Azerbaijan's independence led to murder in Baghdad

Mon 17 Oct 2011 09:29 GMT | 13:29 Local Time

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The Soviet embassy is thought to have been behind the murder of two Azerbaijanis in Baghdad, shortly after Azerbaijan declared its independence.

Azerbaijan officially became an independent country when its Supreme Council adopted the Constitutional Act on State Independence on 18 October 1991.

At that time, two Azerbaijani diplomats at the Soviet embassy in Baghdad tried to set up an Azerbaijani embassy.

They were to pay a very high prices for their efforts - the loss of a wife and daughter, respectively. 

The bereaved Khalig Rzayev was told by Iraq's interior minister that the murders had been ordered by the Russian side and committed by an Armenian member of the embassy staff.

A former secretary of the Soviet ambassador to Iraq, Dr Khalig Rzayev, recalls the tragic events in an interview with News.Az.

You chose to study Arabic when you were still young and learned it from well-known Soviet and Azerbaijani specialists. What was the reason for your choice?

I started to learn Arabic when I was still in secondary school № 130. Then I enrolled at the Oriental Studies Department at Azerbaijan State University, where famous orientalist Alasgar Mammadov was my teacher. After graduation and military service in the Soviet Army in 1971-73, I worked as a military translator in Syria, and then wrote a thesis on "The subject-semantic classification of samples of Syrian and Persian folklore with their equivalents in the Azerbaijani language" which contained proverbs with a similar meaning in all three nations.

In 1975, I was employed at the consular council of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR. The same year the Consulate General of Iraq in the Azerbaijan SSR opened in Baku, where I was sent to work as a translator. I worked there until 1980.

In 1983, I was invited by the USSR Foreign Ministry to work as attache at the Soviet embassy in South Yemen. In 1987, I returned to Azerbaijan and continued to work in the same job in the protocol unit of the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Later, in 1990, I was appointed second secretary of the Soviet embassy in Iraq, where the tragic events that changed my life took place.

It was a difficult period as the Soviet Union was collapsing and anarchy prevailed not only in the country, but also in all state institutions, including foreign embassies of the crumbling Union. What happened to you in Iraq?

By mid-1991, it was already clear to all of us that the Soviet Union was falling apart. Various processes, in particular, a division of diplomatic powers took place. We were also going to create a diplomatic mission of Azerbaijan in Iraq, but faced strong opposition from our Russian colleagues. We faced all sorts of opposition. We faced stronger pressure especially after Azerbaijan gained its independence. Tariyel Hasanov, who later worked as a translator for Heydar Aliyev, and I faced great difficulties in Baghdad. My wife and I and Tariyel and his daughter Nihal lived in neighbouring houses in Baghdad. In late July 1992, we decided to celebrate my wife Irada's birthday. She went to Nihal’s house, located a few blocks away from us, to prepare the birthday meal.

Having intuition that something bad would happen, I did not want to let my wife go. But since Tariyel and I were at work at that time, I had to give in to her wish. I later went to Tariyel’s house, but no one opened the door although I knocked a lot. I walked between my house and Tariyel’s house in confusion a few times but could find neither my wife nor Tariyel’s daughter. Tariyel came a while later. He had had to see off guests after talks and gave me the keys to his apartment. I climbed upstairs, opened the door to witness a terrible scene.

My wife was lying with a shot to her head in the hallway while I found Tariyel’s daughter in the bedroom upstairs, where she apparently ran, trying to escape. Nihal was lying between the nightstand and the bed with a pistol shot to her head. I ran down in shock and called Tariyel. He and his guests, who included Iraqi military and government officials, went up and saw this horrible scene. There had also been a robbery and jewellery had been taken. It emerged later that the robbery had been staged to hide the fact that the murder was a contract killing.

Was it possible to identify the sponsors and perpetrators of this crime which was apparently committed by professional killers?

An investigation involving secret services, the military and law enforcement agencies of Iraq was launched. A few days later, the interior minister of Iraq arranged a meeting to tell me that the murder had been entirely ordered by the Russian side and committed by an Armenian.

And who was that Armenian, and how he could enter the house to commit murder?

He had been sent by the Soviet embassy to work as a guard in Tariyel’s house. He had the keys and free access to Tariyel’s house. Iraq's interior minister told me that the Armenian man had been arrested but the Russian side put a lot of pressure on them to release "our man". At the same time, embassy officials were irritated that such problems occur "because of some Azerbaijanis who have broken away from us" and the Iraqi side is interfering in these processes.

And what was the surname of this Armenian?

All these data and investigative materials are stored in Azerbaijan, but I do not have access to them. The interior minister told me that the Armenian was allegedly whisked away to the Soviet Union. He must have been lost by that time. I noticed that after all this the representatives of the Russian embassy were watching me. They also tried to avoid meeting me, knowing their involvement in the murder.

What did you do after this terrible tragedy?

Tariyel and I were supposed both to take the bodies of our relatives home for burial and to seek help in investigating this crime. In fact, we, Azerbaijani diplomats, were the first victims of Armenian terrorism and conspiracy following the independence of Azerbaijan. There was an openly hostile attitude toward us and Azerbaijan, and we had the right to demand punishment for those who killed our loved ones as these forces achieved their goal by doing this - delayed the opening of the embassy of Azerbaijan in Iraq at the cost of the blood of our loved ones.

And how could you take the dead bodies to Azerbaijan amid this turmoil?

We decided not to fly through Moscow, as the Union had already shown its "love" for Azerbaijani diplomats. The Russian press released misinformation at that time that the bodies had been taken to Moscow. In fact, we were able to cross the border of Iraq to Iran by car. The Iranian authorities provided us with special vehicles and a guard to transport the bodies. They drove us up to Astara on the border with Azerbaijan. Thanks to the Iranian side, everything was done promptly and at no cost.

What help did you have in investigating this crime?

Once we had our loved ones buried, we appealed to the authorities of Azerbaijan, in particular to Isa Gambar, who had influence in the authorities at that time. We explained that we were Azerbaijani diplomats, whose rights should be protected by the state. Gambar told us that he would send prosecutors and KGB officers from Azerbaijan to Iraq to clarify the circumstances and investigate the incident.

Upon the return of the investigative group from Iraq, I was summoned to the KGB where I was told that the investigation materials, photos and other evidence had been brought to Azerbaijan, but allegedly there still was no response from Moscow.

So, the murderers of innocent members of the families of Azerbaijani diplomats in Iraq have not been punished yet. So, this killing has remained unsolved for already 20 years?

Yes, the investigation has not ended yet because then all traces disappeared in the disintegrating Soviet Union and the then special services of Azerbaijan did not dare to deal with this case. After all these events, I continued my work in the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry as head of the Department for Relations with the CIS, where I worked till 1995.

If I am not mistaken, you were later involved in academic work and published a unique book in three languages?

All the stress, the tragic events in Iraq, had a bad effect on my health and the left part of my body was paralysed. However, despite this I wrote four books on Arabic oral folklore, proverbs and their analysis.

Then I published a 700-page book Azerbaijani Proverbs, or rather the first volume, which contained a huge number of Arabic, Azerbaijani proverbs and their analysis in three languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani and Russian. The first volume was sponsored by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Azerbaijan. Now I am looking for a sponsor to help publish the second volume. I hope that the Azerbaijani side will pay attention and fund the publication of this fundamental study.

Copies of the first volume are stored in many famous libraries and private collections in Azerbaijan and abroad.




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