Today is the 90th birthday of a certain Heydar Aliyev, the Ümümmilli Lider (“National Leader”) of Azerbaijan, the former KGB chief, leader of Soviet and independent Azerbaijan, and the father of the current President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. In other words, today is very, very important in Azerbaijan. There are great celebrations in Azerbaijan – and around the world as this video from the Washington Mall shows. In anticipation of today, Leyla Najafli, a reporter for the BBC gave me a ring to ask me about my work “Heydaristan,” an accidental exploration in the endurance of iconography. My words to her have been translated and appear on the sites of the BBC World Service in Azeri, Russian, and Turkish. But what did I say in the English? Thanks to my friend Maria for the translation back from the Russian:
Photojournalist Amanda Rivkin, working in Baku, decided to make a photo essay dedicated to the Aliyev personality cult. It’s called “Heydaristan”.
The Aliyev personality cult is somewhat different from the various others in modern history. For example, Stalin and Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan, created cults to their own personality. You had to bow down to only them and no one else. While in Azerbaijan the Aliyev personality cult is enforced by his son Ilham. Amanda Rivkin notes that strangely in this cult, people don’t bow before the actual president but to his father.
In Azerbaijan itself Heydar Aliyev is often compared to Ataturk not to Turkmenbashi, although Amanda Rivkin says it’s the same as comparing apples and oranges.
“On one hand, you can say that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire Ataturk appeared on the political horizon, and he was able to unite the country and its people, and that Heydar Aliyev was able to achieve the same thing. But between them is a big difference: Heydar Aliyev was a well-known figure in the Soviet system, while Ataturk was not a part of politics in the Ottoman period”, says Rivkin.