Why weren’t these protests united?
“The main reason why the protests do not come together on a common platform is due to the absence of any modern organizational structure (national, class, trade union, etc.) that unites them,” says Abbasov.
According to Gubad Ibadoglu, chairman of the Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Movement, the groundswell of protests that started at that time were a "struggle for survival. Ibadoglu attributed the sparseness of the social protests to the lack of left-wing movements in Azerbaijan.
“People from lower income groups all over the world are represented by left-wing movements and social democrats. As there were no such political movements in Azerbaijan, there was no political force to collectively unite these protests. Existing political parties are far from left-wing, and mainly operate only in the capital,” he explains.
But regardless of the political impact of the demonstrations, for individual protesters, the acts of defiance have taken a personal toll—lost jobs, prison sentences and, at times, a new feeling of freedom to speak out despite the consequences.
Sarvin Chobanov was one of many in his community who rallied against the local governor in Guba, Azerbaijan in 2012.
On March 1, 2012, an impromptu group demanded that the politician step down and, when he refused, they took their discontent to the street. At first the protest was peaceful. But it turned violent after soldiers were sent to disperse the crowd. They shot bullets in the air and used tear gas against the demonstrators. In response, crowds of people, including Chobanov, started to march to the governor's residence.
He expected the governor to resign after making controversial and insulting statements about the local community. He did not expect to be arrested.
But group of protesters turned violent, and set fire to the governor's house, leaving the scene only after the governor resigned.
Chobanov says that he was not involved in the violence. But a few months after the incident, he was summoned to the police station and, along with around 30 other people, he was arrested on charges of violating public order and using force against police. “I didn't think they would arrest me when I joined the protests,” he says.
Chobanov was lucky: he was sentenced to three years of probation in December 2012, and released directly from the courtroom.
Others have not been so fortunate.