Anti-government protesters have this weekend gathered in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, protesting the current ruling party and calling for pro-democracy reforms in the county.
Protesters mainly in support of the National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan (NCDC) gathered in the capital to protest President Ilham Alyev and his government’s recent treatment of pro-democracy campaigners, journalists and lawyers.
Among the demands made by protesters was the immediate release of political prisoners captured during the crackdown that include now globally famous names such as Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov. Many protesters carried images of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners and members of the NCDC party made speeches on a stage decorated with the pictures of pro-freedom campaigners currently imprisoned by the current regime.
Various reports from the event estimated the number of attendants to be in the thousands, where as pro-government sources claimed much lower numbers. It is thought that the gathering was one of the largest political protests in Azerbaijan’s history and the largest protest against President Aliyev’s government ever seen.
Political rallies are rare in Azerbaijan due to the government’s hard line on dissident voices which has previously led to large scale crackdowns on pro-democracy groups.
Although many supporters of the protests claimed the event was a sign of coming change many skeptics claim that the protests were not broken up as Aliyev’s government attempts to hide their anti-democratic side while the international community looks toward Azerbaijan in the run-up to the 2015 Baku European games.
Despite skeptical views casting doubt on the importance of the protests this recent gathering indicates a growing sentiment towards anti-regime oppositional groups that has not been seen in Azerbaijan before, possibly indicating growing resentment towards the current regime and a lean towards pro-democracy politics.