An advisory commission in Mexico City has recommended the removal of a statue of Azerbaijan’s late President Heydar Aliyev that has been erected along a main boulevard of the Mexican capital.
Gabriel Guerra, a member of the panel, said on November 23 that the commission has called for the bronze statue to be removed from the high-profile Chapultepec Park, along Reforma Avenue, and transferred to another less “emblematic” location.
Azerbaijan’s government paid around $5 million for the renovation of the section of the park where the statue was erected and other public works. That corner of the park was named the "Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park."
Baku has warned of damage to Azerbaijan's relations with Mexico if the statue is removed, including the potential closure of its embassy and the suspension of Azerbaijani investments in Mexico.
Azerbaijan says Mexico City’s government signed an agreement stipulating the monument should be allowed to remain on the spot for 99 years.
Human rights protesters have said they are offended by the monument to Aliyev, who is regarded by many as having led an authoritarian, rights-abusing regime during his years as ruler of the energy-rich Caspian Sea country.
Aliyev was Azerbaijan’s longtime Communist Party chief during the Soviet era. He ruled as independent Azerbaijan’s president from 1993 until shortly before his death in 2003. Aliyev’s son Ilham succeeded his father as Azerbaijan’s president.
The decision on the future of the life-sized statue now rests with Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who has faced criticism over the monument.
Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Mexico, Ilgar Mukhtarov, said he didn’t agree with the commission’s recommendations and planned to discuss the situation with city authorities.
At a news conference, Mukhtarov also accused Azerbaijan’s neighboring rival Armenia and Armenians living in Mexico of being behind the movement to remove Aliyev’s statue from the park.
No Armenian comment was available. Armenia and Azerbaijan have hostile relations over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory and other issues.
The advisory commission of three writers and analysts, which was appointed by the city government, said authorities had erred by accepting money to allow a foreign government to essentially decide which political figures or historic events should be commemorated in Mexico City’s public spaces.
The panel suggested that a citizens' board be set up to review such proposals in the future to prevent similar controversies.
Critics have ridiculed a plaque on the statue that describes Aliyev as a “brilliant example of infinite devotion to the motherland, loyal to universal ideals of world peace.”
The critics say the inappropriateness of the Aliyev statue is magnified by its location not far from monuments to Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mexican national heroes.
There have been suggestions that Mexico City officials weren’t completely aware of who Aliyev was when the decision to approve the statue was made.
The advisory commission also recommended that authorities take action over a second Azerbaijani-funded monument, in downtown Mexico City’s Tlaxcoaque plaza.
This statue depicts a woman, her arms uplifted in mourning, commemorating Khojaly, a village where Azerbaijan says hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed by Armenian forces during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the mainly ethnic-Armenian populated breakaway region.
The commission said a plaque on the monument calling the Azerbaijani deaths "genocide" was misleading.
The Mexico City monument to Aliyev is just one of more than 10 that have been erected in foreign countries
Other countries that are home to Aliyev statues include Turkey, Georgia, Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, and Moldova.
Based on reporting from AP, AFP, and RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom