Azerbaijan may now be busy celebrating the arrival of spring with the traditional holiday of Novruz, but local police tempers do not appear to be growing any sunnier.
On March 19, an outspoken former Azerbaijani defense minister, Rahim Gaziyev, claims he was on his way to the Azeri-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Baku to broadcast his criticism of President Ilham Aliyev’s government, when unknown men allegedly hooded him with a bag and hustled him into a car. Gaziyev, who served as defense minister from 1992 to 1993, soon found himself in the captivating company of anti-organized crime police officials.
The policemen did not charge Gaziyev; just reportedly gave him a piece of avuncular advice -- to bag it. “’You’ve been writing quite a bit of letters here and there, we notice. You should try lying low,’ they told me,” Gaziyev recounted to the Kavkazsky Uzel news site. He was released the next morning, on March 20.
One letter which apparently particularly disappointed the police recently appeared in the pro-opposition Azadliq (Freedom) newspaper. In his letter, the ex-minister slammed President Aliyev for having corrupt officials under his wing, cracking down on political dissent, turning a blind eye to abuse and violence in the army, and what have you.
Gaziyev, of all people, should’ve known the price of bagging on the Aliyev family. Soon after calling President Heydar Aliyev, the father of the current president, a liar, he was charged with treason for surrendering the key Karabakhi town of Shusha to separatist Karabakhi and Armenian forces in 1992. He escaped a death sentence by fleeing to Moscow, but later was deported to Baku and sentenced to life imprisonment. Under international pressure, Gaziyev was pardoned in 2005.
The Nagorno-Karabakh baggage prevented Gaziyev from making a meaningful return to the political scene. But his epistle came at a sensitive time for Aliyev the son. Violence in the army and the government’s failure to do something about it have led to public protests, while a couple of small towns have rebelled against local officials -- all ahead of a presidential election this October.