on the silk road


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.

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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.



Armenians For Obama Joins Major LA Event For Nominee

LOS ANGELES–Armenians For Obama joined political leaders and fundraisers earlier this week at US Senator Barack Obama’s first major event in Los Angeles since he became the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. 

The fundraiser, held on Tuesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, drew together political leaders and Hollywood stars and provided an opportunity for Senator Obama to learn more about the 500,000 Armenian Americans who live and work in and around the City of Angels. 

In his remarks to those in attendance, the presidential candidate emphasized the urgent need to change the environment in Washington. He also stressed the importance of unity not only within the Democratic Party but for the nation as a whole, emphasizing that we all have common goals and common dreams for ourselves and for our world. 

“We were pleased to be part of a successful event for Senator Obama,” commented Armenians for Obama Chair Nora Hovsepian. “The Armenian American community looks forward to being there every step of the way for Barack Obama as he makes his way to the White House. It is energizing that so many Republicans, Democrats and Independents in our community have united to support Senator Obama. We are enthusiastically looking forward to Senator Obama becoming President Obama next year,” Hovsepian added. 

“In my discussion with Senator Obama tonight, I emphasized the moral strength of his position on the Armenian Genocide and ending the twin Turkish and Azeri blockades of Armenia. He reassured me that he is committed to these issues and expressed gratitude for our support in the Armenian-American community.” 

Earlier this week, Obama submitted questions on the Armenian Genocide to Marie Yovanovitch, President Bush’s nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. The Senator serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must confirm Yovanovitch before she can assume her post in Yerevan. 

According to the Associated Press, the gala fundraiser in Los Angeles included the participation of big-name directors and other celebrities, including actors Samuel L. Jackson, Dennis Quaid and Don Cheadle, models Heidi Klum and Cindy Crawford, singer Seal, and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard. Also on hand were Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am, who has created two music videos for Obama during the primary season – including one called “Yes We Can” that set music to clips from his speeches and became an Internet sensation. 

Individuals interested in learning more about Senator Obama’s record on Armenian American issues and how they can help get him elected President are encouraged to visit http://www.armeniansforobama.com. 

The ANC-PAC endorsed Senator Obama for President earlier this year and is gratified that he is now the presumptive nominee. The ANC-PAC is a non-partisan federally registered political action committee established to support campaign committees for Members of Congress who share the values of the Armenian American community. The ANC-PAC is at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the voice of the Armenian American community is clearly heard in our nation’s capital. The ANC-PAC continues a century old tradition of Armenian Americans engagement on the public policy issues facing national political leaders, both in the U.S. Congress and the White House. For more information, you may logon to http://www.ancpac.org.