Citing police sources, the pro-government news site APA claimed that “more than 60” people had been detained, and 50 subsequently released. An exact tally was not immediately available. The government itself has not released an official statement.
Scores of arrests appear to have been made in Nardaran, located about 30 kilometers northeast of the capital, Baku, since a raid last November that left at least six dead. Among others, the head of the town’s council of elders, Natig Karimov, was detained last week on charges of treason and espionage. Local spiritual leader Taleh Bagirzade was arrested in November.
Authorities claim that the town’s residents harbored plans for an armed coup and colluded with an unnamed foreign power — believed to mean Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran -- against Azerbaijani security interests. Claims long have run rampant in Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shi'a country, that Iran’s Shi’ite government tries to influence or stir up trouble in Nardaran.
As Iran expressed an interest in monitoring the actions taken in Nardaran, Baku started to pull back from recent expressions of chumminess over potential joint energy-export projects.
Iran “has no appetite for fomenting instability on its northern borders,” Eldar Mamedov, an Azerbaijani political adviser in the European Parliament, wrote in a December 2015 commentary for EurasiaNet.org. “ The discontent in Nardaran and, possibly, other parts of the country has local roots.”
Azerbaijani police are known for liberally dispensing accusations of coups and high treason, most notably against government critics, of which Bagirzade is one.
Commenting to Ekho Kavkaza, one Azerbaijan-based journalist, noting Azerbaijan’s current economic woes, claimed that the government has decided “to play a preemptive game and render harmless the most protest-prone part of the population before it all turns into protests.”
Azerbaijan’s reputation for running roughshod over perceived challenges to the authority of President Ilham Aliyev and his establishment does little to dispel such conclusions. The government has gone out of its way to silence critical journalism and now very little about the events in Nardaran is accessible to independent media inquiry.