Farmers in Azerbaijan’s western Dashkesan region apparently must make space when the president’s daughters come digging for gold. Area residents, many of them displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh war, are finding their livelihoods threatened by an expanding gold-mining operation linked to President Ilham Aliyev's family, reports an investigative piece co-authored by RFE/RL and EurasiaNet.org reporter Khadija Ismayilova.
The residents blamed a British company for taking over their lands at bargain-basement prices and choking off access to irrigation water, but the report, produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and RFE/RL, found that the farmers actually have Azerbaijan’s own “first daughters,” Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva (also known for their telecom ties), to blame, via their executive positions at three of the companies working on the mine.
The presidential family’s gold business was cloaked in a web of shell companies and front operations, which took some painstaking reporting to unravel. President Aliyev's office declined to elaborate about the connection, while presidential spokesperson Azer Gasimov pretty much vanished.
Few Azerbaijani journalists would dare to peek into Aliyev family matters. Ismayilova recently has become the target of a smear campaign that used the online publication of a video of her intimate life in an attempt to shame her into stopping her reporting.