Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has chastised several senior officials for reportedly asking for land in Shusha to open new offices.
In an interview with state television channel AzTV on 1 February, Aliyev said that those attempting a land grab would be punished.
‘I have now created a temporary management structure. Because I see, I know, eyes are already there’, he said, referring to areas Azerbaijan took control of during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘Now it looks as if an attack is expected, an invasion. “That land is mine, that land is yours, that land is mine, this land is yours”. But I will punish all of them, all of them, as it should be. Let everyone sit down and do their work in their place. All lands will be restored as planned’, Aliyev said.
During the interview, Aliyev mentioned that an announcement by the chair of the Central Bank, Elman Rustamov, that they would open a branch in Shusha.
‘It is completely unacceptable to make such statements in order to gain cheap popularity or to create a new office for oneself, and this should be stopped’, stated Aliyev.
In the same interview, he also mentioned other senior officials including the chair of the State Agency of Motor Roads, Saleh Mammadov, Azerbaijan Airlines President Jahangir Asgarov, chair of the State Customs Committee, Safar Mehdiyev, the Chief of the State Border Service, Elchin Guliyev, and the Minister of Emergency Situations, Kamaladdin Heydarov.
Independent journalists have over the years uncovered a number of expensive properties belonging to these officials, including an expensive golf course around Baku, a private zoo in Shuvalan, numerous villas in the regions and the capital, as well as unconfirmed allegations of drug smuggling in large amounts.
Prominent journalist Mehman Huseynov released a video on one of Kamaladdin Heydarov’s villas in Gabala District on 31 January, just a day before the president’s interview was released.
In a previous report in 2016, he claimed that Heydarov owned monopolies in many business spheres.
Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges, following his arrest in January 2017, yet released after mass protests in 2019.
A shift in power
Zardusht Alizada, a prominent political analyst and former politician, said that Aliyev’s moves against state officials were not so much connected to any anti-corruption campaign but instead represented a shift in power dynamics in the government.
‘Since the ruling duo of Aliyev and Mehdiyev is history now, Aliyev, with an independent situation in the government, is cleaning the state apparatus of the posts remaining after Ramiz Mehtiyev’, Alizada told OC Media.
Ramiz Mehdiyev was dismissed as Head of the Presidential Administration in 2019 after being at the heart of government for 24 years.
Alizada said that holding power in Azerbaijan meant having ownership of financial, territorial, and administrative resources. ‘This is why [Aliyev] is responding to officials who have dared to challenge him and his power by claiming part of the wealth that Ilham Aliyev personally considers his own’, he argued.
He said that Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov, for example, had been robbed of his business structures, yet for now, remains part of the president’s team and still owns billions in undeclared assets.
Alizada said that this was because Aliyev was patient. ‘Aliyev knows all the processes that take place in the state, and he solves problems as they arise.’
‘When the problem of Ramiz Mehdiyev matured, he solved it, when the problem of Ali Hasanov [former assistant to the President for Public and Political Issues] appeared, he solved it, all the resources are at his disposal and there is no other alternative except him’, said Alizada.
Ali Hasanov was also dismissed after 24 years in office and was hit with corruption allegations.