Azerbaijan: a first lady going to war

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“After years of heartache and tragedy, historical justice has been restored. Among those celebrating Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia, one figure overflows with enthusiasm: Mehriban Aliyeva, 56, the country’s first lady. Since the end of the conflict, she has been making numerous declarations to the glory of this “generation of heroes who will remain forever in our memories”.

Admittedly, Mehriban does not wave her fist in front of the cameras, like her husband, the dictator Ilham Aliyev, 58, but standing on her stiletto heels or in military fatigues, she displays the same determination.

It is she who blooms the tombs of the “martyrs”. She who goes to the bedside of the wounded or who enters alongside her husband in the towns of Fizouli and Djabraïl “liberated from the Armenian occupation”, sunglasses on her nose and wearing rangers. His Instagram account is now full of patriotic messages.

Diet number two

Mehriban, it is true, does not stop at playing the “First Lady”. Married at the age of 19 to Aliyev after having obtained her ophthalmologist diploma in Moscow, she had plenty of time to discover the mysteries of power. And collect titles. Unesco’s goodwill ambassador, she sits on the presidential party’s staff, in Parliament and opaquely manages a very rich foundation dedicated to the memory of her father-in-law, Heydar Aliyev. In February 2017, everything accelerated. She was appointed to the post of vice-president, becoming number two in the regime. At the helm since 2003, Ilham Aliyev then justifies his decision “because of the important place” of his wife “in the political and cultural life of the country”.

A role that Madame takes on quickly. First through official trips and visits to foreign leaders. In March 2019, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe received her. She appears on the steps of the Hotel Matignon, dressed all in white, pink handbag at the end of her arm. During her 48-hour stay, she continued talks with Brigitte Macron, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, the President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand and the President of the Senate Gérard Larcher. It even finalized with its French partners a contract for the modernization of a railway line between Baku and Yalama. “She has always loved our country,” says Jean-François Mancel, president of the Friends of Azerbaijan association, “she even confessed to us one day that she liked the French for their critical sense and their ability to demonstrate. “!

France appreciates the despot’s wife. In 2011, President Nicolas Sarkozy presented him with the Legion of Honor without qualms. No matter the systematic imprisonment of opponents and journalists, the country rich in petrodollars knows how to use its influence. All at the cost of widespread corruption as demonstrated by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Francois Hollande, Ilham Aliyev and Mehriban Alieva during a dinner at the Elysee Palace on March 14, 2017 © ETIENNE LAURENT / EPA POOL / EPA

In Azerbaijan, Mehriban is taking its marks. She places her relatives in key positions, from the powerful Pachayev clan, closely linked to Turkey. “These are people with good manners, educated, speaking foreign languages, who come to chase the representatives of the old guard,” explains analyst Arzu Geybulla, based in Istanbul.

Rumor has it that in July she gets the head of the experienced Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadiarov. A dramatic turn in Baku. The sin of the person concerned? His pacifism displayed during negotiations with the Armenians on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. President Aliyev accuses his minister of flippancy and dismisses him with a bang. “We are all at the office and I am told that during that time, he is at home,” he says.

Three senior ministry officials are arrested and charged with corruption. The successor to the Foreign Affairs portfolio is called Djeyhoun Baïramov. Former Minister of Education, he has no diplomatic experience, but he has an advantage: he is a trusted man of Mehriban.

Intractable

Like her husband, the vice-president remains intractable on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. “Our dream is to be able to hear our traditional songs again there,” she said last year. Chick! Anna Hakobian, the wife of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian, answers him in substance. “There is only one way to make this dream come true, it is peace, I invite him to come to Karabakh to establish friendly relations and I am ready to go to Baku”, adds. she. Silence from Mehriban Aliyeva. Six months later, in July, Azerbaijani forces launched a first attack against Armenian troops before launching their major offensive in September.

Remains an unknown: is Mehriban promised to the supreme office? Since his parachuting as vice-president, the option is open. Especially since within the dynasty composed of three children, the son, Heydar Aliyev, is only 23 years old. Except that the situation changes. “Since his military victory, Ilham Aliyev has been unstoppable,” said analyst Arzu Geybulla.

In the meantime, Mehriban can continue to devote himself to one thing: taking care of his appearance. Even if it means abusing cosmetic surgery, as ironically noted in 2010 an American diplomatic telegram revealed by WikiLeaks. “She’s having a hard time getting a whole bunch of expressions to appear on her face,” it reads. During a visit by Lynne Cheney, the wife of former vice-president Dick Cheney, in 2008 to Baku, an American security agent could not help but remark when he saw Mehriban accompanied by her two daughters: ” Which is the mother? He said. After a moment’s hesitation, one of his colleagues replied: “Logically, the mother is in the middle”.

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