“In the last two years the youth of Azerbaijan have woken up from a long a sleep.” Young photo journalist Mehman Huseynov shares his views and experiences.

Mehman Huseynov is only 21 years old. Yet he has already won several prizes for his photo journalistic work, including ones given by the US State Department, Freedom House and the World Movement for Democracy. Unfortunately even at this young age he has also had to experience what  many other journalists have had to go through in later age – earlier this year he was imprisoned for several days, and a criminal case is still open against him because of his work.

At first sight Mehman does not look very different from young people of his age in many other countries. His distinctive hairstyle is perhaps more common in London and Berlin then in Baku and Ganca, and one can be forgiven for thinking that he is a rapper rather than a political campaigner. Looks are however deceptive. Mehman is an astute activist who is committed to campaign for reforms in his native Azerbaijan. “Our young people have in the last two years woken up after a long sleep,” he says. “Young Azerbaijanis are now concerned about their basic freedoms. The main issues on their mind are freedom of speech, human rights, the fight against corruption and changes in the education system.”

Azerbaijan will have presidential elections in October 2013. Mehman expects young people to be very active in the run up to the vote. Some will support a particular candidate, but many young people according to Mehman are more concerned to ensure a clean electoral process. He is critical of the government for putting pressure on young people to support the incumbent president.

Mehman says that there is a new mood in Azerbaijan and that young people are no longer afraid to voice their opinions, even if they know that there will be negative consequences afterwards. He talked about the campaign that got him into trouble with the authorities – the “Sing for democracy” campaign that sought to focus attention on Azerbaijan’s poor record in the area of freedom of speech during the Eurovision song festival held in Baku earlier this year. Despite the fact that it was clear that there will be consequences the campaign managed to attract many people.

During the time that he was in police detention Mehman received a lot of support from friends and activists not only in Azerbaijan but also world wide. But he is particularly impressed by emails he receives often from young people who are in his words “far away from politics.”  “It is clear young people are no longer afraid,” he says.

When asked about the future he does not hesitate. “I am optimistic,” he insists.

www.links-dar.org conducted an interview with Mehman Huseynov on his return from Peru where he received an award for his photo-journalistic work from the Movement for Democracy.