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Azerbaijanis in Estonia hit out at stereotypes after fatal Tallinn accident

Scene of the fatal accident on Laagna tee last June.
Scene of the fatal accident on Laagna tee last June. Source: ERR

The Azerbaijani community in Estonia has criticized recent media reports in the wake of a fatal road accident in Tallinn last month. The driver at fault, who is currently in custody, is an ethnic Azerbaijani living in Tallinn, which community groups say have led to two pieces, on portal Delfi and the Eesti Ekspress website, which unfairly portray all Azerbaijanis in Estonia as being linked to criminal activities.

The Azerbaijani Cultural Center of Estonia (Eesti Aserbaidžaani Kultuurikeskus) has approached the interior ministry, the justice chancellor and the media over the issue.

Nijazi Gadzijev, chairman of the cultural center, wrote: "Reporting on the story from a national perspective has created an environment of fear among the Azerbaijani community. There have been situations where employees of cuisine institutions have been called 'mafia button men', high school places are refused for incomprehensible reasons and members of the community have now come to us to ask for help in turning back the wave of hostility in society."

Gadzijev said that comments on stories published in the press demonstrate a focus which is derogatory to Azerbaijani people as a whole and which could incite hate speech.

"The objective of the press should not be to incite international hatred," Gadzijev continued.

Gadzijev added that: "The Azerbaijani community is asking for the coverage of these topics to not be from a national perspective and, if possible, to remove any articles from the public space that handle it so."

He also emphasized that most of the Azerbaijani community in the country are law-abiding citizens of Estonia who respect the constitution as a: "higher agreement that connects us all on a societal level and that should be respected and honored by all citizens."

Azerbaijani student body also condemns piece

The Azerbaijani student community also criticized the articles and approach.

"We understand the gravity of the accident and the resonance it has left among the Estonian public and share the grief of the people who lost their loved ones," Elvin Abbasli, one of the student body's leaders, wrote.

"But attacking an ethnic group and labelling them almost as 'thugs, eventually committing their next crime' for the sake of more clicks is against journalistic professionalism.

Abbasli noted that the move was counter to a general trend towards equality between different societal groups evidenced by the international "Black Lives Matter" movement, though stressed that the majority of Estonians do not support the line taken in the pieces.

A piece published in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) on Wednesday opened by saying the accident, which killed two people and injured six, as well as a dog, was par for the course for someone from an Azerbaijani criminal family, in every sense of the word.

It also enumerated activities both of the suspect - Isa Khalilov, who is now in custody - including a photo where he is holding what appears to be a semi-automatic pistol, and the suspect's father, who it said had in the past been fined by a court after trying to extort money from a former business partner.

The piece noted that while the Azerbaijani population in Estonia, at 1,280, was small - less than that of the town of Lihula (itself the scene of a recent fatal shooting spree - ed.) - it was disproportionately represented in the criminal underworld, citing the international drug dealing investigation linked to an Azerbaijani-run gym in Lasnamäe and which had involved the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) as evidence of this.

The alarm center (Häirekeskus) received a call at 6:38 p.m. on June 21 reporting a collision involving four passenger vehicles on Laagna tee in the residential district of Lasnamäe. The collision killed a pedestrian, a 61-year-old woman, standing at a nearby bus stop. A second person died in hospital.

A total of six people were injured, including all five people in the cars as well as another person who had been standing at the bus stop.

Isa Khalilov, the driver at fault, had reportedly been driving at over 200 km/h in a 70-km/h zone. Khalilov has expressed remorse for the accident, saying he didn't intend for it to happen. His lawyer, Indrek Põder, has argued that culpability lies with some of the other drivers involved for not checking lanes as they passed into Khalilov's path.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte

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