This is the mastermind, Ilham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev has escalated the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Who is the Azerbaijani ruler who has even bribed German politicians for years?

Ilham Aliyev looks grimly into the camera, raises his fist twice, and in his beige combat uniform, the President of Azerbaijan addresses his online audience: “If there is any provocation, statement or action against us, we will put it down.” The warning applies to neighboring Armenia.

Things had been simmering in Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus for months – now Azerbaijan launched a military operation there on Tuesday morning to conquer the conflict region. Several people have already died and around 200 others have been injured. Read more about the current developments here.

The initiator of the attack: Aliyev. Who is the man and what is he up to?

Aliyev has been President of Azerbaijan since 2003. He succeeded his father Heidar Aliyev, who had ruled the country since 1993. At the time, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed doubts about the legality of the election, saying it was marked by “irregularities” and “fell short of international requirements.”

There are always irregularities in elections

In 2005, Aliyev said an attempted coup had been prevented. Several politicians were arrested and convicted. A report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) said: “The dominant opinion in the opposition at the time was that Ilham Aliyev was incapable of governing the country. Some even viewed him as a transitional figure who would ensure a successful transfer of power to… other member of the power elite. However, Aliyev turned out to be a much smarter politician than his opponents assumed.”

Aliyev was confirmed in office in 2008, 2013 and 2018 – each time with a vote of more than 80 percent. The OSCE repeatedly denounced irregularities in the elections, and the opposition spoke of electoral fraud in every election.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) awarded Aliyev the infamous title of “Most Corrupt Man of the Year” in 2012. The reason: His family is said to have taken over large shares of Azerbaijan’s most lucrative industries, including banks, construction companies and telephone companies. In addition, Aliyev’s 11-year-old son is said to have had nine beach houses in Dubai worth $44 million signed over within two weeks in 2009. Lawyers saw further evidence of corruption in the Panama Papers: documents revealed that Aliyev’s family is involved in almost all economic areas of the country.

Bribery of European MPs

In terms of foreign policy, Aliyev is primarily interested in good relations with Russia, Turkey, Georgia and Iran – even though Vladimir Putin’s Russia is actually Armenia’s protecting power. But the EU states are also obviously in Aliyev’s focus: as early as 2012, it became clear that the Azerbaijani president had been bribing European members of parliament for years, including in the Bundestag, in order to polish up his country’s image. Among other things, politicians should prevent critical resolutions.

The European Stability Initiative (ESI) think tank uncovered the corruption at the time. One of the ESI co-founders, Gerald Knaus, explained in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ): “Parliamentarians from all over Europe received jewelry, vacation trips and money, and election observers also received tens of thousands of euros for positive statements about Azerbaijan.” The regime bought votes in the Council of Europe. The ESI called the system “caviar diplomacy.”

“Azerbaijan affair”

In Germany, Aliyev became more famous in 2021 at the latest in the wake of the “Azerbaijan affair”. Research by the news portal “Vice” revealed that Union politicians in particular are far more committed to Aliyev’s autocratic regime than expected. Here, too, it was about lobbying, influence peddling and allegations of corruption. For example, CDU member Axel Fischer was suspected of receiving money from Azerbaijan in return for political influence. The process is apparently still ongoing.