LGBT rights in Azerbaijan

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LGBT rights in Azerbaijan Azerbaijan
Location of  LGBT rights in Azerbaijan  (green)

in Europe  (dark grey)  –  [Legend]

Same-sex sexual activity legal status Legal since 2000[1]
Gender identity/expression
Military service No
Discrimination protections No
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships.
Adoption No

Lesbian, gay, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Azerbaijan may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity for both men and women is legal in Azerbaijan since September 1, 2000[2] with the repealing of the law criminalizing homosexual activity, however, no specific laws on the protection of LGBT people have been adopted or the adoption of such laws have been considered so far.


After declaring independence from Russia in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic did not have laws against homosexuality. When Azerbaijan became a part of the Soviet Union in 1920, it was subject to rarely enforced Soviet laws criminalizing the practice of sex between men. Despite Vladimir Lenin having decriminalized homosexuality in Soviet Russia, sexual intercourse between men (incorrectly termed pederasty in the laws, rather than the technically accurate term sodomy) became a criminal offense in 1923 in Azerbaijan SSR,[3] punishable by up to five years in prison for consenting adults, or up to eight years if it involved force or threat.[4][5]

Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, and in 2000 repealed the Soviet-era anti-sodomy law.[6] A special edition of Azerbaijan, the official newspaper of the National Assembly, published on 28 May 2000, reported that the National Assembly had approved a new criminal code, and that the President had signed a decree making it law beginning in September 1, 2000. Repeal of Article 121 was a requirement for Azerbaijan to join the Council of Europe,[7] and after sodomy was removed from the Azerbaijan criminal code in 2000, Azerbaijan became the 43rd member state of the Council on 25 January 2001.[8]

General attitude[edit]


Like in most other post-Soviet era countries, Azerbaijan remains a place where homosexuality is an issue surrounded by confusion. There is hardly any objective or correct information on the psychological, sociological and legal aspects of homosexuality in Azerbaijan, with the result that the majority of the society simply does not know what homosexuality is.

"Coming out" as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person is, therefore, rare and individual LGBT people are afraid of the consequences. Thus many lead double lives, with some feeling deeply ashamed about being gay.[9] Those who are financially independent and living in Baku, are able to lead a safe life as an LGBT person, as long as they 'practice' their homosexuality in their private sphere. There is no LGBT political movement, but there is awareness among some human rights activists and LGBT people of the need for an organization advocating LGBT rights and protection.[10]

Although homosexual acts between consenting male adults were officially decriminalized, reports about police abuses against gays, mainly male prostitutes, have persisted. While complaining of the violence against them, the victims preferred to remain anonymous fearing retaliation on the part of the police. (2001 Report of the International Helsinki Federation).


The first news website for LGBT people in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus was opened by Ruslan Balukhin on 25 May 2011

The Azerbaijani Constitution guarantees freedom of expression for everyone by all forms of expressions.[11] A legislation forbidding same-sex sexual relations (between men) was prohibited in 2000.[11] The Azerbaijan Press Council was founded in 2003. The council deals with complaints according to the Press Code of Conduct. In terms of awareness-raising campaigns, Azerbaijan’s human rights NGOs have been successful, they have become more common than educational campaigns.[12]


In 2009, Ali Akbar wrote a scandalous book named Artush and Zaur which was focused on homosexual love tale between an Armenian and Azerbaijani, while according to Akbar these two things - being an Armenian and being gay - are major taboos in Azeri society.

Current situation[edit]

The age of consent is equal for both heterosexual and homosexual sex, at 16 years of age.[2] Azerbaijan is a largely secular country with one of the least practicing majority-Muslim populations.[13] The reason behind homophobia is mostly due to the lack of knowledge about it, as well as due to the "old traditions".[14] Families of homosexuals often cannot come to terms with the latters' sexuality, especially in rural areas. Coming-out often results in violence or ostracism by the family patriarchs or forced heterosexual marriage.[15][9]

Until 2011, there had been no established forms of legally recognized unions for homosexuals. In 2011, the first community was formed called Gender and Development, to promote LGBT rights, and to service blogs written in the Azerbaijani language. First blog in Azerbaijani language was founded in February 2012 by Free LGBT Azerbaijan Organization. According to the community founders, it was named so because the government would not register an openly LGBT organization.[15] There were rumors of an LGBT parade being organized in time for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, which was hosted by Azerbaijan. This caused disagreement in the society due to homophobic views, but it did gain support from Azerbaijani human rights activists.[16] The contests presence in Azerbaijan also caused diplomatic tensions with neighbouring Iran. Iranian clerics Ayatollah Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Ayatollah Ja'far Sobhani condemned Azerbaijan for "anti-Islamic behaviour", claiming that Azerbaijan was going to host a gay parade.[17] This led to protests in front of the Iranian embassy in Baku, where protesters carried slogans mocking the Iranian leaders. Ali Hasanov, head of the public and political issues department in the Azerbaijani President's administration, said that gay parade claims were untrue, and warned Iran not to meddle in Azerbaijan's internal affairs.[18] In response, Iran recalled its ambassador from Baku,[19] while Azerbaijan demanded a formal apology from Iran for its statements in connection with Baku's hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest,[20] and later also recalled its ambassador from Tehran.[21]

In 2016 the ILGA ranked Azerbaijan as the worst place (49 out of 49) in Europe to be LGBT, citing "a near total absence of legal protection" for LGBT individuals.[22] In 2017, reports emerged that at least 100 members of Baku's LGBT community were arrested, ostensibly as part of a crackdown on prostitution. Activists reported that these detainees were subject to beatings, interrogation, forced medical examinations, and blackmail.[23]

Suicide of Isa Shahmarli[edit]

In January 2014 Isa Shahmarli, the openly gay founder of AZAD LGBT committed suicide by hanging himself with a rainbow flag. At the time of his death, Isa was unemployed, in debt, and estranged from his family who considered him 'ill'.[24] Shahmarli left a note on Facebook blaming society for his death, he was discovered soon after by friends.[25]

Shahmarli's suicide sparked an increase in LGBT activism in Azerbaijan. The day of his death was marked as 'LGBT Pride Day'[26] and was honored in 2015 with the release of several videos.

LGBT Organizations[edit]

As of 2015, there are 3 LGBT organizations in Azerbaijan.

'LGBT Azerbaijan Gay.Аz' - is the first information portal for LGBT people in Azerbaijan.

'Gender and Development' - created in 2007 and carries out local projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan - established in 2012. It has implemented several projects, including part of an international survey and regularly holds talks with the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan and other European embassies regarding the difficulties of LGBT people and their situation in Azerbaijan.

AZAD LGBT - established in 2012 by Isa Shahmarli. AZAD concentrates on education and better media representation in Azerbaijan. In its first year, it ran several projects including organizing LGBT movie nights in the capital of Baku. These movie nights would be attended by a local psychologist that would assist in Q&As after the films.

In 2014, after the Isa Shahmarli committed suicide, AZAD organized a series of photo and video projects.

  • 'Love is Love' - an online photo campaign designed to provide support to the LGBT community in Azerbaijan
  • 'Reng' - in remembrance of Isa's birthday AZAD produced illustrated version of several of Isa's writings

In 2015 AZAD launched a website compiling all their previous work and providing free online LGBT education tools [27]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 2000)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2000)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Hate crime law No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults Archived 19 July 2013 at WebCite
  2. ^ a b "LGBT Rights in Azerbaijan | Equaldex". Retrieved 2017-05-15. 
  3. ^ Healey, Dan. "Masculine purity and 'Gentlemen's Mischief': Sexual Exchange and Prostitution between Russian Men, 1861–1941". Slavic Review. Vol. 60, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), p. 258.
  4. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Azerbaijan: Information On The Treatment Of Homosexuals". Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Russian S.F.S.R. (1966). Harold Joseph Berman, ed. Soviet criminal law and procedure: the RSFSR codes (University of California original). Harvard University Press. p. 196. 
  6. ^ Spartacus International Gay Guide, page 1216. Bruno Gmunder Verlag, 2007.
  7. ^ "Council of Europe". Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "Azerbaijan". Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Between Appearance and Reality in Baku: LGBT Rights in Azerbaijan". The gay artist Babi Badalov describes to the BBC his family’s reaction when they found out about his homosexuality. For years he had attempted to live according to traditional norms. He even got married. But because he could no longer endure this lifestyle, he applied for asylum in Great Britain. His claim was denied, however, as homosexuality is not a criminal offence in Azerbaijan. A campaign supporting him in Great Britain became known in his hometown in southern Azerbaijan near the Iranian border. His family considered this to be a dishonor. His brother swore that he would kill him and then himself, reported Badalov to the BBC. His sister encouraged him to leave Azerbaijan and never return. Badalov found asylum in France shortly thereafter. (see Eurovision 2012: Azerbaijan's gays not welcome at home by Dina Newman) 
  10. ^ Dennis van der Veur, Forced Out;LGBT people in Azerbaijan, report for ILGA, 2007
  11. ^ a b "Study on Homophobia, Transphobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" (PDF). Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  12. ^ "LGBT activism in Azerbaijan". Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  13. ^ GALLUP WorldView - data accessed on 17 january 2009
  14. ^ "ILGA-Europe". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  15. ^ a b Western Media on Eurovision. Radio Liberty. 25 May 2012.
  16. ^ "News.Az - Gay parade in Baku: to be or not to be?". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Antidze, Margarita (22 May 2012). "Iran's "gay" Eurovision jibes strain Azerbaijan ties". Reuters. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  18. ^ Lomsadze, Girgoi (21 May 2012). "Azerbaijan: Pop Music vs. Islam". Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "Iran recalls envoy to Azerbaijan ahead of Eurovision". AFP. 22 May 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Azerbaijan Demands Apology From Iran Over Eurovision". Voice of America. 24 May 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  21. ^ "Azerbaijan Recalls Ambassador To Iran". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 30 May 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  22. ^ "Rainbow Europe - Azerbaijan". ILGA. Retrieved 29 Dec 2017. 
  23. ^ "Mass Arrests and Abuse of LGBT People in Azerbaijan". 22 September 2017. Retrieved 29 Dec 2017. 
  24. ^ "Isa Shakhmarli, Azeri Gay Rights Activist, Allegedly Commits Suicide With A Rainbow Flag". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "LGBT Leader Dies From Apparent Suicide, Hanging Himself With Rainbow Flag". The New Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  26. ^ "Declaration of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan – 22nd January date as 'LGBT Pride Day In Azerbaijan'". IGLHRC: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "Tool Kit". AZAD. Retrieved 23 August 2015.