Azerbaijani political activists have been faced with wave after wave of arrests for the past three years. Top members of the NIDA Civic Movement have been especially subject to arrest. Meydan TV decided to speak to NIDA co-founder, Reshadat Akhundov, about readjusting to life on the outside.
What is it like for you being out of prison? Was it difficult to reacclimate? And, even if in joking, I must ask – is there anything you miss about prison?
Everything is already behind me. It wasn’t very hard for me to reacclimate to life outside of prison. I had already built and prepared my plans, and I’m acting on them now. As for work and education, I’d like to go abroad. When I was let out of prison, I told myself – this would not be emigration. But there are such great opportunities out there, and I would like to advance myself in my speciality and sphere.
I don’t miss prison. I think of it in certain situations – especially about some of the people I know there.
Several other members of your party who were arrested on the same day already suspected that they were going to be arrested soon. Were you ready for it, or was it sudden?
Like my other friends, I was also expecting to be arrested. In fact, I was sure that it was going to happen. We were 100% sure of it after three of our members gave testimony after being subjected to torture on the 9th of March, and their words were broadcasted on television. Our names were mentioned.
On March 10th, I signed a contract with my lawyer, and began preparing myself for prison. It’s true that we had a space of about twenty days, and we could even have left the country. Many of our friends offered us the idea. But we rejected it. Had we acted thus, we would have created certainty in our guilt and tarnished our names.
Take the example of Zaur Qurbanli – there were 3 – 4 days in between the arrest of his children and his that followed. He was in Georgia at the time – he could have not returned. In that time period, if we had wanted to, we could have left as well. But we didn’t, and we waited to be arrested.
Your son grew up while you were in prison. How did you feel about this? How did you deal with living separately from your son?
It’s hard to express these feelings with words. If I were to try to define it, I’d use the word – incomplete fatherhood, or imperfect. But because I prepared myself for this from a psychological point of view, I survived.
Of course, the heavier burden was carried by the members of my family. Things were more difficult for them. It’s not just me, however, that has encountered this problem – the theologist Taleh Baghirzade has been arrested 3 times and during every single period of imprisonment, one of his children was born. That is to say, there are other people that have survived more difficult trials than me.
If I’m not mistaken, you were sentenced to 8.5 years in priso
n. Were you ready to go through the entire period, and during that period what did you plan to do?
Yes, I was sentenced to 8.5 years. But there was nothing to do about it. We could have served our entire time there. So I tried to attune myself psychologically to the possibility. On the eve of the pardon, I told my family not to hope for anything. If we were going to sit in prison for 8 years, of course I was making plans for the time lost. I was looking into different possibilities to develop and further myself. And I did this for the three years that I was imprisoned. I read, studied languages, deepened my knowledge of my field and translated. I read poetry, as well.
Your other colleagues with whom you were imprisoned said they spent much of their time reading. What did you read while you there?
Of course, the main activity of political prisoners is reading. I read both new works and things I had gone over earlier; I was able to read a lot of books only because I was willing to reread things I had read earlier. But we also had opportunities to follow the press, watch television and listen to music, and we didn’t miss out on these chances.
What do you think, what is the difference in your activities at NIDA from before your arrest and after? How would you characterize these two different periods?
I’d be lying if I were to say that the arrests had no affect on our activities at NIDA. There were many negative effects of the arrests; they intimidated people, destroyed plans and harmed the structure and harmony of the organization. But despite this, we had much help from the outside, who worked to defend and protect us, even though our organization was severely weakened. It is only now that the organization is slowly, slowly getting back on its feet and restoring the effectivity of its former activities.
What does the new wave of arrests of NIDA members say about the movement?
From the day that NIDA was created, it has been constantly faced by the problem of repression. But the level and severity of this repression has been different at various periods, but that is not to say that we have ever lived during a period of complete quiet. In 2013, we were subjected to media attacks; afterwards, our members were neutralized one by one, and this policy continues. In the recent wave of arrests, it is clear that it is not only NIDA being targeted by the government, but the entire opposition force. NIDA, as part of this force, is falling in the range of the government’s attacks.
What do you think about the new wave of arrests against ‘gulenists’ and the accusations against them?
In fact, the authorities have decided to use the situation in Turkey to cleanse the opposition from Azerbaijan. But this has nothing to do with ‘Gulenists.’ Because those that are being arrested have little to no connection to Gulen. The real Gulenists are already in the government. So what’s interesting here is: how will Turkey look at all of this? If there continues to be silence on Turkey’s side, it will mean that Turkey will have, once again, participated in helping to crush democracy in Azerbaijan.