“North Korea of Azerbaijan”
Vasif Talibov has been ruling Nakhchivan with an iron fist for more than 26 years. During his rule, government critics were arrested, beaten and tortured. Dissidents were forcibly hospitalized in psychological hospitals. Talibov also used power to silence independent media: journalists and activists who dared to criticized his government were harassed, arrested, and forced to move to other countries.
How was Vasif Talibov rise to power?
Vasif Talibov ascension to power was through his marriage to Sevil Sultanova. Sultanova’s mother’s uncle was a high-ranking Soviet official, Heydar Aliyev, who became President of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003.
On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Aliyev returned to Nakhchivan from Moscow. With no other place to stay, he temporarily stayed in Talibov’s two-bedroom apartment.
He thanked Talibov for his kindness the following year: after being elected chairman of the Nakhchivan parliament, Aliyev hired Talibov, then about 30 years old, as his main assistant.
Heydar Aliyev mentioned in an interview that, although he had second thoughts regarding Talibov’s suitability to the position due to his young age and inexperience, he soon proved to be a person loyal to his homeland, nation and people.
Authoritarian rule in Nakhchivan
On the occasion of Talibov’s 60th birthday, the local news agency Nuhchikhan described Talibov as “a great patriot, determined, courageous and humanist” and also “extremely humble”.
In the international arena, the headlines are a bit different and more information is shared about the harsh and strict rules dictated by the Talibov government: locals are told to read Hemingway’s works or are forbid to hanging clothes from balconies, government officials are not allowed to wear patterned tights, and so on.
These rules have given Nakhchivan several nicknames: opposition activists call Nakhchivan “Azerbaijan’s North Korea”, while international organizations call it “Azerbaijan’s Black Island“.
Under the spotlight of corruption investigations
Vasif Talibov’s annual salary is officially less than USD$ 26,000. His sons work in low-paid government jobs – Rza is an official of the migration service, and Seymour is a member of the Nakhchivan parliament.
However, new leaked documents show that by opening various accounts in foreign banks, brothers Rza and Seymur Talibov earned more than USD$20 million through dubious money transfers at a time when the people of Nakhchivan were suffering under the authoritarian rule of their father.
Millions of dollars obtained by Talibov’s sons were traced by the OCCRP to detect large amounts of dirty money schemes – the “Azerbaijan” and “Troika” Landromats scandals. Previous research shows that the Azerbaijani elite, including President Ilham Aliyev’s cousin, has also benefited from this mechanism.
Bank accounts in the family’s name have been opened in the largest financial institutions in various countries, including Emirates NBD, Barclays and Credit Suisse. The agencies either denied the allegations or said they could not provide information about individual customers.
In 2008, Rza, together with other members of the Talibov family and several businessmen, founded a bank. Four years later, Rza bought two neighboring buildings in Batumi, Georgia’s resort town. He later turned these buildings into a five-star hotel. Along with Rza and Seymur Talibov, their sister Baharkhanim Talibova also received about USD$ 1 million . After that, the family bought a number of properties in Dubai, as well as a luxury villa, a 12-storey hotel and private apartments. In total, the value of their property is estimated at USD$ 63 million.
Indirect earnings and discreet behavior
Talibov’s repression in Nakhchivan is not just merly a political issue. In Nakhchivan, the family is believed to dominate the local economy, and experts say they have restricted imports, driven competitors out of business, and even forced residents to work in the harvest.
According to an emigrant from Nakhchivan, many products in the region are sold under the well-known family brand Gamigaya Holding. Gamigaya Holding has also participated in the construction or repair of dozens of public facilities in Nakhchivan, including ministry buildings, hospitals, universities and a mosque.
None of these extravagant properties are on the brothers’ social media accounts. Unlike the children of some authoritarian leaders, Seymour and Rza are reluctant to share their wealth on social media, instead writing about their love for their country, their father’s success and their loyalty to President Aliyev.