Authorities thwart the "Remembrance day" rally
Police shut down the roads, traffic and malls around the State Oil Academy in the Azerbaijani capital Baku in an attempt to prevent the commemoration of the anniversary of the shooting rampage at the Academy, where the lone gunman killed 12 and wounded dozens on 30 April last year.
Through Facebook and other online social networks some pro-opposition youth groups vowed to hold peaceful ‘remembrance ceremony’ in honor of the students and teachers murdered in the terror attack carried out by Farda Gadirov, ethnic Azeri from Georgia allegedly ‘brainwashed’ by an Armenian citizen to hold terror actions in Baku. Gadirov himself died at the crime scene, although it is still unclear if he committed suicide or was killed by policemen. While the authorities concluded the trial last week with finding four people guilty, the sentenced said they had been forced in detention to confess to the crimes under torture while being interrogated. Government-critics argue that the legal process completely lacked transparency.
Defying the de-facto ban on street rallies in Azerbaijan, the youth groups attempted to gather today nearby the Oil Academy campus and chant “No to terror” and “Fair investigation and find the real culprits” slogans. However, the authorities were quick to deploy large numbers of police forces, sportsmen and un-identified groups in casual-clothing to block the rally in the early hours of the day. Reports are saying that over 200 mainly young people were detained, some taken to police stations while some to unknown destinations.
State-run media gives no coverage and attention to the arrests, as the media prefers to convince people that there is no discontent and protest in society. According to Azadliq Radio reports, police employed excessive use of force against the youth and threatened many of them with several days of detention. Araz Onder, a youth activist, was seriously beaten by police while he was brought to Nasimi district police station, witnesses said. Prior the rally, a group of people in casual cloth detained Tural Abbasli and Abulfas Gurbanli, outspoken youth activists related to opposition Musavat and Popular Front parties. While Gurbanli was released following two hours of interrogation outside the capital Baku, Abbasli was sentenced to 10 days of detention under the controversial charges of “destabilizing the public order”.
“This is an illegal action, so policemen try to restore the stability. The rally was not agreed with the Baku’s Mayor’s Office”, said Yashar Aliyev, deputy-chief of Baku Main Police Department.
But, the youth activists, deeply frustrated by the government’s recurring authoritarian tendencies, argue that the ruling regime constantly display intolerance to any youth initiatives and youth groups that operate outside the government’s control or remain close to political opposition. “There was no political goal in our rally. We simply wanted to remember the victims and denounce the terror,” said Ramin Deko, youth activist organizing the rally. “They [authorities] clearly fear seeing many active young together and [they] their worst fear is a situation that may get of control”, said another activist.
Youth groups: emerging opposition
Critics say the freedom of assembly and right to free expression have become the increasing source of concern under the reign of President Ilham Aliyev. The authorities continue to deploy various coercive measures against youth movements before they develop into powerful agents of political change. The unofficial ban on demonstrations since 2005 is totally exercised by the government, as freedom of assembly is only possible dependent on decisions of the state authorities, despite the guaranteed constitutional right. Public meetings and peaceful demonstrations of the opposition political parties are either not allowed or only permitted with highly unfavorable areas in the outskirts of the city. At least 80 opposition party activists and several journalists were rounded up by police on Monday, when in an unsanctioned rally they demanded that authorities respect freedom of assembly.
Total state control on media led many youth activists to believe that the only channel of appeal open to them is to use social networking media, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogging. With highly spurious charges, last year the authorities arrested Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, the prominent youth activists and bloggers, who were mobilizing country’s youth to wage a non-violent struggle against the power abuse, corruption and mismanagement of oil revenues.
Many of the educated youth – primarily those who have benefited from education abroad – opt to leave Azerbaijan, as they believe that they have no future here. In a country, where many state positions are filled as the result of bribery or good connections, many educated young people find it difficult to adapt into the corrupted political system. With high corruption records of Azerbaijan, the prevailing notion among many government officials is that state institutions are designed to confer privileges on individuals or special groups and to take lion’s share of gigantic oil revenues rather than meet broader societal needs. The 2009 annual Corruption Perception Index of Transparency international ranked Azerbaijan 143th out of 180 countries.
With almost seven months to go to the legislative polls in the country, the political scene is highly dejected and polarized with no optimistic signs of that the nearing elections will be any different than the previous polls, which all have been judged by the international observers as not free and fair elections. The accumulated economic wealth – thanks to massive oil incomes –has made the ruling elite to seek to maintain political control by any means and in any form. Fearing for losing the lavish oil revenues and preventing the possible loss of political power, the regime never allows the conduct of free and fair elections and mobilizes all administrative resources, including police and local government officials to interfere with electoral process to ensure its victory.
International right watchdogs had repeatedly raised their grave concerns on government’s absolute consolidation of power and tight grip on civil liberties. Western powers – with their economic and political interests in Azerbaijan – should recognize that the key to Azerbaijan’s long-term stability will be development of the rule of law and respect for human rights. The stability in Azerbaijan is maintained too often at the expense of fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression. Therefore, such a superficial stability should not obscure the fact that unrest is a strong possibility in Azerbaijan.