Azerbaijan - Time to win the peace | Eurasia Diary -

17 October,

Azerbaijan - Time to win the peace

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As we approach the first anniversary of Azerbaijani regaining Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions after nearly three decades of illegal Armenian occupation, this is the ideal point to look at the situation from an impartial perspective. Certainly, Azerbaijan regained its territories, but this was very much due to the machinations of Azerbaijan’s former colonial dominator – Russia – that, under the guise of the Soviet Union, deliberately moved Armenians to former Azerbaijani lands during Stalinist times as an extension of its ‘divide-and-rule’ policy that proved so successful across the Soviet empire. Furthermore, this was the same Russia that openly supported Armenia in the original conflict, and provided it with arms and constructed military bases on its territory. However, aside from the Pashinyan regime in Armenia falling out of favour with Mother Russia, shrewd President Putin thrives on instability, rather than an outright war, the technology of which has been regarded as indicative of the future of contemporary warfare, and which promised to pose Russia against Turkey and Israel. In short, Russia was a logical and necessary peacebroker.
Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh may be present for long time
Despite this, Azerbaijan became reliant on a Russian-administered peace, with Russian ‘peacekeeping’ troops on its territory for the first time since it gained its independence 30 years ago, albeit slightly tempered by Turkish observers. The expelled Armenians requested extensions to the time allocated to them vacate the land they illegally occupied for two generations, razing homes, forests and farmland to the ground by fire and using the time to mine vast areas, thereafter refusing to reveal the mine maps for many of these fields (not that they can be regarded as accurate).
Naturally, the Russian ‘peacekeeping’ presence is far from perfect. There are still far too many deaths near the border and the Pashinyan regime was re-elected and remains belligerent. There is no room for complacency on the Azerbaijani side.
This beggars the question as to why Azerbaijan has accepted this situation? Why is it that UN peacekeeping forces and the representatives of international organisations are not enforcing the peace?
The answer is simple. The west is simply disinterested and relatively uninformed about the country and the conflict. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, one of the successes of Soviet propaganda was that the national characteristics of the 16 Soviet Socialist Republics were submerged under Russophone and Russophile hegemony. In British schools during the Cold War, we were under the false impression that the Soviet Union was a) inherently grey, evil and a threat to the ‘free world’, being populated by Communist brainwashed automatons; and b) completely Russocentric. When I first heard of Azerbaijan in 1990 during the reports of the Black January uprising, I had no idea where this place was located and could not understand why Mikhail Gorbachev, the hero of the west and friend of Reagan and Thatcher, was firing on his own people. No context was provided and certainly the west had received negligible news of the ongoing Armenian–Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Although some traction has been achieved, knowledge of the former Soviet republics is not widespread in the west.
This has naturally extended to the Armenian–Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the modern phase of which began in 1988. Due to the strength of Soviet propaganda and the realities of telecommunications and video equipment over 30 years ago, there was virtually no coverage of the conflict in the western media. Furthermore, the conflict brings in other major regional forces, including Iran, Turkey and Israel, in addition to Russia. The genus is complex and shrouded in history; information in European languages remains scanty; and with the hierarchy of news importance and reductions in staffing levels by the major news agencies, for whom biased ‘stringers’ play an integral role, there is too much opportunity for deliberate misinformation to be passed off as fact. Furthermore, coverage of the Second Karabakh War proved that there were no embedded western reporters in Azerbaijan, in stark contrast to Armenia.
Secondly, there is the influence of the Armenian diaspora. Regardless of what may or may not have happened in 1915, and to what extent this was a ‘genocide’, according to modern definitions, the fact is that the ancestors of today’s Armenian diaspora permeated Europe (particularly France) and the US around a century ago. They have intermarried, integrated, and often changed their names. However, many Armenians have become rich industrialists, journalists, media representatives, musicians, artists, writers and politicians. Like a cancer, they are embedded into European and American society and their influence has become increasingly strong. They have assimilated western norms, their influence is subtle, strong and consistent. Their myths of victimisation and the ‘Great Armenia’ have been accepted as fact by intellectuals, politicians and the public alike, and very few counterarguments are readily available. This is assisted by the Christian monoreligious, monoethnic nature of modern Armenia, which badges itself as Crusaders adrift in an alleged sea of hostile Islam. 
Armenia-Iran: Good neighbourly relations absolute necessity - Modern  Diplomacy
The fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran openly supports Armenia is conveniently overlooked, as is the secular multicultural reality of Independent Azerbaijan. The post 9/11 polarisation of the world between Christianity and Islam also plays an integral role in ensuring that the Armenian narrative is favoured by the west and its international organisations. This has been particularly demonstrated by the four UN Security Council resolutions stipulating the need for an Armenian withdrawal that remained unimplemented on paper for 29 years, and the toothless simulacrum of an organisation that is the OSCE Minsk Group. This was tasked with determining a negotiated peace, yet was chaired by three pro-Armenian countries – Russia, France, and the US – again achieving nothing over the course of almost 30 years.
The fact is that Azerbaijan has an uphill struggle is gaining understanding of its provenance over the liberated territories and geopolitical, cultural and religious realities. It is simply not effective for Azerbaijanis and those who are sympathetic to the country to speak together about these issues. The truth needs to be spread.
Firstly, diaspora policy needs to be defined and refined. Azerbaijanis need to go further than studying or doing business in their host countries. They need to really integrate into the media, arts, culture and politics when overseas. Azerbaijanis need to become good professionals in their jobs and only then will they been in a position to impart information about their country and argue the case for Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions, destroying misconceptions and preconceptions, particularly regarding the role of religion.
Secondly, there is a need for adequate, effective and subtle political lobbying. The most prominent and influential politicians must be coerced into understanding the Azerbaijani perspective, and that can only be achieved by capitalising on existing interests, such as humanitarian and environmental issues. The politicians need to be able to speak in favour of Azerbaijan from the courage of their convictions. Furthermore, they need to be unafraid that accusations of corruption ¬– usually from pro-Armenian politicians – will be levelled at them.
Thirdly, Azerbaijan has more to gain than lose from allowing western journalists into its country and permitting them unimpeded access to all facets of the country. They need to experience the nation independently, speak to the people and file their reports. Only from being on the ground can they hope to understand Azerbaijan and the truth regarding the Karabakh conflict.
Fourthly, all information, whether virtual or printed, needs to be as widely distributed as possible in the west. Western film festivals and film distributors should be ensuring that Azerbaijani cinema, regardless of genre, is widely seen. Books on Karabakh, tourism, literature and poetry need to be translated and edited by native speakers and receive distribution on the basis of merit. Furthermore, they need to be consistently subtle and contain substantiated facts, particularly regarding the conflict.
Fifthly, there is a great deal of value to be achieved by making tourism as easy and cheap as possible. Although the visa cost and difficulty has reduced considerably, direct flights remain prohibitively expensive, particularly when compared to neighbouring Turkey, and there is still a lack of price variety regarding accommodation. Tourism needs to be embraced and journalists and influencers should be encouraged to focus on the country, thereby enhancing understanding.
Sixthly, a rich and varied programme of musical, artistic, business and political events should be organised in western countries, reflecting the national characteristics and preoccupations. Experiencing the similarities between western and Azerbaijani cultures will facilitate understanding and comprehension.
It is undeniable that Azerbaijan has a great deal of long-term work to undertake before its narrative is readily accepted in the west, particularly regarding its provenance over the liberated territories. However, it is imperative that an effective roadmap is drawn up and implemented as a matter of urgency. Only then will international organisations sit up and take note, taking the responsibility of maintaining the peace away from Russia and ensuring a consistent, real and bloodless peace for future generations.
by Neil Watson

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