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Azerbaijan: Authorities Counter Burgeoning Opposition Youth Movements

  • Liz Fuller --> At present, at least two youth organizations in Azerbaijan have hopes of spearheading regime change that will result in the advent to power of a truly democratic leadership. But while one of those movements focuses on the short term and has voiced its intention to support a specific bloc in the run-up to the parliamentary elections due in November, the other takes a longer-term view.

Students from Baku State University and the State Oil Academy on 25 March announced the creation of the Orange Movement of Azerbaijan, Turan reported. The founders of that movement, whose names are not known, are not members of any political party. They expressed their opposition to the present Azerbaijani leadership, which they described as "corrupt, killers and kidnappers," and they pledged to support the three-party opposition election alliance forged last month between the Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP). Membership of the Orange Movement is open to anyone under 25 years of age. It plans to conduct its activities underground, according to Turan, presumably in order to minimize the likelihood of the arbitrary arrest of its members and possibly also its infiltration by informers.

Ukrainian Footsteps?

The very name of the Orange Movement suggests that its founders aspire to play the same decisive role in the event of falsification of the outcome of the November parliamentary ballot as the Ukrainian youth movement Pora played in Ukraine last fall in the wake of the rigging of the outcome of the presidential ballot to ensure a victory for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate of the incumbent "party of power." But the Orange Movement already has a competitor in Yokh! (No!), an organization that came to public notice in early February when Razi Nurullaev, chairman of the Azerbaijani Society for Democratic Reform, announced his resignation from the AHCP progressive wing in order to work with it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). At that juncture, according to Nurullaev, Yokh numbered only 20-30 activists, primarily people with no previous political experience. It is unclear whether and to what extent its membership has grown since then.
One youth leader said Azerbaijan's authorities have also stepped up pressure on students, convening meetings at universities at which speakers routinely disparage those opposition youth groups that are beyond official control.

Nurullaev told journalists on 9 February that he traveled to Kyiv in late December to consult with Pora activist Vladislav Kaskiv, a revelation that has given rise to ongoing speculation in the Azerbaijani press that Pora activists might provide training and advice to Yokh! in the same way as members of the Serbian youth organization Otpor did to the embryonic Georgian youth movement Kmara in the summer of 2003. Some Azerbaijani media have reported that hundreds of young Azerbaijanis have traveled to Ukraine, where they are allegedly undergoing such training in special camps, reported on 19 March. But Pora activist Evgenii Zolotarev denied those reports as reminiscent of Soviet-era propaganda. He also denied that Pora activists plan to travel to other former Soviet republics in a bid to "export" revolution.

Demanding Fair Elections

Following U.S. President George W. Bush's meeting with Pora leaders in Bratislava in February, however, Pora activists wrote to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev warning him to ensure that the November parliamentary elections are free, fair, and democratic or risk a replay in Azerbaijan of the mass protests of November that forced the incumbent Ukrainian leadership to agree to repeat the presidential election runoff, reported on 26 February.

That warning suggests that Pora might have overestimated Yokh's potential influence. Nurullaev was quoted by AFP on 2 March as saying that it would be unrealistic to "expect what took 10 years to achieve in Ukraine to happen in Azerbaijan in 10 months," meaning by the time of the parliamentary elections. Nurullaev said that instead, Yokh intends to launch protests on issues to which the government cannot object, such as corruption. He also said the movement will espouse passive resistance, presumably in order to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes in Baku in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot in October 2003. Seven prominent opposition politicians were arrested and sentenced to up to five years in prison for their imputed role in that violence.


The Azerbaijani leadership, however, appears unwilling to risk the emergence of a powerful youth movement. On 28 March, Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Thought), told journalists in Baku that the presidential administration issued orders six weeks previously to create pro-regime student organizations across the country, Turan reported. Bashirli said the authorities have also stepped up pressure on students, convening meetings at universities at which speakers routinely disparage those opposition youth groups that are beyond their control.