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Azerbaijan’s own spring: protests, arrests, promises…

by Arzu Geybullayeva

It looks like revolutions and people’s frustrations aren’t just characteristic to the world of the Middle East. Not far from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya to name just a few, rests a country on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It is known to the most of the world that is familiar with wider geography as the winner of the Eurovision song contest in 2012 and the supplier of oil and gas, as well as for its rich culture – carpets, mugham, nature, and handcraft. But Azerbaijan’s image in the world is facing many challenges at this point in history – starting from human rights abuse, lack of free press to authoritarian leadership.

A series of protests shook the country – its capital and regions at large – since the beginning of 2013. The demands of the protestors ranged from complaints over social services, to unpaid salaries, dissatisfaction with the local governors, and more recently deaths of conscripts.

All of these rallies and protests were violently dispersed due to their illegal nature (one must obtain a permission from the city authorities to organize a rally in the areas central to the downtown). Many participants were arrested (some of whom have been released) and are currently facing sentences of various degrees.

 

Overall this has been a difficult time for the leadership of the government. They are unaccustomed to the frequency of these protests. In their attempt to curb down over these small-scale uprisings (as the local leadership refers to these) the government launched an intensive anti-protestor campaign. This often means that (when and if any of these protests are reported) the number of participants is kept at minimum, sometimes at dozens when these riots get coverage (that is if they do) on TV. Its participants are usually exposed as unhealthy, lazy youth motivated by monetary assistance and that none of these protests are reflective of what the Azerbaijani community thinks at large.  Needles to say arrests, detention, and casual beatings are also part of the undertaken measures.

International human rights institutions are on the side of the protestors while keen Western pro-regime backers speak of successful development policies and the current government’s approach to diplomacy.

Government advocates claim these disturbances are of minor importance and that instead, the focus should be on the upcoming Flower Holiday or successful presidency and the upcoming presidential elections and the nation’s growing prosperity.

Azerbaijan, as many say, is a relatively young state. And this is officially the line of the government, arguing that the country needs time to stand on its two feet when it comes to democratic values. No doubt its economy is growing and in fact, Azerbaijan can perhaps afford standing even on one of its feet. The future of this small nation nestled on the shores of the Caspian is hard to predict as things can go any direction. What is left, however, is to wish the country only the best in a hope that winds of change come gently blowing in…

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