Azeri university students hunger strike for education rights, 2006

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Although students began protests in April 2006, these protests were based around the demand for clarification about the closure of Independent Azerbaijan University. With the June hunger strike, the students focused their action around the demand to be transferred to other universities.
June 1,
2006
to
February
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
Azerbaijan
Location City/State/Province: 
Baku
Location Description: 
Independent Azerbaijan University buildings and throughout the city
Goals: 
In a statement at the beginning of the hunger strike in June 2006, student spokesman, Elnur Mammodov, stated their goals:

"We are demanding that they transfer us to other universities"

 

In 2004 the Azerbaijan government issued a presidential decree stating that students planning to attend universities would have to take a test through the State Commission for Students’ Admission. According to this decree, students could only be legally admitted to a university based on this test and not on any other. However, that year Independent Azerbaijan University (IAU), a private university in the city of Baku, admitted 1,700 students who had not taken the state-sanctioned test. Two years later, in the spring of 2006, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education announced that it would be closing IAU and that students from the university would not be given diplomas because IAU had admitted students illegally.

Since the students did not know if they would be transferred to other universities, they began to demand clarification around the closing of the university. In the end of April 2006, students gathered outside of the Ministry of Education and demanded an explanation about their diplomas and their education. The students also claimed that they had not known that their admission was illegal and blamed the university for its failure to communicate this. The founder and president of IAU, Abbass Mustafayev, told students that he would have an explanation within the week and that he was suing the Ministry of Education for closing down the university.

By June the Ministry of Education was saying that it would transfer all students who had taken the State Commission for Students’ Admission test, but not those who had taken the private IAU admissions test. However, the ministry was still not clear about when the students would be transferred and whether diplomas from IAU would be recognized. Some students claimed that former graduates were being sacked from their jobs because the government had called IAU diplomas invalid.

Therefore, on June 1, 2006, fifty students began an indefinite hunger strike, occupying one of the rooms in an IAU building, until the Ministry of Education agreed to transfer them to other universities. Although the issue of illegal admission only affected second year students and the Ministry of Education said that it would transfer all students who had entered the university legally, the hunger strikers included students from all class years. The spokesman for the hunger strikers, a fourth year student named Elnur Mammodov, also stated that the students would renounce their Azeri citizenship if they were not transferred.

After the students initiated the hunger strike, the government reiterated its promise to transfer all students who had taken the state-sanctioned test, but said it would expel all students who had entered the university illegally by not taking the test.

On June 5 and June 8 the striking students held press conferences to reiterate their claims. During the second press conference the students appealed to the head of the Azerbaijan government and to the Minister of Education. Additionally they announced that they would be suing the Ministry of Education, the president of the university, and the public TV station for not covering their action.

The students continued to hold their hunger strike in the IAU building throughout June. On June 23, ten parents joined the students in their hunger strike. As the strike extended longer and longer, students also began experiencing health problems and approximately 15 students were hospitalized in late June. Meanwhile students had begun negotiations with the Minister of Education.

Due to the failing health of many students, on June 30 the protesters ended their hunger strike, but continued to occupy the room in the IAU building where they had been striking despite orders to leave the building.

They continued to occupy the room until July 24, when they called off the protest because, the strikers claimed, people in civilian clothes had been attempting to provoke violence amongst the hunger-striking students. By that point the Ministry of Education had transferred some students, but would still not reinstate the second year students that they claimed had entered the university illegally. The students said they would continue their struggle through the courts and return to protesting if no agreement was made.

The students took no further action until October 10, when they sat down in front of the mosque attended by the IAU president. When policed forced them to move, the students moved back to the IAU building where they had struck during June and continued their assembly there, sitting down before the university building for the entire night. On November 8, about 50 students held another demonstration in front of the Ministry of Education, but again were forced to leave when police confronted them and beat several students. Meanwhile they continued to await decisions from the courts regarding the lawsuits they had entered against the university and the Ministry of Education.

On November 20, 2006, a group of fifteen or twenty second-year students, now under the name of the Students’ Rights Defense Committee, resumed their hunger strike from the office of a political party. This action was not meant to be political in nature and the students only used the political party’s office because they said no other space was open to them. Their demands remained the same: that they be transferred to other universities.

The students continued the strike even as the Ministry of Education continued to uphold its abolishment of the university and refusal to reinstate the second-year students. On the 24th day of the hunger strike, the Minister of Education told the press that he was affected by the action of the students, but that he was still leaving it up to the courts to decide if they would be transferred.

Several days later, four students announced that they would be fasting until death unless the students were transferred. These four students taped their mouths shut and joined the others who had been striking since November 20. However, these students ended their hunger strike again at the end of December.

The Azeri courts decided the first round of cases by supporting the Ministry of Educations decision to close IAU and to not reinstate second-year students. The students continued their protests with at least one protest demonstration outside of the Ministry of Education in the end of February. However, this appeared to be the last direct action taken by students.

It is unclear whether the second-year students were ever given transfers to the other universities. As of August 2007 the Azeri courts had ruled against them in all appeals, continuing to prevent them from entering other universities. All sources indicated that the government did transfer all other students except those second-year students who had not taken the state-sanctioned entrance exam.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Hunger strikes are very common in Azerbaijan and had been used by several students earlier in 2006 who claimed to have been expelled for political reasons (1).

Sources: 
"Azeri Students Stop Protest Over University Closure." July 24, 2006. AssA-Irada. Accessed through LexisNexis Academic on Feb 17, 2011

"Another Azeri Student Hospitalized After Hunger Strike." June 28, 2006. BBC Monitoring International Reports. Accessed through LexisNexis Academic on Feb 17, 2011

"Parents Join Hunger Strike By Azeri Private University Students." July 4, 2006. BBC Monitoring International Reports. Accessed through LexisNexis Academic on Feb 17, 2011

"Group of Azeri Students on Hunger Strike Over University Closure." June 1, 2006. AssA-Irada. Accessed through LexisNexis Academic on Feb 17, 2011

"Azeri Private University Students on Hunger Strike." June 1, 2006. BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. Accessed through LexisNexis Academic on Feb 17, 2011

"Appeal of Students of Independent Azerbaijan University Against Education Ministry Declined." Aug 14, 2007. Trend. http://en.trend.az/print/974378.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Students Stop Hunger Strike." Dec 29, 2006. Today.az. http://pda.today.az/news/society/34509.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Education Ministry satisfies some demands of protesting students." June 6, 2006. Today.az. http://pda.today.az/news/society/26950.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Students of Independent Azerbaijan University hold protest action." Jan 30, 2007. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=20052. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Standoff between police and students outside Education Ministry." Nov 8, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=16174. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University students stop hunger strike." Dec 29, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=18594. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Health of two IAU students on hunger strike deteriorated." Nov 22, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/print.php?id=16621. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Misir Merdanov: We are affected by hunger strike of IAU students." Dec 14, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/print.php?id=17730. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"IAU students went on sit-down strike outside the university building till the morning." Oct 10, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/print.php?id=15224. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011.

"Four students of Independent Azerbaijan University begin death hunger strike." Dec 19, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/print.php?id=17982. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Buildings of Independent Azerbaijan University emptied." Dec 22, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/print.php?id=18247. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Former students of Independent Azerbaijan University attempt to protest outside Education Ministry." Feb 28, 2007. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=21949. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Students of Independent Azerbaijan University to hold protest action outside Education Ministry." Nov 7, 2006. Azeri Press Agency. http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=16118. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University students to protest." April 18, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/view.php?id=25254. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University sues Education Ministry." April 27, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/view.php?id=25561. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Education Ministry invalidates Independent Azerbaijan University." May 6, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/view.php?id=25817. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University students held press conference." June 5, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/news/society/26918.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University students to sue Education Ministry." June 8, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/news/society/27069.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University stopped hunger strike." June 30, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/news/society/27741.html. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011

"Independent Azerbaijan University sophs to start hunger strike." Nov 20, 2006. Today.az. http://www.today.az/view.php?id=32804. Accessed on Feb 17, 2011.

Additional Notes: 
Several different news sources covered this campaign, however, some of the sources were not clear in their English translations. Because of this, there may be gaps in the narrative of the campaign because information was unavailable or unclear for those time periods.

The classification for this campaign was difficult to determine because the students wanted to be transferred in order to continue their education, but did not seem to attempt to stop the closing of their University. Because they were campaigning for continued education and recognition of their previous work, this campaign was classified as social defense.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Max Rennebohm 19/02/2011