Azerbaijan International

Summer 1999 (7.2)
Pages 17-18

Punishing the Victim
We're Doing It Now, We've Done It Before

by Lawrence Eagleburger, Former U.S. Secretary of State (Under Bush)

(Edited remarks addressed to President Heydar Aliyev and 290 attendees of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce at the Washington, D.C. dinner on April 26, 1999.)

Lawrence EagleburgerWhen Machiavelli was dying, they arranged for a priest to come and give him the Last Rites. The priest attending him at his deathbed said, "My son, my son, do you repent of your sins and renounce the devil?" There was no answer. So the priest asked again three or four more times. But always there was no answer. So finally, out of frustration, the priest said, "I ask you for the last time, do you repent of your sins and renounce the devil?" Machiavelli looked up at him and said, "This is not the time to make a new enemy."

Nor do I think this is the time to make new enemies, ladies and gentlemen. This is the time for a little straight talk. The United States is now engaged in a military operation in Kosovo with the worthy objective of trying to end serious human rights crimes. It is a commitment for which no one can argue against the objective, though some of us might argue about the tactics.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger criticizing the U.S. Congress for failing to repeal Section 907, which denies aid to the Azerbaijani government.

It is in this context that I must ask how it is possible for the United States Congress to pass legislation that punishes a country that is itself the victim of major humanitarian crimes. All you have to do is visit the refugee camps in Azerbaijan (as Senator Howard Baker and I have done), and you'll learn very quickly what I'm talking about. Those camps have existed for years, and despite the fact that the Azeri government is doing all it can to help support those refugees, these people are living under miserable conditions. Those camps exist because of the aggression of another state [Armenia].

And yet at the same time, this Congress of ours, despite the firm commitment of the Administration to change it, I must say, is punishing the victim of that aggression with legislation that prohibits most aid to Azerbaijan. The resulting humanitarian disaster may not be as awful as what we now see in Kosovo, but it comes very close. I don't understand such a policy.

I don't know how any American who believes in the justice of our own country can accept the fact that our own Congress has taken such action and continues to hold such a position, despite all the evidence that has become evident over the course of the years. A humanitarian tragedy has taken place. Azerbaijan's major enemy [Armenia] receives arms from Russia, money from Russia and support from Russia in all sorts of ways. And we not only tolerate it, we offer generous support to the country that has caused all this agony in Azerbaijan. It really must stop.

If we're going to look at ourselves in the mirror and say we mean it when we talk about our defense of humanitarian interests and our horror of humanitarian crimes, then it's damn well time that we did away with Section 907*. And it's damn well time that we tell the Congress of the United States the facts, even if they don't seem to want to understand. It's high time that the Senate and the House of Representatives began to understand that they are actively supporting terrorism and aggression and inhumanity.

So before we pat ourselves on the back for our commitment to prevent this humanitarian tragedy that is taking place in Yugoslavia, let us remember that we have some other obligations. And, in fact, what we have done is precisely the wrong thing.

Thank you very much.

* Editor's Note:
The Freedom Support Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1992. This legislation was originally intended to provide economic and humanitarian aid to the former republics of the Soviet Union, trusting that such assistance would help stabilize democratic forms of government and foster economic growth. Section 907 refers to the restricting clause that singles out Azerbaijan from the 15 former Soviet Republics and denies all direct aid to the Azerbaijani government.

This restriction, with its distorted logic and wording against Azerbaijan, was initiated by the Armenian lobby. It came in retaliation for Azerbaijan's decision to cut off one of the rail routes that carried supplies and fuel to Armenia. However, the Armenians failed to point out to the U.S. legislators that there was another rail route that they themselves had blown up. Armenians claim that Azerbaijan blockaded their landlocked country, but a simple glance of the map indicates that Armenia has numerous options for access to trade and humanitarian aid, since it shares borders with Iran, Georgia and Turkey.

At the time that this legislation was passed, Armenians were at war with Azerbaijanis, who considered it national suicide to provide supplies to the neighbors who were attacking them. As a result of this aggression, Armenians now occupy approximately 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory by military force (Nagorno-Karabakh and seven regions beyond).

Azerbaijanis consider this piece of U.S. legislature grossly unfair, as it rewards the aggressors and punishes the victims, who are crushed under the economic burden of approximately 1 million refugees. Since the enactment of the Freedom Support Act, the U.S. Congress has provided nearly $1.1 billion of aid to Armenia. Less than $150 million of aid has been directed to Azerbaijan, and this only through non-governmental agencies (NGOs), which are mostly American agencies. Obviously, a disproportionate amount of that aid gets absorbed in the bureaucratic administering of such U.S. agencies and does not result in the alleviation of the desperate needs of the people who are the victims of this unjust situation.

Azerbaijan International (7.2) Summer1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

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