by Emil Sanamyan
Tuesday December 14, 2010

Donald Lu, until recently the top U.S. diplomat in Azerbaijan,
offered a damning portrait of the Aliyev regime. Official photo

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Washington - When not busy siphoning off billions in country's wealth,
spending fortunes on vanity pursuits or fighting domestic opponents,
Azerbaijan's political elite is actively promoting anti-Armenian
projects, cables from U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan first published by
the Guardian and made available by Wikileaks show.

Three dossiers prepared by former U.S. Charge in Azerbaijan Donald Lu
in 2009 and early 2010 paint an unflattering portrait of Azerbaijan's
President Ilham Aliyev, his spouse Mehriban and fellow cohorts who
are compared to a mafia that runs the country "in a manner similar
to the feudalism found in Europe during the Middle Ages."

Lu worked in the Baku embassy since 2007 as deputy chief of mission
and served as acting ambassador from 2009 until his departure last
summer. Between 2001 and 2003 Lu was State Department's deputy director
for Caucasus and Central Asia; he is now deputy chief of mission at
U.S. Embassy in India.

"Corleone on the Caspian" may rule for decades In one of the more
colorful cables released by Wikileaks and dated September 18, 2009,
Lu cites a U.S. embassy source familiar with Azerbaijan's regime
practices who likens the Aliyev family to fictional Corleones of
Mario Puzo's classic "The Godfather."

According to the source, Ilham Aliyev was less the "reformist" Michael
Corleone that many Western observers initially expected and more like
Vito Corleone's other more hard-line offspring Sonny (who in Puzo's
book eventually meets a violent death).

Lu notes that Aliyev demonstrated his "exceedingly thin skin" when
"Radio Liberty had mocked his plan to build the world's tallest
flagpole in the Baku port area." The flagpole was installed last
September but its record is currently in jeopardy as Tajikistan is
building a flagpole that is a few meters taller.

The cable also blames Aliyev's "thin skin" for the widely-publicized
imprisonment of two Azerbaijani bloggers who mocked the government
in a YouTube video. The two were recently released after more than a
year in prison and amid intense U.S. pressure, including in a meeting
between President Obama and Aliyev last September.

Lu's source who brought up the Corleone comparison suggested that
Ilham's father and predecessor "Heydar [Aliyev] would never have
allowed himself to be goaded into [such] ridiculous reactions" when
similar situations arose under his rule and that Ilham is "not inclined
to subtlety or deliberation in his response to these kinds of issues."

(The name of the source was not made public, but source's description -
"witty, but somewhat past-his-prime" official who worked for Aliyev
senior - is likely to betray the source as Vafa Guluzade, who was
senior presidential advisor between 1991 and 1999. In an earlier cable
Lu identifies Guluzade (or Guluzadeh) as a source that he consults.)

But in Lu's judgment, compared to his domestic abusiveness, Aliyev
has been more constrained in his foreign policy.

"For all his bluster about Azerbaijan's legal right to liberate
the Armenian-occupied territories by force, Aliyev has worked
constructively on the Minsk Group-proposed Basic Principles and
developed a reportedly good rapport with Armenian President [Serge]
Sargsian - in contrast to the much more confrontational relationship
between the countries' foreign ministers," Lu argues.

"Similarly, even as Aliyev regards with horror the prospect of
Turkey-Armenia rapprochement ahead of Nagorno-Karabakh resolution,"
the cable continued, and Aliyev is highly critical and suspicious of
the Turkish government, he would never seriously contemplate cutting
oil and gas export through Turkey.

Lu concludes that "the rule of 47-year old Ilham Aliyev could
continue for decades," particularly after elimination of term limits
that "strangled the hopes of any and all pretenders to succession,
including his wife (who in Azeri politics is thought of as a rival
Pashayev, not an Aliyev)."

Luxury shopping, vanity projects, anti-Armenian propaganda In
two subsequent cables written in early 2010, Lu describes two of
Azerbaijan's most powerful groups that control much of the country's
economic activity: the Pashayev family of Ilham's spouse Mehriban,
and the Heydarov family led by long-time Heydar Aliyev loyalist Fattah
Heydarov and his son Kamaleddin, the emergencies minister. (Lu promised
to prepare a third in a series of "Azerbaijan: Who owns what?" about
the Mammadov family led by transport minister Ziya Mammadov.)

In a cable dated January 27, 2010 Lu describes the Pashayevs as
Azerbaijan's most influential family commanding a "vast empire" of
business interests in real estate, including Baku's The Four Seasons
and J.W. Marriott franchises, banking, media, and telecommunications,
as well as Baku's so far only Bentley dealership.

But it is the Heydar Aliyev Foundation that serves as the main
promotional vehicle for Mehriban Aliyeva.

"Much funding [from the Fund] seems to be geared towards efforts to
explain Azerbaijan's side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for example
in the form of books, brochures and other materials describing what
they call a "genocide by Armenia" in the town of Khojali," Lu writes.

The Foundation has recently advanced moneys to a variety of programs
abroad, including grants to France's Versailles Palace, the Louvre
Museum and the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg.

From: A. Papazian