Rebels move into capital of Azerbaijan: Fighters come face to face with Western oilmen in Baku's corridors of power

A FLEETING but possibly historic encounter took place yesterday in the corridor of the old Intourist hotel, a Soviet-era hostelry facing Baku's splendid bay.

It brought together Tim Hartnett, the Texan manager of Amoco Caspian Sea Petroleum Company, and four young men in soiled combat fatigues, dirty boots and with Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders. They met by accident. All the same, it was the first known rendezvous between the two forces that, more than chattering politicians, will decide the faith of Azerbaijan - oil and guns.

The young men introduced themselves as rebels, part of the 3,000-5,000 strong force that, in the space of a week, has marched across Azerbaijan, driven elected President Abulfaz Elchibey from the capital and gutted his government of authority. Yesterday they moved into the centre of Baku, not to conquer - at least not yet - but to forage for beer.

The Amoco man thought it wise to oblige. 'They took a few cans and left,' Mr Hartnett said. Local precedent recommends politeness to young men with guns. 'I've been here for two years and have already seen four different governments,' the Texan added.

The rebels looking for beer might well be the first wave of the next one. They arrived from Azerbaijan's second city, Gyandzha, where their leader, Suret Guseinov, a 35-year-old millionnaire warlord and focus of a burgeoning personality cult, negotiates with emissaries from Baku. It was in Gyandzha that his mutiny took on a messianic passion on 4 June when Mr Elchibey ordered a punitive attack in which more than 70 people died.

With most of Azerbaijan's troops tied up fighting Armenia over Nagorny Karabakh, or trying to recover land lost in April, the rebels had little trouble advancing to Baku. They reached the outskirts early this week in two separate columns and were supposed to have stayed put there while Azerbaijan's Brezhnev-era baron, Geidar Aliyev, politically resurrected at the age of 70 and elevated to the post of parliament

ary chairman, tried to negotiate a settlement.

In effect, though, the centre of the city has already fallen. The battle, entirely peaceful so far, took place at the hotel front desk. Across the city, rebels have been not so much conquering as checking in. They began drifting in at the beginning of the week, but until yesterday without their guns and camouflage fatigues. Now only their armoured personnel carriers get left behind at their encampments in the suburbs.

In the second-floor restaurant of the old Intourist hotel a dozen rebels, rifles in hand, demanded a meal of fried chicken and rice. The manager, anxious to please but also anxious about who might be running the country in a few days' time, asked them to eat in the kitchen instead of the main dining room. They agreed.

Baku is the prize Mr Guseinov must now decide whether to seize or merely infiltrate for dinner and refreshments. The parliament is here, so are the ministries - the important ones all without ministers at the moment - and so is the oil and the foreigners offering tens of millions of dollars to get at it.

Baku has been a big oil town since the turn of the century. The Rothschilds came, so too did the Nobels - not the gunpowder-maker who founded the prizes, but relatives in oil. The battle of Stalingrad, arguably the point at which Hitler lost the war, was ultimately all about who should control the Baku oilfields.

A more peaceful but just as prolonged struggle now rages between the state oil company and Western outfits such as Amoco and BP. A contract was supposed to be signed next week in London where President Elchibey was to have made a state visit. The invitation still stands. But he is unlikely to make the trip.

His supporters in the Popular Front, a deeply nationalistic group with dreams of a greater Turkey and fears of Russian perfidy, accused Moscow of orchestrating the whole rebellion in order to keep BP, Amoco and the others from Baku's oil. And as evidence they point to the return of Mr Aliyev, a zealous guardian of Russia's interests during his 13-year tenure as party secretary.

Mr Aliyev himself, though, seems keen to woo the Western oil men. Asked yesterday who would sign a contract if the President was not available, he said: 'Don't worry, we'll find someone to sign it.'

Whether he can find a solution to the struggle for power seems less certain. He has set himself up as an arbiter, some suspect as the next president of Azerbaijan. Though a proven master of political intrigue, who sat on the Politburo in Moscow until Mikhail Gorbachev dumped him in 1987, Mr Aliyev, like Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, has found post-Soviet politics difficult to control.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup