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26 July 2023

President Aliyev Unplugged: A Personal Reflection

At last weekend’s Shusha Global Media Forum, Caspian Post correspondent Mark Elliott had a rare opportunity to join a lengthy in-person Q&A with Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev. Here he shares his impressions of the event.

President Aliyev Unplugged: A Personal Reflection

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the Shusha Global Media Forum. Image: president.az

Being more travel writer than political journalist, it’s not that often that I’ve had the chance to meet or share a conversation with a national President. I did get a brief chat with ex-President Gerald Ford at Vanderbilt University in Nashville around 1986, and at the same event, I was too busy snaffling chocolate-coated strawberries to shake hands with Jimmy Carter with whom Ford had earlier been debating.  

Former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford co-hosted the All-Democracies Conferance in 1983. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1993 I sat down to lunch with President Kuniwo Nakamura of Palau, but then the foreign ministry of that island nation was little more than a beach shack, and despite the honour, I got the impression that Mr. Nakamura received fairly few foreign guests.

On the left, former President of Palau Kuniwo Nakamura signing a Memorandum. Image: palauembassy.or.jp

Then last week in Azerbaijan, I attended the Shusha Global Media Forum, a high-level conference for the world’s press to meet and discuss issues related to the changing landscape of journalism as the era of artificial intelligence dawns. Much to my surprise, and that of the other 250 or so local and international communications folks present, the opening ceremony was replaced at the last minute with a chance to have a Q&A session with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. While those wishing to offer a question were asked to put their names on a list a few minutes in advance, the format appeared to be entirely free-form and unscripted and a very rare opportunity to get a sense of Mr. Aliyev’s personality away from the soundbites and orchestrated official statements through which one is usually likely to hear a politician’s words.