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


“We’ll Buy Your Oil Because We’re Tired of Pretending to Be Friends With Russia” – Azerbaijan, the EU, and the Southern Gas Corridor

Foreign policy is a fickle and duplicitous beast. From reneging on promises made to allies (the Platt Amendment, for one) to treading over established borders (pretty much every country ever, not just China, the US, and other colonizers), there’s hardly a country that hasn’t pulled a shady move on a friend (or foe) here and there.

And then there’s the oil.

To say that oil causes many problems is an understatement. The fact that “oil war,” “petro-aggression,” and “resource curse” are terms in our lexicon is not a chance coincidence. Although we’re too polite to admit it, a significant amount of foreign interest (and armed conflict) in the Middle East (and elsewhere) results from its rich petroleum reserves. When it comes to oil for the United States in particular, what our foreign policy says and what our policy does are often two different things. And while it isn’t necessarily an issue if two (or more) nations are looking to get access to their “fair share” of oil reserves, it’s quite another when the area in question is already destabilized by prior intervention and/or struggles within the state for proper management and development of said resource. There’s a reason why oil and water don’t mix.

But what about the places that are, comparatively, rather serene?

The Caspian Sea is considered to be one of the most oil-rich regions in the world, and a “critical asset” to foreign nations in an increasingly petroleum-starved world. Despite political turmoil during the 21st century, the oilfields in the Caspian sea are carefully delegated and the borders are quite stable. Relative to size, Azerbaijan is the most petroleum-wealthy nation in the group.

The Caspian nations face an unfortunate disadvantage – the Sea has no nautical outflow. Like most nations, the Caspian countries have turned to pipelines to export their oil, with considerate success. In particular, western European nations have been recipients of Caspian oil, while the United States receives Latin American and Middle Eastern exports. Of course, greed begets more greed, so in 2008 the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) began the Southern Gas Corridor initiative in order to link and “solve” the issues of “diversification of routes and sources of energy supply” in the EU, as well as “envisag[ing] the delivery of gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas and condensate field to Europe.”

Naturally, Azerbaijan is delighted, especially with recent news that Turkey has more or less committed to the initiative and the first batch of oil will be produced within the next few years. While the new pipelines do not originate in Baku (as shown on the map), the current Baku-Erzurum pipline will be extended to the heart of Western Europe – with Shah Deniz gas as its primary supplier. As President Aliyev noted during a meeting with the Advisory Council, it was a fitting honor for the nation:

“Azerbaijan is known as the world’s first oil-producing country. It happened in the middle of the XIX century. At the same time Azerbaijan is the first country producing oil in the sea in the middle of the 20th century. For this reason, the history of the oil industry of Azerbaijan is very rich. I would also note that [80% of the Soviet Union’s oil production in World War Two] was produced in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani oil workers made a great contribution to the victory over fascism. Perhaps, if there was not the Azerbaijani oil, the results of the Second World War would be different.”

However, it seems that the results of petro-politics aren’t really ever different: while Southern Gas Corridor spans a large swath of planned development paths, Russia is notably omitted from all Corridor designs. While nobody could predict the unfortunate circumstances that the Russian oil-based economy finds itself in currently and the EU maintains that the new corridor “does not jeopardize Russia’s position as the main supplier in Central and Southeast Europe,” the EU is sending a strong statement to its increasingly unstable neighbor. In response to the exclusion, Russia signed an agreement with Turkey in late 2014 to build the Turkish Stream pipeline, a new route that bypasses Ukraine and other nations to reach Western Europe. It is unclear exactly why Russia waited nearly seven years to sign a deal that essentially undercuts the Corridor – perhaps economic, perhaps otherwise – but Azerbaijan certainly isn’t worried.

It is a pure political effort to block Azerbaijani gas from getting into the Europe and to control its flow,” explained former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza.

“If Azerbaijani gas was not important we would not have seen such an initiative from Russia.”


Azerbaijan: US Opinions Are “Baseless Criticism”, Except For All The Times They Aren’t

The Azerbaijani government is once again upset about Armenia, despite continuing to claim the superior moral ground against them. More notably, Azerbaijan is fed up with a lack of support in the matter – especially from their esteemed ally in the West.

In this week’s grievance, Novruz Mammadov, Deputy Head of Azerbaijan’s Presidential Administration and Chief of the Foreign Relations Department, has accused the United States of sending direct financial aid to the separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh. As Azerbaijan reminds the world on a daily basis, the Azeri territory is currently controlled by the Armenian government. Speaking passive-aggressively, Mammadov scorned the US’s “double standards” and other Western countries for turning Azerbaijani into “a target for baseless criticisms” while “serv[ing] the interests of the Armenian diaspora in those countries in an effort to demonize Azerbaijan.”

While most of what the Azerbaijani government says is outright lies, Mammadov’s accusations ring true. The United States has funneled aid to Nagorno-Karabakh since 1998, mostly for reconstruction purposes. The US government has also failed to spend 41% of the money set aside for the region for various reasons, and no real solution is working in the region. However, the US government also works in Azerbaijan through USAID on various development projects. An area of special concern to USAID in Azerbaijan is human rights and independent media – areas in which Azerbaijan has a poor track record. This duality is, of course, nothing new to the United States, whose words of support and financial power often do two different things.

Doing a complete 180, Mammadov’s talk continued to focus on the (few) things Azerbaijan has done right to be a “responsible partner” to its allies. A particular point of pride in Mammadov’s talk was the Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, a regional railway that links Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. According to Mammadov, the railway was completed without any US or foreign investment – mostly because of accusations that the railway deliberate cuts Armenia off from the rest of the region.

While Mammadov was correct on the funding for the project, the reality is that the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway is not yet operational. The project has been repeatedly postponed due to lack of funds and the 2008 conflict in Georgia. According to Transportation Minister Ziya Mammadov (relation unknown, but given the questionable integrity of the government, probable), “We will carry out some tests at the Turkish border towards the end of 2014 and the railway will be in service by the second half of 2015.” More realistic estimates set full operations at mid-2017. when the first sleeper cars are set to come into service. Until then, any accountability on the project is questionable at best.


In a sea of blustery rhetoric, what really matters here? First, Azerbaijani officials are really, really good at changing subjects – somehow this post ended up being about half-finished railroads. (I’ve noticed that propaganda often does similar things.) And clearly, Azerbaijan and the US aren’t all that different – both have engaged in acts of deception and dishonesty towards the other, as well as towards the international community. Basically we’re all hypocrites, and that’s a pretty grim way to handle foreign policy. But if Azerbaijan can’t get past this misstep, progress will never be made in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and relations with Armenia will never normalize (although I fear that the latter may never happen).–to-link-kars-tbilisi-baku-in-2015.aspx?pageID=238&nID=62885&NewsCatID=345

Armenian President Finally Confirms That Yes, Azerbaijan Is Superior In Every Way, Continues to Give Azerbaijan Chances to Prove It

In a largely empty conference room on January 26th, the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, spoke on 23rd anniversary of Armenia’s continued military incompetence and all-around inefficiency. In addressing the group of half-bored Armenians, Sargysan confessed “superiority of the modern Azerbaijani Army over the Armenian military,” yet he also believed that “nearly 25 years ago we [Armenians] were superior to the Azerbaijani army on the battlefield.” Sargysan declined to speculate on the sad state of today’s Armenian army, instead shifting the focus to naming Azerbaijan as an “unreasonable opponent” that will be forcibly “compelled to peace.”

This blustery rhetoric, of course, is not news to the Azerbaijani people, who have always known the Armenians to be cowardly and ineffectual. Disregarding their continued violations of the ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Armenians cannot even control what happens within their own boundaries, given their recent economic difficulties and their imminent absorption into Russia. Even the Armenian people are fed up with their nation’s incompetence; in light of the recent 12 January tragedy at Gyumri, in which a Russian soldier brutally butchered Armenian families, a local newspaper in Yerevan claimed that these deaths are the “direct outcome of the inactivity of the Armenian law enforcement bodies, which are still in a New Year hangover.” In another incident just yesterday on 31 January, Armenian forces violently eradicated a pro-Armenian rally in the Azeri city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenians continue to illegally occupy the Azeri lands with a fradulent separatist regime. No other nation but Armenia would ever be barbaric enough to attack its own people, yet one rally participant stated that “there were thousands of police officers as well as soldiers [who] started beating women and children.” Yet still, the government in Yerevan has done nothing.

Such a lax government is no match for the might of the Azerbaijani army, which has tried to resist applying direct force against the Armenian people, yet Armenian forces refuse to stand down for the good of their people. On 29 January, Armenian forces violated the long-standing ceasefire no less than 78 times in 24 hours along the northern Azerbaijani border. The Azerbaijani army proudly neutralized six Armenian soldiers in the Gazakh region as well, despite false Armenian reports that all Azerbaijani positions had been destroyed and taken over. This trickery is nothing new to the Azerbaijani military, mostly because of the Armenian military’s inability to match Azeri might.

Unfortunately, one Azerbaijani soldier, Alahverdiyev Eshgin Rahim, was lost during the ceasefire violation at Gazakh. The Defense Ministry sent its condolences to the family of the martyr yesterday and asked for patience, as it will take time to diffuse Armenian belligerence. Furthermore, the Defense Ministry stressed in a recent statement that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces “fully control operational situation along frontline[s] and are ready to prevent any act by enemy,” including the persistent shell game currently employed by Armenia’s fragile government.


See if you can spot the difference: