Following a terrifying shooting spree at a Baku university which left 13 dead, students took to the streets to demand that a national day of mourning be declared in Azerbaijan. With the request falling on deaf ears, several youth activists, among them some bloggers, planned to protest the inaction, and specifically a festive holiday of flowers scheduled for 10 May.
Photo: © Arzu Geybullayeva / Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines
Jessica P. Hayden is off the map sets the scene.
According to several blogger reports […] there was a candle light vigil at the oil academy on Friday that was broken up by the police.
Later the vigil became much more of a protest. According to some folks people were shouting “Down with Terrorism! Down with Corruption!”
Next week is the former president's birthday. […] In past years flowers have even been used to create a portrait of the former president. Some locals have been questioning whether it is proper to continue with the celebration in the face of the tragedy. It will certainly be interesting to see how the government responds.
Coordinated by various means, including online social networks such as Facebook, turnout for the peaceful protest last Sunday might have been small, but its significance was enough to force the hand of the authorities. The demonstration was dispersed and 50 people, including at least 3 bloggers, were detained.
Among them was Global Voices Online author Ali S. Novruzov, who yesterday recounted what happened on his personal blog, In Mutatione Fortitudo.
We were around 20-30 youth, most have seen each other first time, and were sitting in front of the National Conservatoire – opposite the Heydar Aliyev Park where the Holiday of Flowers was held. We had two read carnations in our hands (symbols of mourning in Azerbaijan) and were just observing Sodom and Gomorrah across the road and were depressed by the sight of thousands visiting the Holiday – for these law-abiding families, teachers with their students seemed to have no pity to those killed at the Oil Academy rampage.
I think it was this depression that made us to stand up and leave the scene for State Oil Academy to lay our carnations in front of the building in memory of those killed 11 days ago. However, we didn't make just two steps and got immediately detained. […]
Photo: Global Voices Online author Ali S. Novruzov in police custody © In Mutatione Fortitudo
Tools such as Twitter were used to send out updates on the detentions. Although there are known problems with sending out tweets via SMS on certain cellular phone networks in Azerbaijan, one foreign blogger, International Federation of Liberal Youth General Secretary Bart Woord, updated followers from his Blackberry via Twitter's web interface.
Global Voices Online and Global Voices Advocacy were quick to respond and spread the word while the Committee to Protect Bloggers also followed up on the detentions. Meanwhile, OL!, a progressive Azeri youth movement notable for its use of new media, also sent out similar tweets.
Among those arrested were NDI employees Arjen and Rashad Shirin as well as Nigar Fatali from CinemAN
Translation courtesy of Arzu Geybullayeva
Bart Woord also continued to follow the situation, sending out updates on Twitter which were the main source of information for many concerned by what was occurring in Baku. He also managed to announce the release of those detained just before the battery in his mobile phone gave out.
Of course, the main accounts came after those detained were released and video interviews were posted on the OL! blog. Among them were bloggers Nigar Fatali (first), Arzu Geybullayeva (second), and Ali S. Novruzov (last).
Although spared from being dragged into police custody, Arzu Geybullayeva from Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines also posted a blog entry detailing the day's events in English.
I left my house around noon, heading to the Haydar Aliyev Park, where the so-called celebrations were to be held. […] There was police everywhere- civilian and in uniforms. […] They knew that students and young activists might be having small-scale protests. They were afraid.
[…] A group of 15- 20 young people were sitting on the stairs opposite to the park by the State Music Academy, holding carnations in their hands and observing the crowd. At about 2 in the afternoon we decided to start walking towards the State Oil Academy to leave carnations on the steps of the building and then go home as a sign of regret for what was going on. But no, nothing can be simple in this country.
We weren't protesting out loud, we were peacefully walking on the street, heads down, talking. I guess that is also a crime or some version of hooliganism as our police forces liked to call it. […]
I am deeply saddened by what happened today. […] Today, I truly hated the fact that I am a citizen of this country! […]
Ali S. Novruzov also posted videos of some of the interviews with English subtitles on on his YouTube channel. The accounts explain why the action was held as well as detail the circumstances of the detentions.
Another detained blogger, Nigar Fatali, wrote about the experience on her Russian-language blog, Don Quixote [RU/AZ].
После прихода представителей Американского, Французского и Швейцарского посольств, а также представителей ОБСЕ, недолго думая, бравая полиция решила отпустить иностранного гражданина.
Тут, надо отдать должное директору NDI Арьену, отказавшемуся покидать отделение без своего работника, который, в свою очередь, отказывался уходить без своей девушки (stop_it_please ).
Here we should give due honour to NDI director Arjen, who refused to leave the police department without his employee, who in turn refused to go without his girlfriend (stop_it_please).
Two days later, on her newly launched English-language blog, Fighting windmills? Take a pill, the blogger reported that her release was not the end of the story.
Police came to my house to “check the registrations” asking my mom questions about me.
Global Voices Online author Ali S. Novruzov also had the same experience and posts a musical clip of a reworked version of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.
On 12th May I have received a call from from JEK, which looks after public apartments, elevators and litter. […]
Next day came police watchdog of the neighborhood (someone like Sheriff) with three suspicious personalities to check “pasport regime” in whole building (as if our building is flooded with illegal immigrants). However, a paper in his hand betrayed the list of 10 May protesters :)
Today, my father received a call from Crime Investigation Department of our district's police – they were opening a file for me. […]
Such a wonderful country, eh? Can you have such a fun somewhere else for walking with a flower in your hand in the Holiday of Flowers? Lol! They've got a little list!
However, commenting on the action, Side-Talks Azerbaijan says it believes the atmosphere in the country is not one where such actions can succeed.
[…] To the credit of the government, a lot of developments have been achieved during the period of the administration. This is why any unrest that will agitate the people will easily be clamped down by the security personnel.
No mourning was declared and the celebrations took place as planned. Among those who were killed, was a new bride, married just two weeks prior to the shootings. She went to work as she did on her usual day, an hour later her mother received a phone call that her daughter was dead.
I am not a judge but how right it was to have the celebrations- the visit to Haydar Aliyev park that day was followed by a concert at the boulevard, and fireworks later in the evening. Was this how the state paid its respect for those who were killed in the shooting or a simple message that it didn't care?! Judge it yourself!