A tale of two tyrants
By Pepe Escobar
BAKU - "So who pocketed the
In the end, it was up to bluish
video footage of the most scrutinized medical in
history. Disheveled hair, biblical beard, the most
wanted man on earth - apart from one similarly
biblically-bearded Saudi, Osama bin Laden - the "epitome
of evil" has finally been "smoked out" of his hole in
the ground, with someone presumably pocketing the
handsome reward money offered by the United States.
Meanwhile, in this Caucasian capital of
Azerbaijan by the Caspian sea, by a historical
coincidence, the images flooding the networks and the
Internet from Baghdad are interspersed with images of
Heydar Aliyev, the president and "father of the land", a
former Soviet apparatchick, who died in the
United States at the age of 80 on Friday.
whole country had started seven days of mourning when
suddenly attention was diverted from the Caucasus to
Mesopotamia. Baku is not that far away from Baghdad - or
from explosive Chechnya for that matter. Both Baku and
Baghdad sit on a wealth of oil. But the destinies of
their respective tyrants couldn't be further apart.
All television channels in Azerbaijan -
including Russian and Turkish - have been broadcasting
the same images since Saturday: an immense cortege
laying flowers and then paying their respects in front
of Alyev's coffin, sliding their right hand downwards
over their faces as a sign of grief. A multitude also
congregates in front of Alyev's formation, the New
Azerbaijan Party in downtown Baku, exchanging the latest
political gossip. In every street the national flag is
at half-mast. Even the tankers and ferry boats in Baku's
harbor are standing still.
The Azerbaijan hotel,
formerly the Intourist, is a Soviet monster on the
Caspian shoreline, complete with dreadful plumbing, mute
telephones, soiled carpets and perilous balconies with a
Caspian view. The hotel has been literally hijacked by
competing mafias, who have taken over whole floors and
rent their own rooms for a monochromatic cast of
characters - short, stocky, shady, smelling of bad
cologne - involved full time in drug, prostitution and
"protection" deals in the corridors and in the 4th-floor
cafe, with the complicity of the inevitable floor ladies
always ready to offer "a good madam".
characters are as skillful in business as Bechtel and
Halliburton executives are of those US companies. An
informal inquiry yields some very interesting results,
not least the key question posed by one of the
businessmen: "So who pocketed the $25 million?"
The businessmen at the Azerbaijan hotel all
mourn the death of Alyev - who as the patriarch of the
clan skillfully preserved order by ruling with an iron
fist. They are not sure about the political ability of
his son Ilham to promote a generational change, and at
the same time keep under control the competing interests
of diverse clans.
They also feel that something
of a shady deal might have played out in Tikrit - where
Saddam was found - which might surface much, much later
- with wily Saddam himself, a former darling of the
West, being able to buy out his life, unlike his slain
sons Uday and Qusay in Mosul in a hail of US gunfire.
The American military did not need the services of a
bunch of ragged Peshmerga paramilitaries to find
Saddam's hole near Tikrit. As Asia Times Online has
already reported, everybody in the Sunni triangle knew
or suspected that he had been holed up in the Tikrit
area for the past eight months, since the war "ended",
defying the Americans to find him.
state TV, in its wall-to-wall funereal mode, also makes
the point of including photos of Aliyev getting cosy
with George W Bush under a portrait of George
Washington. Alyev always played his cards very wisely.
He tirelessly courted the Americans, and was the main
instigator of the controversial Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
(BTC) pipeline, which will be the first, when it's ready
in 2005, to actually deliver Caspian oil to Western
markets, totally bypassing Russia and Iran.
Conveniently, his son Ilham, a fluent English speaker,
used to be an oil executive with the state oil company
SOCAR. When the elder Alyev - unlike his Georgian
neighbor Eduard Shevardnadze - read the writing on the
wall and saw that it was time to step down, he steered
the country to rigged elections in October which ensured
a dynastic succession - the first in the post-Soviet
sphere. The international community barely gave a peep.
If only Saddam had been so pliable.
international community also doesn't mind that Aliyev
failed to find a solution for the war with neighboring
Christian Armenia over Upper Karabakh, an Armenian
enclave in Azerbaijan. Almost a million Azerbaijanis
became refugees because of this war. There had been
insistent rumors that the elder Aliyev might end up
giving Upper Karabakh to the Armenians - something that
is anathema in Azerbaijan. Ilham Alyev in fact met
Armenian President Robert Kocharyan in Geneva only one
day before his father's death was officially announced.
Upper Karabakh still has the potential to end up being
Ilham's nemesis. But no one in the West cares - as long
as somebody is in charge to deliver the oil.
the 1980s Saddam himself was a great ally of
civilization as he was needed to keep revolutionary Iran
bogged down in an incredibly messy, bloody, costly war.
When Saddam gassed the Kurds, the Pentagon dismissed it
as "Iranian propaganda". It was only when Saddam went
after Kuwait's oil - and Kuwait had historically been a
province of Iraq anyway - that he became evil. In
another dynastic family saga, the obsession to get rid
of evil passed from Bush father to Bush son. But most of
all, former American agent Saddam committed an
unforgivable sin: he decided to sell Iraqi oil not in
dollars, but in euros.
So amid all the
jubilation emanating from the White House and the
Pentagon - after all, they finally shot the missing
scene from the screenplay - this is the message to
tyrants the world over, from the military junta in
Myanmar to Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov. The elder Alyev
understood it very well - so he will officially go down
in history as "a great statesman" and "an ally of the
West". You may be neo-Maoist or post-Soviet, you may
exterminate vast swathes of your own population, you may
be democratically sitting to the right side of Genghis
Khan. But if you have oil, you'd better not even think
of selling it in euros, or crossing in any way the will
of the "Masters of the Universe".
question still remains: "So who pocketed the $25
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