Nardaran under siege

Nardaran remains under siege three days after a police raid resulted in the deaths of five local citizens and two police officers. A tenuous calm took hold on Saturday, but access to the village is completely blocked.

Electricity supplies and telephone lines are cut off, residents told Meydan TV. Without electricity, residents make street wood fires for warmth and rely on candles for light.

“They cut off our electricity for the past two days,” Nardaran resident Haji Ilqar said. “Today [head of the press service of power company Azerishiq] Tanriverdi Mustafayev spoke on television and said that we have not paid electricity bills. He is lying. We are not in debt. Everyone has paid their utility bills. We might have a little bit of a debt, but nothing close to 42 million.”

Mustafayev said on November 27 that electricity supply to Nardaran was suspended due to “debts.” Azerishiq claims that the village has an outstanding electricity bill of 42 million manats ($40 million). According to the power company, the debt reached 38 million manats before 2015 and increased by 4 million in the past 10 months only.  

For many local residents, however, mass power cuts amount to a form of collective punishment.

“They should cut off electricity for those who haven’t paid. Why should the whole village suffer now?! What kind of a democracy is this?! Is this the rule of law?! There is no gas or electricity, our road is closed, we are in a blockade. They speak of democracy. Even taxis don’t drive in or out of the village, the road is closed,” Haji Ilqar said.

“Passport regime”

Police patrol entrance to the beleaguered village, installing the so-called “passport regime.”  Residents without a local permit are not allowed inside the village, whereas Nardaran locals are barred from leaving. Inside Nardaran, residents set up makeshift checkpoints and barricades to identify “suspicious” individuals.

Locals also complain about depleting food supplies. The village has experienced interruptions in the delivery of bread and other staple goods. Turan reported that vehicles carrying foodstuffs were not allowed inside the village. In a show of solidarity, locals assembled their remaining supplies at the Imam Hussain Square to share, Haji Ilqar told Meydan TV.

“We went through the same thing back in 2002 and 2003. The residents of our village bring everything they have in their houses for those who need to take from the common pot,” he added.

Families say they still have not received the bodies of the deceased. Authorities claim that the Thursday raid broke up a “criminal gang” called Muslim Unity seeking to impose Sharia law in Azerbaijan, but witnesses and local residents insist the police attacked a peaceful prayer meeting.

Nardaran has been the focal point for anti-government religious protests since the early 2000's. In an echo of previous unrest in the town, national authorities are arguing all discontent is fomented by radical, Iran-financed, and well-armed Islamist terrorists, while locals instead point to longstanding economic and social difficulties and insist they fight only in self-defense, armed with little more than stones and makeshift cudgels.

We are neither ISIS nor Wahhabis”

A walk through a house where shooting took place last Thursday shows scars of violence, with bullet-pocked walls and ubiquitous blood stains. “We swear to God we are neither ISIS nor Wahhabis,” a woman, whose house caught gunfire, told Meydan TV.

“There was a rain of bullets flying from all directions, from the walls, the ceiling,” she recalls. “They were simply praying, worshiping God. They didn’t hurt anyone.”

 

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