Archive for the 'Azerbaijan' Category

Official Azerbaijan Denies Army Video

Two disturbing videos of Azerbaijani soldiers slapping fellow servants or each other (at least one of them seems to be a game) have been posted on According to the Russian-language (, a spokesperson of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense has denied the reality of the army game in the videos as a “provocation.” According to the official, nonetheless, the government is open to other “real facts and proofs” about the game. Apparently, videos don’t qualify as such.

Azerbaijan: Dick Cheney on Nagorno-Karabakh

According to the official White House website, America’s Vice President Dick Cheney has underlined Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity” while discussing the Armenian-Azeri conflict during a meeting with Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev in Baku:


America strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We are committed to achieving a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — a solution that starts with the principle of territorial integrity, and takes into account other international principles. Achieving a solution is more important now than ever before; that outcome will enhance peace and stability in the region, and Azerbaijan’s security, as well.


Azerbaijan: European Delegation Refused Djulfa Investigation

When, in February 2006, the European Parliament officially condemned Azerbaijan’s December 2005 deliberate destruction of the world’s largest Armenian medieval cemetery – Djulfa – the Azeri authorities denied European delegations’ visit to the site.


Azerbaijan, which still claims Djulfa was never destroyed because it didn’t exist in the first place, then said that it would only agree to the visit IF the delegation visited Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan (which is impossible since Nagorno-Karabakh is in a technical war with Azerbaijan and the only real way to visit Nagorno-Karabakh is from Armenia).


In an apparent desperation in the face of Azerbaijan’s continuous tricks to keep the delegation out of Djulfa, Edward O’Hara  – head of the PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education – has now suggested to drop the idea of visiting all countries at the same time and instead start off by visiting Azerbaijan first.


Azerbaijan’s response? NO WAY JOSE! Read the rest of the post at the Djulfa Blog.

Azerbaijan: New Exclusions in “The Most Tolerant Country”

In a step closer to totalitarianism, the government in ex-soviet Azerbaijan has imprisoned another journalist not in line with official views of the establishment that praises the oil-rich country as “an example of tolerance.”

According to the Associated Press, editor of the minority Talysh Sado Novruzali Mammadov was sentenced to10-years in prison for “treason.” The agency reports that “[p]rosecutors accused [Mammadov and the administrator of the newspaper, Elman Guliyev] of Talysh nationalism and undermining Azerbaijan’s statehood. The Talysh live in the south of the former Soviet republic and have close cultural ties to neighboring Iran. Guliyev acknowledged in court that the paper had received $1,000 per month from Talysh organizations in Iran.”

The conviction of indigenous Talysh activists comes a week after a Christian priest was arrested in Azerbaijan. According to Baptist Standard, “Hamid Shabanov, a Baptist pastor in Aliabad, Azerbaijan, was arrested June 20 [2008].”

Azerbaijan’s ironic self-image of “heaven of tolerance” is dimming day by day, especially that oppression in the Muslim country has shifted from being exclusively anti-Armenian. Editor of the now-banned Real Azerbaijan Eynulla Fatullayev, who had indirectly challenged Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian rhetoric, is serving an eleven-year sentence for charges of defamation, terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion. Emin Husseinov, director of the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety, was badly beaten last week in Azerbaijan. The Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety was founded by Idrak Abassov, the independent Azeri journalist who confirmed for a British publication a few years ago that the medieval Armenian cemetery of Djulfa had disappeared in Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave.

While arrests in Azerbaijan in the name of anti-Armenianism have received little coverage in the West due to the sensitive conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, the ongoing oppression in Azerbaijan against the Talysh and other minorities suggests that the fascist nationalism is not simply a reaction to losing the 1990s’ war to Armenia.

But as Azerbaijan pumps a lot of oil in the face of a $4/gallon gas crisis in the United States, democracy may be the last thing America would care about in Baku.

U.S. Report on the Caucasus

Asst. U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried has testified in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee on the South Caucasus countries.

In the introduction, Fried set the tone of the discussion. Talking about the South Caucasus countries’ relationship with NATO (which means alienation from Russia), he said:


Georgia has made a choice to join NATO. The United States and the nations of NATO welcome this choice, and Georgia’s neighbors should respect it.  Azerbaijan has chosen to develop its relations with NATO at a slower pace, and we respect its choice. Armenia’s situation is different, due to its history and currently complicated relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and we respect its choice as well.


Speaking about Azerbaijan, Fried said that “Azerbaijan has had the world’s fastest growing economy for three consecutive years.” Talking about Nagorno-Karabakh, he said “While we support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status must be determined through negotiations and a spirit of compromise that respects international legal and political principles.” By “legal [principle] Fried means “territorial integrity,” by “political principles” he means “self-determination.” In other words, he hopes there is a golden mean to the conflict of the two. Fried finished the presentation on Azerbaijan by referencing the recent anti-Armenian rhetoric. “We hope that the Azerbaijani government will avoid the temptation of thinking that renewed fighting is a viable option. In our view, it is not. We have noted our concern with persistent bellicose rhetoric by some Azerbaijani officials.” Mr. Friend, again and again, failed to mention the 2005 destruction of the Djulfa cemetery by Azerbaijan. I will send him an e-mail shortly.

Talking about Armenia, Fried referenced the genocide by saying that Turkey needs to recognize it while Armenia needs to guarantee that it will not territorial claims against Turkey (ironically, official Armenia has always done the latter.

In Fried’s words:


Reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, however, will require dealing with sensitive, painful issues. Turkey needs to come to terms with a dark chapter in its history: the mass killings and forced exile of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. That will not be easy, just as it has not been easy for the United States to come to terms with dark periods of our own past. For its part, Armenia must be ready to acknowledge the existing border and disavow any claim on the territory of modern Turkey, and respond constructively to any efforts Turkey may make.


The report went into great detail describing Armenia’s post election unrest. It said in part:


When peaceful mass protests followed the disputed vote, the United States and others pressed continuously for the government of Armenia to refrain from responding with force. However, on March 1, within hours of formal assurances by the Armenian government that they would avoid a confrontation, police entered the square. Ensuing clashes later in the day between demonstrators and security personnel led to at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Mr. Ter-Petrossian was taken to his residence by security forces, where he appeared to remain under de facto house arrest for weeks. A State of Emergency (SOE) was declared in Yerevan. Freedom of assembly and basic media freedoms were revoked. Opposition newspapers were forced to stop publishing and news websites were blocked, including Radio Liberty. The government then filled the information void with articles and broadcasts disseminating the government version of events and attacking the opposition. While it was alleged that some protesters were armed before the March 1 crackdown, there have been no convictions to date on such charges.


Ironically, Fried finished his remarks on Armenia by connecting the recent unrest (and the need to resolve it) to the absence of a US ambassador to Armenia (the Democratic-controlled U.S. senate has refused to appoint an Ambassador who refuses to refer to the Armenian Genocide as such).

Summarizing Georgia’s political situation, Fried said “Georgia’s young democracy has made progress, but Georgia needs to make more progress if it is to live up to the high standards that it has set for itself. The United States will help as it can to support democratic reform, urging the Georgian authorities to take seriously their ambition to reach European standards of democracy.”

The rest of the talk on Georgia was a detailed condemnation of Russia’s pressure on the ex-Soviet republic:


Moscow has in recent years put economic and political pressure on Georgia: closing their common border; suspending air and ground transport links; and imposing embargoes against exports of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural goods. This year, despite recently lifting some of the economic and transport embargoes, Moscow has intensified political pressure by taking a number of concrete steps toward a de facto official relationship with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian peacekeeping forces have been deployed since the early 1990s – up to 3,000 in Abkhazia, and 500 Russians plus 500 North Ossetians in South Ossetia. In March, Russia announced its unilateral withdrawal from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sanctions on Abkhazia, which would allow Russia potentially to provide direct military assistance (though the Russian government has offered assurances that it will continue to adhere to military sanctions). On April 16, then-President Putin issued instructions calling for closer ties between Russian ministries and their Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts. Russian investors are known to be buying property in Abkhazia in disregard of Georgian law. Some of these properties may have belonged to displaced persons, making their eventual return even more difficult. Russian banks maintain correspondent relationships with unlicensed and virtually unregulated Abkhaz banks, an open invitation to money launderers. 


Interestingly, if you take Fried’s words for real there is no discrimination against minorities in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. While the U.S. State Department official repeatedly refers to “separatists,” there are no talk about discrimination against minorities and destruction of minority culture in either of the South Caucasus republics.

The report also lacks mentioning human trafficking, which is very prevalent in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Fighting and preventing human trafficking is a major step of building democracy.

The Q&A transcript hasn’t been posted as of June 18, 2008.

Azerbaijan: Wanna Fight?

The revival of the bloodiest war in the former Soviet Union may start sooner than expected, as Azerbaijan seemingly tries to inflame tensions with neighboring Armenia. Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave, known to its residents and outsiders alike as “a region without rights,” is making clear its refusal to return four captured soldiers that Armenia says erroneously entered Azeri territory.


Additionally, local media in Azerbaijan report the authorities are preparing to “punish” the Armenian soldiers who crossed the border two months ago. According to Trend News, an Azerbaijani Military of Defense spokesperson has said that “Armenians who attempted to commit sabotage in Azerbaijan will be punished in line with the legislation.”


While not specifying what the “punishment” will be, Azerbaijan’s new tough message interestingly accompanied ultra-nationalist president Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Nakhichevan, the region he hails from. Aliyev, who has threatened to restart the war against Armenia over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, made several stops in Nakhichevan including overseeing the opening of a hospital in the district of Djulfa – the same area where local soldiers reduced the world’s largest Armenian cemetery to dust in December 2005.


Djulfa’s destruction, which was condemned by the European Parliament, is part of a number of recent failures by the Aliyev regime which seem to have made Azerbaijan’s authoritarian establishment even more militant. A few months ago, France, Russia and the United States – the three countries involved in negotiating the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process – loudly rejected a resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan in the United Nations.

With the enormous oil boom and an almost omnipresent hatred against Armenia, Azerbaijan’s regime seems to think it can afford a war against Armenia. Or maybe they are trying to scare the world?

South Caucasus: Cheese as Regional Reconciliation?

The Economist has an interesting article on an effort to push for a four-way, Armenian-Azeri-Georgian-Turkish dialogue, in the South Caucasus.

ON AN icy February morning a clutch of Turks and Armenians huddled in a hotel in Kars, with Turkish intelligence officials looking on. On May 14th their secret, a giant round of cheese, was unveiled in Gyumri, over the sealed border in Armenia. Under the label of “Caucasian cheese”, the yellow slab symbolises reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, and across the Caucasus.

The idea of a regional “peace” cheese (Georgia and Azerbaijan are involved too) met suspicion when mooted a year ago, says Alin Ozinian of the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council. “We didn’t know how the authorities would react,” said Zeki Aydin, a Turkish cheese producer, who made the ten-hour trip from Kars to Gyumri via Georgia. “We want our borders to be reopened, good neighbourly ties, so we took a chance,” said Ilhan Koculu, a fellow cheesemaker.

Vefa Ferejova, an Azeri campaigning to bury the hatchet with Armenia, was also there, saying “We are told to hate Armenians: I will not.” Armenia and Azerbaijan are at loggerheads over Nagorno-Karabakh, a patch of land that Armenia wrested from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. This prompted Turkey to seal its border (but not air links) with Armenia in 1993. American-brokered peace talks have failed, and Azerbaijan now threatens to resort to force.

Yet there are hopeful signs that Turkey and Armenia may make up. Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, was among the first to congratulate Serzh Sarkisian, who became Armenia’s president in a tainted election in February. Unofficial talks to establish diplomatic ties could resume at any time. Indeed, there is a whiff of desperation in the air. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is under threat of closure by the constitutional court for allegedly wanting to bring in sharia law. AK‘s overtures to Armenia may be aimed at garnering some Western support.

Mr Sarkisian’s government is heading for trouble when gas prices double this winter. An end to Turkey’s blockade could temper popular unrest. But hawks in Turkey and Armenia can still count on Azerbaijan. Allegations that Armenia is sheltering Kurdish rebels have stirred anger in Turkey. Where did they come from? “The Azeri press,” snorts Mr Aydin. Even the best cheese cannot change everybody’s attitudes overnight.

Azerbaijan: The Genocide Game

Given Azerbaijan’s linguistic exercise on the word genocide in their anti-Armenian rhetoric, it is interesting to come across to some Azeris who do not deny the Armenian Genocide.

In a private communication with a YouTube member from Baku, who originally contacted me asking why Armenians like Azeri music, I discussed nationalism suggesting that fascism hurts – and doesn’t help – Azerbaijan.  Interestingly, the user invited me to meet with him (not even bothering to tell me his name after I introduced myself) but changed the subject when I asked why. As further communication revealed my pen pal’s ultra-nationalism, although he (unlike official Azerbaijan) didn’t deny the destruction of Djulfa, I told him that nationalists are not true patriots to any country.

After the YouTube member (whom I will keep anonymous out of respect of privacy) said he was not xenophobic but feared that “in the next 20 years my country will cease to exsist” because of Armenian territorial claims, I compared his analysis to Russian skinheads who kill Azeris and Armenians in Moscow in the name of patriotism.

In his next e-mail, he became inconsistent and said that if “Armenian Dashnaks” try to attack AzerbaijanTurkey will be on [Armenia] like there is no tomorrow, and iam sure you know that the Turks are very infamous 🙂 .”

This is at least the second time when in private communication an Armenian-hater (who’d conventionally deny the Armenian Genocide) is indirectly recognizing the Genocide. That “recognition” is usually in the form of threats reminding what has happened before.

This indirect “recognition” by ultra-nationalists shows that not every denier of the Armenian Genocide truly believes that it never happened.

Azerbaijan: Linguistic Exercise of Genocide

Ara Sanjian has an interesting summary analysis of Azerbaijan’s growing denial of the Armenian Genocide and the misuse of the word “genocide” in many aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

While the continuing struggle between Armenian and Turkish officials and activists for or against the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 shows no sign of abating, and while its dynamics are becoming largely predictable, a new actor is increasingly attracting attention for its willingness to join this “game.” It is Azerbaijan, which has—since 1988—been engaged in at times lethal conflict with Armenians over Mountainous Karabagh.

In modern times, Armenians have often found it difficult to decide whether they should view the Turks (of Turkey) and the Azerbaijanis as two separate ethnic groups—and thus apply two mutually independent policies towards them—or whether they should approach them as only two of the many branches of a single, pan-Turkic entity, pursuing a common, long-term political objective, which would—if successful—end up with the annihilation of Armenians in their historical homeland.

Indeed, almost at the same time that the Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire was attracting worldwide attention, extensive clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis first occurred in Transcaucasia in 1905. Clashes—accompanied, on this occasion, with attempts at ethnic cleansing—resumed with heightened intensity after the collapse of tsarism in 1917. They were suppressed only in 1921, by the Russian-dominated communist regime, which reasserted control over Transaucasia, forced Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to join the Soviet Union, and imposed itself as the judge in the territorial disputes that had plagued these nations. The communists eventually endorsed Zangezur as part of Armenia, while allocating Nakhichevan and Mountainous Karabagh to Azerbaijan. This arrangement satisfied neither side. A low-intensity Armenian-Azerbaijani struggle persisted during the next decades within the limits permitted by the Soviet system. Repeated Armenian attempts to detach Mountainous Karabagh from Azerbaijan were its most visible manifestation.


Hence, it is still difficult to know what Soviet Azerbaijani historians thought about the Armenian Genocide of 1915: Were they more sympathetic to arguments produced by Soviet Armenian historians or those who had the blessing of the authorities in Ankara? The polemic between Soviet Armenian and Soviet Azerbaijani historians centered from the mid-1960’s on the legacy of Caucasian Albania. A theory developed in Soviet Azerbaijan assumed that the once Christian Caucasian Albanians were the ancestors of the modern-day Muslim Azerbaijanis. Thereafter, all Christian monuments in Soviet Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan (including all medieval Armenian churches, monasteries and cross-stones, which constituted the vast majority of these monuments) were declared to be Caucasian Albanian and, hence, Azerbaijani. Medieval Armenians were openly accused of forcibly assimilating the Caucasian Albanians and laying claim to their architectural monuments and works of literature. This was probably the closest that Soviet Azerbaijanis came—in print—to formally accusing the Armenians of committing genocide against their (Caucasian Albanian) ancestors.

Since 1988, however, as the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Mountainous Karabagh has gotten bloodier and increasingly intractable, the Azerbaijani positions on both negating the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and accusing Armenians of having themselves committed a genocide against the Azerbaijanis have become more pronounced and now receive full backing from all state institutions, including the country’s last two presidents, Heydar and Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijani officials, politicians, and wide sections of civil society, including the head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh ul-Islam Haji Allahshukur Pashazada, as well as numerous associations in the Azerbaijani diaspora, now fully identify themselves with Turkey’s official position that the Armenian Genocide is simply a lie, intentionally fabricated in pursuit of sinister political goals. Even representatives of the Georgian, Jewish, and Udi ethnic communities in Azerbaijan have joined the effort. Unlike in Turkey, there is not yet a visible minority in Azerbaijan that openly disagrees with their government’s stand on this issue. This probably explains the absence of the Azerbaijani judiciary in the campaign to deny the 1915 genocide. If there are officials or intellectuals who remain unconvinced with this theory propagated by their government, it seems that they still prefer to keep a very low profile.


Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation against the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign is also evident among the Turkish and Azerbaijani expatriate communities in Europe and the United States. Indeed, some of the demonstrations mentioned above as the activities of the Azerbaijani diaspora were organized in conjunction with local Turkish organizations. Within Turkey, among the Igdir, Kars, and Erzerum residents, who consider themselves victims of an Armenian-perpetrated genocide, and who filed a lawsuit against the novelist Orhan Pamuk in June 2006, were also ethnic Azerbaijanis; their ancestors had moved from territories now part of Armenia.

Azerbaijanis, like Turks, are very interested in having the Jews as allies in their struggle against the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign. Like Turks, Azerbaijanis do not question the Holocaust. However, they liken the Armenians to its perpetrators—the Nazis—and not its victims—the Jews—as is the case among Holocaust and genocide scholars. The Azerbaijanis argue that Jews should join their efforts to foil Armenian attempts at genocide recognition because there was also a genocide perpetrated by Armenians against Jews in Azerbaijan, at the time of the genocide against Azerbaijanis in the early 20th century. They repeatedly state that several thousand Jews died then because of Armenian cruelty. The support of Jewish residents of Ujun (Germany) to public events organized by the local Azerbaijanis was attributed to their being provided with documents that listed 87 Jews murdered by Armenians in Guba (Azerbaijan) in 1918.(7)

Yevda Abramov, currently the only Jewish member of the Azerbaijani parliament, is prominent in pushing for such joint Azerbaijani-Jewish efforts. He consistently seeks to show to his ethnic Azerbaijani compatriots that Israel and Jews worldwide share their viewpoint regarding the Armenian Genocide claims. In August 2007, he commented that “one or two Jews can recognize [the] Armenian genocide. That will be the result of Armenian lobby’s impact. However, that does not mean that Jews residing in the United States and the organizations functioning there also recognize the genocide.” He explained that because expenditures for election to the U.S. Congress are high, some Jewish candidates receive contributions from the Armenian lobby and, in return, have to meet the interests of this lobby. According to Abramov, “except [for the] Holocaust, Jews do not recognize any [other] event as genocide.”(8)

Azerbaijani arguments that Armenians perpetrated a genocide against Azerbaijanis and Jews in the early 20th century have received little attention outside Azerbaijani circles. However, when the issue was touched upon in a contribution to the Jerusalem Post by Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli adviser to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 4, 2007, his article was also quickly distributed by the Azeri Press Agency. Ben-David called on Israel and Jewish-Americans to be careful regarding Armenian claims against Turkey. He listed a number of instances when—he believed—Armenians had massacred hundreds of thousands of Turkish Muslims and thousands of Jews. “Recently, Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan requested assistance in building a monument to 3,000 Azeri Jews killed by Armenians in 1918 in a pogrom about which little is known,” he wrote.(9)


However, mutual accusations of the destruction of monuments are just the tip of the iceberg in a larger interpretation of demographic processes in Transcaucasia in the last 200 years as one, continual process of ethnic cleansing. Within this context, the term “genocide” is often used as shorthand to indicate slow, but continuing ethnic cleansing, punctuated with moments of heightened violence also serving the same purpose. Indeed, where the contemporary Azerbaijani attitude toward Armenia departs from Turkey’s is now the official standpoint in Baku that the Armenians have pursued a policy of genocide against the Azerbaijanis during the past two centuries.

While the Turkish state and dominant Turkish elites vehemently object to the use of the term “genocide” to describe the Armenian deportations of 1915, and while some Turkish historians, politicians, and a few municipal authorities have accused the Armenians themselves of having committed genocide against the Ottoman Muslims/Turks—in their replies to what they say are Armenian “allegations”—this line of accusation has never been officially adopted, to date at least, by the highest authorities. It has not become a part of state-sponsored lobbying in foreign countries.


Azerbaijan: Another Indigenous Movement?

Map: Compared to Nagorno-Karabakh (left), the breakaway indigenous Armenian region, areas where Lezgins reside (right) in Azerbaijan is pretty small. Yet indigenous Lezgins’ growing movement doesn’t only seek self-determination but indirectly challenges Azerbaijan’s official identity that links the predominantly Turkic country to an extinct culture in the South Caucasus.

While Azerbaijan, an ex-Soviet country with a Turkic majority, hopes to restore its ‘territorial integrity’ by getting the indigenous Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh back, another native population is voicing desires for self-determination.


Some leaders of ethnic Lezgins – Islamized descendants of the now extinct Caucasian Albanian nation (that was the first country, along with its stronger ally Armenia, to officially adopt Christianity in 301 A.D.) – are quoted as saying that their only dream is “to unite the entire Lezgin people in one state.”


Spread predominantly in the Dagestan region of Southern Russia and in northern Azerbaijan, Lezgins are a nation of about a million people.


While Lezgins are not the only ethnic group in Azerbaijan to consider themselves descendants of the ancient Albanians, this new indigenous movement is a blow to Azerbaijan’s official claim that Azeris are native to the South Caucasus.


Although Azerbaijan’s is ethnically heterogeneous, the Turkic culture is dominant (and originates in Central Asia). Yet Azerbaijan has countered Armenians’ indigenous claim, which Armenians consider a boost for legitimacy for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, claiming that Azerbaijan is a direct heir of Caucasian Albania and, thus, native to the region. So indigenous Lezgins’ claim of ethnocide in Azerbaijan is not only a long-term territorial claim to the Turkic country, but also disqualifies Azerbaijan’s official myth of Caucasian Albanian origins.

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