on the silk road


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.

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Gorbachev Says Georgia Started Conflict

 

(CNN) — Georgian leaders may be blaming Russia for the conflict raging in South Ossetia, but former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Thursday “there is no doubt” that Georgia provoked the clash.

Mikhail Gorbachev told CNN's Larry King that Russia called extra troops into Georgia to stem violence.

Mikhail Gorbachev told CNN’s Larry King that Russia called extra troops into Georgia to stem violence.

Gorbachev told CNN’s Larry King that Russia moved additional forces into South Ossetia in response to “devastation” in the South Ossetia city of Tskhinvali.

“This was the use of sophisticated weapons against a small town, against a sleeping people. This was a barbaric assault,” said Gorbachev, the last president of the former Soviet Union.

But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who also appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Thursday, said he was “profoundly shocked” that Mikhail Gorbachev would use a television appearance “for basically vindicating lies and deceptions.”

Last week, Georgia said it launched an operation into South Ossetia after a cease-fire was broken with artillery fire from Russian separatists that killed 10 people including civilians and peacekeepers. It accused Russia, which also has peacekeepers in the region, of backing the separatists.

Hours later, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that Russian authorities said 10 Russian peacekeepers had been killed and 30 wounded in an attack by Georgians.

“Western television didn’t show what happened in Tskhinvali,” Gorbachev said. “Only now they’re beginning to show some pictures of the destruction. So this looks to me like it was a well-prepared project. And with any outcome, they wanted to put the blame on Russia.”

He called Georgia’s claims that Russia is attempting to dismantle its democracy “all lies from beginning to end.”

In response, Saakashvili expressed disappointment with the sentiments from Gorbachev, who he said he once respected.

“This is the man, Mr. Gorbachev, who helped to, you know, bring down KGB kingdom. And he is the one who is, you know, justifying what the KGB people are doing right now in my country,” Saakashvili said.

“Shame on him. Shame on you, Mr. Gorbachev, for perpetuating the very regime you helped to defeat and you fought against as the head of the Soviet Union.”

Gorbachev also said the United States is jeopardizing its fragile relationship with Russia by backing Georgia. Video Watch Gorbachev discuss U.S.-Russia relations »

“There is a chance for our two countries to develop a new agenda for cooperation so as to promote both U.S. and Russia interests, and the interests of other countries, and the interests of stability, particularly in the hotspots in different continents,” said Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1990. 

 



Yerevan Hopes For Quick End To Georgia Fighting

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian called on Thursday a rare meeting of Armenia’s National Security Council to reiterate his government’s concerns about the Russian-Georgian military conflict and praise international efforts to resolve it.

Sarkisian also reaffirmed Yerevan’s stated neutrality in the week-long dispute that will likely have far-reaching ramifications for regional security. Still, he seemed to blame Georgia for the outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia that provoked a harsh Russian retaliation. 

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Says ‘Forget’ Georgian Territorial Integrity, US-Russian Tensions Mount

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–Russia’s foreign minister declared Thursday that the world “can forget about” Georgia’s territorial integrity, and officials said Russia targeted military infrastructure and equipment — including radars and patrol boats at a Black Sea naval base and oil hub.

Russia’s president met in the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia’s two separatist provinces — a clear sign that Moscow could absorb the regions. And the comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to come as a challenge to the United States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.”

“One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state,” Lavrov told reporters.

Bush Sends Troops with Aid

The White House said it would ignore the comment, while President George W. Bush sent American troops to Georgia on Wednesday to oversee a “vigorous and ongoing” humanitarian mission, in a direct challenge to Russia’s display of military dominance over the region. His action came after Russian soldiers moved into two strategic Georgian cities in what he and Georgian officials called a violation of the cease-fire Russia signed the day before.

Bush demanded that Russia abide by the cease-fire and withdraw its forces or risk its place in “the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century.” It was his strongest warning yet of potential retaliation against Russia over the conflict.

On a day when the White House evoked emotional memories of the cold war, a senior Pentagon official said the relief effort was intended “to show to Russia that we can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will, whenever and wherever we want.” At a minimum, American forces in Georgia will test Russia’s pledge to allow relief supplies into the country; they could also deter further Russian attacks, though at the risk of a potential military confrontation.

in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili interpreted the aid operation as a decision to defend Georgia’s ports and airports, though Bush administration and Pentagon officials quickly made it clear that would not be the case. A senior administration official said, “We won’t be protecting the airport or seaport, but we’ll certainly protect our assets if we need to.”Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was headed to Georgia to ask the U.S. ally to to sign a cease-fire agreement with Russia that includes apparent concessions to Moscow but preserves Georgian borders, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Poland Signs Missile Deal With US

Meanwhile, Poland finally agreed on Thursday to host elements of U.S. global anti-missile system on its territory after Washington improved the terms of the deal amid the Georgia crisis. The preliminary deal was signed by deputy Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and U.S. chief negotiator John Rood. It still needs to be endorsed by the Polish parliament.

Washington says the interceptors and a radar in the Czech Republic would form part of a global “missile shield” protecting the United States and its allies from long range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as al-Qaeda. Russia, however, had warned the west that it would regard such a move as a direct threat to its national security.

“We have crossed the Rubicon,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said just before the deal was signed. “We have finally got understanding of our point of view that Poland, being a crucial partner in NATO and an important friend and ally of the United States, must also be safe.”

Officials said the deal included a U.S. declaration that it will aid Poland militarily in case of a threat from a third country and that it would establish a permanent U.S. base on Polish soil in a symbolic gesture underlining the alliance.

“We are comfortable that we negotiated a strong agreement,” Rood said. “It elevates our security relationship to a new level.”

If everything goes to schedule, the interceptor base would be ready by around 2012, officials have said. The Czechs have already signed an agreement to host the radar although parliament there must yet ratify it.

Russia Vehemently Opposes

Russia has vehemently opposed placing the shield installations in central Europe, saying they would threaten its security and upset the post-Cold War balance of power in Europe.

Moscow has threatened to take retaliatory steps against Poland and the Czech Republic, its former reluctant vassals who are now part of the European Union and NATO.

In the face of Russian opposition, Tusk had argued he could not agree to the shield unless the United States agreed to boost Warsaw’s air defenses and enhance mutual military cooperation.

Russia’s military action against Georgia strengthened the argument, Tusk said on Tuesday, ahead of the talks this week.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski played down the impact of the events in Georgia on the deal, apparently hoping to soften any criticism from Moscow.

In the first sign of Moscow’s displeasure, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Warsaw in September, Polish diplomats said.

The deal, if approved by parliaments in Prague and Warsaw, will escalate the recent diplomatic row between Russia and the United States.

Washington hopes the shield might persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, although Teheran says it wants to develop nuclear energy only to generate electricity and not to make nuclear weapons.

Tensions Mount

In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he saw no need to invoke American military force in the war between Russia and Georgia but warned that U.S.-Russian relations could suffer lasting damage if Moscow doesn’t retreat.

“The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia,” said Gates. “I see no reason to change that approach today.”

The latest developments presented a huge challenge to the EU-sponsored cease-fire agreement designed to end seven days of fighting. The accord had envisioned Russian and Georgian forces returning to their original positions.

Lavrov on Wednesday also sent a decisive message to the United States, but saying that the US must choose between its “real partnership” with Russia and what he called the US’s “special project” of Georgia, reported the Pravda newspaper.

“We realize and everyone writes about that Georgia today is a special project of the US. We understand that the US worries about the fate of this project,” the minister added. “But here we have either the notion of prestige about this ‘virtual project’ or partnership, which requires collective actions to be taken,” the minister said.

“The Russian Armed Forces and the Russian peacemakers have orders from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief–the president of Russia–to observe all combat laws. Civilians must be protected against infringements of human life and dignity. We will look into every message saying that it is taking place and we will not let this happen,” Lavrov said.

He also said that in assessing the recent developments, the US was neglecting to condemn Georgia for bombing S. Ossetia and leveling its capital Tskhinvali.

About 100 Russian investigators continue to work in the capital of South Ossetia, which was virtually leveled as a result of the Georgian aggression. The officers are investigating the murder of Russian citizens and Russian peacemakers.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the gathering of concrete evidence to prove that the Georgian authorities had committed acts of genocide against the citizens of South Ossetia.



Confidence Rises for Ossetia, Abkhazia After Fighting

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Georgia’s efforts to bring the breakaway region of South Ossetia to heel have backfired so drastically that it may have lost control of both it and rebel-held Abkhazia for good. Western diplomats and analysts said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has little hope of reasserting his authority in the two regions after his failed invasion of South Ossetia.

A ceasefire agreement to end nearly a week of fighting between Georgian and Russian troops has given a new sense of confidence to the separatists in Abkhazia, and in mountainous South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which hugs the Black Sea.

Sergei Shamba, the foreign minister of Abkhazia, told Reuters that Georgia should now accept it is a separate country.

“We have held talks with Georgia for 15 years and now we will only talk with them after recognition of our independence,” Shamba said. “There have been several drafts and they rejected them all. It’s clear to me that it’s pointless talking to them.”

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity made similar independence demands on Wednesday, Russian media reported.

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Confidence Rises for Ossetia, Abkhazia After Fighting

From Asbarez.com

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Georgia’s efforts to bring the breakaway region of South Ossetia to heel have backfired so drastically that it may have lost control of both it and rebel-held Abkhazia for good. Western diplomats and analysts said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has little hope of reasserting his authority in the two regions after his failed invasion of South Ossetia.

A ceasefire agreement to end nearly a week of fighting between Georgian and Russian troops has given a new sense of confidence to the separatists in Abkhazia, and in mountainous South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which hugs the Black Sea.

Sergei Shamba, the foreign minister of Abkhazia, told Reuters that Georgia should now accept it is a separate country.

“We have held talks with Georgia for 15 years and now we will only talk with them after recognition of our independence,” Shamba said. “There have been several drafts and they rejected them all. It’s clear to me that it’s pointless talking to them.”

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity made similar independence demands on Wednesday, Russian media reported.

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Turkey Walks Tightrope Over Iran Ties

Asbarez reports that a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Turkey on Thursday reflects a desire by the NATO member to remain on good terms with an unpredictable neighbor and secure future energy needs.

President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have come under criticism at home and abroad for inviting Ahmadinejad, a visit that marks a diplomatic coup for the firebrand leader who has been shunned by European countries.

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