Friday, June 28, 2013

Azerbaijan Stirred, Not Shaken by Turkish Protests

    Friday, June 28, 2013   No comments

Seen from Azerbaijan, the mass protests in Turkey have evoked particularly strong feelings, and have promptied some to wonder whether the same kind of thing might be possible in their own country.

There are obvious parallels – the two countries are bound together by old cultural and linguistic ties, and more recently a political alliance. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seen as increasingly autocratic by his opponents, while Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev looks set to stay in power indefinitely.

For young Azerbaijanis opposed to Aliyev, events in Istanbul have inspired feelings of excitement and envy. Previously, they observed the protest movements in Iran in 2009, in Russia in 2011, and in Georgia last year, and wondered whether something similar was possible in Azerbaijan .

“Since there is no opportunity for political activity, any political event in a neighbouring country excites Azerbaijanis,” Arastan Orujlu, head of the East-West Research Centre in Baku, said.

The impact of the Turkish demonstrations has been more immediate, partly because of the cultural kinship and partly because of this autumn’s presidential election in Azerbaijan, in which opposition groups hope to put up more of a challenge than before.

Facebook users in Azerbaijan shared news stories, photos and videos of the protests, which began over plans to redevelop the Gezi Park but expanded to include concerns about freedom of expression and the trend towards Islamicisation.

There are many Azerbaijanis living in Istanbul for work or study, and some of them went to the protests to add their own messages on banners saying, “Baku is with you, Gezi”, and “Aliyev, it’s your turn now”.


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