Leaked dispatch lays bare US diplomats’ less-than-flattering remarks about Mehriban Aliyeva
The first lady of Azerbaijan has problems showing a “full range of facial expression” following “substantial cosmetic surgery, (done) presumably overseas,” US diplomats say witheringly in US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks.
In some of the cattiest comments to emerge from the leaked state department cables so far, diplomats shove the scalpel into Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev. The cable written in January examines Aliyeva’s family, the influential Pashayevs, describing them as one of oil-rich state’s “most powerful families”.
Under the headline “A First Lady, Too, in Fashion”, Aliyeva is dubbed more “fashion-conscious and daring” than the “average woman in majority-Muslim Azerbaijan”. As well as substantial foreign cosmetic surgery, the first lady “wears dresses that would be considered provocative even in the Western world,” it says.
“On television, in photos, and in person, she appears unable to show a full range of facial expression,” it adds. The cable describes how in September 2008 Aliyeva and her two daughters hosted “second lady Lynne Cheney” – the wife of former US vice-president Dick Cheney. With exquisite bitchiness it recalls: “Prior to the Second Lady’s arrival, while the three ladies were waiting for Mrs Cheney’s car, one Secret Service agent asked ‘which one of those is the mother?’ Emboffs (embassy officials) and White House staff studied the three for several moments, and then Emboff said, ‘Well, logically the mother would probably stand in the middle.'”
The same cable talks disparagingly of Azerbaijan’s political elite. “Observers in Baku often note that today’s Azerbaijan is run in a manner similar to the feudalism found in Europe during the Middle Ages: a handful of well-connected families control certain geographic areas, as well as certain sectors of the economy.” These families “collude, using government mechanisms” to keep out foreign competitors, it asserts.
Despite being an MP, the president’s wife appears “poorly informed about political issues”, US diplomats tell Washington. Her family’s vast business interests, meanwhile, include several banks, an insurance company, construction, travel, and – so far – Azerbaijan’s only Bentley dealership. Her collection of contemporary art forms the basis of Baku’s new museum of modern art, the cable adds.