Detentions and arrests after ‘Black January’ commemoration

More than a dozen opposition activists were reportedly detained after trying to participate in the 20 January commemorations on Sunday. While some of them have been fined and released or placed under administrative arrest, the fate of others is still unknown.

Members of the opposition group National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) had met to pay their tributes to the victims of the “Black January”, a violent crackdown of Soviet troops during the night of 19 to 20 January 1990 that killed more than 140 people in an attempt to stifle the country’s breakaway from the Soviet Union.

The event is traditionally commemorated at the Alley of Martyrs, a memorial site dedicated to victims of Soviet repressions and those who died during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Supporters of the NCDF, among them the head of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli, had gathered to pay tribute at the Alley of Martyrs but were reportedly not allowed to enter. According to the Turan News Agency, a large group of people was blocked off for more than two hours at the beginning of Parliament Avenue, the street leading down to the Alley of Martyrs.

The area was cordoned off by police and only small groups of people were allowed to pass from one section to another. Karimli believes these measures were intended to keep the crowd more manageable after an opposition rally the day before had seen one of the largest group of protesters in Azerbaijan in years.

Police reportedly arrested people after growing tensions over the long wait and the continued denied access to the memorial site. A video from the scene shows police officers leading and carrying people away to police buses. As a video obtained from bystanders shows, police also tried to keep the journalist covering the events from filming, temporarily taking her phone away.

According to the APFP, more than 20 people were detained, 9 of whom were brought before court the day after. Two supporters were fined 200 Manat, while another was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest. At least six other people were brought before various courts.

On Monday, the independent news agency Turan wrote that two dozen people were placed under administrative arrest.

According to the spokesperson of the Ministry of the Interior, Ehsan Zahidov, the same group of people had already tried to disturb public order during the opposition rally the day before, contradicting an official statement saying that the event had proceeded peacefully. 

The Musavat Party reported that even though many people were prevented from visiting the Alley of Martyrs, Musavat members managed to pay their respects.