The Aliyev Daughters: Azerbaijan's First-Family Fashionistas
They are eye-catching, stylish and rich. They are the first daughters of the oil-soaked Caspian Sea autocracy, Azerbaijan, and when they decided to model for a local fashion magazine, the adoration from some Azerbaijani media outlets made the Bible's Song of Songs sound reserved.
But it's what's left unsaid that truly puts the fashion-show in focus. Decked out in the snazzy outfits that they allegedly picked out of their wardrobes for the shoot, the august Aliyev sisters -- 28-year-old Leyla and 24-year-old Arzu -- prompted praise so ebullient that the authors must have been taking breaks to tear up while writing it.
The two provide "clear proof," Azerbaijani public television and Büro 24/7 simultaneously gushed, that “not only physical appearance, but also wisdom, the inner world, charm and individuality are inherited genetically."
Taking a breath, the public television writer goes on to advise readers that “Every public appearance of the eastern beauties offers a chance to feast your eyes on their beautiful manners, their skill at socializing with friends, family and the people around them."
Other things that Leyla and Arzu inherited genetically include the legendary stranglehold of their father, President Ilham Aliyev, and grandfather, the late President Heydar Aliyev, on Azerbaijan's energy riches, and politics. Critics charge that that "inheritance" has opened some questionable doors into big business for the siblings.
Investigative reports, spearheaded in particular by RFE/RL's Azeri-language service, have linked both sisters to shell companies apparently created to mask the Aliyev family’s business interests. Real estate also is an interest: in 2010, The Washington Post reported that Leyla, Arzu and their kid brother, Heydar, own property in Dubai worth a total of $75 million. (A government spokesperson declined to comment.) The origin of the tens of millions of dollars required for these entrepreneurial pastimes is not clear, yet modeling is not a likely source. Nor do the consequences for raising such questions, as the case of Khadija Ismayilova* illustrates, bring the word "charm" to mind.
But the tightly controlled local media rarely asks questions about the “the inner world” of the Aliyevs. Instead, what you learn about the Aliyev sisters from local stories – like the one with the photo shoot – is that they prefer to wear their hair loose, falling freely over the shoulders, and use lots of mascara.
And that their beauty is innate . . . though the several-hundred-dollar Jimmy Choo shoes do help to emphasize it.
*Khadija Ismayilova also has worked as a reporter for EurasiaNet.org.