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The League of Extraordinary Men: Leaders of the Caspian Sea littoral states

By Bahman Aghai Diba


Look at the countries around the Caspian Sea: Iran, The Russian Federation, Azerbaijan Republic, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, they are all run by persons who do not believe in democracy.  The regimes of these countries have a common sickness with symptoms like dictatorship, corruption, suppression, and violation of human rights.  Perhaps something is wrong in the soil or the mind of people of the region that produces despots and dictators?


Sayed Ali Khamenei


In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei is supposed to be the spiritual leader, but actually he runs everything from the army, disciplinary forces, judiciary, executive branch, domestic policy, foreign policy, publications, radio and television, and down to the way people dress or drink.  He has all the powers and no responsibility.  Just like an ancient King or Shah.  Even the widespread authorities that the Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided (having only Imam Khomeini in mind) are not enough to define his role.  He is a usually called the "Supreme Leader".


In fact, this is a wrong translation of his position.  He is "Vali-e-Faghieh".  It means that he the guardian of people.  It means that people lack the capacity to administer their own affairs as mature persons, and the Supreme Guardian is in charge of leading them (presumably by inspirations from God) as a guardian does to the manors or insane persons.  If you look from this point of view, all political developments of Iran in the last several years are clearly explained and they do not seem strange.


How did he become the leader?  Did the people vote for him?  Did he make a coup or lead a revolution? 


I tell you how:  Following the death of Khomeini, a group of Mullahs "Called Council of Experts" decided to make him the leader while there were many other persons more experienced and religiously in higher ranks.  He did not have even the rank of Ayatollah or a book for the taqleed (imitation) for his followers.  All of these were ignored for the political expediency of the ruling regime administered by "The Hayate Motalefeh" (the Allied Islamic Group).  In order to pave the way for such undemocratic process, the Constitution was amended.  He is now the leader of all undemocratic and discriminatory and anti-human rights forces Iran. 


During the last 8 years he has led the country in a way to reject all reforms by the reformists and now, he is taking back the places like Majles (parliament), which were only nominally controlled by the reformists.  He is not accountable to anyone, including the people.   The institutions under his direct control act, and spend the wealth of Iran in any way that they wish (including assistance to the Islamic groups outside the country, while many parts of Iran lack the bare necessities) without being accountable to even to superficial institutions like the Iranian parliament.


Saparmurat Niazov


In Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niazov, is the permanent president.  Although this institution (Permanent presidency) is not his invention, but he has succeeded to add generously to the definition of the term that does exist in the political dictionary.  Since the demise of the USSR in 1991, Niazov has been ruling this country.  He appointed himself as the permanent president in 1999.  His "Presidency" is more like the government of old tribal kings.  He decides about everything as he wishes.  He is also an unpredictable person with quick decisions.


People in the capital of Turkmenistan, Asghabat (apparently it is in fact Ashkabad and related to the old Iranian Ashkanian origins, and not Asghabat which means "City of Love"), do not know the situation of their houses, because every time, Saparmurat passes the streets, he gives directions to destroy a part of the city and build something in its place.  He has given so many strange orders in the last few years that the collection of them looks like a book of black comedy.


Look at these: He has named himself the "Father of Turkaman" or "Turkamanbashi".  According to the state laws, whoever creates doubts about his policies, will go to prison.  Saparmurat, who uses a hairpiece to look like Elvis Priestly, has explained this action as a favor to the people who can see their leader in a better appearance.


Saparmurat has written a book called "Rahnama" (the Guide), which is more like Moamar Qadafi's Green Book (in Libya) rather than Mao's Red book (in China).  He has defined all characteristics of good and bad people in his book, which is a part of the curriculum in all high schools and universities.  Like situations in many countries, including Iran, getting higher marks in this item is more important than all sciences.


Saparmurat suffers from heart problems.  For the same reason, he has established one of the most advanced heart hospitals of the world, with the German technology and staff, in Turkmenistan.  The Heart hospital is out of access for the people.  Like many other facilities, it is situated near the center of Niazov's palaces in the Firoozeh Village (a disputed border village between Iran and the USSR, which was given very silently to Niazov by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the present political loser and head of the expediency Council in Iran, when he was president of Iran, as token of friendship between similar regimes). 


The permanent president has named the months of the year after his mother, and his friends.  Recently, he made the so-called parliament, to name the New Year after his father.  In fact his father, Atamurat died in the Second World War.  His mother was not in a position to raise him and he grew up in the public institutions of the Russia for orphans.


He has ordered that men should shave.  People are not allowed to listen to radio in the car or go to ballet performances.  According to the reports of the international organizations, he is the head of one of the most authoritarian governments in the world.

Alec Rasizadeh ( has pointed out: "Political life in the country is based on the activity of only one party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, headed by Niazov, which for all intents and purposes is nothing more than the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan.  There are more political slogans and propaganda messages now than there were in the old Soviet days, such as Halk, Vatan, Beyuk Turkmenbashi, (People, Motherland, Turkamambasi the Great) and "XXI Asyr Turkmenin Altyn Asyry" (21st Century is Turkmen Golden Century)... In Rahnama, Niazov also usurps world history, taking many of the world's most famous seminal moments and recasting them as Turkmen history.  There is his interpretation of Turkmen history, which basically tells us that Turkmenistan ranks as one of the five greatest civilizations in the world and Turkmen invented wheel, the use of iron, and founded empires such as Seljuk, Ottoman and every empire in the Central Asia... In the name of building Turkmen nationhood, Niazov banned opera, ballet, the philharmonic orchestra and circus.  He even closed the Academy of Sciences... Intent on smashing his enemies and supporting a welfare state, Niazov has shown himself to be increasingly dismissive of international criticism of his regime's human rights record and economic policy, making his oil-rich, but sealed off desert sate even more isolated than it already is."


Elham Aliyev


In The President of Azerbaijan Republic, Elham Aliyev, who was the Crown Prince and head of the Azerbaijan's oil company, recently succeeded his father, who was a permanent president.  He has sincerely said that he did not believe in democracy.  Elham, like his father, was fluent in manipulating the so-called elections under the watchful eyes of the international observers.  He took the rabbit out of the hat that his father had left for the people of Azerbaijan.


The presidential elections in the Azerbaijan Republic were performed on the 15th of Oct. 2003 and Elham, the 41-year-old son of the Haidar Aliyev was the winner, as it was expected and as his father had instructed.  Many political observers believed the elections were nothing but a game.  Even the directors of the so-called opposition parties were agents of the ruling regime.


According to the report on the Council of Europe's website, PACE members [The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly], termed Azerbaijan rights record, far from satisfactory, and called for establishment of a commission to investigate all alleged human rights violations.  The report (World, EuroasiaNet, Tue 27 Jan. 2004) added that Council of Europe monitoring of Azerbaijan should continue until officials in Baku "make further substantial progress on the outstanding obligations and notably, demonstrate their ability to organize free and fair elections."


Nursultan Nazarbayev


In Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is the permanent president.  Bea Hogan, an expert on the Central Asian affairs has pointed out: "In Kazakhstan, a country with a comparatively progressive reputation, the passage of a new law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifelong powers and privileges raises questions about how power will be transferred in that country.  The Law on the First President of Kazakhstan, passed 27 June and endorsed by the Constitutional Court on 20 July, grants Nazarbayev immunity from criminal prosecution, access to future presidents, and influence over future domestic and foreign policy.  The legislation also ensures perks for the president and his family. Proponents of the bill say the law is necessary to prevent backsliding on reforms after Nazarbayev leaves office." 


Nazarbayev has denied having any role in the promulgation of the legislation.  Many political experts, however, remain skeptical because of the obvious political benefits the president will receive.  The law makes any future president beholden to Nazarbayev personally.  Nazarbayev told the media that he does not want "to become a khan or a president for life." But the new law effectively makes him just that, as he will be assured a voice in all future decisions in the country.


Regional experts point out that this latest move follows a pattern of presidential behavior that stretches back to the mid-1990s:  Nazarbayev has used other political institutions in the country-in particular the legislature and the judiciary-to advance his own political agenda.  For example, in 1995, Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court nullified the country's elected parliament because of alleged election fraud.  Speculation about Nazarbayev's hand in that decision arose because the move paved the way for the national referendum later that year that extended his presidential term through 2000.  Then, in 1998, six days after Nazarbayev outlined measures to establish an effective balance of power among branches of government, the legislature approved measures to increase the powers of the executive branch. And that is where power has been concentrated ever since.  Last year's parliamentary elections, which excluded opposition candidates and witnessed widespread polling abuses, drew international criticism from many Western governments and nongovernmental organizations, including the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe and the U.S. State Department."


Also, Rafis Abazov, a doctoral candidate at School of Politics in Australia, has pointed out: "...Nazarbayev is a kind of modern Genghis Khan, and his government is one of the most autocratic regimes in the post-Soviet countries...  The political regime of Kazakhstan will never meet the requirements of a procedural definition of democracy.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the recent elections for six major procedural offenses, including the timing of the elections, denial of registration to potentially strong candidates, and restrictions on the right of association.  For the purpose of a procedural assessment of this regime, it is not important that Nazarbayev thought of establishing his legitimacy through political compromises with social and political groups--including representatives of the major clans (known as hordes) that divide the Kazakh nation into three competing groups. And, although the Kazakh president dissolved parliament--following the same action by Tsar Boris--he never had his parliament fired at by tanks.  Kazakhstan is definitely not a democracy in absolute terms, especially if we judge its democracy by the procedural approach.  At the same time, OSCE officials commended Kazakh officials for their efforts in voter education and said they were optimistic about future cooperation. And though the Kazakh government does crack down on some opposition groups and newspapers, the country is still much freer than neighboring Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, or China." Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post Staff Written ( "Reports of corruption involving Nazarbayev's family have circulated for years.  The president's daughter Dariga and both his sons-in-law have been active in business here.  According to numerous diplomats, local journalists and politicians, Dariga Nazarbayev openly or secretly owns most of the country's news media, including the state television channel."


Veladimir Putin


Eventually in the Russian Federation, Vedadimir Putin, the son of KGB, recently won the elections for a second time, while he had "eradicated any significant political opposition" (The Washington Post, March 16, 2004).  "Institutional resistance and pervasive corruption have frustrated reformers since the fall of the USSR and until now."  Before the elections, he kicked out the cabinet and appointed other persons.  There was Official pressure on voters to support him and total dominance of television airwaves by the Kremlin.  Election monitors from organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe found problems with vote counting at one quarter of the precincts.


According to the Associated Press: "European observers said Monday that Russia's presidential election fell short of democratic standards, citing vote count flaws and biased news coverage that kept incumbent Vladimir Putin's rivals out of the spotlight.  Putin was swept to a second four-year term in a campaign and voting that "overall did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election process," said Julian Peel Yates, head of the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe."




The Caspian Sea region is suffering from lack of democracy, negation of the people's rule and personality cult and violation of the fundamental rights. The extra-ordinary men who rule these countries must rest assured that in a short while, they will are going to lose the power, one way or another, and they are going to plunge into the underworld of history.  However, it is the duty and commitment of the people in the region to enlighten and get themselves rid of the sources of the co-miseries and remove the doubt that something is wrong with them.


About the author:

Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law, is a consultant in international law to the World Resources Company in the Washington DC area.

... Payvand News - 4/5/04 ... --

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