Facebook ‘Likes’ Cost Azerbaijani Officials Their Jobs

While Azerbaijan is busy hosting European Olympic Games, the country might be getting a new opposition movement.

Following a massive deadly fire at a Baku apartment block earlier this month, one of Azerbaijan’s prominent diplomats in Europe, Arif Mammadov, posted a statement on his Facebook page criticizing the government for not taking proper message during the fire.

“This tragedy – is the pain and tragedy of every Azerbaijani. No people will tolerate so much shame and injustice. Officials earn millions on the suffering of our people, and if they do not fear the anger of our people, let them be afraid of the anger of Allah,” he wrote.

When using some type of social media platform, we have to remember to be really careful about the posts that we make and the pages that we like or follow because people can and will see what you are up to. This can make a really bad situation for the important government or famous people because they will be judged by the whole world. Some of their action might even cause some issues that will have to be dealt with immediately to stop any controversy. Of course, these platforms are designed to share your life and thoughts with other people, but when you are at a high position, you should really think about this twice before making any sudden action. When posting on social media, you have to think about the damage that message might cause with other people, you cannot just look at yourself because it can lead to situations like this.

Pro-government website Haqqin.az immediately blamed Mammadov for plotting to overthrow the government and creating an opposition inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Following the first shot, a number of Azerbaijani politics and officials followed and accused him of plotting as well.

“Arif Mammadov is a new project of the external actors”, said MP Zahid Oruj, “He made an anti-governmental statement on his web-page on Facebook.”

Another MP Siyavush Novruz said that “Arif Mammadov should be dismissed from his post”, and “Real Azerbaijani should not insult other Azerbaijanis”. And a few days after (on June 7) the government decided to punish not only him but also those diplomats who liked Mammadov’s post.

Turan agency, citing its own sources, said that five ministry officials were fired because of the “likes” they put of Mammadov’s post on Facebook (Farakh Gezalov, Anar Madatli, Javid Musayev, Ramiz Valiyev and Hikmat Hajiyev. The MFA neither confirmed nor denied this information.

Soon Hikmet Hajiyev said on his Facebook page, that his ”like” was not an acceptance of Mammadovs opinion, but just that he read that. Hajiyev asked a journalist to share that he “committed to the heritage of the national leader Heydar Aliyev, and he always served and will serve internal and external politics of greatly respected president Ilham Aliyev”.
Hikmet Hajizade, a political expert, President of FAR-CENTER (political investigation NGO) says that “This 20-year-old policy of the current regime, the suppression of any dissent – is a common practice. Mostly the suppression is related to the opposition forces, and if they were dissidents inside the ruling power, they were mostly related to economic actors. Nowadays aggravation of the sensitivity of the authorities against the opposition forces now translates to suppression of “violations” inside itself.”

Arastun Orujlu head of the “East-West” Research Center believes that today the authorities seek to preserve the stability of their own status, but the political situation changes. “Five years or a year ago it was impossible to imagine an Azerbaijani diplomat acting out with critical statements.” According to him, that can have economic reasons. “We see how the situation is heating up now, evidence of that are also multiple arrests of businessmen.” According to him, the authorities understand the need for immediate reforms but are no longer able to carry them out.

Meanwhile, Mammadov has started meeting with Azerbaijani opposition activists in Europe and announced that he is creating a platform for a reform and changes in Azerbaijan in 2025. While many are skeptical of Mammadov and his long-term plan, others are excited.

The government doesn’t say anything specific about him as a new opposition member but is closely watching its officials’ social media activities.

Osman Gunduz, an expert in the field of online media and technology in Azerbaijan (head of the NGO Internet Forum of Azerbaijan) said that the state now pays more interest to social networks. “Last year, a law was passed that treat all publications in social networks to media publications and now administrative responsibilities can be applied to all the opinions published on the internet. That is, even in private situation, if one person complained someone’s publication, it becomes a cause for litigation. Based on this logic, any status may be cause for prosecution, and sanctions.”