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Azerbaijan: arrests and anti-Kerimli campaign prior to opposition protest

Police in Azerbaijan have arrested “several youth and opposition activists” ahead of a protest rally scheduled for 2 April in Baku, RFE/RL reports.  Three of those arrested have been released, but at least three others have apparently been given “administrative sentences” of between five and ten days.

However, an Azeri source tells me that more were arrested, saying that RFE had gone to press before the police had rounded up additional opposition supporters.

It is unclear whether this is a harbinger of other arrests and harsher measures prior to Saturday’s opposition rally, which is to be held downtown, say organizers, in violation of a stipulation from the Baku city authorities that the demonstration be held in a remote neighborhood far from the city center.

Today, a group of mostly young supporters of the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) held its own rally in central Baku, and it was quite a spectacle.  Reports indicate that the rally was not approved, but somehow the police failed to show up and haul away the participants.

And where, exactly, did the demonstration take place?  Well, it ended up outside the home of opposition leader Ali Kerimli, where the protesters shouted insults and carried posters depicting Kerimli in the garb of an Islamic mujahideen, clutching a Kalashnikov.

Azerbaijan: arrests and anti-Kerimli campaign prior to opposition protest

"Jihadist" Ali Kerimli at YAP rally

At one point, the YAP supporters sang a popular Turkish song, the chorus of which translates as:

Blue, blue, very blue,

Her eyes are blue like beads

When I saw her I fell in love with her,

My darling is the one who comes

Go here for the video, and note the childish smirks on the faces of the protesters.

Now, the color blue is associated in Azerbaijan and other CIS countries with homosexuality, and Kerimli is often linked to the color blue by his detractors, who use coded messages such as “Kerimli likes to dress in blue shirts,” etc.  This is a way of suggesting that Kerimli is a homosexual, a blunt weapon that YAP supporters (and even some in the opposition press) have used against him.

This YAP-sanctioned rally communicated three themes about Ali Kerimli: first, that he is a dangerous Islamist-inspired radical; secondly, that he is a sell-out to Armenia; and finally, that he is gay.  Two of these themes—the Armenia allegation and the homosexuality charge—are rabbits that YAP and its allies routinely pull out of their hat.

The “Kerimli the Jihadist” riff is new, and the details are hashed out in this article appearing in the official newspaper of the YAP.  The author alleges that Kerimli met “in secret” recently with a number of religious radicals, among them members or supporters of: the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, Hezbollah, Wahhabis who fought in Dagestan and Chechnya, the Taliban, and the Nurcu movement (which, depending on your outlook, is either a Trojan Horse for an Islamist theocracy or an enlightened, liberal group of secular Muslims).

Why that particular charge?  Evidently, Kerimli did in fact meet with a number of concerned religious figures recently in the home of a Popular Front Party member.  According to a Kerimli supporter who now resides in the US, the religious leaders were moderates and the meeting was “hardly secret.”

Kerimli “wanted to let them know that his goal is unity with all segments of Azeri society, including representatives of the Muslim religious community,” he said.

This source added, “If there are dangerous elements close to the Taliban operating in Azerbaijan, then where is the Ministry of National Security?  If these radicals are active, why didn’t they round them up?”

We shall see what transpires on Friday and Saturday, when the opposition rally is scheduled.

 

Author

Karl Rahder

Karl Rahder has written on the South Caucasus for ISN Security Watch and ISN Insights (http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights), news and global affairs sites run by the Swiss government. Karl splits his time between the US and the former USSR - mostly the Caucasus and Ukraine, sometimes teaching international relations at universities (in Chicago, Baku, Tbilisi) or working on stories for ISN and other publications. Karl received his MA from the University of Chicago, and first came to the Caucasus in 2004 while on a CEP Visiting Faculty Fellowship. He's reported from the Caucasus on topics such as attempted coups, sedition trials, freedom of the press, and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For many years, Karl has also served as an on-call election observer for the OSCE, and in 2010, he worked as a long-term observer in Afghanistan for Democracy International.

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