Autumn 1995 (3.4)
Pages 48-49, 90
Interview by Betty Blair
The following interview with Azerbaijan International's Editor, Betty Blair, took place in the U.S. Embassy in Baku on September 29, 1995. It was ten days before the announcement for dual pipeline routes through Georgia and Russia for "early oil" by SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) and AIOC (Azerbaijan International Operating Company), and six weeks prior to Azerbaijan's elections for Parliament.
What path has brought you to Azerbaijan?
Early on in the Clinton Administration, I worked with Strobe Talbott, who was then Ambassador-at-Large of the Newly Independent States (NIS) (Talbott is now No. 2 in the State Department as Deputy Secretary). When Dick Miles, the first U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, moved to Moscow, I was asked to come here.
I'm not a Soviet specialist, neither academically nor by career path although while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European Bureau and working for Strobe, I did work on the NIS states and specifically the Caucasus. During the past 28 years, I've worked abroad in Togo, Ethiopia and Israel. Nothing specifically prepared me for Azerbaijan except that I've spent most of my professional life working on economic issues, though not in petroleum. I've learned a lot from the people of SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) who have been in the business for years and I've learned a lot from the American foreign oil companies.
Left: U.S. Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich
Azerbaijanis are getting ready to ratify their first Constitution since independence and to elect a new parliament. What are your concerns about the upcoming elections (November 12th)?
We've taken a very deep interest in the electoral process and the movement toward democracy. All over the world, American Embassies and Ambassadors try to promote the observance of human rights movement toward democracy. Sometimes that task is like hitting your head against a brick wall because the problems are so great and resistance from the government, so strong. It's not that way in Azerbaijan.
Politically, it's been difficult here since independence with so many changes in the Presidency and the internal political disorder some of which is related to the war. All these challenges have made it difficult for the government to think about democratic systems and processes.
In the end, it's the Azeris who have to decide what kind of government-what form of democracy-they're going to have. It's important for Azerbaijan to have an image in the world not just as a potentially wealthy country with lots of oil but as a democracy which is moving in a direction different than many of its NIS neighbors where democracy is having a tough time.
Section 907 (Freedom Support Act which denies all aid to the Azerbaijan government) is a problem for us at the U.S. Embassy in our efforts to promote democracy. We have helped the government prepare for elections in other places but our own Congress has written laws that, in reality, are prohibiting us from doing that here.
How do you mean? How can U.S. policy hinder the American Embassy from promoting democracy in Azerbaijan?
Take voter education. Simply helping establish the Central Electoral Commission to prepare better for elections. We can't do that here because the Commission is part of the Azerbaijan government. We do have people from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Foundation of Electoral Support (IFES) looking at ways we can support the electoral system within the restraints of "907". We're also looking for ways to help media get the word out about the elections, about the candidates. But we can't get involved with the normal television media because it's run by the Azerbaijan government.
We're supporting the UN and the OSCE effort to set up a monitoring office both for the elections themselves and for preparatory work. The events leading up to elections are even more important than November 12th itself. We're especially concerned that opposition candidates are allowed to campaign and have access to media. And it's important that observers, both foreign and domestic, be allowed to observe the process leading up to elections.
There are those who believe that the U.S. is interested in supporting particular parties and candidates. I have made the point in press conferences and meetings with political leaders here that we have no interest in any particular party or any particular candidate. But we do have a very deep and abiding interest in the process that leads to that decision-making process by the people of Azerbaijan. The process must be as democratic as possible.
And so when the State Department raised questions on August 7th about the registration of political parties, we did it because many political parties, including the Popular Front, were not being allowed to register. Since then, the government has registered many more. Not all. We think this is a good beginning. It's not the end of the story. There still is a problem with press censorship, though in recent weeks censorship seems to be less. I think there are still obstacles to candidates being able to get their views across.
We'll be watching how television coverage works out. It's such a powerful media here. People watch television who wouldn't necessarily read newspapers. You can even see television antennas sticking up above some of the tents in refugee camps.
A free and fair election is a complex process. I keep telling people here, "Please don't believe that the job of democracy in Azerbaijan is going to end on November 12th. In our own country, we are never satisfied. It is a never-ending battle. You have to work at it continuously. You never achieve perfect results.
Let's talk a bit more about "907" (the clause which restricts U.S. foreign aid to the Azerbaijan government under the "Freedom Support Act"). U.S. companies represent the majority of investors (and beneficiaries) in oil projects here but U.S. foreign policy denies all aid that could facilitate the path to a market economy.
Section "907" makes my job much more difficult. It's a serious problem because America is not perceived as an honest broker in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. From an Azeri perspective, the U.S. legislation is morally wrong as it does not reflect current political reality. Azerbaijanis have lost 20% of their territory to Armenians. They have about a million refugees that have been displaced from their homes, jobs, and communities. So they view this legislation as a contradiction of principles.
The "907" disallows any government-to-government assistance until the U.S. President determines that Azerbaijan has taken demonstrable steps to "achieve peace and to lift economic blockades" against Armenia.
The "achieve peace" portion has been achieved by the cease-fire which has been in place over a year and a half. But there has been no progress in lifting blockades which, by law, must happen.
But there are two blockades. What about the second blockade that Armenians have created against Azerbaijan? [The southern rail route that connects Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan (the non-contiguous Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan) by a 46 kilometer strip of territory belonging to Armenia].
We are dealing with quite a different situation now since Azerbaijan, at this point, does not control all its borders with Armenia. Azeris make a strong case that they can't lift blockades when guns are still pointed at them and that they don't control their own borders.
The U.S. interests in Azerbaijan are different and broader today than when "907" went into effect in 1992. But that does not change the reality of the legislation. Whether we like it or not (the Clinton Administration as well as the Bush Administration opposed it), it is the law of our land. As Ambassador, therefore, I have to (1) do what I can within its framework to provide humanitarian assistance through private volunteer organizations and (2) determine where we can work with Azerbaijanis to meet their needs without running into problems about "907". I think we've been fairly successful.
How is that?
First of all, we've provided over $70M worth of assistance since 1992 to the people of Azerbaijan, through voluntary organizations-CARE, American Red Cross, Relief International, World Vision, International Rescue Committee, and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). All of these non-governmental agencies have been directing money, food and medicine that the United States has provided to displaced people directly living in refugee camps and along side of roads (not via the Azerbaijani government).
Left: The U.S. Embassy in Baku is a three-story complex which was remodeled this past year (1994). One of the most popular sections for Azerbaijanis is the library which offers a good selection of current periodicals and books in English.
Yes, but Armenia has received $445 million during that same period. And Armenia's population is half that of Azerbaijan's and one of the smallest of the former Soviet Republics (about 3.5 million) Per capita, Armenians have received more than $130 per person while Azerbaijanis have received only $8. Even Russians only receive $15 per person. Armenia has positioned itself behind Israel as the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
Personally, I can't do anything about that. Countries, with or without a war between them, with or without a "907", will never be treated exactly identical. The fact of the matter is, even with "907" in place, we are able to do a lot of things. Not as much as I would like, not as much as we should. But we have been able to accomplish a lot.
The problem is a troublesome psychological problem for us at the Embassy because it creates an environment that makes it difficult for us to work as effectively as we might especially in two critical areas-bringing peace and building democracy.
We are not seen as reflecting the morals that we say America stands for-justice, fairness, democratic principles. From taxi drivers to the President, we're told "This is not fair. Democratic countries should not adopt such biased legislation. Why aren't you branding Armenia as the aggressor? They're occupying 20% of our territory."
Simply, we're perceived as pro-Armenian? That's the view. That's what I hear. That's what visitors hear. That's the Azeri perception.
Does "907" have to be voted upon by Congress or could the President lift the ban on aid to Azerbaijan?
If the blockades were lifted, the President could determine under his own power that the conditions had been met. He could then go to Congress. But it's Congress that has to change the law.
But even if the blockades were lifted today, there's a lot of physical damage to the railways that would have to be repaired before the trains could run and supplies start to go through again either to Armenia or Nakhchivan.
Certainly. Lifting the blockades is not like turning on tap water. It's very complex. You have to repair the structure. You have to find willing buyers and sellers. You have to find the money to purchase things. That's the practical side of all this. But it is something that will have to be done sooner or later if there is peace. So why not think about it now and work towards it.
How else is the U.S. reaching out to the Azerbaijani community?
On the education side, USIS (United States Information Service) has been able to sponsor three Fulbright scholars at private universities here.
Three Fulbright scholars between the period of 1992-1995? That's not very many.
No, it's not. But it's something. And there have been Azeri high school students under the Bradley Exchange Program who have gone to the U.S. We've had from 35 to 50 students for each of the past three years go live with American families for a year. This program may not get a lot of attention in the U.S. or even here in Azerbaijan but the potential for changing attitudes about what life is like in America is incredible. You could spend millions and millions of dollars to have the same impact. Students come back with a much broader world view.
When it comes to health and medicine, the Embassy is very limited because the health structure here is governmental (like every place in the former Soviet Union). So, by law, we can only operate through the voluntary (non-governmental) organizations.
A Junior Achievement Program will be piloted here starting in November. Basically, it will be a way of teaching Azerbaijani high school and college students how a modern economy and businesses operate at a time when privatization and economic reform are just beginning. I know these are all small-ticket items, but I think taken together, they reflect a commitment and desire on the part of the United States to do what we can.
What about cultural exchanges?
Privately, I guess my wife is an important cultural exchange component of U.S. involvement through her work with the "Friends of Azerbaijani Culture".
Left: U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Kauzlarich with National Ballet Theater officials.
She's trying to help organize a structure that can continue even after you have to move on after another year to a new assignment.
Azerbaijan has a wonderful cultural infrastructure that has developed over the years. Because of the breakup of the Soviet Union, suddenly you have to pay performers, artists and teachers real wages. This has become very expensive. How do you avoid losing artists and musicians which are clearly part of the national heritage? Back in the 19th century when the United States started to make its transition into a modern industrial economy, people took it upon themselves to support libraries and symphonies and art galleries out of a sense of responsibility. We hope it will happen in Azerbaijan as well.
There is a deep-rooted tradition here which began with Oil Barons at the turn of the century. It was considered honorable in society to be known as a philanthropist.
If Azerbaijanis can create that spirit again during this transition, there will come a time when there is more wealth for cultural, educational and health care than there is today. I wish more American artists and musicians could come here. Through USIS, we've had three terrific, young enthusiastic musicians give concerts. Their performances were mesmerizing. You've been to concerts here before-they're usually a bit noisy but when these Americans performed, you could have heard a pin drop.
America represents something special to Azerbaijanis. Now with the break-up of the Soviet Union, there are great expectations, perhaps even unreasonable, about the U.S. and what it can do if it just puts its mind to it any place in the world. But part of this affinity for the U.S. is shaped by the influence of American music, especially during the Soviet period. Many people tell you they grew up listening to American jazz secretly on the Voice of America.
Despite all the difficulties Azerbaijanis have with perceiving the U.S. government as pro-Armenian, they hold a great deal of fondness for American music and for American English among other things. We can point to all the problems that make it more difficult for us to operate here. But fundamentally, there is a reservoir of good will towards us that I don't believe we have begun to tap. Azerbaijanis have genuine warm feelings towards Americans. That attitude, I believe, is only growing now that the oil companies are here and the Azeri students are coming back from exchange programs.
What can you tell me in regard to U.S. policy and the pipeline? AIOC (Azerbaijan International Operating company) will be announcing their decision for the pipeline route on October 10th. I hear that the U.S. is quite involved with influencing the direction of the pipeline.
The decision, fundamentally, has to be made by the companies which are partners in the Consortium. It is the decision that effectively will determine how their initial "early oil" gets to market. They'll have to make some very hard economic decisions, looking at both routes (Russian and Georgian).
Our view has been, all along, that the entire Caspian Basin must be viewed as a region. The oil wealth must not be considered in terms of only one country but of several. Over a period of time, you'll need multiple pipelines. You won't be able to take all of that oil and run it through a single pipeline. Even if you had the flattest, safest, most direct route, you wouldn't want to do that. You couldn't do that. So we would be pleased with a solution that would end up with multiple pipelines. Everybody will be better off. We have to be sensitive to the broader implications.
What would have to happen for Iran to become a viable option for a pipeline route someday?
Iran is not a viable option.
That's only the United States' point of view.
I think there would need to be serious fundamental changes in the way the Iranian government relates to the rest of the world, especially in terms of terrorism.
Congress does not allow economic relations with Iran and that includes American oil companies. So any loans from the World Bank or the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) can't pass if they involve Iran.
A lot has had to happen in the last three years to establish the Embassy here
I think Americans need to understand how hard it is, not only in this country, but most of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), for the United States to represent American interests and do everything that the American people expect. We've been lucky to find such a fine building. In the beginning we were living and working out of one of the hotels under difficult circumstances.
Fortunately, we had a group of men and women who were pioneers in every sense of the word. Now we all live in apartments that are no different than the average Azeri apartment with all the problems that the average Azeri suffers. Lack of water. Lack of electricity. Poor telephone service.
And yet we're here, trying to reach out to the Azeri people through our programs and trying to run assistance programs for refugees through non-government organizations. We're trying to support American companies whether they are large oil companies or the smallest investor, who has only a glimmer of an idea how they might get involved in Azerbaijan. We're here protecting American citizens, issuing visas-all of these things. You can drive by the American Embassy in London or Paris and take all these things for granted. But you shouldn't here. It has taken a great effort to get this all organized.
People need to understand that the American taxpayers are "getting a real bang for their bucks." Our budget is under $2 million. We're fourteen Americans with about 60 Azeri staff including 30 guards. So it's a busy place.
And everybody is working under difficult circumstances. People come out here, in some cases with young families, without adequate medical care, without easy connection to friends and families in the US, and yet they're doing their job. Before the British Airways or Lufthansa flights started last year, it used to take a month just to get mail.
I've personally appreciated the effort that you and your wife, Anne, have made to learn the Azerbaijani language, especially since it's only spoken primarily here and by Azerbaijanis in Iran (25+ million). You're deeply respected in the community for this. I know you've made a big effort.
Not as much as my wife has. We try to put aside an hour a day together to be tutored in Azerbaijani (we're not always successful). Anne has the aptitude and the ability to go out and use it regularly. She's become quite good at it. And quite a few of our staff members speak either Azeri or Russian.
Left: New Ballet Slippers for the National Ballet for the new season provided by Azerbaijan FRIENDS of Culture (Azerbaijan Madaniyyatinin Dostlari), an organization spearheaded by Anne Kauzlarich, wife of the Ambassador, (2nd row in blue). September 1995. Many foreign companies have now started to support this organization to assist arts during this difficult economic transition.
Generally, U.S. policy doesn't put so much focus on languages, does it?
You're right. A lot of this is personal. Before me, Dick Miles (now in Moscow) knew Russian, and Robert Finn (now in Zagreb) had a Ph.D. in Turkish literature. We've tried to stress the importance of people speaking Azerbaijani when they arrive.
Why is that?
Simply, it's the language of Azerbaijan. We need Russian, too. We think it's important, to have people who are competent in both languages, especially, for the immediate future. We see language as a dynamic, fluid situation. Who knows what the future will bring? Who knows how widespread Azerbaijani will become in the society? Who knows whether Russian will remain a strong second language or whether another language will take its place (like English)?
Even now when we begin recruiting to replace personnel at the Embassy, we have to anticipate two years in advance so they can get language training for a year. We're grooming people now, trying to make sure we keep this mixture of Azerbaijani and Russian. We've found, for example, that in the Visa section, Russian seems to be more useful at this time. But, who knows, in a couple years, this might all change.
From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.