Broken Rainbow: LGBTQ travel risk in the Caucasus and Central Asia

The governments of Azerbaijan, Russia, Tajikistan and Turkey have all sought to suppress their domestic lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities in recent months.


The governments of Azerbaijan, Russia, Tajikistan and Turkey have all sought to suppress their domestic lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities in recent months. Below, A2 Global examines LGBTQ rights in each jurisdiction, and suggests mitigation strategies companies should employ to protect at-risk staff.


There is a sharp disconnect in Central Asia and the Caucasus between the de facto and de jure rights of LGBTQ individuals. Whilst homosexuality is legal, in practice LGBTQ staff face arrest, harassment or even in some extreme cases violence. Over the past few months, the security risk facing LGBTQ individuals in CIS countries has escalated sharply. Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkey have launched crackdowns against their LGBTQ communities. Below, A2 Global provides situation reports on these countries, and suggests mitigation steps managers can take to ensure LGBTQ personnel can deploy safely and securely.



This September, law enforcement in the capital Baku conducted a series of operations specifically targeting the LGBTQ community. Plainclothes officers deployed to LGBTQ-linked establishments and arrested a number of individuals leaving the venues. Those arrested allege that police officers beat and tortured them into giving names of their friends, who were themselves subsequently arrested. Azerbaijani officials justified the arrests by stating that those detained were acting against national morality and were infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. Government hostility towards LGBTQ individuals is overt, with a spokesman for the interior ministry saying they are cursed by God and a product of a Western conspiracy. A2 Global notes that this view is widely held throughout government circles. Despite Azerbaijan decriminalising homosexuality in 2000, global human-rights NGO network International Helsinki Federation noted in 2001 that LGBTQ individuals in Azerbaijan risked harassment or detention by security forces. Meanwhile, in 2016 international LGBTQ-rights NGO IGLA-Europe ranked Azerbaijan as the worst place to be gay out of 49 European countries surveyed. The risk to LGBTQ staff in Azerbaijan is further increased by the government's demonstrable lack of respect for due process during these operations. Credible reports by local activists say that police officers denied detainees access to legal counsel, forced them to sign blank statements, and that trials were perfunctory events that did not allow defendants to provide evidence on their own behalf. This is line with a wider pattern of authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. A2 Global's own data-metric assessment system ranks Azerbaijan as a high-stability-risk country, due primarily to the state's authoritarian tendencies. The Azerbaijani economy is petrochemical-dominated, with crude petroleum counting for approximately 86 per cent of all exports. Given energy companies tend to have significant resources and advanced human-resources capability, their duty-of-care responsibilities will be accordingly greater than smaller commercial entities.


Since September, leaked details have emerged of a list of hundreds of named LGBTQ individuals held by the Tajikistani government. The government claimed the registry was created as a protective measure, due to the vulnerability of the LGBTQ community. However, A2 Global assesses it is much more likely to be a precursor to some sort of arrest campaign. For example, the identification operations were codenamed Morality and Purge, suggesting in both cases that the intent behind the registry is repressive rather than supportive. Although Tajikistan technically permits same-sex relationships, in practice the general population is deeply hostile to such practices, tending to consider the LGBTQ community as anathema to Tajikistan's Muslim and Central Asian identities. Tajikistan's reliance on foreign experts in key industries, such as mining, means that the government will be highly cautious about undertaking any arrest operation against expatriate LGBTQ individuals. However, police officers have little regulatory oversight and could attempt to arrest or harass such staff regardless. Furthermore, public displays of same-sex affection could provoke hostile or even violent responses from local populations, particularly in areas outside the major cities. A2 Global notes that Tajikistan's economy is extractive-based, with a focus on aluminium and gold. Mining companies have some advantages over other corporate entities, as personnel will tend to be located in secure compounds away from cities. Nonetheless, without robust duty-of-care procedures such companies will be leaving themselves open to reputational and legal reprisals.


Discrimination against the LGBTQ community has dramatically increased in the last decade as President Vladimir Putin has turned towards conservative traditionalism and Orthodox Christianity to maintain public support. There is very little public will to counter official homophobia in Russia, and the general population remains hostile to non-heterosexual relationships. In June 2013, the Russian parliament passed a federal law on traditional family values. Anything considered to be promoting non-traditional sexual predispositions, according to the law's vague wording, is now illegal. Organisations convicted of disseminating propaganda to this effect can be forced to temporarily cease operations. Foreign citizens could be fined, detained and deported. Critics have noted that the authorities could view an individual simply telling family members of their sexuality as flouting the law.
Discrimination against the LGBTQ community has dramatically increased in the last decade
A domestic NGO, the Centre for Independent Social Research, said in November that hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in Russia have doubled over the past five years. Rates of such incidents, which range from harassment to murder, have risen throughout Russia, including in the capital Moscow and the major commercial centre of Saint Petersburg. Homophobic rhetoric is nowhere more visible than in the southern, predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya, ruled by the highly homophobic strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Although Chechnya is so far an isolated case with limited exposure to international business, A2 Global notes it is a potential end-scenario when state-level homophobia is legitimised. In April 2017, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on detention centres holding hundreds of LGBTQ men in the republic and an apparent effort by the authorities to systematically "cleanse" Chechnya of homosexuality. A2 Global notes that there is a credible and immediate threat to the safety and security of LGBTQ staff in Chechnya. Although foreign personnel could be less at risk, the escalatory nature of the "cleansing"means that such staff could find themselves detained, and then unable to access consular assistance.