Skip to comments.Nepotism in Central Asia
Posted on 10/28/2003 5:37:13 PM PST by rmlew
O n Oct. 15, Ilham Aliyev, businessman, playboy and novice politician, received a nice gift from his father the country of Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev had ruled Azerbaijan almost continuously for 34 years, first as an agent of the Soviet Politburo and then as an autocrat in his own right. When he became too ill to continue, he anointed his son to run for president in his place. Ilham Aliyev ran a rigged campaign, using all the powers of the state, and then celebrated his victory by arresting most of the opposition. To conclude this nasty exercise in dynasty building, Azerbaijan's new president accepted the fawning congratulations of the outside world including Washington.
It was an ugly month for Azerbaijan and for American goals in the region. President Bush has said he went to war in Iraq in part to create democratic models in Islamic nations. But America's support for the Aliyevs suggests the administration has not learned the lessons of its oil-inspired support for the shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein and successive Saudi governments.
Mr. Aliyev's election was rigged from the start. The government appointed supporters as election officials. Police blocked opposition rallies and beat up opposition supporters. Citizens' groups were banned from monitoring the vote. When the opposition began to protest Mr. Aliyev's declaration of victory with 80 percent of the vote, the police charged the crowds. Hundreds of people were seriously injured and several killed. Hundreds more were arrested, including polling-station workers who refused to sign falsified vote totals.
The outside world did nothing to discourage Mr. Aliyev from this raw display of power. The day after the vote, President Vladimir Putin of Russia called to say, "The people of Azerbaijan support your balanced program for developing the country." That was predictable. Another call was a surprise, and embarrassing to Washington. Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state and former co-chairman of the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, a group close to the Aliyev family, phoned to congratulate Mr. Aliyev on his "strong showing."
A State Department spokesman said, belatedly, that the election featured serious irregularities and "politically motivated arrests." He called for an investigation as well. But the United States would do better to keep the new president at arm's length and avoid repeating the unfortunate history of supporting autocrats who sit atop oil riches.
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