Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Youth Protest in Azerbaijani Capital

Scuffles as police move in after rock singer insults president.
By Shahla Sultanova
  • Young man draped in Azerbaijani flag at the demonstration in Baku. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Young man draped in Azerbaijani flag at the demonstration in Baku. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Youth leaders on stage. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Youth leaders on stage. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Banner says “We need Karabakh, not Eurovision”. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Banner says “We need Karabakh, not Eurovision”. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Poster in English. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Poster in English. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Banner says “Freedom for political prisoners”. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Banner says “Freedom for political prisoners”. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Singer Jamal Ali performing. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Singer Jamal Ali performing. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
  • Police bar a gate to prevent demonstrators running after officers with the three detainees. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)
    Police bar a gate to prevent demonstrators running after officers with the three detainees. (Photo: Shahla Sultanova)

More than a thousand young Azerbaijanis braved driving snow to gather in Baku’s Sabavil district on March 17 for a demonstration against corruption and the jailing of journalists and activists.

It was the first rally to be granted official approval in the capital since 2005, and was organised by the Youth Rights Defence Committee, an umbrella group bringing together the youth wings of the opposition Popular Front, Musavat, Democrat and Civil Solidarity parties; the Azad, Nida, Positive Change and Dalga youth movements; and the Human Rights Club.

Government officials were quick to point out that the protest was proof that freedom of speech existed in Azerbaijan.

Ali Hasanov, chief of the public policy department in the president’s office, expressed regret at trouble that marred the end of the demonstration.

He was referring to a performance by the rock group Bulistan after the speeches finished. Police intervened when singer Jamal Ali used profanities and insulted President Ilham Aliyev.

As well as Ali, they detained guitar player Natig Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli of the Nida group when they tried to protect the singer.

The three were taken away in a police van and Ali was given ten days in detention, while Salmanli and Kamilov got six and five days, respectively.  

Shahla Sultanova is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.