People here are used to corruption on the part of government officials – it makes them angry, but they tolerate it, to a certain extent. But in Quba, when the governor insulted the local population, well, that was just the last straw. When they protested in front of his home, they weren’t just yelling about his insult – but also about how corrupt he was, saying he took bribes, etc.
Here in Azerbaijan, governors are not elected; they are appointed by the president. This means they have no responsibility toward voters, and so people are not consulted in local decision-making. This is a frustration for people in all regions, not just Quba. It is also frustrating for them to see government officials getting rich by allegedly illegal means, while most of the population sees little of the country’s oil wealth.
While protests are uncommon in Azerbaijan, there have occasionally been large-scale protests in the past, usually during presidential elections. However, what’s really different and surprising this time is that the government chose not to use much force against the protesters. They did use tear gas, but they sought to negotiate and quickly released those they arrested. Usually, they simply crush protests. Never before have they hesitated to use brutal force or throw protesters in jail for years.
“It’s a strong message – even without money or leadership, people can organise themselves and achieve something tangible”
It was also surprising to see the government yield to the protesters’ demands and dismiss the governor right away. Because the president has made no statement, we can only speculate to what motivated this decision. Some people say this may be related to Azerbaijan hosting the Eurovision Song Contest
in May – they think that the government doesn’t want to tarnish the country’s image right before this big event. Others believe that the government may have learnt its lesson from the Arab Spring revolutions and from seeing the protests in Russia
In any case, this protest was a success, and was widely followed by people in all regions – not on TV, because TV stations largely ignored the incident - but on the Internet. It’s a strong message for the entire population – that even without money or leadership, people can organise themselves and achieve something tangible.”