June 21, 1999


We don't know if they log on to Antiwar.com very much in Azerbaijan: a look at our hit report is quite unrevealing. It lists the "Russian Federation," the "former USSR" and various other ex-Soviet republics, but no Azerbaijan. Yet I am convinced that somebody in that Central Asian "republic" must have read a recent column in which I speculated that this predominantly Muslim oil-rich country could well be the scene of NATO's next intervention. In a country like Azerbaijan, nobody but a government official has access to computers, and so it must have been somebody high up in the Azerbaijani hierarchy – perhaps President Heydar Aliyev himself – who saw this item and got to thinking. Because less than 24 hours later, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister, Safar Aliyev, called for NATO's "peaceful" intervention in his country's conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. An Agence France Press report [June 17, 1999] quotes Aliyev as saying that "we would like NATO to become involved soon in peacefully settling the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict," but, AFP notes "he did not say how.


I have news for you: The NATO-crats are already deeply involved in the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict. The six-year war in which the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh essentially won their independence from the Azeris ended in a cease-fire negotiated by the Council of Europe (OSCE), and a special working group called the Minsk group was created to settle disputes and oversee the shaky peace. But while everyone was busy negotiating the fate of Kosovo, the Armenian-Azeri cease-fire broke down. With the Azeris getting the worst of it, and calling for NATO intervention, the opportunity for a truly rich prize presents itself. Now that the Minsk group negotiations have broken down, will the OSCE pass the ball to NATO?


This is yet another one of those ethnic feuds, with a long and bloody history, that has erupted since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The primarily Armenian area of Azerbaijan known as Nagorno-Karabakh has long sought unity with Armenia proper, but Azeri Maximum Leader Aliyev, the mini-Stalin of Central Asia, is not about to give up an inch of territory. A Stalinist holdover from the Soviet era, Aliyev is sitting on top of one of the world's biggest oil reserves. He has been taking bids for franchises from the world's oil giants, and the race is on for economic concessions. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a rich prize for the taking in Baku (the Azeri capital). NATO military intervention dressed up in the snow-white garments of "humanitarianism" could solve the problem of the division of the spoils.


To a large extent, however, the spoils are already divided. In 1994, the government of Azerbaijan announced that a contract had been signed with a consortium of oil companies. As Aliyev put it in a speech to the Harriman Institute in New York a couple of years ago, "In many cases it is referred to as the Contract of Century," and this is no exaggeration. The world's biggest oil companies, and their attendant investment bankers, stand to make hundreds of billions of dollars. Amoco, Pennzoil, Unocal, McDermott, BP (Britain), Statoil (Norway), Lukoil (Russia), and also the Turks and Saudis, are all in on the deal. On August 1, 1997,Vice President Al Gore and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev hosted a ceremony at the White House, announcing "an intergovernmental energy dialogue" at which representatives of three U.S. energy companies – Chevron, Exxon, and Mobil – and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) signed contracts for energy development in Azerbaijan. Chevron is slated to start drilling in the Tagiyev region of the southern Caspian Sea at the end of the year.


But more than money is at stake here. Azerbaijan is at the geographical epicenter of the world crisis. Here, in the lands surrounding the Caspian Sea, virtually all the forces that have been loosened in the post-Soviet era intersect and threaten to collide: Islamic fundamentalism, Orthodox Christianity, ethnic separatism, nationalism, Russian revanchism, and NATO-cratic expansionism – all come into play at this crossroads of the world. To the North is Russia, to the west Armenia, to the northwest the Georgian Republic, to the southwest Turkey, and to the south the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a rough neighborhood like this, Azerbaijan – which never was a nation, but only an administrative unit of the Soviet Union – was certain to become a battlefield. It is now an open question as to whether NATO troops will one day patrol Baku just as they are now patrolling Pristina.


Is there any doubt which side the "peacekeepers" deployed to the region will take? Armenia is Christian, has no oil, and is a thorn in the side of our NATO ally Turkey. Azerbaijan is doling out billions in contracts to Al Gore's campaign contributors. Case closed.


The US State Department's tilt toward Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was expressed, albeit rather obliquely, in a recent statement: "Armenia's observance of international law and obligations and OSCE commitments in this respect has been marred by the ongoing conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Karabakh Armenians, supported by the Republic of Armenia, now hold about one fifth of Azerbaijan and have refused to withdraw from occupied territories until an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is reached." But Azerbaijan is a Soviet fiction, created by Stalin who fixed its border to keep the Armenians down and the Azeris fully occupied. But the idea that the borders of the phony Soviet "republics" are permanent, and represent anything even approximating justice, is absurd. Yet this is the position the US government has taken in the past, and continues to take – even in Kosovo, where at least officially the position is that the United States does not support Kosovo's independence and supports only "autonomy." This is an oddly formalistic position that begins to make sense, however, only in the context of Azerbaijan.


Aside from accusations that Armenia "discriminates" against "non-apostolic churches," US officials don't like President Ter-Petrosyan, who rose to prominence and power on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's status, and whom they accuse of sending aid to the Armenian separatists. Wagging its finger at laws forbidding religious proselytizing by non-Christian Orthodox groups, the State Department also complains about "paramilitary gangs" interfering with religious liberty and instigating ethnic cleansing. Where oh where have we heard all this before?


In spite of the often sharp tone taken by this State Department toward Armenia, however, Ter-Petrosyan's government is eligible for foreign assistance from the US Azerbaijan, being less than a model of democracy, is not: but don't worry, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is out to fix that, with a bill repealing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which lists Azerbaijan as among those countries ineligible for foreign aid. And Section 907 doesn't cover subsidies from the Export-Import Bank to US companies investing in Azerbaijan.


The Website of the Republic of Azerbaijan gives us a snapshot of what it must be like to live in that poverty-stricken hellhole on the edge of Nowhere. The site is not Azerbaijan.org, or Azeri.com, but http://www.president.az/! This, we are told, is the "official home page of the Office of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan" – not the nation but its President. In Azerbaijan, however, these two entities are inseparable: images of Aliyev are everywhere – billboards, railroad stations, storefronts, and cafes. His Website proudly displays his monolithic marble monstrosity of a palace: the peculiar architectural style of this structure, a kind of Socialist Realist monumentalism adorned with minarets and Arabesque curves, symbolizes perfectly the style and spirit of the Aliyev regime.


Aliyev's site is a sight to behold, especially the chapter titles of his official biography, which must have been written by some Western public relations flack, an aging baby boomer who used to march against the Vietnam war and smoke dope and now writes apologias for Central Asian dictators:

Chapter I. "A Time To Collect Stones"
Chapter II. "A Time To Be Born"
Chapter III. "A Time To Build"
Chapter IV. "A Time To Be Silent"
Chapter V. "A Time To Search And A Time To Lose"
Chapter VI. "A Time For War And A Time For Peace"
Chapter VII. "A Time To Plant"

The next chapter in the life of President Aliyev has yet to be written, but the title practically writes itself: "A Time to Collect."


I know we are all suffering from what Tony Blair bemoaned as "refugee fatigue," but are you ready for the latest refugee "crisis" – tens of thousands of Azeris fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh? How long before Christiane Amanpour discovers the plight of her Muslim brothers and sisters in Azerbaijan, and comes swooping down into Baku on her electronic carpet (or is that broomstick)? With the cameras rolling, and yet another refugee convoy bringing news of fresh "atrocities" committed by the evil Armenians, the stage is set for Operation Allied Force, Act II. Never mind that the Armenians are fighting for the same principle supposedly animating the Kosovo Liberation Army, the right to national self-determination: the Armenians, you see, are Christians, and thus have no rights.


In his 1997 trip to the United States, President Aliyev noted the favorable stance taken by the US toward his country's claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, and praised the OSCE, "along with close participation in this work from the leadership of the USA, President Bill Clinton, who is also very interested in settlement of the conflict." The two presidents signed a Joint Statement reinforcing the United States' and Azerbaijan's commitment "to expand our partnership, promote regional peace, and help Azerbaijan play its rightful role in Europe's new security." But wait a minute: what is Azerbaijan's "rightful role" in Europe's security arrangements? We all know that the US government is deficient in the map department, but this is getting ridiculous: Azerbaijan isn't even in Europe.


Ah, but Europe is in Azerbaijan, economically speaking, and so is the United States – and the planning for troop deployments is already in an advanced stage. In May of 1997, the US and Azerbaijan announced that "the United States and Azerbaijan affirm their joint understanding that . . . a state's military forces should be deployed on the territory of another state only with the freely expressed consent of the host country." You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that something is up: why else stipulate the conditions of troop deployments unless they seem likely to happen?


Furthermore: "The United States acknowledges the absence of foreign military bases on the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic and supports the position taken by Azerbaijan that the temporary presence of foreign troops on its territory may be based only on a duly concluded agreement with Azerbaijan according to its constitution and in conformity with international law." In other words, here come the "peacekeepers" – whose presence is likely to be as "temporary" as K-For's stay in Kosovo.


Before the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out with renewed vigor, the Minsk group negotiations were focused on creating the conditions for deploying a multinational OSCE peacekeeping force to the region as part of a broader political settlement. But if the fighting continues much longer, the instability will sour the Western investment – and provoke a real response from the West. Remember the recent NATO 50th Anniversary "Celebration"? It was there that Mad Madeleine unveiled her latest project: NATO will now abandon its original charter as the shield of Europe and expand its purview to include the entire globe. It is anybody's guess where the next stop on the New World Order Express will turn out to be, but if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Azerbaijan – along with Amoco, Mobil, Exxon, and the rest.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

Past Columns

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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