Mehriban Aliyeva has been the first lady of Azerbaijan ever since 2003. Last year, she was appointed vice president by her husband. Who is Mehriban Aliyeva? Where does her family’s vast wealth come from? What has happened in Azerbaijan during her tenure as vice president?
Who is Mehriban Aliyeva?
Mehriban Aliyeva was born Mehriban Pashayeva in Baku in 1964. Her grandfather, Mir Jalal Pashayev, was a writer, and her father, Arif Pashayev, is a physicist. As a child, Aliyeva played the lead role in the film “The Speaking Letter”.
In 1983, when Mehriban Aliyeva was 19, she married Ilham Aliyev. In 1988, she graduated from the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical Institute.
In 2003, Ilham Aliyev became president, and in 2004, Mehriban Aliyeva founded the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
The Heydar Aliyev Foundation – a charity or a corruption scheme?
How transparent are the activities of the Heydar Aliyev foundation, which was established as a charity?
When journalists asked about the foundation’s finances in 2009 they were told: The Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s sources of funding are confidential.
Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the opposition ReAl Movement, has been a political prisoner for five years. Regarding the foundation’s finances he has said quote: “Historically, these kinds of foundations have existed in countries with dictatorial regimes, and their purpose is to make repressive regimes seem humane. Such foundations never disclose the source of their finances.”
Economist Azar Mehtiyev says he has no idea about the foundation’s finances, quote:
“We’re talking not real money, it’s virtual. That is to say that work is carried out and then it is simply attributed to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Therefore, it’s impossible to speak seriously about the organization’s revenues.”
Former Health Minister Ali Insanov, who has been in prison for 13 years, said at one of his trials that several schools had been built in Azerbaijan with his money, but the work is said to have been done by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
Although the list of the foundation’s objectives is large, the priority ones are to help resolve social problems of local significance and help people in need of special care.
Under the direction of Mehriban Aliyeva, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has implemented dozens of projects around the world. This includes everything from the restoration and renovation of churches and historical monuments to organizing concerts and art exhibitions.
Even Russia’s first monument to the Orthodox saint Prince Vladimir was erected in Astrakhan in 2013 with the financial support of the foundation. As a result, in 2017, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow awarded Mehriban Aliyeva the 2nd degree Order of Princess Olga.
The Aliyev children Arzu, Leyla and Heydar, have also been implicated in corruption in international media. Heydar Aliyev owns tens of millions worth of properties on the Palm Islands in Dubai, while Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva own gold mines and huge telecommunications companies in Azerbaijan, and expensive properties in London.
The Pashayev family’s business empire stretching from the Caucasus around the world
In 2010, WikiLeaks realeased a diplomatic cable by Donald Lu, a US embassy official in Azerbaijan, which said, quote: “As a whole, the [Pashayev] family, which generally speaks Russian better than Azeri, is considered the single most powerful family in Azerbaijan.”
The cable also said that the Pashayev family is associated with powerful business groups beyond Azerbaijan’s energy sector. They are known to operate in the rapidly expanding construction and real estate market, and are heavily invested in the financial and telecommunications sectors.
The Pashayevs don’t seem to be concerned with keeping their businesses secret. Pasha Holding, of which Mehriban Aliyeva is the unofficial head, controls a large business network that spans from Azerbaijan to Georgia, Turkey, and Russia. On its official website, Pasha Holding proudly lists the many properties it owns in Azerbaijan.
The most profitable business that Aliyeva owns is Pasha Bank, which operates in Turkey, Georgia, Russia and Azerbaijan. Pasha Bank continues to grow and become richer against a backdrop of currency devaluations and bank closings.
What has changed since Mehriban Aliyeva became First Vice President?
On 21 February 2017, Ilham Aliyev appointed Mehriban Aliyeva to the new position of First Vice President. Isa Gambar, opposition politician and director of the Center for National Strategic Studies, said it was a disgrace that the head of state had created an artificial post and appointed his wife to it.
Turkish FOX TV criticized Mehriban Aliyeva’s appointment to the post and its broadcasts were immediately shut down in Azerbaijan.
A Turkish radio show which mocked the appointment was punished by Turkish authorities.
Blogger Mehman Huseynov was arrested in March 2017 after conducting a joke survey regarding the vice presidential appointment. In April, Kanal 13 was shut down and its director Aziz Orujov was jailed. In May, courts blocked access to the websites of Meydan TV, Radio Liberty, Azadliq newspaper and Turan TV, which had published corruption investigations about Mrs. Aliyeva and her family. Then, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted in Georgia, brought to Azerbaijan and put behind bars on false charges.
Amid major pressure exerted on free media in the country, Mehriban Aliyeva unofficially finances and directs major media outlets such as Trend News Agency, ARB, Lider, ATV and popular Facebook and YouTube channels.
According to many international organizations and a large segment of the public, the state of human rights, democracy and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan has worsened since Mehriban Aliyeva was appointed First Vice President.