Heydar Alirza oglu Aliyev (Azerbaijani: Heydər Əlirza oğlu Əliyev, Russian: Гейда́р Али́евич Али́ев, Geydar Aliyevich Aliyev; 10 May 1923 – 12 December 2003), also spelled Heidar Aliev, Geidar Aliev, Haydar Aliyev, Geydar Aliyev was the third President of Azerbaijan for the New Azerbaijan Party from October 1993 to October 2003, when his son Ilham Aliyev succeeded him.
From 1969 to 1982, Aliyev was also the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan, effectively dominating the political life of Azerbaijan for many years. In 1948, he married Zarifa Aliyeva. On October 12, 1955, their daughter Sevil was born. On December 24, 1961, their son Ilham was born. Zarifa died of cancer in 1985. She is survived by her husband, son and daughter.
Career in the Soviet era
Many of the details of Aliyev’s early life are obscure. According to his hagiographical website, he was born in Nakhchevan City. After graduating from Nakhchivan Pedagogical School, from 1939 to 1941 Aliyev attended the Azerbaijan Industrial Institute (now the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy), where he studied architecture. In 1949 and 1950, he studied at the USSR MGB Officer Corps Qualifications-Raising School. Aliyev’s official biography also claims that he studied at Baku State University, graduating with a degree in history in 1957. However, it seems that he actually attended the Ministry of State Security Academy in Leningrad.
Leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan
Aliyev joined the Azerbaijan SSR People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKGB) in 1944. In 1954, as part of a government reform, NKGB became known as Committee for State Security, or the KGB. Aliyev rose quickly within the agency to the rank of Major-General, became a deputy chairman of Azerbaijani KGB in 1964, and its chairman in 1967.
In 1969, Aliyev was appointed by Leonid Brezhnev to the post of First Secretary of the Central Committee of Azerbaijan Communist Party amidst a Soviet anti-corruption campaign, Aliyev made some progress in the fight against corruption: a number of people were sentenced to prison terms; and in 1975, five factory and collective farm managers were sentenced to death for gross corruption. In the early 1980s, Aliyev barred the offspring of certain legal personnel from attending the Republic’s law school, in a purported effort to curb a self-perpetuating elite based on corruption. In 1977, even in Brezhnev’s time, he visited Iran: Mashhad twice and Kerbala once.
During the period of his leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan, Aliyev did not develop a commitment to the modernization of social structures, but his efforts led to considerably increased economic growth rates in Azerbaijan SSR. Aliyev became perhaps the most successful republican leader, raising the profile of the underprivileged republic and consistently promoting Azerbaijanis to senior posts. This came at the cost of flattering Brezhnev with lavish gifts and receptions during his three visits to Azerbaijan SSR.On one occasion, Aliyev gave him a ring set with a single large diamond in the middle, meant to symbolize Brezhnev, surrounded by fifteen smaller diamonds symbolizing the fifteen constituent Soviet Republics. Its worth was estimated at 226,000 roubles.
On 22 November 1982, Yuri Andropov promoted Aliyev from candidate to full member of Soviet Politburo and appointed him to the post of First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, responsible for transportation and social services. Aliyev thus attained the highest position ever reached by an Azerbaijani in the Soviet Union. Aliyev was forced to resign from this position in 1987 amidst allegations of corruption made against him by Mikhail Gorbachev.
From KGB to leader of Azerbaijan SSR
As head of the KGB’s branch in Azerbaijan, Aliyev ran an anti-corruption campaign as a cover for purging his opponents. Following the purge, he became the undisputed leader of Azerbaijan. During this time, Aliyev acquired wealth and prestige by developing prominent ties with the Azeri mafia. With its help, he amassed profits from the sale of various commodities, including Caspian Sea caviar, Sumgait oil, fruit, vegetables, and cotton—and from his involvement in Azerbaijan’s border control (customs) and transportation industries. In order to remain the unchallenged leader of Azerbaijan, Aliyev bribed Brezhnev with lavish gifts—such as the so-called “Sun King” diamond ring, worth an estimated 226,000 rubles, described above. After two Moscow prosecutors investigated the Azeri mafia, one was tried and expelled from the Communist party, and the other was convicted and executed by being shot to death. Aliyev became a candidate (non-voting) member of the Soviet Politburo in 1976. He occupied this position until December 1982, when Yuri Andropov promoted him to the post of First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
His star waned following his appointment in 1985 under Mikhail Gorbachev. His political views became something of a liability to him in the era of perestroika, but he still exerted tremendous power in Azerbaijan. An Azeri prosecutor named Gamboi Mamedov investigated Aliyev’s corruption and ties to the mafia, and persisted in this investigation despite retaliatory persecution of his relatives in Azerbaijan. Aliyev had him fired and denounced. Nevertheless, this investigation was followed by the mass suicide of a number of Azeri mafia members and the unexplained deaths of a number of Aliyev’s lieutenants. In October 1987, Gorbachev mounted a clear-out of the old Brezhnevite guard and forced Aliyev to resign from the Politburo, ostensibly for health reasons.
George Soros has speculated that the first pogroms against Armenians in Azerbaijan were instigated by the local mafia, which was controlled by Aliyev, in order to create a situation that would be detrimental to Gorbachev regardless of the outcome.
Aliyev dominated the political life of Azerbaijan for more than 30 years, and left his oil-rich country with a problematic legacy of gross corruption.
Fall and re-invention
After his forced retirement in 1987, Aliyev remained in Moscow till 1990. He suffered a heart attack during this time. Aliyev briefly appeared in the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan SSR in Moscow, opposing the Soviet reassertion of control in Baku,a military action which resulted in violent Black January events amidst the brewing Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Almost immediately after this public appearance in Moscow, Aliyev officially resigned his membership in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and left Moscow for his native Nakhchivan. Here, Aliyev reinvented himself as a moderate nationalist and was subsequently elected as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR in Baku. Under the pressure and criticism from the groups connected to his nemesis, The then-leader of Soviet Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutallibov, Aliyev again returned to Nakhchivan, where he was elected Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in 1991.
By December 1991, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Azerbaijan formally became an independent state, despite Mutallibov’s presidency Aliyev independently governed Nakhchivan. Early 1992 was marked by increased violence in Nagorno-Karabakh War with the fall of Shusha, the last Azerbaijani-populated town in Nagorno-Karabakh. These events resulted in the resignation of Mutallibov and the subsequent rise to power of the Azerbaijan Popular Front led by Abulfaz Elchibey. During Elchibey’s one year in power, Aliyev continued to govern Nakhchivan without any subordination to the official government in Baku. The attempt by the Popular Front’s Minister of Interior Isgandar Hamidov to forcibly overthrow Aliyev in Nakhchivan was thwarted by local militia at the regional airport. During the same period, Aliyev independently negotiated a cease-fire agreement in Nakhchivan with the then-President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrossian.
On 9 June 1993, after the military coup in Ganja led by Colonel Suret Huseynov, Abulfaz Elchibey was forced to invite Heydar Aliyev to Baku to mediate the crisis. On 24 June 1993, amidst the advancement of insurgent forces under Huseynov’s control towards Baku, Elchibey fled from the city to his native village of Keleki in Nakhchivan. Earlier, on 15 June 1993, Aliyev had been elected Chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, and after Elchibey’s flight he also assumed temporary presidential powers. In August 1993, Elchibey was stripped of his presidency by the nationwide referendum, and in October 1993, Aliyev was elected President of Azerbaijan.
Aliyev also tried but failed to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which, by the end of summer 1993, had resulted in the loss of some 13% of Azerbaijan’s territory, an estimated 30,000 deaths, and the displacement of more than 600,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis. Attempting a military counter-offensive in December 1993, Azerbaijani forces failed to regain control of parts of Fuzuli, Khojavend and Kalbajar, ending up with heavy human losses. In May 1994, Aliyev entered into a ceasefire agreement that still remains in force today, in 2012. However, the conflict remained unresolved, with Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh, about one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in Azerbaijan as a result of the war.
March 1995 coup attempt
On 13 March 1995, an armed insurrection aimed at bringing Aliyev down was staged by the special unit of the Interior Troops (“OMON”) under the leadership of Colonel Rovshan Javadov. Four days later, on 17 March 1995, the units of Azerbaijani Armed Forces surrounded the insurgents in their camp and assaulted it, killing Javadov.
Later, the Turkish parliamentary report on the 1996 Susurluk scandal revealed some details of the involvement of the Turkish government—led by the then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, and the Turkish intelligence—in this coup attempt.
Death and successor
Aliyev’s health began to fail in 1999, when he had a major heart bypass operation in the United States at the Cleveland Clinic. He later had prostate surgery and a hernia operation. He suffered a collapse while giving a speech on live television in April 2003. On 6 August Aliyev returned to the United States for treatment for congestive heart failure and kidney problems. He stood down from the presidency at the start of October 2003, but in an extremely controversial move appointed his son Ilham as his party’s sole presidential candidate. On 12 December 2003, President Heydar Aliyev died at the Cleveland Clinic. He was buried at the Fakhri Khiyaban (The Alley of Honor) cemetery in Baku.
Ilham Aliyev duly won the presidential election of 15 October 2003 but international observers again criticized the contest as falling well below expected standards. This transfer of power became the first case of top-level dynastic succession in the former Soviet Union.
Throughout his life, Heydar Aliyev received numerous awards, including the Order of Lenin four times, the Order of the Red Star once and Hero of the Socialist Labor twice. On 27 March 1997 in Kiev, Ukraine, Aliyev received Ukraine’s highest award, the Yaroslav Mudry Order, and on 13 April 1999, Turkey’s highest honor, the Peace Premium of Atatürk Order. On 3 April 2003, he was elected a professor and authorized member of the Academy of Safety of the Russian Federation, and was subsequently awarded the Premium of Y.V.Andropov. On 10 May 2003, he was decorated with the order of Saint Apostle Andrey Pervozvanny—Russia’s supreme award.
A statue of Heydar Aliyev was raised in Mexico City in 2012 after local authorities signed a fraternity agreement with the government of Azerbaijan. However, Mexican intellectuals and civil society repudiated the statue because of Aliyev’s proven record as a systematic human rights violator. The government of Mexico City, which was probably uninformed of Aliyev’s biography a few months ago, removed the statue in January 2013 to the dismay of Azerbaijan.