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Special interest manipulation damages American foreign policy

The corrosive effects of special interests in politics are always troubling. It is especially damaging when special interest groups manipulate elected officials into taking actions against national foreign policy. That’s what happened recently in California. Under the pressure from the Armenian lobby, the California legislature passed a resolution which contradicts the stated foreign policy of the U.S. and its national interests. No wonder that the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan quickly disavowed the resolution, pointing out that it carries no legal weight and does not represent national foreign policy.

The resolution AJR 32 seeks recognition for the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” This illegal regime, which has not been recognized by the United States government or any other country in the world, was established by Armenia on Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory after the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s. The invasion also led to ethnic cleansing and expulsion of around 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their homes and lands. Despite global condemnation and multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces, Armenia continues to occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijani soil – an invaded territory of almost 13 times the area of Los Angeles – in violation of international law and morality.

Instead of spending resources meddling in American politics, perhaps the Armenian lobby in America should focus on severe maladies ailing the country they advocate for. As the adage goes “it is fiddling while Rome burns”. Armenia is in crisis – demographically, economically and politically. Tens of thousands of young people, seeing no opportunities at home, are moving abroad for a better life. Last year a survey by the UN Population Fund found that nearly 80 percent of young Armenians would move abroad if they could. Over a million Armenians are believed to have permanently left since independence. Armenia’s social infrastructure is gradually eroding; the economy is stagnant, heavily dependent on foreign assistance and remittances; and the country’s politics remains dominated by pervasive corruption. And the remaining ethnic groups and religions feel increasingly vulnerable. According to the recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League, with 58 percent Armenia’s rate of anti-Semitism is the highest among all countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

By contrast, Azerbaijan has become an example of post-Soviet success.  A country that has continued to develop its economy, focused on inclusion and supporting its neighbors, and become a major player in the region and beyond. It was elected to the UN Security Council in 2011, a testament to its global stature and effective diplomacy, just 20 years after independence. Its economy has become one of the world’s great success stories, worth $75 billion and making up 80 percent of the economy of the whole South Caucasus region. Azerbaijan has taken a smart and dynamic approach to its oil and gas wealth, working to improve the prosperity of future generations by turning ‘black gold into human gold’. Poverty rates have tumbled from almost 50 percent in 2001 to 6 percent now; Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku has become a vibrant and modern metropolis; and the country is producing a new generation of dynamic young professionals eager to contribute to their country’s progress.

Just as important, at a time when religious divisions around the world look deeper than ever, Azerbaijan has proven itself to be a beacon of religious and ethnic tolerance and inclusion. It was the world’s first Muslim democracy during its 1918-20 independence and remains a firmly secular state today: a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews have been living together in peace and harmony for many centuries.

Azerbaijan has also built strong relations with the U.S., and has become its reliable friend and partner in a turbulent and difficult region. Azerbaijan has played a key role in Afghanistan, sending troops and providing a vital transport corridor for U.S. forces and equipment there. It has been an important partner on the frontline of the fight against international terrorism. And, by opening up energy corridors to Europe, Azerbaijan is helping U.S. allies there to strengthen their energy security.

Azerbaijan’s successes have come despite the occupation of its territory by Armenia. The OSCE’s Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States, has been tasked for the last 20 years with mediating a resolution to this protracted conflict, however without any tangible results so far. The major reason behind this failure is that no real pressure, in the form of sanctions or otherwise, has been applied on Armenia to respect the international principle of territorial integrity, end the invasion and allow refugees to return to their homes. As the crisis in the wider region has demonstrated so bleakly, this imperative principle of territorial integrity must be preserved if peace in Europe is to be maintained.

The lack of sufficient engagement on the part of co-chairs emboldens Armenia and its lobby, to whitewash Armenia’s crimes in Karabakh and try to legitimize the illegal invasion. And the California resolution should be seen as part of these efforts. This kind of resolutions do not only justify Armenia’s medieval-style land-grabs and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijan, they also damage America. While demonstrating the undue influence of special interests, they undermine U.S.’s reputation in a critical region; harm its efforts to act as an unbiased mediator in the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process; and weaken its ability to consistently pursue its interests.

John Adams, one of the founding fathers of this great Nation, once wrote that “government is instituted for the common good…  not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” It is high time to heed his advice and stop this kind of special interests from damaging America and fostering hatred among communities.

Aghayev is Azerbaijan’s consul general to the Western United States.


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