‘In Facebook, it is not me,’ says Azeri politician

Recently, one Azeri politician and analyst Ilgar Mammadov called another politician and analyst Eldar Namazov: "I’ve sent you a friendship request through Facebook, accept it please." Eldar Namazov raised his eyebrows in surprise: "But I have no profile in Facebook!"

What further followed brought more surprise and not only to Mr. Namazov himself. As he suddenly discovered, he has been in Facebook for a long period of time – that is, someone was impersonating him so successfully that had befriended whole Facebook elite of Azerbaijan. In fact, it was Ilgar Mammadov who was late in his friendship request.

Sagif Namazov, son of the politician affected by possible fraud says that he himself is new to Facebook and didn’t know about his father’s supposed account either. Now they plan to take some serious actions in response, but as a preliminary measure, Eldar Namazov has spread a message through his acquaintances in Facebook calling users to unfriend the other "Namazov" and block him.

The other "Eldar Namazov" – the one in Facebook – didn’t return any comments. Subsequently, the profile itself went down.

This is not the first time when Eldar Namazov, a respected politician and prominent figure among intellectuals is a victim of "cloning." Back in 2005, during his campaign for a seat in the national parliament, two other "Eldar Namazovs" popped up in his constituency to distract his voters.

"Especially after the clone operation of 2005, I don’t consider this incident as a coincidence," says Mr. Namazov, but hesitates to speculate about reasons behind it. "Perhaps [the government] is very anxious about something. Maybe this is about my activities, upcoming parliamentary elections, social tensions in the country or all of these."

Describing his reaction to the news, youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev says that he was not surprised at all, "since online presence of Azerbaijani politicians is not controlled by their respective offices."  

A recent graduate from Harvard Kennedy School, Mr Hajiyev was one of the creators of Shiraslan, a mock online candidate during 2008 Presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Being a brainchild of Hajiyev and a group of Azeri students abroad, Shiraslan’s popularity skyrocketed in a short period of time due to his user-friendly website, youtube videos and advocacy through Facebook.

"Personally, I was surprised by the level of support," adds Mr. Hajiyev about unexpected success of Shiraslan. "Although, we made it clear that this is a mock candidate, we received hundreds of Facebook messages and emails – almost every message included similar lines: "I know that you are not a real candidate, but there’s no one else who is ready to hear my story, my concerns"".

The Internet and modern technologies provide completely new opportunities for estranged Azeri opposition to evade harsh restrictions imposed on their campaigning and communications by the government. But in comparison to younger generation of activists who fully utilize this potential, the older generation still lag behind both in understanding the importance of these new opportunities, as well as in harnessing of their benefits.

Hajiyev and his friends’ experience clearly reveals the thirstiness of nascent Azeri online community for a new kind of politics and their favour of politics online. Politicians like Eldar Namazov can grasp their share of success if they follow Shiraslan’s example, but unless they come to Facebook, they can always be victims of possible Internet frauds and find themselves in uncomfortable situations. After all, sacred niches do not remain unoccupied, says an old conventional wisdom.