Livestock-related Political Satire=Hooliganism in Azerbaijan?

by Noah Tucker on 7/15/2009 · 14 comments

The NYT carries a story today about two Azeribaijani bloggers arrested this week on charges of “hooliganism” apparently in retaliation for a politcally charged satirical video they produced last month featuring a donkey giving a press conference.

English subtitles were kindly added to the video for all to enjoy (but not the postscript: can anyone offer a translation for that?). It’s pretty funny stuff. According to the NYT article, the project responds to a minor political controversy about importing donkeys from abroad. Watching the video, though, that’s clearly only the beginning of issues parodied–they also hit things like petty theft from airport officials and the rights of individuals to set up NGOs, not to mention the state of human rights laws broadly. It seems more likely that Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli, the video’s creators, were arrested for more than their take on the country’s livestock import policies.

Anyway, the video is funny, and it clearly links itself to a tradition of winking political satire of the Soviet era with music from one or the other of the famous Soviet-era “slapstick” movies (I think it’s either Kavkazskaya Plennitsa or Dzhentelmeni Udachi, the soundtracks are pretty similar, anybody know??). These films were sharp-edged parodies of the absurdities of Soviet life in a form just silly enough to slip past the communist censors–but apparently a German-speaking donkey just isn’t silly enough for democracy. Details are a little sketchy on the grounds for the two bloggers’ arrest, but if the Azerbaijani regime seriously can’t handle a video of a guy dressed in an oversized animal costume playing a violin it can’t be a good omen for freedom of speech on the interwebs in Central Asia Eurasia.

UPDATE (Friday, 17 July): Steve Levine has written a post on this as well with more detailed information.


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This post was written by...

– author of 54 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Noah Tucker is managing editor at Registan.net and an associate at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs Central Asia Program. Noah is a researcher and consultant for NGO, academic and government clients on Central Asian society and culture. He has worked on Central Asian issues since 2002--specializing in religion, national identity, ethnic conflict and social media--and received an MA from Harvard in Russian, E. European and Central Asian Studies in 2008. He has spent four and half years in the region, primarily in Uzbekistan, and returned most recently for fieldwork in Southern Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

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{ 14 comments }

EB July 15, 2009 at 11:39 am

yes, the final melody is from Kavkazskaya Plennitsa

Onnik Krikorian July 16, 2009 at 1:38 pm

For more extensive coverage see Global Voices Online which has been covering these activists, including detentions in May.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 7:55 am

Hi, thanks for the article but please be aware that Azerbaijan is not part of Central Asia geographically nor its people identify themselves with CA. Many Azeris identify themselves with Eastern Europe and it is actually politically, culturally and partly geographically in Eastern Europe. Thanks, T

noah July 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

I appreciate your adding another perspective, but parsing this issue is very similar to wading into Russian identity issues about whether they are Europeans or Eurasians, or getting into it with Tajiks about whether they are “Aryans” or “Persians” or whatever else. People can self-identify as whatever they want. “Central Asia” is indeed a troublesome definition, and many institutions have taken to saying “Central Eurasia” to be more inclusive and reflect the kind of blurred spectrum of cultures that have intereacted with one another for centuries.

I’m not making an arguement about whether Azerbaijan is part of Europe or Asia, culturally or geographically.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 10:47 am

Thank you for your answer but my key point was not to praise European identity of Azerbaijan. Central Asia is the region that comprises Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Azerbaijan according to many verifiable sources is partly in Western Asia partly in Eastern Europe. I dont think there is any debate whether Azerbaijanis are Central Asians or not. This is not a matter of controversy.

Noah Tucker July 17, 2009 at 11:21 am

Tom: you can cut this any way you want to. If you don’t believe that Azerbaijan can possibly be construed as part of the same cultural area as “Central Asia,” I’d suggest you think about linguistic maps and consider some history of the Muslim reform movements of the late Russian empire.

Saying that there “isn’t any debate” about anything concerning identity in the former USSR is a pretty self-defeating position–it’s usually a great way to start a debate.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 12:53 pm

The fact that Azerbaijan is a Turkic majority country like many other CA countries and similarity in certain reforms nearly a century ago does not make it a Central Asian state. Azerbaijan has had a different historical trajectory since then and many historical patterns of nation-state building that is way too different from that of CA. I think presenting South Caucasian and Central Asian cultural area as one domain will be to over-simplify cultural-historical peculiarities of both regions, which differ in many aspects. I would be interested to read any material published by any Azerbaijani or even any other writer arguing about it. This is your interpretation which is good to know. Thanks, T

Noah Tucker July 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Tom: this is the last response I will make. If you’d like to continue to argue about this, I’d suggest that you write a post and we can discuss it seperately and perhaps others can join as well.

As far as political reforms “a century ago” are concerned, I thought it would be clear I was referring to the Jadid movement, not changes in Russian Imperial legal system. Detailing the cooperation and interaction between the Turkestani, Crimean Tatar, Azeribaijani and Volga Tatar elements of this broad cultural movement would demand much more space than we can cover in a few comments.

You have made your opinion very clear, but unfortunately we’ve also completely sidetracked a human rights and freedom of speech issue into a rabbit trail about arbitrary ways to group cultures.

I think presenting South Caucasian and Central Asian cultural area as one domain will be to over-simplify cultural-historical peculiarities of both regions, which differ in many aspects.

Putting a very broad geographic area together as a unit does not imply that they have the same culture or that differences between them are trivial. If you dislike the idea of putting Central Asia and the Caucasus together as a group, I suggest you write to Harvard and inform them of their error.

Also, since the motto of Registan.net is “All Central Asia, All the Time” you may want to lodge a complaint with Nathan, since he convenienty had an “Azerbaijan” category readily available for this post.

If you seriously want to continue this discussion in private let me know and I’ll send you an email. I don’t have any idea what your background is or why you are invested in this debate, and you don’t know mine.

But returning to the actual post, it doesn’t matter whether or not Azerbaijan is part of Central Asia: the Central Asian leaders take many of their cues for the rest of the former USSR and may well treat something like this as a precedent to act the same way–some already do, and this only makes it easier to justify.

Whether or not they’re part of the same cultural area, less than 20 years ago they were part of the same country. Perhaps this is more relevant, after all.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 3:52 pm

I really dont understand why you involve Harvard and Nathan here 🙂
My point was about you using the term CA for Azerbaijan in your article. You wrote that article not Harvard U or Nathan. Anyways, I see that you clearly lack any sense of touch with the local culture there. I understand it takes time to learn the region. It is really curious that you are referring to Jaddist movement.. Since then both regions have undergone different political processes that deeply affected both their perception of the self and political culture. Those issues are not constant variables to draw its roots to Jaddist movement to these days. I am from the area that is why I am interested in this topic. here is my email if you want to add anything: advisor_pr_s@yahoo.com.

Noah Tucker July 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Tom: I involved Harvard and Nathan because both of them directly contradict your claims, respectively that you can’t group CA and the Caucasus together, and that you can’t consider Azerbaijan part of greater Central Asia. It’s not some novel idea that is original to me, as you seem to suggest.

I suspected that you had a personal stake in this. I’m not telling you who to identify yourself with, but I take exception to the increasingly insulting tone of your comments and your increasingly absolutist stance on how these things are grouped. If you’re an Azerbaijani and you prefer to call yourself a “West Asian” or an “Eastern European” then it’s your right and I’m not taking it from you.

Condescendingly questioning my qualifications to even comment on the entire region because I use a pretty commonly accepted way of talking about a chunk of the former USSR and suggesting that “I just need to spend a little time there” is obnoxious.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm

You have some problems man 🙂 relax

Tom July 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

There is no commonly accepted way of thinking on this region.

Joshua Foust July 17, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Tom, if there’s no commonly accepted way of thinking on this region, you should perhaps stop demanding Noah spend more time there before he can discuss it.

Tom July 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Joshua, I am not demanding anything. You should first of all read carefully what I wrote and probably Noah and I can probably sort it out on our own. Thanks for your suggestion though.
Noah, just for your information, I am not from Azerbaijan.

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