Aliyev vs. Azeris

In Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev’s dire kleptocracy has been putting the nix on opposition rallies and advanced protest plans in the run up to the November election. The Aliyev regime is being challenged by a coalition bloc made up of three major opposition parties (progressives from the split Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the Musavat Party). This alliance is flanked by a bunch of youth groups, led by the recently formed Orange Movement of Azerbaijan, the newly-new Yokh! (No!), and the older Yeni Fikir. These kids don’t mess around, having branded Aliyev and his cronies “corrupt killers and kidnappers” – a legitimate charge, following the mass incarceration of opposition leaders in past months and, in one case, suspected murder. Two recent detentions include Razi Nurullaev, leader of Yokh!, and Ruslan Bashirli, leader of Yeni Fikir. Also fresh, and festering, is the case of Ehtiram Jalilov (the Democratic Party deputy) who collapsed and died over a cup of tea on the 19th, leading to the strong, and credible, suspicion of poisoning by Azerbaijan’s lethal secret service.

The regime in Baku is taking extreme pre-emptive measures because it is afraid. Aliyev is afraid because he knows that opposition and youth movements in former Soviet satellite states have momentum and support and increasing confidence and a growing hit rate. He’ll also be aware that Azerbaijani youth activists have forged links with and received advice and training from their Pora counterparts in Ukraine. Nurullaev himself turned up in Kiev last December to meet Pora leaders and consolidate the region’s pro-democracy network. And Orange Movement activists have done all they can to make the allegiance explicit.

As it is, the riot police in Baku and Aliyev’s tactics of pre-election oppression prove that the opposition chant at Saturday’s aborted rally (“Free elections!”) is a hopeless one.

Not that hopeless is hopeless anymore.

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