said Tehran was using them as a response to the arrests of an Islamic leader and a journalist from an Iranian television channel.

"Iran is trying to send a message that Azerbaijan has arrested pro-Iranian people, and should set them free," he said.

This year has seen heightened diplomatic tensions between Baku and Tehran. Officials in Azerbaijan have accused Tehran of planning terrorist attacks in the country, while the Iranians have accused Azerbaijan of siding with Israel.

In January and March, police in Azerbaijan arrested 24 individuals suspected of plotting to assassinate the Israeli ambassador and Jewish figures in Azerbaijan, and to attack the United States and Israeli embassies.

Movsum Samadov, the chairman of the pro-Iranian Islamic Party of Azerbaijan was arrested last year and accused of plotting armed revolution. Samadov, who had made a speech calling on people to struggle against their government, was accused of plotting terrorist attacks and sentenced to 12 years in jail.

On June 11, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Anar Bayramli, a local national working for the Iranian Sahar TV channel, to two years in jail on drugs charges which he denies.

Tehran, meanwhile, has kept up its own flow of allegations, claiming that the Israeli secret service was using Azerbaijan as a base for covert action in Iran. (See Azerbaijan Dismisses Iran's "Mossad" Claims .)

The row even touched on the Eurovision Song Contest, which Iranian officials claimed was immoral and inappropriate for a Muslim country. This led to ambassadors being recalled, and Farid Asiri, a personal representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei being denied entry when he arrived at Baku airport. (See Iran-Azerbaijan: Offence Meant, and Taken.)

Arastan Orujlu, director of the East-West Research Centre in Baku, said the two poets' arrest looked like a direct consequence of this worsening relationship.

He believes the still unconfirmed accusations made against them mirror the charges that Azerbaijan had brought in recent criminal cases.

"The allegations made against these poets are of course nonsense, but they are a message to Azerbaijan," he said.

Sayman Aruz of the Azerbaijan Union of Writers, said other, more complex factors might be involved, as well.

Hajizade and Huseynzade were invited to the Maraga poetry festival by the Iranian Centre for Independent Writers and Poets, a group which encourages ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran to use their own language.

"The writers are Azerbaijanis, visiting a centre that promotes the use of the Azerbaijani language – something that irritates the Iranian government anyway," he said. "Plus it happened during Eurovision, when relations between the two countries became more tense."

He said the arrests were also a good way of letting visitors from Azerbaijan know they should steer clear of anything Tehran disapproved of.

"There are people who are already afraid to travel to Iran, and there will be more and more of them from now on," he said.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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