“The order was given to beat everyone with batons, to knock out their brains”

After 13 years, the victims and witnesses of the Bananiyar events talk openly about the torture and persecution they had to endure

“The light went out, there was a noise outside. I rushed to the phone, but it was turned off. The police, some people in masks and with batons broke into the house. They pulled out my mother-in-law with force, and they beat an old man in the yard…»

This is how Tarnur Aliyeva talks about the events that later became known as the Bananiyar Tragedy.

Bananiyar is a village in the Julfin district of Nakhchivan, Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.

On January 5, 2010, the local government of Nakhchivan sent armed troops to the village of Bananiyar, who subjected the civilian population to beatings and mass arrests. It is also confirmed that the arrested were then questioned in the pretrial detention center.

Since journalists and human rights defenders were not allowed into the village at that time, and the official bodies did not investigate this case even after 13 years, we are forced to refer only to the words and memories of the villagers who became victims and witnesses of the Bananiyar events.

But for starters, briefly about Nakhchyvan and his then permanent leader Vasif Talibov.

Nakhchivan is an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan. Its territory is 5 thousand 363 km², the population is more than 464 thousand people. The capital is located 581 km from Baku.

From 1995 to 2022, Vasif Talybov was the Chairman of the Supreme Assembly, the highest official of the autonomous republic.

But even before that, in 1991, the former chairman of the parliament of Nakhchivan, who later became the president of Azerbaijan, the now-deceased Heydar Aliyev, made Talibov his chief assistant. There were also family ties between these two. Heydar Aliyev was the maternal uncle of Vasif Talybov’s wife, Seville Sultanova.

Since December 1995, Talibov has ruled Nakhchivan for 27 years. And the era was remembered by far from pleasant events.

Nakhchyvan was called “North Korea of Azerbaijan”, “Azerbaijani Black Island”, and “Talybov Khanate” during the reign of Vasif Talybov.

Vasif Talibov. Illustration: Meydan TV

There are allegations that those arrested during his rule were beaten and subjected to various tortures. Dissidents were forcibly placed in psychiatric hospitals. He also used his power to silence the independent media. Journalists and activists criticizing Talibov’s rule were subjected to pressure, and imprisonment and were forced to move to other countries.

The last rebellious fortress

Nakhchivan journalist Yafez Hasanov says that starting in 2008, the local government began to demolish all teahouses, cafes, restaurants, shopping centers, and in general any retail outlets on the territory of the autonomous republic. Moreover, people could not even walk on the street in small groups of three or five people. Going out after dusk was also problematic. All this pursued the goal of, firstly, preventing the disaffected from gathering and scaring them, and secondly, allowing the ruling family of the Talibovs to completely a takeover over local businesses.

“Practically no one was able to protest against what was happening. Residents of this village resisted and did not allow their shops to be demolished. And the government of that time perceived it as a personal insult. “Bananiyar was a kind of the last rebellious fortress of Nakhchivan, which the authorities decided to conquer in this way,” the journalist said in an interview with Meydan TV.

In December 2008, a clash between the police and residents took place during a religious ceremony in Bananiyar, called Ashura. Several people were detained. After all, the government, among other things, has imposed a ban on holding mass events of this kind. Yunis Aliyev’s father was among those detained. He says that in the police station his father was humiliated and insulted in every way:

“When I came to the police department, I saw that one person had been beaten and was being taken to the hospital. And even earlier, they beat one man 80 years old by putting a baton in his mouth. I told the police that my father is an old man, let him go, and instead arrest me. Then I realized that everything was useless, I bought gasoline and set myself on fire. They brought me to this situation.”

Meanwhile, reporting on what is happening in Bananiyar, the Permanent Representative of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in Baku also mentioned the attempted self-immolation of Yunis Aliyev. According to the representative, “a group of people led by a member of the armed gang” of the opposition Party of the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, Rza Nuriyev, took advantage of the mental illness of Yunis Aliyev, pumped him with alcohol and forced him to commit an illegal act.

Following this statement, many members of the People’s Front, including Rzu Nuriyev, were arrested during the operation in Bananiyar.

Nuriyev was held behind bars for 18 days and released on January 23. A month later, he passed away. Although the doctors claimed that the death was caused by heart failure, his colleagues and close friends claim that he was subjected to severe torture in the pre-trial detention center.

Nakhchivan human rights activist Elman Abbasov declares that he saw Rza Nuriyev a few days before his death:

“He was very sick; he could not forgive himself for what he experienced in prison. He had liver problems, and we persuaded him to get treatment, but he refused because he was very disappointed in life. They washed over him in the dirtiest way. Rza Nuriyev was a teacher and one of the most respected elders of the district. And most of the detainees were his students. Akhmed Akhmedov (the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Nakhchivan at the time – editor’s note) told these students that he would release those of them who hit Rzu Nuriyev or spit in his face, and the rest would be arrested. Only one person agreed and slapped Rza in the face.

Yunis Aliyev himself categorically denied the application of representation. According to him, he does not drink alcohol during the month of Muharram [Muharram – the first month of the Muslim calendar, considered to be the blessed and great month of the year – ed.], and this version was invented only to propose the arrest of members of the People’s Front Party.

“I won; I broke you.”

One of the police officers who took part in that operation confirmed in his interview with “Daily Nakhchivan” that the attack on the village was planned, and the clash during Ashura was just a pretext.

“The then Minister of Internal Affairs of Nakhchivan Akhmed Akhmedov, who personally led the operation, went to the village a few hours before that. And we were in a state of combat readiness and waited for the signal in the neighboring village of Satlag. They talked to two women in advance so that when the minister appeared in Bananiyar, they would throw stones at him. This should have been a reason to attack the village. And here, during the speech of the minister, these women threw stones at him. After that, they freed us. They gave the order: beat everyone who comes under your hands with batons, knock out their brains. The minister pulled out a pistol, pointed it at us, and said that he would personally shoot the one who would spare even the children.

The former policeman says that the intelligence groups received a list of those who are allegedly “Iranian agents”. According to him, he will never forget one of the episodes of that operation:

“We passed by one yard, and minister Akhmedov was with us. He told me that there were voices in the yard, so I went to check. I went there and realized that the voices were coming from the toilet in the yard. I opened the door and saw that a young woman with three small children was hiding there. This family was also on the list of “agents”. If they had caught them, they would have brutally beaten everyone, including babies. When I opened the door, mother and children stared at me with pleading eyes. You can’t imagine what kind of picture it was. I will never forget these looks. At that moment, I wanted to shoot myself. I told them to sit quietly and let it happen. I came out of the yard and told the minister that he didn’t find anyone, they probably ran away. We went further. A few months later, when it was revealed, Minister Akhmedov personally tortured me and then kicked me out of work because I lied to him to save that woman with her children.

Akhmed Akhmedov. Illustration: Meydan TV

Tarnur Aliyeva – the wife of Yunis Aliyeva, who tried to set herself on fire – says that on that day Minister Ahmed Akhmedov came to her house in person:

«He came to us in the yard and told me that Yunis died. Can you imagine my state? Even now, when I’m talking, my hands are shaking. The children cried; the neighbors cried. I remember that the then chief of police (now he is the head of the executive power of Julfa) Siam Hadzhiev after that incident, walking through our village, looked like he was saying: I won, I broke you.”

After the self-immolation attempt, Yunis was hospitalized, but, according to him, no one was allowed in the hospital, not even close relatives. After that, Yunis’ relatives insisted on his treatment in Iran.

“He said, call your God, maybe he will come to your aid”

Fikret Yusifov and his wife Nazdana Aliyeva are also victims of the Bananiyar Tragedy. In an interview with Meydan TV, they talked about the torture they were subjected to in the detention center in the village of Boyukduz.

“When they brought us to Boyukduz, I saw that the whole village was already there. It was horrible – women, children. They even brought children, – says Fikret Yusifov. – There they beat us. They were beaten only with batons, women were also beaten and dragged on the ground. It was unbearably cold. In the morning, they took us out, hands behind the backs, legs apart, they looked like prisoners of war and laughed at us. Every day, in the morning and in the evening, Ahmed Akhmedov [ex-head of the Nakhchivan Ministry of Internal Affairs] came to beat, insult, and humiliate us.”

“We were brought and put in formation in the snow, slush everywhere. There was a building with a mesh roof, all bare. We have neither hats nor shoes left.  In the morning we didn’t sleep, thinking, God, what is happening to us, why is this happening? It’s true, I was standing in the back row, so I didn’t get it. But all those who stood in front, he grabbed his throat and said, call on your God, call, maybe he will come to help you”, Nazdana Aliyeva recalls.

Illustration: Meydan TV

По словам журналиста Яфеза Гасанова, бывший глава МВД Нахчывана Ахмед Ахмедов сейчас находится в тюрьме, но арестован он был не за совершенные им преступления, а за то, что предал Васифа Талыбова.

Свидетели говорят, что в тот период было сделано все, чтобы воспрепятствовать обнародованию Бананиярских событий и пути распространения информации из деревни были полностью перекрыты.

Правозащитник Эльман Аббасов вспоминает, что, узнав об их намерении поехать в Бананияр, полиция и служба госбезопасности сделали им предупреждение:

«Нам даже дали понять, что, если мы поедем в деревню, нашу машину собьют».

По словам правозащитника, международные организации также не смогли вмешаться в происходящее:

«Через несколько дней туда захотели поехать представители посольств США и Норвегии. Тогда в деревню привезли специальных людей, подставных, которые напали на иностранных гостей, забросали камнями их автомобили. Представители посольства очень перепугались. Так и не смогли попасть в деревню и уехали обратно». 

According to journalist Yafez Hasanov, the former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Nakhchivan, Akhmed Akhmedov, is now in prison, but he was arrested not for the crimes he committed, but for betraying Vasif Talibov.

Witnesses say that during that period, everything was done to prevent the publicizing of the Bananiyar events and the way of spreading information from the village was completely blocked.

Human rights activist Elman Abbasov recalls that, upon learning of their intention to go to Bananiyar, the police and state security service warned them:

“They even gave us the understanding that if we go to the village, our car will be crashed.”

According to the human rights defender, international organizations also failed to intervene in the incident:

“After a few days, representatives of the US and Norwegian embassies wanted to go there. Then special people were brought to the village, the stand-ins, who attacked the foreign guests and threw stones at their cars. The representatives of the embassy were very scared. So, they couldn’t get to the village and went back.”

Is justice in vogue?

Finally, in December 2022, Vasif Talybov resigned from the post of chairman of the Assembly. He explained his resignation by his health condition, which occurred after inspections conducted by the State Security Service in Nakhchivan.

As a result of the checks, high-ranking persons of Nakhchivan were accused of embezzlement of state funds and arrested. After that, a special representation of the president of Azerbaijan was created in the autonomous republic. This task was assigned to Fuada Najafli, a native of Nakhchivan. According to media reports, structural changes in the republic continue. From time to time there is news about the dismissal of high-ranking officials in Nakhchivan.

The change of government in Nakhchivan gave rise to people’s hope that the Banana events would finally be investigated, and that justice would prevail.

According to human rights activist Asabeli Mustafaev, because they carried mass violence in Bananiyar, led to the death of one person, and were committed by persons in authority, these events must be investigated and there can be no limitations.

Also, Mustafaev says that if the local law enforcement agencies do not start an investigation, then the victims can turn to the European Court. He reminds us about the case of Turaj Zeynalov, who died under still unexplained circumstances in the prisons of the Ministry of National Security in Nakhchivan in August 2011:

“The Ministry of National Security arrested Turaj Zeynalov, and two days later he died, right there, in the building of the Ministry. I was his wife’s lawyer at first. They threatened her, she refused the claim, and we continued to use it together with his father. We sent the case to the European Court, and it recognized the fact of death as a result of torture. The court found the authorities guilty of the torture and death of Turaj Zeynalov and demanded a re-investigation. However, although compensation was paid to the victims, no investigation was conducted.”

The human rights defender says that the government itself should be interested in investigating this case.

“Because in this way they will be able to redirect their hatred to specific people – Vasif Talybov and Akhmed Akhmedov”.

However, journalist Yafez Hasanov thinks otherwise. According to him, the central government is complicit in this crime:

“If Vasif Talybov did all this secretly from the central government, it could react to it. But the central government, at best, turned a blind eye to this tragedy.”

Some of the victims turned to the newly appointed Minister of Internal Affairs Nakhchivan Suleiman Nematov. The minister promises that what happened will soon receive a legal assessment.

Produced with the support of “Mediaset”

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