The first 30 years of his career in the dreaded Soviet secret police included the worst periods of Stalinist terror, when there were nearly a million political executions and up to 10 million political prisoners. By 1967 Aliyev was the chief of the Azerbaijani secret police. From 1969 he ran the country on behalf of his Russian masters. However, like other agents of Soviet rule in republics outside Russia, he also built up a network of local bureaucrats who were beholden to him for their jobs, perks and privileges.
In 1982 Aliyev rose to the summit of Soviet power, the Moscow Politburo. He also retained his grip on Azerbaijan. But he was ignominiously driven from high office five years later by Mikhail Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, who wanted to distinguish himself from the discredited older generation of officials.
Aliyev retreated to his power base of Nakhchivan. He waited while Gorbachev made increasingly disastrous efforts to revive the Soviet economy and bring the non-Russian republics to heel. These efforts included a massacre by Soviet troops in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union an independent Azerbaijani government led by Abulfaz Elchibey, a former anti-Soviet dissident, lost a disastrous war against Armenia. This provoked a military revolt. The US suspended government aid. One of Elchibey’s last acts was to invite his old foe to Baku to shore up the government. Aliyev quickly organised the first of many rigged votes to ease himself into power. His political enemies began to fill the prisons, and opposition was heavily restricted.
Within a year big oil companies like BP were doing deals with Aliyev to exploit the rediscovered wealth of the Caspian Sea. The 1,760-kilometre pipeline out to the deep-water port of Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, for instance, is being built at a cost of $3.6 billion. Haydar Aliyev’s playboy son Ilham moved into the top management of the state oil company Socar.
Impoverishment and the lack of rights sparked a series of revolts. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan was accepted into the Council of Europe. The US resumed aid, especially for military and security purposes, in recognition of Aliyev’s support for the attack on Afghanistan. When Haydar Aliyev developed terminal cancer he arranged for the presidency to pass to Ilham in another series of rigged votes. The presidential succession was supported by both Russia and the US.
Haydar Aliyev was one of the world’s top agents of state terror and repression for 60 years. He died peacefully in a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The real war against terror continues.