AZERBAIJAN: President Aliyev compared unfavorably to hot-headed mobster in WikiLeaks cable


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Azerbaijani President Iham Aliyev awoke Friday to the diplomatic equivalent of a severed horse head in his bed.

According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Baku has been comparing the president, rather unflatteringly, to Sonny Corleone, the most impulsive and thin-skinned of Don Vito Corleone’s sons in the hit novel and film trilogy, ‘The Godfather.’


In a secret cable entitled “President Ilham Aliyev – Michael (Corleone) on the outside, Sonny on the inside,” sent in September 2009, U.S. diplomats describe the Azerbaijan president as similar to Michael Corleone -– which is to say, “cool-headed” and “realistic” –- when dealing with foreign partners, but similar to Sonny Corleone –- which translates to “harsh,” over-reactive, and “increasingly authoritarian” -– when dealing with domestic issues.

The ‘Godfather’ analogy in the diplomatic world is based on a short book, “The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable,” by John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell, which uses the three fictional Corleone sons’ characteristics as a metaphor for different strategies of leadership: Michael is level-headed, Tom Hagan is conciliatory, and Sonny is brash, violent and prone to overreaction.

Drawing on this analogy, U.S. diplomats say there is a clear “divergence in approaches” between President Aliyev’s domestic policies and those of his father, the former Azeri President Heyder Aliyev (who maintains a pervasive omnipresence in Azerbaijan, making him the clear ‘Godfather’ figure).

While the cable compliments Ilham Aliyev’s Michael-like foreign policy, they paint his domestic, Sonny-like persona as insecure at best, and repressive, draconian and brutal at its worst.

This is hardly news to anyone who’s been following Azerbaijani politics for the last couple years. The cable references perhaps the most gratuitous public instance of Aliyev’s authoritarian streak: his decision to imprison two young men, one of whom posted a farcical video of himself dressed in a donkey suit and making fun of the lack of civil liberties in Azerbaijan. The two men, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, were jailed for 18 months and released just last week.

The cable also references Aliyev’s increasing sensitivity to any domestic challenge to his authority, particularly political opposition figures, who are “strong-armed” or “eliminated,” the cable says. “As Aliyev perceives a challenge to his authority or affronts to his family dignity, even minor ones, he and his inner circle are apt to react (or overreact), much to the detriment of the country’s democratic development and movement toward Western alliances…,” the cable says. That paragraph ends with a chilling quote from Michael Corleone from ‘The Godfather II’: ‘I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out. Just my enemies.’

Expanding the ‘Godfather’ analogy, the cable concludes by comparing the government of Azerbaijan to the Corleone mafia family: “Because of family connections, dynastic succession, the strong arming of the opposition and the creation of an elaborate patronage/protection network, the Aliyev Administration has developed an ‘organized crime’ image in some quarters, leading some analysts to see Ilham Aliyev at times in a mafia-like role.”

So what’s the upshot? Aliyev’s embodiment of both Michael and Sonny’s forms of authority “complicates” the U.S.’s relationship with Baku, the cable says, by “framing what should be a strategically valuable relationship as a choice between U.S. interests and U.S. values.”

-- Haley Sweetland Edwards in Tblisi, Georgia