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Babylon & Beyond

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Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Azerbaijan

AZERBAIJAN: More than 200 anti-government protesters arrested

More than 200 protesters were arrested Saturday during an anti-government demonstration in the capital, Baku, marking the latest in a series of government crackdowns on opposition leaders and youth activists hoping to emulate the mass protest movements sweeping the Arab world.

Azeri police arrested at least 10 more anti-government activists on Thursday and Friday in what appears to have been an effort to thwart an anti-government rally Saturday, dubbed Day of Rage on Facebook and other social networking sites.

The activists were “quickly convicted in summary trials on charges of disobeying police orders and sentenced to administrative –- or misdemeanor –- detention ranging from five to 13 days, which would keep them locked up beyond the protest date,” according to a Human Rights Watch statement released Friday.

“It is clear that the authorities are determined to crush any attempts by opposition activists to gather peacefully,” said Rachel Denber, acting director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, in the statement.

Roughly 1,000 people convened at Fountains Square Saturday morning, shouting “Resign” and “No to the dictatorship!” before riot police broke up the crowd, pushing protesters onto awaiting buses, said Azeri blogger Anar Masimov, 22, during a phone interview. Authorities said the protesters had not received proper permission from the government to hold a public rally Saturday, according to Reuters.

Saturday's crackdown comes after a series of arrests in February and March of leading opposition figures and youth activists. Police detained about 150 people at opposition rallies in Baku in March, according to Reuters.

Before a planned anti-government protest March 11, Harvard graduate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, 29, who has been politically active on Facebook, was arrested for charges of evading military service. Jabbar Savalan, 20, a member of the opposition party, Popular Front’s youth wing, who was also active on Facebook, was arrested Feb. 5 on charges of drug possession. Both men are still in prison. 

“They are obviously in jail because of their political actions,” Masimov said. “There’s no question.” Other anti-government protesters and members of opposition groups have been charged with hooliganism, “behaving dishonorably,” and “using abusive words,” according to local news reports.

Azeri authorities meanwhile are attempting to combat anti-government sentiment in Azerbaijan by organizing pro-government rallies of their own. Last week, Ali Ahmadov, deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, called on young Azeris to avoid the draw of “dirty forces,” meaning the opposition, who he said were betraying Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev during a crucial time for the country, according to Kavkazsky Uzel news service.

Azerbaijan is a primary supplier of oil to Europe and a vital transit route for U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan. Aliyev became president in 2003. His father, Heydar Aliyev, took power in 1993.

-- Haley Sweetland Edwards 


Photo: Azeri police arrest a protester. Credit: Turkhan Kerimov.


AZERBAIJAN: Egypt-inspired protests spread to Caucasus, raising tensions


Opposition groups in Azerbaijan are calling for the release of a 20-year-old political activist who was arrested last week after posting a message on his Facebook page calling for Egypt-style protests in Baku's central square.

Although Azerbaijani officials denied the arrest was politically motivated, the situation highlights growing tensions between opposition groups and the government following the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Two days after the Egyptian protests began on Jan. 25, the government appeared to launch a preemptive strike against an similar uprising in Azerbaijan.

The government's anti-corruption commission, which is overseen by presidential Chief of Staff Ramiz Mehiyev, convened Jan. 27 for the first time since 2009. In the following weeks, several government officials have made announcements promising far-reaching anti-corruption measures within government ministries. According to the newspaper Yeni Musavat. 18-year president Ilham Aliyev is also considering reshuffling his Cabinet and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Artur Rasizade.

At the end of January, government employees received orders to "avoid irritating the population and to work effectively and build public trust,” according to the news website EurasiaNet

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AZERBAIJAN: Feud over ban on Islamic head scarves fuels fears of Iranian meddling


A full-blown ideological war appears to have erupted between Iran and the secular government in neighboring Azerbaijan after Baku earlier this year banned the wearing of Islamic head scarves, or hijabs, at schools in the Caucasus nation by introducing a standard school uniform that prohibits traditional Islamic dress.

Conservative clerics in the Islamic Republic have publicly and repeatedly slammed the decision and warned Azerbaijani authorities that they're heading down a slippery slope by prohibiting schoolgirls from wearing hijabs in the classroom in the Shiite Muslim-majority nation whose citizens maintain strong ties to co-religionists and fellow ethnic Azeris in Iran.

"An ideological revolution has been staged in the republic of Azerbaijan, and this country will become one of the religious centers in the future," said a cleric named Foruqi during Friday prayers in the ethnic Azeri city of Ardabil in Iran, according to state television. "And this is the issue that scares the enemies."

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AZERBAIJAN: WikiLeaks depicts lifestyles of Baku's rich and powerful

Azerbaijan mehriban

Documents released by WikiLeaks about the Azerbaijani political and business elite read less like diplomatic cables and more like the latest episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Two cables, which originated from the U.S. Embassy in Baku in January and February of this year, range from the catty – comments on the Azerbaijan first lady’s plastic surgery – to the downright gossipy – the private jet preferences of a minister’s sons.

They are the first in a series titled “Who Owns What,” profiling the “small handful of players” who control both the political and business fields in Azerbaijan – and who collude, conspire and amass fantastic wealth at the expense of reform, market competition and real democracy in their country, according to the cables. The remaining cables in that series have not yet been released.

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AZERBAIJAN: President Aliyev compared unfavorably to hot-headed mobster in WikiLeaks cable


Azerbaijani President Iham Aliyev awoke Friday to the diplomatic equivalent of a severed horse head in his bed.

According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Baku has been comparing the president, rather unflatteringly, to Sonny Corleone, the most impulsive and thin-skinned of Don Vito Corleone’s sons in the hit novel and film trilogy, "The Godfather."

In a secret cable entitled “President Ilham Aliyev – Michael (Corleone) on the outside, Sonny on the inside,” sent in September 2009, U.S. diplomats describe the Azerbaijan president as similar to Michael Corleone -– which is to say, “cool-headed” and “realistic” –- when dealing with foreign partners, but similar to Sonny Corleone –- which translates to “harsh,” over-reactive, and “increasingly authoritarian” -– when dealing with domestic issues.

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