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Azerbaijan: Civil Society, Opposition Groups Unite as Referendum Approaches

Better known for their bitter divisions and rivalries, civil society and opposition groups in Azerbaijan are slowly uniting as a national referendum aimed at removing the presidential two-term limit approaches. Perceived by many as a threat to democratization in the former Soviet republic and accompanied by a ban on foreign broadcasting in the country, blogs and social networking sites are being used to protest the impending vote.

Natiqceferli [RU] posted news of the formation of a new public union, the Republican Alternative (REAL), on 25 December 2008 after Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court approved the referendum a day earlier and parliament ratified the decision the next.  One of REAL's founders, Ilgar Mammadov [AZ/RU], also used his blog to outline the goals of the movement.

Modern history has transformed Azerbaijan into a model of a republic for the Muslim world. But, in the recent history of the country we have become witnesses of attempts to discredit the values which have brought us progress and respect. In 1918, in conditions heavier than now, the founders of the Azerbaijan National Republic possessed the courage to keep their allegiance to republican ideals and and to leave with them an inheritance to future generations. [...] Therefore, we, Azerbaijanis, now have neither the moral right or reasonable cause to reject this heritage.

Mammadov provides a brief analysis of the current political, social and economical situation in Azerbaijan and uses his blog to disseminate REAL's declaration.

The only alternative to such a harmful situation for Azerbaijan is the [formation of a] real Republic. Therefore, we hereunder form the public association “Republican Alternative” (REAL) to once again propagate republican ideals.

One of the other founders of REAL is jurist and youth icon Erkin Gadirli who has his own Facebook fan page. The movement plans to hold first its public conference-presentation not in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, but in the provincial city of Ganja.

Mirza Khazar [AZ] notes that the Azerbaijani media reports that on 9 January 2009 most of the main opposition parties in Azerbaijan have united to form the Civil Movement for Karabakh and a Democratic Republic.

Leyla Yunus, a veteran politician and human rights activist was elected as the chair of the movement's coordinating commitee, but as Eternal Remont reports, she is currently facing a court case brought against her by the Interior Minister.

I'm not kidding. On December 13, Interior Minister of Azerbaijan Ramil Usubov filed a court suit against the director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD) and human rights activist, Dr. Leyla Yunus. Minister Usubov claims that Dr. Yunus damaged the Azerbaijani police’s reputation in an interview, which was posted on www.day.az on December 3, 2008.

Despite the obstacles, Mirza Khazar [AZ] says that another opposition group, the Civil Solidarity Party, has also recently joined the movement.

Meanwhile, Sözün Düzü [AZ] says that a group of Azeri women have come together and launched a new online campaign inspired by Lale, a 3-year-old girl participating in a recent protest against the referendum held by an Azeri Diasporan group in New York.

Now known as the Lale Movement, the initiative already has its own Facebook and Yahoo groups. The founders of the movement say that “the Azeri Woman is courageous enough to protest against injustice and make changes if she wants.”

Lale, 3, at NYC protest rally
Lale, 3, at New York rally (photo from Facebook)

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