Officials announced December 12 that Heidar Aliyev, the former Communist Party boss who served as Azerbaijan's president for more than a decade, had died. He was 80.
Aliyev died at the Cleveland Clinic, a facility in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had been receiving treatment for heart and kidney ailments. Cole Hatcher, a Cleveland Clinic spokesman, told EurasiaNet that the former president died at 10 a.m. on December 12. He had not been seen in public since the summer. Aliyev's decline began in April, when he collapsed while delivering a speech on national television. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.]
In August, Aliyev's administration set in motion the first dynastic succession in any former Soviet state by elevating the president's son, Ilham, to the post of prime minister. Ilham Aliyev, who had served as a top executive at SOCAR, the state oil company, won the presidency in October, in elections widely criticized by international observers as flawed. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Opposition leaders repeatedly alleged during the election campaign that officials covered up the extent of Aliyev's illness in order to facilitate the process of handing power to his son. Some opposition media outlets went so far as to report that Aliyev had died, and that authorities were delaying release of the news until after the election. Up until the presidential election, aides had insisted that Heidar Aliyev was recovering and would return to Azerbaijan.
Heidar Aliyev was born in May 1923 in the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan, which would serve as his power base throughout his political career. After graduation from Azerbaijan State University, Aliyev worked in the state security apparatus, serving as the then-Soviet republic's KGB chief from 1967-69. In 1969, he became the first secretary of the republic's Central Committee, a post he held until 1982. He eventually rose to the top echelon of Soviet power, serving as a member of the Communist Party's Politburo.
As independent Azerbaijan's president, Aliyev aggressively courted Western investment, both private and governmental, with promises of oil and gas exports from the Caspian Basin. He was the driving force behind the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, a 1,093-mile route that will be the first of its kind to bypass Russia. It is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2005.
Aliyev's courtship of Western interests began amidst the upheaval sparked by Azerbaijan's conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Aliyev returned from political exile in 1993 to help negotiate a ceasefire to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and restore a sense of political stability in Baku. Over the years, however, Aliyev was unable to agree with his Armenian counterparts on a lasting political settlement for Karabakh. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.]
Aliyev governed in an authoritarian manner, tightening control over the country's political life and media development. During his administration, human rights organizations expressed growing concern over the Azerbaijani government's record on protecting individual rights.