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WHO IS MEHRIBAN ALIYEVA?

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Mehriban Aliyeva has been the first lady of Azerbaijan ever since 2003. Last year, she was appointed vice president by her husband. Who is Mehriban Aliyeva? Where does her family’s vast wealth come from? What has happened in Azerbaijan during her tenure as vice president?

Who is Mehriban Aliyeva?

Mehriban Aliyeva was born Mehriban Pashayeva in Baku in 1964. Her grandfather, Mir Jalal Pashayev, was a writer, and her father, Arif Pashayev, is a physicist. As a child, Aliyeva played the lead role in the film “The Speaking Letter”.

In 1983, when Mehriban Aliyeva was 19, she married Ilham Aliyev. In 1988, she graduated from the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical Institute.

In 2003, Ilham Aliyev became president, and in 2004, Mehriban Aliyeva founded the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

The Heydar Aliyev Foundation – a charity or a corruption scheme?

How transparent are the activities of the Heydar Aliyev foundation, which was established as a charity?

When journalists asked about the foundation’s finances in 2009 they were told: The Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s sources of funding are confidential.

Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the opposition ReAl Movement, has been a political prisoner for five years. Regarding the foundation’s finances he has said quote: “Historically, these kinds of foundations have existed in countries with dictatorial regimes, and their purpose is to make repressive regimes seem humane. Such foundations never disclose the source of their finances.”

Economist Azar Mehtiyev says he has no idea about the foundation’s finances, quote:
“We’re talking not real money, it’s virtual. That is to say that work is carried out and then it is simply attributed to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Therefore, it’s impossible to speak seriously about the organization’s revenues.”

Former Health Minister Ali Insanov, who has been in prison for 13 years, said at one of his trials that several schools had been built in Azerbaijan with his money, but the work is said to have been done by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Although the list of the foundation’s objectives is large, the priority ones are to help resolve social problems of local significance and help people in need of special care.

Under the direction of Mehriban Aliyeva, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has implemented dozens of projects around the world. This includes everything from the restoration and renovation of churches and historical monuments to organizing concerts and art exhibitions.

Even Russia’s first monument to the Orthodox saint Prince Vladimir was erected in Astrakhan in 2013 with the financial support of the foundation. As a result, in 2017, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow awarded Mehriban Aliyeva the 2nd degree Order of Princess Olga.

The Aliyev children Arzu, Leyla and Heydar, have also been implicated in corruption in international media. Heydar Aliyev owns tens of millions worth of properties on the Palm Islands in Dubai, while Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva own gold mines and huge telecommunications companies in Azerbaijan, and expensive properties in London.

The Pashayev family’s business empire stretching from the Caucasus around the world

In 2010, WikiLeaks realeased a diplomatic cable by Donald Lu, a US embassy official in Azerbaijan, which said, quote: “As a whole, the [Pashayev] family, which generally speaks Russian better than Azeri, is considered the single most powerful family in Azerbaijan.”

The cable also said that the Pashayev family is associated with powerful business groups beyond Azerbaijan’s energy sector. They are known to operate in the rapidly expanding construction and real estate market, and are heavily invested in the financial and telecommunications sectors.

The Pashayevs don’t seem to be concerned with keeping their businesses secret. Pasha Holding, of which Mehriban Aliyeva is the unofficial head, controls a large business network that spans from Azerbaijan to Georgia, Turkey, and Russia. On its official website, Pasha Holding proudly lists the many properties it owns in Azerbaijan.

The most profitable business that Aliyeva owns is Pasha Bank, which operates in Turkey, Georgia, Russia and Azerbaijan. Pasha Bank continues to grow and become richer against a backdrop of currency devaluations and bank closings.

What has changed since Mehriban Aliyeva became First Vice President?

On 21 February 2017, Ilham Aliyev appointed Mehriban Aliyeva to the new position of First Vice President. Isa Gambar, opposition politician and director of the Center for National Strategic Studies, said it was a disgrace that the head of state had created an artificial post and appointed his wife to it.

Turkish FOX TV criticized Mehriban Aliyeva’s appointment to the post and its broadcasts were immediately shut down in Azerbaijan.

A Turkish radio show which mocked the appointment was punished by Turkish authorities.

Blogger Mehman Huseynov was arrested in March 2017 after conducting a joke survey regarding the vice presidential appointment. In April, Kanal 13 was shut down and its director Aziz Orujov was jailed. In May, courts blocked access to the websites of Meydan TV, Radio Liberty, Azadliq newspaper and Turan TV, which had published corruption investigations about Mrs. Aliyeva and her family. Then, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted in Georgia, brought to Azerbaijan and put behind bars on false charges.

Amid major pressure exerted on free media in the country, Mehriban Aliyeva unofficially finances and directs major media outlets such as Trend News Agency, ARB, Lider, ATV and popular Facebook and YouTube channels.

According to many international organizations and a large segment of the public, the state of human rights, democracy and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan has worsened since Mehriban Aliyeva was appointed First Vice President.

Sources:
OCCRP
Radio Liberty
Wikileaks
Hürriyet.com.tr
Pasha-holding.az
Mehriban-aliyeva.az
Sancaq Production

Azerbaijan

Laza, the land of waterfalls – Photo Gallery

The Azeri Times

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Originally published by Caucasian Knot

The Azerbaijani village of Laza, about 200 km from the capital, Baku, is situated on a high-altitude plateau, Shah Yaylag. At the end of March when the snow starts to melt, tourists flock to Laza to see the waterfalls for which the area is famous. The locals, who are mostly ethnic Lezgins, earn a living by renting out cottages to tourists and offering visitors transportation in all-terrain vehicles in the winter.

Azeri Times presents this photo essay from Laza by Aziz Karimov, republished from Caucasian Knot.

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Azerbaijan

Opposition activist sentenced to 6 years in Azerbaijan

The Azeri Times

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On 18 September, the Baku Court for Serious Crimes sentenced a member of the youth committee of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFAP), Orkhan Bakhishli, to six years in prison.

Bakhishli was detained by men in plain clothes in downtown Baku on the evening of 7 May. On 10 May, the Yasamal District Court in Baku charged the youth activist with drug possession and ordered his detention for four months.

The PFAP has claimed that the charges against Bakhishli are trumped up and politically motivated. Several days before his arrest, on 3 May at a World Press Freedom Day event at the grave of journalist Elmar Huseynov, who was shot and killed in 2005, Bakhishli accused the Azerbaijani government of Huseynov’s murder.

Human rights activists consider Bakhishli a political prisoner. Previously, he served 30 days of administrative detention after being arrested ahead of a 31 March opposition rally.

In recent years, activists Ahsan Nuruzadeh, Murad Adilov, Bayram Mammadov, Giyas Ibrahimov, Elgiz Gahramanov, blogger Rashad Ramazanov and others have also been jailed on charges of drug possession.

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Azerbaijan a year after the LGBT raids: has anything changed in Europe’s most homophobic country?

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Azerbaijani society has never been tolerant toward sexual minorities, but no one expected the cruel and large-scale violence that occurred last year. At least a hundred people were humiliated, beaten and raped. People who were suspected of being gay were blackmailed and warned not to walk in the central streets of Baku. Meydan TV investigated the possible reasons for the police violence immediately after it happened last year and we now return to this topic to find out what has changed in Azerbaijan over the past year.

I felt like I had done something terrible

“I was absolutely desperate. I was leading a repulsive life: I drank a lot, I used drugs,” Ali recalls September 2017 (all names have been changed). He says that the “repulsive” life he led seemed to help him forget what he had experienced for a while: like many other gay Azeris, Ali was detained in a surprise raid in downtown Baku. He spent several days at a police station. It still is not easy for him to talk about what he experienced – in response to every questions he says that many people, for example, transgender people, had an even harder time than he did. “Not only did they call them the filthiest words and beat them, they also shaved their heads, which was the most humiliating thing for them,” Ali says.

Ali had never advertised his sexuality but it became obvious for people around him after police detained him. “I felt like I had done something terrible and that I was persecuted for it. My landlord kicked me out of the apartment I was renting, and my friends and loved ones turned away from me,” Ali recalls.

Ali gradually did manage to return to normal life – there were kind people who helped him while he was looking for a job. Unlike Ali, another gay man who was detained, Murad, had a certain amount of money which helped him flee the country. Murad left immediately after he was released from the police station and now lives in Turkey: “I wanted to move to Norway, but I was denied a visa.”

Murad has not been successful in finding a job and it seems he will have to go back home soon. “Of course I’m afraid, of course I don’t want to go back. I’d stay here if I could. At least there’s an LGBT community in Turkey, and they help each other,” Murad says.

 

Four brave lawyers

According to official statistics, police detained 83 people during the LGBT raids in Baku in September 2017.

“Thirty-three people filed lawsuits for illegal arrest and cruel treatment after they were released,” said Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a representative of the human rights organization Minority Azerbaijan and a member of the local LGBT alliance Nefes (Breath). Gulnara says that apart from physical and moral damages, those detained also incurred material damages:

“They were jailed for different terms, some for 10 or 15 days and some for 20 or 30 days. Many lost their jobs because their employers refused to take them back after their long absence,” Gulnara Mehdiyeva says.

Four lawyers agreed to defend the rights of the LGBT people affected. One of them, Samad Rahimli, says that judges rejected all the complaints. The same 33 people sent complaints to prosecution agencies, but prosecution agencies did not find any criminal wrongdoing.

Azerbaijani rights activist Kamala Aghazadeh believes that lawsuits will not produce results while the country has no law defending LGBT people from discrimination. “Society absolutely needs a law that would guarantee the protection of LGBT rights,” she said. Perhaps, the adoption of such a law would remove Azerbaijan from the list of the most homophobic European countries which Azerbaijan has led for four consecutive years now.

A month after the raids, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks sent a letter to Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister in which he called for “thorough investigations into serious allegations of human rights violations of LGBT persons recently arrested and detained in Baku”.
No reaction followed from the Azerbaijani government.

 

Four suicides and five murders

Samad Ismayilov, the director of Minority Azerbaijan magazine, said that four LGBT people committed suicide in Azerbaijan in 2017. Ismayilov said that specialized organizations recorded five murders which presumably were anti-LGBT hate crimes over the year. He said those were average annual figures.

“However, these are only cases that we have managed to learn about. In reality, there are many more crimes of this kind,” he said. According to Ismayilov, activists were not able to find out even an approximate number of members of the LGBT community in Azerbaijan because most people hid their sexual orientation.

Samad said no raids or large-scale assaults on gays had been recorded in Azerbaijan in 2018, but several trans people were at the police station the other day. “They were summoned to the police, asked several questions and released. However, we do not understand the reason for this interest, nor did we understand it last year,” Samad said.


Produced with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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