Azerbaijan and Karabakh: Oil Vs. Rights

A peace settlement between Azerbaijan and the Republic of Mountainous Karabakh [Nagorno Karabakh] truly is in the best interests of the United States, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and US oil companies as Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana writes in the opinion article "Toward Peace in the Caucasus" (July 23). However, he is misguided in thinking that the way to broker such a peace is to overlook Azerbaijan's unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.

In 1988, after 65 years of repressive and discriminatory Azeri rule, the predominantly Armenian enclave legally requested independence. Azerbaijan's response was an onslaught of massacres, rapes, and forced deportations during which hundreds of Armenians died and more than 300,000 became refugees. Five years of bloody conflict ensued. Greatly outnumbered Armenian forces eventually managed to secure the borders of Mountainous Karabakh against the Azeri army.

Though a cease-fire has been in effect since 1994, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev has continued a devastating blockade of food, fuel, and medicine to Karabakh and Armenia. A congressional ban on aid to his country is still in effect. Azerbaijan continues to receive major arms shipments in violation of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, and its government's supression of democracy and violations of human rights go on.

What gives Mr. Aliyev the temerity to break international conventions? What makes him think Azerbaijan has a right to govern Karabakh after years of persecuting and killing civilians there? Azerbaijan has oil.

US oil companies, the State Department, Clinton administration, [and oil strategists] have all been lobbying on Azerbaijan's behalf. Aliyev believes he can manipulate US foreign policy to force the Armenians of Karabakh to again submit to oppressive Azeri rule.

Our government should not fall into this trap. Only when Azerbaijan realizes that neither oil money, nor military assaults, nor heavy-handed lobbying will win it concessions of territory will it negotiate in good faith. Maintaining the ban on direct US aid to Azerbaijan is the only way to bring about an equitable peace settlement.

The red-carpet treatment Azerbaijan's president will receive this week in the White House and in the boardrooms of major oil companies sends the wrong message - that oil is more important than human rights.

Dikran Khaligian

Watertown, Mass.

Armenian National Committee,

Eastern United States

Once again, it's plain old-fashioned greed. Oil and dollars are causing otherwise rational men to suspend their belief in basic American tenets - human rights, democracy and self-determination. It is causing them to support ethnic cleansing, an abusive, repressive regime, and a powerful former KGB strongman.

Peace will only become possible by upholding the human rights of the Armenians living in Karabakh. To set the record straight, the battle over Nagorno-Karabakh has never been a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This conflict is a war declared by the government of Azerbaijan on its own Armenian citizens. Azerbaijan began its ethnic cleansing long before similar tactics were used in Bosnia. Approximately 400,000 Armenian refugees were forced from Azerbaijan to an already poor and devastated Armenia.

This one-sided conflict became a true civil war within Azerbaijan when her remaining Armenian citizens in Karabakh decided to fight back. They retaliated and received help from Armenia because Karabakh is historically Armenian. It was placed under Azeri jurisdiction on orders from Stalin in 1923.

It is time to think outside the box. Just as supporting Israel does not preclude prosperity in the oil-rich Arab states, preserving the hard-won freedom of Karabakh does not negate oil development in Azerbaijan. They must be encouraged to coexist if the benefits of peace and oil are to be realized.

Craig Wallen


* Your letters are welcome. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed (200 words maximum) to oped@csps.com.

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