Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov 3/29/06

Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, has lashed out at Armenia,
claiming that "Armenian ideologists-nationalists" have pursued a
policy of aggression against Azeris for "about 200 years." Aliyev's
vitriolic rhetoric indicates that the window for a negotiated solution
to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is slamming shut.

In his March 28 address, Aliyev said Armenians aimed "to oust
Azerbaijanis from their lands, and create a state of 'Greater
Armenia.'" He went on to assert that Yerevan was solely responsible
for starting hostilities between the two countries "aiming to forcibly
unify Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia."

He complained that "the history of our nation has been roughly
distorted" by a comprehensive Armenian propaganda campaign that
"mobilized the Armenia diaspora and lobby for those purposes,"
according to the text of the address distributed by the official
AzerTag news agency.

Aliyev's speech occurred roughly six weeks after he and his Armenian
counterpart, Robert Kocharian, failed to achieve a breakthrough in
Karabakh peace negotiations during a summit meeting in France. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In the weeks leading up
to that meeting, hopes ran high that the two leaders would agree on a
peace framework. Though few details of the discussions have emerged,
observers believe that disagreement over the timing and the scope
of a Karabakh referendum concerning the territory's political future
emerged as an insurmountable obstacle to a settlement.

Since the summit, international mediators had expressed hope that
a settlement could still be found in 2006. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive]. Aliyev's comments indicate, however,
that Baku doesn't believe a peaceful settlement is achievable in the
near term.

Claiming that Armenia has "become a hostage to the idea of a 'great
state,'" Aliyev alleged that peace talks stalled yet again "because of
the destructive and aggressive policy of the Armenian leadership." He
reiterated that Azerbaijan is committed to a negotiated Karabakh
settlement that provides for "the restoration of our territorial
integrity." But in comments sure to enrage Yerevan, Aliyev added that
Armenian leaders were conducting an "informational-propagandistic
fight concerning the invented 'Armenian genocide' ... to prove their
territorial claims and obtain political dividends."

Armenian officials had no immediate official reaction to the
Azerbaijani president's comments. A central pillar of Yerevan's foreign
policy has been securing international recognition of Ottoman Turkey's
mass killings of Armenians, beginning in 1915, as genocide. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. President Kocharian
previously cautioned that if Baku did not alter its negotiating
position, the Armenian government would consider recognizing Karabakh's

In recent weeks, Aliyev and other officials have repeatedly threatened
that Azerbaijan might resort to military action if Baku determined that
Karabakh peace negotiations stood no chance of success. In comments
made March 27 during a ceremony at the National Security Ministry,
and broadcast by ANS television, Aliyev stressed that Azerbaijan's
rapid economic growth, driven by the development of the country's
abundant energy reserves, was enabling the government to embark on
a far-reaching military build-up. He added that the potential for
Karabakh negotiations "has not yet been exhausted."

"The other side [Armenia] must know that Azerbaijan is capable of
securing its territorial integrity through war," Aliyev said.

Ceasefire violations in recent weeks have resulted in the deaths of
several Azerbaijani soldiers, Lider television reported. The ArmInfo
news agency on March 28 quoted Armenian Deputy Defense Minister
Artur Agabekyan as saying Azerbaijani forces were responsible for
starting the firefights. "Our servicemen ... are in a state of combat
readiness," Agabekyan said. "They will be prepared to repulse any
attack, be it a local attack or a large-scale one."

In addition to the build-up, Azerbaijan appears intent on mobilizing
the Azeri diaspora to join in an information offensive to promote
Baku's interests around the globe, including a Karabakh settlement that
is favorable to Baku. Azerbaijani officials used the second Congress
of World Azerbaijanis, held in mid March, to issue a call for rapid
consolidation of diaspora groups in order to present a unified view
of Azerbaijan and its policy aims to the outside world.

"In today's world, a successful information policy is one of the
major factors of the overall development and perfect strengthening of
statehood," Nazim Ibrahimov, the head of Azerbaijan's State Committee
on Relations with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad, said in a March 16
speech to the congress' 600 delegates.

According to state committee figures, approximately 50 million Azeris
live in over 70 countries. The largest diaspora communities are
found in Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Germany and the United
States. Approximately 30 million Azerbaijanis also live in modern
Iran. Roughly 8 million Azeris live in Azerbaijan.

In his March 28 speech, Aliyev indicated that Baku would seek to use
the Azeri diaspora to counter the "Armenian lobby abroad."

Some delegates to the congress acknowledged that Azeri diaspora groups
had not done a good job in promoting Baku's policies. "The Azerbaijani
diaspora is badly organized because it is young," Azad Seidov, head of
the Azeri national cultural center in the Russian city Surgut, told
EurasiaNet. "We do not have a common plan of action and Azerbaijani
communities in foreign countries are working on their own. We have
to unite in order to recover our lands, cultural heritage and customs."

Other representatives of diaspora groups confirmed that the
consolidation effort was intended to influence the Karabakh peace
process. Fahri Kerimli, chairman of board of the Romanian-Azerbaijani
Cultural Assembly, said unification would assist in the "neutralization
of efforts of Armenian diaspora around the world against Azerbaijan,
Azerbaijanis and Turkey." A major aim of the intended information
offensive, Kerimli added, was to recast Azerbaijan as the victim in
the Karabakh conflict, dispelling the widely held view at present
that Baku was the aggressor.

Seidov and other delegates expressed interest in coordinating actions
with representatives of Turkish diaspora groups. "State interests
... made it necessary for the Azerbaijani and Turkish diasporas to
cooperate - to jointly operate to solve vital problems," Ibrahimov,
the state committee chief, said.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress