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Russia March 27, 2008
 
There Will Be Krov: Oil-soaked Travels Through Azerbaijan
Blood, Oil, and Borat in Azerbaijan By Alexander Zaitchik Browse author Email
 
Page 3 of 7
 

Museums Azeris can choose to avoid. Not so the ubiquitous presidential billboards. They are everywhere in Azerbaijan, most of them faded by time and pollution to resemble the pages of a 1970s Intourist catalogue of Black Sea resorts. Dominating the country’s roads are hundreds of massive signs displaying Heydar Aliyev in various poses. Sometimes he is alone, sometimes he is shown having a serious discussion with his son and successor, Ilham. The multi-generational billboards depict the duo wading into adoring crowds (Heydar first); discussing the glorious future of Azerbaijan in front of power plants; and contemplating unknown subjects requiring subtle and sensitive minds, possibly the mystery of the obvious cheapness of Ilham’s gold watch. Despite their riches, both presidents seem to share an affinity for cheap suits. The son’s sense of style especially appears to have been molded by his playboy years in Turkish casinos.

Recently a new billboard has begun to pop up outside the capital that has lit up the Azeri blogosphere and sent Azerbaijan’s opposition into a deep depression. It shows not two Aliyevs, but three. Trailing behind Ilham is the little boy-dictator-in-waiting, Heydar Jr., a kind of Damien figure who may be the world’s first non-Tibetan figurehead to warrant his own pre-pubescent secession propaganda. The text leaves little doubt about the message: “Independent Azerbaijan's yesterday, today and future!!!”

In clumsy, Borat-like public relations efforts, Ilham does his best to project a cosmopolitan image. Any meeting with visiting foreigners is heavily publicized in the state media. When a freelancer with Forbes interviewed Aliyev shortly after he assumed power, the leading pro-government daily plastered its front page with an image of the president being interviewed by the young journalist. And when Herbie Hancock headlined the 2006 Baku Jazz Festival, the following year’s program opened with a two-page spread of Hancock and Aliyev sitting on couches with painfully forced smiles on their faces. The text beneath the photo read: “Herbie Hancock: ‘Your president is a very nice guy!’”

* * * *

Someone else who thinks Aliyev is a very nice guy is Dick Cheney.

The U.S. Vice President’s links to Azerbaijan date back to 1993, when the newly ensconced Heydar Aliyev made it a foreign policy priority to cultivate ties with politically connected world of Texas Oil. It was a natural alliance, one with a cultural element on top of the obvious political and economic logic. Houston and Baku are two of the world’s greatest oil capitals, and two cities which deserve the “asshole of the [fill in large geographical location here]” moniker more than just about any place on earth. They are official “sister cities.” A team from Houston is currently advising the Azeri government on a planned Museum of Oil in Baku, based on the one in Texas.

Fully aroused by rumors of Saudi-levels of crude in the Caspian, Texas Oil was eager to return Aliyev’s embrace. A friendship was established in 1993 and cemented in 1994, the year Aliyev inaugurated Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet oil boom by signing the so-called “Contract of the Century” with western majors. As Aliyev hoped, Houston was the key to unlocking to deeper cooperation with Washington. As David Case recounted in a 2004 Mother Jones article:

blog_photo
A "poverty burqa" on the streets of Baku. Despite the nation's oil wealth, one-third of Azeris live on less than $250 a month.  

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Zaitchik
Browse author
Alexander Zaitchik is an editor at The eXile. Email him at zaitchik@gmail.com
 
 
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