Amanda Rivkin

When a Fatwa Comes True

Rafiq Tagi was an Azerbaijani journalist and outspoken advocate of secularism over political Islam. His efforts were acknowledged with a fatwa in 2006 calling for his death by an Iranian cleric, the late Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani. Tagi received a three-year prison sentence in Azerbaijan for “inciting religious hatred.” After serving only eight months, Tagi received a presidential pardon from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

On November 23, 2011, Tagi was stabbed returning home, dying of complications a few days later while recovering in a Baku hospital. A politically sensitive, high profile case in Azerbaijan, I first met the Tagi family during the three-day ceremony, the most important part of an Azerbaijani funeral that occurs three days following a death.

Tagi left behind a widow, Maila, 47, a son, Asiman, 20, and a daughter Gamar, 15. The family’s life is punctuated with loss; with Tagi’s death, widow Maila is left in a difficult spot in a socially conservative, traditional society. Many of the responsibilities of the household fell on Asiman. With Asiman’s departure to the army on July 5, 2012, the family is once again bereft of a man of the house. Their household has now dwindled to half its original size in less than a year as Maila and Gamar struggle forward together.

With the investigation technically wide open and without a single arrest made, the Tagi family’s life remains on edge; isolated by politics, secularism, and religion, Maila, his widow, must face an uncertain future with the family that remains, guiding two children as they emerge from adolescence into adulthood and with one absent and in the hands of the state, vis-à-vis the military. Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Tagi's death, Azerbaijan’s state- dominated media has gone on the offensive, attacking Tagi and asserting he brought about his own end with his writings.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (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 the two to the right) Yeguna and Durdana, during the third-day memorial in his apartment surrounded 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.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Asiman Tagili, 20, sits at the living room table under a portrait of his 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, on March 20, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Gamar Tagili, 15, Asiman Tagili, 20, and Maila Tagiyeva, 48, are seen in the railyard as Asiman clutches a bag of food his mother prepared for him where he will catch a train to Shemkir in western Azerbaijan to fulfill his military service obligations on July 5, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Maila Tagiyeva, 48, stand sin the kitchen as her son, Asiman Tagili, 20, prepares the living room table for desert to celebrate Maila's 48th birthday, the first without her husband, 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, on May 3, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Maila Tagiyeva, 47, cooks dinner by light of the bathroom after the kitchen's single light bulb went out on the first day of the Novruz holiday celebrating the Zoroastrian new year on March 20, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  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, on July 4, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Gamar Tagili, 15, takes a nap in her bed after school beneath a portrait 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 on January 25, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Asiman Tagili, 20, waits for the bus near his family's apartment underneath a portrait of an Azeri martyr of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh to take his final university exam at Khazar University on January 30, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Maila Tagiyeva, 47, closes the cabinet of her outdoor cold storage on the family's terrace off the kitchen of the family's apartment on March 16, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (Center) Gamar Tagili, 15, is quizzed on biology by her cousin Ayten (right) as her cousin Fatima (left) looks on in the Tagi family bedroom on August 18, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Cousin Hicran Aliyev, 21, and Asiman Tagili, 20, cross a major road to do the family's grocery shopping on the first day of the Novruz holiday celebrating the Zoroastrian new year on March 20, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Asiman Tagili, 20, stands in the middle of the food court at the Park Bulvar shopping mall during a Saturday night out with a friend on April 28, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (Second and third from left) Maila Tagiyeva, 48, brings a glass of tea to her son, Asiman Tagili, 20, as he sits surrounded by his aunts and uncles in the morning before he takes his military oath and obtains his marching orders on July 5, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Asiman Tagili, 20, takes a pair of pants from his mother, Maila Tagiyeva, 48, that she picked out for him in the family bedroom in the morning before Asiman takes his military oath and receives his marching orders on July 5, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Gamar Tagili, 15, Maila Tagiyeva, 48, and Asiman Tagili, 20, sit in the back seat of a male relatives car as they return back to their apartment after Asiman took his military oath and received his marching orders for that evening on July 5, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Asiman Tagili, 20, responds to roll call for young men who are going into the military at the railyard where he will catch a train to Shemkir in western Azerbaijan to fulfill his military service obligtions on July 5, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (Lower right) Maila Tagiyeva, 48, waves to her son, Asiman Tagili, 20, (lower right in the window) after he boarded a train to Shemkir in western Azerbaijan to fulfill his military service obligations on July 5, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Gamar Tagili, 15, embraces her mother, Maila Tagiyeva, 48, at the railyard as they are surrounded by the family members of other military conscripts after Asiman Tagili, 20, boarded a train to Shemkir in western Azerbaijan to fulfill his military service obligations on July 5, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  (Second from the right) Gamar Tagili, 15 and her widowed mother (far right), Maila Tagiyeva, 48, cry over the grave of Rafiq Tagi on his birthday alongside other members of the extended family including his sister, Yeguna (third from right), and her daughter, Ayten (third from left), at a cemetery on the outskirts of Baku on August 5, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  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, on February 19, 2012.