In spite of vast and intense international concerns, including the substantial migration crisis emanating from Syria and terminating in Europe, Russia engaging in the Middle East with troops and air power, the U.S.’s flagrant absence from world affairs coupled with its abject show of weakness, it is still impossible not to notice international scrutiny of the Republic of Azerbaijan and anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric, particularly by Europe and the United States.
Last month, the European Parliament approved a resolution that calls for targeted sanctions against certain officials of Azerbaijan, who, according to its authors, “do not respect human rights.” In other words, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that violates the legal norms of European democracy, as it was based on conjecture and offered no evidence.
Naturally, official Baku is indignant — and understandably annoyed. The US and Europe seem to be inexplicably struggling to discredit and put pressure on Azerbaijan, which is situated in an important geopolitical and strategic location, the nexus of Europe and Asia and sandwiched in between Russia and Iran.
Post-Soviet Azerbaijan has repeatedly proven that it plays a key and critical role in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. Azerbaijan is the key transit route for the transfer of men and materiale to and from Afghanistan and Azerbaijan troops stand shoulder to shoulder with Allied troops in Afghanistan, as they did in Iraq and Bosnia. Azerbaijan also is a key partner in anti-terrorism intelligence gathering operations with the West.
Azerbaijan also serves as the linchpin for energy diversity and security for Europe and Western markets, as Azerbaijan is not only the major energy hub in the region, but a major producer of oil and natural gas that presents Europe with a non-Russian, non-OPEC and non-Iranian energy alternative. Azerbaijani pipelines, like the BTC (the largest oil pipeline in the world next to America’s Alaskan pipeline) pumps oil from the Caspian Sea through Georgia and to the Mediterranean Sea, terminating in the Turkish port city of Cheyhan. In addition and, perhaps, more importantly, Azerbaijan and its Western partners have already begun construction on the network of pipelines that will comprise the Southern Gas Corridor, which will transport Azerbaijan’s vast gas reserves directly to Europe, thus alleviating the risk of Russia turning off the heat in the middle of winter for some perceived affront.
The pragmatic approach of Azerbaijan, as a whole, includes religious tolerance, multiculturalism of Azerbaijani society, and constructive relations with its neighbors in a region where diplomacy is much more complex than in many other parts of the world. All of these factors played a role in the successful formation of this emerging democracy.
Failing American and European military intervention strategies — why do they want to continue such policies?
Unfortunately, the foreign policies of the current US administration and the European Union do not have strict, clear and verified strategies in the Middle East and the South Caucasus. If one looks at many of the intervention strategies of the American and European militaries, they are designed to bring “democracy and respect for human rights,” yet at times these projects have failed, causing huge moral and material damage to the nations in which they are implemented. So why does Europe want to continue this policy, to destroy all the structures of another state and bring new waves of migration?
Wherever Europeans and Americans try to establish so-called “democracies,” such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, it has led to complete political fiascos with the suffering of hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refugees.
Azerbaijan, too, has refugee issues, dire ones, in fact, without a responsible and insightful government. The Republic of Armenia, which occupies 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory, Nagorno Karabakh, has caused the expulsion of more than 1 million people…now living as refugees and internally displaced people. This begs several questions… Is it not hypocritical to accuse Azerbaijan of violating human rights for more than 24 years? Does the European parliament pretend to not know of these refugees and occupied land? Or do the Europeans believe that one million Azerbaijani refugees expelled from their own land is not an elementary violation of human rights? Why were they not interested in the fate and the basic human rights of more than 4,000 Azerbaijani civilians, captured by Armenian militants?
Related to this, Azerbaijan is rightly offended by the double standard of the United States’s and Europe’s foreign policy when it concerns the Crimea. Each maintains that they strictly respect the principle of territorial integrity of Ukraine. However, the argument for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, in regards to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is ignored. This double standard is simply not acceptable in contemporary international relations..
One wonders if the US and Europe do not see the desire of Azerbaijan to sincerely cooperate and strengthen strategic partnerships with the US and with Euro-Atlantic structures
It is understood that some Europeans and Americans cherish the “Arab Spring” dream in Azerbaijan. However, the Arab Spring was an abject failure that brought chaos, death and hardship to the whole of the Middle East. One needs only to look at what is happening in Syria, Iraq and Libya; we are witnessing a civilizational fault, where representatives of the same religion kill one another because they belong to different sects of the same religion. In such regions, terrorists have occupied the cities and its oil wells that, in turn, handsomely fund their terrorist activities.
Today, the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” is the richest terrorist group in the world. They control more than a dozen oil fields in Iraq and they are sending the oil to the black markets of Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, bringing about $ 3 million a day. The unfortunate policy of Americans and Europeans in the region — the use of hard power and the bloody overthrow of the regime — have had a boomerang effect.
Does the US want to see the same bloody and brutal chaos in Azerbaijan, the undisputed leader of the geopolitical and geo-economic processes in the South Caucasus and the a stable and reliable partner to the US, Europe and the West, in general? The alternative nightmare (as seen in Europe and its flow of refugees) is the reverse and back side of democracy that force these countries to impose hegemonic power.
On the other hand, a natural question is why Europeans do not mandate such requirements in Armenia, where the human rights situation leaves much to be desired. As noted in a US State Department report on the issue of protection of human rights, the biggest problems in Armenia in 2014 were systemic corruption and lack of transparency in management, which limited independence of the justice system and the lack of opportunities among citizens to change their government. The report also notes that the Armenian police continue to implement the practice of torture and beatings during interrogation to obtain confessions. Despite the fact that the Armenian legislation recognizes the presumption of innocence, the authorities do not respect the law, the report said. The report also speaks to the threats by a deputy chief of police, “to cut the ears off those who say anything against the president.” For some reason, the European Parliament and other European institutions have nothing to say and sit silently on the topic of Armenia’s egregious civil rights policy.
To add insult to injury, recently, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan announced that the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh region was part of Armenia, violating all the norms of international law. Sargsyan stated, “Armenia, and when I say Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part – [is] among the most militarized areas of the planet.” It is clear from this statement that President Sargsyan officially recognized the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia. Until now the country’s officials stated that Nagorno-Karabakh is “separated from Azerbaijan by the will of the inhabitants of the region, and should act as an independent party in the negotiations on the regulation of the conflict.”
Although already in the second term as head of state, the President of Armenia constantly behaves far from diplomatic protocol norms. His hands were stained with the blood of the Azerbaijan city of Khojaly, where he killed innocent women and children, by his own admission. According to the Armenian leader, his country will seek international recognition of the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. He maintains that Azerbaijan took the position of “everything or war” and is making progress in the negotiations. These statements prove, once again, that Sargsyan is completely irresponsible and applauds this short-sighted policy.
In speeches, the Armenian president tries to justify the aggression and occupation policy of Armenia. From this point of view, the leader of Armenia seems to live in his “mega Armenian” dream, without noticing what is happening in the South Caucasus region. The Armenian president speaks of the independence of his country, but it is an indisputable fact that the Armenia is the most dependent country of the former Soviet Union, long ago becoming a vassal of Russia while outsourcing their foreign and economic policies to Moscow. Armenia is also the last of the former Soviet Republics to serve as home to Russian troops, who, it is interesting to note, patrol Armenia borders and airspace. From the date of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia has been tied to the apron strings of the political ambitions of Russia. Armenia continues to exist because of gas, military and financial support from Mother Russia.
The situation in Armenia continues to deteriorate. Reports show the situation in Armenia is very tense due to Serzh Sargsyan’s leadership and what can only be described as his criminal-oligarchic pyramid that runs the country. Government policies and corruption systematically destroy small and medium sized businesses and cause public discontent and real hardship for the average Armenian. Unemployment in Armenia is rising and its economy is in systemic crisis, having to be bailed out periodically by Moscow. Yet, Armenian authorities hide the real figures on the catastrophic state of the economy. Armenia, due to a discontented population, is seeing a net decrease in population. Acute social discontent will put an end to the regime of Serzh Sargsyan. The question is only when it will happen.
On the other hand, we see a strong case in point in the strong bilateral relations that exist between the State of Israel and Azerbaijan. Israel has repeatedly expressed its appreciation for Azerbaijan’s warm and unique attitude of Azerbaijani President Aliyev, as well as the rest of the leadership of Azerbaijan towards the Jewish community. Diplomatic and economic ties have grown rapidly over the years, as both countries share a deep concern about Iran’s efforts to export Islamist extremism and develop nuclear weapons. Commerce and trade flourish, with Israel becoming a major importer of Azerbaijani oil and Israel’s technology industry aiding Baku with such projects as its telecommunications infrastructure and agriculture.
However, the relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan, and Muslim Azerbaijanis and Azerbaijani Jews, cannot be explained away by simple mutual self-interest and business enterprises. Common values and a shared history permeate this modern relationship. Both countries are enriched by the human connections between them and a determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies.
Today, Azerbaijan is a genuine strategic partner of the US, Europe and the State of Israel and a strong independent nation. Azerbaijan is a mere 24 years old and, as such, is an emerging democracy, emphasis on the word emerging-just as the US was at 24 years old. The US and Europe must recognize the great strides Azerbaijan has made since throwing off the chains of the Soviet Union. From the ongoing establishment of civil structures that are the basis of any healthy and sustainable democracy to the overwhelmingly Western leaning energy and other business projects launched by Azerbaijan, that nation continues to evolve and build in the right direction.
Arye Gut is a noted expert on the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and the head of the Israeli NGO, International Society Projects