Fear and Anger: Will the trans community of Azerbaijan get justice?

Author: Alex Shah

Living as a trans individual in Azerbaijan is challenging, and when it comes to trans sex workers, it's nearly impossible. According to a map published by the Transgender Europe organisation, Azerbaijan ranks as the worst country in Europe for trans rights.

On March 8th, feminists held a traditional rally. During the rally, the pride flag was raised, and the LGBTQI+ community presented their dissatisfaction and demands by reading a statement. However, three days later, images of a trans woman who had been tortured and murdered began to circulate within the community.

According to Minority Azerbaijan, 29-year-old Aytan was murdered on the night of March 12th in the Khojasan district of Baku.

Members of the community say that Aytan was one of the trans women engaging in sex work in that district. She provided sexual services to clients in exchange for payment. However, it was not easy for her. Almost every month, she faced harassment, violence, threats, or torture from clients.

Lala*, another trans woman, received the news of Aytan's death and believes that Aytan was a victim of client aggression due to being a trans sex worker.

Lala*: "Friends, when someone sent me a photo of Aytan's body, I was horrified for a moment. Her body had been subjected to severe torture. Enough is enough. I feel like we are losing someone every passing day. I can't sleep anymore after seeing the body."

Lala* says that the attacks against the trans community have led to psychological distress.

Activists report difficulties in learning the details of the murder. They say they have no information about Aytan's official name, address, or relatives.

Demanding investigation, detention of the perpetrator, and public disclosure of information, they submitted an electronic request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Baku City Main Police Department along with the photos of the body. However, they have not received any response.

On March 18th, community worker Merlin* called the hotline 102 and asked for an investigation into the incident.

Later, Merlin* was told by a police officer at the 32nd police department of Surakhani district that the case was being investigated and there is no need to worry. However, they could not obtain any information about the perpetrator, details of the murder, or about Aytan.

Anar Gafarov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said on Wednesday evening that the ministry has no information about the matter and asked if the details were shared on Facebook. He said the ministry investigates all murder cases.

Aysel Hasanova, head of the press service of the Prosecutor General's Office, did not respond to calls.

A few days earlier, Lala* learned unofficially that Aytan had a dispute with her partner at the apartment where she lived.

The dispute occurred after her partner refused to pay for the service. As a result, Aytan was murdered by her partner. When neighbours heard screams during the incident, they informed the landlord. The landlord, terrified and disgusted, rushed to the scene and then threw the body to the Khojasan roundabout.

This information has not been officially disclosed to the public.

Last year, in the same area, a trans woman sex worker named Hülya Sadigova was brutally murdered. Her niece, who reported the incident to the community, was her close friend, and the murder occurred two or three days before the discovery of the body. During that time, Hülya's friends contacted her mother, informing her of Hülya's disappearance and their inability to find her.

Following this incident, on September 24th, another trans woman named Aysel was murdered by a client who came to her home. Her murder was not discussed in the media. Unfortunately, Aysel, who had just celebrated her birthday, bid farewell to the world very early.

According to gender researcher Leyla Hasanova, trans citizens are amongst the most marginalised people in the country in political and social aspects. Considering that this marginalisation stems from political reasons, investigations into their murders should be particularly thorough.

"There is no specific legislation for LGBTQI+s in Azerbaijan. This works against LGBTQI+ citizens. Trans community is the most marginalised in society," said Hasanova. "Since trans citizens are not considered legitimate citizens in terms of the country's social, cultural, and political values, neither their demands nor their lives are considered legitimate. Therefore, neither society nor power structures are concerned about the violence they face," Hasanova emphasised in an interview with Queer Radar.

Sex work is prohibited in Azerbaijan.

Those involved in this labour sector are punished administratively. The government, its agencies, organisations, and government-affiliated NGOs do not engage in any activities supporting the rights and protection of sex workers.

According to ILGA-Europe's 2024 Annual Review, last year, a trans individual was attacked, a trans activist was harassed, a trans student faced violence twice in one year, two trans women were murdered, and three trans citizens were arrested.

*Names changed for respondent safety.

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