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AZERBAIJAN - Profile - Gaidar Aliyev.

Also called Haydar and in power since June 1993, President Aliyev controls Azerbaijan. He tries to decide all things, big and small. This slows decision making as some ministers only get to see him once every few months. When he is out of the country, "everything stops", says a foreign ambassador in Baku. "People hardly even dare to fix a toilet without his approval". But Eldar Namazov, one of his close aides, says: "People gravitate towards him because he has such a huge personality".

Aged 80 and with a serious heart problem, Aliyev still tries to give the image of a vigorous ruler and has few thoughts about his mortality. Aliyev was re-elected to a second five-year term on Oct. 11, 1998. He is a candidate of his New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) in the upcoming elections of Oct. 15, 2003. Most observers say Aliyev will not last another term. He has undergone extensive surgery, including a multiple heart-bypass operation. At times he appears frail at public functions. He collapsed twice while making a speech in April 2003 and received medical care in Turkey.

Still, Aliyev bristles at any discussion of who his successor might be, although there are indications that a dynastic succession would be the chosen option. His only son Ilham Aliyev was nominated on July 15 as the candidate for the Azerbaijan Social Welfare Party (ASWP). Ilham is the first vice president of Socar and deputy chairman of the ruling NAP. On Aug. 24, 2002, the Azeris voted on changes to the constitution which have smoothed the way for Ilham to become ruler after his father.

In ruling Azerbaijan, Aliyev uses tactics he applied as KGB chief of Baku in the 1970s. While harsh, these tactics have managed to create some degree of stability - the last failed coup attempt was in March 1995 - compared to the chaotic situation before. Between 1991 and June 1993, the country had four changes of government amid much bloodshed. Azerbaijan fought a war with Armenia sporadically from 1989, ending in a ceasefire on May 12, 1994. Aliyev has since consolidated his hold on power. The key opposition figures are either in exile or in prison. Demonstrations by the tolerated opposition in May 2000 were broken up and were followed by a systematic crack down on their leaders. The demonstrators wanted electoral reforms and a better human rights policy.

Aliyev's focus is to turn Azerbaijan into a wealthy country rivalling the Persian Gulf oil states. Under him, Azerbaijan has the greatest number of E&P deals of any Caspian country. Aliyev keeps pledging that, as a result of "our oil strategy... Azerbaijan will experience a new dawn". In dealing with the big powers, companies and the country's neighbours, he keeps in mind that petroleum and geo-politics have always been inter-related in Azerbaijan. Oil has been produced since 1870, with Baku then known as "the world's oil capital".

Major geo-strategic challenges related to petroleum being faced by Aliyev include the division of the Caspian Sea resources and the securing of export outlets. The division of the Caspian into territorial waters is a controversial issue that has dragged on for years, and a solution is not likely in the foreseeable future. Aliyev is hoping that bilateral arrangements with Russia would boost Baku's position against the claims of both Iran and Turkmenistan on what Azerbaijan considers to be its territory.

On the securing of stable outlets for the export of oil and gas to Western markets, after many years of geo-political manoeuvring among the big powers, the partners in Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium and the Shah Deniz consortium - both led by BP - have got their pipeline projects off the ground. Both the oil and gas pipelines are to be built from offshore Azerbaijan and will run through Georgia and Turkey - with the backing of Washington and Moscow.

In trying to overcome such challenges Aliyev has depended heavily on his vast web of Russian, Azeri and ex-Soviet connections - including LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov who is Azeri, and Azeri businessman Marat Manafov whom he appointed as chief negotiator for E&P deals after taking power in 1993. Under Aliyev, Baku and AIOC have made an extraordinary effort to promote Western investment in Azerbaijan.

Aliyev often leads delegations to the West to attract foreign companies, and is usually accompanied by a number of ministers involved directly or indirectly in the petroleum sector. London is a location of choice for the Azeris. Aliyev has signed some of the most E&P deals with Western companies in London, where gatherings have involved some of Aliyev's cabinet members.

Aliyev gains much from influential lobbyists in Washington, including Jewish leaders. He has developed close links with US Vice President Dick Cheney, who until he joined George W. Bush's presidential ticket in 2000 was the CEO of Halliburton. This oil services company has been operating in Azerbaijan for years. Before Bush ran for the presidency in 2000, as governor of Texas, he was also close to other oilmen with connections to Aliyev.

Aliyev's image got a major boost on May 22, 2002, as Pope John Paul II arrived in Baku on a two-day visit. The 82-year-old pontiff, suffering from Parkinson's disease, was lowered to the tarmac by a hydraulic platform and was received by Aliyev. The pope vowed to continue his peace-seeking missions "as long as I have breath within me". This was the pope's 24th trip to a mostly Muslim country. He ostensibly came to Baku to minister to his 120 followers in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. (The number of Catholics doubled when the papal plane landed at Baku airport). He also wanted to soothe Azeris' pride after his visit to their neighbour and enemy, Armenia, in September 2001.

Born in Nakhichevan in May 1923, Aliyev was educated by the Soviet system and spent his career rising through Communist Party ranks. From 1941 he served in the Azeri State Security Organisation. In 1969 he became party first secretary as well as KGB chief at Baku. In the 1970s, then Soviet leader Brezhnev made Aliyev a member of the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo, the most powerful body in the USSR. At the time, Azerbaijan experienced an economic boom. In 1986, about a year after Gorbachev took over, Aliyev was quietly pushed out of power in Baku. He spent the following years in Nakhichevan, where he became head of that republic.

From late 1992 to June 1993, Aliyev publicly carped at the style of leadership of Azerbaijan's then president Abulfaz Elchibey (who had been elected in June 1992, and was intensely pro-Turkish) and quietly but efficiently rebuilt his political base in Baku. That base had timely use in June 1993 when Elchibey fled Baku to Nakhichevan, to escape a military rebellion led by Col. Suret Gusseinov, who was co-ordinating with Aliyev.

As Aliyev later put it, he was "invited to return to Baku to keep the seat warm for Elchibey until the crisis is resolved". Aliyev, as "acting president" and parliament speaker, organised a referendum on Elchibey's leadership. The outcome, on Aug. 28, 1993, was in Aliyev's favour. On Sept. 2 parliament set the date for the next presidential election. On Oct. 3, 1993, Aliyev was elected president by parliament. Immediately the former Soviet apparatchik took direct control of the oil sector (see a detailed profile in APS Review's Downstream & Gas Market Trends, Vol. 59, No. 6).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Geographic Code:9AZER
Date:Jul 28, 2003
Words:1231
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