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Mankind's only alternative

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Russia March 27, 2008
There Will Be Krov: Oil-soaked Travels Through Azerbaijan
Blood, Oil, and Borat in Azerbaijan By Alexander Zaitchik Browse author Email
Page 2 of 7

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If there’s one other thing people might know about Azerbaijan, it is the face of its president, Ilham Aliyev, the ultimate Borat president. He’s also the actual Borat president. In the Sacha Ben Cohen film, it is Aliyev’s portrait that appears during the credits as a stand-in for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the real president of Kazakhstan.

Ilham Aliyev is the shlubby only son of Heydar, a former KGB chief who consolidated power in the early 90s and handed it off to his son on his deathbed in 2003. Originally touted as a reformer, Illham has proven even more iron-fisted than his father. Since his ascension to power, all opposition parties not sanctioned by the government have lost their offices; all major forums for open public discussion have been shut down or harassed into submission. “Heydar, an ex-KGB chief, was strong enough to ignore the opposition mostly,” says Khadija Ismayilova, an Azeri correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “People remembered his Soviet-era corruption and expected nothing less. But the son is insecure and more sensitive to criticism. He comes down harder.”

A statue of Heydar in the former hub of Azeri chemical production, Sumgayit. The biggest tourist attraction in Sumgayit: A "baby's cemetary" that honors the thousands who died in infancy at the peak of Soviet-era pollution.

At the time of his death, the Cult of Heydar was already approaching tin-can Mao proportions in Azerbaijan, and the son continues to feed the myth of the father. Statues depicting the “Father of Azerbaijan” are still being built in eponymous parks throughout the country. Every city and town has a Heydar Aliyev Prospekt. Signs and billboards line highways and announce entry into towns with Aliyev’s chin-stroking aphorisms (or “wise admonitions” according to an official Azeri site). Among them, each funny for different reasons: One cannot relate great policy to tiny senses and little profits … All our natural riches belong to the people, and no one has the right to misuse them … It is impossible to hide truth … One's pulse should throb in accordance with one's Motherland … In general the mankind has been existing and developing by creating and building-constructing … We cannot use strength against nature.


The top billboard reads: "A state with strong energy is almighty!" – Heydar Aliyev

Middle: Father and son greet the people

The bottom billboard is a new one that has the opposition in a funk. Introducing Heydar Jr. for the first time, it reads: "Independent Azerbaijan's yesterday, today and future!!!"

In 1999, while still alive, Heydar built a museum in honor of himself. It will soon be joined by a futuristic Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in downtown Baku. Designed by trendy all-star London architect Zaha Hadid, the building is scheduled to open in 2009 featuring a concert hall, a library, an Aliyev family museum and—in a classic Azeri touch—underground parking for no less than 1,350 cars. (Traffic-choked Baku was a pioneer of car culture during the first oil boom; today Azeri kids drive around in mechanized toy cars in Baku’s few open spaces.) The announcement of the tender for this Cult of Personality palace led architecture critic Hrag Vartanian to ask, “Is Zaha Hadid the new Leni Riefenstahl?” But more about Azerbaijan’s human rights record in a minute.

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Alexander Zaitchik is an editor at The eXile. Email him at

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