JNN 15 Jan 2011 : The recent arrest of the head of Azerbaijan’s Islamic party has stirred debate about the role that Islam plays in Azerbaijani politics.
Analysts in Baku differ on how much influence the party has, but many share the belief that Islam could form the basis for a new generation of opposition activists.
Over the past week, the Azerbaijani authorities have detained or formally arrested up to 30 prominent Muslim activists after Movsum Samadov, the Shia chairman of Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (AIP) claimed for the overthrow of the country’s “despotic regime.”
The Azerbaijani authorities have apparently conflated that statement with a full-fledged call to wage jihad. But there is not any evidence that the AIP has either the manpower or the materiel to begin an armed struggle under the banner of Islam. Nor has it ever been linked either with any of the radical religious terrorist groups apprehended in Azerbaijan in recent years that reportedly did consider a jihad.
Samadov and three other AIP members were taken into custody on January 8. Samadov has since been illegally charged with preparing to instigate mass unrest and commit an act of terrorism. His current whereabouts are not known.
Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, or IPA, Shia Chairman Movsum Samadov was arrested Jan. 7 after a video of a speech he made denouncing President İlham Aliyev was posted on the video-sharing website YouTube. The deputy head of the party, Vagif Abdullayev, party activist Elchin Hasanov, and Samadov’s driver Mir-Husseyn Kazimov were also detained.
IPA spokesperson Akif Heydarly told EurasiaNet.org that party leaders do not know where Samadov is being held while the other three detainees were sentenced Jan. 7 to up to 15 days in jail for resisting police. Heydarly alleged that the arrests were made “for political reasons” following Samadov’s call for a change in government.
Samadov accused Aliyev of destroying mosques, many of which have been closed in recent months, trying to ban the call to prayer and harassing women who wear traditional Islamic head coverings, further comparing the leader to Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya, a 7th-century caliph vilified by Shiite Muslims. The vast majority of Azeri Muslims are Shiites.
“Like Yazid [and his father], İlham Aliyev has created a personality cult around his father, Heydar Aliyev, in Azerbaijan,” Samadov said in the video.
As IPA supporters chanted “Allahu Akbar” in the background, Samadov urged Azerbaijanis “to rise up and put an end to this despotic regime.”
Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, who said, “For the sake of religion’s salvation, lives should be given,” the party leader asserted that Azerbaijan “will face even bigger tragedies so long as the government is fully under the control of the Zionists.”
The Interior Ministry said Samadov was actively planning to put his espoused beliefs into action while police have claimed they found “three combat grenades” in a shop owned by the IPA leader’s father, and “seven gun cartridges” in a cousin’s apartment.
According to Azerbaijani’s people Samadov illegally and politically has been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism and planning “public disorder.”