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Is Azerbaijan Ready For Its Own Revolution?

The government is warning Azerbaijan's young people not to take part in the protests
The government is warning Azerbaijan's young people not to take part in the protests
By Arifa Kazimova and Daisy Sindelar
Inspired by last month's Egyptian uprising, young activists in Azerbaijan were calling for antigovernment demonstrations today -- and using Facebook to spread the word.

Originally planned as a "virtual protest," in which supporters could express their solidarity with a simple click of the mouse, the March 11 movement has since morphed into calls for a flesh-and-blood demonstration of growing disenchantment with the country's autocratic regime. It is a move that has rattled Baku.

But it was uncertain what size or shape the protests would take -- or even if they'd take place at all, with organizers being intentionally vague about locations. As of March 10, nearly 4,000 people had used Facebook to signal their intention to mark the day of protests. Protest organizers have stressed the peaceful nature of the initiative, but have not minced words when it comes to their goal -- bringing an end to the country's "dictatorial regime."

The Azerbaijani government does not take such phrases lightly. In the past several days, authorities have arrested a number of activists tied to the March 11 events and the country's Musavat opposition party, which is planning a subsequent day of rallies on March 12. (Members of another opposition force, the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, are planning yet another protest in the coming days.) 
They forget that Azerbaijani youth will not be fooled by these crazy attempts."


Among those arrested is Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, the only March 11 organizer operating within Azerbaijan. A fellow organizer, France-based Azerbaijani activist Elnur Majidli, said the arrest of Hajiyev and others shows how anxious the authorities have become about rising opposition to the regime of President Ilham Aliyev.

"If the government detains young men for a minor Facebook page and exerts pressure on their families, it means the end for the government," Majidli says. "The authorities have admitted as much through their actions. The more they detain young people, the more they're going to motivate those young people to protest and aggravate the situation."

The New Opposition

Hajiyev, Majidli, and other organizers of the so-called Great People's Day action say they chose March 11 as the day for their protest because it marks one month since public demonstrations in Egypt forced the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Indeed, the Azerbaijani organizers share the tactics and goals of their Egyptian counterparts. All are young, Internet-savvy, and Western-educated -- Hajiyev, for one, is a 2009 graduate of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. As a group, they have emerged as a fresh-faced complement -- or alternative -- to  Azerbaijan's graying class of political oppositionists, represented by parties like Musavat and the Popular Front.

Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested for his role in organizing the protest
Hajiyev was detained March 4 in his home city of Ganja, on charges of leaving the city limits while under investigation for evading military service. But Hajiyev says his one-month detention is tied to his Facebook activities, and has complained of being insulted and harassed by prison officials.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy called on the Azerbaijani government to ensure Hajiyev receives due process and proper treatment. The rights watchdog Freedom House has called the recent arrests "disturbing" and said further crackdowns "will be an indication not of the Azeri regime's strength, but rather its weakness."

The March 11 campaign has sparked efforts from pro-government youth groups to discredit activists like Hajiyev and question the loyalties of government opponents. But Hajiyev's mother, Solida Movlayeva, argues her son is fighting for a better Azerbaijan.

"Bakhtiyar has been detained for his political views, because of his search for justice," Movlayeva says. "He's a patriotic young man who loves his country and its people. Otherwise he never would have returned after paying to get an education somewhere else."

Preparing For The Worst

Many countries have seen a rise in public protests inspired by the political turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt. Oil-rich Azerbaijan, which is ruled with an iron grip by Aliyev and a tightly knit network of allies, has been no exception, with widespread poverty and political and religious repression fueling anger among ordinary Azerbaijanis.

Mindful of the mood, the government has attempted to stave off public unrest by trumpeting a new anticorruption drive. But critics have shrugged off such campaigns as window-dressing and accuse the government of redoubling its pressure on activists and boosting the police presence in Baku. (The government's lockdown efforts have been so strenuous they've spawned a March 11 joke among young Azerbaijani activists: "If they're trying this hard, we'd better show up!")

The government in recent days has also sought to crack down on a number of foreign NGOs operating in Azerbaijan, including the U.S. National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit group working with youth groups in the country. An NDI employee in Azerbaijan told RFE/RL the group's country director received a letter from the Justice Ministry requesting their office be closed.

In a statement published on its website on March 9, the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry likewise blamed foreign agents for the rising unrest, saying that "radical opposition forces" were attempting to "create color revolutions in Azerbaijan."

"Adventurers are trying to take advantage of the developments in North Africa, and are using as their tools a group of youths and some NGOs that are directly dependent on foreign donations," the ministry said. "But they forget that Azerbaijani youth will not be fooled by these crazy attempts."

The government has even brought out its chief psychiatric expert to warn about the consequences of Facebook-style revolt. Speaking to the Trend news agency, Garay Geraybeyli advised the country's online activists to seek mental help and said, "Those who prefer virtual communication have problems communicating in real life. Such people have a limited vocabulary. They have problems speaking."

Geraybeyli's admonition apparently does not extend to the country's president, Ilham Aliyev, who recently waded into the world of social networking by launching his own Twitter and YouTube pages.

written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar based on reporting by Arife Kazimova in Baku

Daisy Sindelar

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 10, 2011 22:45

I'm afraid that just like in Egypt where the dictatorship tried to turn the initial protests into attacks on Coptic Christians, Sultan Ilham Aliyev's regime would try to turn the situation into an inter-ethnic conflict.

Of course, after getting rid of it's Armenian Christian minority in the last century (remember "Ganja" where this Harvard graduate of a "very special program" is from used to be the Armenian city of Gandzak) Sultan Aliyev would have to attack other minorities - Tolysh, Lezgi, etc. right after they all go to the Friday prayer.
In Response

by: Z.A from: Baku
March 11, 2011 09:04
Well, now Armenians seem to have a wish to promote their propoganda using this situation... These protests have nothing to do with minorities... Ganja has nothing to do with Armenians... Please, read the article more attentively...

People want to protest because they want to have more political and economic freedom...
In Response

by: john from: usa
March 27, 2011 18:43
the wish is from you azeri propagandosts. Not form anyone else.
In Response

by: Dargah from: Azerbaijan
March 11, 2011 09:12
To Taxpayer: This is the most weird analyses of a situation I've ever seen. First of all if you know at least something about Azerbaijan or the region in general, you probably realize that attacking minorities like Lezgi would be just like attacking Russia, because most of the Lezgis here have Russian Passports and attacking Talysh people would be attacking Iran just because they have same roots.

Second of all, Ganja was never an Armenian city and in the last century there were lots of Christians, Jews etc.. in most of the big cities of Azerbaijan, just because Azerbaijanis tolerate other religions and ethnicities. Just for the record all Armenians moved from Azerbaijan only after the escalation of war between two countries. On the other hand there is Armenia, which has 98% of the population ethnic Armenians!
Man, it is 21st century, how can a country have 98% one single ethnicity? Isn't it a sign of intolerance towards other ethnicities and nations or even chauvinism?
In Response

by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 12, 2011 03:28

I would say that Armenia population is 98% non-Armenian - this includes Turks, Kurds, and Caucasian Tartars (now called Azeris) - I'm talking about the Armenia that is lost to Armenian nation due to the Genocide committed by Turks and Caucasian Tartars in 1915-1923. What is left of Armenia is the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh and indeed, mostly Armenians who survived the Turkic Yoke live there.

You can now say that "Ganja was never an Armenian city" because its Armenian inhabitants were driven out by numerous pogroms and killings. And even after getting rid of all living Armenians of Gandzak, Azeri Turks continued it's tradition of cultural genocide (remember the destruction of the ancient Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Nakhijevan - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7ycCINt11M&feature=related) by destroying the Armenian cemetery of Gandzak by bulldozing it to the ground. Now people like Daragh can say that Armenians never lived there.
In Response

by: tb from: Caucasus
March 12, 2011 16:51
@Taxpayer: If I'm not mistaken, I think that Moscow was also an Armenian city. How do people get away with such bigoted attitudes as yours? I visited the Armenian church in Ganja. It still stands. You know well that the whole Caucasus was a patchwork of different nationalities, how can you claim unique birthright? And how does the Ottoman state's pogroms against Armenians have anything to do with "Caucasian Tatars"? I am a neutral bystander, but I can't stand to see such inane views as yours being spouted. Back to the issue - do you support democracy? Do you support protests by those who are not afraid to have Armenian friends on their facebook pages, despite the state's crackdown?
In Response

by: Taxpayer from: USA
March 14, 2011 03:17

To tb the "neutral bystander":

Please don't try to be funny with these old Azeri propaganda tricks like "Moscow, or whatever, was an Armenian city." It's hard to understand for people coming from nomadic cultures that Armenians only want to get their ancestral lands back and not any other place where a significant number of them live. Unlike Turks, who, for example, already created little Turkeys all over Germany where Germans are afraid to step in.

The Armenian church may stand in Gandzak but does it say that is an ARMENIAN church? And what happened to tens of thousands of Armenian families who worshiped there for generations? Why did they have to leave all at once after the pogroms of November-December 1988 leaving their ancestral homes and everything they worked for? Why were the 12 elderly Armenians who could not evacuate out of the nursing home there buried alive?

The Azeris know why - because this is the only way these nomadic invaders know how to deal with the native populations. This is the reason for the "patchwork" - Genocide of native populations by invading nomadic Turkic tribes who came all the way from the Altai mountains in nowadays Russia.

I think democracy would be good for Azerbaijan and hopefully it will allow other native peoples (Lezgi, Tolysh, etc) of this artificially created "state" to become free from the Turkic yoke they are subjected to now.
In Response

by: evin from: azerbaijan
March 11, 2011 10:57
Hello taxpayer and Giver.
WHAT people are talking and u are talking. You know that Barack Obama, Koffi Anna, Nicloas Sarkoze and plus flamingos, amazon reptiles are also armenians. Greece is an ancient armenian state.

So you are content!
In Response

by: Murad Baylarov from: UK
March 11, 2011 20:40
To Taxpayer: OMG! Man, go and pay your taxes, but never EVER read such a topic (i'm not even sure that you've read it)
i think i know what did u mean in your comment. "Whole the world and universe used to be Armenian." did u mean that?
P.S. Don't trust topics about Armenia in Wikipedia
In Response

by: Defender from Artsakh from: Stepanakert
March 12, 2011 06:34
You know, it's Azerbaijan's style of solving domestic policy issues transforming it into an escalation of interethnic relations. But now' the problem lies not here. People realize that the economic potential of Azerbaijan and the level of their welfare do not correspond , mildly speaking. this is the first and the second is in close ties with this first problem, it concerns the hands and the clan for which this potential is expended. - that is the sultanat in the head of Alievs with the warm support of Pashayevs, who have great amount of financial capital, centralized in their hands, although the land from where the oil is produced- Azerbaijan, belongs to all the people who live on that land, just the same as in the case of Artsakh-Karabakh- this land belongs to them who live there, and have been living from times immemorial, defending their homes of different dictators' invasions.

by: Nuriddin from: UK
March 11, 2011 03:42
Bakhtiyar has been detained for his political views, because of his search for justice," Movlayeva says. "He's a patriotic young man who loves his country and its people. Otherwise he never would have returned after paying to get an education somewhere else."

If he loved his country, he would have spent his time, effort ,energy and knowledge highlighting the Karabag issue on the international media, rather than sticking his nose into government business and looking for name, fame and publicity. What a waste.


by: Source from: Baku
March 11, 2011 16:45
Actually I don t believe that in Azerbaijan will be something like in Egypt or Tunusia. Because Azerbaijan has good index of annual growth of economy. In Azerbaijan opening and repairting new road and bridges , repairting theatres, old buildings to say shortly here are not stagnation like in Egypt or let say Yemen. Of course it is not enough, it is not show that people live very good.
But we have to say here si no stagnation .
And wider represantive oh azeri people are not interested to take part in such uprising. Here is not such situation when commom people do not believe in government as in Egypt or Tunusia.
I think people are not ready for strike yet.
In Response

by: RD
March 11, 2011 23:13
You seem to forget or overlook the fact that Azerbaijan is a 1 pony race cart. Your oil industry is running your growth. Oil industry slows down, you have very little to fall back on. What has the president been doing with the billions in oil revenues? Buying weapons, luxury homes in Dubai, skimming from every project. Almost 42% of Azeris still live under the poverty line. Don't look at the fancy shops in Baku and think that represents the rest of Azerbaijan.

by: Azeri from Texas from: Houston
March 11, 2011 23:47

This is the only beginning of movement towards freedom, stay tight and wait for a next!!

I am proud of Azeri youth trying to say NO to corrupted regime and injustice!! Keep up the good work!!

by: Observer from: Dubai
March 12, 2011 12:20
This is what I gathered of Azerbaijan during my various interactions, I may have generalised a bit though.

A beautiful country with lots of domant potential where not many can point to it's location on the map.

1. A huge male population which is lazier when compared to their women counterparts.

2. Corrupt leadership that only condones corruption but actively prods all it's so called 'government officials' to make their own chunk of money from the public thus shrugging it's own responsibility of sharing the 'common country' wealth.

3. Islam or it's related activities being tagged as those related to 'Al Qaeda' for the general awareness of Islam have certain potential to bring in the aspect into the minds of general public: ' Do not oppress, neither be oppressed', and give a rise to a situation where despots are not generally comfortable.

by: Donovan from: PA
March 13, 2011 23:04
The government has the right to impose order and thwart chaos imho. Even in "Azerbaijan".

by: john from: usa
March 27, 2011 18:41
Is Azerbaijan Ready For Its Own Revolution? LOL

As along as there is oil money to be stolen it's only going to be out with one mafioso gang and in with another. That would be the extent of "azeri revolution" LOL" look at r all the oil rich muslim medieval"governments" . they're ALL the same .

it's curious how these azeri propagandists here get all bent out of shape bu thowing the kichen

by: john from: usa
March 27, 2011 18:53
the so called azerbaijan is just another backward medieval land with a typical muslim mafioso dictatorship and the most backward trainwreck . It will always stay that way. We all need get over it.

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