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Saturday, September 09, 2017

"Cafe 26" in Baku raided and shut down because of its name

Photo: Trend News Agency
Authorities in Baku raided and shut down a downtown café on Friday "because of its inappropriate name" according to Azerbaijani media.

The café named "Twenty-six" drew the ire of city authorities who allegedly found in its name an insinuation to 26 Baku commissars, a brief Bolshevik government that ruled over Baku in 1918.

Official Azerbaijani historians hold 26 Baku commissars responsible for 1918 massacres that saw more than 12,000 Azerbaijani civilians killed by Armenian paramilitaries in ethnic violence in and around Baku. Today in Azerbaijan those events are officially recognized as the Genocide of Azerbaijanis.

The raid that took place on 8 September was headed personally by Hacıbala Abutalıbov, the mayor of Baku (officially "the Head of Baku City Executive Power" as Azerbaijani cities do not have elected mayors) and major general Səhlab Bağırov, the deputy chief of city police.

Photos published in the media showed the café sign being dismantled and its property taken away. According to the mayor, the café would be shut down, its property confiscated and owners face criminal prosecution.

"The patrons of murderers who organised the Genocide of Azerbaijanis are still alive," the media quoted the mayor Abutalıbov saying, "they had courage to write "26" not only in Azerbaijani but also in English."

However, Ramin Məmmədov, the café owner in his comments quoted in the media rejected the "commissars" connection:
It is related to my birthday. When I opened this café I was 26. Also my car plate ends in 026. As if this number has always been my lucky number. If I wanted to name the café after the [opposite] park, I had used its current name. Why should I use the former name of the park?
The café leasing the premises of the Writers' Union was opposite Sahil Park which was called "26 Baku Commissars Park" during Soviet era.

According to Çingiz Abdullayev, the Secretary of the Writers' Union the café was in operation for some years and only a day before the raid "one historian noticed the connection" and told the owner to change its name. The owner obliged but the events took unexpected turn the next day:
The mayor of a city with millions of residents arrives with police officers, closes the café down, takes away the furniture. They say they will arrest [the café owner]. According to which law? How can you destroy and confiscate the private property of a businessman without a court decision? How can you arrest him?
In a separate statement, the Writers' Union also condemned the incident. The Union's public relations official Xəyal Rza told the press that
"One person names his business "26", the other one names it "28". Does it mean that in order to use number 26 we should ask permission from Hacıbala Abutalıbov?"
Abdullayev, the Union secretary had more candid remarks. "People in Israel, USA, and Russia are laughing at us now," he wrote on Facebook.