TODAY.AZ / Politics

Armenia's elections: The Azeri perspective

11 February 2008 [09:59] - TODAY.AZ
I spent last week in Azerbaijan and was surprised by what I saw.
Baku in particular looks like one vast construction site these days.
The elegant and chic late 19th century buildings in the city's heart
that reflect its colorful past are being rapidly renovated. I was,
however, disturbed by the number of what I call beton boxes, ugly
modern-style concrete apartment blocks, that have sprung up everywhere
and are destroying Baku's beautiful and unique skyline.

After seeing a newly built apartment building on nearly every corner,
I felt compelled to ask my friends whether these flats are indeed
selling. I had been told that such flats were going for prices in
excess of $4,000 per square meter. With a wry smile on his lips,
one of them replied, "Azerbaijan is a capitalist country now. If they
were not selling, why would our businessmen be investing in them?" I
am sure that Stalin and his communist comrades-in-arms are turning
in their graves these days...

I started to wonder whether the countryside, or inner parts of
Azerbaijan, are also benefiting from this apparent economic revival
in the capital. My trip to Quba, a beautiful city in the northern
part of the country, just 50 kilometers from the Russian (Dagestani)
border, gave me the opportunity to make a first-hand comparison.
Indeed, it seemed so. In Quba, for instance, I observed that the
locals are enjoying tangible improvements in their quality of life.
There is a high volume of border trade going on with Russia and a new
road is being rapidly built from Quba to Baku, which I was told will
extend as far as the Iranian border.

While I was in Quba, city authorities showed me a mass grave that they
have just discovered. It is peculiar in the sense that both Muslim
and Jewish victims massacred by the Armenian Dashnaks in 1918 are
buried there side-by-side. I took several photos that I will soon
send specifically to Abraham Foxman, national director of the New
York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) who, a couple of months ago,
said that the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Turks "were
tantamount to genocide."

In fact, parliamentary resolutions in Western countries regarding the
Armenian "genocide" allegations get their hackles as much as ours. I
attended a lecture at Khazar University where almost every participant
complained about "Western bias, ignorance and double-standards." They
could not understand how easily, or without having any idea about
what really happened, they could arrive at such conclusions. I later
found out that the government will soon initiate a campaign against
Armenian propaganda. Atakhan Pashayev, head of Azerbaijan's national
archives, for instance, told me that they, too, will soon open their
archives and display the documents of this period on the Internet.

Actually not a day passes in Azerbaijan without one hearing
a discussion among the public relating their views on Armenia,
Armenian-occupied territories, or Western countries' biased attitude
towards the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Among the ordinary Azeris, the
gackins (approximately one million refugees from Armenian-occupied
lands) in particular, the belief that use of force seems to
be inevitable has become more widespread than ever. The Azeri
government has launched new programs to improve living conditions
among the gackins. For instance, from the country's oil revenue,
which witnessed a boom last year, AZN 154 million was allocated to
refugees and internally displayed persons. Yet, as a school teacher
in a refugee camp just outside Baku, where three to five families are
forced to live together in a single room of only 15 square meters,
told me, they would rather live in tents in their native land than
in palaces in Baku.

That being said, what I was particularly interested in was how the
Azeri decision-makers were approaching the presidential elections
in Armenia, which are scheduled for Feb. 19. I spoke with several
young Azeri MPs and found them to be brilliant minds with a strong
vision of where the world, as well as their region, is headed. In
particular, I wanted to know what they thought about the likelihood
of Levon Ter-Petrossian being elected. They described Ter-Petrossian
as a leader they could indeed work with, but expressed doubt about
the possibility of him getting elected.

I posed the same question to a senior authority and the answer I got
was interesting. Noting that Azerbaijan's 2007 budget was approximately
$12 billion, he told me that $1.2 billion of this amount was spent
on the military. Actually, they would prefer to direct that money
towards solutions to the problems Azeri people are facing today. "And
Petrossian," he then added, "is indeed someone to work with and a
realistic politician who is aware of the potential that the region
holds." However, he too was pessimistic that the elections would be
fair and free. He doesn't believe, he said, Armenia's "Karabakh clan"
in power wants a normalization of relations with either Azerbaijan
or Turkey.

Towards the end of my trip, I came together with a group of
journalists. In the interviews, the first question they posed to me was
why Turkish reactions to Hrant Dink's murder had been so exaggerated,
citing the public slogan "We all are Armenian." This clearly had
confused and hurt them. I tried to explain that the way Hrant Dink
was murdered certainly needed to be condemned, and that the people
chanting such slogans were trying to show solidarity and empathy with
the Armenian Turkish community. One of them reproachfully replied,
"Our territories have been under Armenian occupation for the last 15
years. Why do Turkish journalists in particular begrudge us the same
empathy they showed the Armenians?"

This was a question for which I had no answer.. .

/Turkish Daily News/
URL: http://www.today.az/news/politics/43024.html

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