• Sofie Bedford1
  • 1Uppsala University


A wave of public protests rocked Azerbaijan at the beginning of 2013. The first protest event of the year was inspired by the disputed death of a young conscript in the Azerbaijani army. While the official cause of death was heart attack, the family insisted he was beaten to death. The result was a fierce debate about the difficulties facing newly recruited soldiers and the conditions under which they serve. Some activists initiated a Facebook group and called for a demonstration in Baku on January 12. Twenty thousand people joined the group, an impressive number by Azerbaijani standards, given that support for anti-establishment manifestations can be dangerous. Later as many as 1,000 protesters, also a large number for Azerbaijan, joined the actual event in support of the dead soldiers’ family, demanding the defense minister's resignation. Just a week later shopkeepers at Baku's largest shopping mall, Bina, protested against increased rents. The demonstrators blocked a major highway and 5,000 shopkeepers kept their businesses closed in support of the protest. This was shortly followed by another spontaneous outbreak of dissent in Ismayili, 150 km northwest of Baku, where community members set fire to cars and buildings and called for the governor's resignation after a controversial car accident. Riot police finally managed to disperse the protesters, many of whom were injured and/or imprisoned. The harsh treatment brought about another rally in the capital in support of the Ismayili protesters. The outbreak of civic unrest in Ismayili can be seen as particularly important since it indicates discontent with the government, not only in Baku, but outside the capital as well.

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Preview of Introduction to the Special Section: Political Mobilization in Azerbaijan — The January 2013 Protests and Beyond
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