Prisoner’s notes: torture by TV

Over the course of a month spent in interrogation facilities I was condemned to watch local TV channels and had come to conclusion that AzTV is not actually the worst channel. Though, truth be told, it is not as colourful as other television channels. Nonetheless, the colourfulness of other channels is cheap.

This is a humorous curse among opposition representatives. You probably remember it. Interestingly, imprisonment together with other restrictions signifies the materialisation of the curse. This is, of course, on condition of watching not only AzTV but also other local TV channels… Yet it does not change the situation. Over the course of a month spent in interrogation facilities I was condemned to watch local TV channels and had come to conclusion that AzTV is not actually the worst channel. Though, truth be told, it is not as colourful as other television channels. Nonetheless, the colourfulness of other channels is cheap.

It is not a secret that the citizens of this country do not watch local TV channels much. People mostly follow foreign television channels via satellite dishes and cable TV connections. I was not an exception either. Even our television set at the Lenkoran office of the Musavat Party was set for watching only news programmes. At all other times, we would reduce its volume and leave it on so that it would not dilapidate from being left unused. By the way, I would sometimes note that the local Janub TV is actually a relatively watchable television channel. It was not because Janub TV boasted of timeliness, efficiency or creativity.  The only reason was the fact that they aired more films and did not tire themselves by preparing television programmes. They were doing the right thing. In jail I had become convinced that the preparation of programmes is nothing but a futile labour and unnecessary expenditure. I reckon that if a television channel airing only films and music videos was launched in this country, it would undoubtedly become the most popular TV channel. But let’s go back to jail.

The cells of interrogation facilities had become equipped with television sets in the spring of 2013, slightly before my detention. I do not want to be a critic who colours everything in dark tones. Thus, I have to admit this in itself is a progressive step approaching civil standards.  Following news and watching sports events and films at least help with passing the monotonous days of a prisoner’s life. There are quite a few followers of television programmes that I do not like. Usually, the majority of inmate contingent have no subtle standards for television programmes. My cellmates did not stand out either. It is owing to them that I would involuntarily watch or listen to those programmes. You cannot escape from a television set in a cell. Very much like in G. Orwell’s



To clarify for readers, I was held in three different cells over the course of a month (excluding Lenkoran and Shirvan temporary detention centres where I was held during my initial and appellate trials; these centres had no television sets). In Kurdekhani detention centre I was held in a six-person cell until the verdict was announced and in a two-person cell, afterwards, whereas in Shuvelan detention centre, I was held in a ten-bed cell (I did not write “a 10-person cell” because it had never been that. At different times, there would be up to 12-16 prisoners).

From the TV-torture point of view, the mildest period of my imprisonment was 100 days, especially the last month in a two-person cell shared with an inmate from Salafi sect. It is well known that Salafists regard television as a “devil’s deed”. That’s why the television set was completely under my control. I watched it whenever I wanted. In a six-person cell I had to go along with the majority, as a true democrat.

The situation was different in the Shuvelan detention centre. Unlike in Kurdekhani, inmates were not given a television remote control. They had to watch the channels selected by detention officers. Indeed, it shows that there is no single set of established rules in the country. Heads of detention centres make individual decisions on handing out remote controls to inmates.

My taste never coincided with the detention officers’ preferences. However, it probably was a matter of instructions given to officers, not tastes. On the other hand, channel selection made no difference in the daytime on weekdays. All channels aired programmes of similar quality, no matter which channel or programme was on. On Saturdays they showed Indian films.

I actually feel powerless describing the feelings generated by 13-month-long TV-torture. I do not want to swank about, but my public persona does not allow it. The main character of J. Salinger’s

The Catcher in the Rye,

Holden Caulfield’s style would be more suitable in this case. I picture Holden, who dislikes the novel,

A Farewell to Arms

and Hollywood films, and loathes even a little insincerity, being forced to watch our television channels and listen to all the self-conceit and self-promotion there… His reaction probably could only be broadcast with 16+ age restrictions whereas I, as a teacher and the official of the Musavat party minding the national mentality, have to employ mild expressions – euphemisms.

The most unbearable news programmes are produced by AzTV, the television channel that was praised above. I will not cover it all, at the very least, because I have never had the patience to watch it through to the end. I can give an example. About 3-4 months ago, the country had celebrated the Water Industry and Melioration Day. The news programme of AzTV covered celebrations from almost all regions. I was intrigued as to why they attach such an importance to these events. You would say it is the biggest political holiday in the country…I did not change the channel until I found an answer. Between us, I am a bit masochistic. I finally found an answer in one of the news reports. It turned out that the Water Industry and Melioration Workers’ Day was recently established by Ilham Aliyev’s decree. As they say, no comment. May your dead rest in peace, Holden Caulfield.

Removing the kissing scenes of films is another amusing peculiarity of AzTV. Even scenes with no erotic or pornographic elements are censored. It is sufficient for a man and a woman to stand closer than at “

komsomol distance

” [for those familiar with the Soviet times they would understand the reference] from each other. As if it is a television channel of some cleric state. Speaking of films, the absence of independent companies translating films into Azerbaijani negatively affect the repertoire of television channels. Each television channel individually handles the work. This exceedingly irrational order results in a limited number of films in possession of television channels leading to repetition. When films start, you can hear  inmates saying, “The same film again”, “How many times one can watch the same film?” and so on. It is even worse when one film has been translated by multiple channels. Then that film will surely make you sick and tired, much like the film Braveheart. To be fair, in recent years there has been an improvement in the quality of translations which has to be noted in conclusion of this paragraph.

As for television shows, their topics were irritating in the first place. Minor private and domestic issues were becoming a matter of national discussion. For instance, two brothers could not divide an inherited movable or immovable property, a mother-in-law could not get along with her daughter-in-law, a husband was looking for his runaway wife and so on. You might have thought these were private matters, which in fact were not. Guests who were invited as experts did not begrudge their sagacious advice. Curiously enough, typically there are musicians and


-tellers among such experts. As if they are the wisest people in the country. Much like Erdogan’s “wise” people. There is no psychologist or sociologist or scientist or writer in this country except for musicians full of wisdom, especially singers.

Sometimes these programmes have no topic. You keep watching but cannot understand the point of conversations. Russians call it “


” [chat among ourselves]. Just like in the saying “Your dog nicked our axe”. Speaking of “mejdusoboychik”, the attitude of most television hosts towards Azerbaijani language irritates particularly. There was a time when guests used Russian words, hosts corrected them or found an Azerbaijani alternative of these words. Not any more.  ATV hosts use such Russian words as “prosto”, “konechno”, “uje”, “daje” round the clock. There is no single person expressing a concern and caring for the forsaken official language of the state.

Let’s go back to our “wisest of the wise” singers. Most TV programmes discuss them. TV channels have no shortage of entertainment whilst officials often eloquently lament with the rhetoric “We have a grief the size of Karabagh and Khojaly, 1 million IDPs, 20 percent of the lands invaded” in the background. I consider myself neither puritan, nor patriot. I am not advocating mourning either and love music. The problem is in dimensions and quality. I object to making of idols and judges of thought from meikhana-tellers and singers and purposefully turning them into the “Heroes of our time”. Though, it is not hard to understand the reasons behind doing so.

Entertainment TV programmes is a distinct topic. Completely plagiarised from Turkish TV channels, these shows is another form of torture. Unlike Turkish hosts, Azerbaijani hosts, who lack creativity, sense of humour and acting skills, try to compensate these features with loud shouting, mediocrity and triviality. Nobody wants to plagiarise intellectually entertaining programmes of Turkish TV channels. Generally, there is a serious shortage of intellectuality on all local channels.

I wrote “13-month-long TV-torture” above. I should have, in fact, written 12-month-long because I have got fond memories from World Cup games month. That’s when we were able to rest from all the triviality and enjoy the existence of a television set in our cell. Twenty days after the World Cup I was sent to prison. Here I am not in television captivity. I keep away from it.

P.S. There is another form of psychological torture in cells. “


” [cool] or crime songs like “My kriminalnıy krug” [my criminal circle], “Gashang, gashang” [beautiful, beautiful], “Ay brat, ay brat” [yo brother, yo brother] which is a separate topic. I might write about it in future.

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