In late December, a group of men from a nationalist organization broke into a high school in Baku and accosted a teacher, who had become a social media sensation for posting a photo of one of his students dressed in traditional Armenian attire.
“They humiliated me in front of my students. They called me Armenian,” the teacher, Rovshan Azizov, told Eurasianet.
“They said I am an Armenian agent, that I came to Azerbaijan to destroy this country under orders from Armenia. I just wanted to show that peace is possible, and that we cannot solve this conflict by killing each other, that’s all,” Azizov said.
Azizov said that school officials had pressured him even before the nationalists stormed the school. “They told me: ‘You better go. If you stay, you put our life and the life of kids in danger,” Azizov said. “Teachers told my students that I was Armenian and that they had to stay away from me.”
Days later, on December 28, Azizov was fired. School officials say it wasn’t because of his pro-Armenian positions, but his unorthodox teaching methods.
The controversy over Azizov began in November, when he posted a photo on facebook of one of his high school students, in front of Baku’s shuttered Armenian church, wearing the traditional Armenian outfit known as the taraz.
The photo was seized on by government-supported nationalist groups like the Female Karabakh Veterans Association and the Karabakh Liberation Movement, and spread rapidly across Azerbaijani social media.
Users pored through his previous social media posts, and found that he had a long record of promoting peace with Armenia. He had posted a photo with the Armenian and Azerbaijani flags flying together, with the caption “I live in Azerbaijan. I don’t want war. I want peace. We don’t have to shed blood,” in both Armenian and Azerbaijani. And the photo of the student was part of a larger project in which he made a series of videos with students role-playing both sides of the Karabakh conflict.
Azizov said he still has faith in the government to make his case right. “If they really believe Armenians and Azerbaijani people can live side by side in peace they should support me,” he said.