Bush administration’s interest in Azeri-Armenian conflict bodes ill for Baku

Developing Just Leadership

M.A. Shaikh

Safar 07, 1422 2001-05-01

Special Reports

by M.A. Shaikh (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 5, Safar, 1422)

The Bush administration’s close interest in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia (at a time when it is distancing itself from other regional disputes mediated by the US in the recent past), and its readiness to accept Russia as well as France as co-mediators, has led to speculation that a settlement is a distinct possibility. But such a settlement can only be more favourable to Yerevan than Baku, given the fact that both Russia and France are strong allies of Armenia, while religious considerations and the powerful Armenian lobby in the US are bound to influence Washington’s position despite its interest in Azerbaijan’s energy resources.

Prospects for an early end to the dispute seemed to increase after the end of a five-day conference early this month in Key West, Florida, which brought together presidents Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia, US secretary of state Colin Powell, and senior Russian and French officials. The state department announced that “substantial progress” had been made but gave no details. The two presidents later met George W. Bush separately at the White House in Washington. The fact that more talks are scheduled to be held in June at Geneva, Switzerland, gives credence to the state department’s claim that substantial progress was made. There is even speculation that Aliyev and Kocharian will sign an accord at meetings to be held later in Moscow.

According to media reports, the outlines of a settlement are already emerging. One such report says that Armenia will return to Azerbaijan six of the seven regions that it captured, while “Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent Lakhin region that links it to Armenia would be granted self-governing status.” But because both Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lakhin region are internationally-recognised Azeri territories, Baku is fobbed off with derisory compensation. According to the report, Azerbaijan “would be compensated with an internationally protected road, linking it to its isolated enclave of Nakhichevan.” If a settlement is eventually reached on these lines, then it will be Baku that makes the vital compromise that breaks the deadlock.

There are several reasons for Azerbaijan’s being more likely to give in than is Armenia. For one thing, all the so-called mediators and negotiators are allied to Yerevan, and for another the 77-year-old Aliyev, who is also in poor health, has no bargaining chips to hold against the western oil-companies that are involved in extracting his country’s vast oil and gas resources. The one vital bargaining card he had he frittered away when he agreed (albeit after long haggling) to the west’s project for oil and gas pipelines that by-pass both Iran and Russia and end at a Turkish port, where the precious oil and gas would be shipped to consumers in the west. Aliyev is also said to be anxious to reach a settlement so that his son and heir-apparent, Ilham, will not be dogged by a feud that could bring his succession to grief.

Moreover Aliyev, a former senior KGB official, was allegedly brought to power by British Petroleum and Amoco through funding for the 1993 coup that overthrew president Abdul-Faz Elchiby. A Turkish intelligence report, which came to light in March last year, claimed that “as a result of our intelligence efforts, it is understood that ... BP and Amoco ... are behind the coup d’etat.” After taking office, Aliyev appeared to reward them by giving them the leadership of the Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium. The British and American oil giants, now merged, were instrumental in forcing the Azeri president to accede to the west’s demand that the pipelines avoid passing through Iran and Russia. The point is that if the Azeri president was indeed helped to power by the oil-companies, then he must know that they will also connive at his removal if it is in their interests.

The Azeri leader also knows that Russia, which armed and funded Armenia during the war, and has consistently given Armenia its diplomatic support since then, will not waver in its backing for Yerevan, despite Moscow’s recent conciliatory approaches to Baku. France also demonstrated its anti-Azeri bias recently when it became the first country to recognize the so-called Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks after the first ‘world war’, which Turkey denies vigorously. The Armenians are now using this ‘genocide’ as a pretext to retain the Azeri land that they occupy illegally, in the same way as Israel exploits the Holocaust of Jews in Nazi Germany to steal Palestine.

Similarly the Bush administration (which says firmly that it will not be as closely engaged in the issues of Northern Ireland, the Balkans and the Middle East ‘peace process’ as the Clinton government was) is bound to be biased in Yerevan’s favour, as its immediate and unique interest in the Azeri-Armenian conflict suggests. Not only have Bush and the Republican Party close links with Christian groups in the US, but they also receive substantial political and financial support from the one million Armenian expatriates there. Just how influential the Armenian community in the US is is shown by the fact that since 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress, American aid to Armenia has increased substantially, although the US’s financial assistance to most countries has been cut drastically.

For instance, Congress has voted six years in a row to increase aid for the Armenians, who number only 3 million, despite the fact that the reasons used to cut aid to other countries also apply to them. Both corruption and violations of human rights are rife in Armenia. Indeed, the Armenians are guilty of war-crimes in that they have ‘ethnically cleansed’ the regions, particularly Nagorno-Karabakh, that they captured from the Azeris. American aid is being used to rebuild the villages and towns whose Azeri inhabitants were expelled. Just how substantial American aid to Armenia is indicated by the fact that last year it came to nearly $42 per Armenian, compared with $34 per head for Bosnia, $3 for Rwanda, $1.40 for Russia and 14 cents (sic) for India.

The American media, which praised Bush’s deep interest in the conflict, cited his preoccupation with oil issues and his healthy respect for the Armenian expatriates’ financial and political weight. Some media analysts also suggest that US ‘engagement’ in the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations will be worthwhile because it will help non-Muslim pro-western countries in the region. An editorial in the Washington Post of April 17, for instance, said that “a settlement would help stabilise the volatile and strategic region and open needy pro-western countries such as Armenia and Georgia to trade and investment.”

If a settlement favourable to Armenia is indeed reached, the Azeri people will not be the first Muslims to be betrayed for dynastic reasons and foreign interests. Nor, in all probability, will they be the last.

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