on the silk road


March 24, 2009, 9:32 pm
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The Armenian National Committee of America urges you to register to vote… YOUR VOTE IS OUR COMMUNITY’S VOICE.
March 12, 2009, 12:13 am
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Gaza a Tool for Turkey’s Great Game in Middle East

Prime Minister Erdogan gets a heroes welcome at the Istanbul Ataturk airport.

BY ALLEN YEKIKAN

For some time now, Turkey has been posturing for a more influential role in the geopolitics of its region, step by step working to recreate the Ottoman Legacy by mediating conflicts in the Middle East and establishing footholds in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

To advance its image among the Arab world and carve for itself a new and larger role in the region, Turkey has taken up the mantle of the Palestinian Cause, damning Israel at every turn for its human rights violations in Gaza.

Until recently Turkey had, by and large, tried to portray itself as a neutral arbiter of peace between Israel and Hamas, ostensibly working for the interests of regional stability. Lately, however, Turkey has taken a sharp turn from its previous position, accusing Israel of war crimes and using it to bolster its already strong diplomatic position in the region.

The latest and harshest jab at Israel’s dismal human right’s record by Turkey came Thursday when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed at the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, during a televised panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Erodgan blasted the Israeli President with a lengthy and prepared condemnation for his government’s inhumanity.

“I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian,” Erdogan said, responding to a lengthy monologue by Peres defending Israel’s operations in Gaza. “You know very well how to kill people.”

Erdogan’s harsh criticism at Davos follows weeks of similar denunciations in which he has accused Israel of “savagery”  and “crimes against humanity.” Many analysts are predicting Erdogan’s verbal jabs have strained relations between Turkey and Israel, two countries who have close diplomatic and military ties and a long history of working together to lobby the US government against recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Sure enough, the influential American Jewish Committee slammed Erdogan on Friday for his remarks, saying his behavior was “a public disgrace that may well encourage further outrages against Israel and Jews.”

Earlier, on January 23, five major Jewish organizations called on the Turkish prime minister to “urgently address” the wave of anti-Semitism in his country manifesting through anti-israel protests. The organizations warned that Turkey’s recent condemnation of Israel will make it difficult to continue supporting Turkey’s attempts to prevent US recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the US congress.

But while some analysts predict that Turkey may have torpedoed its strategic alliance with Israel and thus the west, as well as burned its bridges with its allies in the Israeli Lobby, others see Turkey’s geopolitical position as having actually benefited from its harsh criticism of Israel.

“Turkey’s international profile has risen as a result of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Israel in the wake of the conflict in Gaza,” said Stratfor, a Texas based Private Intelligence agency. “Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party are making use of the Gaza crisis to further their goals of reasserting Turkey’s leadership of the Arab Middle East, and of the wider Muslim world.”

With a seat on the UN Security and a lock on the regions energy supply, Turkey is begining to weild the same crafty politics that built the Ottoman Empire, using the shrewed diplomacy of the Sultans to exploit the vacuum being left in the region by the slowly departing US Army.

On the international level, Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel may harm Turkish foreign policy positions, but in the streets of the Arab world Erdogan is becoming a ‘new Nasser’,” The Jamestown analysis noted, adding that a Turkish TV channel has reported Palestinians are planning to organize rallies after Friday prayers to show their appreciation for Erdogan’s comments.

According to Stratfor, Erdogan is “gaining tremendous respect and appreciation” in the Arab world for his recent condemnations of Israel, especially “at a time when the Arab masses perceive their leaders as either actively supporting Israel or at least doing nothing to stop it.”

With its continued survival dependent on Muslim divisivness, Israel would not be keen on having to deal with a Middle East united behind Turkey against Israel.  Peres was quick to nip any speculation Friday that Turkish-Israeli relations had tanked, saying that Turkey is an ally and that the public argument with Erdogan at the World Economic Forum will neither affect the relationship between Israel and Turkey nor between Peres and Erdogan, The Associated Press reported.

Aside from the diplomatic gambit this move may have given Turkey in its dealings with the regional players, Erdogan seems to also have benefited domestically as well, arriving in Turkey Friday to a hero’s welcome from thousands of Turks gathered at Istanbul’s Atatruk Airport waving Palestinian and Turkish flags while chanting slogans in support of the prime minister. Banners proclaimed Erdogan the “delegate of the oppressed.”  The passions, the New York Times reported Friday, reflected widespread anger about the Gaza war spreading throughoutTurkey, a secular nation whose population is mostly Muslim.

“I only know that I’m responsible for protecting the honor of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation from A to Z,” Erdogan was quoted by the Times as saying as he returned to Istanbul in the early hours of Friday. “I am not a leader of a tribe. I am the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. I do whatever I need to, so I did it, and will continue to do so. This is my character. This is my identity.”

Where Turkish-Israeli relations will go from here is unknown, according to the Jamestown Foundation, which said Friday that Erdogan’s risky move in Davos has made him a hero to Turkey’s masses, assuring him “victory in the municipal elections in March.”

According to Hurriyet, it has been revealed that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Feb. 7 at Ankara’s request. No further details have been made clear.

Turkey occupies some of the most valuable real estate on the planet, according to Stratfor. “It sits astride the land routes connecting Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East–not to mention the straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean,” a January 30 report by the intelligence agency said. “It is the only country in the world that is positioned to project influence readily into all of these regions.”

“Any time in human history that the Anatolian Peninsula has not been a leading force in geopolitics has been an aberration,” Stratfor aptly noted in its analysis. “And although the direction of its movement remains up for debate, Turkey–after more than 90 years of quiescence–is moving again.”

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Armenian Apology Causes Brawl in Turkish Parliament

Turkish politicians from the Republican People’s Party and the ruling Ak Party fight during a debate last May in the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

Turkish politicians from the Republican People’s Party and the ruling Ak Party fight during a debate last May in the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

Asbarez.com is reporting that a Turkish parliament member’s request Sunday that the legislature apologize to Armenians for the “events of 1915” has caused an uproar in parliament, with members hurling personal insults at one another.

Democratic Society Party (DTP) member Osman Euzcelik brought the matter up during parliament’s discussion of the education ministry budget and went on to recall the Armenian massacres by using the Kurdish word that describes Genocide.

The remarks prompted a member of the ruling AKP party to walk toward DTP members and begin screaming at his fellow parliamentarians. Another parliament member intervened to stop what could have become a physical altercation.

Read the full story




The AYF Inspires
December 11, 2008, 7:07 am
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“You cannot create experience, you must undergo it.”

Taking Albert Camus’ truism to heart, the Armenian Youth Federation has spent the last 75 years preparing generations of leaders, giving young Armenian-Americans the opportunity to gain real world experience through service to their communities. 

Keeping with tradition, the organization’s Central Executive kicked off this fiscal year by hosting a day of lectures, workshops and seminars on leadership development.  

The participants, newly elected executives from local AYF chapters throughout the Western US, spent the day learning a range of skills, strategies, and theories on organizational management, applying them at the end in scenario based exercises. 

But the training seminar, though extensive, is only one of many opportunities AYF members have throughout the year to cultivate skills critical to success in personal, professional, academic, and community life.  

Responsibility 

The responsibility of having to oversee a group of people working to complete “complex tasks” within set schedules comes with great rewards and many in the AYF quickly realize the benefits that come with the long hours of work they regularly put into the organization, according to Sevag Jierian, the chairperson of the AYF’s Fresno chapter.   

“Recognizing that things depend on you and rising to that task, has taught me how to be a leader, mentor and collaborator—traits  one often needs to successfully manage a business, or any undertaking for that matter,” he explained.  

For the last few years, Vache Thomassian has been learning just that. As the editor of the organization’s quarterly publication, Haytoug, he has been responsible for everything expected from a professional magazine editor, working with a volunteer team to finance and produce a magazine that reaches tens of thousands of Armenians worldwide.   

“For over 30 years AYF members have written for, designed, published and distributed the magazine,” he explained, talking about some of the challenges he faced trying to grow the magazine. “When I was given the opportunity, we essentially had to reinvent the wheel and create a new and sustainable infrastructure for finding and managing talent for the magazine.” 

Vache, who is currently the Chairman of the AYF, described the job as an honor, noting the leap in his personal and professional growth while “learning how to delegate, organize and manage the functions of a publication.” 

“I remember the first issue of Haytoug I worked on was dedicated to examining the dire situation of the Armenian’s of Javakhk,” he said, recalling his first project as the editor. “While working on that issue I had the opportunity to interview many experts and intellectuals, locally and internationally. That experience taught me how to research effectively, setting the stage, not only, for my future work with the magazine but also in my personal and academic life as well.” 

Carnie Armenian concurred, referring to her own experience helping to establish the AYF’s newest chapter in Las Vegas. As the chapter’s first chairperson, she is responsible for not only building its foundations, but also raising awareness about the organization in community, doing outreach and getting people involved with the chapter.

“My responsibilities are endless,” she said. “But so are the benefits.”

Leadership

For Levon Abrahamian, the AYF has been testing ground to develop leadership skills he always had but never explored. Currently the chairman of the AYF’s Central Fundraising Committee, Levon joined the organization to “make a difference in the community, to help it progress in any way he can.”  

“Being involved in planning some of the major events the AYF organizes has inspired me to go beyond the bare minimum, to always strive to do better than what’s expected and get the job done,” he said, describing the “profound working habits and time management skills” he has developed as a result of his involvement.  

No other organization or workplace environment gives its members as much freedom to explore and unearth hidden talents as the AYF does, Sevag Jierian noted, pointing to the many campaigns and projects he’s helped organize over the years. 

Sevag’s chapter hosted this year’s annual AYF Olympics, a massive three day sports tournament and reunion celebration for the organization. Every year responsibility for organizing Olympics passes to a different chapter, giving its members an opportunity to put into motion their ideas for the event.  

If the chapter rises to the challenge, the event easily becomes a phenomenally good time, as well as a fundraiser. As his chapter’s chairperson, Sevag, oversaw the efforts to organize the project and its various subsidiary elements. 

Another major initiative organized by the organization is an Alumni reunion hosted by the AYF’s Montebello chapter. This year was the 50th anniversary of the chapter and its chapter chairman, Zaven Altounian, oversaw a team who “worked on everything from conceptual planning to the final execution of the event,” which is the chapter’s primary means to fund its yearly activities.  

“I have learned to work on budgets and having to pick and choose different items for the event in order to stay within strict parameters in order to maintain the profitability, viability and ultimate success of the event,” he said.  

Vision 

Montebello’s leadership, early on, recognized the strategic importance of long term planning, developing their reunion into a primary fundraising mechanism that would cultivate donors and patrons for the chapter, Zaven explained. “It’s vital that we create strong and lasting connections with our Alumni.” 

The reunion has been a powerful tool for showing the community that it has a vested interest in the chapter, he added. “I’ve learned that this is pivotal to the success of any non-profit.” 

Leadership requires vision and the AYF is a place to learn how to think outside the box, according to Sose Thomassian, the chairperson of the Orange County AYF.  

“Motivating people to approach new challenges in innovative ways, requires an unconventional perspective, and the AYF brings out that creative problem solver in you,” she said. 

Sose is also the director of the AYF’s Youth Corps Program, which is one of the organizations most successful ongoing projects.  

Having first occupied itself with small scale projects rebuilding damaged structures in Karabakh, Youth Corps took a bold and unprecedented step last year and opened what the AYF hopes to be a permanent summer camp for underprivileged youth in Gyumri.  

Sending a team of 7 young Armenians to Gyumri to manage a summer day camp for hundreds of children was completely new to the AYF and it “needed serious planning and bold creativity,” she explained, adding that “the program required a solid vision if it was to be successful and lasting.”  

Inspiration 

The AYF is a chance to take hold of responsibility, to take on challenges, and make ideas happen, many in the organization often realize after completing their first fundraiser, or large scale event.  

For some members a chance at leadership is why they joined the AYF. For others, the AYF helped them see a side of themselves they didn’t know existed. 

“Being thrust into situations that require you to adapt to new circumstances changes people, and builds their capabilities,” said Hasmig Karkouzian, the chairperson of the South Bay AYF. 

Having to constantly take on new roles and responsibilities teaches you how to manage a diverse array of projects, she said. “I have been a project manager, supervisor, event planner, researcher, cook, promoter, negotiator, mentor, hostess, accountant, secretary, communicator, and educator.” 

Being involved provides you with a place to grow, agreed Saro Haroun, a former treasurer for the Crescenta Valley AYF, who described how his character had been shaped by the various responsibilities placed on his shoulders over the years. 

Saro was the chair the organization’s Central Educational Committee last year, overseeing the curriculum of over 500 members throughout the entire organization. That responsibility is “extremely empowering,” he exclaimed, stressing how his experiences in the organization shaped his trust in himself. 

Membership in the AYF, in and of itself, is a remarkable opportunity for Armenian youth to develop their character, to become confident and responsible trail-blazers in anything they take on, commented the organization’s Vice Chairman, Berj Parseghian. 

Two year’s ago Berj served as the AYF’s treasurer.  He explained how the responsibility of having to “manage the organization’s books, budget money, and spend wisely” taught him skills he never thought he would learn.  “Being in such a critical position taught me how to run a large organization, and how to achieve something greater than myself.” 

“Youth today are rarely given the kind of responsibility and level of freedom that the AYF provides,” Vache explained, noting the AYF’s unique role in the community. “It brings youth together to volunteer for the betterment of our communities, and Armenia, while also helping them become better individuals, capable of leading our people into the future.”

Responsibility inspires leadership, he stressed.



Turks and Klingons, the missing link?
November 6, 2008, 4:08 am
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Is it me or do Turks look a lot like Klingons, those evil warrior-like aliens, described as bloodthirsty militaristic monsters who drink blood, and smell like canine ass.

Turkey’s Chief Prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya

Turkey's chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya

Chancellor Gorkan of the Klingon High Command

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AYF Demonstrates Event Honoring Ataturk
November 1, 2008, 7:59 pm
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I Vote U Vote Hye Vote
October 30, 2008, 10:42 pm
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Armenian American students and members of Armenian Youth Federation encourage youth to get out and vote on November 4th.




Museum of Tolerance Hosts Azeri Press Conference, Stifles Reporter’s Questions

LOS ANGELES–A press conference by Azeri parliamentarians at the Museum of Tolerance on the Georgian conflict and its threat to western oil pipelines in the Caucasus was cut short Friday when this reporter was censored after asking about Azerbaijan’s growing belligerence towards Armenia.

The media briefing on the South Caucasus was hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center at its Los Angeles-based Museum of Tolerance. It featured a 5-member parliamentary delegation from Azerbaijan, as well as a member from the Consulate of Georgia. Azerbaijan’s Consul General in Los Angeles was also in attendance.

When a question was asked by this Asbarez reporter regarding an August 8 statement by the Azeri Foreign Ministry saying Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia served as a precedent for resolving ethnic conflicts in the region, he was silenced, not only by members of the audience and the Azeri consular staff, which denied the incident, but also by Rabbi Cooper who prematurely ended the conference (others were slated to speak) to take a tour of the museum.

Incidentally, the Republic of Armenia’s Consul General in Los Angeles, Armen Liloyan, was not invited to the press briefing. “We have never received such an invitation,” he said, when asked why a representative from Armenia, a US partner in the Caucasus, sharing warm relations and strong ties to both the United States and the west as well as Russia, was not invited.

Asbarez contacted Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for comments on the Center’s failure to invite a representative from the Republic of Armenia to the briefing. But Cooper could not be reached for comment and did not return calls.

Though the event was publicized as a briefing about the “implications of the Russian invasion of Georgia for the region and for oil and gas supplies globally,” it was more rhetoric than information. Throughout the briefing, one common theme was conveyed to the audience–that the conflict in Georgia was actually between Russia and the West.

“This is an offensive against the United States, American interests, and values,” remarked Asim Mollazada, the Azeri parliamentarian giving the first and only briefing.

“We said we would like to be a reliable ally of the United States,” he said, underscoring Azerbaijan’s centrality to US interests in the region.

Rabbi Cooper, who moderated the press conference, echoed most of Mollazada’s remarks in his praise for the two former soviet republics. Azerbaijan and Georgia, he boasted, were model republics in the region with their impeccable democratic track records

Asim Mollazada, Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, showing the location of the pipeline as Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC associate dean, looks on.

Asim Mollazada, Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, showing the location of the pipeline as Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC associate dean, looks on.

Mollazada, who is also the chairman of Azerbaijan’s Democratic Reform Party and a member of its parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, warned that Russia’s advance into Georgia and the PKK sabotage of a section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline are “evil” forces that threaten to derail the democratic progress of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

According to international human rights watchdogs, such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Boarders, and Amnesty International, neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan has proven to be a model of democracy in the region.

On January 6, tens of thousands of Georgians, claiming fraud and demanding a recount, took to the streets to protest the election victory of American-allied President Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili called for snap elections in November after he imposed a state of emergency following a brutal police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators calling for his resignation. Saakashvili, whose government was criticized by Human Rights Watch for “crossing the line” in November, is now being accused of having enacted policies of ethnic cleansing in its breakaway province of South Ossetia, which it devastated in a bombing campaign that began on August 7th.

Meanwhile, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has faced persistent criticism over his heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition parties.

According to Amnesty International, journalists in Azerbaijan “striving to expose the misuse of government power are increasingly living under the threat of politically motivated arrests, physical assault and even death…[and] are only free to express opinions that fall in line with government directives. Anyone daring to voice criticism of the authorities or to expose Azerbaijan’s enduring corruption problem faces an uncertain future.”

Furthermore, the BTC pipeline, which Mollazada emphasized was as an agent of stability and democratic development in the region, has allowed Aliyev to strengthen his heavy-handed grip over Azerbaijan’s government. In preparation for his reelection in October, Aliyev has been establishing a cult of personality by propping up billboards throughout the country, depicting his father, the late president Haydar Aliyev and himself in a manner reminiscent of the Stalinist Soviet Union and 1980s Iraq under Sadam Hussein.

Despite the reality on the ground, Mollazada insisted that the region’s oil pipelines “solve problems.”

“[The BTC pipeline] is a system of transferring ideas of liberty…our goal, our priority is to create a system of liberty and human rights,” he remarked. “If evil wins in Georgia, the system will go to the middle ages.”

During the truncated question and answer session, an inquiry was made regarding the effect the conflict would have on the world oil market. Mollazada took advantage of the opportunity to frame the message in a way where American interests were being held hostage to Russian aggression in the region.

“Now oil is not pumping and immediately you will see prices will jump,” Mollazada said, stating that American, European, and Israeli interests would only be secured if Azerbaijan was supported. “It is vitally important to the energy security of Israel and Europe.”

But Azerbaijan’s longstanding insistence to isolate Armenia from regional development projects, namely the BTC pipeline, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway, have further jeopardized the security and stability of the region and harmed US and western interests in the South Caucasus.

In spite of the windfall profits from the US–and the west–facilitated by the BTC project, Azerbaijan continues to lobby the United States for foreign aid rather than using its oil-generated wealth to better humanitarian and infrastructural problems it faces. Instead it uses these profits to bolster its blockade of Armenia, increasing the need for US humanitarian support to that country, a US partner in the region and diplomatic bridge between the West and Russia as well as Iran.

Although the tense status quo in Karabakh has by and large held, Aliyev has been using petrodollars from the BTC pipeline to beef up the country’s military, purchasing armaments and vehicles from France, the United States and the former Warsaw Pact countries. The tremendous new oil wealth has allowed Aliyev to increase defense spending from $175 million in 2004 to $2 billion in 2008. According to a Stratfor analysis, “Azerbaijan’s armament now has many wondering if Baku is planning another conflict against a neighbor that has been cut out of the region’s recent energy wealth.”

Azerbaijan ethnically cleansed its Christian Armenian minority in a series of pogroms and massacres as the Soviet Union was collapsing, forcing the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave forced into Azerbaijan, to declare independence. Karabakh’s democracy movement, legal by the statutes of the Soviet Constitution, triggered a brutal military attack on the enclave by Azerbaijan, sparking a conflict that ended with a Russian brokered ceasefire in 1994 and de facto independence for Karabakh.

Last month, Rabbi Cooper visited Azerbaijan to meet with the Foreign Minister and a leading Muslim religious leader, according to an Azeri Press Agency report cited by Day.az on July 22. During his meeting with the Azeri cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Haji Allahshukur Pasha-zade, who two years ago called on Azerbaijani’s to prepare for a “jihad” against Armenians, Cooper reportedly described Azerbaijan as “a tolerant country, where everyone can practice his religion without any restrictions.” His remarks, published the next day in a Day.az interview, were in reference to the Jewish community in Baku.

In the interview, Rabbi Cooper went on to say that Azerbaijan should do more to “inform the US community in details about their country and especially about [the Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict. The United States are mostly well informed about the ‘genocide of Armenians.’ It would be good if Azerbaijanis held work for informing Americans about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.”

In 2003, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles was embroiled in controversy over its refusal to establish a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide. Despite a six-day hunger strike by 14 young human rights activists, calls from thousands of Armenian Americans nationwide, a major story in the Los Angeles Times, and growing interest on the part of local, state, and federal lawmakers, the Museum of Tolerance only agreed to include references to the Armenian Genocide in various exhibits at the museum. The Museum still does not have a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide.



American Jewish Committee to Lobby for Azeri Interests, Announces Director

BAKU (Asbarez)–The Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, was in Baku Saturday where he told journalists at a press conference that his organization would lobby on behalf of Azerbaijan’s interests in the United States.

Harris was visiting Azerbaijan on the invitation of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. During his two-day visit he met with the President, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and other officials.

“[The] AJC has long appreciated the importance of Azerbaijan as an example of religious tolerance and a proven friend of the United States and Israel,” Harris said. “We valued this opportunity to learn more about this strong ally in a challenging and critical region. We look forward to sharing our views about Azerbaijan’s key role when we return to the United States.”

However, Harris’ remarks stand in stark contrast to significant documented evidence to the contrary. Azerbaijan’s numerous political as well as social human rights abuses both against its Azeri majority as well as its ethnic minorities, including Armenians and have been widely reported in US press as well as international human rights bodies.

But according to the Harris, “Azerbaijan is critical to Western energy security and to the avoidance of a potentially dangerous monopoly in the market for natural gas.” The South Caucusus, he explained, is witnessing a historic event in Georgia because the recent outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia is important not only for Georgia, but also the whole region, including Azerbaijan and its territorial integrity.

The AJC will lobby for the US Government to pay more attention to the work of the OSCE Minsk Group, mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Harris said, adding “the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the key issue of discussion during my visit to Baku. We will work to improve the OSCE Minsk Group’s mission in the settlement of the conflict.”

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has yet to be resolved, is in danger of erupting as Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev continues to make louder calls for renewed war to “take back” Karabakh by force. Making the situation in Azerbaijan more tense is the growing uncertainty over the outcome of Azerbaijan’s upcoming Presidential elections, slated for October 15.

There is a definite cult of personality that is being established that threatens the viability of democratic development in Azerbaijan. Aliyev has been propping up billboards throughout the country, depicting his father, the late president Haydar Aliyev and himself in a manner reminiscent of the Stalinist Soviet Union and 1980s Iraq under Sadam Hussein.

Aliyev has faced persistent criticism over his heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition parties. Meanwhile, over a million Azeri refugees from the Karabakh Conflict still live in shantytowns and abandoned train carts. Human rights violations are at an all time high, as severe media restrictions continue to result in the imprisonment and torture of journalists and opposition activists. According to Eurasianet, Aliyev’s recent claims that his government allegedly oversaw the creation of 650,000 new jobs by the end of 2007 are not being received well by most of Azerbaijan’s population, which has yet to feel the affects of the country’s massive oil revenues.

With less than three months to go until elections are held in Azerbaijan, controversy is looming over President Ilham Aliyev’s failure to solve many of the country’s social ills. With Karabakh a major election issue in Azerbaijan, Aliyev has sought to exploit nationalist fervor surrounding the unresolved conflict to detract from his administrations failures at home. In recent months, he has been touring the country and delivering, publicly calling for a new war and threatening to take Karabakh back by force.

On June 26, Aliyev staged the country’s first military parade in 16 years, and announced his intentions to build a military industrial complex that would support a second round war with neighboring Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan ethnically cleansed its Christian Armenian minority in a series of pogroms and massacres as the Soviet Union was collapsing, forcing the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave forced into Azerbaijan, to declare independence. Karabakh’s democracy movement, legal by the statutes of the Soviet Constitution, triggered a brutal military attack on the enclave by Azerbaijan, sparking a conflict that ended with a Russian brokered ceasefire in 1994.

Azerbaijan has been using petrodollars from the BTC pipeline to beef up its military, purchasing armaments and vehicles from France, the United States or the former Warsaw Pact. According to Stratfor, “Azerbaijan’s armament now has many wondering if Baku is planning another conflict against a neighbor that has been cut out of the region’s recent energy wealth.”

A renewed conflict would halt any possibility of Caspian energy reaching the west, and be a direct threat to U.S. and European interests in the region.

Following an unprecedented violation of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire by Azeri forces on March 5, Stratfor intelligence wrote in an analysis piece citing the growing threat to regional security of a richer and stronger Azerbaijan.

“Azerbaijan has grown stronger and richer following the 2006 completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe,” it said. “The BTC led to a more pro-Western Azerbaijan, and the tremendous new wealth it generated has helped the country increase its defense spending from $175 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion at the start of 2008.” Azerbaijan’s military budget has since reached $2 billion.”

%u218Energy wealth has doubled Azerbaijan’s gross domestic product;Azerbaijan’s defense budget has jumped from just a few hundred million a year to a billion this past year,” Stratfor wrote earlier in 2007. “The country is arming itself, and neighboring Armenia is closely watching. The two countries have been deadlocked over the Azerbaijani secessionist region of Nagorno-Karabakh — a conflict that has flared into a war in the past. Azerbaijan’s armament now has many wondering if Baku is planning another conflict against a neighbor that has been cut out of the region’s recent energy wealth.”

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s longstanding insistence to isolate fellow US Ally Armenia, from regional development projects, namely the BTC pipeline, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Ralway, have further jeopardized the security and stability of US interests in the South Caucasus.

During the planning stages of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, Azerbaijan pressured British Petroleum to bypass a more economic a commercially secure route that went through Armenia, a fellow US partner in the region. In 2003, New York Congressman Joseph Crowley (NY-07) criticized the routing of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline during the House International Relations Committee markup of the reauthorization for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The Committee was considering the OPIC’s application for political risk insurance in connection with construction of the BTC pipeline.

At the markup’sCongressman Crowley stated: “American taxpayers are being asked to help cover hundreds of million of dollars in increased costs for the BTC pipeline route that would bypass the more economic and commercially viable route through Armenia. If the Caucasus region’sin my opinion’sis to move forward’swe must ensure that all countries move forward together at the same time. Choosing favorites in the Caucasus will not promote regional stability’seconomic integration’sand peace.”

Despite all this, Harris assured Azerbaijan’s leadership that his organization would work for the interests of Azerbaijan in the United States.

“As your friends, we will try to do something for this but it mostly depends on Azerbaijan itself. Americans shouldn’t only know Azerbaijan as an energy-rich country but also as a country that made important contributions to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, promising to take steps towards the strengthening of relations between Azerbaijan and the United State.

“We will work to improve the relations between the United States and Azerbaijan,” he said. “We will also pay attention to Americans’ education [of Azerbaijan] to convey to them the basic knowledge about Azerbaijan and to inform the political circles and U.S. presidential contenders about Azerbaijan.”

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijan Press Agency reported on Monday that the Izmir-based Azerbaijan Culture Center has began a petition drive demanding that the Turkish-Armenian border remain closed until the withdrawal of Armenians from the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The head of the Center, Jamal Mammadkhanoglu, underscored that the borders should not open without an “Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani lands.”

“Turkey has to maintain its embargo against Armenia for that,” he said. “Otherwise, Azerbaijan has no other option but to liberate its lands through military force.”

Azerbaijan and Turkey must unite as one nation, like “a clenched fist,” he said.