Azerbaijan widens crackdown on Gulenist institutions

Azerbaijan widens crackdown on Gulenist institutions
On frequent bilateral visits, Erdogan and Aliyev have repeatedly stated that their countries are "two brotherly nations".
By bne IntelliNews July 21, 2016

Azerbaijan is stepping up the fight against institutions linked to Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic preacher who is accused of masterminding the attempted military coup in Turkey on July 15.

After blocking a private broadcaster over plans to air an interview with the preacher on July 18, Baku has now moved to take over Gulen-linked Qafqaz University (University of the Caucasus) that bne IntelliNews mentioned previously and the Azerbaijani version of Today's Zaman, a newspaper that was taken over by the Turkish government earlier this year, believed to also have links to the cleric's movement.

Azerbaijan and Turkey are close diplomatic and commercial partners. On frequent bilateral visits, the two heads of state have repeatedly stated that theirs are "two brotherly nations". The two countries exchanged some $1.5bn in trade in 2015, while the level of investment in joint projects like the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), the Star oil refinery and Petlim port in Turkey runs into the tens of billions of dollars.

A long-time supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of speech in his country, side-lining and jailing his opponents and critics on a large scale, particularly since 2014. Critical media in the country has experienced harassment, raids at the hands of law enforcement, attacks that resulted in the deaths of journalists and that were never properly investigated, and forced exile.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Baku would seek to align its media and education system with its state policy, which is that of supporting the Turkish government in its witch-hunt against the Gulenist movement.

The closure of Qafqaz University and Zaman was described in local media as being the initiative of the founders of the companies. "Taking into account the sensitivity of the events of recent days and their ability to affect the friendship of Turkey and Azerbaijan, we would like to inform the public that we stand by the Azerbaijani state and that from today onward, we have decided that Zaman Azerbaijan and the site will cease their operations in the country," Zaman's founders wrote in a Facebook post on July 20. The newspapers' website has been taken down. However, for a few hours before the closure, the website displayed a message suggesting that it was temporarily down for technical reasons and would be restored shortly, Meydan TV reports.

After the announcement that Qafqaz University will close down, the government moved swiftly to take over the institution, which would now operate under state-owned Baku Higher Oil School. In an interview with APA news agency, rector Elmar Gasimov reassured teachers and students that the university would operate as normal despite the change. 

Meanwhile, in a show of support to Ankara, Aliyev signed a presidential decree allowing the Turkish military to use a terminal building at a military airfield and a military base on the outskirts of Baku.