by Our Caucasus correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 7, Shawwal, 1432)
Over the past year the political scene in Azerbaijan has been dominated by two centers of power: the autocratic regime centered around Aliyev and the Islamic movement centered around activists, journalists, scholars, lawyers and the wider Azeri population.
The authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan, feeling vulnerable because of its rapidly shrinking support base, has embarked on the arrest of Islamic activists on false pretext. On August 12, the editor-in-chief of Islamazeri.net internet-newspaper, Ramin Bayramov, the well-known Islamic scholar Haji Abgul Suleimanov and the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Arif Qaniyev were taken into custody. Initially, the “security” forces stated that the three were detained after officers from the intelligence ministry discovered that the activists possessed drugs on their persons and in their homes along with firearms.
The authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan, feeling vulnerable because of its rapidly shrinking support base, has embarked on the arrest of Islamic activists on false pretext.
The following day, the intelligence ministry hurled more allegations at the arrested activists: in addition to “possessing drugs and weapons” the three activists created a radical Islamic group called Jafari with financial help from the Baku-based Cultural Center of Iran. Ilham Aliyev’s regime alleges that “members of this unregistered group promoted religious radicalism and distributed leaflets among believers. Those leaflets encouraged hostility towards adherents of other faiths.”
Arresting political opponents based on fake charges has become a standard practice of the autocratic regime in Baku. The case of two famous journalists Eynullah Fatullayev and Ganimat Zahid gained worldwide prominence after they were charged with various offences including “drug possession and hooliganism,” the same charges levelled against the recently arrested activists. It seems using drug charges has become a favourite ploy of the regime that is unable to stem the tide of rising opposition to its brutal tactics.
For any reasonable observer inside and outside of Azerbaijan it is clear that the recent charges and arrests are politically motivated. The arrested individuals are well known for their criticism of the illegitimate Aliyev regime who inherited the mantle of power from his father. Like all autocratic regimes, the seat of power is considered a family business and it is passed on from father to son or shared between brothers, like the tribal family rule in the Arabian Peninsula.
Over the past year the political scene in Azerbaijan has been dominated by two centers of power: the autocratic regime centered around Aliyev and the Islamic movement centered around activists, journalists, scholars, lawyers and the wider Azeri population. The regime wields the brute force of the security and intelligence establishments that are used to crush dissent; the Islamic movement represents the soft but more enduring power of mass support.
The political scene in Azerbaijan has been dominated by two centers of power: the autocratic regime and the wider Azeri population
Arrests of the three Muslim activists comes at a time when an NGO called DEVAMM (Centre in Defense of Freedom of Conscience and Religion) headed by a respected Muslim scholar Haji Ilgar Ibrahimoglu managed to gather more than 100,000 signatures in less than four weeks demanding that the regime cancel the ban on hijab in public schools. While the public campaign led by DEVAMM was of a non-confrontational nature, it has embarrassed the regime in Baku and showed the broad support the Islamic movement enjoys in Azerbaijan. Many analysts think that arrest of the three prominent Muslim activists is the illegitimate regime’s “political” reply to DEVAMM’s public awareness campaign that marginalized the ruling kleptocracy.
While the unelected regime in Baku possesses vast firepower by virtue of the heavily-armed “security” forces and money because of oil wealth that again is considered a family fortune, it has been unable to marginalize the Islamic movement that appears to grow and mature politically almost on a daily basis. So far the Islamic movement has demonstrated that it is the only socio-political force that is immune to the standardized oppression methodology of Aliyev’s regime. Constant harassment, imprisonment and a mass scale propaganda offensive against the Islamic movement has made it only stronger and enhanced its credibility among various segments of Azeri society. This factor not only worries the regime and the puppet opposition inside the country, but it also worries the Aliyev regime’s imperialist backers in many Western countries. This partly explains the reason why most Western organizations that are focused on defending journalists, have so far remained silent about the arrest of Ramin Bayramov whose journalistic work was very critical of the regime’s social, political and economic policies.
The unelected Azeri regime has clearly chosen the path of escalating the conflict with the people. The regime assumes that its current political opponents in the Islamic movement are made of the same fabric as the other opponents it has dealt with so far. Therefore, it has assumed that they can be dealt with in a similar manner. The regime’s attitude and policies over the past two years clearly show that it is misreading the situation. The fundamental question worthy of analysis and study in Azerbaijan, therefore, is the course of action that will be taken by the Islamic movement in the coming year. This will determine whether the regime is consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs or continues to cling to power because the Islamic movement has not thought through carefully its approach to dealing with a teetering regime.