Ahmad Obali (AzeMedia photo)

Investigation: ‘Assassination Attempt’ On Pan-Turkist Media Mogul Was Actually ‘Family Violence Matter,’ Say Prosecutors


By Colin Cortbus

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last week, a well-known US-based Iranian-Azeri businessman was viciously beaten at an airport hotel in San Jose, California, leaving him with life-threatening spinal injuries. Ahmad Obali founded Günaz TV, a well-known Chicago-based satellite TV channel that pushes pro-Aliyev, pan-Turkist messaging to the Iranian-Azeri community. Pro-Aliyev media in Baku suggested “Armenian armed groups” in California might have been implicated in the crime and used the incident to shore up Armenophobic narratives. Now, an investigation by the Mirror-Spectator can reveal the District Attorney’s office has indicted Obali’s own son, Deniz Obali, for “Attempted Murder” and is treating the crime as a “family violence incident.”

Last weekend, the Baku-based newspaper Yeni Musavat published disturbing photos, showing a seriously injured, bruised Ahmad Obali in a hospital bed in California. The newspaper published claims that both Obali and his son, Deniz Obali, were brutally beaten, allegedly by up to six people, in an attack that the newspaper suggested may have been the work of Iranian intelligence services,” Obali’s channel Günaz TV (Günaz being short for Güney Azerbaijan, South Azerbaijan) quoted a relative as saying.

Chicago-resident Ahmad Obali is one of the most outspoken pan-Turanist activists in the West. In the economically-deprived, predominantly Azeri-Turkish speaking areas of North-Western Iran, which have long been neglected and repressed by the mullah regime in Tehran, the radical-populist rhetoric of Mr Obali and his channel GUNAZ TV have won him a large following. In an interview with the Jewish Press newspaper in Brooklyn, Obali summoned up his agenda as follows “Our activists want an independent South Azerbaijan because we will do much better once we are independent. We can move toward a union with North Azerbaijan, join the Council of Europe (a human rights group established in 1946 that includes most European nations), and embrace Western values.” Obali has travelled to Baku on multiple occassions. During one symbolic and provocative journey, he was photographed by pro-government media standing at the Khudafrin bridge, formerly a scene of fighting during the 2020 Karabakh war, at the Aras river, looking out at Iran. That visit was also promoted to American audiences by Mike Doran, the former Bush-administration official turned Hudson Institute think-tanker who has frequently been criticised for pushing pro-Baku messaging to US audiences. GUNAZ TV, the station Mr Obali owns, has repeatedly aligned itself with the Baku-authority’s Stalinist-style personality cult of deceased ex-dictator and human-rights violator Heydar Aliyev, using the reverential terminology “Ümummilli Liderin” (national leader) to describe him on it’s website. GUNAZ TV has published op-eds claiming an “40-million people” strong independent South Azeri state would be “suicide for Armenia”  while lamenting the fact that many other Iranian-Azeris do not share this separatist and pan-Turkist viewpoint.

After the attack on Obali in California last week, media commentators in Baku rushed to suggest Armenians might have been guilty of the crime against Ahmad Obali, among other suspects like the Iranian Mullah regime or the exiled, non-separatist Iranian opposition. We can say that this incident is a terrorist act. …As an initial hypothesis we can mention the cooperation of Iran and Armenian terrorist groups. We hope that the perpetrators of the crime will be revealed soon,” an one activist was quoted by Modern.az as saying. “In general, it can be said that either elements of the Mullah regime or members of Armenian armed groups who are in collusion with them, are behind treacherous plans prepared against Ahmad Obali and other national activists,” claimed an “investigative journalist” quoted by AZNews, although the journalist also thought exiled Iranian monarchists were the likely culprit. “The third possibility, I can say, is that the Armenian diaspora in California may have committed the incident,” an analyst told BayMedia Az . “His enemy can be only two forces: first-up, Iran and pro-Iran forces, and secondly, Armenia and pro-Armenian forces including the Armenian lobby, given that the Armenian terrorist organizations have been conducting such kinds of attacks against Azerbaijani and Turkish political and public figures,” an commentator told Azernews, though this person vehemently dismissed the possibility that Armenian groups could have done it without coordinating with Iran.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

California police and prosecutors did not see it the same way. Sean Webby, an employee at the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office told the Mirror-Spectator “The incident is being charged as a family violence matter. The victim’s son is the sole defendant.”

A criminal complaint filed in the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara County, this week alleges that “on or about May 18, 2023, in the County of Santa Clara, State of California, the crime of Attempted Murder…. was committed by Deniz Obali who did attempt to unlawfully and with malice aforethought, kill Ahmad Obali… .” Deniz Obali, is the adult son of Ahmad Obali and is believed to be a post-grad student at a private California university. The presumption of innocence applies.

The Mirror-Spectator requested and received, from the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office, a “statement of facts,” signed by Detective Bill Nyguyen of San Jose Police Department, that summarises the results of the police investigation so far. While the statement misspells Deniz’s name as Beniz, it does clearly refer to him as Ahmad Obali’s son. The statement says that on the morning of Friday, May 19, housekeeping staff at the Wyndam Garden Hotel near San Jose Airport, found Obali “lying face down on the floor of the room with visible signs of trauma.” With blood coming from his head, Ahmad Obali told an attending hotel manager that “my son attacked me, he tried to kill me,” the statement claims. Firefighters who were summoned to attend to Obali also told the police that he repeated the allegations, saying his son had attacked him on the previous evening with “his fists and an unspecified object,” the statement says. A medical professional at the Intensive Care Unit where Obali was transported told the police that Obali had informed them that at the hotel, on the previous evening, they “got into a disagreement and that is when his son assaulted him, choked him, and tried to break his neck, and kill him.” Detective Nyguyen’s statement claims that another hotel guest saw a person matching Deniz Obali’s description exit his hotel room, shortly after fight-like noises emanated from the room. A trauma surgeon told the police that Obali suffered devasting spinal injuries that “may leave him paralysed.” The detective’s statement said that on May 23, at the Intensive Care Unit, police spoke with Obali, who was “conscious” and “able to speak very few words at a time.” The statement claims while the injured Ahmad Obali advised that he would only be able to provide a formal statement “in a few days,” Ahmad Obali did not deny his son was responsible when asked, and “expressed sadness over his parenting of the suspect and said he did everything he could to raise” his son. The “statement of facts” seen by the Mirror-Spectator concludes with a sworn declaration, under the penalty of perjury, by Detective Nyugen, of the correctness of the statement.

Relatives of Ahmad Obali have allegedly claimed to media that Deniz Obali is an unlikely suspect and is actually in hospital recovering after surgery. In a statement, San Jose Police Department rejected this “From the time SJPD Officers took Deniz Obali into custody, to the time he was booked into Santa Clara Main Jail, he did not have any injuries that required medical treatment.” An inmate record obtained by the Mirror-Spectator proves that Deniz Obali is indeed currently being held at that prison in California, and was brought there on Friday May 19th. A defence lawyer was not listed in the jail statement, and the record notes “No Bail Allowed.”

Attempts by the Mirror-Spectator to contact GUNAZ TV, Ahmad Obali and one of his relatives in Baku were unsuccessful. Yeni Musavat newspaper did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the sourcing of its story about Obali. The FBI referred questions about the matter to San Jose Police Department.

(Colin Cortbus is a British-German freelance journalist who often investigates extremism, neo-Nazism, pan-Turkism etc.)

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: