Azerbaijani Consul General Nasimi Aghayev got one thing right in his July 2, 2014, op/ed - the people of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (Artsakh) and the region have been waiting for more than two decades for a long-term, diplomatic resolution of this conflict. Unfortunately, it has been his employer, the Azerbaijani government of Ilham Aliyev who has declared “Armenians of the world” as Azerbaijan’s “main enemy,” that has been the obstacle to peace.
President Aliyev has brazenly and repeatedly threatened a land grab from neighboring Armenia and as recently as June 28th, at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) plenary session, President Aliyev made the astounding claim that "the existing Armenian state was created on Azerbaijani lands."
Far from creating an atmosphere for peace, President Aliyev foments anti-Armenian violence and hatred, most notably through the 2012 pardon, promotion and praise of Azerbaijani Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, who brutally axed to death Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan in his sleep during a NATO Partnership for Peace English language training program, held in Hungary in 2004.
Having endured seven decades of Soviet Azerbaijan's deliberate economic and political discrimination, the people of Artsakh repeatedly and peacefully petitioned for reunification with neighboring Soviet Armenia. Azerbaijan responded with violence and aggression - with pogroms committed against its Armenian citizens in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Maragha and Baku from 1988-1990, forcing over 300,000 to flee for their lives, with many finding safe-haven in the United States. In 1991, Nagorno Karabakh held a democratic referendum, consistent with all then-existing constitution and laws, overwhelmingly voting in favor of independence from Soviet Azerbaijan.
U.S. Congress, for its part, condemned anti-Armenian aggression in 1988, 1989, 1991 and, in 1992, adopted Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, restricting U.S. aid to Azerbaijan, citing its aggression and blockades against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
Further, since 1998, the Congress has repeatedly appropriated U.S. assistance to Nagorno Karabakh, sending vital humanitarian aid to the region, most recently funding demining efforts and helping get clean drinking water for families in and around the capital city of Stepanakert.
Throughout it all, the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh has worked to strengthen its fledgling democracy, holding regular free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections praised by the international observers. Despite Azerbaijan's crippling blockade, the Nagorno Karabakh leadership is also successfully working to bring outside investments and creating new jobs in the Republic.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has become increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic. Carnegie Endowment for Peace Senior Associate Thomas DeWaal reports that "in the last year, Azerbaijan has embarked on a crackdown targeted specifically against Western-leaning human rights, civil society activists and opposition politicians."
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar, in a candid interview with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reporter Khadija Ismayilova, explained how "deeply disturbed we [U.S. Government] are by recent events," noting that often the U.S. and Azerbaijan "talk past each other on democracy issues." Those types of candid statements by Ambassador Morningstar and European officials have been met by Azerbaijani government rants accusing Western leaders of "attempts to interfere in Azerbaijan’s domestic and foreign policy" and fomenting an uprising similar to the Maidan movement in the Ukraine.
This July, having celebrated yet another year of American liberty, the U.S. choice as a nation should be as clear as it is compelling. Freedom should guide the U.S. foreign policy toward Nagorno Karabakh, just as it inspired its own founding fathers back in 1776. A principled and practical policy based on democratic self-determination will both keep faith with the core moral values and serve American national interests by bringing a long-overdue peace to the region.
Sahakyan is executive director of the Eurasian Research and Analysis (ERA) Institute and an M.A. candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.