(Sketches to the portrait of the man and the "portrait of the regime")
One day with president
A tall man with striking straight bearing is standing at the far end of the room, so that the guest has to cross a huge vacant space, with the master staring at him. You expect a firm handshake, matching his figure, but it is unexpectedly sluggish. The second unexpectedness – straight after the greeting, the host of the room asks: "What do you think about me?"
Wordings from the Soviet-time Big Encyclopedic Dictionary come to mind: Heydar Aliyev is a "party and state figure." I am safely adding to these words, aloud, the epithet "outstanding."
It is obvious that it does not confuse him at all, he shortly nods, as if in a businesslike manner agreeing with the undeniable fact and invites to a huge meeting table set with lines of chairs.
The aim of the meeting, which took place in 1994, was Aliyev's interview to the Moscow News, with the invitation coming from the Azerbaijani president himself. However, an hour or two passes in conversation, with no single word about the interview.
I am waiting patiently until the interlocutor announces the real aim of invitation to Baku. It is clear to me that besides the possibility of publishing his views in the Russian newspaper, the host of the room also has another interest. The personal contact with Heydar Aliyev confirms the formed opinion of him – this man, reserved in term of emotions, capable of listening attentively and speaking in a measured manner, as if weighing his words with ounces, does nothing without special reason. Everything becomes clear soon. Shortly before it, the Moscow News published my interview with former Azerbaijani president Ayaz Mutallibov who lived in almost semi-legal conditions in Moscow. A criminal case was filed against him in Baku and the Azerbaijani authorities are trying to achieve his surrender. In the interview, Mutallibov transparently hints at the impending change of regime in Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev tries to "feel" what exactly I know about Mutallibov's plans. Aliyev wants to know who organized our meeting, where we talked and what impression Mutallibov makes. Having received no exact answer, he himself begins giving the surnames of the people who he thinks organized our meeting and attentively watches what impression his information makes – a well-known "investigative" method, obviously learnt during the years of working in KGB. He speaks about Mutallibov freely – he has links with flower mafia and has bought an expensive apartment in Moscow, "we know at what price." His comment on another ex-president, Elchibey, is also unflattering – "drunkard." It is clear that Aliyev considers those people parvenus who came to power by chance and the power belongs to him legally.
The show, where the main part is played by the host of the room, is going on. President's assistant Eldar Namazov turns up and at Aliyev's request reads aloud my three publications dedicated to Azerbaijan. Aliyev listens attentively, although it is clear from the preceding conversation that he examined them earlier. From time to time, he interrupts his assistant and on the whole favorably comments on what he hears: "this is not so, you were misled," "and this is right," "you were mistaken a little here." Later, an Azerbaijani journalist told me that he had also once appeared in a similar situation – he noticed that Heydar Aliyev had "talked" to local journalists in that way several times and had always succeeded. Those who participated in the "talk" did not write severely critical articles about Aliyev – it is a bit inappropriate to write bad things about the old and respectable person, especially as he treats their publications so seriously. This is a precisely calculated move. An elderly waitress entered the room with a cup of tea for me several times during the talk lasting many hours. She moved quietly and extremely carefully. How did she know when to serve tea, as the host of the room did not give any orders?
Does the host of the room, former KGB general, have a secret button on his table, just like in spy novels?
"Did you notice that we spent the whole working day?" Heydar Aliyev asked at parting. It was so indeed. The interview, recorded on the dictaphone, took half an hour at the most. Unlike Mutallibov's interview, Aliyev's statements contained nothing sensational.
KGB, CC, Politburo
The capability to use people and circumstances, the ability to "stage" a scene in order to effectively influence the "object" – all this was undoubtedly acquired in the NKVD-KGB, where Aliyev worked in total for about 30 years. This period of his life is little known and this is not surprising. He came to NKVD in Nakhijevan straight after leaving school, worked as a pointsman in 1941 and then gradually began moving up the career ladder. He was authorized representative of NKVD for Nakhijevan until 1944, then for some time worked as department head of Council of People’s Commissars of Nakhijevan ASSR and in the same year returned to work in the state security bodies. In 1950, he finished the retraining school of operational management of the USSR Ministry of State Security and in the following years, he persistently moved up the career ladder. From 1967 to 1969, he, already a major general, headed the State Security Committee of Azerbaijan, and then became first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
It is obvious that Yuri Andropov played a key role in Heydar Aliyev's promotion. A simple comparison of facts from their biographies is evidence of this. Aliyev became chairman of the Azerbaijani KGB in 1967, when the USSR KGB was headed by Adropov. It is clear that Aliyev could not be appointed without the consent of the main organization's management.
Aliyev's activities in KGB are naturally unknown. In November 1998, Popular Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey publicly announced that Aliyev, being head of KGB, is involved in the formation of the organizations of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist and separatist organization in Turkey. On the initiative of Justice Ministry, a criminal case was opened against Elchibey on the charge of insulting Heydar Aliyev's honor and dignity (Article 188-6 part 2 of the Criminal Code – insult of Azerbaijani president, with maximum term of punishment of up to six years of imprisonment). Elchibey did not produce sufficient proof, but the case did not reach the legal proceedings stage, it was closed under the pressure of the opposition and the United States. The Kurdish topic is undoubtedly one of the many secrets a former KGB general naturally has.
Aliyev's activities as leader of Soviet Azerbaijan are far more known. Aliyev's supporters give him the credit for the republic's great economic success under his rule. The oil machine building complex was modernized, new industrial branches emerged, such as air conditioner factory, computer factory, etc. The new leader "wrung" from the center additional quotas for the Azerbaijani youth to study at higher education institutions across the country and a whole pleiad of "Aliyev students" grew up. He even created a military school in Azerbaijan, named after commander Nakhchivanski. All this is true. The opponents say, however, that under Aliyev's rule, to please Moscow's desire to transform Azerbaijan into a country of cotton monoculture, Azerbaijan's agriculture was ruined; that he created a system of total corruption and group interests – domination of Aliyev "Nakhijevan clan;" that Aliyev distinguished himself by inconceivable "oriental" glorifications of Brezhnev and organized a luxurious reception for him when he visited Azerbaijan. And this is also obviously true.
Aliyev's further career is also linked with Andropov's assumption of office. Aliyev himself told Novye Izvestia in an interview: "I was on close, even friendly terms with him, yet I said: "Yuri Vladimirovich, let me stay in Baku." Andropov insisted and I moved and became the first deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers." It happened a month after Yuri Andropov became leader of the USSR (1982). Aliyev also becomes a member of Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1982-1987). This is the first Azerbaijani who achieved such heights of union hierarchy.
Aliyev's rise is linked with Andropov, while his fall is linked with Gorbachev. Neither Aliyev nor Gorbachev stated its reasons clearly (Gorbachev mentions in his memoirs about the "Nakhijevan clan," but it is impossible to say whether or not it was the real reason). In 1987, Aliyev was demoted, he became state advisor at the USSR Council of Ministers. This is a so-called prepension position, by Soviet tradition elite workers were demoted before retiring on a pension. A. Vezirov replaced Aliyev's protégé K. Bagirov as first secretary at that time in Azerbaijan and a massive cleansing of Aliyev cadres and fight against "aliyevism" started here. In 1989, Aliyev retired on a pension, he was a pensioner of union significance; it is the highest category ensuring the highest pension in the country and a number of special privileges. But this is disgrace. He himself told later that in the Kremlin hospital doctors tried to convince him that he would die soon.
"I was made to stay in bed for three months and then I had a month and a half of rehabilitation. The last stage was a council of physicians which began proving that I could not continue working in the Council of Ministers due to health reasons. I asked directly: "What are you trying to achieve?"
But they could not tell me honestly that Gorbachev had ordered: get Aliyev's application to voluntarily resign at any price. That was why I was being persuaded and bullied. Once they even said that I had only about five years to live and no more."
It was a terrible time for Aliyev, a man for whom the power was everything.
"The hardest thing was the betrayal of those people whom I had promoted to high posts. 95 percent broke with me for the sake of their career, in order to retain their cushy jobs, which I myself had given them."
Heydar Aliyev's name again appeared in newspapers in connection with the January 1990 events. Azerbaijani committee was set up in Moscow in those days and Aliyev and Azerbaijani intellectuals living in the capital were included in it. Aliyev publicly accused the country's government of bloodsheds in Baku.
In May 1991, he quit CPSU. In his words, it was approximately at that time that he came to believe in God (he is not very original, party leaders "come to belief" one after another at that time). That was the end of the Soviet period of Heydar Aliyev's life. Several years later, he surfaced in big politics in a different way.
Return to homeland and return to power
In 1991, Aliyev moved to Baku for some time, where he did not conceal his feelings for new Azerbaijani leader Mutallibov.
As he said later, an attempt on his life was being prepared in Baku (it is quite possible, but it is worth mentioning that the topic of different unsuccessful attempts on Aliyev's life is somehow too permanent) and he quickly went to his native Nakhichevan. The Nakhijevan people, in contempt of Mutallibov, did not abandon their great fellow townsman and elected him a deputy of Supreme Council of the autonomous republic (ties of compatriotism and relationship in Azerbaijan are, nevertheless, often stronger than fear before leadership and Aliyev probably "sinned" a little by saying that 95 percent broke with him). Naturally, Aliyev, a deputy, immediately became chairman of Nakhijevan's Supreme Council and at the same time, automatically, "ex officio" he became deputy chairman of Azerbaijani Supreme Council. However, Aliyev never turned up at meetings in Baku during the next three years, preferring to follow from far away the swiftly developing events. Under Aliyev, Nakhijevan became in fact independent of Baku authorities. It did not participate in the presidential elections – election of Mutallibov (Aliyev, who had become a great democrat by that time, condemned the non-democracy of those one-man-for-one-seat elections). Aliyev's relations with Popular Front were complicated in that period – he brought Popular Front representatives to the Nakhijevan government, but a conflict broke out after some time and Aliyev expelled them.
Azerbaijan's capital lived a stormy life in those years. Popular Front attacked pro-Moscow president Ayaz Mutallibov.
Mutallibov resigned in March 1992. The "intermediate" figure of Yaqub Mammadov headed the Supreme Council. New presidential elections were scheduled for June 7 of that year.
Aliyev could not participate in the elections because in order to exclude him from the number of candidates, the Supreme Council adopted a law on the age qualification of candidates. It was already clear that Popular Front leader Elchibey would be the winner. But Mutallibov unexpectedly appeared in Baku a month before that, reportedly arriving on a Russian military plane from Moscow. The Supreme Council appointed hearings on the Khojaly tragedy (at the beginning of 1992, as a result of Armenian attack, the town of Khojaly was captured, with a great number of civilians killed, and that tragedy to some extent became the reason for downfall of Ayaz Mutallibov's rule). But the parliamentary hearings were only a cover for the operation to return the disgraced president. The Supreme Council passed a verdict saying that Mutallibov was not to blame for the surrender of Khojaly, and restored Mutallibov to his position. However, mass speeches organized by Popular Front following the Supreme Council decision made him flee the country again. Mutallibov stayed as president one day only. In Nakhijevan, Aliyev unreservedly condemned the attempt to restore Mutallibov to his position.
Extraordinary session of the Supreme Council opened on May 17, three days after Mutallibov's one-day rule. The agenda included election of new speaker who was to take the helm until the presidential elections. The most real candidate was member of Popular Front board Isa Gambar, the closest associate of Abulfaz Echibey. But someone (I was assured that it was then Minister of Defense Rahim Kaziyev) unexpectedly offered the candidacy of Heydar Aliyev. A break was announced for the MPs to talk to Aliyev on the phone to get his consent to put up for the position of parliament chief. The break took longer than planned and when the MPs took their seats, Isa Gambar announced that the attempts to get Aliyev on the phone failed – he "was not found anywhere."
After many hours of debate, Isa Gambar was elected chairman of Supreme Council. This time, the attempt to bring Aliyev to power failed. He had to wait for returning to power still for one year. Elchibey was elected president in the summer of 1992. Aliyev stayed in his Nakhijevan "khanate" which Popular Front, just like Mutallibov, failed to bring under control.
How was Aliyev's accession to power prepared? Rasul Guliyev, Aliyev's former ally, who supervised the oil sector for many years, became the wealthiest person in Azerbaijan and was elected speaker of parliament after Aliyev's assumption of office, spoke very reservedly about it. Guliyev quarreled with Aliyev and in 1996 had to emigrate to the United States, where he became the main critic of Aliyev regime. In an interview, Guliyev told about how he contributed to Aliyev's accession to power because he thought that he was the only person who could take Azerbaijan out of the stripe of coups and political crises. Those knowing about the relations between Guliyev and his patron considered that Guliyev was a "wallet" for Aliyev and helped him financially when he was in Nakhijevan as well as during the coup d’etat.
At the same time, Guliyev also provided financial assistance to a considerable part of the opposition, including Etibar Mammadov who withdrew from Popular Front and created National Independence Party. Thus, long ago, even before Elchibey's accession to power, an informal "network" emerged, consisting of representatives of "Nakhijevan clan" loyal to Aliyev, old elite, new rich people like Guliyev and representatives of Popular Front wave displeased with Elchibey, like Mammadov. However, the important thing was of course not those "networks" and intrigues, but the fact that the time objectively worked for Aliyev.
The euphoria of Popular Front revolution was followed by inevitable recoil of moods of people who remembered with nostalgia the quiet and peaceful "prerevolutionary" life.
The nomenclature elite was hostile to Popular Front representatives from the beginning. Few simply desired a return to Soviet times, but almost everyone realized that it was impossible. Aliyev was more and more seen as an alternative to Popular Front democracy and the rule of "incompetent parvenus" (strict experienced leader capable of ruling and making himself obey, there was order under his rule), as well as to Moscow protégés like Mutallibov, a person who embodied the "old times" and at the same time gave up the old ideology and was open to a new one.
Nine months after his election, President Elchibey offered Heydar Aliyev the post of prime minister. Supposedly, it happened on February 12, 1993, when the two politicians met at the presidential palace in Baku. It was the first meeting between Aliyev and Elchibey and Aliyev's first visit to Baku after the "Moscow" disgrace and "Nakhijevan" exile. Elchibey's proposal was dictated by the critical situation in Azerbaijan. The relations with Russia worsened; disruptions of supplies of Russian commodities and raw materials became frequent. It was almost a catastrophe for Azerbaijani economy. Besides, Azerbaijan still did not have national currency and was in the ruble zone. Defeats on the Karabakh front added to the worsening economic situation.
The Azerbaijani side claimed that the subdivisions of the 128th motorized infantry regiment of 127th Gyumri division quartered in Armenia participated on the side of the Armenians in the offensives in the north of Karabakh.
Not everyone from Elchibey's close circle supported the president's idea to make Aliyev prime minister. Its opponents thought that it was like inviting a wolf to a sheep shed – Aliyev would undoubtedly rely on his people, rather than on Popular Front protégés and sooner or later would "swallow" Elchibey who was unsophisticated in political intrigues.
Immediately after the meeting with Elchibey, Aliyev flew to Moscow allegedly to visit his sick daughter and grandchildren.
Undoubtedly, he consulted his old acquaintances in Moscow and explored the ground. On returning, he again met with Elchibey and speaker Isa Gambar, as well as ambassadors of Iran, Turkey, Russia and the United States. He again refused to become prime minister, but, reportedly, made a counter offer to create state council headed by him, which was rejected by Elchibey.
Anyway, Aliyev returned to Nakhijevan. But not for long.
A series of mysterious and dramatic events preceded the night of June 17 to 18, when president Abulfaz Elchibey secretly left Baku. Azerbaijani troops suffered major defeats in March-April. The Armenians took strategically important regional center of Kelbajar. According to reports from Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, 40,000 people were evacuated from the region and 15,000 people remained on the occupied territory. The Azerbaijani side explained the defeats by direct participation of the 7th Russian Army on the Armenian side during the military operations. The day before the taking of Kelbajar president Elchibey met with Russian ambassador Walter Shonia. The ambassador denied participation of Russian units, supposing that they were mercenaries. The intensification of military operations coincided with the speedy withdrawal of Russian units from Ganja. As Elchibey told the author later, he was very much surprised by the haste with which the military units left Azerbaijan – ahead of time stipulated by the agreement on friendship and cooperation signed in October 1992, something which was not like the Russian army at all. Elchibey understood what the reason was only after the weapons left behind by the Russian military units were used by the military units of Colonel Suret Huseynov that raised a mutiny in June 1993 demanding Elchibey's resignation.
What role did Heydar Aliyev play in Elchibey's overthrow?
In all likelihood he was not the main initiator and inspirer of the coup. I am rather inclined to believe Ayaz Mutallibov's version claiming that the aim of the coup was of course, first of all, to overthrow Elchibey, but to return to power not Aliyev, but Mutallibov and Vezirov (old pro-Moscow politicians). However, Aliyev managed to beat everyone – Elchibey, putshists and Moscow authorities that backed and guided them.
Suret Huseynov raised a mutiny in Ganja demanding Elchibey's resignation. The shadow of civil war fell across Azerbaijan. Under those conditions, Popular Front went to meet Huseynov's ultimatum demands, Isa Gambar resigned. Elchibey fled to Keleki, his native village in Nakhijevan, where quite recently Aliyev had escaped his Baku enemies (the Nakhijevan people, who did not leave one great compatriot in trouble, did not leave a second one either). Aliyev took the office of Supreme Council chairman and Suret Huseynov became prime minister. There is even an impression that Elchibey and his environment, realizing that they came off a loser and had to leave, consciously cleared the way for Aliyev as the "lesser evil" and person who could prevent the worst scenario – Azerbaijan's loss of independence. Late Elchibey's close people assured the author of this article that the escape to Keleki was directly coordinated with Aliyev, which, naturally, did not hinder Aliyev to call it a cowardly desertion later.
Aliyev "accepted" the country in a terrible situation. Relative short lull was followed by large-scale offensive by the Armenians in August. Jebrail was captured on August 20, Fizuli fell two days later, Kubatlu was taken on September 1 and the settlement of Horadiz, bordering on Iran, was taken on September 6. Under the circumstances, Aliyev – whose rule had not strengthened yet, with the pro-Moscow prime minister by his side, who rather supported Mutallibov and had his own armed forces,- made large concessions to Moscow. He brought Azerbaijan to CIS, something Elchibey categorically opposed, and suspended the signing of oil agreement with Western companies. It had never been a problem for Aliyev to pour sweet "oriental" flattery on the people on whom he depended. He used to pour flattery on Brezhnev. Now, he swore love to Russia and Yeltsin. At that time, Aliyev's supporters in Azerbaijan often spoke against "blind imitation of patterns of Western European civilization" and said frequently that Azerbaijan was the "integral part of Eurasia" – words that sounded like music to Moscow officials and politicians.
But the most important thing for Moscow was to bring Russian troops into Azerbaijan. In the beginning, Aliyev expressed consent and even willingness to cover their maintenance costs at the expense of Azerbaijani budget. However, as Mutallibov put it, Aliyev "duped" his Russian partners. He achieved truce with the Armenians without deploying Russian troops on Azerbaijani borders or deploying them as peacekeeping forces.
Consolidation of power
Aliyev did not intend and even simply could not, due to his nature, be a puppet of Moscow. He longed for power, not formal power of powerless president, for whom everything is decided by Moscow. Most likely, he simply despised the Moscow leaders. Probably from the very beginning he supposed that there would be a subsequent drift to the West. But the first thing Aliyev needed to do was to liquidate those whom Moscow could use to topple him and in general all really dangerous figures not depending on him in Azerbaijan's government hierarchy.
Simultaneously with the mutiny of Huseynov in Ganja, mutiny of Colonel Alikram Gumbatov erupted in Lankaran, also aimed against Elchibey and in support of Gumbatov's friend and "teammate," Huseynov. The mutiny organized by Huseynov aimed to change the regime in Baku, while Gumbatov proclaimed the Talysh–Mughan Autonomous Republic on August 7, 1993.
The prospect of Azerbaijan's breakup into "non-feudal khanates," headed by criminal and military groups, emerged.
Gumbatov was also a "big friend of Russia" and even wanted to send an observer from his republic to the CIS Conference.
Aliyev gathered merchants of Talysh descent, who clearly realized after talking to the president that their business was facing the risk of being shut down. This and Aliyev's address to Lankaran residents was quite enough for the leader of the self-proclaimed republic to appear before the law enforcement bodies soon. Suret Huseynov did not support his friend, nevertheless, Aliyev for the first time publicly criticized Huseynov for inactivity towards the mutineer.
Huseynov did not support either his second "friend," former minister of defense Rahim Gaziyev whom Elchibey had dismissed together with him in March 1993. Gaziyev was among the Popular Front's protégés who maintained some contacts with Aliyev and contributed to his accession to power. The former minster, who was accused of embezzlement of funds, intended for the defense sector, and almost conscious support of the Armenians, was the friend and "associate" of Russian minister of defense Pavel Grachev (aka "Mercedes"). In the period of the Ganja putsch organized by Suret Huseynov, he was now in Moscow, negotiating with Russian generals and Grachev, now in Ganja, at Huseynov's headquarters. He was third during the Aliyev-Huseynov meeting in Ganja, when positions were being distributed. He was a person whom Moscow could use without any difficulties. Gaziyev, whom, on top of all sins, Aliyev also accused of helping Gumbatov, was arrested and sent to prison in August 1993. Aliyev declared that Mutallibov was behind both Gaziyev and Gumbatov. "The hands of Alikram Gumbatov, Rahim Gaziyev and Ayaz Mutallibov are stained with blood."
That secured several objects simultaneously, discrediting both Mutallibov and Huseynov, whose sympathies and links with Mutallibov were widely known.
Huseynov remained alone. The "people's colonel," who became prime minister, dull-witted and uncultivated person, simply could not really rule the country and, especially, "beat" Aliyev. The power gradually overflew to the president. The summer of 1994 passed in the expectation of an open clash of Aliyev with Huseynov. Suret Huseynov did not conceal his displeasure with Aliyev's strengthening pro-Western position, the signing of oil agreements with Western companies and the launch of privatization process, where Aliyev's relatives and his old teammate, parliament speaker Rasul Guliyev played a key role.
Four prisoners disappeared from the pre-trial prison of National Security Committee in Baku on the night of September 21 to 22, 1994, among which were two very important persons – Rahim Gaziyev and Alikram Gumbatov. Aliyev publicly linked the bold action with the signing of an agreement with Western consortium the day before. It is no secret to anyone whom Aliyev meant when he spoke in a television appearance about the organizers of the escape – the prisoners certainly escaped to Russia.
The crisis finally broke out in early October. In Ganja, (small homeland and ancestral domain of prime minister Suret Huseynov) fighters of Special Purpose Police Unit took several buildings and in Baku, they occupied the building of prosecutor's office and beat up the prosecutor. In the midnight, Azerbaijani citizens watched the president's television appearance and learned about the mutiny. The next day Heydar Aliyev addressed a rally in Baku and accused premier Suret Huseynov of the putsch, and his chiselled profile could be seen next to him, as well as accused deputy minister of the interior Rovshan Javadov, head of the Special Purpose Police Unit, person who also did much for Aliyev's accession to power and guarded him with his people in the summer of 1993. However, Javadov came to the palace and Aliyev changed his tone after holding talks with him. "Members of Special Purpose Police Unit made a mistake and they regret now," said the president. The decree to dismiss Javadov was forgotten, just like the incident with the prosecutor (the prosecutor underwent medical treatment after the beating and was dismissed "due to health reasons"). Huseynov justified himself at the parliament session: "If I had planned to carry out coup d’état, I would have done it in Baku since my office is only one hundred meters from the president's office." But Huseynov had already lost the game. The parliament approved president's application to relieve him of the post of prime minister and then "withdrew" him from the National Assembly. It was absolutely clear that his arrest would come next. Huseynov disappeared, secretly moving, naturally, to Russia.
There were many mysterious things in those events. The speeches of members of Special Purpose Police Unit least of all resembled the beginning of mutiny. They came after rumors of president's dismissal of Rovshan Javadov and the dissolution of Special Purpose Police Unit. Members of Special Purpose Police Unit used all available methods to restore their former positions.
Just like Huseynov, they were displeased with their removal from the privatization and, first of all, with millionaire speaker Rasul Guliyev. But it looks like that they were incited to speak and did not plan a putsch. This is why Javadov was taken aback when Aliyev accused him of organizing the mutiny and called him a putschist.
A rally at Azadliq (Liberty) Square became the final act in the show, with people brought by buses, to support Aliyev, from nearby regions and Baku enterprises and institutions together with administrators. The demonstrators held portraits of the president and banners reading, "Heydar Aliyev, we approve of your domestic and foreign policy," "Azerbaijani president, the people are with you." The president addressed those present: "Dear Azerbaijani people!" Statements by staffs of enterprises and organizations, intellectuals and ordinary citizens in support of the president and Azerbaijan's independence were read on television.
The celebration of National Army Day, October 8, became a real triumph for the winner. Many photographers captured the leader of the nation standing next to his teammates, with flowers and holding a little girl in his arms, greeted by a storm of applause.
Rovshan Javadov's turn came in March of the next year, 1995.
He was killed under strange circumstances during another dubious "mutiny." Turkish diplomat Farman Demirkol, who worked in Baku in March 1995, announced that the attempt of coup was fabricated by Azerbaijani authorities. The interview of Demirkol, who was deported from Baku after that, reprinted in Baku-based newspaper Yeni Musavat, broadcast on a Turkish television channel, sparked a scandal in Azerbaijani parliament.
Another attempt on Heydar Aliyev's life was announced in the summer of the same year – so-called "case of generals" in which 21 defendants were sentenced to imprisonment of maximum 15 years. As an MP put it, "the number of enemies of the people may exceed the number of the population." Indeed, in the next years the fight against "traitors" and "betrayers of homeland" was carried out in a big way. New criminal cases were opened against "mutineers" every year. Besides, Aliyev achieved Moscow's extradition of Rahim Gaziyev and Suret Huseynov, who had fled to Russia. (Moscow understood that it was a "used material" and it could not be used for the second time. However, despite Aliyev's demands, Mutallibov was not extradited to him). So, Aliyev purposefully dealt shortly with those who contributed to his accession to power and to whom he was obliged to some extent, but who had their own armed forces or an authority over the troops independent of Aliyev. After the military figures, the turn of civil figures came.
Secretary of State Lala Shovkat Hajiyeva "fell" in 1995. She played a special role in Aliyev's life after the resignation in Moscow. The story of their relationship is almost a "Shakespeare" plot. Hajiyeva, a PhD in Medical Science, had her own scores to settle with Aliyev – her relatives were repressed under his rule.
However, her personal meeting with Aliyev in Moscow and their joint work in the Azerbaijani committee after the events of January 1990 changed everything. Hajiyeva became a close friend, a teammate and an assistant of Aliyev on public relations and, reportedly, acted as a mediator between Aliyev, who already lived in Nakhijevan, and influential figures in Moscow. The exact reasons of Hajiyeva's fall are not known, there were rumors about intrigues of parliament speaker Rasul Guliyev. It is known, however, that Hajiyeva voluntarily stayed in house arrest for more than one year, she was afraid to go out of her apartment in Baku.
The turn of chief financier of speaker Rasul Guliyev came in 1996. He resigned "due to health reasons," then appeared in the United States and at first sat quietly, then launched a campaign against Aliyev "for democracy and human rights." After doing away with independent "force" figures, Aliyev also did away with the main Azerbaijani "oligarch" and did not allow new ones to emerge. This is one of the most important differences of Azerbaijani regime from the Russian one, which is linked with another important difference. Ruling "family" is rather a metaphorical notion in Russia. In Azerbaijan, it is much more literal. Guliyev was from Nakhijevan, but he did not belong to the "family."
The patriarch of the clan
Like most of the post-Soviet regimes, Aliyev's regime has two sides. One is formal, reflected in Azerbaijan's Constitution, which gives huge authority to the president, but on the whole is democratic and states due human rights and freedoms. There is ruling party Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan), Azerbaijani analog of Russian party Unity, which was created back in the autumn of 1992 and has 160,000 members and the majority of MPs.
The ideology (phraseology) of the regime, "normal" democratic and market phraseology could also be included in the formal part.
As the Azerbaijani president told reporters in October 2000, "human rights are not violated and democracy develops in Azerbaijan. And given the specifics of Azerbaijan and its national traditions, the development process will continue." Aliyev only likes stressing that Azerbaijani democracy is young and therefore it cannot be measured by standards of developed Western democracies – there is a time for all things. Although all this can easily be discarded as empty phrases of a person who formerly praised communism and Brezhnev, while under the new circumstances has to praise what his "transatlantic bosses" like, I would not do so. Aliyev simply cannot have any other ideas.
He does not believe in communism, and is not an Islamic fundamentalist. But he has to believe in something, he has to explain to himself his activities and mission in some way. He simply cannot have any other explanation except that he is a great statesman, leader of the country, which is unfortunately still insufficiently developed for democracy, towards which, according to him, the "United States moved for 200 years," and which needs a great and strong leader like him. Perhaps the only "ideological" element that actually separates Aliyev and his supporters and the opposition is diametrically opposite assessments of personality and role of president, official "personality cult of Aliyev" reaching orientally grotesque amounts. Aliyev does not have fundamental, ideological anti-democracy, he simply loves power and honors.
Azerbaijan is much more "Europeanized" society than the Central Asian societies, and has immeasurably more different kinds of democracy attributes. It has many parties and relative freedom of press (precisely press as the situation with television is much more complex). During Aliyev's rule, his regime softened to some extent and the opposition began to act more freely. To a huge extent, that happened due to pressure from the West. But obviously Aliyev himself is not exactly opposed to democracy attributes. He would hardly be attracted by the role of outcast dictator like Saddam Hussein or even the dubious role of Turkmenbashi. He enjoys being accepted in the West and being considered a "strategic partner of the United States." Nevertheless, all that is good under one precondition – if he retains his power (not formal, but real power). Therefore, the hidden and more important side – mechanisms of real provision of power – is behind the outward aspect of the regime, its façade.
These mechanisms are determined by the nature of society with
strongest ties of relationship and compatriotism, which are in many aspects stronger than other kinds of ties – ideological, party and even ties of interest. These are the only really firm ties that can be relied on. (We already have examples when Nakhijevan residents "did not give up their people" – Aliyev and Elchibey).
Therefore, despite the socioeconomic, political and ideological revolution that happened in the period between Aliyev's first and second rules, the mechanisms of his power did not change much and consequently, society did not change much either. His hidden inner structure is stronger than socialism and capitalism. The real and "internal" mechanism of Aliyev's rule both under the Soviet government and later relies on Aliyev clan – his numerous relatives and relatives by marriage from Nakhijevan and "Ermenistan," relatives of relatives and relatives by marriage of relatives by marriage. "All misfortunes of the Azerbaijani people are a result of the clannishness and localism of the current Azerbaijani leadership," United Azerbaijan Party leader Karrar Abilov said. "From the moment of accession to power in Azerbaijan in 1969, Heydar Aliyev raised clannishness and localism to the level of "state policy." Heydar Aliyev continued that policy after returning to power in 1993." According to Abilov, an "absurd idea" is propagated in society that "only those from Armenia and Nakhijevan can make real politicians."
The support by the "clan," branched network of relatives, relatives of relatives and fellow-countrymen is, of course, not without a selfish motive. According to information agency Turan, members of Azerbaijani ruling elite keep between 4.7 and 5.3 billion dollars abroad. There are more than 2,000 expensive detached houses and villas in Baku and its suburbs. Most of them are in the settlements of Badamdar, Hazi Aslanov, Mardakan, Sulu Tepe, as well as near underground station Ganjlik. Those structures are worth from 150,000 dollars to 1 million dollars. One hundred square meters of land in Baku is worth, depending on the region, from 1,000 dollars to 15,000 dollars. Those detached houses are owned by members of the ruling elite and businessmen close to them. Those people include former and current ministers, top officials of security, defense and law enforcement agencies, customs and tax service. Meanwhile, the official salary of high-ranking state officials is no higher than 100 dollars, with the law forbidding state officials to engage in entrepreneurship. And yet support by "his people" is not just a "bought support," support for money. The entire story of Aliyev's return to Baku through Nakhijevan speaks to the fact that "one's people" can be relied on in difficult moments as well.
Clannishness has two aspects. On the one hand, a ruler can rely on really "his people" who will never abandon him even in a difficult situation like the one in which Aliyev got after resigning from Politburo. On the other hand, the existence of a circle of "one's people" implies that there are also those who are outside that circle "forever," those who make other circles, other "one's people," removed from power and wealth. And consequently, there is always such opposition in society which in essence cannot be incorporated into the ruling elite and government system, there is nothing that can be done with it but to press it.
Azerbaijan's principal difference from Russia is that with relatively weak ideological differences in Azerbaijani society, all the parties speak about the same things: democracy, market and civil society. In Azerbaijan, there are practically no communists, no special groups of ultranationalists, just like there are no sharply anti-nationalist liberals – the opposition in Azerbaijan is far more real than the opposition in Russia. This is an opposition which really longs for power, is always ready to "jump," and poses a real threat. People who have strong clan ties are hard to "outbid" – both materially and ideologically, by promising to change policy somewhere and bring them into the government so that they could advance their ideas. They are not "atomized individuals," they are people who have links with big groups and cannot abandon them just the way a communist, for instance, can quit the party in Russia or simply forget about it. They cannot quit these groups – they cannot stop being a Nakhijevanian, "Ermenistanian," Bakinian, Lankaranian, cousin of Mutallibov's brother-in-law or brother-in-law of Elchibey's wife's cousin. Aliyev has a possibility to relatively easily watch so that strangers, those having links with other groups and opposition are not admitted to the state administration. But there is an institution which is not subordinate to the president by law, a channel of social mobility not formally controlled by him. It is parliament.
Ballot rigging, naturally, happens in Russia as well. But it is not an indispensable element in the system of government. Nothing will change notably if there are a little more communists or right-wingers in parliament. Elections in Russia can be absolutely honest as well. In Azerbaijan, where the parties indeed long for a real power, where the opposition was headed by ex-president Elchibey, where now as well the opposition can take thousands to the streets, it is impossible to give a platform to the opposition, to give it immunity and some authority, allow it to get more votes in the next elections than in the previous ones, which could be interpreted as a sign that the president is losing the authority.
Therefore, ballot rigging is an immanent and key element of the government system in Azerbaijan. During the elections, the opposition's fight against the government is not so much about programs or even candidates' personalities. It is about one thing – system of vote counting. Aliyev is holding that system with iron grip. The West, seeking democratization of Azerbaijan and, even more, proper democratic image of its "strategic ally," can try to achieve, as much as it can, adoption of various laws and resolutions by Aliyev, which, in its opinion, would ensure honest elections. And Aliyev can even adopt them. But he thinks nothing of deceiving the West (especially as it, to some extent, "would be happy to be deceived."
Under Aliyev, ballot rigging in Azerbaijan has always been enormous. But the last elections surpassed everything seen and imagined. The disagreement between the data of opposition and government reached comical amounts. Suffice it to say that the leading opposition party Musavat announces it simply got more than 50 percent of votes by party lists, while according to official data, it failed to pass the 6 percent threshold. And this takes place in a situation when the West formally achieved maximum democratic electoral procedure.
The last game
"Personalistic" regimes like the Aliyev regime are weak in the sense that inevitable resignation of the leader, sooner or later, is the crisis of the regime. Whom can the 77-year-old president pass his heritage? There is only one person whose accession to power would not mean breaking the complex chain of ties and dependencies, revolution, other groups' coming to power and downfall of the family power and perhaps of the entire Nakhijevan "clan." It is a person who is closer to Heydar Aliyev than any other person in the world, it is his son Ilham. Oriental societies, where ties of relationship and clan ties matter so much, naturally, are in favor of monarchy. In Syria and Korea, the president handed down the power to his son, and obviously the same will happen in Egypt.
There are, however, two big problems here. First, children, brought up in wealth and compliments, of fathers who rose from lower strata to "gaping heights," as a rule, have absolutely different psychology than their fathers. Ilham Heydarovich is obviously not an exception to this rule. It is a person about whom even firm opponents of his father usually say: "Ilham is in essence a nice chap." Such comments speak to the fact that the son is absolutely a different person than the father. Ilham practically undoubtedly lacks his father's craving for power and ambition and does not long for the role intended for him. It just can't be helped. The ideological and psychological cultivation of population and, obviously, Ilham himself is in full swing.
Ilham has been heading the state oil company for a long time (the position linked with the biggest and most real funds can be entrusted to no one else but the son). In the last parliamentary elections, his name was first on the list of the ruling party, Yeni Azerbaijan. The mechanism of handing down the power is already clear. 72-year-old parliament speaker Murtuz Aleskerov may resign at any moment. Ilham becomes speaker and according to the Constitution, the speaker is the second most important person in the state and carries out the duties of president in case of president's death or resignation until new elections are held.
The second difficulty relates to the fact that transfer of power to the son is the end of the game of democratic Azerbaijan, or at least Azerbaijan moving towards democracy, Azerbaijan as a European state. The West, by which Aliyev is guided, cannot give its approval to it. New and very interesting political moments arise here.
After the initial period of his rule, when Aliyev returned Azerbaijan to CIS and held forth about friendship with Russia, he consistently freed Azerbaijan from Russian influence and "drifted" to the West – something which was undoubtedly in harmony with his real sympathies and interests. But now he approached a line beyond which further orientation to the West could mean that the entire "Aliyev clan" would lose the power. It is significant that in parallel with Ilham's movement towards presidency, a still slow, yet a sure new rapprochement of Azerbaijan with Russia is underway; Russia is absolutely uninterested in democracy in Azerbaijan and can back the son at a critical moment. There are already very many signs of that and Azerbaijan goes too far in that rapprochement. Thus, in autumn it extradited seven Chechens whom the Russian authorities blame for the explosion in Buynaksk – something which sparked desperate and passionate, yet unsuccessful protests by the leaders of Chechen resistance appealing to Caucasian solidarity. A meeting of the Armenian Catholicos, Shaykh–ul-Islam and Patriarch of Moscow in November 2000 adopted a statement that contained the following words: "The great Russia…is called up to be a guarantor of peace and stability in the region burned by bloodshed." Aliyev did not raise the question of arms delivery to Armenia at a regular CIS summit, and unlike Georgia, Azerbaijan did not get a visa regime, for good behavior.
Will Aliyev manage to hand down the power to his son? Very likely. Meanwhile, there is practically no doubt that it will not be painless and Ilham Heydarovich is unlikely to be able to hold his country as firmly as his undoubtedly prominent father. There is practically no doubt that sharp political crisis awaits Azerbaijan. The authoritarian stabilization which Aliyev brought to his country is inevitably temporary. One might pity Azerbaijan, and might pity Ilham Aliyev, as his lot is not easy – to be the son and successor of his father.