‘Unfit for military service’: How Azerbaijan stigmatizes LGBTQ+ military personnel

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11/26/21

Three years ago, Alp Aliyev, received a notification from the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription that he was required to enlist the army. Alp did not think he would fit into the military culture given his fluid gender identity and lifestyle. He also faced pressure from his relatives. He was told that until he completes the mandatory military service, they would not accept him as a man. Azerbaijan implements mandatory conscription for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35. The compulsory service normally lasts 18 months. According to existing national legislation, alternative service on religious grounds is also possible however Azerbaijan has yet to adopt a law on alternative civilian service or outline the process. Temporary deferrals can also be granted. When it was finally time for Alp to enlist, he visited the Commission on Preliminary Military Registration and told them he was queer. His service was deferred based on Article 18, paragraph b of the Regulation on Military Medical Examinations, which states a person is considered unfit or partially fit for military service on the basis of personality disorders. In Azerbaijan, this is how those who identify as LGBTQ+ are exempted from compulsory military service. In addition to Article 18/b, LGBTQ+ enlistees are also categorized under Article 17/b, which indicates reactive psychoses and neurotic disorders. For gender expert Leyla Hasanova, deferring LGBTQ+ citizens under these Articles during conscription indicates deep homophobia within the government. “Labeling them as such, lifts the government obligation to provide queer citizens with jobs and legitimizes its policies towards queer citizens already ignored by the government.” The practice of using these two articles also violates the state constitution as well as the country’s obligations under international human rights treaties, explains lawyer Samed Rahimli. According to Rahimli, if that specific paragraph (Article 18/b) is used for its intended purposes, accompanied by individual medical assessments, then it is not inherently discriminatory. “However, in practice, when the paragraph is systematically used in the context LGBTIQ+ based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, it is discriminatory.” The World Health Organisation officially declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1994. “In Azerbaijan, although homosexually is not considered a disease in any of the legal documents, when it comes to military service, it is registered and documented as either neurological/psychological or personality disorder,” explains lawyer Ruslan Aliyev. For Alp, he felt discriminated against from the moment he informed the Commission on Preliminary Military Registration of his gender identity. Following a medical examination, he was referred to a psychology dispensary in Baku. “When they asked me questions, I joked when responding. At the end, the doctor asked me, ‘do you know why you are here?’ I told him, ‘I did not.’ ‘Because you are crazy’ he told me, ‘this is why they have sent you here.’ I laughed at this too,” said Alp, adding, “it was a strange experience. You were basically labeled crazy just like that.” Even after obtaining a deferral, potential conscripts must revisit the commission every three years until they turn 35.

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