Baku: Not a Place for Protests?
“Arrested. In a bus with great people,” tweeted dissident Azerbaijani blogger Emin Milli, after riot police chased, beat and hustled protesters away from downtown Baku on January 26.
The Baku authorities have spared no effort to pound, quite literally, into residents’ heads that the center of the Azerbaijani capital is not the place to protest; rather, it is a stage for the government's various promotional campaigns, be it mega-pop concerts or international thought-exchanges. . . past, present or future. Leave the protests, please, to the outskirts.
But some have difficulty keeping the distinction straight. On January 26, just as President Ilham Aliyev, according to the Azerbaijani state news agency AzerTaj, was allegedly negotiating about bringing Davos to Baku (World Economic Forum spokespeople were not available for confirmation -- ed), a Facebook-organized rally in the city to show support for rioting residents of the northwestern town of Ismayili risked stealing the show.
With such high aims as Davos (and the European Olympics) in mind, the Azerbaijani government has very little patience these days for protesters. Police troops crushed the Ismayili uprising, which had been touched off by the reportedly thuggish behavior of the regional governor's son; in Baku, police chased and herded supporters of the Ismayili rioters away from the downtown area, and showered media with similar attention. Among the arrestees were the usual suspects: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova (who also has written for EurasiaNet.org) and activist Emin Milli.
Unaccustomed to such manifestations of public anger, Azerbaijani officials are still wiping the sweat off their brows. One presidential advisor declared that “hostile powers” are trying to sow discord and chaos in Azerbaijan, but have been defeated. “Let nobody forget that the state created with the honorable efforts of the national leader Heydar Aliyev [President Ilham Aliyev's father --ed] is a strong state that can push back any destructive force,” declared security and law enforcement advisor Fuad Alekserov, APA news agency reported.
In other words, the floor is clear in central Baku for mega-pop concerts, business pow-wows and international sports events. As for protests against the government and calls for justice, that’s what the suburbs are for.