If Azerbaijan Talks Peace Armenia Will Listen

So far, Azerbaijan has spurned several peace plans with Armenia that could have ended strife

THIS winter, thousands of books are being burned in Armenia - but not because they are banned, since Armenia has the first democratic government that flourished among the former Soviet republics. The reason is simpler yet tragic. Without this heat, thousands of families will perish.

For five years, Azerbaijan has waged a military campaign to wipe out the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. They also have attempted to expand the war into the Republic of Armenia by regularly destroying our only gas pipeline and by instituting a full blockade with the assistance of Turkey. Newborn babies have been dying in hospitals with no heat.

Azerbaijan's escalation of the conflict has brought suffering to everyone in the region, including its own people. Waging a war that its own troops do not wish to fight, the Azerbaijani leadership is destroying a region that has tremendous economic potential.

Sadly, this suffering could have ended at any time during the last two years if the Azeris had accepted any one of the peace plans put forward by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the European Union, the United Nations, or Russia. Armenia and Karabakh have repeatedly agreed to these peace frameworks. Azerbaijan has rejected every peace plan, the most recent one on Feb. 1, and cruelly has continued the bloodshed and deprivation.

The conflict began in the late 1980s, when the leadership of the Soviet Union showed signs of democratization. The Armenians of Karabakh peacefully petitioned then-Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to grant the fundamental, internationally-accepted right to self-determination and freedom from the oppression of the Azerbaijani government, a right these people have aspired to for 70 years.

Rather than come to the negotiating table and respond peacefully to Karabakh's petition, Azerbaijan reacted ruthlessly to crush the indigenous Armenians of Karabakh with pogroms, deportations, and military force. As the Armenians of Karabakh took up arms to defend their children and their homes, an endless cycle of military response and counterresponse began between Azerbaijan and Karabakh.

Azerbaijan does not even admit it is waging a war with Karabakh, fearing that such an admission would signal informal recognition of Karabakh as a nation struggling for self-determination. Thus, Azerbaijan attempts to drag neighboring Armenia into the war through a blockade and sporadic border attacks. Armenia has resisted Azerbaijan's concerted attempts to engage it in the conflict. Moreover, Armenia's repeated efforts toward peace have been applauded by the international community.

A key component of the Azeri military campaign is to portray Azerbaijan as a poor, impoverished nation desperately trying to fight off an invading foe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Azerbaijan has been using the wealth derived from its oil reserves to buy high-priced mercenaries. Its wealth is derived from around the globe. The Associated Press reports that Azerbaijan extracted $10 million to $15 million from one United States oil company alone - to train Azeri troops - as a condition of obtaining rights to pump oil.

The introduction by Azerbaijan of mercenaries and weapons from Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia, the US, Britain, Ukraine, and China seriously internationalizes the conflict and destabilizes the entire region. While the Azeris attempt to whitewash their aggression, the number of Armenian dead and wounded attests to the result of Azeri actions.

In October 1992, the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to ban official aid to Azerbaijan. This action sent a strong message to Azerbaijan to end its blockade and military offensives against Karabakh. Although this ban does not stop nongovernmental aid (the US provided $35 million in 1993 for international relief organizations to assist the most vulnerable segments of the Azeri population), it does offer a reward to Azerbaijan if it ceases its hostilities and comes to the peace table.

Instead, Azerbaijan has launched an unprecedented large-scale attack along the entire front line with Karabakh and some bordering regions of Armenia. With Turkey, it has maintained its blockade of Armenia and Karabakh.

American law is clear that the ban against government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan will only be relaxed if Azerbaijan turns its military campaign into a campaign for peace. Any easing of the ban prior to such an action would be tantamount to rewarding the Azeris for their illegal blockade and continued military assaults, flying in the face of the UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the blockade.

The Azerbaijani leadership should realize that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The entire region has the potential to flourish if Azerbaijan ends the fighting and lifts its blockade. Karabakh, Armenia, and the international community are sitting at the peace table waiting for Azerbaijan to end its aggression. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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