Late Azerbaijan leader's statue raises hackles in Mexico 25 октября 2012, 17:23
Late Azerbaijan leader's statue raises hackles in Mexico
Surrounded by flowers and palm trees off Mexico City's main avenue, the statue of Azerbaijan's late leader looks peaceful in a corner of the noisy and polluted capital's biggest park, AFP reports.
But rights activists are fuming like angry motorists over the addition of the bronze likeness of Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB man, in a city that boasts statues of revered world figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King.
The new statue features Aliyev sitting with legs crossed, gazing to his left, and a plaque describing him as "a great politician and statesman" who was a "shining example of infinite devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the universal ideals of world peace."
While supporters remember him as the father of Azerbaijan's independence from the Soviet Union, critics recall him as the strongman who cracked down on dissent, jailed opponents and stifled the media during his 1993-2003 rule. Aliyev's son Ilham succeeded him.
"To put on our main avenue the statue of a dictator, someone who violated human rights, is an offense to us," Mexican rights activist Jesus Robles Maloof said.
Maloof, one of many people who vented on Twitter, urged Mayor Marcelo Ebrard to yank the statue from the fabled Chapultepec Park, off the busy Reforma Avenue, and replace it with a monument honoring the people of Azerbaijan.
One Twitter user named Isabel Aguilar suggested: "If they put a statue of Aliyev on Reforma, I propose that they put one of Kim Jong-il or Vladimir Putin, no?"
The government of Azerbaijan paid around $5 million (3.8 million euros) to refurbish that corner of Chapultepec, which was named the "Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park," and another downtown park.
Azerbaijan's ambassador to Mexico defended the decision to erect the statue.
"He is the father of the nation, a symbol of Azerbaijan and our independence," Ambassador Ilgar Mukhtarov said.
"He was not a dictator."
The seeds of friendship between the two nations were planted when Aliyev, then a Soviet official, led a USSR delegation that visited Mexico in 1982, he said. Mexico was one of the first nations to recognize Azerbaijani independence.
Mukhtarov blamed the bad publicity over the statue on "the Armenian diaspora" -- Azerbaijan fought Armenia-backed separatists in Nagorny-Karabakh -- and "people here trying to damage relations between Azerbaijan and Mexico."
Facing a storm of criticism over the statue, the city's leftist mayor created a panel of experts who will review complaints and make suggestions on what to do with it.
The panel will also review a plaque in the second park, which uses the politically sensitive word "genocide" to describe the killing of Azerbaijanis in the village of Khojaly during the 1990s Nagorny-Karabakh conflict with Armenia.
"It's better to put this in the hands of international relations experts," said Felipe Leal, the city's urban development secretary.
Mayor Ebrard inaugurated the "friendship" park in August but negative headlines soon followed about the statue, which sits on an avenue that includes the golden Angel of Independence statue and monuments to national heroes.
On a recent sunny weekday morning, the few Mexicans who sat on the benches placed in front of the statue knew little, if anything, about Azerbaijan's history or the late president gazing into the distance.
"It's well cared for, very peaceful. I like it, but to tell you the truth I don't know him," Armando Monroy, a 45-year-old car messenger, said after listening to some music on one of the iron benches.
The statue's presence "is strange," he said. "He's not known like Gandhi."