Abulfaz Elchibey (Azerbaijani: Əbülfəz Qədirqulu oğlu Elçibəy, real surname Aliyev; June 24, 1938, Keleki village, Ordubad region, Nakhijevan ASSR, Azerbaijan SSR – August 22, 2000, Ankara, Turkey) was an Azerbaijani state, political and public figure, translator, dissident, leader of Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, president of Azerbaijan (1992-1993). Elchibey became the first president elected by the people, but in the period of his rule the country plunged into political instability as the economic situation worsened and successful military operations turned out to be hard defeats in the Karabakh war. The crisis, caused by the armed mutiny in Ganja, resulted in the president's self-removal from power and then resignation, which was decided by nationwide referendum.
Accession to power
Ayaz Mutallibov was forced to resign in March 1992 under the opposition's pressure, but Mutallibov tried to come back to power a month later. He demanded that the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan restore him to his post as president and cancel the new elections. On May 14, the Supreme Council complied with his request and voted to restore him as president. In answer to Mutallibov's restoration as president, opposition supporters staged a rally outside the Popular Front Party building. On the morning of May 15, the Popular Front leadership presented an ultimatum to Mutallibov, demanding that he resign by 3:00pm. When the ultimatum expired, a crowd of Popular Front supporters marched towards the Supreme Council building and seized it after a short shootout. The presidential palace was occupied several hours later, but the president turned out not to be inside. Mutallibov had fled the country.
At the Supreme Council meeting on May 18, Yaqub Mammadov resigned as chairman of SC, and was replaced by Popular Front representative Isa Gambar. Azerbaijan held presidential elections on June 7, 1992. Abulfaz Elchibey won the elections, receiving 59.4 percent of votes. Literally before the inauguration day, he lived on the seventh floor of a typical Baku "Khrushchev slum" in his brother's apartment. The inauguration of Azerbaijan's new president took place in the Supreme Council building on June 17.
Domestic and foreign policy
After coming to power, Elchibey and his team faced serious military failures of Azerbaijani army in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the summer, Azerbaijani troops launched a large-scale attack on the enemy positions and Shahumyan region and a part of Martakert and Askeran regions returned to Azerbaijan's control.
Elchibey took an anti-Russian and anti-Iranian position in foreign policy. He voiced the idea of independent Azerbaijan's unification with Southern Azerbaijan that was part of Iran. On September 12, 1992, he paid a visit to Moscow, during which a Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security between the Azerbaijan Republic and the Russian Federation was signed. He refused to speak Russian and conducted negotiations through an interpreter. In early December, he visited Kiev, where Elchibey and Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk signed a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Ukraine and the Azerbaijan Republic. A week before his visit to Ukraine, at the second congress of Popular Front, Elchibey announced that in foreign policy, the Azerbaijan Republic would aim to strengthen ties with the United States and Great Britain and "as regards the former union republics, relationship with Ukraine would be prioritized."
On August 18, 1992, Elchibey signed a decree on Azerbaijan's accession to IMF, IBRD and related organizations and a law on the implementation of conventions and agreements of those organizations in Azerbaijan was adopted the next day. In the same month, he signed a decree to put into circulation the national currency, manat. On September 19, he promulgated the decree on the protection of rights and freedoms, state support for the development of language and culture of ethnic minorities. The military operations on the Karabakh front changed in favor of the Armenians at that time and the successful military operations turned into defeats. Azerbaijani political analyst Zardusht Alizadeh writes in his book titled The End of the Second Republic:
"Naturally, the defeats poured like from the cornucopia. To save the situation, the Ministry of Defense carried out raids in towns, took away young people right from their houses, stopped the buses on the streets, made people get off and immediately sent them to the front. Parents issued complaints to various organizations, including the Helsinki Civil Assembly: my son left home in the morning, went to work (university, on a visit, on a date), did not come back home, we searched for two days, informed the police and received a notification on the third day: "…your son died a hero's death fighting for the homeland.""
The enemy took full control of the Sarsang reservoir by February 25, 1993 and Kelbajar fell on April 3. Under the circumstances, Elchibey introduced martial law in the country.
Mutiny by Suret Huseynov and removal from power
On May 28, before the expiry of the fixed term, the Russian army left Ganja and the fighters of Colonel Suret Huseynov received the weapons left behind by the Russian forces. On June 4, government forces launched Operation Typhoon to disarm the mutinous colonel, which turned out to be a defeat and resulted in deaths. Suret Huseynov's fighters managed to capture attorney general Ikhtiyar Shirinov. First thing, Huseynov ordered the attorney general to issue an arrest warrant for Abulfaz Elchibey and starting from June 10, his detachments started to move towards Baku. With political crisis brewing, Elchibey invited Heydar Aliyev, then president of parliament of Nakhijevan Autonomous Republic, to Baku. At the meeting, on June 10, Elchibey offered the prime minister's post to Aliyev, who decided to think over the offer.
Negotiations with Suret Huseynov, mediated by Heydar Aliyev, ended in nothing. On June 10, Isa Gambar resigned as Milli Majlis speaker and on June 15, Milli Majlis elected Aliyev speaker. On the night of June 17 to 18, Elchibey unexpectedly flew to Nakhijevan and settled in his native village, Keleki. On June 25, Azerbaijan's Milli Majlis voted to strip Elchibey of his powers as president and transfer them to parliament speaker Heydar Aliyev, but as the decision was not in compliance with the Constitution, the parliamentarians decided to put the issue of confidence in the president to a national referendum. On August 28, 1993, 97.5 percent of the population voted for Abulfaz Elchibey's resignation. Heydar Aliyev won the next presidential elections and became the new president of Azerbaijan.
Last years: comeback to politics
After the formal expiry of his presidential term, the ex-president received an opportunity to come back to the capital. He was elected chairman of the Democratic Congress of Azerbaijan uniting all main opposition parties in the country, became head of the national movement 'For Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections.' Elchibey spoke for the country's withdrawal from the CIS. In an interview in 1998, he expressed his opinion regarding the Commonwealth:
"A serious mistake was made while creating an entity such as the CIS. Perhaps it could survive if it had been planned as a commonwealth of nations of independent states – I emphasize the word "independent" in which the rights of every state – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan – would be respected. The Abkhazians use Russian troops in Abkhazia to force out the Georgian population. Is it a Commonwealth of Nations? Russia uses the CIS, trying to maintain the old empire in a new form and inventing various mechanisms for that purpose. The CIS leaders did not make any serious attempt to settle the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan or any other conflicts within the post-Soviet area.
Once I called the CIS a big collective farm without any rights. Such a collective farm will inevitably collapse and in essence this has already happened."
At a press conference on November 6, 1998, Elchibey announced that president Ilham Aliyev, while head of Azerbaijani KGB, was involved in the creation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that fought to create an independent Kurdish state in Turkey. A criminal case was opened against Abulfaz Elchibey under Article 188-6, Criminal Code of Azerbaijan Republic (insulting the honor and dignity of the president by spreading flagrantly false information) and the legal process on the ex-president's case began next January.
Abulfaz Elchibey underwent surgery for prostate cancer in Turkey in April 2000, but he was again hospitalized in June.
Elchibey died after the long illness in the morning on August 22 at Turkish military hospital Gulhane. Farewell ceremony for the ex-president kicked off on August 24, in the morning, in the headquarters of Popular Front, and then the coffin with the body was taken to the Academy of Sciences building. 50,000 people accompanied the coffin. President Heydar Aliyev attended the ceremony. During the 11 minutes he was near the coffin the crowd shouted, "The greatest is Elchibey and he has no equal." After the mourning rally, the coffin with Elchibey's body was laid to rest in the Alley of Honorable Burial.
Still before his death Heydar Aliyev ordered his ambassador to provide any kind of help to Elchibey during his treatment in Turkey and after his death, he offered condolences to the relatives and supporters of Abulfaz Elchibey and created a state commission to organize his funeral. In response to a journalist's question about the president's actions towards his political opponent, Heydar Aliyev said, "Yes, I took care for him, held telephone talks with the Turkish leadership and assisted his transfer to the best clinic. First of all, because I am president of Azerbaijan.
Constitutionally, I assumed the commitment to protect my citizens – whoever they are and however they treat me. Second, a person should be principled – harsh when necessary, but when there is grief, illness and death, I cannot remember that he organized a terror plot against me, opposed me, and announced that Aliyev must go. All this remained in history. The man passed away. Third, anyway, he was president of Azerbaijan. Though for one year only. How he ruled as president and what happened there is the second question. It is inadmissible not to show respect for former president."