Azerbaijan International

Winter 1999 (7.4)


Azerbaijan's President, Heydar Aliyev
Looking Back on the Century - Personally and Professionally
by Betty Blair

Page 3

Back to Page 2

Let me ask about the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm wondering if you were expecting it to happen?

To be honest, this question has been asked of me many times before. During 1987 and 1988, I already sensed that the Soviet Union was moving backward. After I resigned in 1987, I lived in a house in Moscow for three years (1988-90) and didn't work. I lived on my pension, which wasn't really that much. My kids were younger and my grandchildren were very little. It was then that I had an opportunity to be more observant. I became convinced that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. But to tell you the truth, I never imagined that it would collapse so fast - it collapsed virtually overnight.

I see my life divided into two stages. The first stage includes my activities up until 1990. I've already talked about them briefly - how I got my education and started working and eventually rose to a very high position in the Politburo. The second stage refers to the events that have taken place during the last 10 years, starting with the January events of 1990 [Black January].

I was very, very frustrated by the aggression that was taking place in the Soviet Union thanks to Gorbachev and the Politburo, especially for those things that they did against my country and my people during Black January 1990. That's why I resigned from the Communist Party. It was a very unusual move back then, though later it became more common.

Especially on such a high level.

Of course. News spread out to the whole world.

So you were the first person on that level to break your ties with the Communist Party?

Yes, and they even started to pursue me. On January 21 after those brutalities began, I made a speech in Moscow condemning the aggression against Azerbaijan [See sidebar -
Black January]. I considered it to be military aggression against Baku - military aggression by the government and the Communist Party against its own people. My statement about why I resigned from the Communist Party has been published. Up until that time I had spent my entire life serving the Communist system, but those events caused me to oppose it.

My situation following 1990 has not been an ordinary one. I faced many difficulties. Many times they tried to overthrow and terrorize me. But God saved me. For example, after the statement I made about the January massacre, they tried to arrest me in Moscow. It was with great difficulty that I managed to flee Moscow for Azerbaijan in the summer of 1990.

Can you give me more details?

The difficulty was that I was under house arrest and all my telephones were tapped. After 1990, I was being watched all of the time. Several times I called my brother in Baku saying that I wanted to return here. I sent one of my acquaintances to buy a plane ticket but somehow the authorities found out.
Ligachov called me. He was the second person in command of the Communist Party back then. Several other members of the Politburo called me, trying to convince me not to go to Azerbaijan. When I asked why, they told me that my return to Azerbaijan would destabilize the situation there. I told them that I couldn't understand their reasoning. Nevertheless, twice they prevented me from returning.

And here, even here in Baku, the leaders didn't want me to come back. One day in May [1990], when I finally decided that I would come back, they assassinated one of my close acquaintances - a journalist - the day before I was to leave Moscow. My friend's name was Khanbabayev. They killed him because he was in direct telephone contact with me and I had told him what time I was to arrive. He went to the intellectuals in Baku and gathered them together so they could come to the airport to welcome me. That night while he was returning home, his car was stopped. He was shot pointblank in the head and killed.

People who were close to the leadership in Azerbaijan told my brother to pass the message to me: "If Heydar Aliyev comes here, he'll be killed, too. So I decided to postpone my flight to Baku. I studied the situation and managed to get a ticket purchased in someone else's name. I was taken to the airport in secret.

When I got on the plane, they realized who I was. Up until then, I had disguised myself so as not to be recognized. So that's how I came to Baku. But here they wouldn't let me alone either. I stayed here in Baku only three days and then flew to Nakhchivan, where I continued to live for three years. I lived there until I returned to Baku in 1993.

You must have felt very disappointed after giving your whole life to this system and then having it turn its back on you.

Very disappointed. There's still a big wound in my heart. That's why I came to have a great hatred for this system. It forced people to do wrong things, evil things.

For 14 years I had worked here as head of Azerbaijan. All those people who were in leadership positions after me had been on my staff when I was in Baku. Even they didn't want me to return to Azerbaijan. When I came to Baku, I tried to call them, but nobody wanted to talk with me despite the fact that I had held one of the top positions in one of the world's superpowers.

I was the one who built this building [Communist Party Aparat, now the President's Aparat]. That's why I'm saying that you should put a big picture of it in your magazine. They wouldn't let me pass close to this building. Other people were sitting in this room where I'm now sitting. Five or six people sat in this position since I left it. That's why there were a lot of hurt feelings in my heart. But I've tried to forget them.

There are two things here that you must remember. One of them is the power of the authorities and the other one is the people. The people have never changed their attitude towards me. But those in the bureaucracy here and in Moscow with whom I worked for so many years - they changed their attitude towards me.

You know the Parliament Building - I built that as well. When I used to work here and would attend a session in Parliament, everyone used to stand up to welcome me when I entered that building.

When I returned to Nakhchivan from Moscow, they elected me as a Deputy to the Parliament of Azerbaijan from Nakhchivan, just as an ordinary Deputy of Parliament. I didn't even have an apartment here. I used to live with my brother in a small two - bedroom apartment. And I would enter that same Parliament Building as a Member of Parliament along with the people I had brought up. When they saw me, they used to turn their faces. Some walked away. I would sit in the Chamber hall, and Mutallibov was sitting there as President - all of them were among those whom I had brought up. But none of them applauded me. They wouldn't talk to me. That hurt me. I would ask permission to speak on the floor, but they wouldn't grant it to me.

It was in February 1991, before the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the year. I asked for the floor in Parliament and they didn't want to give it to me. So I stood up in the tribune; they couldn't prevent me from speaking there [See sidebar -

Were you still a member of the Communist Party then?

No, I had already resigned from the Communist Party while I was in Moscow. I made a speech, saying: "Azerbaijan has to become independent. The Soviet Union is collapsing and the Communist Party must relinquish power." That was February 10, 1991.

But they wouldn't let me continue. People in the hall were chanting "regulation" and whistling, and they created a lot of disturbance. There's a film about it. And 95 percent of those people in the Chamber Hall were those I had brought up. But when I went into the streets of Baku, before I could walk 100 meters, thousands of people began following me.

That's why I say that the people never change their attitude towards me. When Azerbaijan collapsed again in 1993, the people again turned their face and hope towards me. There was no other person to take the responsibility of the government on his shoulders to solve our problems. That's when they brought me here from Nakhchivan.

Since you've been one of rare individuals in the world who has held one of the highest positions under a Socialist system and now under a capitalist system, what would you say is valuable about each system? And what are some of the disadvantages of both?

You know, that's a very complex question. I would have to spend at least half an hour to answer it. Let me just say that the Socialist system brought a lot of achievements and successes to the people. For example, in the 1920s at least 90 percent of the people in Azerbaijan were illiterate. As a result of the Soviet system, people had the opportunity to get an education in a relatively short period of time. Baku State University was founded in 1919 (prior to the establishment of Soviet power), but during the Soviet period, many more universities were created. Many schools were built. Many hospitals were built. Many cultural centers were built. Economic potential was developed in Azerbaijan - factories, canals, roads. We should not forget these things. We cannot denounce them. The Soviet system was the first case in the history of mankind in which a social system was put into effect on such a wide scale. It's true-the system was created as a result of a lot of bloodshed. The Communist Party carried out a lot of repression and bloodshed. Nevertheless, the society survived.

During those years when I was the leader in Azerbaijan, people were living better than they do today. These days in Russia there is a great interest in the Communist Party. Why? Because people say that they were living in better conditions then.

For example, in the Ukraine they recently held elections for the second time. During the runoff, Kuchma took 54 percent of the vote. The leader of the Communist Party gathered 37 percent of the vote. So you see what is going on among the people.

Despite the fact that the Soviet Union eventually collapsed 10 years ago, the people benefited particularly in the spheres of education, science, culture and health. These days our hospitals are in terrible condition. In the past they used to work, and people would go there not only for treatment but also for therapeutic rest.

Many plants and factories were built during my tenure in office. I built this Aparat. Could I build it today? No. I built the Parliament building. Could I build it now?

It used to be that within any given year in Baku, we were constructing one billion square meters of apartment buildings. But now we are doing nothing. The government can't afford to do it. Only the private sector and the rich can afford to build these days. Only a very few people. So there were many positive aspects to that system.

But in the end, the Socialist system could not compete with capitalism. Secondly, the Socialist state was based on dictatorship. It couldn't survive. Sure, people used to live well but they didn't have any freedom at all.

Imagine if they mistreated a person like me who had served the system for so many years, who could rely upon and trust such a system? I'm not saying this because of my own personal situation; there were millions of people mistreated like me. A lot of injustices were carried out. People had no freedom of mind or speech.

The capitalist system has both positive and negative aspects, too. There is no ideal system in the world. I believe it was Churchill who said: "Democracy is not the best political system, but people have yet to create a better one." With democracy, you approach everything in terms of justice.

We have refused the old system. I myself have done it quite consciously and, in Azerbaijan, for sure, there will be a democratic state, established on the rules of law, free economy and market economy.

Azerbaijan is a small country surrounded by Russia, Iran, Armenia, Turkey and Georgia, and always needs to keep a delicate balance in international affairs to protect Azerbaijan's national resources. What is your advice to Azerbaijan's future leaders in the 21st century? What can they do to keep this balance?

They must pursue the policy that I have put in place. If they do, then they will succeed. If not, then Azerbaijan will face so much tragedy.

You have to take into consideration the interests of every country. You can't be friends with some countries and enemies with others despite the fact that this is the way most countries function. Azerbaijan doesn't want to be an enemy with any country. At the same time, we will not become victim to another country's policies. Azerbaijan has its own independent policy. At the same time, we are developing good relations with Europe and America and seek to benefit from their experiences while preserving our own national identity and our own resources.


Azerbaijan International (7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

Back to Aliyev
Back to Index AI 7.4 (Winter 1999)
AI Home
| Magazine Choice | Topics | Store | Contact us