The wedding of the granddaughter of the president’s administration “grey cardinal” resulted in a high-profile political scandal in the country. As for international environment, all processes are still revolving around July border clashes with Armenia.
Former Head of the President’s Administration in Disgrace
August saw a high-profile scandal connected to Ramiz Mehdiyev, the president of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan and the former head of the president’s administration. After Heydar Aliyev coming to power, Ramiz Mehdiyev served as an all-time head of administration and was only exempted in 2019. Many independent and opposition mass media called him the “grey cardinal”.
On August 18, Ramiz Mehdiyev’s granddaughter, despite lockdown limitations, celebrated her wedding. Weddings have been banned in Azerbaijan since March 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic. The video footage of the wedding leaked into social media, with some MPs, former ministers and officials present.
Based on mass media and social networks publications, Ramiz Mehdiyev’s son-in-law, a former MP Ilham Aliyev and his in-law Rovhsan Mustafayev were arrested for 15 days. Siyavush Novruzov, one of the odious figures of the ruling party “Eni Azerbaijan”, received a reprimand for taking part in the wedding. Siyavush Novruzov accused Ramiz Mehdiyev of fraud and resigned from his post of deputy executive secretary of the party. He and his wife, Sabina Aliyeva, as well as many former officials who were present at the wedding, received a fine of 400 manats ($240).
Later on, the situation got political. Mass media started a campaign against Ramiz Mehdiyev. Many acting MPs and politicians made various comments addressing the situation and accusing him of unsuccessful information policy and of being Russia’s “fifth column” in Azerbaijan, creating corruption schemes etc. Ramiz Mehdiyev himself was not silent and published several articles on the official site of the Academy of Sciences, with these articles containing threats to sue the critics and accusing them of short-sightedness.
In August, the State Security Service of Azerbaijan (SSS) continued its anti-corruption operations. On August 19 its employees arrested Jeyhun Jafarov, the head of executive power of Kurdamir district on charges of abuse of power and large-scale bribery.
Another arrest followed when Eldar Hasanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Serbia, was arrested. The country’s former prosecutor general and acting ambassador Eldar Hasanov arrived in Azerbaijan on August 11 to take part in the meeting of Serbia’s head of the security council Neboiša Stefanovic and the secretary of Azerbaijan’s security council Ramil Usubov. On August 13 Eldar Hasanov was arrested by the state security forces. He was charged with abuse of power resulting in serious consequences as well as with misuse of public funds. Reports appeared in opposition and independent mass media that Eldar Hasanov’s arrest was related to his attempts to play a role in Azerbaijan’s domestic political processes.
“Aliyev stated that the volume of Russian military supplies by freight carriers via Turkmenistan and Iran to Armenia made up over 400 tons”
Customs and Transport Agency – Against Aliyev’s Statement
On August 7 the president Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on creating “Azerbaijan Investment Holding”. Its purpose is to manage according to single principles all state-owned companies and enterprises as well as business entities with a state share. Institution is aimed at better transparency and economic efficiency of investment projects, implemented by state enterprises. Earlier the president stated that state companies, despite the support, are not efficient and keep on functioning only thanks to budget support.
In August, despite the statement made by Ilham Aliyev on the much needed liberalization of the country’s economy, already two state institutions made decisions contradicting such a policy. On August 23 the Cabinet of Ministers with the lobby of the State Customs Committee took a decision to imply stricter customs regulations for importing non-commercial goods by physical entities. According to the new rules, the total cost of goods that can be monthly imported onto the territory of Azerbaijan with granted preferences has decreased from $1500 to $800. The cost of international deliveries that can be received by physical entities without additional charges has also been decreased from $1000 to $300 per month. When leaving the country, the citizens of Azerbaijan will need to fill out a customs declaration in the written form if the carried sum exceeds 20 thousand. The decision will enter into force on September 19.
On August 31 Baku Transport Agency stated that they are developing a concept of introducing a single tariff and a single operations control center for all taxi companies. The statement resulted in immediate outrage in social media and independent mass media as it was noted that taxi industry is one of the rare spheres with real competition in Azerbaijan, and therefore in the last 5-6 years taxi prices have significantly dropped.
In August, the State Statistical Committee reported that according to the results of the first seven months of the year the GDP of the country decreased 2,8% against the same period last year. At the same time the Central Bank reported growing currency reserves: in July, the bank’s currency reserves went up 3,4% (or $210 million) since the beginning of the year making up $6 billion 468 million 700 thousand.
However, the government decided to continue providing financial support to entrepreneurs. Financial support will be provided to those taxpayers who work in the sectors damaged by the pandemic and financially supported by the government yet keeping the majority of their staff employed as of July 1, 2020.
Diplomatic Confrontation with Russia
Foreign policy arena processes were related mostly to July clashes on the border with Armenia.
In July Azerbaijan accused Serbia of supplying weapons to Armenia prior to military actions. On August 7 the president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučic called the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and expressed his condolences following the death of Azerbaijani soldiers. He also expressed his regrets regarding Armenia using the weapons produced in Serbia for these battles. On August 11 Neboiša Stefanovic, Serbia’s head of the security council, visited Baku and had meetings with Azerbaijan’s top officials.
Azerbaijan, traditionally rather cautious when it comes to its policy towards Russia, officially accused Moscow of supplying weapons to Armenia during the period of military actions. The press service of Azerbaijan’s president, usually reporting short messages regarding Ilham Aliyev’s telephone conversations, published detailed information on the conversation between Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin on August 12. Aliyev stated that the volume of intense military supplies by freight carriers via Turkmenistan and Iran to Armenia made up over 400 tons.
Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s minister of defense, visited Azerbaijan and on August 25 stated that the above-mentioned supplies were in fact construction materials. However, Azerbaijan was not satisfied with this answer.
Against the backdrop of tense relations between Russia and Azerbaijan official Baku demonstrated stronger military and political ties to Turkey. On August 10-11, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov and Jeyhun Bayramov visited Turkey. During the meetings Turkish officials expressed their clear-cut support to Azerbaijan in political and military issues as well as noted that Turkey will not leave Azerbaijan alone to face aggression coming from its neighbor. On August 13 Turkey’s military delegation paid an official visit to Azerbaijan headed by Turkish minister of defense Hulusi Akar, who stated that the Turkish army will provide all necessary support to Azerbaijan.
On August 23 in the course of military operation in Goranboy district second lieutenant Gurgen Alaverdyan (born in 1989), the commanding officer of the sabotage and reconnaissance unit of the Armenian forces, was arrested. He was charged with “participating in illegal armed formations created in the occupied Kalbajar region, committing attacks on military personnel, enterprises, departments, organizations or individuals of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as acting with an intent to kill people, cause injuries and harm their health, cause significant property loss and illegally trade arms”.
Photo: Remiz Mehdiyev receives the Heydar Aliyev Order