Armenia, Azerbaijan and Democracy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 7, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Armenia, Azerbaijan and Democracy


Over the past week or so, The Times published two opinion pieces regarding Azerbaijan and Armenia that demonstrate why their 17-year-plus conflict over national territory is so intractable. As a person who has done two academic research projects in Azerbaijan, I have to say the positions taken by S. Rob Sobhani in his March 28 Op-Ed column, "A 'warehouse of evil,' " and by David B. Boyajian in his letter-to-the-editor response (April 1) exemplify the zero-sum, my-side-will-get-all-or-nothing stubbornness I have encountered on both sides of this issue that explain the reasons why it has yet to be resolved.

Mr. Boyajian's portrayal of Azerbaijan as a country that helps "al Qaeda or extremist Islamic organizations" is inappropriate considering that its government has turned over a number of Chechen fighters to Russia, provided bases and overflight rights to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan and set up a bureaucracy over the past decade that exerts secular, at times even excessive, control over the country's Islamic mosques and other religions.

Too, if the territory Armenians took from Azerbaijan with Russian help is as democratic as Mr. Boyajian insists, why do its new Armenian inhabitants cling to their occupied land with such fervor and refuse to allow Azerbaijanis to return to their homes or have any role in that democracy? Isn't democracy a nonviolent, inclusive political system that allows adversaries to resolve disagreements through debate rather than force?

On the other hand, Mr. Sobhani's insistence that President Bush and NATO troops can resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict without Russia's help is naive at best. NATO troops will be able to play a peacekeeping role in that situation only with Russia's assistance. To suggest otherwise is a gross oversimplification of a very complicated multinational situation.

Further, I do not believe it's realistic, as Mr. Sobhani suggests, to expect Armenians to hand over control of Nagorno-Karabakh with a smile, even if their ethnic group gets rights guarantees from Azerbaijan. I think Karabakh will require a special status within Azerbaijan, perhaps that of an autonomous self-governing region. I do believe Armenians should return areas of Azerbaijan outside of Nagorno Karabakh that they occupy.

To continue, I'm appalled by Mr. Sobhani's inference that Armenia is a "warehouse of evil.

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Armenia, Azerbaijan and Democracy


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