Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 6

On January 8 Azerbaijani security police suppressed a violent mutiny in a section of the Gobustan detention camp, sixty kilometers south of Baku. At least eleven inmates and two police troopers were killed, with twenty-one inmates and four troopers injured, in the operation to release twenty-eight hostages held by the armed detainees. Some thirty inmates were involved in the mutiny. The ringleaders managed to seize arms from prison guards and demanded safe passage out of Azerbaijan, whether by a special plane from Baku airport or by a land corridor to Karabakh.

According to official accounts, former UNC Deputy Defense Minister Vahid Musaev and some former OPON (Special-Purpose Police Detachment) officers detained at the camp organized the mutiny and were killed in the fighting. The former officers, part of an elite Interior Ministry force, were serving sentences stemming from the March 1995 abortive coup led by Colonel Rovshan Javadov against President Haidar Aliev. Defeated by the army in heavy fighting, the OPON was then dissolved, and hundreds of rebels from its ranks sentenced.

Musaev, for his part, was serving a fifteen-year term for his role in the July 1995 conspiracy to assassinate Aliev and launch a putsch by pro-Moscow elements. Military conspirators failed in the attempt to shoot down Aliev’s airplane with a surface-to-air missile near the Baku airport.

Another prominent convict at Gobustan is Iskander Hamidov, once leader of the Grey Wolves (formerly the Azerbaijani counterpart of a pan-Turkic organization based in Turkey) and minister of internal affairs in the Popular Front government under President Abulfaz Elchibey (1992-93). Hamidov, who recently staged a hunger strike to protest his detention, was not involved in the January 8 mutiny and is said to be unscathed (Turan, ANS-TV, AP, Reuters, January 9).

The high-security Gobustan camp has a population of some 500 inmates–mostly common-law convicts, but also some deemed political prisoners by Azerbaijani opposition parties. Conditions at Gobustan are, as in other Azerbaijani prisons, notoriously harsh, and its inmates have staged recurrent protests. Opposition parties have recently supported the demands of former OPON officers and their families for a review of the cases or for outright amnesty. The OPON convicts were not, however, included in the recent amnesty Aliev decreed for certain categories of detainees. The authorities are still smarting after the earlier, embarrassing escapes to Russia of former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev, a group of associates of ex-Communist Party leader Ayaz Mutalibov, and other adversaries of Aliev, some of whom have since been extradited back to Azerbaijan.