Frank A. Verrastro

Senior Adviser with the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Speaking about President Heydar Aliyev, I first of all think about his role for Azerbaijan. In the early days of the independent republic, there was a serious economic and political crisis. It was under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev that Azerbaijan could emerge from the crisis. In addition to working closely with the US and Türkiye, President Aliyev has been able to get along with neighboring Russia and Iran.

The cooperation of leaders who came from Soviet leadership backgorund – Heydar Aliyev, Eduard Shevardnadze and Nursultan Nazarbayev – was very effective. In addition to knowing each other well, they knew what to do for the independence and economic development of their country. These factors have led Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan to move forward not only as separate states, but also as a group.

I remember well my first meeting with President Heydar Aliyev. I met him during one of his trips to New York. We were in a New York hotel for a conference. While I was standing at the entrance to the hotel, I saw Zuleikha Webber (Asadullayeva). Her eyes were full of tears. When I approached her and asked what happened, she said that she would soon have a meeting with President Heydar Aliyev, and she did not even have flowers to present to him. I quickly went, tied a bouquet of flowers and brought them to Mrs. Zuleikha. It was evident that she was excited before the meeting. We then entered the hotel’s banquet hall. President Heydar Aliyev welcomed the guests. He greeted Mrs. Zuleikha cordially. Mrs. Zuleikha told Heydar Aliyev about my little help. A little later, coming up to me, the President told he was pleased with my help. It made a big impression on me. I was very impressed by the fact that such a great person as Heydar Aliyev came up to me and thanked me for helping Mrs. Zuleikha.

When President Heydar Aliyev came to power in Azerbaijan, this event was met with alarm in the US. Considering that he is a former employee of the KGB, we expected an alliance with Russia. However, when we first met with President Aliyev at the Intourist Hotel in Baku, along with representatives of American companies and American diplomats, we began to think that this probably would not happen. We sensed President Heydar Aliyev would be the George Washington of Azerbaijan and would pursue an independent policy. The fact that he invited Western companies to the country at any cost meant not only an influx of investments but also the establishment of relations with the West.

The first 10 years of the existence of the Republic of Azerbaijan were years of self-affirmation for the country. In the early period, there was no stability and trust. But we should not forget that democracy is not built overnight. The line of development chosen by Heydar Aliyev will be passed on to future generations. The continuation of his work is important not only for Azerbaijan, but for the entire region.