Rasul Quliyev, who served as Azerbaijan's parliament speaker under the late President Heydar Aliyev from 1993 till 1996, when he left Azerbaijani for the United States, apparently hopes again to become a force in Azerbaijani politics.
Quliyev has begun posting in installments on his blog an analysis of the similarities
between the current situation in Azerbaijan and that in Tunisia on the eve of the revolution there early this year.
And last week he placed on YouTube
an appeal to fellow Azerbaijanis to join the resistance movement he is founding. In that appeal, Quliyev criticized the present Azerbaijani regime as repressive, medieval, and corrupt. He said his objective was to use Internet technology to tap into widespread popular discontent and mobilize the protest vote to preclude the retention of power in the presidential election due in autumn 2013 by the current regime headed by President Ilham Aliyev, Heydar's son and successor.
That stated objective bears a marked similarity
to the plans by Georgian billionaire oligarch and philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili to forge a political coalition that could win the Georgian parliamentary elections in October 2012. But Quliyev's chances of success appear at this juncture negligible compared with Ivanishvili's.
Like Heydar Aliyev, Quliyev, who will celebrate his 64th birthday this weekend, was born in the exclave of Naxcivan. He trained as an oil engineer and joined the staff of Baku's main oil refinery in 1971 as a rank-and-file engineer, working his way up to become its director. When Heydar Aliyev succeeded in sidelining and ousting then-President Abulfaz Elchibey in a bloodless coup in the summer of 1993, he immediately named Quliyev deputy prime minister, and then, a few months later, parliament speaker.
Within a couple of years, however, Quliyev incurred Aliyev's displeasure by publicly criticizing the regime's disinclination to embark on privatization or other economic reforms and the fact that laws enacted by the legislature remained on paper. On September 10, 1996, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party released a statement accusing Quliyev of antistate activity, links to mafia groups, and damaging Azerbaijan's international image. He announced his resignation "on the grounds of ill-health" (the classic Soviet-era face-saving pretext) the following day and left Azerbaijan shortly afterward.
Initially, Quliyev made every effort to continue his opposition activities. He gave regular interviews to Russian media (and to those Azerbaijani media outlets brave enough to print them); and sought unsuccessfully to register as a candidate for the presidential elections in 1998 and 2003. Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov publicly implicated him in the violence that followed the defeat in the 2003 ballot of opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Qambar, whose candidacy Guliyev backed
In April 1998, criminal charges were brought against Quliyev of large-scale embezzlement of state property, but efforts to secure his arrest and extradition failed. Quliyev hit back, telling "Moskovskiye novosti" in an interview published in June 1998 that "Heydar Aliyev's regime will collapse before the year is out," and pledging to return to Azerbaijan despite the risk he would be immediately arrested.
But his sole attempt to make good on that pledge, on the eve of the October 2005 parliamentary elections, proved a spectacular fiasco: he was detained by Ukrainian police when his plane landed for refueling in Simferopol and held in custody
for several days before being allowed to return to the United States.
That incident dealt a mortal blow to Quliyev's Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, which ousted him as its chairman in 2006. He then founded the Open Society Party in April 2007, but it was repeatedly denied registration by the Justice Ministry. Quliyev distanced himself from the party after it publicly expressed support for Ilham Aliyev's candidacy in the 2008 presidential election. In an interview with the independent weekly "Zerkalo" two years ago, he admitted that he had no way of influencing political developments in Azerbaijan.
What prompted Quliyev to attempt a political comeback at this juncture, and why he apparently intends to go it alone, rather than align with the opposition Public Chamber
established a year ago can only be guessed at. By contrast with Ivanishvili, his chances of success are minimal, for several reasons.
First, he is not in Azerbaijan, where a generation of voters has grown up over the past 15 years who have only the haziest idea who he is (although the Internet, which has been widely used to organize and coordinate opposition protests in Azerbaijan over the past year, could swiftly change that). Second, he does not have the kind of financial resources at his disposal that Ivanishvili has. Third, he does not enjoy the kind of respect and admiration that many Georgians feel for Ivanishvili in light of the latter's extensive charitable activity. And fourth, no mainstream Azerbaijani opposition party has (yet) expressed any interest in aligning with him, and some may consider him a has-been, unreliable, or even compromised by the October 2005 fiasco.