Azerbaijan, Baku, VII Mentor Program at VII Photo Agency

3 Years Since the Death of Azerbaijani Writer Rafiq Tagi, 3 Years Without Justice for the Family

Gamar Tagili, 15, holds up an old photograph of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on February 19, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, holds up an old photograph of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on February 19, 2012.

On November 23, 2011, Azerbaijani writer Rafiq Tagi was stabbed returning home, dying of complications related to the incident a few days later in the hospital. I first met his teenage daughter Gamar at the three-day ceremony, the most important and public part of the elaborate ritual of an Azerbaijani funeral. I spent nearly a year photographing Gamar and her family after, including her brother’s departure for the military after being conscripted for a story, “When A Fatwa Comes True“.

Three years later, there are still no answers or arrests made in Rafiq Tagi’s case. Prior to his assassination, he had been jailed by the Azerbaijani government on charges of inciting religious hatred and pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev and an Iranian cleric, the late Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, had called for his death.

This week, Gamar gave the first lengthy interview about her father’s death to an Azerbaijani outlet, Kulis.az. A friend generously provided a translation from the Azerbaijani for me and consented to my posting it here:

Rafiq Tagi… I can’t write something after these words… maybe I have a lot of words for this person, or I can’t explain my feelings for him.

There are a lot of different memories about Rafiq Tagi. He was a writer… a doctor… a human… a friend…

On the 3rd anniversary of Rafiq Tagi’s tragic death, his daughter Gamar will remember her good Dad, for “The Memory of My Father” by Kulis.az

Introduce yourself, please.
My name is Gamar Tagılı. I study at Baku State University. Faculty of Ecology and Soil. I am 18 years old.

But I always think that your father’s dream was that you would be a doctor
No. My father was a doctor, he endeared me to this profession and that is why I wanted to be a doctor too. But he didn’t desire it. Dad always warned about the difficulties of this profession. And fate… But, I would like to be a doctor, like my father. I always think about his humanism which began from his profession. He was a good doctor, a wonderful writer, a human.

Is it an easy profession?
No (laugh). It is very difficult, I know. But I always dream about it.

When I hear: “Rafiq Tagi”, I associate him with light. And what about you? What do you imagine when hear his name?
Only the best thoughts. My father explained to my brother and me that people shouldn’t lose themselves in all situations. Also, dad taught us to be careful in extreme situations. Your behaviors are more important than your words.

You were a little girl that time…
I was studying in the 10th grade. I opened the door. He was in a warm coat. There wasn’t a blood stain anywhere. When I looked to his face, I didn’t feel anything. He looked very normal. But I paid attention only to the one thing: he hadn’t hugged me. Every day, when he came home, dad cuddled me. But that day he just said, “How are you dear?”

After I heard, how he said to mom, “Don’t tell them that I was stabbed”. She didn’t believe him, because he was very normal. But we understood everything after he had taken off the coat.

Are you from a conservative family?
What do you mean?

I mean, that a woman has her place, a man has his place…
Yes, in a positive sense we were such a family.

Is your brother older than you?
Yes, he is. He was born in 1991. He graduated from school and then served in the military.

I think your father loved you more then your brother…
You are not right. Dad loved us equally. But I want to say that daughters and fathers are very close to each other. Of course I love my mom but I had a different relationship with my dad. We were best friends.

How do you remember your last meeting?
He always walked me to school. That terrible day he went with me to the bus stop. But I felt something bad and told him, “I have grown up daddy. I can go to school without you”. He answered me, “While I am alive, I will see you off to school and meet you when you come back.” The horrible incident occurred that evening. Then I went to the hospital. My family didn’t let me go there, because they worried for me, but I went to my dad.

He was in a sweat. He hadn’t any force. I kissed his forehead and started to cry. Dad tried to calm me down. He said, “Calm down. I am ok.” Then we spoke by phone. And he said that everything will be good.

At the last day I wanted to go to the hospital, but I didn’t do it and after, I couldn’t forgive myself. I must go… Furthermore we didn’t believe that he could die. He was very optimistic. Dad died suddenly.

When do you read his articles?
I read them from childhood. But dad thought that I should do my lessons instead of read his works. And I remember his last article: “Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization”. I read it after the incident. He didn’t tell us about this work. Because some time before the tragedy dad was arrested and we were afraid of his articles.

My father had this modus operandi. He came home after work, relaxed, spoke by telephone with friends and went to sleep at eleven o’clock. But at five o’clock we heard keyboard’s noises. I woke up very often to such sounds. When he had a free day, I left him at the computer and went to school, when I came back I saw how he continued to write with enthusiasm. I had worried for him and asked him to write articles softly, but he told me, “Don’t worry, dear!” I felt proud of my father. I knew that he was a great person.

Did you go to him when he was arrested? You were very little, that is why I have asked you…
Once, my uncle took me with him. Dad understood that I felt bad. That is why he refused a meeting with me for a long time. When I came back, I cried. Separation is terrible.

Tell me, could he give injections to your brother and you? Maybe he couldn’t do it for his children?
Yes, he could. Nowadays, I am afraid of injections. But when dad did it, I forgot about fear. I thought that he couldn’t harm me. I believed him as a doctor. He treated us from diseases. I don’t believe other doctors. I can’t believe them.

He wasn’t only a father. He was a good doctor who always was with us.

For the book, he gave a photo with the two of you together…
Yeah… I will never forget that day. I had worn a yellow dress and he went with me to a photo studio. I don’t remember the address of the studio. I was very little girl, that is why I forget it. But it was a very beautiful day…

Was he funny?
Yes, of course… He could tell stories very cheerfully and then dad laughed with us… he laughed to tears… He loved funny stories very much.

At the funeral day I heard your voice: “There isn’t my father in the coffin! Don’t lie me! My father hasn’t ever left me alone!” Did you believe this was the truth or was it very hard for you?
Of course! But the support of people who never forget him helps us. My father was a great human, he lived an honest life, he helped to others, he left memories. Everyone can’t have such a fate.

(Center) Gamar Tagili, 15, the daughter of slain writer Rafiq Tagi, sits with her mother (behind and to the left), the widow Maila Tagiyeva, 47, and Tagi's two sisters (behind and to the two to the right) Yeguna and Durdana, during the third-day memorial in his apartment surrounded in Baku, Azerbaijan on November 26, 2011.  A critic until his very last article of Iran's theocratic regime with a fatwa ordered against his life by the late Iranian Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani and others in 2006, Tagi was once imprisoned for eight months in 2007 by Baku's secular ruling Aliyev family and stabbed repeatedly by a silent, unknown assailant while returning home the evening of November 19 and died of complications after having his spleen removed several days later; after initial silence, Azerbaijan authorities have opened an investigation and many of Azerbaijan's intelligentsia point their finger at Iran despite an official denial from the Iranian Embassy in Baku.

(Center) Gamar Tagili, 15, the daughter of slain writer Rafiq Tagi, sits with her mother (behind and to the left), the widow Maila Tagiyeva, 47, and Tagi’s two sisters (behind and to the two to the right) Yeguna and Durdana, during the third-day memorial in his apartment surrounded in Baku, Azerbaijan on November 26, 2011. A critic until his very last article of Iran’s theocratic regime with a fatwa ordered against his life by the late Iranian Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani and others in 2006, Tagi was once imprisoned for eight months in 2007 by Baku’s secular ruling Aliyev family and stabbed repeatedly by a silent, unknown assailant while returning home the evening of November 19 and died of complications after having his spleen removed several days later; after initial silence, Azerbaijan authorities have opened an investigation and many of Azerbaijan’s intelligentsia point their finger at Iran despite an official denial from the Iranian Embassy in Baku.

Gamar Tagili, 15, looks down as her mother and aunts cry together as she sits underneath pictures of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 4, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, looks down as her mother and aunts cry together as she sits underneath pictures of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 4, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, after a shower prepares to get ready to say goodbye to her brother, Asiman Tagili, 20, in the family bedroom hours before he leaves to the western part of the country to fulfill his military service obligations in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 5, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, after a shower prepares to get ready to say goodbye to her brother, Asiman Tagili, 20, in the family bedroom hours before he leaves to the western part of the country to fulfill his military service obligations in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 5, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, studies for a biology exam in the Tagi family bedroom in Baku, Azerbaijan on August 18, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, studies for a biology exam in the Tagi family bedroom in Baku, Azerbaijan on August 18, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, smiles and laughs while looking through old family photographs just a few months after the assassination of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on February 19, 2012.

Gamar Tagili, 15, smiles and laughs while looking through old family photographs just a few months after the assassination of her father, Rafiq Tagi, a journalist who was stabbed to death outside his home several years after an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, placed a fatwa against him for writings deemed critical of Islam and the Iranian state, in Baku, Azerbaijan on February 19, 2012.