The new leadership in Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense has been undertaking a thorough housecleaning of the ministry in the months since the new minister, Zakir Hasanov, took over.
Earlier this month, it was reported that several senior officers were "sent to reserve," meaning they were removed from active duty service. Among those number were former Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and at least seven other high-ranking officers. Jasur Mammadov Sumerinli, a Baku-based defense analyst, told The Bug Pit that the way this usually works is that because many high-ranking officers formally serve only in a temporary capacity, they are not formally fired. In the case of these several generals, they were all removed from their posts in November and December 2013, and just now moved to the reserve.
Separately, President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the commander of Azerbaijan's navy, Vice Admiral Shahin Sultanov and replaced him with Captain 1st Rank Yunus Mammadov, who had been serving as Chief of Naval Operations. (Not long before, interestingly, there were media reports that Sultanov had been arrested, though the MoD denied them)
And on a visit to the exclave of Nakhcivan in January, Hasanov made a number of personnel changes to the armed forces units there, and reporting about those changes apparently annoyed the Ministry of Defense. “Replacements are being carried out in accordance with the requirements of Regulation 'On military service' and aimed at increase of the efficiency of service," the ministry said in a statement. "The Defense Ministry recommends people and media representatives to be more sensitive in protecting state secrets while disseminating information about reforms, structural changes, appointments, replacements and promotions carried out in the Armed Forces.”
The changes are mostly connected with an internal power struggle, Sumerinli said: most of the dismissed generals were close to Abiyev. The other power center within the ministry is led by Najmaddin Sadigov, the chief of general staff of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. "These two groups were constantly in conflict," Sumerinli said. Sadigov remains in his position and to reduce conflict, Hasanov is removing Abiyev's men, he said.
Emil Sanamyan, a U.S.-based editor of the newspaper Armenian Reporter who follows defense developments in Baku closely, agreed with Sumerinli's take on the power struggle. He also pointed to another power struggle within the security forces, that overall oversight of the military is, he says, in the hands of two presidential advisers, Vahid Aliyev and Maherram Aliyev. Sanamyan notes that Vahid Aliyev's former deputy was recently appointed as the chief of the air force. "So Hassanov is more of a figurehead than even Abiyev was."
Another factor in the new appointments could be an effort to root out corruption, Sumerinli said, noting that some media reports have focused on that angle. But he said that there was no reason to believe that the Sadigov-associated generals were any less corrupt than the Abiyev allies.