Azerbaijan’s self-important government thief

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Azerbaijan’s self-important government thief

The Aliyev family has controlled the Azerbaijani people for years. Heydar Aliyev, the head of the family, was a Communist Party boss in the Stalinist style from the 1960s, and president of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003. Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ilham Aliyev worked for government security. This put him in a good position to follow his father after the ‘democratic’ change to an independent Azerbaijan after the Soviet collapse. Good contacts in government security have been more important than a democratic background in much of former Soviet Asia. The countries of the Caucasus, where Azerbaijan is on the western shores of the Caspian Sea, are between Russia in the north and the Islamic world in the south. At the same time they must be friends with Europe, which needs oil and gas, and with the US, which is so interested in its political influence in the world. It is no surprise that ordinary Azerbaijanis get lost in all of this.


Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan Markus Schreiber / AP Photo

Unfair elections, torture of opponents, corruption and displays of power and wealth were all part of the family rule of Heydar, who died in 2003, and his son, Ilham. Ilham has been successful by showing his democratic side to foreign countries. But at home it is the same story – he is an absolute ruler who works for his own interests with a small group of leaders. Transparency International thinks Azerbaijan is the sixth most corrupt country in the world. The Aliyev family don’t like to say much about their personal fortune. But in 2010 the Washington Post reported that Ilham’s 11-year-old son owns nine luxury houses in Dubai worth $44 million. With his two daughters the total is $75 million.

The Aliyev name is everywhere. If you are lucky enough to fly to the country’s capital, Baki (a fine old city made rich by oil), you land at Heydar Aliyev International Airport. When in town you can visit the Heydar Aliyev Heritage Research Centre. Then perhaps a visit to the beautiful $250-million Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre. I think you understand the situation! But the Aliyev name is appearing outside Azerbaijan. Local people in Cairo, Belgrade, and Mexico City don’t understand why there are so many statues of Heydar Aliyev, the dead father in their cities. Who is this man? Like so many oil-rich places, Azerbaijanis find oil has a good and a bad side. It means a high per-capita income and great possibilities, if fair policies were in place. But in fact it means government corruption, inequality, boss-type politics and serious environmental problems. Oil pumped to Turkey through a pipeline not everyone is happy about and gas keep Azerbaijan rich but the wealth doesn’t go to the people. At just over $5,000, the per-capita income is high but there is a lot of poverty outside the capital, Baki. There is also and a big problem with 600,000 refugees mostly because of the war with neighbours, Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ilham pretends to be democratic. But opposition parties have failed to gain any representation at all against Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party. And his 85-per-cent-plus votes in presidential elections are typical dictator-style numbers. When the Arab Spring came to Azerbaijan. the Ilham government gave nothing. 400 protesters are still in prison. Freedom of the press and internet are now very restricted and independent journalists are beaten, put in prison and blackmailed.

Name Ilham Aliyev

Job President of Azerbaijan

Reputation Self-important government thief

Sense of humour Ilham has a royal friend - Britain’s Prince Andrew has visited him eight times in the past five years. There are so many visits (some paid for by the British taxpayer) that the Azerbaijani newspapers call the prince ‘the dear guest’.

Dishonest and clever The Aliyevs have always been clever. In September 2012 Ilham officially pardoned Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, who had murdered a sleeping Armenian soldier in 2004. The soldier was on a NATO language course in Hungary. Ilham got the Hungarians to send him home to serve the rest of his prison sentence. He then freed him, made him an Army Major, paid him well and gave him a new flat. Azerbaijani nationalists were very happy, Armenians very unhappy and the Hungarian government was embarrassed about rumours of a large loan of Azerbaijani oil money.

Sources New York Times, Washington Post, Radio Free Europe, Wikipedia, Azerbaijan News, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, BBC News, The Daily Telegraph.

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