Ibragim Musayev says he fell foul of his superiors after learning from a colleague of a clandestine shipment of weapons from Baku via the Naxcivan airport to Turkey's banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). That colleague was arrested and subsequently died in custody.
In a long interview with the news portal Kavkaz-Uzel.ru, Musayev describes his recruitment by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry and how he ran a network of agents who supplied information on developments in the northwestern regions of Iran.
He also recalls how an airport technician, Turac Zeynalov, told him about a consignment of arms transported by air from Baku to Naxcivan and destined for the PKK, which was then still mired in a decades-old armed conflict with Azerbaijan's strategic partner, Turkey. Zeynalov said he had seen in a car placed at his disposal by the drunken army officer accompanying the arms shipment papers, which he scanned, detailing the type and quantity of weaponry and the intended recipient. The involvement of the military tends to substantiate Zeynalov's stated conviction that such shipments could only have taken place with the connivance of senior officials in Baku.
Zeynalov gave Musayev copies of those papers on August 2, 2011; on August 24, he was arrested and charged with espionage. He died under mysterious circumstances in custody just days later; the official cause of death was given as skin cancer but his family says he was tortured and beaten by authorities.
Musayev was then tasked with seducing Zeynalov's widow, which he admits to having done. National Security Ministry personnel photographed her naked in bed with him and then blackmailed her into abandoning her protests over her husband's death. Sickened by the demands made on him, Musayev left Azerbaijan for Russia in September 2012 and in early January 2013 formally requested refugee status there. By that time Azerbaijan had already issued an international warrant for his arrest, which took place one month later.
Long, Complicated Baku-PKK History
The documentary evidence Musayev claims to have obtained from Zeynalov of Azerbaijani government involvement in supplying weaponry to the PKK serves yet again to highlight Azerbaijan's seemingly ambivalent relationship with that organization.
Unsubstantiated allegations of links between the Azerbaijani leadership and the PKK, and/or of the presence of PKK members or even training camps on Azerbaijani territory, appeared regularly in the Azerbaijani opposition press in the early 2000s. Among the officials named in this connection were senior members of the Sumgait municipal council and Baylar Eyyubov, who headed then-President Heydar Aliyev's personal security service and is said to be of Kurdish origin.
In June 2002, the National Security Ministry finally issued an official statement denying that there was a PKK presence in Azerbaijan. But at the same time that statement revealed that no less than 33 members of the PKK had been apprehended on Azerbaijani territory in the previous few years.
Visiting Baku in early 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, expressed concern that PKK members were operating in Azerbaijan under the guise of cultural programs. Mamed Aliyev, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Turkey, immediately denied that the PKK operated on Azerbaijani territory.
Opposition parliament deputies have demanded on at least three occasions since 2002 that the parliament formally designate the PKK a terrorist organization, but the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party consistently blocked a debate on the issue. The most recent effort, in December 2009, was spearheaded by Camil Hasanli, who was selected last month by the opposition National Council of Democratic Forces as its reserve candidate for the October 9 presidential election. On that occasion, parliament speaker Oktay Asadov responded that once the Turkish parliament declares the PKK a terrorist organization, Azerbaijan will follow suit.
In the context of the purported shipments of weaponry to the PKK via Naxcivan, Musayev notes that many Kurds occupy senior government posts in that autonomous republic or own banks, construction companies, and hotels there. He points out that the chairman of the republic's parliament, Vasif Talybov, is himself a Kurd. In late 1947, then-Communist Party of Azerbaijan First Secretary Djafar Bagirov proposed establishing a Kurdish autonomous region in the north of the then-Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to replace the Kurdish autonomous region that existed in Lachin from 1922 to 1931.
Finally, it should be noted that some Azerbaijani politicians have publicly suggested that Heydar Aliyev was a Kurd. That belief was based partly on his physical appearance, and partly on newspaper reports identifying his elder brother Hasan as the first Kurd in Soviet Azerbaijan to embark on postgraduate study and defend his dissertation.
At the same time, as Thomas de Waal noted in his obituary of the late president, Heydar Aliyev was also said to have been instrumental as a young KGB officer in creating the PKK, presumably with the intention of undermining stability in NATO-member Turkey.
Prominent members of Azerbaijan's Kurdish minority, according to a Moscow blogger quoted by veteran analyst Paul Goble, include the mayor of Baku and the head of the state oil company SOCAR. That blogger estimated the number of Kurds in Azerbaijan at 150,000, compared with the official figure of 70,000. Which figure is closer to the truth is impossible to say, given that the Kurds have not been listed as a separate ethnic group in Azerbaijan since the 1959 Soviet census.