Anti-War Sentiments on the Rise in Azerbaijan


The recent escalation caught many by surprise, emboldening voices among the political opposition.

Ahmad Mammadli had been a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s authorities since his student years. It was a call for peace with neighbouring Armenia and condemnation of President lham Aliyev, however, which put the 21-year-old chair of the pro-democracy group Democracy-1918 (D18) on the police’s radar.

“Ilham Aliyev will definitely answer before the international courts one day for the crimes he committed not only against the Azerbaijani people, but also against the Armenian people,” Mammadil wrote on September 15, adding “The first task of democratic Azerbaijan will be to punish those who make nations hostile to each other.”

Five days later, on September 20, he was taken into custody on charges of resisting police.

While still rare, Mammadli’s outspoken stance is in line with an increasing number of public figures questioning Aliyev’s recent military decisions.

On September 12 fighting re-erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, claiming the lives of more than 200 servicemen over two days. It was the deadliest outbreak of violence since the 2020 six-week war the two countries fought over Nagorny Karabakh, the region internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians since the mid-1990s. Back then, Azerbaijani society and nearly all political opposition supported the government’s decision to go to war to regain the control of the de facto statelet.

Fears of new fighting are gaining traction on social media as the Russia-brokered ceasefire is holding by a fine thread. For decades, Russia has been the security guarantor in the region but its role has faded as its fortunes reverse in Ukraine. This time Azerbaijani forces shelled inside Armenia, with troops remaining inside its sovereign territory, including on heights around the resort town of Jermuk.

Following the most recent spike in violence, Mammadli tweeted, “Those who have seen the horrors of war and lost their loved ones are against the current military conflicts, while the bloodthirsty ones behind the keyboard push people to their deaths. Understanding this seems to have become quite a difficult task for those in euphoria.”

Plain clothes police officers subsequently abducted the activist, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail on charges commonly used in Azerbaijan to silence critics. Speaking from a police van in a video filmed by a fellow D18 member, Mammadli said he was arrested because of his pro-peace posts.

“If I’m a criminal for speaking out about peace, I’m proud of it,” he said. He has since gone on hunger strike.


Support for the war against Armenia over Karabakh is strong and the loss of the region is an open wound in society, not least for about 869,000 Azerbaijani who were displaced as a result of the conflict.

Voices calling for peace are few and far between, and Mammadli’s arrest was cheered on social media.

“We are the only political organisation coming out and calling for peace. We knew these [reactions] would happen,” Afiaddin Mammadov, a board member of D18, told IWPR. “We are trying to shape a new society and making efforts for peacebuilding…The other people’s lack of support for us doesn't concern us. We will stand for our position, keep talking about peace…Our goal is to play a main role in building peace between the two nations in a democratic environment.”

The most recent escalation caught many by surprise, emboldening more voices among the political opposition.

Political youth organisation NIDA Citizen Movement stated that “ending the ethnic conflict that has been going on for more than 30 years and establishing lasting peace between peoples cannot be ensured through war and force. War serves no other purpose than to intensify mutual aggression, hatred and suffering, and to fuel enmity between nations”.

As casualties increased - Azerbaijan lost 80 servicemen over two days, with 281 injured - critical voices spoke out, questioning the government's legal and moral grounds for the fighting. Among them were the two main opposition parties, who supported Aliyev in the 2020 war.

“Now every Azerbaijani is thinking about this question, why did we lose so many?” Ali Karimli, leader of the Popular Front Party, wrote on Facebook. “Fifty people in just a few hours of battle with the ‘starving’ enemy? So many losses were made without gaining anything.”

Arif Hajili, chairman of the Musavat Party, posted, “What was the purpose of this? What is the result?”

Azerbaijanis living in exile added their voices to the criticism.

“Azerbaijan is stepping over Armenia’s internationally recognized border and is stepping into a new war,” said Tural Sadigli, the editor-in-chief of social media-based news outlet Azad Soz (Free Speech), who lives in Germany.

In a Youtube discussion with other anti-war activists, US-based journalist Sevinj Osmangizi asked,”

“Why do we have to fight on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border while there are separatists [in Nagorno-Karabakh], and move forward on to Armenia’s territory? What does it accomplish? What kind of logic is it?”

The increasing war fatigue was not directed to Karabakh however, which largely remains under Armenian control with 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed as part of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement.

Writer Samad Shikhi pointed out that “the incident is happening in the territory of Armenia, not ours? The world will call us invaders”. He maintained that opposition figures began to criticise the entry of the Azerbaijani army into the territory of Armenia “out of necessity”.

“Taking into account the international pressures, they considered it right to oppose it,” he told IWPR, referring to wide condemnation of Azerbaijan’s incursion inside Armenian territory. In a bold diplomatic sign, US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia on September 17, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the South Caucasus nation since it gained independence 30 years ago.

On the same day, Gənclər Birliyi, the youth wing of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) posted a video of anti-war figures on Facebook, with the hashtag “#xainləritanı” - “know the traitors”.

“A part of the population believes in the state narrative of ‘we are in our own land, we have not crossed into the territory of Armenia,’” Shikhi explained. “Some know about the occupation, and a part of them are against it, and others support it. The latter are usually government officials and nationalists.

“But to answer which is the majority, I would say that the majority is in favour of capturing more land from Armenia,” he continued. “Aliyev also gains the upper hand from this and is able to shape public opinion.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.