A Monument to Former President of Azerbaijan Now Source of Conflict in Mexico City


This may be the second time a monument to the fomer president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliev, is heading towards removal.

It happened first in September, when the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada dismantled its statue of Aliyev. Now, the mayor's office in Mexico City has ruled in favor of removing Aliyev’s monument from Reforma Avenue in the capital of Mexico. The reason: Mexican human rights activists and intelligentsia are incensed that a KGB general and dictator’s sculpture should reside next to the monuments of such luminaries as Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

Daniel Gershenson, who formed an informal group fighting for removal of the dictator’s monument, said in interview to PolicyMic:

“This has become a hot issue in Mexico. We want the monument to be moved now. Not in six months or a year, but now. The outgoing mayor of Mexico City will leave his post on December 1st and a new mayor will take the office. However, we will continue pushing the issue.”

A Communist leader, Aliyev, ruled the Soviet Azerbaijan between 1969-1982 and later became a nationalist (i.e., an anti-communist) leader of the independent Azerbaijani republic in the early 1990's. Prior to his passing in December 2003, in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, he appointed Ilham Aliyev, his son, as the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. There was a short period of time during which father and son occupied two of the three highest positions in the republic, transforming the statehood into what some might see as a “family owned business.”

Later on, Ilham Aliyev moved into the presidential office himself and initiated the cult of Heydar Aliyev, which involved erecting monuments to his father not only inside Azerbaijan but also outside. There are at least 41 towns in Azerbaijan where Aliyev’s sculptures can be seen. The country’s capital, Baku, has about five of those.

According to Azeri scholar Zardusht Alizadeh, "Aliev was the last representative of the political heritage of Stalin and Beria” (Beria was the chief of Stalin’s NKVD political police). Interestingly, Heydar Aliyev worked under Beria’s rule in NKVD for about five years in the 1940's.

Heydar Aliyev’s monument in the heart of Mexico City, which on the lower end has cost $5.5 million, was “generously” donated by oil-rich Azerbaijan and contains another underlying message: the huge map made out of marble behind Aliyev’s sculpture shows Nagorno Karabakh as part of modern Azerbaijan. This territory was never part of independent Azerbaijan and was granted to Soviet Azerbaijan upon Stalin’s dictatorial pressure in 1921. In 1991, during the demise of the USSR, Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh held a referendum pursuant to the rights granted to them under the Soviet Constitution and declared their independence. The de-facto independence of Karabakh has not been recognized by any foreign country. Two U.S. states (Rhode Island and Massachusetts) and Australia’s New South Welt state recently announced their decision to support Nagorno Karabakh’s independence.

“It’s a mistake, and we should have evaluated that this could be problematic,” the outgoing mayor Marcelo Ebrard said about erecting the autocrat’s monument, according to The New York Times.

The actions of Mexico City's mayor's office have angered Azerbaijan so much that the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Mexico has declared that if the monument is removed, Azerbaijan will cancel $4 billion worth of investments in Mexico and close its embassy.

Still, there are dozens of monuments to Heydar Aliyev spread throughout Eastern Europe and some Asian countries: Serbia, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, etc. The Estonian government rejected a similar proposal. So did Moscow’s city hall, resulting in the monument being erected in a provincial town.

Fareed Zakaria, a prominent political scholar sarcastically referred to this situation on CNN. He said, "Be careful, maybe another monument is coming to the park next to you."