Azeri Government Fury at Leaked Mafia Comparison

Officials say opposition briefings provided basis for allegations that Azerbaijani leaders behave like characters from Godfather films.

Azeri Government Fury at Leaked Mafia Comparison

Officials say opposition briefings provided basis for allegations that Azerbaijani leaders behave like characters from Godfather films.

Government politicians in Azerbaijan have reacted to embarrassing diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website, including one that compares the president to a mafia chief, by blaming the opposition.

A lengthy memo from a senior United States diplomat suggests that President Ilham Aliyev, who followed his father, the late Heydar Aliyev, as Azerbaijani president, shows characteristics of both Sonny and Michael Corleone, two of Don Vito Corleone’s sons in Hollywood’s Godfather films.

“To some in Baku, the Godfather analogy seems apt – capturing essential truths not only about Ilham Aliyev, but his father Heydar, who becomes by implication the ‘Vito Corleone’ of Azerbaijan,” the memo said.

On foreign policy matters, the memo suggested that the younger Aliyev displayed the caution shown by the film’s Michael Corleone character, but it also likened him to Michael’s impulsive brother Sonny because of what it called his sensitivity to domestic criticism.

The Godfather films are popular in Azerbaijan, so the criticism implicit in comparisons with the Corleone clan hit home.

Officials responded by hinting that unspecified powers wishing to destabilise the region had orchestrated the document leaks, and accusing the opposition of informing the views quoted in the cables.

“There’s no foundation to this material,” Ali Hasanov, head of the political and social affairs department in the president’s administration, said. “Its aim is to set world leaders at loggerheads with each other in the South Caucasus. Certain major forces presumably stand behind them. As time goes by, and it will become clear what those forces are.”

Ali Ahmadov, secretary of the president’s Yeni Azerbaijan party, accused the opposition of damaging Azerbaijan’s reputation.

“The US embassy representatives based their summarised views on the writings of opposition newspapers, which have placed their country in a difficult position,” he said.

Other leaked cables contained allegations about government ministers and their extensive business interests.

The leaks delighted opposition politicians, who have long argued that the government is corrupt and dysfunctional.

The Musavat party rejoiced in the authorities’ embarrassment, issuing a December 6 statement that said, “Despite the authorities’ denial, most of the information that has been published is well-known to the Azerbaijani public, and there is no doubt as to its accuracy. The secret documents published on WikiLeaks have once again shown that high-ranking representatives of the government stand at the head of corruption and theft.”

Many independent analysts agreed with the leaked criticisms of the way Azerbaijan is run.

“You can issue statements saying this information is all lies, as the authorities are doing. But you’ll look like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand,” economist Natik Jafarli of a non-government group called Real said. “Facts are facts. The largest holding companies engaged in big business belong to, or are controlled, by individuals at the highest levels of power, or by their relatives. How does that happen? Are the only people capable of running large businesses those who come from the families of high-up officials? Can you really explain that in a logical manner?”

The leaked cables were an embarrassment for the US embassy in Baku, where a spokesman said a diplomatic representative had already met top Azerbaijani officials to explain the situation.

Terry Davidson, the embassy’s senior spokesman, said the US was concerned at the leak, which damaged the work of diplomacy and attempts to build international relationships.

“Azerbaijan is a very important partner for the United States. There is strong strategic cooperation between our two countries in all areas, including security, the economy and the development of democratic institutions,” he was quoted as saying.

Sabuhi Mammadli is a freelance journalist and a participant in IWPR’s Caucasian Cross Border Network Project.

Support our journalists