In Azerbaijan, young people lined up in front of ATMs and bus stops across downtown Baku in a campaign called “It’s My Turn.” They caught the attention of customers, passengers and passers-by, and then distributed educational fliers demanding positive change in the country. The nonviolent demonstration was organized by a group called Positive Change Youth Movement, which was co-founded by Narmin Rahimli, 24.
Narmin had been inspired by the innovative 2010 parliamentary campaign of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a young, progressive leader, whose message of “Positive Change” had attracted the support of many other young people like Narmin.
Although the campaign was subjected to constant interference from the authorities, Hajiev managed to receive the third highest number of votes from a field of 14 candidates.
Narmin and the other fifty young volunteers on Bakhtiyar’s campaign had learned practical skills through coordinating fundraising campaigns and using online resources like social media to recruit volunteers, coordinate actions and raise awareness.
Narmin and her team realized that training other youth to gain these skills would help foster young people’s capacity for change.
They decided to capitalize on the momentum built up from the campaign — there was energy and passion among the young people in the country wanting to make a positive difference. They did so by founding the Positive Change Youth Movement, and encouraging their young volunteers to reach out into their communities, help their neighbors understand the democratic process, and advocate for improved government services at the local level.
Hajiyev, the Movement’s other co-founder, was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison on trumped up charges that the OSCE’s Dunja Mijatovic said were politically motivated. His arrest could have been a serious blow to the movement, but instead, Narmin was able to harness the group’s disappointment into action.
“Working with NED enhances the experiences of our team and volunteers, but the most important part of this support is the moral support we receive, especially working in high-stakes and high-pressure conditions.”
Positive Change Youth Movement puts on an array of activities including its Public Support and Mobilization project, which Narmin helped spearhead in order to establish a hotline for reporting and responding to human rights violations. She also organized a signature petition for submission to parliament, demanding the creation of property protection rights. In an effort to help voice the concerns of youth and diminish apathy among young voters, the organization also managed a letter writing campaign to state bodies about voting problems.
Narmin’s management of Azerbaijan’s most prominent youth movement showcases her capacity as a pro-democracy leader in the country. She has continued to use effective grassroots action to encourage youth participation and raise awareness of important issues. Meanwhile, she has bridged an important divide between the youth of Azerbaijan and the parliament. At the young age of 24, she has already helped create positive change in a country in which democracy has yet to be achieved.