Outrage in Azerbaijan as former presidential aide throws wedding despite coronavirus pandemic
A wedding held during the peak of the pandemic has caused public outrage in Azerbaijan: on August 22, the son-in-law of one of the most influential people in the country, Ramiz Mehdiyev, a former aide to the president and who many consider to be a éminence grise, was sentenced to 15 days in prison.
Mehdiyev arranged a celebration for his granddaughter in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the complete ban on weddings.
Most of the guests and those involved were high-profile public figures.
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The father of the bride, Mehdiyev’s son-in-law, is a former MP, and shares the president’s name exactly – Ilham Aliyev. The groom’s father, Rovshan Mustafayev, a commander of the State Security Service, also received a 15-day sentence.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, weddings in Azerbaijan have been strictly prohibited since March 2020. President Ilham Aliyev, the prime minister, and the operational headquarters for the fight against coronavirus have repeatedly spoken about this.
Attempts to hold weddings with a minimum number of guests in the regions were repeatedly suppressed.
These news sources always report that those who organized the wedding were arrested and that the only wedding photos taken were their mugshots, which were then published.
Photos and videos from this high-profile wedding were published after one of the guests, singer Aysel Teymurzade, posted them on her Facebook page.
Many people in Baku recognize her from her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 in a duet with Arash singing the song ‘Always’.
The wedding took place in the suburb of Baku – the village of Novkhani. The video shows that the celebration was held indoors, with people sitting at tables in large groups.
At the same time, the rules established by the operational headquarters state that no more than six people can sit at one table, and events held in closed rooms are generally prohibited.
Among the guests are former and current ministers, MPs and other famous public figures.
The 82-year-old Mehdiyev himself has been the permanent head of the presidential administration of Azerbaijan since 1995. And even before that, during the Soviet era, he held a similar position under President Ilham Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev.
In October 2019, when he retired, he took over as president of the Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Security Council of Azerbaijan.
In the beginning, the authorities tried to pass off the wedding as “an ordinary feast”, Ehsan Zakhidov, spokesman for the ministry of the interior, told reporters.
Then he reported that he had not said this, and only then did the press service of the ministry of internal affairs issue a statement that the perpetrators would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The reaction of the MP Siyavush Novruzov, who was also a guest at this wedding, aroused particular anger amongst the public.
He defiantly told reporters: “Yes, I was at the wedding and made the right decision”.
Novruzov was reprimanded for this by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, of which he is a member of the board.
On social media, people continue to be indignant, and consider 15 days and a reprimand to be insufficient punishment. Many are demanding they do the same as they do to ordinary citizens: publishing their photos in the corridor of the police station.
Famous journalist and blogger Hamid Hamidov on his Facebook page
“This is like spitting […] in the face of absolutely everyone: other officials follow quarantine protocols; doctors who risk their lives to treat patients with coronavirus; ordinary people who suffer because they do not have the money to buy good and who are fined daily by the police for not wearing masks.
The audacity of the wedding guests’ comments says that they don’t care about the law or ordinary people. I really hope that such a flagrant violation of the law will not go unpunished. You can’t just make people so angry and disappointed”.