Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev’s recent statement that neighboring Armenia can’t give anything to the world “from the political, economic, transport or cultural points of view” has attracted little attention.

That’s because there is nothing new in a racist statement coming from official Azerbaijan that says Armenia has no cultural contributions to the world. In fact, Aliyev’s regime has done everything possible to prove that point: in December of 2005, the largest Armenian archaeological site in the world – the medieval cemetery of Djulfa – was reduced to dust by a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army. President Aliyev says the destruction never happened because there had never been any Armenia cultural monument in Djulfa in the first place.

And although the deliberate demolition of Djulfa has not attracted much concern from the international community – some suggest the oil factor – there is now a growing concern about Azerbaijan’s ambitions of “uniting Turkic countries” which is usually followed by statements against Armenia and primarily seeks a common identity with the Republic of Turkey.

Mathew Bryza, the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, has said at a recent conference that “[t]he slogan ‘one nation, two states’ reigning in Turkey and Azerbaijan should be changed. “ Although Bryza’s statement at face is a reference to stopping the common hate toward Armenia it comes amid apparent concerns for growing Pan-Turkism in Eurasia and so creation of a “racial” and possibly Islamic unity.

A recent article in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, titled “The Rebirth of Pan-Turkism?” states:

As the USSR recedes further into history, the post-Soviet Turkic nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia are rediscovering their linguistic and cultural affinities with Turkey, and activists are promoting closer cultural, economic, and political ties.

Among the states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, the pan-Turkic sentiment is most pronounced in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s most ardent support of closer Turkic ties is Nizami Jafarov, director of Baku’s Ataturk Center, a corresponding member of Azerbaijan’s Academy of Science, and head of the Azerbaijani Permanent Parliamentary Commission on the Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Jafarov’s latest project is setting up a new Turkish language TV channel in Azerbaijan to broadcast to the Turkish-speaking world and foster further integration in the Turkic world. “It is possible to say that this idea has become a reality,” Jafarov said during a recent interview. “The issues of the opportunities, main topics, and language of this TV channel have been defined after long discussions. No one is against the creation of such a channel.” According to Jafarov, the only thing currently lacking is money. “ The issue will be fully elaborated after one of the Turkic countries or any international company undertakes the financing of the TV channel,” but he added optimistically, “I think the issue of the channel opening will be settled this year.”

The concern for Pan-Turkism is not the cultural integration of countries with somewhat closer heritage but old ambitions for a Pan-Turkic “empire” that some scholars believe was the ideology behind eliminating the Armenian people from the Ottoman Empire. 

Jafarov is also chairman of the Turkish-Azerbaijani Parliamentary Friendship Group, which has been promoting the idea of closer Turkish-Azeri relations for some time. In 2006 Jafarov maintained, the idea of a Parliamentary Assembly of Turkish States began to gain serious traction, commenting, “Azerbaijan’s suggestion of establishing a Parliamentary Assembly of Turkish States has been approved by all. The format of the Assembly is to be discussed. Creation of this assembly is inevitable. The ongoing processes in the world make it necessary to set up an organization of Turkish states at least on parliament level” (, February 28, 2006). As envisaged, the Turkish States’ Parliamentary Assembly would consist of delegates from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.

Although the article fails to directly mention the “role” of Armenia in the Pan-Turkic ambition – that is Armenia would need to be physically annihilated because it is the only country that geographically seperates the Turkic nations –  it does reference the anti-Armenian rhetoric of the Pan-Turkic agenda:

An important element of Jafarov’s plan was Armenia’s reaction to such an assembly. The following month Jafarov said, “The Armenian media writes that Turk nations will create a Turanian State and claims that and this state will be against Armenians… The establishment of such an assembly is important for the maintenance of harmony in the world and is not in contradiction with the norms and principles of international law. On the other hand, Armenians are far fewer in number than Turks. There are 100 million Turks in the world and only about 10 million Armenians. Despite this we will discuss the ‘Armenian issue’ after the formation of the Assembly.”

Azerbaijan’s successful destruction of Armenian cultural heritage and an unprecended hate campaign – partially because of losing a recent war to Armenia – toward the people who, even after the Armenian Genocide – stand on the way of Pan-Turkism – has led to convinctions on the part of Azerbaijan’s officials that they should become the leader of the Turkic world:

But the concept has already brushed up against political reality, with both Turkey and Azerbaijan claiming credit for the concept and eventual leadership of the organization. For the Azeris, the recent Congress solidified Azerbaijan’s leadership. According to Nazim Ibrahimov, head of the State Committee on Work with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad, “This congress, which was held on the initiative of President Ilham Aliyev, brought new tone to the Turkish world. In the worldwide Turkish diaspora all Turks are speaking about the congress in Baku. They consider the Azerbaijani President as a new leader of Turkish world” (APA, December 30).

While Azerbaijan’s immense oil wealth gives it a rising presence in the Turkic world, it remains to be seen if that will translate into substantial political power in the Inter-Parliamentary Council and Advisory Council, proposed by Turkey, and whether the heads of the five former Soviet Turkic states will, in fact, be ready to surrender any national sovereignty to such a body. If Azerbaijan and Turkey cannot even agree regarding who provided the impetus for the idea, further integration of the Turkish-speaking world still seems a distant goal.

Armenia’s good relationship with some of the Central Asian “Turkic” countries may also be a factor to the thwart of the political aspect of the Pan-Turkist ambition. Armenian culture is widely spread in many of these former Soviet Union countries and most would disagree with Aliyev’s racist statement that Armenia culturally offers nothing to the world.  Moreover, Armenians and Azeris are genetically more related than Azeris and their “Turkic brothers” in Central Asia so hopes for Pan-Turkist racial unity are embedded in myths and prejudice.

Nonetheless, Azerbaijan’s ambitions for greater rule and influence are alarming, as the State Department has finally noticed, even if no one – including Turkey – refuse to participate in the Pan-Turkist agenda.  Azerbaijan’s militarization needs to be put to an end. And that must start with activating Section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act.