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Heydar: Father of Azerbaijan E-mail


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n 1993, a 70 year old veteran politician from the Soviet era was propelled from semi-retirement and back into the international spotlight at a moment that would define the survival, or not, of his nation.

Heydar Alirza Aliyev was born in 1923, the son of refugees, his father a working class railwayman. Life in Nakhchivan, an autonomous region of Azerbaijan, was changing rapidly. A brief period of independence — the Muslim world’s first democratic state — had been snuffed out through the emergence of the Soviet Union.

Moscow’s yoke, while oppressive, also came with benefits. A comprehensive, national education system was one. Considered one of the brightest minds of his generation in Azerbaijan, Heydar was able to move swiftly through a schooling system that did not exist just years earlier. Seemingly set to embark upon a career as an architect, World War Two would change everything. He was recruited by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, forerunner of the KGB, and served his nation as an intelligence analyst on Middle East politics and strategic affairs. In the wake of Hitler’s defeat, Heydar remained a part of the organisation and, over the next few years, swiftly moved up through its ranks.

In July 1969, Leonid Brezhnev signed a decree ordering his appointment as the head of Azerbaijan. His brief was to revitalise a moribund economy, fight endemic crime and cut corruption. His success began a transformation in Azerbaijan — and won Moscow’s attention. He served in the Soviet Union’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo, and then also as Deputy Premier.

It was during this era, at the pinnacle of power, that he won a reputation as being a reformer. An ally of Mikhail Gorbachev, when ‘Gorby’ won power Heydar was expected to be part of the revolution underway, but he clashed with the General Secretary over the unplanned nature of change. The cataclysmic socio-economic collapse of the Soviet Union would perhaps prove Heydar correct.

The victim of a suspicious heart attack and later sacked by Gorbachev, after a period under virtual house arrest, Heydar eventually flew home and into semi-retirement in the wake of a Gorbachev-ordered massacre of civilians on the streets of Baku in January 1990.

He would return to the mainstream in 1993 during Azerbaijan’s darkest hour, on the verge of civil war, amid economic collapse and on the brink of becoming a failed state. Not only would he succeed in stabilising the nation but, over the next decade, would shape a modern Azerbaijan as one of the most stable and progressive nations in the world.

This book tells the story of the rise and fall and the rise again of a man and his nation.


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