The Cult of Ata-azeri

by Nathan Hamm on 6/6/2005 · 1 comment

Financial Times reports that Azerbaijan’s government is stealing a page from Turkey an promoting a cult of personality around Heydar Aliyev.

Between a supermarket and a hardwarestore on a busy street close to the centre of Baku, a poster high on an advertising hoarding provides a glimpse of what the emerging hub of the Caspian Sea oil industry might yet become: a country built in the image of one man.

The poster displays portraits of Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s late president and, in the words of his son, “founder of an independent Azeri state”, and of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who really did create the republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Now, I have no clue whatsoever how strong the drive to enshrine Heydar at the center of the Azeri national myth is. Also, I don’t find it too terrible for a country to have such figures–I would hope they would have ones much more admirable and remarkable–but I do find public worship so soon after the man’s death a bit troubling.

So, who knows. Interesting story, but it could be overblown. The following is a spectacularly silly paragraph.

That the supermarket is Turkish-owned is not coincidental. The juxtaposition of these two men is no accident either. Azerbaijan and Turkey are bonded by ethnicity, language, religion and culture. Both countries emerged from empires – Azerbaijan from the Soviet Union, Turkey from its Ottoman imperial past.

Okay… I guess. The languages are closely related, but not quite the same. Every Azeri I’ve ever met identifies him or herself as ethnically Azeri. Turks are Sunni and Azeris are not. And the position of each inside of the empires from which it emerged are quite different. But, ya, almost the same country in a different setting.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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