Ilham Aliyev’s oppressive tactics are raising the credibility and influence of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan.
April 27, 2013, 15:25 EST
As the Ilham Aliyev regime continues to oppress the leadership of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan, it is unintentionally creating a socio-political predicament for itself.
On April 25, an Internet based Azeri daily newspaper Islami-azeri.az reported that after the relatives and lawyer of the prominent Islamic scholar and activist, Abgul Suleymanov met with him in prison#13, he informed them that he will soon be transferred to the maximum security prison in Qobustan. Sheikh Abgul was arrested on fabricated charges on August 12, 2011.
The Aliyev regime arrested the prominent Islamic scholar for his open criticism of the the regime’s autocratic practices and his role in organizing protests against the hijab ban in public schools.
Sheikh Abgul was sentenced to 11 years in prison in August 2012 and incarcerated in one of the worst prisons in Azerbaijan, namely prison#13 located in Qaradaq region. This prison was built decades ago by the Soviet regime and is known for its filthy prison cells, little food, almost poisonous water and lack of air in its dark tiny cells.
Unlike other opposition figures in prison, Sheikh Abgul has been active in writing open letters to the public urging resistance against the unelected Aliyev regime. He has also urged them to organize demonstrations and called on the people not to count on the regime to liberated Karabakh. Instead, he has urged people to confront the Armenian occupation independently. Sheikh Abgul has also been active in teaching basic Islamic principles to prisoners.
A member of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan who met Sheikh Abgul a few days ago, speaking to Crescent International on April 27 from Baku on the condition of anonymity, reported that “Haji Abgul’s activism in terms of teaching Islam to prisoners is the main reason he has been put into solitary confinement several times over the last two months by prison authorities. Haji Abgul also informed our group of visitors that while in solitary confinement his was given very little food and was asked not to issue anti-regime statements. After prison authorities realized that Haji Abgul would not tone down his criticism, they decided to order his transfer to the notorious Qobustan maximum security prison where prisoners spend most of their time locked up in their cells. The transfer is due to take place within the next twenty days.”
Qobustan prison houses the staunchest anti-Aliyev political opponents such as the former commander of OMON’s Gazah and Agstafa region, Karabakh war-hero Elchin Amiraslanov.
Unrelenting crackdown on Muslims in Azerbaijan using fabricated charges has become a norm within Aliyev’s ruling cast. This method makes the regime look clean on paper and creates an alibi for its Western backers to continue doing business with the Aliyev family. Oppressing Muslims in a country with a Muslim majority will at some point escalate tensions and the Western propped dictatorship will hasten its own collapse.
Since Aliyev launched his brutal Islamophobic campaign three years ago to silence the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan, the effect has been exactly the opposite. Aliyev’s Islamophobia campaign similar to Hosni Mubarak’s repression of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon encouraged all segments of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan to actively take part in socio-political activities exposing the illegitimacy of the regime and demanding its removal from power.
So far activists of the Islamic movement have proved they are the most resilient opposition to the Aliyev regime. The leadership of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan has maintained its position against the regime even after being released from prison. This was most clearly demonstrated by Sheikh Taleh Bagirov. Most other opposition members toned down their criticism and activism against the unelected Aliyev regime after the regime released them from prison.
The ongoing crackdown against the Islamic movement has created a lose-lose situation for Aliyev. By constantly harassing the movement, the regime has unintentionally conferred legitimacy and credibility on the Islamic movement. If the regime stops its harassment of the Islamic movement, it will be seen as weak and this will encourage further resistance against it.
The brewing revolutionary situation in Azerbaijan has elevated the Islamic movement into a prominent position. Secular opposition can no longer afford to ignore the socio-political weight of the Islamic movement and is forced to integrate it into its political calculations, thanks to Aliyev’s ill-advised and brutal policies.