An Azeri activist in Ankara tells Radio Farda that more than 80 campers were arrested during the celebrations held by thousands at the Babak fortress in Kalibar mountains near Tabriz. Security forces took down names and personal information and confiscated ID cards and driving licenses from cars driving towards the area. Security forces arrested 80 Azeris for “spreading secessionist propaganda” during the celebration of Babak Kharramdin, Baztab, a news website associated with former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Mohsen Rezai, reports.
“More than hundred were arrested, but some have been released. Many more did not return home from the campout ceremonies and there is no official information on their arrest, Mohammad Misaq, an Ankara-based leader of an Azeri activist group, tells Radio Farda’s broadcaster Mahmonir Rahimi.
“We have a list of all names, but cannot release it, fearing that the announcement would endanger the arrested people and their families,” he says.
Babak Khorramdin, an national hero, fought against Arab domination and Islam in the 9th Century, and promoted a Persian alternative to the Arab’s religion. The security forces say that radical activists in Azerbaijan try to exploit the annual ceremonies for promotion of Azeri nationalism.
On the days before Babak’s birthday on June 29, thousands gather every year at the Qal’eh Babak fortress, reached only on foot through mountain trails, and turn it into a center for intense activity. Witnesses say radical Azeri nationalist groups actively participate, under the watchful eyes of the Islamic government’s security forces, which operate out of many tents set up throughout the area.
“There were at least 40,000 to 60,000 police, plainclothes security agents and Basiji (a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) forces in the area,” he says. “They confiscated driving licenses and ID cards of anyone who was driving towards Kalibar and Qal’eh Babak, to be returned to them on their way back. They took down complete information on those who traveled to the area for future reference or possible arrests,” he adds.
“Twelve centuries ago, Babak Khorramdin fought against the Arab occupiers of the homeland, and for the past five or six years, people have started gathering on his birthday in order to protest against the present-day rulers, he says of the popular campout festivities. In the Kalibar mountains and around the Qal’eh Babak fortress, many lectures are held, people dance and recite poetry, and try to tell the world how they feel,” he adds.