Azerbaijan International

Summer 1994 (2.2)
Pages 54-55

Physics and Politics
The Essential Differences as They Relate to the
Azerbaijan/Armenia Conflict

by Hafiz Pashayev, Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the US

Ambassador Pashayev presented the following speech at George Mason University on April 7, 1994, during at a Symposium entitled, Crisis and Opportunity in Central Asia: The Rise of New Republics in the Former Soviet Union. Other speakers included Ambassador Richard Armitage (former Presidential Envoy for the Coordination of American Assistance to the CIS under both Presidents Bush and Clinton); Paul Goble (Senior Advisor at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace;) and Armenian Ambassador to the US, Rouben Shugarian.


In physics, like everything else, there is much that is unknown. But within that body of knowledge available for testing and verification, there are certain facts-or truths-that are universally accepted by those dealing with the matter.

It is this ability to verify, and having done so, the universal acceptance of these facts that enables physicists and others to build upon a body of knowledge to continue to learn more and discover additional facts and "truths."

I have found that in politics and diplomacy, facts and truths are all relative. Politicians have an ability to take the same set of "facts" and provide widely differing interpretations and "truths" regarding those "facts". Certainly that was never more true than in the case of the conflict between Armenia and my country, Azerbaijan.

Before I became Ambassador, I was a physicist and I have often been asked to compare life in academia with life in politics and diplomacy. There are many differences between the two but the greatest distinction I've found is the role played by facts and the truth, to the extent that such can be determined.

But even allowing for the license politicians take with facts, I have been particularly appalled by statements that have been made regarding this conflict.
Just last month, my colleague, here, (Armenian) Ambassador Shugarian, published an article in the Christian Science Monitor. I will not offer a full critique of the article, but I would like to quote his final sentence:

"Karabakh, Armenia and the international community are sitting at the peace table waiting for Azerbaijan to end its aggression."

George Orwell's 1984 and Newspeak have arrived! That statement is the equivalent of Adolph Hitler's accusing Poland of aggression after Germany overran that country and launched World War II. It is the Orwellian equivalent that "slavery is freedom" and "freedom is slavery."

Casualties of the war. Coffins stacked up at Imishli.
More than 15,000 people including many civilians have died in the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
Photo: Oleg Litvin, December 1993.

The indisputable fact is that Armenian forces, both from Karabakh and Armenia itself, currently occupy 25 % of Azerbaijan. In fact, it is more accurate to say that Armenia is "occupying our country" rather than "sitting at the peace table." These are facts no more in dispute than the fact that Sir Isaac Newton was correct about the law of gravity. Nor is it in dispute that Armenian forces-through their offensives-have caused 1 million Azerbaijanis to become refugees (by UN estimates). As a result, one in every seven Azerbaijanis is a refugee in his own homeland.

The Armenians have looted and burned God knows how many villages and towns, killed more than 18,000 people, the majority of them civilians, wounded another 50,000, and destroyed much of our economy.

These are the facts. And yet the Armenian government accuses Azerbaijan of aggression. As experience and history teach us, this is not new. Ultra-nationalist regimes, communists, and dictators throughout history have attacked their enemies and then blamed the attack on their victims.

Such tactics can only succeed when there is no way for the public to learn the real facts and the truth. Most Americans know a little something about Armenia; they generally know nothing about Azerbaijan. When the Armenian American lobby puts out statements claiming that Azerbaijan is committing aggression against Armenia, average citizens are inclined to believe it unless they know the facts.

But the pattern of actions by Armenia and its surrogates in Karabakh are certainly not unique in history, and neither are they unique to our time. In fact, Armenia's actions are symptomatic of our times and, unfortunately, could be a harbinger of the future.

Armenian Aggression Compared to Bosnian Serbs

This conflict at its core, represents an effort by a proud and extremely nationalistic ethnic group-the Armenians-to occupy, by force if necessary, lands they believe are theirs by historic rights so as to create a Greater Armenia. It really is no different than what the Serbs and Bosnian Serbs are attempting in the Balkans. Because Americans understand what is going on in Bosnia, but not in Azerbaijan, let me describe the similarities between the two conflicts:

1. The Armenians are seeking a Greater Armenia, a dream they have held for decades, if not centuries, just as Serbs want a Greater Serbia.

2. Both the Serbs and the Armenians tell the Western world that this is a conflict between Christians and Muslims when, in fact, it is a conflict over territorial expansion.

3. The Serbs claim they have no control over Bosnian Serbs; the Armenians make the same claim about the Karabakh Armenians. Yet the whole world knows who supplies the heavy artillery, the helicopters, the tanks and even some of the foot soldiers-it is the motherland of Serbia and Armenia. Armenia and the Karabakh Armenians even share the same Defense Minister.

4. Armenia and the Serbs claim they are the real victims, while at the same time Armenian forces occupy 25% of Azerbaijan and Serb forces occupy over 50% of Bosnia. As Orwell would say, the "Aggressors are victims" and the "Victims are aggressors."

5. Both the Serbs and the Armen-ians think they can get away with their conquest because they believe the West and the US, at least until recently in Bosnia, do not care, and Russia sides with them against Azerbaijan and Bosnia.

6. The fighting in Bosnia has created 2 million refugees, while the Armenian offensives have created 1 million refugees.

7. The Armenian and Serbian offensives have been condemned by the UN, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the US, and most of Europe and the rest of the world.
8. Likewise, the territorial ambitions of Serbia and Armenia have been rejected by all international organizations and by international law-but to no avail.

9. Like Bosnia, Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic society, which is being attacked by an ethnic group and a country which is seeking ethnic and racial purity. Just as the Serbs have ethnically cleansed major portions of Bosnia, the Armenians have ethnically cleansed Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia itself. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has more than 60 ethnic groups, all of whom have guaranteed rights under our law.

You would think that faced with the same basic facts, American policy would be essentially the same in both conflicts, but it is not. The US has rightly assessed the blame in the case of Bosnia. But in the case of Azerbaijan, because of the political clout of a large and powerful Armenian American Diaspora, Congress has overruled both the Bush and Clinton Administrations to tilt American policy in favor of Armenia.

This was done through the passage of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bans US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan. This action was the direct result of lobbying by the Armenian American lobby-as many members of Congress have told me. Under this provision, the US government cannot even give direct humanitarian or medical assistance to any of the one million refugees in Azerbaijan.

And Armenia claims they are being victimized. I ask you to judge for yourself who is the aggressor and who is the victim of aggression. And remember, not one Azerbaijani soldier occupies one single inch of Armenian territory.

Let me conclude by addressing the future: What's next? Is there any possibility of resolving this conflict?

Azerbaijan is developing a market economy and we have much to offer the world in terms of investment in energy resources, agriculture and other light industry-but this cannot happen until the war is settled. It is very difficult to develop a new economy in the middle of war.

Conflict is Resolvable

This terrible war can be resolved, but only if Armenia is willing to disavow any territorial ambitions, and only if Armenia is willing to abide by international law.

What is not known in the West is that a great deal of autonomy already existed in Nagorno-Karabakh before the conflict erupted in 1988. The Armenians of Karabakh had their own schools, their own churches, there was no restriction in their use of their own language.

Azerbaijan is prepared, as President Aliyev has stated, to take further steps toward enhancing local autonomy, but we are not willing to grant independence or a de facto by annexation Armenia. Nor are we willing to accept a settlement that prevents 60,000 Azerbaijanis who were expelled from Karabakh from returning to their homes.

If Azerbaijan were to accept such conditions, or have such conditions were to be imposed upon it by Armenia with the acquiescence of the rest of the world, then it will be the harbinger of many other disasters throughout Europe.

Thank goodness the West has finally called the Serbs' hand in Bosnia, and hopefully NATO and the UN will remain firm and resolute. Even so, this action should have been taken more than a year ago, prior to Serbs' conquering so much of Bosnia.

If the Serbian successes are followed by similar Armenian successes, then every ethnic group in the world will conclude that it can annex, occupy or otherwise conquer the territory of its neighbor by force. "Might makes right" will become the order of the day and the UN will be faced with conflicts throughout Europe.

My hope, however, is that reason will prevail. I have no doubt that most Armenians and most Azerbaijanis want a just settlement, but I do not believe this will happen until Armenians stand up to the ultra-nationalists who are seeking a Greater Armenia.

From Azerbaijan International (2.2) Summer 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.

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