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Azerbaijani ‘hero general’ arrested over 2001 murder

19 March 2021
Lieutenant General Rovshan Akbarov. Image via APA.

A general who was granted the title of National Hero of Azerbaijan for his service in the first Nagorno-Karabakh War has been arrested for a 2001 murder in Ukraine.

Azerbaijani authorities have charged Lieutenant General Rovshan Akbarov with premeditated murder and remanded him into four months pre-trial detention.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, on the night of 31 May–1 June 2001, Akbarov stabbed Azerbaijani businessman Elchin Aliyev in the heart following a ‘minor dispute’ in a cafe in Kyiv.

The arrest, coming 20 years after the killing took place, has raised questions over why the authorities did not act sooner.

Investigators in Ukraine concluded that Akbarov was responsible for the killing in 2003, citing witness testimony. The case was transferred that year to the Azerbaijani authorities under the CIS Minsk Convention, as Akbarov was already in Azerbaijan. 

In 2010, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office suspended their investigation into the killing, insisting they had been unable to determine the perpetrator.

Aliyev’s parents campaigned for years for justice for their son, sending dozens of letters to government agencies, including the Presidential Administration, before finally suing Azerbaijan in the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2014, the court ruled that Azerbaijan had violated Article 2 of the European Convention, the right to life, as they had not conducted an effective investigation.

They noted that the Prosecutor’s Office had not questioned Akbarov during their investigation.

Why now?

Akbarov, 56, has been a lieutenant general since 2002. He was awarded the title of National Hero in 1994 by presidential decree.

He was appointed commander of the Baku Army Corps in February 2011. In February 2020, he was dismissed from this post and released to the reserves, and therefore did not participate in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Jasur Mammadov a military analyst and chair of the Caspian Defence Studies Institute (CDSI) told OC Media that the murder was likely not the real motivation behind Akbarov’s arrest. 

He said that prior to the 2020 war, several military leaders were put aside amidst concerns they posed a threat to those in power. Akbarov, he said, was a supporter of one of those, the former chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces, Colonel-General Najmeddin Sadykov.

Rumors of Sadykov’s dismissal were disseminated during the war yet only in January 2021 did the Ministry of Defence confirm that he was not serving in the military due to his health condition.

There have been a number of rumours about Sadykov and Akbarov circulating on social media, including that they had collaborated with the Armenian Armed Forces, had leaked classified data, or were responsible for non-combat deaths in the army. Mammadov said many of these allegations were likely ungrounded. 

He connected the dismissal and arrest with recent reforms in the Azerbaijani armed forces aimed at reorienting the institution. 

‘For many years the main military leadership consisted of old corrupted officials, now with the wave of reforms, they are bringing in younger professionals in order to increase the prestige of the state’, said Mammadov. 

‘Defence is one of the last ministries to be reformed in Azerbaijan, and still contains many people in the leadership who went through the Soviet/Russian military school. The direction the Azerbaijani government is clearly taking now is the NATO model and so this would mean removing the old-school staff, who are also ambitious for power’, he concluded.

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