Deputy Chairman of the KGB of the USSR: Heydar Aliyev could not lead the special forces in the suppression of protests in Hungary

Deputy Chairman of the KGB of the USSR: Heydar Aliyev could not lead the special forces in the suppression of protests in Hungary

The year 2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Azerbaijani, the founder of the Third Republic of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. The editors of have decided to start a new column – 100 years – a man of an epoch. The author of the column is the Azerbaijani ambassador to Ukraine, and a well-known publicist, Ms. Elmira Akhundova.

In the last 20 years, Ms. Akhundova has carried out titanic work in many cities of the former USSR, meeting and talking with hundreds of well-known state, political and public figures who knew Heydar Aliyev personally and worked with him for decades. Elmira Akhundova can be called the author of an encyclopedia about Heydar Aliyev, as these conversations were included in the author’s numerous priceless books. But due to many restrictions, the publicist wasn’t able to include all of the conversations in her works. There are many unpublished interviews left.

In the column dedicated to the centenary of Heydar Aliyev, we will present to the readers the invaluable historical material collected by Ms. Akhundova. After all, many of the publicist’s interviewees have long since retired or passed away.

We present to your attention a conversation with the head of the 5th department of the KGB of the USSR, the first deputy chairman of the KGB of the USSR Philip Denisovich Bobkov. Bobkov passed away on June 17, 2019.


Activation of “Dashnaktsutyun” and the first attempt to destabilize Sumgayit

– Usually, intelligence officers of such a rank as you refuse to meet with journalists.

– Well, it depends on what questions I will be asked.

– All kinds of different questions. But first of all, of course, I’d like to start by asking about your relationship with Heydar Aliyev. You seem to have had quite a long history of cooperation, is that correct?

-I met Heydar Alievich in the late 1950s. At that time he worked as the head of the 2nd counterintelligence department of the KGB of Azerbaijan, he sometimes visited Moscow, and I remember that our first meeting took place in the office of Mikhail Georgievich Matveev, deputy head of the 1st department of the 2nd head office, with whom I was discussing something when Heydar Aliyev came in. That’s how we met, and since then, for many years, our relationship has developed from being acquaintances to being friendly toward each other.

He won people over by always being true to his word, he never failed in the sense that he did not fulfill any agreement, and any issue could be openly discussed with him. He could disagree with you on something, he had his own view of things, and he was quite strict about making decisions. That is, he was a man of principle.

His authority as a counterintelligence officer was already quite high at that time, he was treated with respect in the central apparatus, his opinion was respected, and, in principle, things were going well in counterintelligence in the republic. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were quite interesting cases related to the work against Iranian intelligence on the territory of Azerbaijan. A lot of attention was paid to the actions of Turkish intelligence, however, Iran presented more interest, because the Iranians worked more actively.

– Why Iran? Were there American bases in Iran? Or troops?

– There were no troops. If there were American troops there, then the USSR would have to bring in its own. There is an agreement of 1921; it has not been denounced to this day. It stipulates that if the troops of a third state are introduced into the territory of Iran, we reserve the right to deploy our armed forces. According to this principle, we brought our troops into Iran during the Second World War, because then German troops began to appear on the territory of Iran.

Returning to our topic, I want to say that Iranian intelligence has always been very active, especially in Azerbaijan, where there were many political emigrants from Iran. The TUDEH party operated here, the Iranians were very interested in this. And Azerbaijan worked against Iranian intelligence, having in mind the interests of the Soviet Union. Aliyev, in this sense, was one of the leading counterintelligence officers who dealt with this problem.

In 1960, counterintelligence was transformed and became unified – all specialized counterintelligence, such as economic, transport, political, and what the 5th department later began to do, were all combined into one large department – in fact, the KGB apparatus at that time consisted of only two services: intelligence and counterintelligence. Heydar Aliyev became the head of this department, and since that time our ties and contacts have been significantly strengthened. At that time I was deputy head of the 2nd Main Directorate and, of course, we had constant contact.

He often came to us, we had conversations and discussions of various problems. At that time, a new period began: foreign students began to come to the USSR to study at universities. I was in charge of this area. The Americans began to actively introduce their agents among visiting students, especially among African countries. I remember that a large group of students from Ghana and Guinea came to the Baku institutes, and Heydar Alievich and I repeatedly discussed the first developments to prevent the penetration of American agents into the country through this channel. We were doing well in this direction.

– What worried him the most as head of the 2nd department? What was his priority?

– First of all, he was worried about the site of penetration of agents into the territory of Azerbaijan, and about the problems of relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Although Baku was an international city, nevertheless, the Dashnak party worked very actively to stratify the population of Azerbaijan. And therefore, the opposition to the destructive activities of the “Dashnaktsutyun” was under his constant attention. We quite often discussed the problems of penetration of Dashnak influence and Dashnak agents.

At that time, issues connected not only to interethnic relations but also issues of destabilization of the socio-political situation arose. I remember there was a serious situation in Sumgayit. This refers to the mid-60s when there were mass riots in Sumgayit due to social discontent. It was a period when the city was actively rebuilt, but there were still many problems, and all these shacks on the outskirts of Sumgayit made themselves heard. The cause of the unrest was the inattention of the leadership of the republic to the needs and demands of the population. This topic was close to Aliyev, he subsequently dealt with it a lot after becoming a leader. And then, in the 60s, he did a lot to localize the negative consequences of the Sumgayit riots (this story is described in detail in a conversation with R. Mammadzade, who at that time worked as the second secretary of the Sumgayit City Party Committee – E.A.).

– Thank God that it did not come to such cruelty as in Novocherkassk shortly before.

– Well, Novocherkassk is a completely different story, which, I hope, we will not delve into.

– And who recommended Heydar Aliyev for the post of the chairman? Semyon Tsvigun?

-Well, him as well, because Aliyev worked as his deputy. But the candidacy of Aliyev was first suggested by Kardashev. Because Kardashev worked very actively and seriously with Aliyev in Azerbaijan. Kardashev, having left Baku, was the deputy head of the Second Main Directorate. We worked alongside him. When leaving, he recommended to Tsvigun to appoint Heydar Aliyev as deputy chairman. Recommendations by Kardashev were highly regarded.

Editor’s Note:

Alexander Kardashev. From 1959 to 1963 – was a Chairman of the KGB under the Council of Ministers of the Azerbaijan SSR. According to Ziya Yusifzade, he was “an exceptionally businesslike and professional Chekist, was very energetic. He loved Azerbaijan, appreciated local personnel, and listened to them. He wasn’t rash with decisions. We worked very well with him. He left the best memory of himself. Then, four years later, Kardashev went on promotion – to be deputy head of the 2nd Main Directorate of the KGB of the USSR.

* * *

And the choice of Aliyev as chairman of the KGB no longer raised questions, because we all knew Aliyev as a fairly mature, serious personality, and believed that it would not make sense to bring someone new to the republic when there was such trained personnel.

Aliyev took the post of chairman of the KGB, regardless of who recommended him, and who supported him or not. Everyone agreed that this is exactly the person that is needed in this area of work.

And, by the way, he did not choose a local staff member as his deputy but invited Krasilnikov,  who worked for me in Moscow as the head of the department. Aliyev just consulted me about it. Krasilnikov went to Baku and, by the way, worked very well.


“Zarifa Aliyeva didn’t even get out of the car”

– What do you know about his appointment as First Secretary of the Central Committee?

– I think that here it was the decisive word of Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov. Because at that time a serious issue at hand was that, in general, in the republic and in the state it is necessary to restore order, to begin a decisive fight against bribery and corruption. Aliyev has already shown himself quite well in this sense, being the chairman of the Committee. He had a principled position in the republic, there were cases related to theft. Although these cases did not seem to be directly related to the KGB, the Chekists were involved in the fight against negative phenomena, this was the first experience of the KGB in combating the cases of the “shadow” economy. Aliyev, as chairman of the KGB, actively dealt with this problem. This circumstance brought us even closer because when this period came, I was the head of the 5th department of the KGB of the USSR, and these issues to a certain extent fell into the sphere of interests of our department, and already on this basis, we were in contact with him as the chairman of the Committee.

When Aliyev arrived in Moscow and had a conversation with the Central Committee, and the question of his recommendation for the post of First Secretary had already been decided, he immediately came from the Central Committee to the KGB and came to see me first. They were looking for him in the building, they knew that he had passed through the entrance, and he sat in my office for probably an hour and a half, and we talked with him.

He was somewhat discouraged by the unexpected turn of fate.

– Didn’t he know that he was being nominated? In your opinion, did he consciously pursue this position, or did life itself push him to such a height?

– I am sincerely convinced that Aliyev was promoted by life itself and that, roughly speaking, he did not set anyone up and did not wage a behind-the-scenes fight with the leadership of the republic. He was nominated because of his talents, his qualities, and his dedication to the matter. There was nothing here that could accuse him of careerism as if he fought for a place for himself. Nothing like that. Aliyev was nominated quite deservedly, and at that time such a candidate was very much needed.

Our first meeting after he was appointed was on this topic. He asked me: “Where to start?” I answered: “You probably know where to start. We have to put things in order.” He says, “Yes, I think so too. Now the most important thing is to inspire the respect of people, and their faith in the fact that you are fighting the violations of socialist legality, with everything that prevents the people from living a good life.”

And he was very active in it. Three years after his appointment, I arrived in Baku, we had a meeting through the KGB. He could not come to the meeting, but I went to see him after, before leaving. During the conversation, I asked him: “Well, Heydar, over the years you have “unwinded” a lot of things. Did you deal with the bribes? He told me a single phrase: “I can tell you for sure that the Central Committee does not take bribes.”

He always cared about the problem of relations with the intelligentsia, especially the creative ones. He paid a lot of attention to it. By the way, the opinions about him among the intelligentsia were very good, including the period when he was already working in Moscow. He was very attentive to cultural figures. He was very cautious and attentive to interethnic relations, and it must be said that he paid much attention to Nagorno-Karabakh in terms of the welfare of the population, and raising living standards. Aliyev did a lot in this sense, not to mention what he did for the capital, and how it began to develop under him. He did not confine himself only to the fight against corruption, although this was of great importance.

I want to tell one more episode, which was very pleasant for me. This is evidence of the modesty not only of himself but also of his family, and the climate that has developed in his family. Once, I arrived in the summer of the early 70s in Baku with a Polish delegation. It was purely a friendly visit. Aliyev was not there, he was on a business trip outside the republic and therefore could not take part in the reception of the delegation. But his wife Zarifa hanim got involved. She went with us, especially since the Poles were also with their wives. We went around Baku, and visited the seashore, she was with us all day. We were received in the district committees of the party. And she did not go to any district committee, and when we went to the first secretary, she did not even get out of the car. She later explained this to me: “I can’t go there because I am not a party worker. And there is no need to enter as the wife of the first secretary.” This is evidence of the modesty and exceptional decency of Zarifa Aliyeva.


On Aliyev’s relationship with Andropov.

– Before and after the events in Czechoslovakia – in 1967-1971 and beyond – there were cases of interethnic unrest in the USSR – Chimkent, Frunze, Nalchik, Stepanakert, Tbilisi, Tashkent, Kaunas. Was the Soviet leadership not afraid that the syndrome of the Czechoslovak events could spread to the Union? And wasn’t Aliyev appointed in Azerbaijan or, say, Shevardnadze in Georgia for a decisive struggle and suppression of nationalist tendencies?

Firstly, the Czechoslovak events had no reaction inside the country, except for the antics of dissidents on Red Square. And they had no influence on interethnic relations within the USSR. The problem of interethnic relations existed, of course, and it was necessary to respond to it. But not by force, but by political methods. That’s what was most important. Interethnic problems cannot be solved by repressive measures. And it was not this problem that influenced the decision to put Chekist Aliyev at the head of Azerbaijan and the “strongman” Shevardnadze at the head of Georgia. And even then Shevardnadze is a relative “strongman”. He worked for only two years in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and before that he was a party worker.

And then, there were no such acute problems that would force us to look for a tough strongman in order to keep national problems in check. And there were no manifestations of interethnic hatred, which would have resulted in some kind of mass unrest in the country. There were problems with Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatars, Germans. These problems were not resolving. It was necessary to find political solutions, but the whole problem was that everyone willingly drank to the friendship of people, but there were very few people who would actually care about this friendship growing stronger and uniting people.

If there were cases of unrest, they were caused either by the misbehavior of the police or started with the traffic police, or in protest against unfair court decisions. A lot of outbreaks have occurred on this basis.

But the topic of interethnic relations and the need to strengthen them was well known. The Central Committee of Azerbaijan dealt with this a lot, as well as with the topic of Islam. There were one or two cases of serious manifestations of religious extremism in Baku, either in 1971 or in 1972, during the mourning month, when people tortured themselves during the Shahsei-Vakhsei ceremony. Much blood has been shed. I remember that Heydar Aliyev was troubled about this, and we had a conversation about it.

He concentrated deeply on the problems he dealt with and somehow always found solutions. During his tenure as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, there were practically no serious tragedies or emergencies in Azerbaijan and there were no signs of this. But after his departure, problems began almost immediately.

– Do you think that in his work as First Secretary he relied on the Chekists? In my opinion, he trusted them the most, and it was they who were his support in the fight against corruption and embezzlement.

– Yes, Vitaly Krasilnikov (Chairman of the KGB under the Council of Ministers of Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1980 – E.A.) helped him very seriously. The security agencies at that time played a big role in cleansing and improving society.

I also saw him as the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, although then we had less contact. I was vice-chairman and my sphere included transport, we dealt with the problem of transport a lot, and I participated in its commissions.

We had a problem with video recordings – this was before Aliyev – underground foreign cassettes began to appear, and their reproduction began. In addition to the fact that large illegal earnings and speculation began, problems arose with diplomats, because these products were mainly brought into the country by diplomats. In general, there were many questions about how to deal with it, and how to counteract it. We submitted a proposal (Andropov was still chairman of the KGB) to the Central Committee that we should create our own production of video recorders and video cassettes as soon as possible and start working on our products. We met a lot of resistance from the departments. The Minister of Communications of the USSR vigorously opposed this, saying that it is expensive and that we better do it by forceful methods by blocking imports, fighting, etc. They convinced the Secretary of the Central Committee Zimyanin that we do not need this. The struggle lasted one and a half or two years.

Literally three days after the appointment of Andropov as General Secretary, it was decided to establish the production of video recorders. And Aliyev was involved in this through the Council of Ministers. I remember, I came to him, and told the whole story. And he practically took up the idea of ​​creating a domestic video industry. About six months later, we looked at our Soviet tape recorder, which was produced at the Voronezh aircraft plant.

– And what were the assessments of his work as the first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR?

I know that his work was evaluated positively. During the anniversary, he received a very warm letter from Andropov and was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor for the second time.

– How did Andropov personally treat Heydar Aliyev? Did you hear Aliyev’s characteristics from him?

– He treated Aliyev well.

– Alexander Yakovlev, in a conversation with me, said that Andropov did not like Aliyev and that he took him to Moscow only because Brezhnev had already promised this to Aliyev.

– The appointment itself can be interpreted that way because Aliyev was elected a member of the Politburo immediately after Brezhnev’s death. There must have been some kind of agreement. But let’s think logically: if Andropov did not want to do this, he could have postponed the decision on this issue until later, dragged it out, or not elected him at all. So this is absurd.

First, Aliyev was appointed the first secretary of the Central Committee when Andropov was a member of the Politburo and chairman of the KGB of the USSR. If Andropov had been against Aliyev’s candidacy, he would have found a way to convey his opinion to Brezhnev. He wasn’t against it. He always had a neutral relationship with Aliyev, and he never had any issues with him as the chairman of the KGB of Azerbaijan. Then, he very much approved – I know this firsthand – what Aliyev did in the republic already as the first secretary, so he had no questions about whether to take Aliyev to Moscow or not.

I remember this anniversary for a reason. I visited Heydar Alievich as part of this anniversary, and he very warmly and touchingly spoke to me about the letter that Yuri Vladimirovich sent him.

– And what can you say about the version of the Vlast magazine that Heydar Aliyev allegedly led one of the special forces groups in Hungary in 1956. Could it be true?

– Aliyev could have been in the group, but he could not have led the special forces group. There, the groups were led mainly by military counterintelligence officers or employees from the central apparatus. Now all sorts of stories could be told. I am now reading some of them, they talk about Andropov as if they never left his office. And I know that they may have been in this office maybe only once in thier life. One other reason why he couldn’t have been in Hungary is that in 1956, people from counterintelligence from the Caucasus could not be taken to other regions, since there was a difficult situation in the Caucasus. Especially after Stalin’s death.

There were riots in Georgia in March 1956, and anti-Armenian sentiment arose there because of Mikoyan. Before that, Stalin was always honored in the republic, and on the eve of the day of Stalin’s death, a provocative order came to flower shops in Tbilisi, prohibiting wreaths with the inscription “Stalin”. And then university students began to order the inscriptions for “Uncle Vano”, and then remake the inscriptions at the university. This is where it all started.

– In the mid-1950s, Heydar Aliyev was demoted almost to a rank of an officer, and about a year or a year and a half later he quickly rose again to the head of the 2nd department. What do you think about it?

– This just testifies to the fact that he is a decent person and a strong professional worker. Here his professional qualities played a big role. Throughout his life, Heydar was not a careerist and did not aspire to power as such. And the fact that power came to him is the merit of his decency and his professional qualities.

– There was an opinion that the popular fronts were created by the KGB.

– This is nonsense. They were created by the forces that led to the destruction of the Soviet state. There was strong support from the West, I mean the Baltic fronts like Sąjūdis. And they would come to you in Baku for “consultations” and support.

Do you remember the miners’ strike from Vorkuta? The miners lived on American money, and American trade unions poured huge amounts of money into them. So the collapse of the USSR was encouraged very seriously.

– How did you and your colleagues in the former KGB react to the fact that Aliyev headed Azerbaijan again in 1993? Did you expect this?

– Not that I expected it. I just thought that it was the most correct decision of the Azerbaijani people. I saw how his authority was revived when he lived in Nakhchivan.

– Did you expect the Elchibey government to collapse so quickly?

– I understood that the Popular Front was not the force that would hold Azerbaijan, because it was an organization that arose spontaneously and was torn apart by contradictions, as far as I saw it. Therefore, the arrival of Aliyev did not raise any questions, I considered it natural. My last telegram was sent to him in 1993 – I congratulated him on his 70th birthday. Unfortunately, that was the last communication I had with him.