When “Yes” Means “No” or Failure, Success: Azerbaijan and Fake News

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by Christopher Atamian and Haykaram Nahapetyan

Larry Crowder of Colorado on Senate Floor

Perhaps taking their cue from our own President Trump, Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev and his government have made a science out of fake news. Even failures at manipulating the U.S. government somehow get twisted around by Aliyev’s crew and are touted as successes, turning the proud people of Azerbaijan into something of an Absurdistan. Take State Resolution SJR 15-006, titled “Azerbaijan United States Partnership,” aimed at gaining U.S support in Azerbaijan’s quest to diplomatically win back Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) after losing the region militarily to Armenia some 25 years ago. This Colorado Senate Joint Resolution was introduced on January 23rd, 2015 by Senator Larry Crowder (R, District 35). It passed in neither the Senate nor the House and was never signed into law. In fact it was never even officially discussed. Anyone who reads the political press can verify this. Check out openstates.org, for example. Why after all let the truth of all things interfere with your political agenda, for heaven’s sake? If one checks Azeri reports (such as the one posted at azeriamericannews.com on January 20th, 2015) one finds the exact opposite, in fact: “Colorado State Senate voices strong support for Azerbaijan, embarrassing Armenian lobby’s fiasco”. If ending up in the Colorado senators’ recycling bins shows strong support for a resolution, I’d hate to see what the Senators would do if they actually opposed a resolution...

The local Armenian community, including those who fled Azerbaijan during the anti-Armenian pogroms in the early 1990’s, worked heartily to block the document’s passage. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) voted to secede from Azerbajian, leading to massacres of Armenians in major Azeri cities, including Sumgait. The following massive exodus of the Christian Armenians from this majority Muslim country follows in the wake of the almost complete de-christianization of the Middle East in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Turkey, which began over a century ago during the Medz Yeghern or Armenian Genocide, called Seyfo by the Assyrian Christians who were also massacred in 1915 by the Ottoman Turkish government. One of the passages in SJR 15-006 had the temerity to refer to Azerbaijan as a “country with a long-lasting tradition of peaceful co-existence between various ethnic and religious groups.” Ignoring the resolution’s ignominious death upon arrival, the Azeri lobbies simply re-wrote a shorter and lighter version of the trashed document, from the podium of the Senate (check it out on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gxc7jdIasQg ) and passed Crowder’s initiative on to Baku as an example “of the great support” here in the U.S. for Azerbaijan.

The Colorado case follows in a long line of similar incidents which seek to manipulate American politicians and the American public in general. In 2014, for example, lawmakers from Hawaii introduced two pro-Azeri resolutions. Armenian and non-Armenian community members and the local press raised concern. Why should the Aloha state of all places care about Azerbaijan, a country exactly 8,042 miles away, and barely known in Hawaii? As It turns out both legislators who presented these resolutions, Rida Cabanilla and Mark Takai, had previously traveled to Azerbaijan on all-cost paid trips. Cabanilla later admitted that “the resolutions came from Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the US.” Imagine that. Then, as if presaging the wacky world of Trumpist media statements, Cabanilla later confessed on Honolulu’s Civilbeat portal: “Maybe (the resolution) is not 100 percent accurate — I don’t know if it is or not.” Perhaps that’s what happens when proposed legislation is drafted by a foreign state official rather than an American legislator himself.

Blogger and journalist Casey Michel recently concurred: “Slathered in hydrocarbon profits, the autocratic government of Ilham Aliyev has unleashed spin-doctors, duped reporters, and led one of the most brazen pushes to abuse American lobbying loopholes of any foreign government.” The Azeri government has paid for dozens of American policy makers and their staffers to visit their country and showered them with expensive gifts, including beautiful Azeri rugs, as the Office of Ethics of the Congress later found out. Many of them, like the two legislators from Hawaii, have then tried to push favorable pro-Azeri documents presented to them. The US Office of Congressional Ethics published an almost 1000 page-long report which plainly stated: “much of the cost of travel and funding for the Convention was paid for by undisclosed entities, including the Republic of Azerbaijan, through its national oil company, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (“SOCAR”).

Another unfortunate Azeri manipulation relates to the Khojaly tragedy. The Azeris claim Armenians killed hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in this town in Artsakh in 1992, while Armenians claim that the Azeris fleeing this town were caught in internecine Azeri shooting at a time that the country’s two main factions were in conflict—geography and eyewitness reports seem to argue in favor of the Armenian account. Most agree that the video released by Armenian documentary filmmakers and http://xocali.net show images that were in fact not shot in the town of Khojaly itself, but rather about seven miles away in a territory under Azeri control at the time. Many of the photo-images presented by the Azeri government are apparently from places as far off as the Middle East, Turkey and Afghanistan: even images of the Jewish Holocaust have been exploited. It is difficult to square Azeri and Armenian accounts of what happened in or around Khojaly in the heat of war, though Azeri government claims that 20 US states have already condemned the Khojaly’s tragedy seem spurious. Given the Azeri government’s track record of manipulating or simply inventing information to suit its own ends—a record Donald Trump would be proud of—it’s hard to take anything they say happened as having actually happened—fake news non withstanding.

Between Hunger and Fire: A Documentary About The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Khojaly

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