This case study was developed by Saadat Abdullazada for the Centre for Training and Consultancy.

The “5 Qapik” campaign (“5 coins” campaign)  was held in Azerbaijan on January 15-22, 2013. The main purpose of the campaign was to cover the fines of young people who had been unfairly fined for participating in a protest action against the non-combat losses in the army.

Introduction

On January 12, 2013, a group of activists launched a donation campaign of “5 Qapik” in order to pay the fines of more than 20 young people fined by the Azerbaijani courts for taking part in the protest action held under the slogan “An end to soldier deaths!” in Baku.  There were two reasons for naming the campaign “5 Qapik”: firstly, to express that the courts in the country are “not worth a cent” (“beshqapiklik” is an Azerbaijani expression based on the word “qapik” to express cheapness) and secondly to attract as many people as possible into the campaign as donating 5 Qapik was accessible for virtually anyone. The idea was to collect the required money with as many small coins as possible. The campaign leaders were inspired by the fake news that came up on the second half of 2012 that Samsung had paid a billion dollars fine to Apple using coins: the idea was applied in this case to impose bureaucracy to the state in Azerbaijan.

The campaign was organised by the Positive Change Youth Movement and received a broad support from other organisations and individuals: in total more than 1.000 people participated by donating for the cause. The donations collected over a short period of time summed up more than the necessary fines, therefore after the fines were settled, the remaining money could be donated to the families of dead soldiers.

Following the campaign and the payment of the fines, the Azerbaijani National Parliament (Milli Mejlis) took measures to forbid cash donation to organisations by amending the legislation.

Background

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in 1988 between Azerbaijan and Armenia. A period of intensive warfare in 1991-1994 was followed up by a so-called “frozen conflict” after a ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994. However casualties continue to occur on both sides of the conflict on a regular basis, and especially during ceasefire violation events. Along those killed in military settings, several death of soldiers for unknown reasons occurred which raised people’s attention and concerns about the causes of the death. Many believed that the death of the young conscripts were related to initiation practices such as hazing and bullying rituals that remained in the Azerbaijani army as a Soviet tradition named “dedovshchina” since the independence of the country (using the Russian expression).[1]

The “Doctrine” Journalist Center for Military Studies revealed that losses in the security and defense sector were of 51 and injuries 63 in the first six months of 2013 (January-June). According to the “Doctrine” Journalist Center for Military Studies, only eight of the casualties were caused directly by combat whereas 43 were non-combat related.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedovshchina

Action to end soldier deaths

The main trigger of the protest against non-military deaths of soldiers in the army was the news on January 7, 2013 that C. Gubadov born in 1994 died at the military unit in Dashkesen. The report from the army highlighted that the young soldier had died “as a result of cardiac disease”, although the family denied that he had any medical issues. This claim drawn huge attention from the society.  Thought his family was told that C. Gubadov died of a heart failure, his body presented many signs of physical injuries, as shown by the photographs released by his family and circulated on social media. 

The distribution in the media of the photos of the soldier’s corpse with clear signs of a violent death gave a wide public reaction and raised outrage. The soldier’s mother declared later that her son was beaten and killed. After this incident, the official approach changed in order to keep control on the situation: the Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the soldier was killed as a result of a violation of disciplinary rules and the General Prosecutor’s Office announced to the family and the public that two other soldiers were arrested as suspects in connection with the soldier death.

In link with this, a protest action was planned at one of the city’s most popular venues, the Fountain Square in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on January 12, 2013 at 16:00. The protest action was coordinated through a Facebook group by various users who wished to protest soldier’s deaths in the army especially in non-combat situations. The aim of the action was highlighted as a description of the event, which was not led by any organisation, political party or specific group. The description of the action read:

“Although we live in ceasefire, every week we hear news of the soldiers deaths! Those who cause these deaths are not punished. If we do not say “Stop!” to this injustice, no one will say it! Let’s express our objection! We invite every Azerbaijani who is concerned by the situation to join the protest action at the Fountain Square! We will make our protest peacefully and remember that this is not a political action! “.

The protest action gathered hundreds of people and began 15 minutes before the scheduled time – at 15:45. Even though many concerns among organisers and participants existed, the protest was surprisingly not met by an aggressive police intervention. The demonstration included thousands of citizens, including parents and relatives of soldiers who died in the army, active youth and members of political parties.

The picture below is taken in 2013, January 12 the protest action “An End to Soldier Deaths” held in Baku [2]


[2] Photo from Meydan TV Website: https://www.meydan.tv/en/article/to-punish-or-pardon/

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Fountains Square and brought portraits of killed soldiers and state flags. They demanded the end to the crimes committed in the army, meaning the end of non-combat losses.  Protesters sang slogans “Martyrs are immortal, the homeland is indivisible”, “Let our soldiers not die, let the army not return to the morgue”, “Resignation to Safar Abiyev[3]“, “End Soldier’s Deaths”.

Challenges to ensure the Freedom of Assembly in Azerbaijan and direct consequence of the protest action

Azerbaijan as rated very low in the World Democracy Index since its independence. Freedom of assembly in Azerbaijan is widely not respected. Protests or actions are generally accompanied by hostile police interventions and followed by further punitive methods to the participants. The government has been constantly looking for new legal mechanisms to keep people away from protests or actions.

At the end of 2012, the Azerbaijani National Parliament (Milli Majlis) has amended the law to increase the fines by 10 times for participation in unauthorized rallies or protests. President Ilham Aliyev signed the law and the document came into force on 1st of January 2013.  The law on Freedom of Assembly set up fines from 500 to 1.400 AZN (at that time 1 USD = 0.78 AZN, that is 640 USD to 1.794 USD) for participants in unauthorized rallies. This change became effective from January 1, 2013[4]. As for understanding the burden of the fine, at that time, the average salary in Azerbaijan was of 403,30 AZN (about 517 USD).[5]


[3] Safar Abiyev was the actual Azerbaijani Defense Minister in January 2013 and was fired in October 2013 following the investigation: https://www.bbc.com/azeri/azerbaijan/2013/10/131022_azeri_new_government

[4] https://www.amerikaninsesi.org/a/parlament_cerime/1538123.html

[5] http://cesd.az/new/?p=5911&lang=az

Likely, the organizers of unauthorized rallies could be fined from 1.500 to 3.000 AZN (corresponding back then to 1.923 USD to 3.846 USD). Before the amendments to the law, the penalty to participate in an unauthorized protest would amount about 7 to 13 AZN (approximately 9 to 16 USD).

On January 14, 2013, Baku’s Nasimi and Sabail District Courts fined a large number of activists for participating in the protest held under the slogan “An End to Soldier Deaths!” that occurred on January 12, 2013. The courts fined 22 activists from 300 to 600 AZN (approximately 385 USD to 770 USD). These were the first high penalties for participating in an unauthorized rally following the amendments of the Freedom of Assembly Law done by the Parliament.

The Azerbaijani Human Rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev stated in an interview commenting the fines: “The international law states that if a person takes part in an unauthorized protest that is peaceful, then his/ her detention or being fined is a violation of the Right to Freedom of Assembly. Consequently, detention, arrest, extortion and high fines are indications of the Azerbaijani authorities’ failure to comply with Human Rights”, he added.[6]

Flow of the Campaign

A group of young people, who considered that these penalties would cause frustration among activists, decided to start a campaign to collect the fines. For this purpose, it was announced with a Facebook page that the campaign “5 Qapik” (“5 coins”) was launched. The slogan of the campaign was “One for all, all for one”.

Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, one of the leaders of the Positive Change Youth Movement, the founders of the campaign, remembers the creation of the campaign:

“At the beginning of 2013, a group of young people was scared by the use of high fines imposed by the government to prevent youth to take part in massive strikes. The fine in the amount of 300-600 AZN was a heavy burden for a student’s budget and it could cause youth to withdraw from next protest actions. Thus, activism of young people could be eradicated.

At the same time, it was necessary to start the campaign, which contained elements of solidarity, a little humor, a bit of creativity, so that the protest would not finish, but on the contrary, would help the campaign to grow stronger and larger. We knew that imposing fines is unjust, but we had to pay it, so we decided to proceed with it but in the form of a protest. Getting inspired by the hoax of Samsung paying a fine to Apple in 1 cent coins, we decided to pay the court fines with small coins.


[6] https://www.amerikaninsesi.org/a/esger_olumu/1583335.html

We offered the idea for the first time at the meeting of the “OL” movement held at the Free Thought University office. Many people thought that it would not be possible to collect more than ten thousand Manats (AZN, the currency in Azerbaijan) in this way. However, we begun to disclose the collected amounts to generate a social endorsement effect, for instance by showing that we did initial donations ourselves and that the funds collected were raising at a fast pace, also because it was ensuring accountability towards the public. People seeing from the social media that the campaign’s collectings were raising rapidly and being impressed by the creative photos from the collection process, decided to be part of the campaign and joined us.

The organizing committee of the campaign consisted of the members of the Managing Board of the Positive Change Youth Movement. Task division was not formalised, among us and occurs based on voluntary engagement: it included collecting coins, making lists, publishing regular reports on social networks, distributing funds collected during the evening, etc.

The only disagreement in the team was the number of funds that each individual would be allowed to pay. Some members offered to stop the campaign if several individuals would pay the whole amount (meaning, not in 5 Qapik coins). Others have stated that it is important to determine the upper limit an individual is allowed to donate, to ensure a large number of people be involved in the campaign. In the end, it was accepted that one person could make a donation up to the maximum amount of 50 AZN (approx. 64 USD in 2013).”

The first picture is taken on January 15, 2013, it shows volunteers counting the donations. While the second picture displays that the campaign was also supported by people living abroad.

Although the campaign was initially launched and managed by the Managing Board of the Positive Change Youth Movement, several days later, other youth movements (NIDA, OL, Wave, etc.) and political parties joined the campaign, attracting their members. In addition, donations were being raised to support the campaign “5 Qapik” in Germany, Turkey, Russia, Canada, and other countries.

At the same time, an appeal was filed against the fines imposed by the courts. The organizers decided that if the Court of Appeal annulled the penalty, the funds collected would be donated to the families of the killed soldiers.  

It should be noted that a group of active youth was formed to control the collected money, to ensure transparency and to take decisions. Continuous reports on the Facebook page of the “5 Qapik” campaign were provided and the sum of the collected money was highlighted. Information on the donation amounts and the person donating were published every day for transparency reasons. Donations were collected in cash at the Positive Change Youth Movement’s office and through bank transfers, and the donations were immediately added to the shared Google document showing the donations, the day of the donation, the total of collected funds and any direct related expenses. Anyone, including people not donating or participating in the campaign, could verify the donations as the documentation was made available online, up to today.[7]

Campaign activists say that more than a thousand people were involved in the campaign. One of the activists, who was fined 500 AZN, told in an interview that although he did not intend to pay the penalty, he supported the “5 Qapik” campaign: “The donation collected for me will be given to one of the martyr families”. Another one was planning to pay the penalty thanks to the donations: “Someone wants to extend the fine payment date or exchange by voluntary work, but I do not. I think that I can spend my energy on another good job”. He noted that if he had to pay 500 AZN, he would have been forced to work voluntarily for two months (as a replacement for the fine). Although many people struggle to make a living, they did show solidarity with those making this campaign”. He said that he is grateful for this idea and for people to help.

According to the campaign rules, the amount donated by one person should not be more than 50 AZN paid by coins or notes with 1, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 AZN or by bank transfer, in order to involve more people and should be paid with 5 Qapik, if available. For example, one person could make a donation in the amount of 10 AZN with note(s) and 1 AZN in 5 Qapik coins.

In the meantime, the Court of Appeal took the decision to keep the fines on January 25, 2013. The “5 Qapik” donation campaign to support fined participants of the protest “An End to Soldier Deaths” ended on January 22, 2013. The campaign collected in total 14.037 AZN (equivalent to 17.996 USD at that time). Fines were covered for 24 people out of 29, totaling 10.400 AZN.  Five participants who were fined refused to pay their penalties by joining a civil disobedience campaign against the injustice and unlawfulness of the court rulings.


[7] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12qRZt5_7WaAg0JwnY6RjWYBrHqvJALua9qlY-Ld7cII/edit#gid=5

After paying the fines, the remaining amount that had been collected was distributed among families who loss a member in the army or poor families. One of them was the family of a paralyzed soldier, and the other three families loss a member in a non-combat situation.

The picture below represents that money is being prepared for bank transfer[8]



[8] http://musavat.com/news/gundem/5-QEPIK-AKSIYASI-%C3%87ER%C3%87IVESINDE-13-NUMAYIS%C3%87ININ-CERIMESI-ODENILDI–VIDEO_143082.html

Conclusion

To conclude, this campaign played an important role for raising public awareness and had one of the largest resonance in years in the country . The success of the campaign led to public confidence in the community solidarity. Particularly, campaign organizers and volunteers were mainly young people, thus it empowered youth and helped them realize that they can bring about change.

Transparency and accountability in campaign management process and of the donations was welcomed by the public and have proved that this methodology has a positive impact on the public opinion and its support. People could see how much money was collected with the donations and how it was spent, thus it strengthens the willingness to donate.

The main goal of the campaign was achieved: the fines imposed to the protest’s participants were settled thanks to the donations and therefore, they did not suffer any material damage for engaging in the protest action. Instead of being afraid of possible fines, young people turned out to be encouraged by solidarity. Before this, if young people were afraid of participating in a rally because of fines, they now knew that if they were fined, people would share this burden.

Following this campaign, the Azerbaijani Parliament started to work on the prevention of cash donation by making changes to the legislation. This also shows that the campaign was successful as the government was forced to seek another way to discourage the youth from engaging in protest actions.

Further Resources about the campaign:

Videos:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QoYEBZsVyU
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZA_Nu9E9Vk
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1NmXtLx0IY
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za34eKBLR_0
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0DgR15G8Qg

 Articles:

  1. https://www.rferl.org/a/baku-protest-suspicious-death-conscript/24822114.html
  2. https://iwpr.net/global-voices/azerbaijanis-protest-against-army-deaths
  3. https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-fines-kopecks-activists/24824582.html
  4. https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-protesters-pay-fines-in-coins/24879583.html