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Young Azerbaijani activist goes public about grave crime committed against her whose perpetrator remains unpunished

“Self portrait trauma scars, Emotional abuse, Mental, sexual, Physical, verbal Domestic Violence Spousal marital rape Trauma PTSD, Self Portrait, Runjanefox, #janefox this is me. #domesticviolence #stopdv #spousalrape #dv #hearmystory” by Run Jane Fox is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Sanay Yaghmur, 17, an Azerbaijani feminist activist and administrator of the popular feminist platform Femkulis, was raped by a male relative on August 25, 2020. Despite the existence of medical records proving the crime had been committed, the perpetrator, Asgar Agayev, 29, remains free, according to a personal account by the activist.

Now, more than a year later, Yaghmur, has taken her personal story to Facebook, where she describes in detail what she endured, and holding the Prosecutor General office to account for failing to investigate and charging the perpetrator.

The Facebook post Yaghmur published on October 13 details the events of August 2020:

I heard my phone ring in the morning but I could not move at all for about ten or fifteen minutes. I also could not understand where I was. A little while later, I collected myself, and when I lifted my head, I saw, him, Asgar Agayev lying next to me. What I remember from that most clearly are pain and blood.

Yaghmur goes on to describe how her male relative prevented her from leaving the apartment, which belonged to her aunt. Yaghmur had gone to the apartment the night before, when, on her way back home, her mother convinced her that instead of coming home, she should spend the night at her aunt's house given how late in the evening it was and how much closer her aunt lived to the city.
After about an hour, I was able to leave. I had to convince him, I was not going to talk to tell anyone (I only lied so that I could leave. Otherwise it would not have been possible). Just as I was leaving, he told me not to go back home in the evening, and not to tell anyone and instead come back here.
Asgar Agayev went into hiding after the incident. For four days the family kept him out of sight, according to accounts shared with Global Voices by Sanay Yaghmur's mother, Zumrud Yaghmur.
“When Sanay pressed charges, the family tried to bargain with us and begged for mercy. They asked that we change the complaint to physical violence instead of rape,” Zumrud Yaghmur told Global Voices. “They even suggested that we arrange for marriage.”

Politically motivated?

The family even tried to blackmail Yaghmur, claiming there was a video. “In the end, we learned there was no video after all,” said Zumrud Yaghmur, who believes these actions were politically motivated. “The sexual violence perpetrated against Sanay and the subsequent protection of the perpetrator by law enforcement agencies proves that the incident was either pre-planned or turned into a political revenge.”
Two days later, Yaghmur pressed charges. Twice, the regional prosecutor office terminated the case, on the grounds of insufficient evidence. This despite the victim's having provided at least three separate medical examination reports confirming the rape.
The crime committed by Asgar Agayev, must be independently and legally assessed while state institutions supporting him by covering up the crime – Yasamal Region Prosecutor, General Prosecutor – must be held accountable.
Yaghmur's goal, in sharing publicly what she experienced, was to ensure the case was duly investigated. On October 11, 2021, the court of appeal ruled in favor of the re-investigation of the appeal.
An activist and advocate for women's rights, Yaghmur was immediately showered with messages of support.

Civil society representatives and public activists have launched a campaign demanding that the perpetrator of sexual violence against Sanay Yagmur be punished. More on the story: https://t.co/YjIH0icDYs?amp=1

I demand justice for Sanay Yagmur! I do not want to live in a country where rapists of minors walk free!

Yaghmur's mother Zumrud Yaghmur told Global Voices that throughout the investigation, her daughter's activism was used against her.

“She was targeted because she was a feminist. The investigators claimed her lifestyle was inappropriate. They used pictures of my daughter from protests organized in recent years in support of gender equality and women's rights against her,” Zumurd Yaghmur said.

The activist's mother also said that circumstances prevented them from publicizing the case earlier.

“A month after the incident, we were ready to share what happened to Sanay,” said Zumrud Yaghmur. “We spoke to a local journalist, but a day later, fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan began so we had to wait. In March 2021, Sanay received an acceptance letter from a university in Riga to pursue her studies in law. We decided to wait until she left the country before going public with the case.”

Sanay Yaghmur left Azerbaijan in September 2021 to pursue her studies at Riga Graduate School of Law.

Perpetrators of rape often walk free

According to national legislation, rape carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. But often, the perpetrators walk free. In a culture, where violence and harassment against women is a persistent problem and one which has seen little improvement in recent years this is not surprising.

In a statement issued on June 28, Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women at the UN Human Rights Council said, “Rape is frequently not reported, and even if reported, it is seldom prosecuted. Even if there is a prosecution, it is rarely handled in a gender sensitive manner and often leads to re-victimization while producing few convictions. The result is normalization of rape, a culture of rape or silence on rape, stigmatization of victims and impunity for perpetrators.”

Despite pouring messages of support and solidarity, Yagmur also faced plenty of stigma but the amount of courage it has taken the activist to share her story publicly, speaks volumes of just how far women facing violence, assault, and harassment must go in order to get their voices heard in Azerbaijan.

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