Will Baku Crackdown Backfire?

by Nathan Hamm on 5/23/2005 · 2 comments

Just about everyone who’s anyone will be in town in a couple days for the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, including some who have already begun criticizing Aliyev’s government for cracking down.

Norway’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan Steynar Gil was among those on hand to witness the beatings and arrests.

“Of course, one would have liked things to have happened differently. The right to assembly is established by the constitution. It’s a universal right. They could have conducted this demonstration calmly, just as happens in all democratic countries. I saw the [police] violence with my own eyes. It was serious violence, I would say,” Gil said.

Which is not to compare Azerbaijan with Uzbekistan, where earlier this month government troops shot dead hundreds of protestors in Andijon and elsewhere. But the international expectations placed on Azerbaijan in Europe and elsewhere are higher – as are Azerbaijan’s own pretensions. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe and, like neighbouring Georgia, aspires to membership of the European Union and NATO.

The government’s claim that it banned the rally because of its proximity to the upcoming ceremony to launch the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has convinced no-one. And now Baku must face U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit, cringing in the knowledge that she may use the occasion to press for faster democratic reform in Azerbaijan.

Also the crackdown took what was a fairly small, ignorable protest, and turned into a much bigger issue.

Some of the opposition says the protest was a rousing success.

Opposition leaders characterized the May 21 rally as a success, and gave every indication that the use of confrontational tactics would continue. “Although hundreds of people were arrested and injured, these people brought the victory of democracy even closer,” said Isa Gambar, leader of the opposition Musavat Party was quoted as saying in the May 22 edition of the Yeni Musavat newspaper.

Another opposition leader, the Popular Front reformist wing’s Ali Karimli, said the demonstration was “more effective than we had planned.” He added that the rally offered confirmation that “Azerbaijani authorities are ready to rig the elections and that they have no respect for human rights,” Yeni Musavat reported.

I’ve read stories suggesting that this Aliyev is something of an unenthusiastic, political amateur. It appears he very well may be. May the BTC opening on the 25th prove to be an embarrassing affair for the hosts.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Andy May 24, 2005 at 2:44 am

It’s worrying, also, that the opposition seem to have decided that a confrontational approach is what will pay dividends. It’s almost as if they’re hoping for a violent reaction…

Tim Russo May 24, 2005 at 11:25 am

It isn’t that they are hoping for a violent reaction. They know that’s the only reaction they will get.

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