From Raids to Wars: Queer Bodies for the Homeland, Azerbaijan

While the impact of war and militarism is often studied in relation to women, this article looks at the relationship of toxic masculinity, militarism, homonationalism, and queerness in Azerbaijan in the context of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

photo of a person in the nature, covered with red fabric

I am writing this article as a queer refugee who had to flee Azerbaijan after the second large-scale war in Nagorno-Karabakh – referred to as Artsakh by Armenians. Due to our anti-war stance, I and others faced persecution by the ruling government and society. It may sound strange to be targeted for anti-war calls, but it happened. I realized this when I was summoned to the State Security Services and a guard with a Kalashnikov in his hands walked me through the corridors to the prosecutor's office. They made me feel like a “peace terrorist” or as some called us sulh petuxlari [“peace faggots”]. Using our bodies within this narrative benefits the portrayal of us as a threat to national security. This is where I started to question the relationships between queerness, the idea of “peace-traitor (terrorist)”, militarism, and the impact of these concepts on the queer community in Azerbaijan.

Brief Recap of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Azerbaijan and Armenia became part of the Soviet Union in 1920. Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.

When the Soviet Union started to collapse, in 1988, during the perestroika and glasnost wave[1], a national liberation movement in Nagorno-Karabakh demanded unification with the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was followed by ethnic clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that lasted for six years between 1988-1994, known as the First NK War. Each side justified their demands by seemingly contrasting principles based on international law: the Azerbaijanis referred to the right to maintain territorial integrity, the Armenians - the right of nations to self-determination.

Since then, the truce was occasionally broken. The conflict escalation in April 2016 was the largest until the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in September 2020. The Second NK war lasted 44 days, leading to Azerbaijan gaining territorial control over 7 previously Armenian-occupied regions and some areas of the Nagorno-Karabakh. In September 2022, another one of the most recent major escalations occurred, when Azerbaijan (not for the first time) attacked the border territories of the Republic of Armenia[2]. This attack was followed by Azerbaijan's accusationof Armenia bringing army supplies through the Lachin Corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh[3] – a corridor supported by the Russian Peacekeepers. The Lachin corridor was the only road that connected Armenia and NK. In December 2022 the Lachin Corridor was blockaded[4] by so-called “eco-activists” with the support of the Azerbaijani government[5]. Over several months, the blockade resulted in more and more shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh; meanwhile, Azerbaijan insisted on keeping the Lachin corridor under control and suggested the Aghdam road as a means of bringing essential supplies to the population of NK[6]. Demanding that the Lachin Corridor remain open, the NK residents refused to receive humanitarian aid through the Aghdam Road[7] and remained in a blockade for about 10 months, which caused a humanitarian crisis. On 19 September 2023, escalation arose again, and this time Azerbaijan declared its efforts as an “anti-terrorist operation.[8] and fully took over the region. As a result of all the military actions, blockades, and humanitarian crises, up to 120,000 ethnic Armenians, that is, almost the entire population, fled from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.[9]

Everyone who lives in this region has been impacted by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but those belonging to social categories that are deemed vulnerable have been affected the most. As a queer person, I have personally experienced how the government and its national interests have appropriated my identity and violated my rights. Given this, I wanted to analyze the impact on the LGBTI+/queer community in Azerbaijan as well as how homonationalism[10] started to emerge because of the government’s political objectives.

To study this issue, I employed a qualitative research approach, involving fieldwork in Azerbaijan. An interviewer conducted three focus groups with over 22 participants, and a total of four interviews with a psychologist, a gender expert, and two queer respondents holding contrasting perspectives on war - both anti-war and pro-war. I would like to thank Aysel Budag for conducting focus groups and interviews, and Nukri Tabidze and Sevinj Samadzade for their contribution to this article.

The LGBTI+/Queer Situation in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan ranks at the bottom among 49 European countries in terms of providing a safe haven for LGBTI+/queer people, according to ILGA Europe.[11] The combination of patriarchy, conservatism, traditionalism, instrumentalization of Islam, and authoritarianism prevalent in Azerbaijan has deeply affected the LGBTI+/queer community. There are no particular laws or regulations in place that serve their security, well-being, and equity, except the fact that Heydar Aliyev, father of the current president Ilham Aliyev, decriminalized same-sex sexual activity in 2001 in order to join the Council of Europe.[12] Since then, there have not been any efforts by any party or governmental agency to progress the well-being of LGBTI+/queer citizens. Instead, there was systematic oppression, instances of violence,[13]and crackdowns[14] on the LGBTI+/queer people, coupled with failed action from the police and state in securing their safety and rights[15]. In September 2017, the so-called gay crackdown was the largest targeted oppression of the local queer community. More than a hundred gay and trans people, particularly sex workers, were arrested by the police[16]. During detention they were brutally assaulted, beaten, tortured, electrocuted,[17]had their hair shaved, their identities revealed, and were blackmailed[18]. Some of them were sentenced with disobeying the police, with charges varying from 10 days to one month, while others were fined with the amount of AZN 200 (approx. EUR 107). After release, many left the country, some of them permanently. 

Azerbaijani authoritarian state controls the media, capital, social environment, and politics of the country. They use media propaganda to further their militaristic agenda, but also homophobia and transphobia. The media research[19] reveals a disturbing picture characterized by sensationalism, degrading depictions, and disregard for the fundamental human rights of LGBTI+/queer citizens.

In this context, even before the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the queer community had already suffered consequences of the pandemic and lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about additional significant economic challenges for marginalized communities. Among these communities, queers were disproportionately affected due to discriminatory practices, low wages, unprivileged backgrounds, lack of family support, and limited suitable employment opportunities. As a result, queer community members face financial hardships that directly affect their housing situations, food security, and ability to find safe havens. Queers from unprivileged backgrounds often lack the financial support and resources that their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts may have. This lack of familial assistance (often refused support) exacerbates the economic challenges faced by queers, making it even more difficult for them to overcome financial obstacles and achieve stability. Discrimination against LGBTI+/queer is prevalent in various aspects of life, including the workplace. Many individuals who identify as LGBTI+/queers face prejudice, unequal treatment, and the risk of job loss due to the reveal of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Educational institutions, such as schools and universities, are also sites of discrimination where LGBTI+/queer students experience bullying, harassment, exclusion, and even physical violence.[20]

Starting from elementary schools, the education system reinforces patriarchal values, instilling a sense of patriotism and militarization. These mechanisms perpetuate the notion that to demonstrate love and protection for the nation, one must adhere to societal constructs of a "real man" or a "decent Azerbaijani woman". This ideology has had a detrimental effect on the LGBTI+/queers because they are not recognized as “enough”.

Along with the economic problems and stigma that all queer and gender non-conforming people experience, the trans community faces particular challenges in Azerbaijan which include access to healthcare services, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming care/surgeries. This lack of support and resources can significantly impact the mental and physical well-being of trans people.

Additionally, trans women in Azerbaijan are forced to participate in the military unless they come out, further exacerbating their difficulties with body dysphoria[21]. Due to transphobia, they are often left with sex work as the last option which brings many difficulties, challenges, and risks. Trans people have to bribe the police[22] in most cases in order to continue their work or get out of trouble. Transgender women are driven to self-harm in order to avoid incarceration, and they occasionally agree to help the police by disclosing phone numbers and other information about their clients.[23] The police utilize this information to blackmail clients, who then beat the sex workers because their “secret” was uncovered.[24] Authorities use this opportunity to oppress them more and make them dependent on the police power. Police usually treat trans individuals as the least respected citizens, humiliating them in a variety of ways from verbal to physical abuse. When trans people are murdered or attacked, police tend to not investigate the crime, while if/when the case goes to the court, courts don’t recognize the layer of targeted hate crimes or torture.

The 2014 “NGO crackdown”[25] resulted in the jailing of political leaders, youth activists, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, shutting of media outlets, and forcing out of international organizations and donors. Since then, Non-Governmental Organizations and initiatives, that are working for LGBTI+/queer community have also faced many restrictions to functioning in the field. Finally, the LGBTI+/queer community, having grown up with nationalist propaganda and its associated notions of masculinity and power dynamics, experienced the abrupt reality of war in 2020. 

After the first NK war, Azerbaijani identities and politics have been and are constructed under the metanarrative of the Karabakh problem”. Everything else was less important, and this narrative was used for almost every kind of problem that people vocalized. Following US President Joe Biden's administration's concerns last year about the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, on November 15, 2023, the Senate enacted a bill[26] that halts military aid to Azerbaijan. In the wake of tensions between the US and Azerbaijan, another wave of crackdowns[27]started, resulting in the imprisonment of independent journalists, activists, and members of Abzas Media, Toplum TV, and the Institute of Democratic Initiatives (IDI), as well as the targeting of LGBTI+/queers and feminists and the labeling of those who had studied in the US as part of an agent network. As before, Azerbaijan took advantage of the opportunity to persecute LGBTI+/queer individuals, portraying them as alien/foreign and potential threats to national security due to Western and American “influences”. The state-run television station in Azerbaijan, AZTV, produced content that targeted the so-called “LGBT Agenda” and “extreme feminism” that allegedly originates in the USA and the West and “endangers Azerbaijani traditional and Islamic values”.

Our lives and the issues we face as queer people are regarded as lesser or insignificant compared to the Karabakh conflict and the government’s nationalist agenda. But when it was time to fight for Nagorno-Karabakh, the state used everyone in any sense possible. Whoever was against the war, refused to be part of it or was ineligible, was othered, tagged as a traitor, or targeted. 

Militarism and Patriarchy against Queers in/against Conscription

One important aspect to consider in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh war is the allowance of the LGBTI+/queer in the military service. Homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organization's list of mental illnesses in 1994 and sometime after, Azerbaijan also removed it from their classification.

In Azerbaijan, discrimination and degradation of gays/queers is evident in the physical and psychological health check-ups conducted during the military service and mobilization. While the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription does not explicitly state that homosexuality renders individuals unfit for military service, in practice, gay, and especially trans people who exhibit hyper-feminine characteristics or have engaged in anal sex, are deemed unsuitable. However, the reason for their unfitness for military service is not explicitly referred to as sexuality on official documents. Instead, it is labeled as a neurological/psychological or personality disorder under Article 18/b and 17/b[28] regulation on military-medical examination. Individuals are considered unfit for military service after being sent to a psychological dispensary for a three-day evaluation. If a person openly declares that they are gay during initial checkups, they are subjected to special checks and questionnaires. Most importantly, individuals are assessed based on their sexual experiences. If a person has not engaged in anal sex as a receptive partner, they are not considered “gay enough” and are deemed suitable for military service. In one of the anonymous interviews I conducted for this article, a gay man who had served in the military disclosed his sexual orientation during the check-up. However, because the tests revealed that he had not engaged in anal sex and therefore was not labeled with a personality disorder, his identity was exposed to his family by the authorities, he was subsequently forced to pay a bribe of 1,500 manats (approx. 825 Euros), and participate in military service.

These discriminatory practices highlight the challenges faced by LGBTI+/queers in Azerbaijan, particularly within the context of military service. The use of “personality disorder” as a pretext to exclude queers from the military service perpetuates stigma[29] and reinforces the idea of queerness as an illness by the authorities. Personality disorder diagnosis on the military ticket makes it impossible to get hired by any official employer. So, it becomes a double stigma leading to homophobic as well as ableist exclusion. 

Consequences of Military Propaganda for Queers

Some queer men and trans women were forced to go to war in 2020; however, their resistance was not as active or was overshadowed by the general societal euphoria concerning the war. Any opposition to the Nagorno-Karabakh war during 2020 and later escalations in 2022 and 2023 was heavily targeted by the government. People who signed petitions for peace were interrogated, surveilled heavily[30], or had to flee the country. The majority of these anti-war voices were coming from liberal and leftist circles, where queer and feminist activists are at the forefront.

At the same time, in one of the focus group discussions with the LGBTI+/queers conducted for this article, most of the participants expressed pro-war sentiments or silenced the participants who were against it. Both governmental and societal control and fear of being excluded make it difficult to estimate the actual number of people who resist the violence of the armed conflict.

The focus group discussions for this article focused on the experiences of queer individuals during, before, and after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. These individuals held contrasting perspectives on the war – some were pro, some were against. These voices allowed for a comprehensive exploration of the queer community's experiences and shed light on the multifaceted impact of the conflict.

The participants shared their childhood memories, particularly from their time in school, where they emphasized the conflict's history and the duties of military service. For many, their opinion on the NK conflict changed throughout 2020-2023. While the majority had supported the Second NK War, by 2023 by the time the focus groups were held, they had become more skeptical. Now they recalled how the military soldiers were idolized as heroes, and how these “saviors” and “protectors of the land” were often portrayed as masculine figures. Military Service is a place where physical power, hypermasculinity or manliness are the main indicators and goals to achieve. Queers are forced to fit into an unavoidable, systemic experience of masculinity. The supremacy of masculinity over gay bodies is reinforcing Azerbaijan's institutionalized military system and patriotism. Some participants even expressed experiencing gender dysphoria[31]or body dysmorphia because they did not feel they fit into society's expectations of masculinity.

These expectations around masculinity lead to the celebration of individuals who are prepared to serve in the army.[32] From childhood, I was personally told and expected (by my family/relatives and people around me) to serve in the army; otherwise, I would not be the man that Azerbaijan expects me to be.

The propaganda surrounding the conflict since 1990 heavily targeted teenagers and men, shaping their appearance and behavior. One focus group participant shared their experience of having their hair trimmed in a military style by their mother, highlighting the pervasive influence of militarization in their upbringing. Until his teenage years, he was not aware that he actually had curly hair. While this might appear as a specific, exceptional case, another participant with curly hair shared the same experience.

By contrast, some LGBTI+/queers were celebrating the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War like most of the society. One participant compared the war to a video game and expressed great happiness that it was happening, stating that it was something people had been waiting for. They found joy in the possession of weapons and being soldiers for the state. However, this participant also attributed the increase in violence against queers during the war and the killing of Avaz Hafizli[33] to the LGBTI+/queer community, blaming the victim by stating that he was "very open" about his sexuality and "wanted to have open sex." This perspective implies that queer individuals must police their behavior and show respect for the war efforts, while also "respecting" those who participate in the NK war from Azerbaijani side.

For some male members of the LGBTI+/queer community, to adapt to the societal requirements and fulfill an expected form of a man and thus participate in the war was one way out. Since childhood, in matters of any existential importance, we would always hear: “We have a huge problem like Karabakh”, and everything else would automatically become less significant. As the least respected citizen in Azerbaijani society, to gain esteem and regard, you must join the militarized savior structure. This becomes a means to validate existence and prove yourself in a way that society would appreciate. The case of Shaiq Kelbiyev, discussed below, illustrates how military ideology can create complicated relationships between queers and their public representations of queerness.

Gay or Martyr?

“People think that a gay person is acceptable only if he died for the country.”[34]

Shaiq Kelbiyev, who worked for the organization “Gender and Development”[35] and was an openly gay person in the community, voluntarily went to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and lost his life there. His loss not only shook the LGBTI+/queer community but also created a new resonance in the public. After his death, the media outed[36] Shaiq as gay. This information led to apparent public confusion and discussions on social and traditional media. After all, could he be gay and a martyr at the same time?! 

The local and international media covered the case intensely. The queer community started to commemorate and emphasize this case. The majority concentrated on the soldier’s sexual identity and were surprised that a gay person could also die for his country. 

The State’s ceremony honoring Shaiq as a “martyr” was delayed. The queer community members from focus groups think that this delay was related, among others, to his sexual orientation. Since childhood, gays were figures placed in opposition to decent soldiers/men of the country. When you were not willing to participate in the military or the war, they would start to accuse you of being a “petukh” [faggot] or a traitor. While the gay-martyr dilemma took place in the public eye, pressures from the local queer community and state agencies also increased. The former head of the press service of the State Maritime Agency, Tural Museyibov, commented on a Facebook post about Shaig Kalbiyev’s death: With lgbt being as low as shit, its members don’t deserve to protect our land. Why are you commemorating them with such honor? It’s not worth remembering them.”[37] He used the same derogatory speech against queers as he did against Armenians. The exaltation of warfare and an idealized representation of heroic masculinity have permeated daily existence, intensifying animosity toward the Armenian people.[38].

Shaiq Kelbiyev’s case is problematic for several reasons because of the forced outing of a person, and the difficult situation his family members were put in, receiving hate and eventually denying rumors about his sexuality. By contrast, for queers who struggle to fit in the homophobic masculine society, this case seemed like a way in. Being a martyr is the most respected form of death, people accept, respect, and commemorate this figure. The integrity of martyrs is one of the most protected and promoted values and this was the case for Shaig Kalbiyev too. The organization “Gender and Development” built a stand in the corner of their office for Shaiq Kelbiyev with flowers. They are loudly proud that they had a gay martyr. This stance benefits the idea of a homonationalistic agenda of the state and they were the only queer organization in Azerbaijan that “achieved” official registration by the state and is thus operating legally and has remained “untouched” amid the crackdowns.

Throughout feminist narratives, the military has long been recognized as a space that epitomizes hypermasculinity. According to Spike Peterson, feminists have observed that military success is often associated with a set of qualities traditionally deemed the exclusive domain of men.[39] These characteristics include superior physical strength, unparalleled male bonding, heroic risk-taking, extreme violence, and a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause.

Within this context, queer individuals may feel a sense of inadequacy or believe they are not "enough" due to societal expectations that equate military service with a particular brand of masculinity. The emphasis on hypermasculine qualities within the military creates a rigid framework that excludes or marginalizes those who do not conform to traditional gender norms. Queers, who may not fit into society's narrow definitions of masculinity, may internalize these expectations and perceive themselves as falling short of the idealized masculine standards associated with military service.

This perception of not being "enough" is further reinforced by societal narratives that valorize and glorify hypermasculinity in the context of war. Queer attempts to fit in by accepting and practicing masculine militaristic violence did not end up successful, because after the war, homophobic and transphobic violence neither decreased nor led to any societal transformation. Quite the contrary, Post-2020 NK War, hate speech and discrimination against LGBTI+/queer individuals have escalated[40], particularly on social media platforms, causing distress and fear among queers. Many have had their identities exposed or live in constant apprehension of such exposure. The most brutal transphobic murders took place right after the War, in 2021.[41]

In addition, Russia’s tightening of “LGBT propaganda” legislation since 2022[42] has already been reflected in Azerbaijani politics: MP Javanshir Pashazade and Baku State University Law Faculty professor Afsar Sadigov commented on the possibility of adopting a similar law in Azerbaijan.[43]Both Pashazade and Sadigov stated that they were in favor of such legislation and justified it by using religion and tradition. In addition, Sadigov spoke out against the Istanbul Convention and shared his concern about the potential destruction of family values ​​and the social structure of the state.

“Even gays should be patriotic, so should feminists.”[44]

Another group affected by the state paranoia and oppression of any peace activism were/are feminists, who have been struggling against police brutality at the 8th of March demonstrations for years. They have been detained at protests when they called for an investigation into femicides or demanded support for abused women. They also constituted one of the few groups of society who opposed war, militarisation and nationalism. The government retaliated against feminists who participated in anti-war actions by repressing[45] them and disseminating anti-feminist content on social media. The State Security Service targeted and investigated the Feminist Peace Collective’s website and founders after their statement demanding the end of a 9-month blockade of the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Collective, they were given a warning by the Internet State Security Agency to delete their content from the website or else the website would be shut down for users from Azerbaijan, which it eventually was.

On August 20, 2023, pro-government media Real TV published video material[46] against the Feminist-Peace Collective for their statement on the ongoing escalation/blockade. The edition starts with the heading “National feminists against Azerbaijan”. In this material they blame the West and the USA for financing feminist/LGBTIQ+/no-war initiatives to spread anti-nationalistic ideas. Real TV representative states: “Certainly, Azerbaijan is a democratic republic and even gays can lift up their flags or underwear and shout; no one degrades them by saying gaybow [geyqurşağı] about their rainbow, they are still seen as our own children [geylər ögey deyil, gays are not stepchildren]. It’s their rainbow, their flag, their business, but… Even gays should be patriotic, so should feminists”.

Clearly, again, cisgender heterosexuals lecture the queer community on how to behave so that they may be accepted. Authorities, government, and its representatives are trying to instrumentalise alienated groups for their nationalistic narratives. Even though you are gay, you should still be patriotic to the land that has oppressed you since “the dawn of time”. It’s mandatory to protect your land, serve the country and reproduce for them. The most expected and respected action you can take when serving your country is to become a martyr. If you do not serve the politics of statehood, your issues are not interesting for those in charge, much like LGBTI+/queer individuals and their issues. Queer males have to either structure their lives according to the existing masculine norms or they lose personal safety, social security, resources, reputation, etc

Queer Observers

In Azerbaijan, queers are often labeled as Western-influenced or pro-Western, and the hierarchical and homophobic leaders of NGOs further restrict their inclusion and participation in political spaces. The exclusion of LGBTI+/queer voices, perceived as foreign to the nation and not aligned with the governmental and national agenda, hinders their participation in the peace-building process. Queers are already stigmatized as betrayers of the heteronormative establishment, further alienating them from the nation and exacerbating their perceived disloyalty. In my perspective, Azerbaijan's prioritization of territorial integrity did not appear to be genuinely aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through peaceful means. Given that I and others have personally faced targeting for pacifism at the state level, it seems unlikely that Azerbaijan is genuinely interested in allowing individuals, particularly queers, to engage in peace-building processes that do not align with their own interests.

Following his ascension to power in Karabakh amid surging popularity, President Ilham Aliyev called for snap elections[47] to be held on February 9, 2024. This move was accompanied by a crackdown[48]on media outlets investigating corruption, journalists and activists, particularly those perceived as US "agents." Despite the lack of any hope, opposition and queer-feminist groups monitored the process, building on their involvement in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

A small number of queer observers gathered before the elections, sharing evidence of electoral irregularities. Queers were singled out, pressured, and attacked by other monitors hired by the state. However, Azerbaijani state-controlled media swiftly retaliated against LGBTI+/queer activists[49], publicly exposing their identities and affiliations, including personal information about their partners. An article on read,[50]“In these elections, the involvement of LGBT, “no war” activists, feminists, and other such activists for the purpose of observation (provocation) was a new tactic developed by the West”, explaining that queers participation aimed to make noise and destabilize the elections.

These actions echo past rhetoric, portraying queers as agents of Western interference and undermining their political participation as local citizens. Such tactics not only silence dissent but also perpetuate the alienation and targeting of LGBTI+/queers in Azerbaijan, endangering their safety and hindering their participation fully in the political sphere.


The Second Nagorno–Karabakh War and the subsequent escalations promoted the rise in homonationalism in Azerbaijan, confirmed by the field research conducted for this article. Some members of the Azerbaijani LGBTI+/queer community are aligning with the state’s militarist agenda, despite the government’s absolute negligence of their rights, including its failure to respond to the brutal murders of members of the queer community. This further proves that the queer attempt to subscribe to the homonationalistic agenda does not result in any benefits for the community. Rather, the violence against queers is deeply rooted in the same ideology that justifies and encourages murder in the name of the nation-state. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the subsequent actions by Azerbaijan have had detrimental effects on the LGBTI+/queer community, exacerbating their economic, political, social, and security vulnerabilities. The labeling of LGBTI+/queers as perceived threats to national unity and security further compounds their marginalization and alienation. The aftermath of the war has witnessed a surge in nationalism that glorifies traditional gender roles, reinforcing conservative values and uniting people around the nation-state. With the recent takeover of the previously occupied regions, President Aliyev has solidified his position and is going to remain in power for another seven years, posing a threat to the well-being and safety of all critical voices. The anti-LGBTI+/queer policy enacted during his presidency serves as strong evidence of the issues and threats plaguing the community, making it difficult to envisage hopeful policy reforms. Utilizing queer bodies to vilify the West[51] and echo Russia’s interests in the region, perpetuating nationalistic agenda through the alienation of queer voices, and employing homonationalist rhetoric, compounded by the intersection of queerness and conflict, exacerbates the vulnerability of queer persons and underscores the dual impact of war on their safety and well-being.

The content of the article is the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Heinrich Boell Foundation Tbilisi Office - South Caucasus Region.


[1] Brown, A. (March 10, 2015). Perestroika: Reform that changed the world. BBC News.

[2] OC Media (September 15, 2022). Explainer | What happened in Armenia and Azerbaijan on 13–14 September?

[3] (Noyabr 6, 2022). Qarabağa silah daşınır: Rusiya nə etmək istəyir?

[4] Eurasianet (May 1, 2023). Azerbaijani "activists" end blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.

[5] Tatoyan Foundation & Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh (2023). Join Report: The Azerbaijani Government’s “Eco-Activist” Agents who Blockaded the Only Road of Life Connecting Artsakh to Armenia and the Outside World.

[6] Amerikanın Səsi (Avqust 29, 2023). Azərbaycan Ağdam-Xankəndi yolu ilə humanitar yardım göndərməyə çalışır.

[7] Kucera, J. (July 31, 2023). With Tightening Of Blockade, Azerbaijan Presents Karabakh Armenians With A Choice: Surrender Or Starve.

[8] Aljazeeera (September 19, 2023). Azerbaijan launches new military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

[9] Scheffer, D. J. (October 4, 2023). Ethnic Cleansing Is Happening in Nagorno-Karabakh. How Can the World Respond?

[10] Homonationalism, a term coined by Jasbir Puar in 2007 in “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times”, refers to the phenomenon where LGBTQI+ people/groups from affluent Western nations align their sexual orientation or gender identity with nationalist or imperialist agendas.

[11] ILGA EUROPE (May 11, 2023). Rainbow Europe Map and Index 2023.

[12] ILGA Europe & COC Netherlands (2022). Forced Out: LGBT People in Azerbaijan.

[13] Civil Rights Defenders (July 6, 2021). Azerbaijani Authorities Must Investigate Attacks Against LGBTI+ Persons.

[14] Human Rights Watch (October 3, 2017). Azerbaijan: Anti-Gay Crackdown.

[15] Geybullayeva, A. (May 27, 2023). In Azerbaijan, violence against LGBTQ+ people continues unabated. Global Voices.

[16] Civil Rights Defenders (September 22, 2017). Mass Arrests and Abuse of LGBT People in Azerbaijan.

[17] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (October 23, 2017). Video: 'They Gave Me Electric Shocks' -- Accounts Of LGBT Crackdown In Azerbaijan.

[18] Genocide Watch (October 3, 2017). Azerbaijan: Anti-Gay Crackdown.

[19] queeradar (2023). Azərbaycan mediasında LGBTQI+a qarşı nifrət nitqinin monitorinqi.

[20] Malikov, A. (December 9, 2021). Unsafe in the Classroom. ChaiKhana.

[21] Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.

[22] Adilgizi, A. (October 30, 2017). “We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge. Open Democracy.

[23] Center “Women and Modern World” & the Sexual Rights Initiative. UPR SUBMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

IN AZERBAIJAN 16th SESSION of the Universal Periodic Review – 2013.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Open Democracy (March 17, 2015). The Crackdown in Azerbaijan.

[26] Armenian Protection Act of 2023. S.3000. 118th Congress. 15.11.2023.

[27] OC Media. #Azerbaijan’s Media Crackdown.

[28] “Hərbi-həkim ekspertizası haqqında Əsasnamə”nin təsdiq edilməsi barədə: AZƏRBAYCAN RESPUBLİKASI NAZİRLƏR KABİNETİNİN QƏRARI. 29 fevral 2008-ci il № 59.

[29] Ismayilzade, A. (November 26, 2021). ‘Unfit for military service': How Azerbaijan stigmatizes LGBTQ+ military personnel. Global Voices.

[30] Crude Accountability (November 10, 2022). The War in Nagorno-Karabakh Brought Multiple Violations of Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan on and away from the Frontline.

[31] Gender dysphoria - psychological distress resulting from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.

[32] Paitjan, A. & Dadash-Zadeh, N. (February 19, 2020). Armenia and Azerbaijan: Cross Views on Army and Homosexuality.

[33] On February 22, 2022, Avaz Hafizli was brutally murdered by his cousin. The inaction of the security services in response to the threats and risks faced by Avaz Hafizli, an independent journalist and LGBTI+/queer activist, tragically facilitated his brutal murder. The well-known blogger Sevinj Huseynova, who had been personally targeting Avaz, played a significant role in escalating the situation. Avaz openly spoke about the threats he had received and the potential danger to his life. In a desperate attempt to draw attention to his plight, he even chained himself in front of the police department, accusing Sevinj Huseynova, the police department, and the Azerbaijani government of ordering his killing and offering a monetary reward to the perpetrators (approx. 5000 manats or 2700 euros). Despite Avaz's public notices and pleas for personal security and well-being, no significant steps were taken to ensure his safety. The gravity of the situation became evident when Avaz attempted to take his own life by poisoning himself. He was rushed to the hospital and saved by medical intervention. However, the lack of appropriate action to protect him remained. Avaz’s cousin not only took Avaz’s life but also mutilated his body by cutting off his sex organ and throat. The disrespect continued even after his death, with Avaz's flesh callously wrapped in a rug and discarded in a garbage truck. The investigation into Avaz's case was marred by negligence, and the court's sentencing of the murderer for only 9.5 years in prison failed to include charges of torture and brutal killing. Avaz’s friends and colleagues were present before the burial but when they spoke their condolences to the family before leaving and mentioned that Avaz was a good person, some of the relatives replied, “Yes, he was a good faggot, he was a shame for our family and heritage”. After causing the deaths of a trans person and an activist, Sevinj Huseynova remains undisturbed, despite several dozen complaints made to the police by citizens.

[34] Bashir Kitachaev (July 31, 2022). Lili: Why can't the artist return home? LGBTQI+ activist attracts attention of Azerbaijani intelligence service with anti-war remarks. JAMnews.

[35] Azərbaycan Respublikası Müdafiə Nazirliy (Aprel 24, 2021). “Yenidən başlamaq mümkün olsaydı...”

[36] (Ekim 19, 2020). Şehit olan Azerbaycanlı LGBT aktivisti Şaiq Kelbiyev’i binlerce kişi uğurladı.

[37] (Oktyabr 20, 2020). Azərbaycanda mətbuat katibi şəhidi təhqir etdi – FOTOFAKT.; BBC News Azərbaycanca (Oktyabr 20, 2020). Əsgər barədə şərhlərinə görə tənqid olunan Tural Müseyibov: “Mən şəhidimizi təhqir etməmişəm”

[38] Demokratik Musavat (Avqust 13, 2022). Ermənilərin bütün «qəhrəmanları» gey olublar...

[39] Spike Peterson, V. 2010. ‘Gendered Identities, Ideologies, and Practices in the Context of War and Militarism.’ In Gender, War, and Militarism: Feminist Perspectives, eds. Laura Sjoberg and Sandra Via, 17–29. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International.

[40] Rashidova, A. (January 28, 2022). The rise of homophobic hate speech in Azerbaijan. OC Media.

[41] One incident that garnered significant attention was the targeting of a trans woman named Nuray by the blogger Sevinj Huseynova. Huseynova shared a video of Nuray's self-organized wedding, labeling it as "the end of the world" and sparking a wave of transphobic and homophobic comments and demanding separation of LGBTI+/queers from society. Tragically, after her targeting of Nuray, on August 18, 2021, Nuray was found stabbed to death with her hands tied and sat on fire. In response to Nuray's murder, the local trans community organized a protest in front of the Ombudsperson's office to express their concerns and demand justice. They also criticized Huseynova for her role in perpetuating transphobic and homophobic content on social media, linking her actions to Nuray's tragic fate. Huseynova responded by issuing threats to the transgender community, warning them to live silently or face further violence and ultimately, Nuray’s fate. This has heightened concerns among trans people, as they believe Huseynova's statements contribute to hate crimes against the trans community. Despite approximately 40 community members filing complaints with the police regarding the hate calls made by Huseynova, the police have failed yet again to take appropriate action or address the complaints. In fact, when feminist activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva questioned the police about their inaction, she was told that LGBTI+/queer people are not considered a social group worthy of protection. After targeting Nuray, the blogger warned community members by threatening them. She was not the only one who targeted local LGBTI+/queers; officials from governmental agencies were doing so from time to time. For instance, Javid Osmanov, Member of the Governing Board of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Member of Parliament, said in a "Yeni Musavat" interview that "Society should completely isolate LGBT representatives and feminists." This quote was included in the headline of the article.

[42] Sauer, P. (November 24, 2022). Russia passes law banning ‘LGBT propaganda’ among adults. The Guardian.

[43] (Dekabr 1, 2022). “Azərbaycanda da LGBT təbliğatını qadağan edən qanun qəbul olunmalıdır”

[44] (Avqust 20,2023), Mirşahinin vaxtı-20.08.2023-(XÜSUSİ BURAXILIŞ).

[45] Samadov, B. (September 13, 2023). Perspectives: Government campaign targets Azerbaijan's anti-war activists. Eurasianet.

[46] (Avqust 20,2023), Mirşahinin vaxtı-20.08.2023-(XÜSUSİ BURAXILIŞ)

[47] Giyasbayli, H. (February 6, 2024). Snap Elections in Azerbaijan's Political Quagmire. Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Region.

[48] Pegg, D. (February 1, 2024). Azerbaijan accused of crackdown on journalists in run-up to election. The Guardian.

[49] (Fevral 11, 2024). Seçkidə təxribat hazırlayan Qərbin şəbəkəsi necə ifşa oldu?

[50] (Fevral 9, 2024). Seçki günü türk jurnalist ilə mübahisə edən “dövlət rəsmisinin” kimliyini müəyyən edildi.

[51] Samadzade, S. (December 18, 2023). Covert weaponizing of LGBTQI+ rights in Azerbaijan amid geopolitical shifts. Feminist Peace Collective.