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Piling On A Personality Cult: The New Heydar Aliyev Film Trilogy

Portraits of the late President Heydar Aliyev and his son, current President Ilham Aliyev, are a common sight in Azerbaijan.
You arrive at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, you drive down Heydar Aliyev avenue, and all the while billboards of the late national leader stare down at you.

Then you arrive in front of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, which reportedly cost $250 million and was erected to coincide with Aliyev’s 89th birthday. You now have the option of visiting any of the 50 museums filled with artifacts -- including, but not limited to, a pair of scissors and a tray Aliyev once used in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The latest attraction, coming to the big screen in May 2013, is the first installment of a celluloid trilogy immortalizing the self-styled father of the nation. Move over Nursultan Nazarbaev, there's a new biopic trilogy coming from the other side of the Caspian Sea.

The first movie in the Azerbaijani trilogy, “The Most Simple Name,” is slated for release in time for the anniversary of the late leader’s 90th birthday. Aliyev may have the most common name in Azerbaijan, but the former KGB member is certainly not representative of the common man, as his well established cult of personality suggests.

The trilogy, based on two books by former journalist and current member of Azerbaijan’s Parliament Elmira Akhundova -- “Heydar Aliyev” and “Personality & Epoch” -- is currently in production in Naxcivan, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Riga.

The first installment is also touted as having an “international” crew of filmmakers from Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia, with Russian actor Aleksander Nikitin, set to portray the young Heydar Aliyev on the film screen.

Heydar Aliyev (right) signed a decree on August 4, appointing Ilham Aliyev (left) as prime minister of Azerbaijan, several months before he passed away.
Heydar Aliyev (right) signed a decree on August 4, appointing Ilham Aliyev (left) as prime minister of Azerbaijan, several months before he passed away.
The film will cover his life from 1923, the year he was born, until the year 1969 when he was elected first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Aliyev’s political career took a turn for the worse when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev dismissed him from his post in 1987 as part of the perestroika reform movement.

After retreating to his home, Azerbaijan's autonomous area of Naxcivan, to build up his strength, he became involved in local politics and served as leader of the region’s parliament. His success in maintaining order in Naxcivan, allowed for his smooth transition to national politics in 1993, as the third president of Azerbaijan.

Heydar Aliyev’s 10-year presidency is marked by his role in expanding the country’s lucrative oil industry, and presiding over the worst bloodshed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

Heydar Aliyev is also well known for his generosity to Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, who on his visit to Azerbaijan in 1982 received quite the welcome. Aliyev ordered for a palace to be built especially for Brezhnev, which after the leader’s two-day visit was closed.

In 2011, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported on the increasing number of Heydar Aliyev museums and the lack of public interest in them. Aliyev’s cult of personality has permeated Azerbaijan’s national conscience with state-run television channels, billboards, museums, and public spaces running either Heydar’s image or his name.

His son and successor, Ilham Aliyev, has been running the country with a firm hand since taking over in 2003, feeding off his father’s state-sponsored cult of personality.

-- Deana Kjuka

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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