I have been following the March 11 day of rage would-be protest in Azerbaijan all day through twitter, and the periodic updates from Radio Free Europe.
Unfortunately, it unfolded nearly exactly as everyone expected.
Even before the March 11 arrived, Azerbaijani authorities arrested a number of youth activists involved in the posting of a facebook group dedicated to organizing the protests and some it simply suspected of future complicity. A public campaign on national television showed psychologists describing facebook users as mentally damaged, influenced by foreign agents, or simply “mostly Armenians.”
On March 7, the Washington-backed National Democratic Institute in Azerbaijan was told it would be closed. NDI primarily promotes strengthening democratic institutions and transparent, competitive political processes.
By the time March 11 finally rolled around the police clearly had a plan. They placed police around Baku State University, blocked down the May 28 metro station, and began arresting other known activists around town — including two who were sitting at a cafe at the time.
As various small protests began, dozens of protestors were arrested, but were later released, probably because the police wanted to maintain the manpower to break up any other protests to come. The only serious violence that occurred seemed to target journalists. Several journalists were arrested and Abbas Atilay (author of the photo above) was beaten by several policemen in the body and face before a police captain broke up the scuffle and apologized. He apparently then cleaned the blood from his face and continued working.
Although my heart goes out 100 percent to the victims of today’s tsunami in Japan, it is an additional tragedy that their disaster will totally block coverage of these important events in Azerbaijan.
Keep tuned in, I plan to continue to update this as the events progress and we move into Musavat’s planned protest tomorrow.