Azerbaijan International

Winter 2003 (11.4)
Pages 20-22

Ilham Aliyev Becomes President

On October 31, 2003, Ilham Aliyev was inaugurated as Azerbaijan's new president. At age 42, President Aliyev joins a rather youthful group of presidents in the region - Russia's Vladimir Putin (52), Georgia's Mikhail Saakashvili (36), and Armenia's Robert Kocharian (49). But few of them can challenge the notion that their apprenticeship equaled that of Ilham's, who had closely watched and stood beside his politically astute father Heydar Aliyev, the driving force in Azerbaijan's development since the 1970s.

The Inaugural Ceremony took place at the Republican Palace which seats 3,000 guests. Elections had been carried out 15 days earlier. In his Presidential acceptance speech, Ilham Aliyev pledged to pursue similar policies to those of his father's, especially in terms of foreign policy and development. So far, Ilham has kept his father's ministerial staff.

Heydar Aliyev, who had been President since 1993, was not able to attend the inaugural event as he was in Cleveland, Ohio, undergoing medical treatment. Twelve days later (December 12), he passed away and his body was flown back to Baku for a State Funeral, which brought an incredible, spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from the public [See photo essay, page 2].

As is true at every major event in Azerbaijan, the primary entertainment at the Inauguration came from superb music performances. A large number of exceptionally talented youth had been invited to perform, including Jujalarim boy drummers, folk dancers, and mugham singers. What was missing at the event, if compared with previous inaugurations, was some samples of classical music.

An elaborate Inauguration Dinner followed at the Gulustan Palace for 500 guests, which included foreign dignitaries and diplomats along with a few top managers of international oil companies. Azerbaijan's most distinguished government leaders were present, including the Cabinet of Ministers and Members of Parliament. And, as is the tradition, many distinguished members of the intelligentsia - especially writers, musicians, composers and artists - were present.

Simultaneously, while the dinner was going on at the Gulustan, an open-air concert had been organized in front of the Government House on Azadlig Square (Freedom Square). Thousands came to see and enjoy. The evening ended with an elaborate display of fireworks out over the bay.

Click on photos to enlarge

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