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Azerbaijani First Lady Given Prestigious French Award

The first lady in "Harper's Bazaar"
The first lady in "Harper's Bazaar"
Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva has been designated an officer of the Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious national award.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received the news in a letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said the honor was granted in acknowledgement of Aliyeva's "outstanding service and loyalty to France."

Probably more to do with the fact that the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which Aliyeva heads, has donated 40,000 euros ($55,000) to the cost of renovating Strasbourg Cathedral's stained-glass windows and financed some renovations at the Palace of Versailles.

The Azerbaijani government also recently donated 1 million euro ($1.4 million) to the Louvre Museum.

The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest award for outstanding service to France, regardless of the social status or nationality of the recipients. It has five ranks: knights, officers, commanders, grand officers, and grand crosses.

Although information on French nationals who have been granted the Legion of Honor is easily available, the list of foreign awardees is difficult to find.

Alain Guillemoles, a correspondent for the French daily "La Croix," told RFE/RL that "it appears that the list of foreign people who receive this distinction is can only know [who receives it] if the person who receives it says so [publicly]."

Guillemoles said the awarding of the Legion of Honor is based on proposals from the French Foreign Ministry. He said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, who is imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking and other charges, are among the foreign recipients of the Legion of Honor.

Aliyeva, who also serves as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, was awarded the high-ranking Azerbaijani order of Heydar Aliyev in 2009.

As expected, Azerbaijan's state media has devoted plenty of press coverage to the award.

-- Anna Zamejc

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