Azerbaijani Government Should Develop Thick Skin Against Criticism PDF Print E-mail

TURAN's Washington D.C. correspondent's interview with Mark Meirowitz, a U.S. analyst on Turkey and Caucasus, a member of the Board of Directors of the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New York.  Mr. Meirowitz is a lawyer, who has been in practice for over 25 years with top law firms.

Q: How would you characterize the U.S. priorities in the South Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan, after the Congressional elections? Will it

impact the policy priorities that the Republicans took control over the House of Representatives?

 

A: I do not expect significant changes in our overall policy which is being guided by the President and the Administration. The priorities are

regional security, energy cooperation, the war in Afghanistan and, of course, Nagorno-Karabakh. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is related to

the U.S.-Turkey relationship which has been in flux especially over Iran. While Azerbaijan would like Nagorno-Karabakh to be put to the

forefront ahead of the Turkey-Armenia issue, U.S. foreign policy has given priority to the implementation of the Turkey-Armenia Protocols,

and the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

 

As far as Congress is concerned, the failure to appoint U.S. Ambassadors in Turkey and Azerbaijan because Senators Boxer and Menendez

have put a hold on the appointments of fully qualified nominees needs to be rectified immediately because this interferes with the normal

course of U.S. foreign relations in this very important region. Senator Boxer was re-elected in the recent mid-term elections, and the

Democrats remain in control of the Senate. The objecting Senators need to act responsibly and allow these appointments to proceed. With

respect to Azerbaijan, pressure from the Armenian lobby to stop the appointment of Matthew Bryza, a career diplomat, as U.S. Ambassador

to Azerbaijan, because of his previous views (which as a diplomat he put forth as part of U.S. policy) or because his wife is Turkish (which is

an absurd argument and completely out of touch with the American ethos) has prevented the U.S. from having a very able diplomat on the

ground in Baku to help coordinate the many important issues concerning the U.S. and Azerbaijan.

 

Also, the U.S. should be very wary of Russian efforts to broker a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This involvement could mean

expanding Russian power in the region which should be resisted by the United States. Azerbaijan should not rush (because of its frustration

on the pace of events concerning Nagorno-Karabakh) to do a side deal with Armenia under Russian auspices - instead, Baku should allow

the U.S. to solve all of the issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh, in an orderly fashion.

 

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov recently acknowledged the "open secret that the United States provided Azerbaijan with great

support". Azerbaijan needs to stay on course with the U.S. and support its policies.

 

Q: Democracy and free elections are among the main priorities of the U.S. in Azerbaijan. According to last week’s statement from the State

Department, the parliament elections in Azerbaijan didn't meet the international standards. Is this fact going to influence the relations

between the two countries?

 

A: These human rights and transparency issues will affect the U.S.-Azerbaijani relations but, as with China, the U.S. brings up these human

rights concerns, but the bigger strategic and political issues will overshadow human rights concerns. This does not mean that Azerbaijan

can ignore human rights.

 

Q: For a long time, the U.S. has been demanding Azerbaijan to release two bloggers - this issue was also raised by President Obama during

his September meeting with Aliyev, but they have been released just now. Does such behavior - ignorance of Washington's calls - influence

the relations between two countries?

 

A: The matter of human rights is a very difficult issue. My suggestion is for the Azerbaijani government to develop a thick skin and be more

tolerant of opinion, even if very negative and critical. In America, criticism of our leaders, even going back to the Founding Fathers, was

often scathing. The American view is that political debate and even criticism are healthy expressions of democracy. As Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton said in her joint press conference in Baku with Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Mammadyarov (held on July 4, 2010, America's

Independence Day), "one thing I love about democracy and I love about America, is that we are very self-critical, and self-reflective, and

keep trying to do better and better..." Azerbaijan should heed this call. What the "donkey bloggers" did in Azerbaijan is mild compared to

the strident rhetoric of even the latest mid-term elections in the U.S. To make free expression a crime punishable by imprisonment is really

not acceptable or even prudent. As Assistant Secretary of State Crowley said in early November, the recent Parliamentary elections in

Azerbaijan did not meet international standards, and Azerbaijan was urged to respect freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Azerbaijan must chart a new course of expanding freedom of expression because to avoid doing so will prevent Azerbaijan from developing

its full potential, and will continue to interfere with its relations with the U.S. In addition, the human rights issue will continue to be raised by

high-level American leaders, and President Obama did so recently when he met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Obama urged

Azerbaijan as a young democracy to implement democratic reforms and increase human rights protections, and to release the jailed

bloggers.

 

As a practical matter, however, these human rights issues will be trumped by highly political issues concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, regional

strategic issues, energy cooperation, and the Afghanistan War, to name a few. As for Afghanistan, Baku has been the stalwart ally of the

U.S. and has been recognized as such on numerous occasions by the U.S. President and the Secretary of State.

 

Q: It is no secret that there are both pro-Turkish and pro-Azerbaijani lobbying groups in Washington. But there are some concerns that

because of ignoring democracy, the Azerbaijani government is going to make its lobbyists' job more difficult. Do you agree with that? What

should be done to make the lobbyists' job easier? What would you suggest to the Azerbaijani government?

 

A: As stated above, the leadership in Azerbaijan should be more tolerant of criticism. The Azerbaijani government needs to remove human

rights as an issue by taking steps to allow greater freedom of expression. Otherwise, the human rights issue will continue to interfere with

U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. As for Turkey, its future government policies will help define where Turkey stands on Iran and with respect to

other matters of concern to the U.S.

 

Q: Will the discussions concerning the 1915 events and Nagorno-Karabakh in the Congress be easy for Azerbaijan and Turkey or on the

contrary?

 

A: As for the 1915 events, I am concerned about what will occur in the next Congress concerning the Armenian Genocide Resolution.

Turkey's policies on Iran have muddied the waters and members of the U.S. Congress are wondering and will continue to wonder where

Turkey's focus is (and is heading) and whether there has been a shift in axis. The flotilla incident further disrupted matters, and the

precipitous decline in Turkish-Israeli relations is also a matter of extreme concern to members of the U.S. Congress. How Turkey approaches

the missile shield issue will also have an impact. When the Armenian Genocide issue comes to a vote again in the House Committee in 2011,

there may be pushback from members of Congress who are critical of Turkey's policies toward Iran and Israel (Turan).