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Obama, Aliyev Meet In New York As Washington Seeks To Improve Ties

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 24.
U.S. President Barack Obama (right) met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 24.
By Heather Maher

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to do a better job protecting human rights in his country during a rare face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

A White House statement said Obama echoed the message he delivered to the UN General Assembly on September 23 and urged Aliyev to implement democratic reforms in the ex-Soviet republic.

The statement also said Obama specifically appealed to Aliyev to free Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli, two bloggers who posted a video satirizing the government who are serving jail sentences of more than two years.

The families of the two men publicly appealed to Obama this week to ask for their release, telling him his would "be a strong voice in the defense of free speech and fairness."

The White House said Obama also "expressed his appreciation for Azerbaijan's contributions to supporting the ISAF mission in Afghanistan" and "reaffirmed strong U.S. support for the OSCE Minsk Group process to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

The bilateral meeting was the latest attempt by the White House to mend relations with Baku. Obama is keen to repair frayed ties with Azerbaijan, which is a critical link in the Northern Distribution Network -- the supply line that delivers food and fuel needed by U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan.  

Imprisoned bloggers Emin Milli (left) and Adnan Hajizada

Azerbaijan is also a key player in Europe's energy security politics. With abundant oil and natural gas resources, and a location on the Caspian Sea, it's a key hub for delivering its own and Central Asia's energy supplies to Europe, bypassing Russia to the north and Iran to the south.

'Predator of Press Freedom'

But Washington has to perform a difficult balancing act with Baku. The two leaders met just one day after Obama delivered an impassioned speech at the UN General Assembly in which he said Washington would take a stronger role in promoting human rights and helping civil society groups that work to advance democracy around the world.

Under Aliyev, democratic freedoms have been under assault in Azerbaijan; journalists, democracy activists, and opponents of the government have been targeted for harassment and arrest. Reporters Without Borders counts Aliyev among its top 40 "Predators of Press Freedom."

For his part, Aliyev has made no secret of his unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy in the region.

A major cause of tension between the two governments is the U.S.-led effort to restore relations between Baku's close ally Turkey and Armenia, Azerbaijan's foe in the ongoing dispute over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The mountainous region inside Azerbaijan, which was the site of a bitter six-year war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has enjoyed de facto independence since a cease-fire was declared in 1994. But with an Armenian-majority population on the one hand, and legal ties to Azerbaijan on the other, Nagorno-Karabakh's long-term fate is far from settled.

Azeris 'Quite Unhappy' With U.S.

Andrew Kuchins, who directs the Russia and Eurasia Program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International studies, says Baku feels the White House is ignoring its interests.

"The Azeris have been quite unhappy with the Obama administration and relations with the U.S. for the past year or so," Kuchins says. "The principal irritation has been the emphasis that the Obama administration took right from the [start] in pushing for Armenian-Turkish normalization without taking into consideration Baku's concerns that there must be some kind of progress toward resolution in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan before that normalization can take place."

The Obama administration has declared that the restoration of relations between Yerevan and Ankara is separate from efforts to find a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but Baku sees the two as linked. 
 

Aliyev (right) meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Baku in June.

It considers the status quo -- a closed border between Turkey and Armenia -- as working to its advantage in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Baku also fears that an open border will strengthen Russia's hand in the region because its ally, Armenia, will become economically stronger. 
 

Washington holds the opposite view -- that an Armenia which can trade freely with Turkey will become less dependent on Russia, more open to the West, and Moscow's influence will wane.
 

Despite these difficulties, Washington sees its relationship with Baku as strategically important and worth the effort to upgrade.  


Two of Obama's top cabinet members have been to Baku in recent months to try and smooth things over. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in July and Defense Secretary Robert Gates went in June, carrying a personal letter from Obama to Aliyev.

In that letter, Obama thanked Aliyev for Azerbaijan's contribution of military personnel in Afghanistan and for granting land and air rights to U.S. military aircraft and supply trucks.
 

He told Aliyev that the "peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" would remain a top U.S. foreign-policy priority and said, "It is my hope that we will be able to broaden and deepen our relationship in the months and years ahead."
 

Obama's message to Aliyev in New York will blunt some of the criticism that followed Clinton's visit this summer. Human rights groups in both Azerbaijan and the United States faulted her for not speaking out forcefully enough against the government's repressive policies.
 
The same critique has been leveled at the White House in its efforts to reset relations with Russia, but Kuchins says he disagrees with those who say the Obama administration is compromising its principles to shore up its strategic partnerships.

"The Obama administration has taken a quieter approach on human rights issues in the region and issues of civil society and democratic development, which has drawn some criticism," he says, "but to say that that we've turned a blind eye to it would be going way too far."

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Azer Nuriyev from: Baku
September 24, 2010 16:35
Ilham Aliyev is a strategic puppet of the US. All this talk of promoting democracy in Azerbaijan and other Muslim countries is a show which Azeri’s and other Muslims do not buy. The US allies in the Muslim world are all dictators, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Saudi, Tunisia and all others. The US is one of the main reasons why Aliyev’s are in power. They serve US interests more than interests of our nation, so the US will never make him and his likes fill uncomfortable on strategic level.

by: Anonymous
September 24, 2010 18:43
The United States should remove Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bans any kind of direct United States aid to the Azerbaijani government. Section 907 doesnt work in favour of the United States and is was mainly lobbied by the Armenian community in the United States. Washington should also ban any kind of financial and military aid to the seperatist Nagorno-Karabakh movement. Not even Russia, the benefactor of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh sends official aid to the seperatists. This makes the United States stand out in a very negative manner.

by: Brian from: NJ-USA
September 24, 2010 19:08
Azer
I respect your opinion but at the same time, I must disagree to an extent. Yes, I agree with you that the US is allies with some of the worst Civil Right abusers of the world. Can't argue the truth, but I can state, the double standards put against my countrymen is very unfair. As an American I believe in the equality of others and to respect their own religious views and their heritage. This is installed in almost all Americans but this causes a problem and unfortunatley is a problem when we look at most Arab ran countries. (sorry for the groupping but for topics ike this, its is needed.) We respect your views but we also want you to be as respectful to others. To view woman as 2nd class, to view the Isrealies as a threat to your way of life, and any other stance that extremist in the muslim community make, is simply against all of our American upbringing. Yet we still have a part of us that want you to not be us but be tolerant of others. Do you see how difficult it is to want equality and democracy for all when you are stopped by a difference is socialogical views. This also isn't directed at only the muslim countries. There are tons of countries in Africa that the entire world should stand against for these same type of atrocities. US interest during Bush were wrong and it took my countrymen 8 years to straighten that out. Now we have an individual that is opening up to the muslim world and is not blindly standing by Israel and still you attack him. Obama is doing what all countries should do, Talk to each other. With conversation comes understanding. Please remember this when you view the American intervention.
In Response

by: Murad from: London, UK
September 25, 2010 13:54
Brian

Your discussion of Muslim issues is irrelevant here. Azer's point is that the US pursues double standards regardless of who is in power.Obama is very good at giving grand speeches but this is the president who has just authorised the biggest sale of military equipment to the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia and actively endorses and supports dictatorships in the Muslism world. In Azerbaijan Obama's double standards are despicable - his Secretary of State on a recent visit refused to even meet with democratic opposition representatives. There is a strong belief that America is actually very fearful and hostile of a possibility of democratic government in Azerbaijan.

At the same time US continues to provide aid to the fascist Armenian regime which is occupying Azerbaijani territories. It is time for Azerbaijani democratic movements to abandon its silly romantic ideas about American democracy and promises of Western support and become a national movement again without all the discredited liberal baggage. America is an empire, a super-power just like any other in history. Azerbaijani-US relations should be built on real tangible things - oil, gas, pipelines, military cooperation and not the pie-in-the-sky human rights rhetoric. Forget all the normative mythology - its just propaganda to legitimise and justify US-led power-politics.

P.S. And Brian, we (Muslims) do not consider Israelis as "a threat to our way of life". We consider them a real threat to Palestinian lives (which they take on massive scale), and we're kind of peeved off about them violating international law, occupying our people's land and settling it with their colonists. Thats all.
In Response

by: Azer Nuriyev from: Baku
September 26, 2010 05:42

Brian,
“To view woman as 2nd class, to view the Israelis as a threat to your way of life, and any other stance that extremist in the Muslim community make,”

Your statement is a statement of a typical ill informed and completely fooled US citizen. The Americans are one of the world’s friendliest people, but are extremely naïve and are victimized by the US state apparatus in the same way as the Iraqis and the rest of the world is. It’s just that because the system is more sophisticated then in Egypt or China, ordinary people in the US do not see the scam in the US called “democracy” and “freedom.” Plus because the US through its proxies robs the world, the US citizens think that it’s all cool, we have our Big Mac and we go to Wal Mart, the life is great!

All the fallacies in the Muslim world are rooted in the fact that the US supports the most corrupt and despotic groups in the Muslim world who discredit Islam and suppress the genuine wish of the Muslim people to live their own way, with their own standards and hierarchy of socio-political values. Keep your “freedom” to yourselves.

Jews, Muslims and Christians lived well in the Muslim world and Palestine until the US-Britain created the illegitimate zionist enterprise – aka –Israel. Just leave us alone, don’t install Aliyev like people, get your troops out of our land and then we can talk on an equal footing, not on a master slave relationship basis. Just leave us alone!

90% of Azeris know that Aliyev regime is mainly in power due to US backing. They have destroyed our nation totally. Even the USSR did “better” than Aliyev’s regime. Our countrymen should look around and form a new opposition movement; the opposition of today is on Aliyev’s payroll.

by: Peter Smith from: Los Angeles
September 24, 2010 22:54
Which legal ties to Azerbaijan are you referring to? The annexation of Karabakh to Azerbaijan by Stalin was illegal. Or is it that you are a stalinist and a supporter of the monster. Armenians have expelled the Azerbaijani occupiers for good, and the Armenian Republic of Mountainous Karabakh today is an independent country, whatever Mr. Aliyev and his kleptocratic elite in Baku think. There are no legal ties with Azerbaijan. Illegally occupying Karabakh for almost seventy years has not given Azerbaijan any legal right.
In Response

by: Azeri from: California
September 25, 2010 10:17
Peter, Nagorno-Karabakh issue was not the main topic of this article, and whatever are the views of people on politics of Azerbaijan, we are all united in single opinion: Armenia is an aggressor and occupier of internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions of Azerbaijan. In 1923, Soviet Kavbureau voted to KEEP Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. You can check the wording of the document, instead of fabricating false assertions upon which entire Armenian "theory" of Karabakh being "given" to Azerbaijan is based. The territory of mdoern Nagorno-Karabakh was known as Karabakh khanate in 18-19th century, ruled by Panah-Ali Khan Javanshir from the city of Shusha. The terms "khanate" and names Panah-Ali khan have nothing to do with Armenia, hence the territory could not have been "given" to Azerbaijan in 1923, it was kept as part of it.
In Response

by: Taxpayer from: USA
September 25, 2010 16:07
Turkic-Mongol nomadic invaders established their "khanates" in all occupied territories all the way to Southern Europe. Using this sick logic, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece should be given to Azerbaijan because once they were headed by Turkic occupiers.

One problem, Azerbaijan Republic is an artificial creation of Turkish occupiers itself and did not exist until 20th century. It was created by genocidal Turkish army on the lands of native peoples of the area including Talysh, Lezgi, Armenians and many small Caucasian peoples.

Even Lenin's Bolshevik Kavburo did not "give" Armenian populated historic Armenian land of Artsakh (Turks call it Karabakh) but rather PLACED it WITHIN the BORDERS of Soviet Azerbaijan Socialist Republic as an autonomous self-governed Region.

There is huge difference between "giving" a territory to a state and placing it within borders of a Soviet Republic. Soviet Azerbaijan never had jurisdiction over the Autonomous Region which was ruled directly from Moscow. Elected representatives from Azerbaijan and Artsakh were sent to Moscow to represent their respective territories separately in the Supreme Soviet, judges for Artsakh were approved in Moscow and not in Baku, etc.

The law that allowed Azerbaijan Republic to become independent from the Soviet Union at the same time had a provision for autonomous regions to decide for themselves. Artsakh decided not to stay within the borders of a foreign artificial state and gained its own independence according to all laws that were in effect at that time.

Current Azerbaijan constitution states that this state is a heir of the previous Azeri republic that was established by Turkish army in 1918-20. At the time Artsakh was not part of that puppet Turkish regime. The same constitution blames Moscow Bolsheviks for occupying Azerbaijan Republic and including in into the USSR. Azeris basically blame Lenin's Bolsheviks for everything except "giviing" them Armenian territories of Artsakh and Nakhidjevan which they would like to keep. Good try!!
In Response

by: Peter Smith from: Los Angeles
September 25, 2010 22:35
A class of history for tou, Azeri from California: Nagorno Karabakh was always an integral part of Armenia, inhabited by Armenians, and belonged to Armenia until the communists came up and annexed it to Azerbaijan. On the other hand, back in the 18-19th centuries, Azerbaijan didn't even exist. Azerbaijanis are Turkish newcomers, Azerbaijan is the fabrication. Azerbaijanis are Turks implanted in the Armenian city of Baku by the British at the beginning of the 20th century, so as to get hold of the Caspian oil. Anyway, the most important thing is that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians have expelled the Azerbaijani occupiers, today it is an independent country, like it or not.
In Response

by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA
September 25, 2010 23:43
Karabakh is an Armenian land, and a center of Armenian culture and civilization for 25 centuries of recorded history. For 2500 year, with only minor interruptions, Armenians dominated the region both demographically and politically. It was in Karabakh where St. Gregory the Enlightener build one of the first Armenian churches and it was in Karabakh where the inventor of the Armenian alphabet St. Mesrob opened the first Armenian school in 410 AD. Azerbaijan is an state invented by Ottoman Army in 1918. This land has never been called Azerbaijan before 1918, and there were no people called "Azerbaijanis" before the Soviet census of 1926. Azerbaijanis are Turks and they belong in their real homeland - Turkestan. Instead of posting idiotic insinuations about 60 years of so-called "Karabakh Khanate" (versus 2,500 years of Armenian presence in Karabakh) they should consider moving back to Central Asia. Turks belong in Turkestan, not in Constantinople and not in Baku.
In Response

by: Assdig Maagar from: Los Angeles, CA
September 26, 2010 05:22
The ethnic Armenians who now account for virtually the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh prefer to call it Artsakh, the ancient Armenian name dating back around 1,500 years.
You want history, there it is.
Aliev's 14 year old son has started to buy large plots of land in Dubai for millions of Dollars. As much money as their family is milking, in a few years they will have the same size of land in Dubai as Artsakh, then the problem will be solved.
In Response

by: Fred from: Baku
October 19, 2010 04:13
John Harduny, why do you even care who Karabakh belongs to? The thing I live in Azerbaijan and i dont care much, so an advice for you, is to not write such comments on these posts because most poeple from Azerbaijan could get offended and start swearing at you.

by: Ahmad from: Baku
September 24, 2010 23:20
Bush administration to blame for Aliyev's being in power. in 2003, when the regime was not as strong as now, there was a real chance for democratic front to take the power. However, Bush administration did not support the opposition! Bush would sign a contract with a devil himself just dominate the world. when you support dictators like Aliyev they become stronger and then harder to control.

Aliyev has become arrogant and disrespectful towards everyone. Now that he controls own people 100% and has billions in his bank account does not feel any responsibility! what i am afraid is this behavior will affect all of us - Azerbaijanis. he is a Saddam type of leader who will bring his nation to its knee..
In Response

by: Anonymous
September 26, 2010 01:41
His father was handpicked by Clinton and Brzezinski to run Azerbaijan and open it up to the oil business. Still, you are close. Why would Clintons and Bush's oppose dynastic successions in politics when they are products of those themselves?

by: Sevgi Basaran from: Istanbul
September 25, 2010 09:24
Welcome to Aliyev Empire. He is king of Azerbajian. We will see his son after him. Democracy and Azerbaijan. It's like a joke.

by: Tahir Ceferli from: Baki-Basqal
September 25, 2010 12:25
Aliyev met with President Obama and other officials should be considered a defeat of the Armenian diplomacy and propaganda, after signing the military agreement.
We do not want to go into the details of this meeting, which belong to the category of state secrets and know about it only participants in the meeting. Therefore, we believe that it is necessary to analyze only the influence of external factors helped bring to this meeting.
In the Caucasus region disrupted the balance of power caused by the Armenian side, which suspended the promotion of U.S.A strategic plans in the region. Military agreement with Russia has put an end to the geopolitical aspirations of the U.S.A involvement of Armenia into the European fold. It is well known that the U.S.A sought to do so and forced Turkey to negotiate with Armenia and signed the Protocol. This document would enable Armenia to solve not only their own economic issues, but also to integrate into the Western economy.
Writing for a military contract, Armenia, actually declined from the perspective, and now it will not fulfill the agreements arising from the Protocols, signed in Switzerland on the opening of Turkish-Armenian border and reconciliation between peoples.
The Armenian leadership, largely consisted of non-genetic Armenians of Karabakh and the Albanians signed the agreement to remain in power, because Russia is the mannequins. It has turned this country into a hostage to Russia's aggressive policy to strengthen the Caucasus region. That's not all. Most importantly Armenia has committed itself to funding from its budget by Russian military units and a base in Gumri. Therefore, Armenia has become a conventional enemy of NATO, which is probably now reconsider its military plans and strategies against this country.
Nor must it be forgotten that the budget of Armenia, brimming from Western countries will also suffer from this contract. Donor countries, for sure, stop investing an aggressive country. And it will soon be reflected in the plight of the Armenian population. And Russia is hardly going to develop the country's economy, which was the disintegration of the USSR, the beginning of the Karabakh conflict. Russian perfectly aware that the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of this nationalistic outburst of Armenians, disrupt the integrated Soviet economy. I will cite the fact that time: stop a plant in Nagorno-Karabakh led to the shutdown of two thousands of factories in other parts of the Soviet Union.
Russia needs of the Armenian nuclear power station and a military garrison to protect their interests.
Azerbaijan is in contrast to Armenia has been and conducts an independent foreign policy, and he did not sign any treaty that will commit to it is dependent on one or another military alliance.
Such is currently the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus region. And certainly, this does not remain outside the purview of the Presidential Administration and the U.S. A
In terms of geopolitics in recent months, Azerbaijan gained special significance for the U.S.A, and let's agree that in this great merit of the president of Azerbaijan.
Obama and his team of realistic policy. And they understand the importance of Azerbaijan in the region and will maximize their opportunities to strengthen friendly relations with Azerbaijan.
In Response

by: Random Armenian from: Mother Earth
September 25, 2010 22:32
Tahir,

Really? The Soviet Union collapsed because of some economic shutdown in NK? Would that not indicate that the SU economy was a house of cards and therefore on the verge of collapse to begin with? The SU was decaying years before Gorby came into power to reform things but yet you try to somehow blame Armenians here. Amazing piece of propoganda.

As for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and the border; Turkey closed the Turko-Armenian border, not Armenia. Turkey did this to support Azerbaijan and since Turkey was not a party to the NK conflict and meant to hurt Armenia economically, it's an aggressive act on the part of Turkey. That's blackmail.

That said, it would be naive to assume that Russia does not play things in the Caucasus for her best interest. The current status-quo in the NK conflict benefits Russia the most.

Last but not least, Armenians have been living in that region long before anyone called themselves Azeri or Turk. This is something that is downplayed by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Such facts can be irritating to nationalists in any country.

by: Henry from: Canada
September 25, 2010 18:36
By reading comments such as the one made by Tahir Ceferli, no wonder there is very weak chance of peace to foresee in the Caucasus. I wouldn't be surprised if he is a political analyst with a PHD of the University of Baku or a member of the Yeni Azerbaijan. Until Aliyev step down, there will be no progress in Azerbaijan. But then again oil dictatorships never last long. Azerbaijan is a beautiful country that I would like to visit one day.
In Response

by: Random Armenian from: Mother Earth
September 26, 2010 14:09
Henry,

The problem that we are currently not in, is that the person or group to take power after Aliey may be more likely to go to war. This would be bad new all around. In the NK conflict, it was more like a civil war were two sides were scrambling to create some sort of functional fighting units from the left overs of the collapsed soviet union. The NK conflict was stretched out over several years in a small territory. Now you have military build up, with Russia happy to arm both sides. Armenians have no intention of starting another war because there is no interest beyond NK. If Az starts another war, you will have have bloodshed given the animosity that the Az government has been promoting over the years.

by: melek Bayramli from: Azerbaijan, Baku
October 19, 2010 04:17
Armenians had signed a military agreement that they claimed Karabakh being an Azeri land. but now they broke the treaty and attacked Karabakh and killed poor and unready Azeri people. But still it has been proven that its our land by the treaty.

by: Soldam from: Baku
October 19, 2010 04:28
I think it is a great start of improving the relationship between Azerbaijan and United States. This meeting will be a great start of moving towards in improvement of reputation of Azerbaijan. Since the repuation of Azerbaijan of freedom of press is very low around the world, by appearing more on the international meeting, it would change the bad perception of it. Even though Azerbaijan is unhappy, it should accept the unpleasant comments from other countries and try to improve it by showing more of engagement in UN and change in their policies of freedom of press

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