Interview with Rashad Ramazanov for PEN Georgia project Writers on Social Issues
Azerbaijani writer Rashad Ramazanov is the author of seven books and many articles. His academic articles have been published by the National Sciences Academy of Azerbaijan and other institutes. He has also been an active and outspoken political commentator on social media.
Rashad Ramazanov (pen-name Rashad Hagigat Agaaddin) was arrested on 9 May 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of ‘illegal possession and sale of drugs’ (Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code). Rashad Ramazanov is well-known for his anti-government postings. PEN International and number of other NGOs declared that they consider the charges against him (and several other Azerbaijani prisoners) to be politically motivated.
Rashad was released from prison in six years as a result of amnesty, on March 19 2017. He moved to Georgia consecutively in the beginning of July. Starting from April 2020 Rashad Ramazanov is a PEN Georgia beneficiary, with the support of Open Society Georgia Foundation.
PEN: While having a degree in Geography, you decided to become a writer in a country like Azerbaijan, where free speech is aggressively oppressed. What pushed you towards this decision?
RR: No matter what’s your profession, if there are oppressees and oppressors in your society, you have to put everything else aside and start trying to stop the oppression. Philosophy isn’t a choice for me, it’s a blessing chosen for me! I have had number of scientific and journalistic jobs. My main interest is ecosophy.
PEN: You were arrested after posting critical comments in social media, for your activism and free expression under fabricated charges. Are there many cases such as yours in Azerbaijan’s justice system?
RR: There are thousands of unjustly imprisoned people in our country! Hundreds of political arrests! Unfortunately many of them haven’t been officially announced. There are so many victims of oppression in prisons, defamed by the regime, but there is no international awareness about them. There are also some writers who were murdered! For instance my apprentice and friend Asim Mamedov.
PEN: International organization for human rights Amnesty International soon after your arrest declared you (and many others) a “prisoner of conscience”. How does the government react to the attention of international organizations? Does it work as an influence or pressure or not at all?
RR: Being in the center of attention of international organizations at the very least helps to eradicate the risk of death and health threats. As a result the regime withholds severe torture. International organizations should pay more attention to the regimes like that! We must not forget Rousseau's statement: the most dangerous dictatorship is the one that claims it is democratic!
PEN: How does the society react on unjust arrests? Is there any kind of resistance and confrontation against government?
RR: People are tired of government oppression. But many fear threats to life and property. Many of them are waiting for a savior. In some cases, not only talking, but thinking is considered a crime!
PEN: What is Aliyev’s Azerbaijan regime like in a few words? What are major threats and problems under a dynastic rule?
RR: As Nietzsche says in his work Will to Power, the only goal is to remain in power longer. That's how they do everything! Ilham Aliyev is a psychopath and ecopath, ready to sacrifice everything to stay in power!
PEN: In your text Life for the Truth, you talk about the importance of truth and lying nature of humans. Can the truth win even when it is punished?
RR: The truth is unique in every way! It only has one face. As for lies, there are many kinds and colors. The ruling of lies lasts long, but sooner or later the truth will destroy the system created by lies! Historically, truth has always been extravagant by nature. Truth is particular and global! But even non-globalized truths can turn into lies!
PEN: In a talk about freedom you write: "I burn for freedom and justice, but I cannot become free and just! Besides, it's not entirely up to me. As the "patients" of Aliyevism's "clinic" have destroyed their very last hopes for it!" What does it mean to you to be free?
RR: Freedom is the freedom of the soul! Freedom is the freedom of pure criticism! Freedom is the freedom of justice! Freedom is the freedom of beauty and love! Freedom is the freedom of the oppressed!
PEN: Are there people remaining in Azerbaijani prisons who have been arrested for freedom of expression?
RR: As I already mentioned, hundreds of people have been arrested just for protesting against injustice! Repression will not stop if serious sanctions are not applied to the Azerbaijani government! Repression and despotism are attributes of regimes like that. It makes me very sad that many democratic states and organizations are friends with such a despotic and corrupt dictator as Ilham Aliyev!
PEN: You were released from prison three years before the end of your term as a result of an amnesty. As you left and are living in Georgia now, are your relatives back home still at risk?
RR: I had to leave my country! If I hadn't left, I would have to face the same repressions that Elchin Mammad, Tofig Yagublu, Alzamin Salayev, Polad Aslanov and others went through. My family is in an immediate danger! They live under threat and fear! They want to be with me! I wasn’t even able to see the face of my newborn baby. The authoritarian regime is threatening my family in order to silence me!