Former parliamentary speaker and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Quliyev has said that he will return to Baku today to participate in the country's legislative elections next month. He has lived in exile in the United States since 1996.
"I am absolutely determined [to return,]" Quliyev told RFE/RL today. "By the time you air this interview, I will be on my way."
Democratic Party officials told RFE/RL today that Quliyev has already left London and is on a chartered flight, most likely heading for Baku. They claimed that some unidentified politicians from the United States and Great Britain, as well as journalists, are aboard the plane with Quliyev. The Democratic Party is a member of the Azadliq (Freedom) election bloc, along with two other major opposition parties, Musavat and the Popular Front Party. On 16 October, Azadliq representatives urged all supporters to go to the airport to support Quliyev.
The Interior Ministry said the same day that police will prevent demonstrations at the airport. Quliyev is wanted in Azerbaijan on embezzlement charges and officials have threatened to arrest Quliyev should he return. Quliyev has denied any wrongdoing.
Warning From Interior Minister
Interior Minister Ramil Usubov today warned journalists and diplomats to stay away from Baku's international airport ahead of Quliyev's expected return.
Usubov said police have been put on alert in the capital and that around two-dozen people have been detained on suspicion of organizing unrest, a figure that matches what Democratic Party officials told RFE/RL about arrests in the past 24 hours.
The Turan news agency reported that Democratic Party political council member Gurban Mamedov and Quliyev's nephew, Etibar Quliyev, have been detained by police.
RFE/RL correspondents in Baku have noted increased security in downtown Baku and around government buildings.
RFE/RL also reported that several cars bearing diplomatic licenses of foreign embassies have been seen trying to reach the Baku airport. Interior Minister Usubov earlier urged journalists and diplomats not to go to the airport today to be on hand for Quliyev's return, warning "there may be clashes."
RFE/RL correspondent Kenan Aliyev spoke to Rasul Quliyev early on 17 October as he was preparing to travel to Baku.
RFE/RL: You made a decision to return to Azerbaijan. How determined are you to go?
Quliyev: I am absolutely determined. By the time you air this interview, I will be on my way.
RFE/RL: Officials in Baku have said you will be arrested as soon as you get there. They also seem to be determined. Does this make you reluctant to go?
Quliyev: Not at all. I’m not reluctant at all because people are behind me. The government is acting based on illegal decisions. And that’s why I’m not concerned at all.
RFE/RL: What is your main goal in returning to Azerbaijan? What are you trying to achieve?
Quliyev: The main goal is to achieve democratic elections in Azerbaijan, to establish a tradition of democratic elections. I see the future of the Azerbaijani people only in democracy. This is our chance to have free and fair elections this year, which will basically lay the foundation of future democratic elections in Azerbaijan.
RFE/RL: Again I’m asking, are you worried about your fate?
Quliyev: I’m not worried at all because in the struggle for the future of the Azerbaijani people we cannot be weak.