Observations of an American journalist in Azerbaijan, Russia and USA.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Perhaps New England fences – those stone walls of Robert Frost’s poem – are picturesque. Perhaps even white picket fences can have a certain aesthetic beauty. But the fences that have sprouted around Baku are not artful, despite the photos of Baku scenery that are affixed to them.
These fences are now very common. While I have not done a scientific survey, these fences seem to enclose every single park in the city center. Why this profusion of fencing? The official word is that these parks are being reconstructed. But in general no activity is perceived to be occurring behind the fences. No sign of workers coming and going.
Last night, I was walking by one of the fenced in parks, and for some reason the gates were open. People, naturally, were using the park as usual. In the summer, this is the time that the parks should be open, after all. No sign of construction equipment or indeed of any repair effort was evident behind the fences.
Official explanations aside, it is possible that a more political reason for the fencing exists. Parks are places for people to gather. A place for families and friends to gather. A place for political groups to gather. By eliminating these public places, the government immediately eliminates another venue for any demonstration.
You might think this is an overly cynical interpretation, but just this week I learned of some activists who were arrested here. They had planned to protest the decision of the Azerbaijan government to purchase a French horse for 2 million euros. The horse supposedly is being purchased for the Azerbaijan Olympic equestrian team. Because of the normal venues were vulnerable to police presence, the youths intended to buy tickets on one of the ferry boats that regularly leaves from Baku, and then stage a “flash protest” on the boat.
The protestors never got on the boat. They were arrested before they could buy tickets.