- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

Promoting Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan finds the United States a perplexing place, a group of Azeri politicians said yesterday.
Azeris respect America as a symbol of democracy and freedom and are eager to make deals with U.S. oil companies to develop the countrys petroleum riches.
But Azeris cannot understand why U.S. political leaders favor Armenia in the 13-year-old conflict in the Caucasus and restrict U.S. aid to protest an Azeri economic blockade of its landlocked neighbor.
"For years, we have been trying to void it," Mayis Safarli, a member of the Azeri parliament, said, referring to the U.S. restrictions. "Unfortunately, many members of Congress listen to the powerful Armenian lobby."
An amendment to the 1992 Freedom Support Act, designed to help former Soviet republics, restricts most economic aid to Azerbaijan until it lifts the blockade. However, the United States has given about $166 million in humanitarian and development aid to Azerbaijan.
As far as Azeris are concerned, the Armenians are the aggressors in the struggle for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic-Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
Ethnic-Armenian forces control about 20 percent of Azerbaijan, occupying a swath of territory from the Armenian border to the Karabakhi enclave. The United Nations has called for the withdrawal of all ethnic-Armenian forces from Azerbaijan.
More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict since the enclave declared independence in 1988, and more than 1 million Azeris have become refugees in their own country. Russia brokered a cease-fire in 1994, but talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are stalled.
"The United States is in many ways an ideal country," Mr. Safarli told Embassy Row. "We would like to live and work in a society like the United States. We are a young nation and are trying to move in that direction. The path is long and thorny."
The State Department faults both Azerbaijan and Armenia for "serious flaws" in their elections and cites human rights abuses in each country.
Part of the reason for the visit of the four-man delegation is to learn about U.S. democratic principles. They have visited think tanks and congressional offices, including a meeting with a top aide to Sen. John McCain.
The Arizona Republican "is widely respected in Azerbaijan [because] he supports the just and quite legal cause of Azerbaijan," Mr. Safarli said.
The delegation pointed out that Azerbaijan has concluded many deals with American oil companies and endorsed an oil pipeline route favored by the United States.
Mr. Safarli said that decision created problems for his government with Russia and Iran, which favored other routes.
"Were not so concerned about economic aid," he said. "Its a question of morality. This is not something that should exist between partners."
Sayyad A. Salahly, another member of the delegation, said his country will never agree to an independence for Nagorno-Karabakh but is prepared to offer a great deal of local autonomy.
"The Azeri people reserve the right to protect their land, even by force," he said.
Mikhail Yurevich Zabelin, an ethnic-Russian member of the parliament, noted that Azerbaijan is a nation of many different minorities.
"They all enjoy full citizenship rights," he said.
Zelimxan Yagubov, a writer-poet politician, noted that Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union 10 years ago.
"We are creating a fair, just and democratic society," he said, adding that his country has much to learn from the United States.
"America," he said, "is the mother of all democracies."

E-mail terrorism?
Beware of e-mails from the Sri Lanka Embassy. They could contain computer viruses.
The embassy suspects "cyber terrorism."
In an e-mail yesterday, the embassy warned recipients against opening any attachments contained in the electronic messages from the Washington mission.
"We have received several complaints that e-mails sent from the Sri Lanka Embassy … contained viruses. There were also complaints of obscene e-mails," the embassy said.
"There is a good chance that these are acts of cyber terrorism."
Sri Lanka has long been victimized by domestic terrorism and rebel attacks by separatist Tamil rebels.

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