HIGHLAND, Calif.—The Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles is asking the city of Highland to rescind its recent proclamation granting sister city status to the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, reported The Sun newspaper.
In a letter dated Nov. 26, the Mayor of Berdzor City, in Artsakh, asked the city to establish a “relationship of friendship and spiritual connection” with the city and to “cooperate in the areas of culture, sport, and education for the purpose of the preservation and exchange of mutual Christian values.”
Highland Mayor Larry McCallon presented the request to the City Council the same day, and the Council approved the request on a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Penny Lilburn was absent from the meeting.
The following day, on Nov. 27, the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles sent a letter to each City Council member, asking they rescind the decision, The Sun reports.
McCallom said Thursday he has no intention of doing so, and didn’t have anything further to say on the matter.
The war-torn region of Berdzor City was rehabilitated by Armenian Christian secessionists amid the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict. The vegetation-lush region is the only non-recognized state that receives humanitarian aid from the U.S., said Tereza Yerimyan, government affairs director of the Armenian National Committee’s Western Region office in Glendale.
The city of Los Angeles is also a sister city with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, and Fresno County and the states of California, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have all adopted resolutions recognizing the region as an independent state.
Yerimyan said the Christian Armenians have been violently oppressed by the mostly Muslim Azeris of the Azerbaijan Republic, a conflict that came to a head in the Nagorno-Karabakh War in the early 1990s following the dissolving of the Soviet Union. Berdzor City’s push to attain sister city relationships with municipalities across the U.S. is an attempt at building bridges, Yerimyan said.
“It’s a way of uniting and potentially encouraging trade, and a way of also recognizing the fact that Artsakh is also independent,” Yerimyan said Thursday. “It does not in any way, shape or form have any Soviet remnants left in it. It’s truly a partner for the U.S.”
The Consulate General of Azerbaijan, however, maintains that the Armenian lobby has been preying on the ignorance of local municipalities, getting them to ratify sister city agreements with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in order to establish credibility as an independent nation. But the region is internationally recognized as part of the Azerbaijan Republic, and the U.S. doesn’t even recognize the area as an independent state.
“This is part of the strategy pursued by the Armenian lobby to get credibility for the illegal regime that was established by Armenia following its invasion of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory,” said Rafig Rustamov, vice consul for the Consulate General’s office in Los Angeles, on Thursday.
According to The Sun, Highland Councilwoman Jody Scott was surprised when she heard the news Thursday. She said she never received the letter from the Azerbaijan Consulate, but planned to look into the matter and request that the it be brought back before the City Council for further discussion.
“If that’s the case I’m a little bit ticked off because I went down to City Hall Tuesday morning and cleaned out my mailbox, and there was no letter from this Consulate,” Scott said.
Scott said she e-mailed City Manager Joe Hughes on Thursday and asked about the letter from the Consulate. He said it was in her mailbox at city Hall, Scott said. She said she plans to address the matter at Tuesday’s Council meeting.
“I’m going to question the action that was taken and why it was made,” Scott said.
When she approved the item on Nov. 26, she said she only asked whether there would be any financial impact to the city (there isn’t), but nothing else, The Sun reports.
“I didn’t question anything else, and I should have,” Scott said. “What do we know about this Republic? That’s the question I am going to ask.”
Rustamov said the Consulate letter was sent on Nov. 27 to each Councilmember via regular mail, e-mail and fax.
While not officially recognized, the Nagorno Karabakh Republic serves as an excellent example of successful Democracy, which makes the Azerbaijani response all the more upsetting, Yerimyan said.
“It’s such a dirty trick to attack something like this,” said Yerimyan. “These people have fought for their freedom, just like how (Americans) fought for their freedom in the U.S. They (Azerbaijanis) need to move on.”