Center for National and International Studies
“Companies operating in the country without undergoing a proper tender process are often either affiliated with the ruling family or owned by it.”
(Lack of ) Human Rights and Freedoms
For the 9th consecutive day, Soyudlu village in Gadabay remains under blockade. The village was cordoned off by the police, coercing its residents to express objection to the planned rally in Baku. Meanwhile, forced statements by the residents of the village were disseminated on Tiktok using fake accounts. Under the police’s instructions, the villagers were compelled to voice their backing for Ilham Aliyev while condemning the opposition.
Commenting on those force statements, opposition leader, chairperson of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli said that his party will continue to defend the rights of the people whose rights were violated. Karimli acknowledged that the statements made against him personally by some residents of Söyüdlü, who have effectively been held hostage by the regime, do not diminish their support for the Soyüdlü community. He emphasized that the words spoken under duress do not reflect their genuine intentions. “The fact that several residents of Söyüdlü, whom the regime took hostage, made statements against me personally cannot reduce our support for the Soyüdlü community. Firstly, it is essential to recognize that the coerced statements made by the hostages do not reflect their genuine will and beliefs. Secondly, it’s important to note that Soyudlu is home to approximately 4,000 residents. The fact that a small number, or even a few tens of people, express support for the government and defame the opposition does not deter us from defending the violated rights of the thousands of other Soyudlu residents. Finally, unlike Ilham Aliyev, we do not limit our defense of rights to those who support us. Our love for our Motherland and our people is unconditional and selfless. We are prepared to protect the rights of all citizens, including those who oppose us, without any form of coercion. Therefore, we will continue protesting against the contamination of the land, water, and air in the Soyudlu community. We demand that the authorities cease this inhumane activity. We will continue to advocate for the release of the arrested residents of Soyudlu, the removal of the village blockade, and the punishment of the police officers who have mistreated elderly mothers. These actions are imperative to ensure justice.”
According to exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, the coercion faced by the residents of Soyudlu to make statements in support of Aliyev is evidence that Aliyev is the true owner of the gold mines in the village. “Are you saying that the owner of the gold mines and factories in Gadabay is Reza Vaziri? If so, why do you share support requests for Ilham Aliyev from the Soyudlu community? Why are there videos of forced apologies being made under blackmail? The community’s protest was not directed against Aliyev, but rather against the owner of the toxic Zionite lake and the gold factory. At every turn, we are reminded that the true owner of those mines is Ilham himself.”
The residents of Ikinci Shikhli village of Gazakh have raised concerns about the ongoing closure of the land borders. During an interview with Meydan TV, one resident shared their experience, stating because of costly air tickets, it is not possible for them to see their family members. “I was born in Rustavi, Georgia, but my late mother was from Ikinci Shikhli. Currently, my father is there, unable to come here, and I am unable to go there. The cost of plane tickets is too high for me to afford. I have a family, including a child, and we face various challenges. Opening the roads would be highly beneficial. If the borders were open, my father could come to us, and we could visit him there.”
Governance and Corruption
In response to the government’s utilization of force to suppress the protests in Soyudlu, Ali Karimli said that it is sadly predictable for an authoritarian regime to resort to brutality in order to instill fear among its citizens. It is more important for the regime to instill fear in the people rather than garner their sympathy. If the regime were to address the Soyudlu crisis in a civilized manner, it might improve its approval ratings, but it would also diminish the people’s fear of the government. The regime’s primary objective and priority lie in ensuring that the people fear it. It neither seeks nor desires their liking or support. Its aim is for them to fear and comply out of that fear. Of course, a government that values winning the hatred and fear of its people over their love and support cannot truly represent the interests of the people. Therefore, the regime treats Soyudlu and the whole of Azerbaijan as an occupied territory. The only way to liberate the people from these invaders and those who act like invaders is through national unity and a collective struggle. We must foster national unity by coming together. We should unite to advocate for freedom and justice in Soyudlu, and vigorously defend these demands.”
Gultakin Hajibeyli, a member of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), expressed her views on police brutality in Soyudlu, emphasizing the importance of the intellectual segment of society responding to such human rights violations. After all, a person who claims to be an intellectual must have an attitude, reaction, and protest against this ecological disaster occurring in the country. One who considers themselves the enlightened figure of the nation should not allow their conscience to be clouded by a logic, or rather a lack of morality, that would endorse the idea of “we despise Ali Karimli and the opposition, therefore, let the children, young men, and young women of Gadabay suffer a widespread epidemic of cancer.” Even if it is fake, there must be a justification, an argumentation why they don’t say anything about Soyudlu. Even if it were a fabrication, there should be some form of justification, some form of argumentation. However, I find it impossible even to conjure up a false justification for the events unfolding in Soyudlu. At least, I personally cannot find one. If tomorrow they were to bury radioactive waste in any part of this country in exchange for monetary gain, it is highly unlikely that anyone would raise objections.” Hajibeyli also criticized those public figures and media representatives who remained silent about the situation in Soyudlu while expressing their concerns regarding protests in France.
Political commentator Arastun Orujlu commented on the attempted coup in Russia, suggesting that it might have potential ramifications for Azerbaijan. The recent “soft uprising” that shaped a new political landscape in Russia has raised concerns about potential threats to Azerbaijan. Notably, Ramiz Mehdiyev and his group, who are closely aligned with the Patrushev team and still possess significant resources, may play a significant role in the near future. This suggests that Azerbaijan may once again face a difficult situation where the choice is between bad and worse. However, the most disheartening aspect is not only the presence of adverse selection itself but also the challenge of determining who falls into the category of bad or worse. In reality, such a choice is neither feasible nor necessary. The Azerbaijani people must exercise their own agency in the Aliyev–Mehdiyev conflict, which cannot be entirely disregarded (hypothetically). Despite the war granting Ilham Aliyev considerable authority to carry out crucial reforms and earning him a substantial amount of trust, he not only failed to utilize this opportunity effectively but deliberately eroded that trust with his actions. From a lack of respect towards martyrs to the distressing incidents of veterans resorting to mass suicides, from rewarding criminals who exploited their positions within the military to the hostile measures taken by the prime minister, resulting in the termination of social assistance for tens of thousands of people, from the corruption of executive officials to the brutality exhibited by the police, and from the violation of laws to the widespread arrests of citizens—these instances have become the prevailing theme of Ilham Aliyev‘s post-war policies.”
Journalist Seymur Hezi argued that the protests in Soyudlu village have brought to light significant issues afflicting Azerbaijani society. Hezi: “Macro problems revealed by the Soyudlu events: Companies operating in the country without undergoing a proper tender process are often either affiliated with the ruling family or owned by them. The absence of a functioning court system exacerbates the issue of unresolved ownership disputes. Consequently, serious countries and reputable companies are reluctant to engage in partnerships associated with these questionable practices. In essence, the country faces a significant challenge in attracting normal investment under these circumstances, and the discussions surrounding the European Union (EU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are just mere empty rhetoric, and the authorities are not preparing for positive changes.”
July 4, 2023