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Obituary | Avaz Hafizli

25 February 2022
Avaz Hafizli chaining himself to the gates of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Septmeber 2021 to protest government inaction against homophobic incitement by popular Instagrammer Sevinj Huseynova. Image via Mikroskop.

Avaz Hafizli, aged 24, was murdered, allegedly by his cousin, on 23 February 2022. Ali Malikov writes about Avaz’s activism for the queer community in Azerbaijan, and his lasting contributions to the movement.

It was about two years ago when I suddenly received a message from Avaz about the murder of Aysun, a transgender woman.

He described the violent crime and said that blogger Ata Abdullayev was targetting Aysun.

This is how we first met.

Afterwards, Lili Nazarov, myself, and other queer activists attempted to publicise the incident by reaching out to media outlets and platforms to highlight the politicisation of trans killings in Azerbaijan.

Aysun’s murder marked a turning point in Azerbaijani public opinion. For the first time, Azerbaijani social media and the state raised the politics of transphobia and queerphobia.

Then we gathered together again when blogger Sevinj Huseynova’s called for the murder of transwomen. 

Thanks to Avaz, several members of the trans community overcame the isolation and danger that was thrust upon them, and a great sense of unity could be felt in those meetings.

‘We need to organise’, and ‘if necessary, let’s take to the streets, were heard every time.

Without Avaz, stories of transwomen would probably not have reached the media, and Sevinj would still be calling for the death of trans people. 

In one of those meetings, a woman even said, ‘I saw my father in this dress. Who is Sevinj?’

After hearing her say that, my eyes sparked with joy; it was the first time I saw the community in such a militant light. 

Throughout our meetings, Avaz was directly involved in ensuring the safety of transwomen, helping them use the correct narratives and rhetoric and liaising with the media.

Due to the threat of a ‘new pogrom’ against transgender sex workers after Nuray's murder, Avaz tried to find, warn, unite sex workers to prevent further murders.

‘Let’s wait for this issue [Nuray’s murder] to end; we can work a lot with transwomen. They can even organise,’ he would say.

Avaz repeatedly campaigned on his own for queer people, even unfurling a rainbow flag in front of the presidential administration in a country where homophobic zeal prevails.

Perhaps he found strength in telling himself that nothing would happen to him.

I know that he had not been in contact with his relatives for a long time, and I don’t know how the ones who murdered him suddenly appeared.

However, despite threats and insults from society, he continued exerting pressure on the state and shedding light on the problems of those who insulted him. It is they who curse him.

But today, the state is too weak to respect human death. Today, the police, who refused to touch Avaz’s dead body because it was ‘dirty’, have been subjugating people with fear as members of the force for years.

Avaz was targeted by the violent queerphobic system to incite panic among the queer community.

The state sent its message to activists: be smart. 

It is a pity that some of those who applauded his death were the same people who flooded him with their problems while he was still alive. 

Violent systems are always a concern for communities fighting for their freedom.

The government is well-aware of what women and queer people can do when they are free, and I am simply grateful to those, like Avaz, who do not remain silent against the state, which in turn reaps the reward from us, both mentally and physically, while we breathe.

I just want Avaz to talk to us and laugh as he walks past the place where most of us used to go together.

Avaz was immortal in the eyes of the queer community in Azerbaijan thanks to the materials he had created and his drive to protest, and his passing has created a vacuum that will be difficult to fill.

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