Mirza Khazar: The Fight For Azerbaijan, or, Illusions Again?
Recent commentaries in the official and independent press in Azerbaijan suggest that the media are again willingly or unwillingly trying to delude the public with new interpretations of Azerbaijan's role in US-Russian relations, as well as predictions concerning the future of the Karabakh peace talks. "Yeni Azerbaijan," which is published by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, as well as "Zerkalo" and "525," which are semi-independent papers, showed unusual solidarity by claiming that there is a fight going on between the superpowers, specifically between the United States and Russia, for influence over Azerbaijan. They argue that during the peace talks in Key West earlier this month, President Aliev managed to turn around entire political thinking in Washington concerning U.S. policy towards Azerbaijan and Armenia. Official Washington, they claim, made changes in its priorities, namely the U.S. administration decided to abandon Armenia and support Azerbaijan instead. Wishful thinking rules again in Azerbaijan. Repeating the theory advanced by "Yeni Azerbaijan," "Zerkalo" and "525" claim that there is a race and competition for influence between U.S. and Russia in the South Caucasus, and that both superpowers are trying hard to gain the support of Azerbaijani leadership. For that reason, the papers reason, both countries are prepared to support the Azerbaijani position in the Karabakh peace talks. The newspaper "525" goes even further, declaring in its 19 April issue that the public in Azerbaijan should not be afraid of any peace acccord concerning Karabakh, since, as newspaper put it, "Aliev is not a king (anymore) who has the ability to sign any kind of agreement on Karabakh without consulting his own people. Today Aliev appears to be a president who is ready to take into consideration the will and opinion of his own people and he will sign a peace accord only if Azerbaijani people approve it." [my note: for this article look below] That is a very interesting and very unusual statement. It is possible that the arguments about a struggle between the superpowers for influence in Azerbaijan, as well as the arguments about President Aliev's victorious trip to Key West, are aimed at the domestic public, not for outside consumption. Commenting on the Key West talks in its latest issue, the "Economist" takes a quite different look at the "confrontation between the superpowers." The "Economist" noted "a rare example of cooperation among the big powers" in their shared attempt to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Three newspapers of different political orientations and one clear pattern. It is an unusual solidarity even in Azerbaijan, where it is hard to find anything unusual. Illusion or reality? There is no clear answer to this question. But it is obvious that President Aliev is ready to sign a peace acord with Armenia and the struggle (and propaganda campaign) for public opinion has started. It is clear that the Aliev leadership is clearing the way and preparing the ground for a peace accord with Armenia. Why have they started to persuade the public so early, and why so hard and why so persistently? There is no clear answer to that question either. It is possible that President Aliev is going to make far-reaching concessions (maybe too painful for the public in Azerbaijan to accept) in the Karabakh issue and he needs public support: or if not real support, at least expressions of support on the pages of different newspapers.Whether the leadership will be successful in its attempt or fail, remains unclear. Carey Cavanaugh, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, told Reuters he has to admit that: "The populations are not as far along as the presidents, and it will certainly be a daunting task. The most difficult issue is convincing the populations of both countries on the merits of making significant compromises to achieve peace". Mr. Cavanaugh is right. The public mood in Azerbaijan, especially in regard to an emotional issue like Karabakh, remains unchanged, to judge by the latest opinion polls: the majority of people in Azerbaijan want peace, but not at any price. This is the message we hear today. Will President Aliev manage to change this mood? Will he manage to convince the public of the merits of making peace? And if he does not, will the Azerbaijani president act in accordance with the mood of Azerbaijani people, as newspapers claim he will? We shall have to wait until June to answer this question.
(Mirza Xazar) [RFE/RL] Azerbaijan Report, April 20, 2001
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