Foreign Policy Blogs

Azerbaijani writer reportedly stabbed, hospitalized

In a shocking incident, independent journalist Rafiq Tagi was stabbed repeatedly today in Baku, according to this RFE/RL report.

Tagi is best known for his thought piece entitled “Europe and Us,” published in 2007 in the Sanat newspaper. In the article, Tagi compared modern Muslim societies to their European counterparts, and argued that Islam had hindered social and political development.

As I wrote at the time of Tagi and his editor, “[T]his sort of reflective social commentary might be the norm in the West, [but] the outcry from some quarters in secular, Shi’ite Azerbaijan was shrill, with ultra-conservative Muslims in the village of Nadaran calling for the two men’s deaths and the public prosecutor bringing criminal charges against them.”

The criminal charges were “inciting religious hatred,” and Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu, his editor, were convicted quickly, sentenced to four year and three year terms (respectively) in prison, and locked up.

Meanwhile, an Iranian ayatollah issued a fatwa calling for the two men’s deaths and another cleric in Tabriz reportedly offered his house to anyone who assassinated Tagi and Sadagatoglu.

Here’s a chilling quote at the time from the ayatollah’s web site: “it is necessary for every individual who has an access to him to kill him. The person in charge of the […] newspaper, who published such thoughts and beliefs consciously and knowingly, should be dealt with in the same manner.”

Today, Tagi was stabbed in the back and neck, according to his family. The RFE story says that the doctor has indicated that the wounds are not life threatening.

Talking to Tagi has been a goal of mine since his imprisonment and early release at the end of 2007. His case was disturbingly

Rafiq Tagi in better days (photo: APA.AZ)

similar to that of Salman Rushdie, and the English branch of PEN, among others, took up his cause at the time. He’s a brave man, and the road he has chosen to walk upon is dangerous and lonely. (Although I’m hearing in the last hour or so that Tagi’s recent essays on everything from the opposition to revered Azeri poet Mirza Alakbar Sabir are seen by some as designed to provoke controversy.)

It’s unclear from the RFE article how many attackers were involved or exactly what the circumstances were.

Don’t expect a major effort by the police to track down those responsible. Tagi’s imprisonment in 2007 was no doubt thought necessary by the government due to the hyper-sensitive nature of his writing, but my guess is that unlike some opposition figures, Tagi was considered a minor irritant. It’s hard to imagine that Zakir Qaralov, the prosecutor general, or President Aliyev were in any way offended or shocked by Tagi’s article. Tagi and his editor would have been forgotten except for a small but extremist segment of the religious community that had to be placated. Their imprisonment was the pound of flesh demanded and received.

I’ll try to reach Tagi once he recovers and will post more information at that time.



Karl Rahder
Karl Rahder

Karl Rahder has written on the South Caucasus for ISN Security Watch and ISN Insights (, news and global affairs sites run by the Swiss government. Karl splits his time between the US and the former USSR - mostly the Caucasus and Ukraine, sometimes teaching international relations at universities (in Chicago, Baku, Tbilisi) or working on stories for ISN and other publications. Karl received his MA from the University of Chicago, and first came to the Caucasus in 2004 while on a CEP Visiting Faculty Fellowship. He's reported from the Caucasus on topics such as attempted coups, sedition trials, freedom of the press, and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For many years, Karl has also served as an on-call election observer for the OSCE, and in 2010, he worked as a long-term observer in Afghanistan for Democracy International.

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