Leading Azeri Online News Portal Shuts Down

Not so long ago, on 12 February, Anar Mamedkhanov, founder of Day.az, leading Azeri media outlet, and one of the biggest online news portals in Caucasus warned his Armenian colleagues:

Gentlemen, wake up, it is XXI century, year 2009 (just in case to remind you of), only day.az with the quantity of its visits and views surpasses all Armenian and pro-Armenian websites altogether a dozen times, and this popularity and reputation are acquired by years of painstaking work, objectivity of information and pluralism of opinions.

Yet, on the night of 18 February, just after six days, day.az was shut down, and this is why you have to visit Google cash, in order to find the original of aforementioned Mamedkhanov quote.

At first, day.az and its sister sites (e.g. dayaz.com and today.az) displayed a comment that the website is shut down for “unknown reasons”; then – “due to technical problems”; and then finally – “project is closed”. Now the comment reads: “Site is temporarily unavailable due to technical problems” and “will be back on 25th February.” Besides, as Osman Gunduz of Azerbaijan Internet Forum reported, details about day.az was surprisingly deleted from the National Domain Database [UPDATE: Now, they have reappeared.  For more, visit whois.az ].

A correspondent from Azadliq Radio, an Azeri version of RFE/RL, made a visit to Day.az headquarters and found only one employee who in turn had told them:

Yes, they have closed both day.az radio and day.az website. i am an editor with the website. I don’t know what the reason is. There are so many reasons in the world… Everyone has left. I am alone in the office. I can’t say anything about who closed and why closed [day.az]. In the afternoon, at dinner time they said that, it is closed and that is all.

Speaking hours after the incident Anar Mamedkhanov told local agencies that closure of day.az “was connected with technical causes". “There were some technical failures in the website. They are being eliminated. The staff of the website will not change,” he said and added that website would restart within a week and with a number of changes, and declined to give further comments.

Armenian colleagues of Mamedkhanov, particularly, panorama.am reported the news as “Azeri media outlet was shut down for dissidence” and tied it to latest bleak report about Azerbaijani economy published on the eve of the closure. Ilgar Mammadov, Azerbaijani political analyst talked about “decision of governing circles, motivated by monarchic aspirations, to close day.az, which was a more succesful Azerbaijani news project providing relatively objective, complete and more pluralist material feed in [Azerbaijani] Internet”.  Elmira Akhundova, an Azeri MP stated that she exactly knows [how?]: “This issue is purely technical and is stemming from a problem with a transmitter in the US”.

However, Regnum.ru, which apparently was first to break the news, had more accurate wording:

By the way, as correspondent of IA Regnum was told by a competent source, the website [of day.az] is temporarily blocked due to political motives related to a publication of an interview, mentioning somehow Russian issues.

And I’d say yes, this is the case! As Turan Information Agency reported, day.az irritated some circles in Russia, especially for coverage of Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008 and recently day.az published an interview with a disgraced Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky in which the former blamed incumbent Russian PM Vladimir Putin for corruption, accused him of accumulating $40 billion dollars in foreign accounts and being interested in conflicts in Caucasus. As Turan continues, the next day after the interview appeared in Internet, the representatives of Presidential Administration were looking for the contacts of administrators of the site.

What happened afterwards is merely a mystery, but Hikmet Hadjy-zadeh, an Azeri political analyst had such a colourful version in one local forum:

Last unconfirmed report about the closure of day.az

Website is closed because of the interview with Berezovsky published there, in which Berezovsky talked critically about incumbent Kremlin leadership.

They phoned from the Kremlin to our white house and there were many emotions.

Then our white house-dwellers summoned Anar Mamedkhanov and strictly ordered him to occupy himself with exclusively legislative activities (yes, you are an MP – did forget it? – and do what MPs do)

And forget about the website.

Forever or not – don’t know.

Official reaction to the closure of day.az complicated the issue more. For Ali Hasanov, head of the Socio-Political Department of the Presidential Administration told one local TV

I have no information about the closure of this website. In any case, the administration of the website knows the reasons better. But, how can the Azerbaijani Government shut down a website?

however, asked about Berezovsky connection, he replied:

We are a friendly country with Russia and can’t be indifferent to any information disseminated about its head of state or government. But I think that any site can be closed for such a material.

Yes, speaking merely, as Thoughts on the Roads says, Putin reportedly called the Azerbaijani President personally and demanded the closure of the site. 

Ironically, not long ago day.az published an interview with a Russian political analyst who claimed that the real cause of the Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008 was the Georgian President Saakashvili’s referring to PM Vladimir Putin as “Lilliputin&rd
quo;. So why, you can ask, day.az didn’t learn a lesson from Putin’s response to Georgian President? Obviously, Georgian themselves didn’t learn anything! According to Eternal Remont, one of my favourite blogs, Georgia enters Eurovision Song Contest 2009 with a song called “We don’t wanna put in”.

So next thing to guess is either Eurovision to be closed or Georgia to get a Hollywood-style sequel?

UPDATE: IA Regnum reports: Termination of activities of Day.az, the most visited Internet resource of Central Asia and Caucasus starting from 18 February, has been caused by serious political mistakes made by employees of this information resource recently, IA Regnum was told by a source in the Azerbaijani government who wished to remain anonymous. In particular, according to the source, website published materials, not helpful to the development of Azerbaijani-Russian and Azerbaijani-Turkish relations.