Aliyev Threats Spark Renewed Concern Over Proposed US Military Aid

WASHINGTON–DC–President Heydar Alley’s announcement this week that he is ready to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict militarily has prompted renewed concerns in Armenia and among Armenian Americans that the US military aid that Secretary Powell has recently proposed sending to Azerbaijan will be used by Azerbaijan for its stated purpose of fighting what its senior leadership is now describing as an "anti-terrorist" war against Nagorno Karabakh–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA.)

According to an October 17th Agence France Presse (AFP) article–titled "Azeri President: We are ready to go war to win back Karabakh," President Aliyev–in a televised speech commemorating the 10th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s independence–stated "We will definitely get it [Nagorno Karabakh] back. We have everything we need to do that. If it cannot be done peacefully–then we will get it back with the help of our army." According to the AFP article–"It was the third time this year Aliyev has publicly threatened military action over Nagorno-Karabakh."

President Alley’s statement comes just days after two key Azerbaijani cabinet officials issued similar threats of aggression. According to an October 8th Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report by correspondent Liz Fuller–"Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev argued that while the Azerbaijani leadership continues to seek to resolve the Karabakh conflict peacefully–if the country were ultimately constrained to resort to force to liberate its lands from "terrorists," then the international community would have no right to condemn that move as aggression." In the same article–Fuller reported that Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev–also a proponent of a possible military solution to the Karabakh conflict–had received assurances from Turkish President Necmetdin Sezer that "Ankara will support Baku ‘in all spheres’ and will do all in its power to help resolve the Karabakh conflict."

These renewed threats come as US Secretary of State Colin Powell has stepped up the Administration’s efforts to eliminate restrictions on US assistance to Azerbaijan. In an October 15th letter to key Senate and House members–he advocated lifting sanctions–in part–to open the door to US military assistance to Azerbaijan. Secretary Powell argued that–"Removal of these restrictions will allow the United States to provide necessary military assistance that will enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist organizations and elemen’s operating within its borders."

Below find an ANCA fact sheet distributed to members of Congress in response to Secretary Powell’s letter.

In an October 15th letter–Secretary of State Colin Powell called upon Congress to eliminate Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act in order to "allow the United States to provide necessary military assistance that will enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist organizations and elemen’s operating within its borders."

Clearly–the Secretary is referring to the al Qaeda terrorist network that has operated freely within Azerbaijan since the early 1990’s. This terrorist connection has been documented by Joseph Bodansky–Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. He has reported that:

* An ongoing study by Defense & Foreign Affairs has cited a significant number of highly-placed sources in Russia and the Caucasus who advise that radical Islamist forces are expanding their infrastructure in Azerbaijan in preparation for a sustained escalation… Planned terrorist "spectaculars" include the use of suicide bombers.

* The Islamists basically agreed with the Azerbaijan Government of Heydar Aliyev that they would – in exchange for allowing a free flow of people–weapons and ordnance through Azerbaijan – not interfere with or overthrow the Aliyev Government. As well–they committed to providing outside mujahedin to undertake operations against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh which could be credibly denied by the Aliyev Government. (Source: Defense & Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy–"The New Azerbaijan Hub: How Islamist operations are targeting Russia–Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh," October 1999)

Equally clear–however–is that Azerbaijan does not share Secretary Powell’s definition of terrorism. Azerbaijan–rather than joining with the rest of the international community in targeting the perpetrators and allies of those who attached the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th–has instead announced that it will target the "terrorists" of Nagorno Karabakh. They have made no secret of this. Below please find several public statemen’s–some made as recently as last week–by senior Azerbaijani officials indicating that they consider Nagorno Karabakh the target of their anti-terror efforts:

* Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev was cited recently by the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Caucasus Report as an advocate of renewed aggression against Nagorno Karabakh. In this same report–RFE/RL reports that the Azerbaijani Defense Minister–who was recently on an official visit to Turkey–received assurances that "Ankara will support Baku ‘in all spheres,’" a menacing reference to a possible attack on Karabakh.

* Radio Free Europe has also reported that Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev has said that if Azerbaijan decides to liberate Karabakh from "terrorists," then the international community would have no right to condemn that move as aggression."

* The Caspian News Agency has reported that Azerbaijani Parliamentarian Igbal Agazadeh has said that–"The time has come to start hostilities on liberation of Azeri territories occupied by Armenia," a direct reference to a new war on Nagorno Karabakh.

If history is any guide–Azerbaijan will use any means and opportunity that presents itself to renew what it is now calling an "anti-terrorist" war against the people of Nagorno Karabakh.

Weakening–repealing–or waiving the restriction on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan–before it has met the terms of this law by lifting its blockades against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–will:

1) Place US weapons in the hands of an Azerbaijani government that has openly announced its intention to use all its military power against Nagorno Karabakh.

2) Signal Azerbaijan that renewed aggression against Nagorno Karabakh will not be met with any meaningful response from either the United States or the international community.

3) Upset the regional balance in the Caucasus and hinder the ongoing OSCE Nagorno Karabakh peace process.

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