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Azerbaijani Villagers Held By Police In Exclave

Vasif Talibov (right) is the head the autonomous exclave
Vasif Talibov (right) is the head the autonomous exclave
BAKU -- Residents of an Azerbaijani village say security forces have arrested scores of people after clashes between police and villagers, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

People in the village of Bananyar, in Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave, told RFE/RL that more than 100 people were arrested on January 5 by security forces.

They said all the women who were originally detained have been released and only men are now being held.

Naxcivan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan. Rights activists say it is run like a personal fiefdom by regional head Vasif Talibov, who is a close relative of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Naxcivan's Interior Ministry has denied both that police attacked residents in Bananyar or that anyone from the village has been arrested.

The action by security forces on January 5 followed an incident with police after the Ashura religious ceremony, which was celebrated on December 28.

The day after Ashura, police detained several residents of Bananyar, allegedly because of their overly emotional mourning for Imam Husayn -- the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad whose death in 640 is marked during Ashura.

The detained Bananyar residents were reportedly taken to the police station in the neighboring village of Abragunus and subjected to questioning and physical abuse.

Villagers said abuse by police against Kamal Aliyev, 66, and his wife and daughters led to a strong protest from Aliyev's son, Yunis Aliyev, who threatened to set himself alight if police did not release his family.

The police reportedly ignored Yunis Aliyev as he poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire. Witnesses said he was taken to the hospital and later over the border to Iran for medical treatment, as reported by Iranian television channel Sahar.

Night Arrests

Eight days later, security forces entered the village and began arresting people they said helped to organize the Ashura ceremonies.

Rza Nuriyev, the head of the opposition Popular Front Party's organization in Naxcivan's Julfa district, had his house searched by police, who arrested his two sons. Nuriyev -- who had fled -- later surrendered to police after his wife was threatened with arrest.

One resident of Banayar told RFE/RL that police acted violently -- even with women -- and were arresting people in the middle of the night.

Asef Guliyev, the head of Naxcivan's branch of the Popular Front Party, said Interior Ministry troops still control all entrances that lead to the village.

He said some of the arrested Bananyar residents are being held at Interior Ministry headquarters and that others are being kept at a pretrial detention center.

Vilayat Hadiyev, the head of the detention center, denied there are any people from Bananyar at the facility.

Saadat Bananyarli, a human rights activist based in Baku, said that she and a group of human rights activists have requested a meeting with the interior minister to discuss the "negligence of police" in regards to the suicide attempt by Aliyev and the actions of the security forces in the village.

Bananyarli met in Baku today with OSCE officials to discuss the situation.

She said the police will fail in their attempt to hide the arrest of so many of the villagers. She added that there were "hundreds of witnesses" to the events.

A group of Bananyar residents have also sent a request to the office of Ombudswoman Elmira Suleymanova for assistance in ending the attacks against people in the village.

Adil Eyvazli, a lawyer in Suleymanova's office, said the application was received and will be processed urgently.

He said the Ombudswoman's Office will investigate the whereabouts of the missing villagers as soon as possible.