Is Caviar Diplomacy Paying Off?


By Edmond Y. Azadian

It looks like Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy is paying off in certain political quarters. The Azeri government has been always eager to shed Armenian blood. The world witnessed the Azeri government pardon and promote an Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov, who had killed a sleeping Armenian soldier, Gurgen Margaryan, in Budapest in 2006, while both were participating in a NATO training program.

In 1920, 30,000 Armenians were massacred in cold blood by the Azeri militia and the mob led by Jahanshir Bahbut Khan, who in turn was later assassinated by Missak Torlakian in Istanbul.

As the Soviet empire was crumbling, the Azerbaijani officials took advantage of the ensuing chaos to organize pogroms of Armenians in Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad and Khanlar on February 26-29, 1988. Azerbaijani authorities, with the collusion of Soviet forces, organized a rampage in the Armenian quarter of Sumgait, called Operation Ring, brutally massacring the Armenians.

Incidentally, the Armenians in Azerbaijan had been amongst the affluent classes, because they had excelled in the fields of education, science, industry and the arts. In a few months, a community numbering 400,000 was expelled from the country, leaving behind their homes, institutions and churches to be looted by the mob.

To cover up these atrocities and to counter the adverse publicity, the Azerbaijani government has been trumpeting the “Khojaly genocide” of 1992. Initially, the Azeri victims of Khojaly numbered slightly more than 100, however, as the propaganda grew louder, the casualties climbed to the current 600. The event has been politicized and Azerbaijan does not miss any opportunities to use it against Armenia.

Some countries and statesmen have been falling into the trap of believing this invented history. For example, the governor of the state of Indiana, Eric J. Holcomb, signed a proclamation on the massacre, “which was committed by the Armenian forces on February 25-26.”

Azerbaijanis in Seoul, Korea, together with Korea’s National Assembly organized a conference on February 14 to mark the jubilee of bilateral relations between the two nations as well as commemorate the Khojaly massacre.

In Italy, Sen. Aldo Di Biagio criticized a fellow senator, Maria Rizzotti, for her speech in the parliament commemorating the Remembrance Day of the Khojaly Genocide.

Why are those people falling into the Azerbaijani trap and commemorating a tragedy that never happened? Because money talks. Indeed, a judge in Milan recently decided to try Luca Volonté, the former chair of the European People’s Party in the European Council, when Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy had silenced the Council of Europe in 2012, derailing a resolution critical of Azerbaijan. Following that action, Volonté’s bank account had received two payments to the tune of 220,000 and 180,000 euros.

Some are paid by the Baku government to keep silent while others are paid to speak up and spout Azeri propaganda globally.

Turks, in their turn, have been demonstrating their solidarity with their Azeri brethren. The Azeri embassy in Ankara also marked the occasion recently, when Prime Minister Binali Yildirim delivered a fiery speech, which predictably concluded by a call to “Armenian forces to evacuate 20 percent of Azeri territory.” President Erdogan issued his belated condolences to the “Khojaly martyrs.”

The Khojaly incident in no way matches the atrocities committed by Azeri authorities in Baku and Sumgait. Some casualties happened during a war February 25-26, 1992, when the Armenian forces had laid siege to Khojaly, where the airport was located. Azeri forces, using the facilities at Khojaly, had taken Stepanakert under their guns and had paralyzed the entire region, choking the Armenian population to eventual death. After laying siege to the city, the Armenian forces opened a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of the Azeri civilian population. The reluctance of the Azeri forces to stop the evacuation, betrayed a palace intrigue back home in Baku. A plot was being hatched to overthrow Azeri president, Ayaz Mutalibov, who a month after his resignation, gave an interview to the Czech journalist Dana Mazalova (Nezavisimaya Gazeta) stating, “According to the Khojaly inhabitants who escaped, all this was organized to dismiss me. Some forces acted to discredit the president. I don’t think that the Armenians, who act very skillfully and accurately in similar situations, could let the Azerbaijanis gain any documents exposing them in fascist actions. …. The general reasoning is that a corridor for the people to escape was really left by the Armenians.”

Ten years later, again referring to the Khojaly story in Novoye Vermya magazine, he repeated his statement that “the massacre of Khojaly inhabitants was organized by somebody for achieving a coup d’état in Azerbaijan.”

But who was that “somebody?” Certainly a person who benefitted from the outcome of the situation. It was Heydar Aliyev, who was waiting in the wings to establish the Aliyev petro-dynasty in the country. It was reported by the Bilik Dunyasi Agency that in 1992, Heydar Aliyev, the late father of the current Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev, made the following cynical statement: “We will benefit from the bloodshed. We shouldn’t interfere in the course of events.”

It is ironic that the Aliyev clan, which ultimately benefitted from the Khojaly incident would turn the story upside down, to blame Armenian forces.

Azerbaijan is investing its resources to gain political points in its fight against Armenia. Yerevan certainly cannot match that caviar diplomacy, but the nation’s leaders need to pull their heads out of the sand to see that in reality. The oligarchs, functionaries and their dependents are all benefitting from the government resources yet they do no invest any of their ill-begotten gains from the state to benefit the country. Armenia needs to set up an effective multilingual media system to reach the outside world to tell the its side of the story, especially to the Turks or Azeris in their own languages. The message needs to be as persistent as their opponents and as compelling. The apparatchiks in the government have been convincing their superiors that they have been supplying stories to diasporan papers, as if the UN General Secretary or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for that matter, are eager readers of the poor community publications.

Instead of facing the enemies outside, some members of the government have been using their resources to hire the agents of yellow journalism to smear their opponents, forgetting that it is not the time to fight their personal enemies but the mortal enemies of the homeland.

All diasporan Armenians do is to organize some rallies in New York, Washington, Los Angeles or various world capitals.

Understandably, there are some measures beyond the reach of the leadership in Armenia. They cannot match Azeri spending but they can use their resources more prudently and effectively.

Pragmatism in not the monopoly of Azerbaijan.