The anticipated release of Sheikh Taleh Bagirov from prison is likely to have wider implications for the political landscape in Azerbaijan. While the regime and secular opposition forces have lost credibility, the Islamic movement is gaining strength and adherents. The Aliyev regime, however, will not take it lying down and may strike in its customary vicious ways.
Wednesday July 29, 2015, 09:49 DST
Within the next 48 to 72 hours Azerbaijan Republic will go through the most politically ground breaking event of the past year. Sheikh Taleh Bagirov, one of the leading members of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan is to be released from prison by the autocratic and illegitimate regime of Ilham Aliyev. Taleh Bagirov, a prominent Islamic scholar, was arrested on fabricated charges by the regime in 2013, for the second time in four years, for “possessing drugs and weapons."
Two days prior to his second arrest (March 29, 2013) Sheikh Bagirov had publicly announced that he had received credible information from within the regime’s ruling circles that he will soon be arrested. Aliyev’s regime is known for fabricating “legal” means to imprison opponents. The implementation of this “legal” scheme consists of planting drugs or weapons inside the home or vehicle of opponents or accusing them of other crimes.
Sheikh Bagirov is being released after completing his sentence. During his illegal imprisonment he had received several offers to be released immediately if he would write an amnesty letter to Ilham Aliyev pleading for mercy. Just like all other imprisoned members of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan, Sheikh Bagirov refused this humiliating offer. During his incarceration Sheikh Bagirov continued influencing the socio-political events in Azerbaijan and even established a new Islamic organization calling it Muslim Unity Movement.
By arresting Sheikh Bagirov the Aliyev regime shot itself in the foot as the Islamic scholar’s popularity and influence further increased. Sheikh Bagirov's unwavering resistance to the autocratic policies of the Aliyev regime while still in prison won the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan a great deal of popularity and credibility from various segments of the Azeri society. Once released, Sheikh Bagirov will enter a drastically altered political landscape where non-Islamic "opposition" groups and the Aliyev regime have completely lost credibility among the wider Azeri society. Further, the Aliyev regime is experiencing economic problems and tactical tensions with the West.
Sheikh Bagirov has a unique opportunity to reshape the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan and break the regime’s artificial and illegitimate socio-political redlines. Aliyev realizes this and will most probably utilize the palace "scholars" in order to create challenges for Sheikh Bagirov from within the Islamic movement. After his release Sheikh Bagirov is most likely to focus on demanding the release of other Islamic political activists from detention. The Aliyev regime might trade the detainees if Sheikh Bagirov were to remain relatively calm. This will be a delicate deal to strike.
Overall, the situation in Azerbaijan is evolving in favor of the Islamic movement, but the regime’s focus on creating a loyal base of "Islamic scholars" will complicate issues for the Islamic movement as the latter will have to take a delicate position between Muslim unity and exposing the fifth columnists. It cannot be ruled out that Sheikh Bagirov may be re-arrested within a few days of his release on other bogus charges or even assassinated like Ziya Bunyadov and others.