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Gazelles for Georgia, with Love from Azerbaijan

It's difficult to know sometimes what gift to get for a close friend. But Azerbaijan -- or, to be specific, President Ilham Aliyev's elder daughter, Leyla Aliyeva -- has hit on an answer for Georgia. Ten gazelles.

Azerbaijan may be better known for oil and gas wealth and for being a family-run country than for its green activism, but the nation’s First Daughter styles herself as an environmental enthusiast. 

She launched her IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action) initiative through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a less-than-transparently financed organization named after her much-revered grandfather, the late President Heydar Aliyev. Her mother, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, is the president of the foundation, which also has doled out many a gift to France and Pakistan in recent years, in what often appear to be soft-power drives.

But back to the gazelles. Competition from sheep and cows, as the World Wildlife Fund puts it, and human meddling allegedly drove the animals away from the Caucasus. And now, we are told, under the 28-year-old Aliyeva’s initiative, gazelles are being returned to their historic habitat. The first homecoming occurred in 2010 on Azerbaijan’s Absheron Peninsula; now it's the turn of Georgia, Baku's only South-Caucasus chum.

Not all business involving Leyla Aliyeva has been environmentally friendly, however.Investigative reports have linked her to a gold mining company that limited access to water, pastures and roads for population in and around the mining town of Chovdar. The Aliyev family overall is often accused of reaping profits from all major businesses in Azerbaijan.

But in neighboring Georgia, all presents from Azerbaijan, be they cheap natural gas or free gazelles, are very much appreciated. “They told us that it is now up to you to protect the Azerbaijani gazelles from Georgian wolves,” the head of Georgia's National Parks Agency, Rati Japaridze, told the news site Ambebi.

Thanking Aliyeva and his Azerbaijani counterparts on October 21, Georgian Deputy Environment Minister Shalva Amirejibi almost ended up hinting what kind of hoofed gift he would like to get next. “I hope that in the future we will start restoring the population of bison,” he said.    

Gazelles for Georgia, with Love from Azerbaijan

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