May 202012
Eurovision Baku

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It is the "heaven for gays", "Heaven for gay", promises the entry on a Web site. The path leads to a small Club in a side street, not far from the Metro station Icherisheher, located in Baku city. Above the door is not a name, but the loud music that blares on this Saturday night from the basement, is unmistakable. Michael Jackson seems to have landed in Baku's "Schwulenhimmel". The doorman before looks like one that pushes for twenty years before Hamburg's prolligster native guard. And here you want to be a Schwulenclub? The living room large room with a small bar in the corner is not stylish or modern furnished, but plushy cozy. The lighting is schummrig, small leather sofas facing the red walls. From there, several dozen young men look over to the dance floor. Women with lips moulded-on and facial features to the distortion operated theatrical move to "Beat it". There are Drag Queens who are hailed with loud clapping.

He looks so gay heaven in Baku. It is the capital of a country that is described as a deeply schwulenfeindlich. Homosexuality is not prosecuted - the prohibition was abolished in 2001 - but it is far away, to be socially accepted, or even tolerated. "Intimate dealing in public is easily misunderstood as a provocation and can cause reactions up to the warning by the police," writes the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin in his warnings. Although the Azerbaijani leadership does not tire to insure that all guests in Baku are welcome, there are such warnings that deeply unsettle many gay fans, who travel to Baku, shortly before the start of the Eurovision Song Contest.

"We are not gay enemy (schwulenfeindliches) land"

"We are not the Iran," says Kamran Razayew. The 39 years old lives openly gay and heads the non-governmental organization gender & Development, who is officially registered and funded by international donations in Baku. "We are not gay hostile country", says Razayew. He can not understand the warning of the Foreign Ministry. He had never had trouble with the police. "Me someone on the street has never offended or even attacked," says his friend, Elham Bagirov, which he lived for twelve years. He referred to the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan as the most tolerant country in the Caucasus. "We are not the homophobic Russia and have also no churches, which draw with crosses against gay militarily." Azerbaijan would often depicted as the "hinterletzte land", but he as a gay man could "very well live here".

Baku's beautifully restored pedestrian actually resembles the paradise for gays. About the clean cleaned cobblestones, passed on the magnificent Art Nouveau facades, dozens of young men stroll arm in arm. You have hooked up, or put your hand around the shoulder of her boyfriend. For Western eyes an unusual image for the Caucasus something completely mundane. It is merely an expression of friendship, nobody would come up with the idea to associate this behavior as gay.

"At best, homosexuality is tolerated, as long as they do not publicly displayed or even claim to recognition", said Yasemin Pamuk, who works in the Caucasus for the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung. It will be clearly distinguished between the active and the passive partner. The passive often become the victims of stigmatization. "His manhood is been compromised in the eyes of society, and he has questioned the manhood of his macho," Pamuk explains.

Many homosexuals lead a double life

What does this stigma, is also in the cellar disco. One of the guys pulls on his cigarette. Although it has become quite warm in the room, which is not much bigger than a living room, he has to keep his leather jacket. He wants to look cool, disparagingly looking to the other men dancing to Tarkan, while he keeps one of the Drag Queens in the arm. His macho is not trained. None would come up with the idea to keep him for gay. And also he is adamant to be heterosexual. Although he considers just someone in the arm, which although looks like a woman, but anatomically is a man. A schizophrenic survival strategy.

A gay son is a catastrophe for most parents in Azerbaijan. Many gays are repudiated by her family, others are forced into marriages. "The most gay, that I met in Baku, not open live", Idris Roberts says. The 37-year old Briton works as an architect in Azerbaijan capital for a year. Many led a double life under the motto "Don 't ask, don' t tell" ("don't ask and say nothing"). He compares the situation of homosexuals on the spot with the Western Europe twenty or thirty years ago. "Because even the least were outed." But gay had today at least the opportunity to learn about the Internet and to organize. "Sites like or are freely accessible in Azerbaijan."

Roberts tells of a friend who is been caught kissing on the street. It had happened exactly what the German Embassy have warned. The police have taken him and attempting to extort money from him. "Who have bent at all not even on gay, this is just a corrupt country," he says. However, he believes that that is certainly not dare no one to the Eurovision Song Contest for foreigners.

"We are at the beginning of a development"

Also in the small Schwulenclub which removes only a few hundred metres from the Iranian Embassy, it almost seems as if kissing was prohibited. Still Turkish ethno-pop sounds from the speakers. Many men have started to dance. You love watching himself as the gay clubs in Berlin, Paris or Madrid also do. But in Baku she hold back striking with mutual caresses. Flirt and keep himself in the arm, but a kiss seems to be something unattainable.

"We're at the beginning of a trend," says Razayew. Azerbaijan is still far from anti-discrimination laws or the equality of homosexuals in everyday life. But that's not his goal at the moment. "We want to give psychological and humanitarian aid to homosexuals and operate health education", he explains his work in gender & development. The gay community is not yet ready for political action in the public as a gay", he believes. But even if men in public could not kiss up, some spaces remained gay in everyday life.

One is the small cellar Club in the Icherisheher. There, Michael Jackson will be played again on the next Saturday. Dozens gay will celebrate then. Without kissing up. This may happen more many gays from Western Europe as hell. But for many Azeris, it is heaven.

Jens Maier