- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program, the recent Russia-Georgia conflict, and ever-growing energy concerns grabbing headlines throughout the U.S. and Western countries, news outlets and foreign policy experts have paid increased attention to Azerbaijan, the oil-rich nation along the western Caspian Sea shore. Recent opinion pieces, including one penned by Caspian oil consultant S. Rob Sobhani (“An American friend,” Op-Ed, Sept. 29) have painted beautiful profiles of this South Caucasus nation as a tolerant society and a beacon of freedom and democracy. President Ilham Aliyev has offered energy solutions to the West that bypass Russia and has sent troops to aid the effort in Iraq.

Enthusiasm for Azerbaijan, however, means turning a blind eye to a de-facto oligarch-ruled state that, fueled by skyrocketing oil revenues, is growing increasingly belligerent in its efforts to remove ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition to holding Cold War-style weapons parades to intimidate Armenia, President Aliyev continually boasts that his defense budget is greater than Armenia’s entire state budget and has launched multiple cease-fire violations. In an attempt to isolate Armenia from the outside world, Azerbaijan continues to hold a total border blockade of Armenia in conjunction with Turkey.

As our new presidential administration forms its foreign policy, it should approach Azerbaijan with caution. October’s Azeri presidential elections were similar to those held by Saddam Hussein in the years before the fall of his regime; Aliyev’s opposition was never recognized or given equal opportunities. Freedom of the press is a concept that is continually ignored, sometimes with violence. Finally, in stark contrast to the way Armenia dealt with the situation, Azerbaijan has kept over 100,000 Azeri citizens who fled the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as refugees, crammed into impoverished conditions solely to prove to the West that there is a refugee problem, rather than using the government’s new oil wealth to help its neediest citizens.

President-elect Barack Obama must remember that, while Azerbaijan may have something to offer, it is not the model for a friendly Muslim democracy that Western leaders have declared it to be and, if left unchallenged, Azerbaijan’s policies will fatally damage its own citizens as well as those of another Western ally, Armenia.

NICK BAZARIAN

Virginia chair

Armenian Assembly

of America

Arlington

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