In mid-November, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Rashad Ramazanov, an Islamist blogger, to nine years in prison on charges of drug possession. Two weeks earlier, Taleh Bagir-zade, a young and charismatic Shi’a cleric, received a two-year prison term after being convicted on similar charges.
Nearly 20 years after a ceasefire brought a halt to all-out warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani government is still grappling with the challenge of accommodating the country’s 600,000 Internally Displaced Persons, without encouraging them to forget their former homes.
In the five weeks since incumbent Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was reelected for a third consecutive term, the authorities have cracked down on a prominent NGO, an opposition newspaper, and several bloggers, journalists, and academics in what Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen has branded “[a] ruthless and relentless attack on any dissenting voices in the media.”
The only unanswered question heading into Azerbaijan’s presidential election October 9 was whether it would be perceived as the country’s first-ever “free-and-fair” vote. The suspense didn’t last long, as a torrent of reports about irregularities began pouring in long before polling stations closed.
The second televised debate ahead of Azerbaijan's October presidential election was interrupted when one of the nine candidates on stage hurled a bottle of water at the main opposition candidate, Camil Hasanli.
While there are numerous touchstones of tension in Azerbaijan, including corruption and income inequality, local analysts say it’s unlikely that religion will emerge as a major fault line in Azerbaijani society for the foreseeable future.