France's approval of a bill making it a crime to deny that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against ethnic Armenians during World War I has not only enraged Turkey, but also proven de trop for Turkey’s regional cousin, Azerbaijan. As a result, an Azerbaijani campaign is now building for the French to stop mediating Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
Baku, which has long maintained if-you-love-me-you-must-love-Turkey stance, believes that France has undermined its status as an impartial negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by passing the bill. France, along with the US and Russia, has long led the effort to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the territory through a negotiations mechanism called the Minsk Group.
As of yet, no public sign that President Aliyev also expressed such views during his recent peace pow-wow in Sochi with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, but the remarks no doubt occurred with Aliyev's sanction.
Turkey, now barely on speaking terms with France, says that the massacre was -- to paraphrase a Russian saying -- too long ago to be true.
Azerbaijan, Ankara's longtime pal, shares Turkey's anger over this pro-Armenia move, but it also has reasons to celebrate. On December 26, it signed an agreement with Turkey on a $5 billion pipeline that will bring Azerbaijani gas to eager European customers, and even more cash to its cash-rich coffers.
Respected historian Samvel Karapetian was grocery shopping in a Yerevan supermarket, Hayastan, when he chanced upon packets of the bulbous, pungent emissaries from Azerbaijan, the very country that fought a long and bloody war with Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. Since the 1988-1994 war, anything Azerbaijani has been mostly seen in Armenia as unspeakably heinous, and vice versa.
A concerned citizen, Karapetian sounded the alarm, and reporters hurried to the scene. “Garlic of the company based on [President Heydar] Aliyev Street in Baku is gleefully sold in… an Armenian supermarket,” the puzzled historian said.
In the supermarket, reporters found a confused shop assistant and manager, who pled not guilty. “I am beginning to think that somebody wants to frame me,” the director of the Hayastan Supermarket told Emedia.am news service.
The director said he cannot trace every food product all the way to its source, unless it is a sausage. He claimed that the garlic penetration must have been an unfortunate mistake, but local journalists are not buying this.
It was not us, but even if it was us, we still blame Armenia, said Azerbaijan about a fire exchange over the weekend that left two Armenian soldiers dead. Earlier on, Armenia ominously threatened a “disproportionate” retaliation for these latest deaths on the face-off line between Azerbaijani and Armenian and separatist Karabakhi forces.
Both Baku and Yerevan keep repeating the same “they started it” mantra, so the response from Azerbaijan was fairly predictable. “We only respond to the fire from the opposing side,” claimed Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesperson Teimur Abdulayev, and advised the Armenians to look for the fire starters amongst their own number, rather than blame Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the de facto military authorities in separatist Nagorno Karabakh are making similar, eye-for-an-eye threats.
One Armenian commentator argues that the gunfire exchanges are not sporadic and tend to coincide with developments in internationally mediated efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. One Azerbaijani analyst, however, has noted that the real problem goes far beyond international mediators -- even after years of talks, Baku and Yerevan remain too far apart on the central issue at hand, the status of Nagorno Karabakh. That means look for the blame game to continue.
Recently, one of Iran’s key turbaned bosses threatened that Azerbaijanis may soon take the noncommittally Muslim leader of neighboring Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev, “by the scuff of his neck and kick him out of his seat.” Now, Baku is again hearing an angry rumble from its hardcore Islamist neighbor over its attempts to keep Azerbaijan walking the straight and secular.
“We regret that the criminal, anti-Islamic work of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is part of [the] official policies of Baku,” opined scholars, clerics and students in a joint statement issued at a gathering in the Iranian city of Tabriz, which contains a large ethnic Azeri population.
Azerbaijan has just agreed to export gas to Iran and is also keen to talk business with its neighbor, but Baku and Tehran find it increasingly hard to hide their differences behind a neighborly veneer. Azerbaijan’s efforts to restrain Islam by allowing an informal ban on Muslim headdresses in public schools and restraining the publication of certain Islamic literature, have long had Iran’s spiritual leaders hot under their collars. Influential Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi recently even came close to threatening jihad on the Azerbaijani authorities.
“The day will come when they [the people of Azerbaijan]…will drag you down from your seats,” he said. “Learn the lessons from the events in the region,” Ayatollah said in reference to the Arab uprisings, which he apparently sees as signs of an Islamic revival. In an earlier fatwa, Shirazi said that he may declare a holy war on Azerbaijani officials if they continue closing down mosques.
And if Baku can make it there, it can make it anywhere . . . that's the tune Azerbaijani media are playing in an unabashed celebration of the country’s becoming a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council this week.
Azerbaijan’s debut on the council is “a victory for the Azerbaijani people,” declared Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. But more than a symbolic victory, the membership placed Baku in a better position to shape the international debate about its long-running conflict with Armenia and separatists over breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ali Hasanov, a senior presidential administration official, indicated that Baku will use its new position to bring Nagorno-Karabakh-related issues to the UN floor. “Capitalizing on the [two]-year-long membership of the UN Security Council, Azerbaijan will demand restoring norms of international law,” he said, without elaboration, Regnum reported.
Mammadyarov said that Baku will seek support for such initiatives from the main international negotiators in the conflict -- the US, France and Russia, all permanent members of the Security Council.
Some Azerbaijani politicians could not help but gloat at sour faces in Armenia, Baku’s arch-rival in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. “Armenia is seriously upset,” asserted independent parliament member Rasim Musambekov.
It probably is, but the Armenians are trying not to show it. Yerevan did not make an official statement about Azerbaijan’s promotion, but one official claimed that the Security Council would not be swayed by Azerbaijan. The country’s membership, he reasoned, will only damage the council’s reputation.
Azerbaijan is hearing a diplomatic growl from across its southern border, which was recently violated by a lone Iranian border guard. The breach cost 20-year-old Akber Hasanpour his life and resulted in an exchange that once more laid bare the repressed antagonism between Baku and Tehran.
The Iranian authorities have fired a protest note to Baku and demanded an explanation from the Azerbaijani ambassador in Tehran. Iranian officials said that Azerbaijani border police violated international norms and agreements between the two countries by pursuing and shooting to death the unarmed Hasanpour.
After inadvertently crossing into Azerbaijani territory on October 19, the young man refused to surrender to Azerbaijani border guards, Azerbaijani news services reported. In a claim that Tehran finds hard to digest, the Azerbaijani side says that he then attacked a large detail of Azerbaijani border guards and was fired on in response. The Iranian died of his wounds in hospital. His body was handed over to Iran yesterday.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has given a high five to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for their support for Minsk amid growing European Union pressure for Belarus to clean up its human rights act. Both countries opposed a scathing declaration from the EU about harassment of political opposition and independent media in Belarus.
“They [the Europeans] thought that we would bang our heads against the door, that we would cry and beg… but no!,” Lukashenko said, after Belarus withdrew from a September 29-30 summit in Warsaw, where ties between the EU and its ex-Soviet neighbors were discussed,
Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia also stopped short of supporting the EU statement, but Georgia and Azerbaijan received special thanks as the most avid Belarus supporters.
But this support is caused by very pragmatic considerations. Georgia views Belarus as the weak link in ex-Soviet countries’ support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the face of Russian pressure to recognize breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Azerbaijan, a potential energy partner which also knows what it's like to be summoned to the international woodshed on human rights issues, obviously chose to avoid what could arguably be called a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
In a conclusive message to the world, Lukashenko said his enemies will not take Belarus away from him and that he will live a long life to spite all ill-wishers.
“You're jealous because we are pretty, athletic and rich,” has essentially become Baku's way to smack back at the BBC after the broadcaster reported that Azerbaijan was alleged to have handed over $9 million to buy gold medals for its boxers at London's 2012 Olympics.
But Azerbaijan need not worry about securing medals, he continued. In Ahmedov's telling, the World Championships alone could get Azerbaijani boxers a ticket to the 2012 Olympics.“All of this obviously causes envy,” he concluded.
It may be doubtful whether such an argument could ever stand up in court, but, with investigation plans still pending, Azerbaijan is clearly making its move to punch the allegations into a knockout before the upcoming Olympic games.