An obscure Swedish organization has nominated Azerbaijan’s First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva for a peace award.
The nomination comes from a Göteborg, Sweden-based group that is not quick to respond to questions. What is known about the group – a certain Swedish Peace Agency (SPA) – is that it is a self-described international organization launched in 2010 to further world peace. The president is 40-year-old Rezha Aghapoor, who was born in “Iranian Azerbaijan,” Iran’s northern province dominated by ethnic Azeris.
SPA did not respond to questions about its sponsorship sources. The organization does not appear to be listed in Sweden’s roster of charities and does not have a working website in Swedish.
Its reasons for nominating Mehriban Aliyeva for the organization’s peace prize are not clear. “Individuals or governmental institutions active in defence of human rights can be nominated for the Prize,” according to the agency's nomination submission rules.
Also in the running is American writer and rights-activist Alice Walker.
Aliyeva, who serves as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for oral and musical traditions and as head of the charitable Heydar Aliyev Foundation, has promoted children's healthcare and cultural issues at home and abroad, and has received awards before, including from her husband.
She sits in parliament and faces a reelection vote on November 1.
Reporting from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and other media outlets shows, however, that Mehriban Aliyeva also holds ownership in a string of offshore companies, a fact named in investigations into alleged graft by the First Family of energy-rich Azerbaijan, a country regularly slammed for its human-rights record. She has not responded to the allegations of financial wrongdoing.
In 2012, these investigations prompted the OCCRP to name her husband, President Ilham Aliyev, the most corrupt person of the year .*
Exploration of that topic or criticism of the regime already has landed multiple Azerbaijani journalists and rights-activists in jail.
Against that backdrop, Aliyeva’s peace-prize nomination has prompted suspicions from some Azerbaijan observers.
The government, too, has deep pockets; in one case, sponsoring an arts festival that provided a Canadian town with a statue of the First Lady as a "divine muse."
Whether or not Aliyeva will be selected as an inspiration for peace, as well, remains to be seen. The award ceremony is scheduled to be held in Stockholm “in late November or early December.”
*OCCRP receives funding from the Open Society Institute and Soros Foundations Network. EurasiaNet.org is financed by the Open Society Foundation-New York City, a separate part of that network.