Azeri Opposition Under Assault

by Nathan Hamm on 8/5/2005 · 4 comments

Though there were some earlier encouraging signs, tensions are on the rise ahead of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections.

On August 1, members of the tripartite opposition Azadlig bloc, including Khalig Bahadir, an Azadlig candidate for parliament, claimed that they were beaten and up to 37 people arrested by police, after activists in the central Azerbaijani town of Sabirabad decided on a different location for a previously authorized demonstration, ANS television reported. Officials have denied the charges.

Hasan Karimov, deputy chair of the Popular Front Party, a member of the Azadlig bloc, told reporters that a similar clash in the western district of Tovuz had resulted in the arrest of 19 opposition activists, the news agency Assa Irada reported. A protest in the southern district of Lankaran was stopped when police suggested participants move the event seven kilometers away from the district center, Karimov said.

Opposition members in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, also report similar pressure being brought to bear.

On August 4th, Ruslan Bashirli of the Yeni Fikir movement was arrested on charges of plotting a coup. NDI–implicated in this alleged plot–is now under fire in Azerbaijan as are Azeri political parties.

More on these stories can be found at Blogrel.

It is hard to account for such a sudden change, but it is worth remembering that there have long been rumors of power struggles within Azerbaijan’s government. President Aliyev is said to be genuinely interested in liberalization but a much weaker leader than his father.

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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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Robert August 5, 2005 at 9:55 pm

I think that sounds right. Ever since they’ve started allowing the demonstrations, the opposition has been getting more recognition. The hardliners realize that they are facing a real challenge to their power now. Not good.

qadinbakida August 6, 2005 at 1:23 am

The political environment in Azerbaijan has shifted in the last six months, no question. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the still-unsolved murder of Elmar Husseynov in march got a lot of people in the streets for the first time since oct 2003. Not only was this a good, concrete organizing tool, it was a big confidence builder that started getting people comfortable with with the idea of peaceful protest. It also woke a lot of people up, reminding them just exactly what this regime is capable of.

Second, the opposition parties are seriously committed to unity for the first time, probably ever. The coalition is flawed, like all are, and subject to the same petty squabbles that have plagued the political parties here for a decade. But the Azadiliq bloc was the first to agree on a list of candidates — before the government party and the so-called “moderate parties” were able to. Unity has boosted their confidence.

Third, they are bringing 30-40,000 people to the streets on hot summer weekends for no good reason. That’s more than the Georgians ever got prior to the election and comparable to what the Ukrainians got 5 months before their election, taking into consideration AZ is 1/5th the size of UK. Plus they are holding weekend rallies in the regions with a couple of thousand people each time, under the threat of arrests and beatings. While you can debate the utility of mass rallies as a campaign strategy, when people in a authoritarian society see that large numbers of people share their views and aren’t scared express them publicly, calculations change.

People who argue that the opposition parties in AZ don’t have real public support need to start rethinking this. They’re not perfect and they have a lot of work to do, but no other party or bloc has regional operations or demonstrate such public support. As you post, the government itself is riven with internal power struggles and fractures.

It’s time to rethink conventional wisdom about Azerbaijan

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