A year after the mysterious murder of Azerbaijani air force chief Lieutenant General Rail Rzayev, government investigators say they still have no idea about the killer's motive or identity.
Rzayev was shot and killed on February 11, 2009 while sitting in his car outside his apartment building in downtown Baku, a location scanned by multiple security cameras and 24-hour armed guards. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive.] Law enforcement agencies announced in May 2009 that they had developed a composite sketch of the suspected killer, but no arrests for the murder have been made.
What arrests have been made appear to have no direct link to the crime.
On February 3, Elshan Eyvazov, a guard at Lt. Gen. Rzayev's apartment building, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment on drug possession and document forgery charges. His lawyer, Khalid Rzayev (no relation to the slain air force commander), told EurasiaNet that Eyvazov was questioned by the General Prosecutor's Office six days after Lt. Gen Rzayev's death, but never released from custody. Eyvazov, who worked at the apartment building for over three years, maintains his innocence and claims that police officers tortured him, he added.
Two other arrests have also been made - General Rzayev's assistant, Major Aydin Rafiyev, and Rafiyev's son, Anar Rafiyev, are expected to stand trial soon on robbery charges, Rafiyev's lawyer, Aslan Ismayilov, told EurasiaNet. Both men are charged with removing unidentified items from Rzayev's office after his death. Defense attorney Ismayilov expressed frustration with the claim: "One year has passed since the murder and there was enough time to find the killer. But, instead, people who have nothing to do with the crime, including Aydin and Anar Rafiyev, are under arrest," Ismayilov said.
General Rzayev's aide-de-camp, Captain Anar Gashimov, remains under investigation for removing items from General Rzayev's office, General Prosecutor Zakir Garalov stated in October 2009. The investigation, which also focuses on other unnamed army officers, "continues and it is under the control of President Ilham Aliyev," he continued. The statement was Garalov's most recent public comment on the case.
Some experts doubt that investigators will ever solve the case.
The Azerbaijani government follows a "bad" practice of setting up special commissions that promise quick and efficient investigations when scandalous crimes are committed, noted military expert Uzeir Jafarov. He cited the still unsolved 2005 murder of popular opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov as a case in point. "However, the investigations usually remain incomplete and the public is deprived of all the information," Jafarov said.
Another expert, a criminologist who did not want do be named, echoes the widespread suspicion that the murderer could be a foreigner who has long since left Azerbaijan, making it "very difficult" now to arrest him or her.
Media speculation has run wild about possible motives for the crime, including the alleged involvement of the government itself and a potential connection with Rzayev's alleged business interests. No credible facts have been provided for any of these scenarios.
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Institute-Azerbaijan.