A confrontational mood has hovered over Nardaran, a village noted for having many devout Muslim residents, since the June 3 riot. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The situation is such that law enforcement personnel established check points to control movement into and out of the village, about 19 miles northwest of Baku.
Officials have maintained that the Nardaran tension is being provoked by Islamic radicals. Baku has also claimed that Iran was involved in inciting the riot. An official from the prosecutor-general's office, in an interview broadcast in February by Baku's ANS television, said that searches of Nardaran residents had produces unauthorized weapons and Iranian banknotes. An Iranian diplomat in Baku flatly denied any link between Tehran and the Nardaran riot, the according to the ANS report.
Worsening economic and social conditions in the village made the largest contribution to the outbreak of unrest in Nardaran, political analysts contend. They note that, prior to the riot, Nardaran had staged several demonstrations seeking improvements in the village's socio-economic infrastructure.
Tension threatened to again lead to violence February 5, when Interior Ministry security agents conducted another raid, during which several people were reportedly injured, according to witnesses. Authorities also detained at least eight village leaders during the operation. On February 10, a go-between the chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, Haji Allahshukur Pashazade brokered an agreement that reestablished an uneasy truce.
Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told reporters on February 11: "We believe that the talks conducted will yield positive results. Order has not been disrupted in the village as was the case before."
The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Baku-based Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan identify Nardaran residents' unresolved socio-economic problems as the main source of tension. In a joint statement February 6, these two groups condemned the raid and demanded a "thorough and impartial" investigation into the case. They also demanded the release of all Nardaran residents held by the Azeri authorities without being charged or their trial by an "impartial and competent tribunal."
The suspended sentences appear to be the government's attempt at defusing existing tension. President Heidar Aliyev, according to media reports, personally authorized the February 10 negotiations. Despite the latest developments, however, many Nardaran residents arrested in connection with the June 3 riot remain in detention without being charged, according to human rights activists.
Some of the villagers' complaints are grounded in their Islamic beliefs. For example, residents complained about an unpopular local official's consumption of alcohol. But larger factors in Nardaran's discontent stem from chronic shortages of gas and electricity. The government's most recent steps appear to tacitly recognize the economic antecedents of the tension. Yet, given that the government has yet to address those root socio-economic causes, political analysts believe that another flare-up in tension is possible.
Dr. Hooman Peimani researches international
relations and works as an independent consultant with international
organizations in Geneva.