When it comes to a long-distance relationship, it's always good to know what attracts the other side. And, as shown at a shindig in Baku this week to mark 21 years of official ties with the US, Azerbaijan has its attractions for Washington down pat.
They number four: a supply corridor for NATO's military campaign in Afghanistan; a foothold for American interests in regional stability (Iran is just next-door) and fighting terrorism; and, finally, oil and gas for Europe.
This is no co-dependent relationship, however. Aliyev made clear that, as a return for its attractions, Azerbaijan expects Washington to support its efforts to reclaim breakaway Nagorno Karabakh from Armenian and separatist control. Armenia's American Diaspora runs a well-organized lobbying operation across the US to make sure that many US politicians view Armenia's problems as their own.
California’s Fresno County has become entangled in a conflict from another world.
Late last month, on the eve of the April 24 anniversary of the 1915 slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, the county government felt the urge to weigh in on the decades-long dispute over the predominantly ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region and recognize Karabakh's independence from Azerbaijan. Soon enough, angry Azerbaijan, which has vowed to reclaim the territory, came knocking on the county’s door.
The Fresno Bee has the story:“The resolution [supporting Karabakh's independence], even if symbolic and from a seemingly irrelevant county government, undermines Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, wrote the nation’s officials in a recent letter to the county. The [county] supervisors’ support, they wrote, contradicts even the US government’s official position that Nagorno-Karabakh is rightfully part of Azerbaijan.”
But Fresno has snapped its fingers back at Azerbaijan, saying the energy power picked the wrong guy. “We will not be muscled by a well-funded lobbying effort by the Azerbaijanis," Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, who penned the Karabakh resolution, proudly commented to The Fresno Bee.
Azerbaijan was an important stopover point for secret detainees of the Central Intelligence Agency in the US war on terror, claims a new report that offers the first comprehensive look into human rights abuses under the US practice of secret detentions and extraordinary renditions of terror suspects.
Reminiscent of a global spy conspiracy novel, the report, "Globalizing Torture," details how, post-9/11, the US relied on countries around the world to "kick the [expletive] out of" various terror suspects wanted by the CIA.
Azerbaijan and Georgia were among 54 countries that cooperated with these operations, according to the report, which was compiled by the New-York-City-based Open Society Foundation's Open Justice Initiative. [EurasiaNet.org is financed under the separate auspices of the Foundation's Central Eurasia Project.]
“Aircraft linked to the CIA landed in Azerbaijan 76 times between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005,” the report reads. “The Azerbaijani capital, Baku, is reported to have been used as a common ‘staging point’ for extraordinary rendition operations, meaning that planes and crews would often meet and prepare there.”
Azerbaijani officials allegedly did some detaining of their own; namely, a Saudi man, Ahmed Muhammad Haza al-Darbi, who allegedly was arrested in Azerbaijan in 2002 and handed over to the CIA, which then transferred him to the formerly US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he was kept for two weeks, and subjected to various forms of abuse.
Before Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili took office in 2004, Georgia, the most eager US partner in the Caucasus, also allegedly captured and handed over to the CIA several terror suspects, apparently linked to Chechen rebel training in the Pankisi Gorge.
If the weather and Azerbaijan cooperate, we're repeatedly told, passenger planes will soon take off from the separatist airstrip of Nagorno-Karabakh. Any passengers, though, will probably be uneasily shifting in their seats with every shake or rattle, trying to figure out whether their plane has encountered turbulence or is dodging Azerbaijani missiles.
If it’s any reassurance for those prospective passengers, a top Russian general thinks that Azerbaijan is just kidding about its threats to knock down the planned flights from the breakaway territory. “It is either an unsuccessful articulation of thoughts or an unfortunate joke,” asserted Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia's response to NATO, while on a trip to Yerevan. “I don’t take this information seriously."
Committed to reclaiming Karabakh and the adjoining occupied territories, and returning tens of thousands of IDPs, Baku threatened to gun down any planes from the newly renovated airport outside the Karabakhi capital Stepanakert (known to Azerbaijanis as Khankendi), and said it has the full right to do so. Armenia threatened to respond in kind, and the Caucasus again got filled with the threat of war.
Cue Russia. Armenia is part of the CSTO, which vowed to protect, honor and cherish its members in good times and bad.
But the Azerbaijanis told Bordyuzha that they can match words with intentions, and again accused Moscow of siding with Armenia in the conflict over breakaway Karabakh. “Azerbaijan is not joking,” said Azerbaijani defense ministry spokesperson Eldar Sabiroglu, 1news.az reported.
After bouts of haggling over the rent, Russia has abandoned a Soviet-era, early-warning radar in Azerbaijan that essentially served as the Kremlin’s security camera for the Caucasus, Middle East and South Asia.
The official cause is cost: Baku had asked for $300 million per year for a renewal on Russia's lease on the station; a hefty hike from the heretofore $7 million per year.
With Moscow planning to build its own radar stations with similar coverage areas (the Armavir radar station north of the Caucasus mountain range, already partly overlaps Gabala's range), the new rent was not worth it for Russia, officials said.
Earlier, Moscow had offered Washington a share on the station as a possible substitute for US plans, opposed by Moscow, to deploy a missile shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend Eastern Europe from potential attacks from Iran and North Korea, but the idea went nowhere.
A Russian military expert, though, told Azerbaijan's APA news agency that quitting Gabala was not a prudent move since the station could always have doubled for Moscow as a backup if Armavir is down for maintenance.
So, how will US troops come home from Afghanistan? According to Baku officials, by catching a train in Azerbaijan.
To borrow from American journalist H.L. Mencken’s line, war, like love, is easy to begin, but hard to end, and the 2014 NATO pullout from Afghanistan is likely to be a logistical nightmare, with thousands of troops to transport and scads of guns to pack and ship.
But worry not: Azerbaijan, NATO’s Caspian-Sea chum, is offering a cheap ticket home for American and other troops via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, scheduled for completion in 2014.
If it all goes as planned, troops from Georgia, the largest non-member troop contributor to the NATO campaign, can get off midway.
To date, 35 percent of the “non-lethal” military supplies for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan went through Azerbaijan, Mammadyarov stated.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railroad, constructed by NATO-friendly Azerbaijan, NATO-aspiring Georgia and NATO member Turkey, was presented to the Alliance last month by envoys of the three countries. The presentation included other existing and upcoming sea, air and land transport infrastructure.
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.