Car crash involving wealthy man sparks riot

Screen capture from the video below, showing rioters setting fires at a hotel in Ismailli.
 
What started out with a row over a minor car accident has spiralled into rioting, the torching of a hotel and calls for a regional governor to resign in Ismailli, a town in central Azerbaijan. According to our Observer, rioters believed the wealthy driver involved in the crash was related to the governor, and that this unleashed their pent-up anger against him.
 
Trouble began when a 22 year-old hotel owner, Emil Shamsaddinov, drove his Chevrolet Camaro sportscar onto a sidewalk and crashed into an electricity pole on Wednesday night. According to witnesses, he then got into an argument with another motorist, attracting a crowd, which he proceeded to insult. The dispute escalated to the point that, once Shamsaddinov was taken away by police, at least a thousand people headed to his hotel and set fire to it, as well as to several luxury cars, including a Hummer. According to police, the rioting lasted for about four hours. Protesters also set fire to expensive cars and motorcycles at a home belonging to the governor’s son.
 
Rioters cheering and setting fires at the Chyrag hotel. Video courtesy of Hebib Müntezir.
 
On Thursday evening, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in front of the regional government’s offices, demanding the governor’s resignation. Many of them expressed frustration with their poverty and dismal job prospects. They were dispersed by police using tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.
 
These protests follow several other instances of public disorder in Azerbaijan over the past few weeks: on Saturday, market traders blocked a highway over increased rents for their stalls, and last week, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the capital to protest against the death of a military conscript.
 
Last year, violent protests forced the governor of the northern province of Quba to resign. Ismailli’s governor, however, is adamant that this will not be his fate: “I won’t resign over the demands of five or ten people,” Nizami Alekperov told reporters. “It’s inadmissible to make a political conflict out of a car accident and a quarrel between two people.”
 
Activists in the capital, Baku, have relayed calls via social media to stage a protest there on Saturday, in solidarity with Ismailli residents.
Contributors

“To locals, this young man represented nepotism, corruption, and the arrogance of the wealthy”

Rashad Shirin is a youth activist and blogger. He lives in the capital Baku, but is originally from Ismailli, to which he travelled on Wednesday night in order to see what was going on for himself.
 
The rioters had dispersed by the time I arrived, but people who had witnessed the incidents told me what happened. I was told that the hotel owner involved in the car crash had begun insulting not only the people who had gathered around him, but also all residents of Ismailli in general. What you have to understand is that in Azerbaijan, local government leaders are appointed rather than elected, and so they are usually not from the areas over which they rule. Moreover, they often help their friends and relatives acquire land and businesses. [Opposition activists allege widespread corruption among Azeri politicians. Transparency International, meanwhile, has ranked Azerbaijan 139th out of 176 countries in its 2012 Corruption Perception Index.] Protesters allege that this young hotel owner was a relative of Ismailli’s governor, though the governor has denied this. But either way, for Ismailli residents, this young man represented nepotism, corruption, and the arrogance of the wealthy in a country where there is a huge gap between rich and poor.
 
The hotel, ravaged by the fire. Photo published on the Facebook page "Ismayilli". 
 
“There’s tension in the air due to the upcoming presidential election”
 
In Ismailli, like in every town in Azerbaijan beyond the capital, unemployment is high, and most people live in poverty. Frustration at the slow pace of development has long been festering – this insult was just the last drop. Some of the people that had gathered at the scene of the accident started beating up the hotel owner – who had allegedly attacked the other motorist – until the police came to arrest him. [The police say he may have been driving while intoxicated]. But they didn’t stop there, and went on to attack his hotel and the home of the governor’s son.
 
Up until recently, protests in Azerbaijan were organised in advance, usually by opposition parties. But over the past year, they have become more spontaneous and more violent. I think the upcoming presidential elections [scheduled for October] have a lot to do with this change. Though the people in Ismailli may not consciously recognise this as their motivation, there’s this tension in the air now that we’re getting closer to the elections. People feel it’s high time for them to speak their minds.
Close