Today, Azerbaijan was celebrating 86th birthday of its late president (father, leader and all the other glorified names people call him around here) Heydar Aliyev. But it wasn't just a simple birthday celebration- it was the Flower Day!
If this was held on any other day it would have been fine (not that I would have gone to the celebrations anyway) but today, only 10 days later after what happened at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, people who came to the event (and there were a lot of them), the atmosphere seemed more festive, as if nothing happened.
Below is a brief story of what happened today:
I left my house around noon, heading to the Haydar Aliyev Park, where the so- called celebrations were to be held. As I arrived I saw hundreds if not thousands of people entering the park to see expensive flowers brought from Africa for this special occasion (it is said that 15 million manats were spent for this occasion). But it wasn't a simple celebration. There was police everywhere- civilian and in uniforms. They carefully guarded the part all around so as not to let any provocateurs inside to spoil the event. They knew that students and young activists might be having small- scale protests. They were afraid.
It seemed peaceful, people seemed happy, kids running around, parents eating round pastries sold on the street next to the park.
But not everyone was happy. A group of 15- 20 young people were sitting on the stairs opposite to the park by the State Music Academy, holding carnations in their hands and observing the crowd. At about 2 in the afternoon we decided to start walking towards the State Oil Academy to leave carnations on the steps of the building and then go home as a sign of regret for what was going on. But no, nothing can be simple in this country.
Immediately after we got up, a group of civilian dressed police (or thugs) saw us getting on our feet- there was a lot of talking on the phone and most probably some sort of chain of command going around. As we took the side steps, I saw myself, how one big fat general on the phone, pointing the other civilian dressed fat thug at us. Literally in seconds there were other officers around them looking at us. We crossed the street and as soon as we did, the big fat civilian dressed guy with his phone (perhaps it was a walkie- talkie) came chasing after us. We only took few more steps that when I turned around I saw that same guy shouting at the smaller thugs around him to take all of us in. "Hamsini gotu run" ("take all of them") he said in his loud Azeri voice, there were already police cars by the place where we were standing and lots of civilian dressed men around my friends assisting them to their cars.
Among those taken in were another bloger Ali Novruzov, creators of AN Network Rashad Shirin, Emin Milli, Nigar Fatali, and Arjen de Wolf (head of NDI)- who was there actually to observe- and a number of other yout
We weren't protesting out loud, we were peacefully walking on the street, heads down, talking. I guess that is also a crime or some version of hooliganism as our police forces liked to call it. And the only reason why didn't catch us at first was because they weren't sure how many we were exactly, the tactic was to make sure we were a small group, otherwise it would have been harder.
But the worst thing was when the thugs grabbed a 15 year old girl who
was standing at the bus stop in the vicinity where all of this occurred. She was crying when she was forced to get into the car but the fat guy on the phone kept on shouting at her and forced her to get into the car.
I am amazed how I wasn't detained. I was miraculously saved simply by standing two meters away from where all of this was going on and taking photos.
As soon as police cars took off, the fat guy (he seemed like the guy in charge of the "operation") started shouting at other people who were passing by. "Dagilin" ("spread out") he was saying with an angry voice and waving with his wobbly hands.
After learning where everyone has been taken we all went to the police station. It was number 22.
At first they told us that our friends will be released in 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes turned into long 4 hours. Just as our friends weren't told why they were detained, so were we, standing outside of the police station, not knowing the reason behind their arrest.
The first person to come out was that 15 year old girl. She was detained for wearing black clothes. Obviously our police also didn't know what a word "punk" is either. She was crying as soon as she came out and told Radio Azadliq reporters who were with us since the beginning of the whole thing that she had nothing to do with the protest, she was only waiting for the bus.
Then came Arjen, Rashad, and Nigar. Arjen was the hero of the day as he was called out but he refused, saying that he wont leave.
Then came two girls, also dressed in black. They said they were forced to sign a document as they were leaving, a written apology for their actions. Who was supposed to ask for forgiveness from whom I guess is also dubious in this case! The girls faked their signatures and said they didn't do an apology. Then came the others though not all at the same time- one by one or few people at a time.
There was no violence inside of the detainment rooms though the officers were rude from what my friends inside told me. They also kept all their mobile phones with them, that was how we kept in touch with them.
The worst detainment was taking place at the police station number 39. There were around 30 people (even more) detained there, beaten for sure since the station had to call in a doctor who refused to say anything as he left the station to the journalists waiting outside. They were arrested at another park where students were protesting for the celebrations.
By around 6 in the evening everyone was released. I guess they simply wanted to keep us away from the main area and not ruin the day.
I would like to thank Radio Azadliq, Joanna Ganson from US Embassy and everyone else who came with us or joined us later in front of the police station, (in)patiently waiting for our friends to be released.
I am deeply saddened by what happened today. Not only it was ridiculous and stupid but also it proved once again that our government is relentless when it comes to human rights and freedom of speech. It also proved that no matter what our government is willing to do whatever it takes! Today, I truly hated the fact that I am a citizen of this country! Right now they are doing fireworks on boulevard!