Dissident Iranian-Azerbaijani TV chief speaks out after beating in U.S.
Ahmad Obali, a prominent proponent of Azerbaijani nationalism in Iran and virulent critic of the Islamic Republic, refused to speak about who might have attacked him.
A self-exiled ethnic Azerbaijani critic of the Iranian government has made his first public remarks since his beating last month in the U.S.
In his hospital bed remarks, he refused to comment on who could have been behind the assault.
This amid speculation, particularly in Azerbaijan, that it was the work of Iranian special services.
Ahmad Obali is the founder of Chicago-based GunAz TV (South Azerbaijan TV), which seeks to promote Azerbaijani nationalism in Iran and opposes Iran's theocratic regime.
On 21 May, the victim's nephew, Araz Obali, who heads GunAz's Baku bureau said that Ahmad Obali and his son, Deniz Obali, had been severely beaten at a hotel in the town of Santa Clara, in California's Silicon Valley.
He said the attack occurred the day after Ahmed Obali returned to the U.S. from a visit to Azerbaijan.
"As a result of the attack, Ahmad Obali's whole body was seriously injured, especially his neck, all the fingers of his right hand were broken, and his eyes were severely damaged. He can't feel his arms and legs," the victim's nephew said.
Ahmad Obali made his first statement since the attack on June 4. In a recorded audio statement posted on Araz's Facebook page, he said that his condition had not improved but there is hope that it will. He added that police had made an arrest. "But that's all I can say for now. Police want us to keep quiet until the end of the investigation so as not to create rumors. Only then everything will be clear," he said. His speech was slow and labored and medical equipment could be heard in the background.
The 62-year-old Ahmad Obali has been campaigning against Iran's theocratic system since he was a teenager in Ardabil, a mainly ethnic Azerbaijani-populated in Iran, near the border with Azerbaijan.
He managed to flee Iran in the early 1980s and arrived in the US in 1985. In 2004, he founded GunAz TV in Chicago, which now broadcasts via satellite 24/7 in Azeri and Persian to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. In addition to Baku, GunAz TV operates offices in Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada.
GunAz TV's mission statement says it seeks "peaceful and cultural action against racism and discriminatory government policies in Iran" and "to fight against the cultural genocide and linguistic assimilation of Azerbaijani Turks and Turks living in other regions of the geography called Iran".
Obali's long record of activism, including his most recent remarks defending Azerbaijan in its steadily worsening relations with Iran, raised suspicions as to whether Iran was behind the attack.
"Iran would attack Azerbaijan even today if it had a chance," he told pro-government outlet Musavat TV while in Baku in January. In November, at the height of last year's anti-Islamic Republic demonstrations in Iran, he told public television that "South Azerbaijan wants independence!".
For years the Azerbaijani government refrained from commenting on the affairs of Azerbaijanis in Iran. President Ilham Aliyev broke the taboo in a November 2022 speech, saying: "We'll do our best to defend the rights of Azerbaijanis living in Iran."
The Azerbaijani government has remained silent on the attack on the Obalis. The foreign ministry hasn't released a statement on the matter. The embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington didn't respond to Eurasianet's request for comment.
But the country's pro-government media and MPs have openly speculated about Iran being behind the attack.
"He [Obali] has always harshly criticized the Iranian government. His channel showed his long-term attitude and approach towards Iran and its policies," MP Jeyhun Mammadov told local news site Redaktor.az. "Therefore, the odds favor that idea [that Iran was behind the attack]."
Correction: This article earlier misidentified Araz Obali as Ahmad Obali's brother. He is his nephew.
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.