The Pen Is Mightier Than These Legal Swords

Despite their best efforts to keep such discussions under wraps (or just suppress them altogether), a confusing web of stories have emerged this week regarding what is arguably the Azerbaijani government’s worst human rights violation: the restriction of the foreign and domestic press.

As I’ve previously discussed, Reporters Without Borders recently ranked Azerbaijan as the 160th least free country (or 20th most restrictive, depending on how you look at it) in their World Press Freedom Index. (For perspective, Burma, Russia, Singapore, and the Central African Republic were more highly ranked.) The Azeri government is notorious for silencing dissent by passing laws that ban certain kinds of speech, or detaining journalists for months if they are thought to be writing pieces that might undermine the government.

Of course, this “criticism of government” (read: repression) extends to discussion on sensitive topics to the Azeri government, such as Nagorno-Karabakh. On April 10th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced new policies for foreign “mass media representatives” that had, in fact, been approved and gone into effect a week prior. The Ministry’s new policy dictates the following:

“The Foreign Ministry will revoke the accreditation of foreign mass media representatives in case they violate the rules of accreditation, work against the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan, visit Azerbaijani territories occupied by the Republic of Armenia, without the consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or disseminate distorted or false information or this information is approved by the court decision.”

Hmm. What types of reporting could possibly fall under this law?

It certainly has nothing to do with another story from the 10th, in which Baku declared New York Times reporter Seth Kugel an official persona non grata for his “distortion of the real situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and “showing a clear disrespect to the readers of the newspaper.” Earlier this week Kugel, a writer for the NYT’s “Frugal Traveler” column, published an article about his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh from February.

The spokesman for the foreign ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev, expressed his disappointment at Kugel’s “failure to mention that such transnational crimes as human trafficking, production and sale of drugs, illicit arms trafficking, training of terrorists are organized in these territories,” and his enmity towards the New York Times for publishing a “biased” article that paints Nagorno-Karabakh as a pleasant “tourist trap.” Because Kugel visited Nagorno-Karabakh without explicit approval from Baku (yet another Azeri law), he is now blacklisted (which may or may not actually mean anything). While I’ll let you be the judge of whether Kugel’s piece is “offensive,” it’s worth noting that Hajiyev is overall correct – but he should probably save his displeasure for something more threatening.

All of this follows another article where Baku did, in fact, permit a foreign reporter – BBC journalist Rayhan Demytrie – to visit Nagorno-Karabakh and report on the “struggles and hopes” of the people living there. Yerevan, which has similar rules for reporters, did not approve the request. Hajiyev released a statement, this time praising Demytrie and the BBC’s professionalism, although he did note that “some points in the prepared video reportage are controversial.” Her video report on the “frozen” conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh can be found here.



Ah, Yes – THAT Great Patriotic War

Following a (relatively) recent report published by the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription (SHXCDX), the media announced that 1291 Great Patriotic War veterans are still alive in Azerbaijan. Approximately one quarter of these veterans still live in Baku, and a handful of veterans live in all districts except for Beylagan and Khojavand. Of course, none of them are from the separatist republic of Nagorno-Karabakh or the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan (of which parts are occupied by Armenians) in Armenia, because Armenians can never be considered patriotic.

Chances are you’re probably fuzzy on your noncontiguous Azeri territory and forgotten where Nakhchivan is. With the exception of the Armenian-occupied northern exclave of Karki (which is an exclave within an exclave), Nakhchivan is governed as an autonomous republic of Azerbaijan.

If you’ve lost track of which Great Patriotic War or Conflict the media is referring to, fear not: the meaning has mutated over time. The term is currently used in reference to the Eastern Front of World War II, which lasted from June 22nd, 1941 to May 9th (or 11th, if you include the liberation of Prague) 1945. The term is not typically used outside of the former USSR, although it should be noted that the Eastern Front never crossed into what was once Azeri territory.

Of course, this was not the first Great Patriotic War – in fact, it was the third. The first Great Patriotic War occurred in 1812, in which Napoleon ultimately failed to take Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. The Russian troops were not well-equipped, but employed scorched-earth tactics to starve the woefully underprepared French troops. The Great Patriotic War later referred to the First World War, in which Russia fought both the German and the Austro-Hungary Empire – again managing to outlast better-trained and equipped officers. With the prospect of another large and difficult war looming with the breaking of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, the term “Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People” began circulating in 1941 as a propagandist way to inspire Soviet resistance (which, as we know today, was quite impressive).

So why does this mean anything to Azerbaijan? It’s not clear – while relations with Russia have typically been strong in the post-Soviet world, both nations are competing for oil exports and Russia’s weakening economy has led to a degree of distancing. At the same time, playing up the Soviet connection could be advantageous if relations with Armenia continue to deteriorate and Baku needs to call on its ally.

(Or maybe Azerbaijan just wants to pretend that they’re relevant on the global stage.)


In other news, Azerbaijan is unhappy that NATO is planning to hold a Parliamentary Assembly in Yerevan. Vice-Speaker Ziyafet Asgerov, the head of the Azeri delegation to NATO, has written a formal letter protesting the locale. (They have suggested Belgrave instead.)

Baku is also pleased with the progress made between Iran and the P5+1 group in regards to the Iranian nuclear program. With Iran as Azerbaijan’s only buffer to the increasingly unstable and chaotic Middle East, such a deal will (hopefully) combat destabilization in the region. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented on the matter:

“We are confident that this political framework will open up an opportunity for the development of peace, security and stability in the region and beyond. The Azerbaijan Republic supports efforts and political will of the international community regarding the constructive resolution of international issues basing on the norms and principles of the UN Charter and international law.”

In light of Yemen’s collapse, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also extended its deepest thanks to Russia for evacuating Azeri nationals from Yemen to the embassy, and later to Moscow. It helps to have allies!


Building Bridges: 60 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest

It’s been a dreadfully slow news week in Azerbaijan following the celebration of Novruz, but the new year always brings new excitement.

That’s right, folks – it’s Eurovision time!

Last week, Azerbaijan announced that İctimai Television (ITV) selected Elnur Huseynov to represent the country in the second semi-final on May 21st. He will be singing “Hour Of The Wolf,” written by Sandra Bjurman, Nicolas Rebscher, Nicklas Lif and Lina Hansson. Elnur Husyenov is no stranger to Eurovision – he competed with Samir Javadzada in the country’s first entry in 2008, coming in 8th place. (He also won last year’s edition of The Voice Turkey.)

Elnur Huseynov’s promotional picture for Eurovision 2015.

You might be confused by now: How can Azerbaijan compete in a contest called “Eurovision” when the country isn’t really in Europe? And what is Eurovision anyways?

While the name has changed over time (until 1977, the French name was used – Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne, or Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix), the Eurovision Song Contest began when the Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union began investigating lighthearted ways to bring war-devastated Europe together. In 1956, the first “European Grand Prix” telecasted song contest was held in Lugano, Switzerland between 7 countries: the Netherlands, France, Germany (West Germany, though not named as such in most contests), Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland. The project itself was ambitious, as a simulcast television show had never been done on such a large scope – and many of Eurovision’s first viewers didn’t even own a television (fortunately, it was also broadcast on the radio).

Today, Eurovision has evolved: any country within the European Broadcasting Area (EBA) may complete, provided that they meet that year’s agreed-upon requirements (such as broadcasting the prior year’s show). The EBA is defined as the following:

“The European Broadcasting Area is bounded on the west by the western boundary of Region 1, on the east by the meridian 40° East of Greenwich and on the south by the parallel 30° North so as to include the northern part of Saudi Arabia and that part of those countries bordering the Mediterranean within these limits. In addition, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and those parts of the territories of Iraq, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Ukraine lying outside the above limits are included in the European Broadcasting Area.”

The contest is hosted in the country of the prior year’s winners, provided they are able to supply funding for the event. Hosting Eurovision is a considered a great honor (and a prime opportunity to lure tourists, especially considering that nearly 200 million viewers will tune in to the broadcast), so few countries rarely turn the opportunity down. This year’s contest will be hosted in Vienna, Austria. The theme is “Building Bridges,” in light of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and subsequent efforts to “build bridges” in the reunification of Europe.

The Eurovision eligibility map. Countries in green have competed at least once, and countries in orange have never competed but are welcome to do so. Countries in pink are eligible but have withdrawn from the contest.

Following the determination of eligibility, each country is sorted into two live semi-final rounds that occur the week before the contest, and the top 10 songs from each semi-final will proceed to the final on May 23rd. Entrants in the semi-final select both a singer and a song, and submit a music video. Each country may utilize any selection strategy – in many nations, a national phone/text vote is held for a singer and a song, or a talent contest is held. In Azerbaijan, Elnur was chosen internally by the ITV committee, which broadcasts the contest in Azerbaijan, and the song was chosen in a similar fashion.

In both rounds, countries allocate votes (which are often done by the citizens of that nation, or by committee) from 12 to 1 towards the song/country they like. The “Big Five” of France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy are not required to compete in the semi-final as recognition of their (financial) support over the years, but still vote in the semi-finals. The host country, as last year’s winner, is also an automatic qualifier for the final. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of Eurovision, Australia has been invited to compete as a guest country, and will also skip the semi-final.

Of course, the contest is more than a fun song event – it is often used by countries as a platform for promoting a nation’s history and beliefs, which inevitably leads to conflict (as seen last week with the Armenian controversy). Voting “cliques/blocks” are common (such as with Russia and the former Soviet countries), and in 2009 a number of Azerbaijanis were “questioned” by the government and accused of being “unpatriotic” when they voted for Armenia. Numerous countries have withdrawn at some point throughout their Eurovision tenure in protest – Georgia in 2009 over the ongoing conflict with Russia, Armenia in 2012 following Azerbaijan’s victory, Ukraine’s this year in light of financial and political issues, and so on. It’s also interesting to me because the way countries participate in the contest reflect the nature of their politics: in a repressive country like Azerbaijan, citizens had no say in their singer or song selection this year, and voting referendums are held infrequently.

But Elnur Huseynov isn’t focusing on the negative: with his song, which he referred to as a “mystical contemporary ballad,” he says “I believe in my entry song as it has so many powerful messages. It is truly a song with great meaning of which the most important is ‘that every heart deserves a fight’ and we should never give up. We must fight for our happiness and for a better future. I’m going to the Eurovision to share this message with the European audience.”

(Which totally has a darker undertone and subtle jabs at Armenia, but whatever – he didn’t write it.)

And fight he will, but the odds are already looking good: gambling websites project that Azerbaijan will come in at least 4th place.


The music video for “Hour of the Wolf” can be found here. I quite like it, but I share the common complaint that it is very “conventional” and “mainstream pop.” Many have panned contest winners for being similar, but without Eurovision we wouldn’t have ABBA and Celine Dion so…yay?

And for a long history of Armenia-Azerbaijani tensions during the Eurovision song contest, grab your popcorn and click here for more information.

Fortunately for us American peasants, the event will be streamed online on Eurovision’s website. Hope to see you there in late May!


At Least It’s Not Snowing in Baku

Spring officially began in most of the world yesterday, but those of us in Boston are witnessing a familiar and unpleasant sight – fresh, fluffy snow. Fortunately in Azerbaijan, citizens have finally cast off the gloom of winter in the most beloved holiday of the year, Novruz Bayramı – the New Year. Despite popular belief, Novruz (also spelled Nowruz, which literally translates as “new day“) is a secular holiday derived from Zoroastrian beliefs. Likewise, there are symbolic “characters”: Kechel, Kosa and Bahar gizi (spring girl), respectively representing nature, fertility, and the “landscaping” of nature. Unlike Western nations, the New Year is considered to be the spring equinox because it “symbolizes the awakening of natural life and marks the end of an old year and beginning of a new year” with the awakening of spring, and it is also a time to celebrate community unity and equality. Novruz is celebrated in Central Asia and parts of the Middle East, and by Iranians worldwide (and is typically referred to as the “Persian New Year”).

The most important preparations for Novruz begin nearly a month before on the four Tuesdays: Su Chershenbesi (Water Tuesday), Od Chershenbesi (Fire Tuesday), Yel Chershenbesi (Wind Tuesday), Torpag or Akhir Chershenbesi (Earth/Last Tuesday). On each Tuesday, people strive to awaken each of these elements to bring back harmony with nature. The weeks leading up to Novruz eve are also devoted to “spring cleaning” of the house in order to meet the new year with an uncluttered mindset (the popular saying used by many Azeris is the English proverb “A good beginning makes a good ending”). Many families also begin growing lentils or semeni (green wheat), so that on Novruz day they have grown tall enough to be noticed.

More spiritual aspects of the holiday are also practiced: the Semeni ritual is often done, including the song “Semeni, save me and I will grow you every year.” Semeni is also the centerpiece of the ceremonial table, where the most popular national pastries and pilafs are served. Bonfires are lit in backyards, and friends and family jump over them seven times to symbolize the purification and “burning away” of their fears and worries (it sounds dangerous, but people really enjoy it). Some also maintain one of the most ancient rituals, the divination tradition: young, unmarried women gather together and try to learn when they will get married or when they will satisfy their wildest dreams. Very few people believe in this ritual today, but it’s a fascinating example of how many societies are preserving ancient beliefs.

And of course, there’s something for the younger children: Novruz also consists of a Halloween-like tradition of knocking on neighbor’s doors, then hiding behind a bush and receiving candies in return, as well as leaving brightly-colored hats on neighbor’s doorknobs. Children also bring portions of the traditional meal to those less fortunate, so all may have a clean slate for the next year.

I’m not going to lie – I want to celebrate Novruz too! Fortunately, the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston is holding a Nowruz celebration today, and you can find out more here. (I will also be ushering in spring at the Boston Ballet’s spring fling prior to tonight’s performance – if you will it, it will come!)


Tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh have flared up once again, and in response to Armenian rumors that Azeri soldiers were killed in the fighting, the Defense Ministry spokesman stated that Baku would not release the names of the dead because there were none – and as for why, it’s because “it means that soldiers from Karabakh have “bullet-proof magical jackets” and nothing happens to them.” I wish I was making this up.

The Eurovision Song Contest, beloved by nearly one billion viewers worldwide (though sadly not by any in the US), is just around the corner in Vienna, but controversy has already emerged following the first meeting of delegates. While Armenia’s song for 2015 is titled “Face the Shadow,” it was originally titled “Don’t Deny” and is sung by a group called “Genealogy” that features Armenians from many different countries – presumably in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Naturally, Turkish and Azerbaijani representatives cried foul at the “provocative move” to “promote a deliberate political message” – because as we might recall, Turkey and Azerbaijan deny that this “mythic ‘genocide'” ever occurred.

And while no news has emerged on Pakistani-Azeri relations, Azeribaijan is mulling bilateral relations with China and Afghanistan after visits from both nations. Particular recognition was given to economic relations with China, and the Azeri government’s continued peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Azeri news sources have also been featuring an op-ed written by Daoud Kuttab, a Pakistani-American journalist, regarding Netanyahu’s recent statements regarding a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. Azerbaijan, like many other Middle Eastern nations, does not generally support Israel’s treatment of Palestinian and denial of Palestinian land claims. The op-ed is sponsored by the Project Syndicate non-profit, and can be found here.


You Get a Pipeline! And You Get a Pipeline! Everyone Gets a Pipeline! (Except for Russia)

It’s been a slow couple of weeks in Azerbaijan in preparation for Novruz, the traditional New Year’s festival (which means next week will be even slower, as all workers are given 5 days off for next week’s festivities). But of course, there’s always something to talk about in Azerbaijan – the oil.

BP, the world’s preferred destroyer of ocean gulfs everywhere and primary shareholder of the Shah Deniz gas field, came to terms with a consortium of fellow gas-mongers to acquire a 13% share of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline. The finished Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, commonly known as TANAP, is the heart of the proposed Southern Gas Corridor. Once finished, TANAP will connect the Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum Pipeline to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline terminus in Italy. It’s a very strategic gain for Azerbaijan; gas from Shah Deniz will flow freely to Western Europe, and Turkey’s significance as a leader in gas transport will be solidified (and could lead to EU membership).

For a larger and improved version of this map, click here:

As you might recall in my earlier coverage of the Southern Gas Corridor, a certain neighbor has been left out of Europe’s grand plans: Russia. The proposed pipelines bypass Russia and many of its Caspian allies completely, weakening its role as Western Europe’s only gas supplier. With the news of BP’s support for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, the competing Nabucco West Pipeline project – as well as Russia’s proposed connection via the South Stream Pipeline across the Black Sea – is no more.

Not being one to wallow in vodka and unsalable oil, Putin boldly proclaimed plans for a new “Turkish Stream” pipeline at the end of 2014 (which was, of course, before the Russian economy really tanked). The Turkish Stream looks suspiciously like the South Stream pipeline, although the newly proposed pipeline would end somewhere in west Turkey and boast an impressive capacity of 63 billion cubic meters per year (for reference, TANAP will export 10 billion cubic meters annually). It should be noted that this capacity far outstrips the demand for gas, leaving the curious question of why Russia would build an unnecessarily elaborate pipeline. Alas, all anyone can do is speculate in the meantime, as there are no sketches, plans, or diplomatic agreements between Turkey and Russia to even consider the pipeline.

Despite the EU’s desire to distance themselves from the increasingly unstable Russia, capitalistic desires for cheap gas always wins out in the end. Brendan Devlin, the advisor to the European Commission’s Directorate-General on Energy, spoke recently on the collapse of the South Stream project. While emphasizing that Azerbaijan and TAP would have priority in finding European clients, he didn’t count Russia out quite yet – or really at all.

“It doesn’t matter who the shipper is, and we don’t care if it is Russian gas, Libyan gas and Azerbaijani gas. The internal market works like that. It’s the rules that we have set up for Russia, or for Gazprom. And as we require them to implement those rules, they are free and welcome to use pipelines in the European Union on the same basis.”

He also subtly reminded those in attendance of the 50% TAP expansion clause that can be invoked if another gas supplier joins the pipeline.

And there you have it, folks. Capitalism: 1, honest business: 0.


In a disturbing turn of events, the National Hydrometeorology Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources has revised their weather outlook for the week of March 15th, citing the potential for snow and sleet in the mountainous north. Expect average temperatures to drop by 4 to 6 degrees Celsius.

Following last week’s solar flare on March 11th, expect solar “explosions” to cause “weak magnetic perturbations across Earth” for the next few days. And no, this is not a joke.

The President of Azerbaijan was present for the grand opening of a “facility” in Barda. To the author’s disappointment, the facility is neither psychiatric nor detentionary in nature. The president also planted a tree. You can hear more about the facility and thinly-veiled president worship here.

Once again, relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are tense – but a third player has entered the mix on the side of Azerbaijan (or are they)? I’ll be keeping an eye on Azeri-Pakistani relations in the coming weeks.


For Once, Armenia Is Actually(?) The Bad(der) Guy

February 25th and 26th marked the 23rd anniversary of one of the most disputed events in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations: the Khojaly Massacre/Tragedy, also known as the Khojaly Genocide.

Beginning on the night of February 25th, 1992, Armenian forces opened fire on civilians living in the town of Khojaly, in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region during the eponymous conflict. By 1992, the conflict had escalated into full-on war and civilians on both sides were subject to pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and other forms of violence in the region.

As with all instances of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, neither side can agree on the scope of the devastation. The official Human Rights Watch numbers confirm that at least 161 Azeri citizens died, although in a later report they state that “while it is widely accepted that 200 Azeris perished, as many as 500-1,000 may have died.” The Azerbaijani parliament has officially decreed that 485 Azeris were killed; yet the media (and other government officials) frequently claim a much higher number with even more brutal details. In no less than four different news articles from the Azeri press, the following description is given word for word:

“613 civilians – mostly women and children – were killed in the massacre, and a total of 1,000 people were disabled. Eight families were exterminated, 25 children lost both parents, and 130 children lost one parent. Moreover, 1,275 innocent people were taken hostage, the fate of 150 of them remains unknown. Many civilians were shot at close range, scalped or burned alive.”

Setting aside the suspiciously specific numbers that were gathered in a volatile region during a war, even the name of the conflict is disputed. Armenia and most Western governments call the event a massacre or a tragedy, while the Azerbaijani government considers it to be a genocide.

But one thing is clear: both domestic and international groups agree that Armenia is at fault, and should own up to it. In a surprising turn of events, an Armenian publicist by the name of Vahe Avetian released a statement “facing up to some very uncomfortable realities” related to “[his] government’s criminal and bloody past.” Avetian, who recently fled to Sweden after a crackdown on Armenian dissidents, offered an apology for his country’s perpetration of the genocide and “expressed his hope that all perpetrators ‘will sooner or later be punished.'” Despite multiple death threats, at least one other dissident in France has stood with Avetian in apologizng on behalf of the Armenian people.

(The rest of the article, with delicious anti-Yerevan propaganda, can be found here.)

It’s certainly an interesting turn of events – and the Azeri media is harping on the fact that Avetian is a representative for the Armenian people independent of the government (which, given that he is essentially living in exile, isn’t very accurate). Repressive authoritarian regimes are typically known for intense (and false) propaganda campaigns against their enemies (ahem, DPRK vs US/SK), but Azerbaijan is…actually justified in this case.

When I began this project, the constant references to Armenia’s “barbaric acts” during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and their refusal to cede the land seemed petty and cruel. I pitied Armenia and felt bad for them because of the war and genocide waged against them over the past 100 years, and because the leading news sources in Azerbaijan have sections devoted solely to “Armenian aggression” and anti-Armenian propaganda. I worried for Armenia’s place in an increasingly anti-Armenian and volatile region. It’s far too callous to say they deserve such treatment, but the fact that Azerbaijan is not alone (whether it’s from citizens of other nations or larger groups) in its criticisms of the government in Yerevan is curious enough to merit consideration.


In other news, the currency of Azerbaijan (the manat) plunged in value earlier this week in relation to globally depressed oil prices. Following the closing of the markets on February 21st, the Azerbaijani government put emergency measures in place to avert artificial inflation. In response, the Central Bank of Azerbaijan set the manat at 1.05 against the US dollar on the 22nd, a change from the steady rate of 0.78. In an official statement to the media, the Labor and Social Protection of Population Minister asked for all citizens to be patient and avoid speculation as the government implements “antimonopoly structures [that] should strengthen administrative measures.”

The military has also declared that recent plans to hold elections in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region will not be honored, and have released a statement to the press on the matter. You can read the statement (which is comprised of anti-Armenian rhetoric and has no mention of elections at all) in its entirety here.

In less serious news, the weather report for the month of March (yes, the entire month) has been released by the National Hydrometeorology Department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (say that three times fast). You can read it here.


Sometimes Uptight Regimes Say Silly Things

Surprisingly, it’s been quite the busy week in Azerbaijan, so this week’s post is quite varied in nature.

Politicians, like all other human beings, are eminently quotable by virtue of holding positions of power. In more democratic nations this quotability is nothing special, as democratic forms of government are more impersonal and as such, the weight of one person’s words do not speak for the entire country. (And mercifully so, as politicians are often prone to saying stupid things).

But I’ve noticed that the colorful rhetoric of government takes a more noteworthy and bizarre turn if the nation is question is more repressive and/or autocratic. Keeping with the notion that democratic nations are impersonal, this makes sense: in an autocratic regime there is typically one person (or a small group of people) with a disproportionately high percentage of the power. In the case of one person being associated with the total strength of the government, their words are naturally thought to carry more weight. Of course, if the same regime holds a tight control over the media, whether the rhetoric is real or not remains to be seen.

Take Kim Jong Un and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for example. Kim is a dictator of a totalitarian regime that keeps a tight leash on all state affairs, including the media. The media also writes its own English-language press releases (presumably so us weak Americans can tremble in fear at the might of the DPRK) that use…interesting phrases to convey the state’s convictions. Last December, a statement from Pyongyang began with the following:

“The trend of the situation on the Korean Peninsula this year clearly shows that it is none other than the U.S. which is the arch criminal disturbing the efforts for creating a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula and bringing the danger of a new war and that it remains the unchangeable principal enemy of the DPRK.”

It’s a statement that sums up the DPRK’s position in one not-concise sentence: the United States is the cause of all evil, and is out to destroy the place of peace and prosperity. This narrative has been carefully woven into DPRK propaganda, and while it can’t be verified whether the Korean people accept it or not, it probably sounds compelling enough if you believe the state rhetoric. To most Americans, it’s a laughably-phrased and ultimately convoluted statement.

But because the state has such a strong and absolute presence in the affairs of such nations, it is unwise to discount the ripple effect of that influence. Hopefully you’ve drawn the parallel between the DPRK and Azerbaijan by now: their respective Freedom Press Index rankings are 179th and 160th out of 180 and boy, does it show. In a speech given by an Azerbaijani MP earlier this month, he made what the press heralded as an “interesting point” about Armenia:

“The French president once said Armenia is the younger sister of France. But I see that the president was imprecise. Because based on the way Armenia behaves and my familiarity with those in power there I can tell you Armenia is France’s immoral sister who doesn’t come home at nights.”

My roommate’s reaction summed it up nicely – an intense bout of laughter followed by a plea to understand: “What do they even MEAN???” It doesn’t mean much to us, but in a nation that more or less has openly admitted to hating their neighbor, it serves to further fan the flames of conflict.

In a different vein, another media source claims “US President Barack Obama holds an illogical policy towards partners and allies of the country, in particular in relation to Azerbaijan” due to a supposed “double standard” that has come to light given the US’s deliberations over arming Ukranian rebels. No similar deliberations have been held regarding the Azeri-owned but Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region.

According to a US (!?) diplomat, “Unfortunately, Barak [sp] Obama has never taken the time to understand others interests, opinions or values. . .Unlike his predecessors he has not developed a personal relationship with other world leaders or learned much of their history, customs, values or interests” in speaking of the US’s relationship to its ally. Ouch.


In other news, it’s corruption month in Baku, so enjoy some fun (read: vague) press releases on the matter by clicking the respective titles.

College Director arrested for bribery

Agroservice Chair Embezzlement Case Moves Forward After Investigation

Medical Specialist Arrested Over Bribes

Health Ministry Discloses 63 Fraudulent Medical Diplomas