Sumgayit on lockdown

Sumgayit, 15 July 2018. (Turan.az)

On 15 July, Azerbaijani special forces descended on the city of Sumgayit.

Calls for protests against the Sumgayit city administration were circulated on social media, explicitly inspired by recent events in Ganja. On 3 July, the mayor of Ganja, Elmar Valiyev, was shot, and on 10 July two police officers were killed during a demonstration in the center of the city.

To prevent a repeat of the events in Ganja, Azerbaijani police and special forces blocked access yesterday to the square in front of the Sumgayit Executive Authority. Armored vehicles were observed in the area, but residents were not allowed to film or photograph law enforcement with their cellphones. Business owners were ordered to close their shops and cafes to prevent crowds from gathering.

While the city center was locked down, police simultaneously carried out raids against “religious radicals” and their supporters in which 18 people were reportedly arrested.

Authorities claim that both the attack on the mayor of Ganja and the subsequent protests against city authorities were carried out by Islamic radicals, a claim which some observers have called into question. The mayor, Elmar Valiyev, survived the attack and is being treated in Israel.

During protests in Ganja a week later, police Colonel Ilgar Balakishiyev and Lieutenant-Colonel Samad Abbasov were killed. One suspect, Farrukh Gasimov, is in police custody, while the second, Rashad Boyukkishiyev, was killed by police while reportedly resisting arrest.

The incidents in Ganja were followed by dozens of arrests in a police operation which is reportedly still ongoing.