On August 2 Seymur Hazi and Nigar Yagublu got married. Nothing unusual, although at 34 and 28 respectively, the groom and the bride are not young for Azerbaijan’s average marriage age. But then neither Hazi nor Yagublu are a regular couple nor was the wedding venue a conventional one. They wedded in the Kurdakhani prison, near the capital of Baku where Hazi is serving a five-year long sentence - a journalist from the now-closed “Azadliq” newspaper and a member of the opposition party Popular Front - his fight for freedom of speech has been a thorn for Azerbaijani authorities. In January 2016 he was charged with hooliganism and incarcerated. Yagublu herself is a pedigreed human rights activist whose father, Tofiq, is a key member of the opposition party Müsavat.
The new, innovative public service that the government introduced in 2012, ASAN (Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network), proved to be everything but easy for the couple - “asan” means easy in Azerbaijani - and bureaucratic obstacles started to pop up every step of the way. Yet, they eventually managed to tied the knot.
Seymur Hazi’s photo sneaked into the bride’s family album where each image tells a story of civil and human rights activism.
The Yagublus are a family like no other. Their struggle against Azerbaijan’s government is decades-long. Tofiq Yagublu, 55, is the deputy chairman of Musavat, the country’s oldest political party as it was originally founded in 1911 and then resurrected in 1989 as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. Born in Georgia in what was then Soviet Union, Yagublu’s political activism started in the dying year of the USSR, he was part of the movement calling for Nagorno Karabakh’s independence and fought in the war that raged in the early 1990s. Since 2008 his daughters, Nigar and Nargiz (then 18 years old), have been following his political footsteps, participating in protests and other events organized by Musavat.
Far from being an easy ride, their life turned into a nightmare in 2012. On August 25, 2012 Aydin Ajalov, a member of parliament for Musavat, died as his car crashed into a truck on the Baku-Shamakhi highway.Nigar Yagublu, who did not have a driver’s license, was in the same vehicle and some sources claimed she may have been at the wheel. On September 11, 2012 she was arrested and sentenced to two months of pretrial detention, awaiting trial on charges of infringement of traffic rules resulting in someone’s death.
For Tofiq Yagublu his daughter's arrest was politically orchestrated. “This is an issue of getting revenge on our family,” he stated on September, 12, 2012 in an interview to Radio Azadliq, Radio Free Europe’s Azeri Service. “Have you ever seen someone get pre-trial detention for violating traffic rules? There are accidents, deaths, injuries on a daily basis but this does not occur. The only truth is that Nigar Yagublu was in the vehicle. Everything else is just slander.”
She was banned from applying for a drivers licence for two years. In early 2013, she was allowed to leave the prison cell for 12 hours during the day and return to jail in the evening, then on March 2 she was finally released.
In 2013 it was Tofiq Yagublu’s turn to be in the authorities’ spotlight. On January 23, a fight involving a relative of the local governor and a taxi driver led to street protests in Ismayilli, 175 km north-west of Baku. Residents sided with the taxi driver and the incident morphed into a wide demonstration demanding the resignation of the head of the local executive authority. Confrontation with the police soon followed. Yagublu, who was in the town as a reporter for Yeni Musavat, the party’s official newspaper, was arrested and brought to Baku. He was then accused of organizing the protests and charged for violating public order and resisting the police.
The trial lasted months. As the court is located in Sheki, near Ismayilli, Yaqublu’s wife Maya and their younger daughter Nargiz embarked on long daily trips from Baku which about 300km south. On January 21, 2014 while traveling to Sheki, the two had a car accident and Yagublu pointed his finger at the government.
“I consider this accident a government’s crime against my family. For an entire year, my family had to be on the road,” he told to Azadliq.info in an interview the day after the accident.
Less than two months later, on March 17, the Sheki District Court sentenced him to five years in prison.
A marriage proposal on 2015 for Nargiz brought a ray of light in the family after months of negativity.
“Only my mother did not want her to get marry,” recalls Nigar. “It is not because she would live far way, plus the groom’s mother was a relative of ours, my mother was just worried about Nargiz’s spoiled character. But she was very happy, happier than than she ever imagined.”
After receiving the proposal, the family informed the father in prison - he said she should do what she felt like.
“We had a small family ceremony, but the groom’s relatives wanted to have a proper wedding in Tomsk, Russia, where they lived. Without our father it was difficult. Additionally, I had a travel ban. So only my mother went. They were very happy. After the wedding they traveled to many countries, sending us pictures. I was planning to visit her in Tomsk in the summer of 2015. I told Nargiz, that you will have a baby boy and the aunt will visit her nephew. We had projects…”
It was short-lived happiness. Nargiz was expecting a child, but life had other plans.
“When she was eight months pregnant, Nargiz was diagnosed with hepatitis C. She was treated in a hospital in Tomsk but to no avail. Nargiz entered into a coma, and on the 23rd of April 2015 she closed her eyes forever. She was 25. Her son, Kanan, however was born healthy, it was a happy moment for the whole family,” recollects Nigar.
Their father was informed of his daughter’s death from one of the local tv channels. He was allowed a seven-day break to attend the funeral in Baku - but he was prevented to be with her on her wedding day, only to bid farewell while carrying her coffin.
For their mother Maya, “Nargiz is like a bird which flew from my hand.”
In early 2016 Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, pardoned Tofiq Yagublu and he was released on March 17. Far from being silenced, Yagublu spends as much time as possible with his family, trying to catch up on the time he missed with his wife, Nigar, and their only son, Rahim, 18, a student. The small Kenan comes sometimes to add joy to the family.
Life’s test is still not over as Nigar is now married to Seymur Hazi - for human rights groups he remains a prisoner of conscience, jailed on alleged trumped-up charges, and for the government he is yet another dissident voice to silence.