The leader of Azerbaijan's small Muasir (Modern) Musavat party, Khafiz Gadjiyev, has accused
Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) Chairman Ali Kerimli of administering poison to former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey prior to the latter's death from prostate cancer 12 years ago. The Azerbajani Prosecutor General's office has opened an investigation into the "attempted murder," according to the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat."
Kerimli has dismissed that accusation as "a disgusting lie."
Other opposition politicians have suggested it was intended to compromise Kerimli, or even make it impossible for him to participate in the presidential election due in October 2013. Members of Elchibey's family have called for an end to "speculation" about the circumstances of his death.
Elchibey was an oriental scholar and Soviet-era dissident who spent 18 months in a labor camp in the mid-1970s, and rose to prominence 15 years later as chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front. He was elected president in June 1992 on a wave of nationalist euphoria, but ousted in a coup one year later and fled from Baku to his home village of Keleki in Nakhichevan.
Elchibey's successor as president, Heidar Aliyev, extended permission
in October 1997 for him to return to Baku, where he resumed his political activities.
A militant advocate of close, even federal ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Elchibey met with leading Turkish politicians during a private visit to Ankara in March 2000, during which he also underwent medical treatment for what were described as the after-effects of a bout of viral influenza. He was hospitalized in Turkey in early July, reportedly with kidney problems, and died in Ankara on August 22 at the age of 62. His party colleagues admitted he was suffering from cancer only weeks before his death.
Gadjiyev says that Elchibey told him he had been poisoned by "Komsomol," which was Kerimli's nickname, but he did not disclose when that conversation took place. He said Kerimli and Elchibey's aide Ali Mursal oglu drove Elchibey to a dacha where the poison was administered, but again, Gadjiyev did not specify when. Gadjiyev named six people who he claimed were aware of what had happened, including Elchibey's driver Khalil, "Mr. Gudrat," and "Mr. Fazil." The latter two may be United Popular Front Party Chairman Gudrat Gasanquliyev and Great Creation Party leader Fazil Gazanfaroglu.
Both those parties, like Gadjiyev's Modern Musavat which he founded in early 2001, are nominally part of the opposition, but widely regarded as sponsored by the authorities to create the impression of political pluralism. Both Gazanfaroglu and Gasanquliyev are members of the parliament elected in November 2010 in which neither Kerimi's AHCP nor the Musavat party headed by Isa Qambar won a single seat .
Gadjiyev was one of the six candidates who ran against incumbent Ilham Aliyev (Heidar's son) in the 2008 presidential election, finishing last with 0.65 percent of the vote. Gasanquliyev, also a candidate, placed fourth with 2.28 percent.
Gadjiyev has not explained why he remained silent for 12 years before incriminating Kerimli in Elchibey's death.
In the summer of 2000, Kerimli was first deputy chairman of the AHCP, which was already on the verge of splitting into a conservative ("romantic populist") faction led by Elchibey and including Gazanfaroglu, and a more liberal ("rational pragmatist") faction headed by Kerimli.
Assim Molla-zade, who like Kerimli began his political career as an AHCP member but subsequently left that party to create his own Democratic Reforms Party
in 2005, told the weekly "Zerkalo" in mid-January 2001 that it was thanks to Kerimli's efforts that the AHCP evolved after Elchibey's ouster into one of the country's most effective opposition forces.
Kerimli and Musavat chairman Qambar are currently regarded as the only serious challengers
to incumbent Ilham Aliyev in next year's presidential ballot.