What does a national border mean for a man and his cows on the quest for better grazing land? That's the question that, in the run-up to next week's OSCE meeting in Dublin, illustrates both the absurdities and the dangers of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for both Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The decades-long row between Azerbaijan and Armenia about Karabakh has been increasingly playing out in Latin America, with Yerevan seeking supporters for the territory’s independence from Azerbaijan, and Baku working to nip such ideas in the bud.
Uruguay, with one of Latin America's largest Armenian Diasporas and a track record of having already recognized as genocide the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of ethnic Armenians, has now found itself in the middle of this tug-of-war.
After arriving in Yerevan early last week, Uruguayan House of Representatives Speaker Jorge Orrico and other delegates hopped over to Karabakh to meet de-facto leader Bako Sahakian and other local officials.
In comments similar to an earlier statement by Uruguay’s foreign minister, Luis Almagro, Orrico expressed support for Karabakh, but stopped short of making unequivocal promises to recognize the territory.
Last week, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said his country would respond with an all-out military attack should Azerbaijan attempt to reclaim by force the predominantly ethnic Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. Sargsyan cited recent war games as proof of Armenia’s capabilities, but the drills did not envision a scenario of invasion by cowherd and cows.
To hear some media tell it, Armenia experienced a wanton breach of its national border on November 12 after an Azerbaijani cowherd and his squadron of cows supposedly stormed across the line of contact for the Karabakh conflict, and into Armenia.
Herdsman Telman Aliyev, who shares a last name with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, is now being questioned by Armenian military officials. As one Armenian news outlet put it, "Azerbaijan now has one fewer Aliyev . . ."
The whereabouts of his charges are unknown; if in captivity, they're no doubt maintaining a stoic silence.
But work is underway to bring back Aliyev the herder, according to Azerbaijan’s State Commission for War Prisoners, Hostages and Missing Citizens Secretary Shahin Sailov, who argues that Armenia has "taken [him] hostage."
Baku quickly alerted international organizations about the incident, and cited a search for greener pastures amidst heavy fog and what they describe as Aliyev's difficulties with speaking and hearing as mitigating circumstances.
Yet, after 23-plus years of conflict, don't expect Armenia to take Azerbaijan's word for it. Armenian military officials said they are testing Aliyev's speech skills and hearing.
Mexico may be far away from the Caucasus' territorial conflicts, but it is offering a venue for another staring-down match between gun-slinging neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Armenian-Azerbaijani diplomatic face-off over the breakaway territory of Nagorno Karabakh mostly plays out in the US, Russia and Europe, but (as with Georgia and its fight with Russia over separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia) lately has expanded to the Latino world, with each side on the prowl for supporters.
On October 22, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian arrived in Mexico City to convey his nation’s“bewilderment” at Mexico allegedly taking sides in the 24-year Armenian-Azerbaijani feud. He reproached Mexico's senadores and deputados for passing supposedly anti-Armenian resolutions in the past, and proposed an Armenian embassy in Mexico City as the way to help set things right.
In fact, a stroll through the streets and parks of Mexico City would leave any dutiful Armenian official bewildered.
Last week, The New York Times' travel section offered a tip to other explorers about how to visit Karabakh and still be able to hop over to Azerbaijani-controlled territory later -- namely, just “ask for the visa to be put on a separate piece of paper that can be removed from your passport.”
The trick is hardly a secret. And one that prudent visitors quickly learn, with or without a how-to in the American "newspaper of record."
Every time Russia comes to play war in the Caucasus, a sense of alert spreads in the neighborhood. And it does not help if the Russians are running around with guns for two separate war games at the same time.
Azerbaijan is keeping a wary eye on its sworn enemy, Armenia, as it hosts drills for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Moscow's response to NATO), while Georgia has its vision trained on the Caucasus-2012 training to the north.
Tbilisi is particularly uneasy to see Moscow mobilize 8,000 troops, 200 military vehicles, artillery and military vessels in the Black and Caspian Seas and Russia's southern Krasnodar region just as Georgia is approaching a critical parliamentary election on October 1.
“We all remember the consequences of the 2008 drills, which were much smaller in scale [than Caucasus 2012],” commented Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze. He claimed that the operations threaten the sovereignty of the three Caucasus countries, and, at least in part, are meant to affect their domestic politics.
Safarov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary for the 2004 beheading of Armenian army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan at a NATO training program in Budapest, was extradited to and freed in Azerbaijan last month, causing shock and anger in Armenia.
Photos depicting Yerevan city buses bearing posters announcing an “Open Season for Safarov Hunting” are making the rounds online. The posters reportedly appear in various places throughout the city.
Some Armenian commentators say that the poster campaign is just a way for many citizens to vent their anger about the pardon, but, given the relentless propaganda campaigns on both sides, there can always be someone who opts to take the calls to exterminate the enemy literally. Safarov is walking proof of that.
To paraphrase a line from Rudyard Kipling, Iran is no place for spies. In particular, for Azerbaijani poets accused of being spies. After spending about four months in an Iranian prison and causing more tension in the less-than-harmonious ties between the two Shi'a Muslim neighbors, a pair of Azerbaijani poets finally marched home yesterday.
Azerbaijani television carried footage of friends and relatives embracing Shakhriyar Hajizade and Farrid Huseyn at the Azerbaijani-Iranian border. The two were paroled before a court in Tabriz was scheduled to land a verdict in their case on September 10.
The Iranian side said that the poets have “Islamic mercy” to thank for their release, though the poets themselves said they were indebted to the Azerbaijani government.
The release came as an apparent peace-offering to Baku and was timed with Iranian Vice-President for Cultural Affairs Hasan Mousavi's visit to Azerbaijan. The enemies may plot all they want, but “friendly and fraternal relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have always been strong and will be so in the future,” Mousavi said in Baku.
But, no doubt, Tehran is looking to Azerbaijan to release alleged Iranian spies/terrorists of its own to make this sonnet to friendship and brotherhood complete.
In this tough-spoken part of the world, “deep concern” is widely seen as a Western diplomatic term for “This was bad, but we are not going to do anything about it.” And subsequent tweets expressing NATO's appreciation of Azerbaijan's role in the Afghanistan campaign and of Baku's partnership with the Alliance would particularly not correct that impression.
Many Armenians believe that the Alliance bears some responsibility for the 2004 axe murder since it happened at a NATO seminar in Budapest. Rasmussen does not.
Arguably, at a time like this, whatever he said on his Armenia-Azerbaijan tour, the general secretary would be left having to balance on an extremely high wire. But the question is to what extent his presence gave both sides pause amidst their rush of rage or simply directed their anger at another target -- the international community itself.
The new arrivals will be temporary -- the "permanent" troop presence at Gyumri, the northern Armenian site of Russia's 102nd Military Base, will stay at 5,000, according to Colonel Igor Gorbul, a spokesperson for Russia's Southern Military District, RIA Novosti reported -- and will receive a higher salary and undefined benefits to whet their interest in sticking around.
They'll arrive at a base that's been a bit on the bustling side of late. Russian jets have been busy drilling in Armenian airspace, and, in March, Moscow held war games in Gyumri. Earlier on, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization -- a Russian response to NATO -- said that the Moscow-led alliance will protect Armenia from enemy attacks. “If unfriendly actions are taken against Armenia, all member states will provide relevant assistance to Armenia,” pledged CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha.