Summer 1996 (4.2)
Tilt to Armenia
Editorial in the Washington Post
May 2, 1996
(Reprinted with permission. ©The Washington Post)
Left: A child living at the Refugee Camp at Imishli close to the Iranian border. When the supply of tents ran out that were being provided by international humanitarian organizations, the refugees had no choice but to improvise shelters of reeds, like the one seen in the background. A million Azerbaijanis (one out of every seven Azerbaijanis) have been displaced from their homes and communities inside their own homeland of Azerbaijan because Armenians currently occupy 20% of Azerbaijani territory. Photo: February 1996 by Oleg Litvin.
One country-friendly, needy and working to build democracy-is denied direct American humanitarian assistance by law. The target of this rare legislated violation of the American ethical tradition is Azerbaijan. It has been in a long, bloody war, currently at cease-fire, with its fellow former Soviet republic Armenia. Armenian Americans have persuaded Congress to freeze out Azerbaijan, though it undercuts the evenhandedness a president needs to mediate the war.
What Armenia needs is not an advantage over Azerbaijan, its comrade in painful de-Sovietization, but an agreement.
It is a familiar story that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a leader in the campaign to punish Azerbaijan, got there by way of gratitude to the [Armenian] doctor who treated his war wounds. Better that way, it is sometimes said, than in compensation for a lobby's political and financial support. But neither explanation is worthy of someone who now comes before the American people as a Presidential aspirant claiming he can weigh issues in terms of the national interest. Here he is putting an ethnic interest first.
The case of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is different. In 1992 he upheld the (Bush) Administration's resistance to an amendment conditioning aid to Azerbaijan-but, he says, for his own reasons: he thought that in the murk of the day, neutrality was the best policy. Friends of Azerbaijan are quick to assert that later he received campaign contributions from Armenian American sources. Now as Chairman of the Key Appropriations Subcommittee, he opposes direct aid to the Azerbaijani government-on ground, he says, that an Azeri blockade of Armenia is still in progress and that, anyway, aid had best flow through private channels. It is a tilt by another name.
Republican Charles Wilson, a Texas Democrat who is leaving Congress, this year saw through conference an administration-supported amendment on aid. It lets the President help Azerbaijan if he certifies that private aid is insufficient to the needs of more than a million Azerbaijani refugees. This cumbersome piece of legislation may result in some modest extra assistance, but it would come in a form still burdening American diplomacy.
That's the point. It is bad enough to convert humanitarian aid, by definition nonpolitical (even North Korea gets humanitarian aid), to political aid. It is no better to let ethnic score-settling get in the way of resolving a conflict. What Armenia needs is not an advantage over Azerbaijan, its comrade in painful de-Sovietization, but an agreement. It may be hard to isolate the impact of any single fact on a complex negotiation. But it stands to reason that a congressional tilt can only reduce the necessary mutual readiness for a shared solution.
From Azerbaijan International (4.2) Summer 1996
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All Rights Reserved.