In tightly ruled Azerbaijan, people are not usually pampered by dismissals of failing government officials, but President Iham Aliyev has gone the distance this time to tackle a recent outpouring of popular anger in the region of Ismayilli by firing its governor, Nizami Alakbarov.
The governor's nephew, Vugar Alakbarov, son of Labor and Social Welfare Minister Fizuli Alakbarov, reportedly became the cause of car-burning riots and clashes with police in the region's main city after a January 23 car accident involving his luxury sports car and a local taxi. Alakbarov the younger allegedly beat the taxi driver, with no interference from police. The Alakbarov family is reputed to have wide-ranging economic interests in the region, and resentment at their impunity from the law runs strong.
The central government’s first response followed the standard steps in its crisis management playbook: send in riot police, arrest reporters, and civil rights activists and politicians, who expressed solidarity with the protesters, and, of course, blame external foes for everything.
“If I hear again that a member of some family acts like a hooligan, does not know who to behave himself, this person will be arrested and his father will be dismissed,” declared Aliyev at a recent meeting.
The president also admitted that some regional governors are extorting money from local businesses. “May all heads of the local authorities know that those who harass businessmen will be punished,” he said.
Apparently warming to his task, Aliyev on February 15 went ahead and fired another governor -- Asif Mammadov of the region of Shamakhi, an official from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party has announced, APA reported. The reasons have not yet been released.
While the moves generally have been welcomed in the Facebook court of Azerbaijani public opinion, human rights observers most likely would argue that Azerbaijan’s problems are more systemic than just about select corrupt officials and their misbehaving relatives.