V for Vendetta: Blood feuds in Azerbaijan – a thing of the past?

Four people were shot and killed and another four were wounded and taken to hospital in Agstafa District in western Azerbaijan recently. The victim's close ones and eyewitnesses said that the incident was a result of a blood feud.

The blood feud between two families started back in 2007 when two members of one family were killed. The two brothers who committed the murders were arrested. A while after the two brothers were released 12 years later, the son of one of the slain people decided to do away with them. He went to the marketplace and used a Kalashnikov assault rifle to shoot and kill the two brothers, their mother and also a woman who just happened to be nearby. The incident made local society start thinking about whether the tradition of blood feud was really a thing of the past.

Soviet authorities against blood feuds

That a tradition like blood revenge existed in Azerbaijan as early as the beginning of last century we can learn from classic literature works that unmasked blood feud. The novels "Dəli Kür" ("The Wild Kur") by Ismayil Shikhli and "Qınamayın məni" ("Don't judge me") by Shamo Arif feature stories such as one about a girl who was abducted and raped on the ground of a conflict between families and revenge. In Soviet times, though, books were no longer written about blood feud because of the Soviet regime's merciless attitude towards blood feuds, which were considered "a thing of the past". The population, too, felt all-around pressure in Soviet times and was not interested in doing things that were "not to the liking of the government".

V for Vendetta

When justice is not enough

As for the post-Soviet period, former political prisoner Ilkin Rustamzade says that in the course of the six years that he spent in jail he met several prisoners who were serving time for crimes that they had committed on the ground of blood feud:

"Feuds between their families had lasted for decades. The families of the people they had murdered waited for them to be released from prison, and they believed that they would be killed once they left prison."

Media articles on the topic also suggest that blood feuds are not really a rare thing nowadays, nor are they "a thing of the past" at all. Here is information about several crimes that have been committed on the ground of blood feud and reported in the press in the past few years:

2008 – a member of the Gafarov family killed a member of the Zeynalov family on the ground of a conflict in Shamakhi District, and that's when a blood feud started. Fearing reprisal, the Gafarov family had to leave the village, and only came back 10 years later, in 2018. Having heard about their return, the Zeynalovs came to the courtyard of the Gafarovs to demand that they leave the village. The Gafarovs refused to leave, and a mass brawl started that involved 10 people. During the brawl, Sahib Zeynalov inflicted serious injuries on his fellow villager Habib Gafarov with a blunt instrument.

2013 – a mass brawl that involved 50 people took place in Agdash District. Five people were injured. There had been a blood feud between neighbors that had lasted for two years. Two years earlier, a married man had had a relationship with a neighbor's daughter. The girl's cousin killed her to wipe the disgrace off the family and was jailed. A "blood feud" started between the guy's family and the girl's family.

2018 – karate instructor Nizami Ismayilov, who lived in the town of Agdash, was shot and killed. He was killed for delivering a deadly blow several years earlier on a close relative of the person who murdered him. Lots of conflicts took place between the two sides for many years.

But why do these kinds of stories continue to happen to date, even if not too often? Sociologists explain that the reason is that victims and their family members are not satisfied with punishment ordered by courts.

"The hope that someone will come and justice will triumph does not always live up to people's expectations," psychologist Sabina Abdullayeva says.

How are Turkish TV series related to it?

Psychologist Tariyel Faziloglu, however, argues that the tradition of blood feud does not have deep roots in Azerbaijan and has formed as a trend of modern time:

"Turkish TV series have caused an increase in blood feuds lately. Turkish TV channels air films and series about blood feuds. Those have a psychological impact on the youth: the topic is at the center of the plot, while a character who is involved in the blood feud is depicted as a positive character. This trend expands widely among the youth who feel the need for self-affirmation, and this, eventually, enables negative things such as blood feuds. Those series and films pave the way for an increase in both blood feuds and crimes in general."

Can legislation be used to tackle the issue?

Lawyer Fariz Namazli says that there are no dedicated laws in legislation in the Azerbaijani Republic to regulate crimes motivated by blood feud: "The fact that a crime was committed on the ground of a blood feud does not change the article [in the penal code] that is applied to it."

However, the motive may have an impact toward a toughening of the punishment.

"If someone beat or murdered someone else on the ground of revenge or family showdowns, this is also taken into account as an aggravating circumstance. This often leads to the jail term becoming twice as long. Therefore, there is even no need to add any other points to legislation," Ruslan Efendi believes.

Other experts believe that most blood feuds at present do not involve violence and manifest themselves in other forms:

"Suppose, one family has scores to settle with another family. They believe that not everyone guilty has been punished or that they have been punished in an insufficient manner. When someone in that family gets a high post, they take revenge on their enemies by dismissing all of their relatives, taking their plots of lands away from them and evicting them from their village. That is, we cannot say that blood revenge in this country is no more, it's just that people have mostly taken revenge with 'no blood involved' lately."

Becoming family instead of exercising blood feud?

Many in this country share the view that the primary reason for blood feuds is not thirst for revenge but fear of public condemnation and fear of society viewing one as a 'wimp'. However, not rare are also cases when opposing parties, or at least one of them, finds the strength to put an end to it.

"When I was a kid, we lived in a village. In our neighborhood there lived families that had a blood fued. You will not believe it but to end the feud those families married their children off to each other," one woman told us.

Zakir Muradov (this is not the man's real name) is 39. He lives with his family in one of the central districts of the country. Zakir's grandmother, 70, was brutally stabbed to death on a summer night 21 years ago. The person who murdered the elderly woman was only 15. The entire village was puzzled as to why the 15-year-old did it to the elderly woman.

"But when we found out who the murderer was, everything became clear to everyone. Those were blood enemies of our family. In actual fact, we were not at enmity with them. But when my grandfather was young, he had killed a child from that family who was the 15-year-old boy's uncle."

Zakir's grandfather was jailed for 15 years and when he was released from prison nobody from Zakir's family accepted him. Even when the old man died, the family refused to bury him. The government buried the grandfather.

"All of our family, including the grandmother, were very ashamed of what he had done and completely disowned him. But the slain boy's family could not forget that crime and took revenge on an absolutely innocent person. I do not know what it was that they told the 15-year-old boy that made him resolve to murder the elderly woman in such a brutal manner."

After the grandmother was murdered, relatives and neighbors started waiting for retaliation from Zakir's family. However, the family decided not to take revenge but simply moved to another place.

"We have had enough of innocently slain people. My family does not want it and we are all trying to forget what happened."

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