Remembering Heydar Aliyev, the architect of Azerbaijan

 08 May 2013 - 3:26

Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev attends an event in this file photo.

Azerbaijan is in a mood of celebration. The government and various organizations in the country are lining up activities to mark the 90th birthday of their national leader Heydar Aliyev, which falls on May 10. The nation is paying tributes to the leader which made Azerbaijan what it is today — a progressive, modern, economically prosperous nation which has won its place on the global map. The country’s rise in international affairs and its role as a major actor owes much to Aliyev’s policies. 

Writing in the magazine Azerbaijan International, journalist Betty Blair remembers her experience of interviewing the great leader and sums up his vision and courage.

She writes: “The time had come and I was escorted to the front presidential section of the plane. Being a fairly experienced traveller, I invariably buckle up for the duration of flight. This time, however, I took my cues from the president who was not using safety straps, and I slid into the booth opposite him. 

“As luck would have it, we soon hit some rough turbulence and the plane started bouncing around. Trying not to interrupt his train of thought since we were recording the interview, my hands groped blindly in my seat for the safety belt buckles. And yes, the president saw me. He stopped and smiled, and with his usual wry twist of humour, remarked, “Don’t worry, I won’t let the plane go down!” We both laughed. I buckled up anyway. 

It was just like him to say something like that — personal, humorous, apropos — both conscious of his power and the irony of the moment.”

Aliyev’s statement became ingrained in the minds of people of Azerbaijan. Most Azerbaijanis felt that way about him — that as long as Aliyev was at the helm of power, the ship of nation would not go down. 

They valued him as an astute, experienced, incredibly savvy politician. After all, he had once been among the most influential leaders of the Soviet Union — that vast empire that had stretched across 12 time zones. His rank among the top leaders in the Soviet politburo had been among those one could count on one hand.

Most people acknowledge that Aliyev was “bigger than life” and a man of gigantic political stature.

He is identified as the Architect of his Era — encompassing the 30 odd years from 1970 to 2003.

Azerbaijan is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies today, transforming itself in a few years from a war-ravaged country into an increasingly assertive presence on the regional stage. 

Its emergence can largely be attributed to its energy resources, marshalled by the government-owned State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

Now SOCAR aims to play a central role in the diversification of gas supplies to Europe. SOCAR dates from 1992 and the merger of two Soviet-era companies, Azerneft and Azneftkimiya, and was formed in 1918 after the country was absorbed into the USSR and the oil industry was nationalised. But SOCAR’s roots go deeper, perhaps back to the beginnings of what is one of the oldest oil industries in the world, with commercial operations dating to 1847.

At the end of 2011 Azerbaijan had proven oil reserves of 7bn barrels, according to BP’s industry review, or about 0.4 per cent of the world total. Production was 931,000 barrels per day. In natural gas, it had reserves of 1.3trn cubic metres, or about 0.6 per cent of the world total, and output of 14.8bn cubic metres that year.

As part of Aliyev’s birthday anniversary celebrations, Azerbaijan’s parliament unanimously passed an amnesty bill covering 9,000 prisoners at a special meeting on Tuesday. The amnesty act was initiated by Azerbaijani first lady and President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, MP Mehriban Aliyeva. 

Addressing the Milli Majlis session, she said the amnesty act being discussed was an act of forgiveness. “Passing such a law on the eve of Heydar Aliyev’s 90th anniversary has a great symbolic value.”

She added that after Aliyev was elected president in 1993, he forgave most of these people and thus once again confirmed his greatness by the ability to forgive. “As a member of his family, I would like to say that Heydar Aliyev was a noble, generous and humane person. He had ordinary and fair attitude towards ordinary people though he faced injustice, treachery and betrayal in different periods of his life. But he forgave most of them.”

Aliyev was born on May 10, 1923 in Nakhchivan city. After graduating from Nakhchivan Pedagogical School in 1939, he studied architecture in Azerbaijan Industry Institute (now Azerbaijan State Oil Academy). 

Due to the outbreak of the Second World War, he left his education unfinished. Later, he received special high education in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and graduated from the History faculty of Azerbaijan State University in 1957. In the elections on October 3, 1993, Aliyev was elected president of Azerbaijan Republic. On October 11, 1998, he was re-elected with 76.1 percent of total votes. 

Though Aliyev filed nomination in the presidential elections slated for October 15, 2003, he withdrew because of health problems. He died in the Clivland hospital in the US on December 12, 2003.

 Aliyev as president always carried himself with the authority of someone who knew who he was and where he had come from.

 The Peninsula