BY ANI ASLANIAN
ORANGE, Calif.—On Friday March 8, Chapman University hosted an all-day lecture conference entitled “Struggle between the Seas” regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conference featured prominent speakers such as former United States Ambassador and OSCE Minsk co-chair to the United States, Robert Bradke, and Rudolf Perina
Other speakers included: Thomas de Waal, Senior Associate, Caucasus, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Tracey German, UK Ministry of Defense Staff College; Asbed Kotchikian, Lecturer, Bentley University; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Fellow for Europe and Eurasia, American Foreign Policy Council; Ambassador Rudolf Perina, Former Senior Deputy, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs; Alexandros Petersen, Advisor, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; George Zarubin, President/CEO, Eurasia Partnership Foundation; Taleh Ziyadov, Research Fellow, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, and in opening and closing remarks, the director for the Center of Global Education at Chapman University, James J. Coyle.
The conference began with keynote speakers Robert Brakde and Rudolf Perina describing their involvement with OSCE Minsk and how they envisage prospects for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Former Ambassador Rudolf Perina stated that the status quo will maintain for quite a while, and that the price of a full-scale war will heavily impact not only Armenia and Azerbaijan but also the Caucuses region in its entirety.
Furthermore, Asbed Kotchikian emphasized the necessity of addressing barriers that stand in the way of peace negotiations such as hateful rhetoric and a new generation of Armenians and Azerbaijanis that do not actually live together like they did in Soviet SSSR. According to Kotchikian, it is necessary to find a dialogue to address these issues first and foremost.
Taleh Ziyadov’s presentation focused on previous peace negotiations for Nagorno-Karabakh and highlighted the notion that the only way a peace process can be settled would be in light of having another Key West-type negotiation with Western leadership. Ziyadov stated, “John Kerry is trusted by Armenians in the West and should take over Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations to make a difference.” One can only speculate where Ziyadov acquired the generalization and perception that Armenians trust the new secretary of state for the United States John Kerry. After all, not too long ago, following the fashion of his predecessor Hillary Clinton, newly elected Kerry retracted from his original promise and refrained from using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the systematic annihilation of the Ottoman Armenians from 1915-1923.
However, the theme of changing the political makeup of OSCE Minsk group became one of many focal points in nearly all discussions to follow. Currently the OSCE Minsk group is composed of the United States, France, and Russia. Wayne Merry for example, even went so far as to say that the problem with the current OSCE group is that all countries are biased in favor of Armenia, and spoke about the Armenian lobby as having a large impact on Capitol Hill. Merry further claimed that the involvement of Turkey is a necessity in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, because Turkey is in a position to “encourage responsible behavior” by Azerbaijan. Merry suggested a patron client relationship between Azerbaijan and Turkey to parallel the relationship Armenia has with Russia. Merry stated, “This is the only way Baku will feel less threatened and isolated”. When an Armenian student asked Merry to explicate what he meant about the alleged bias of the OSCE Minsk group, he reconfigured his original statement and answered, “I didn’t say that the diplomatic process is biased, I said that there is a perception in the Azerbaijani government that those three nations tilt towards Armenians.” However, Merry’s prejudiced and Armenophobic statements did not stop there, he further claimed that “Karabakh is being supported immensely by the Diaspora”, and that “the real price of this conflict is being imposed upon Armenians actually inhabiting Nagorno-Karabakh”. Perhaps it didn’t cross Merry’s mind that the very notion that a vast Armenian diaspora today exists is precisely the result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Armenian Genocide.
Notorious Azeri sympathizer Thomas De Waal shared similar sentiments, referring to Karabakh as a “diaspora project,” and claiming that Armenians occupy Nagorno Karabakh. De Waal also claimed that the hateful rhetoric in Azerbaijan is mere “theatrics” and described Armenians as passive aggressive for maintaining the status quo with regards to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In defense of De Waal’s original statement, an Azerbaijani student stated that the reason Azerbaijani people feel a perpetuated sense of hate toward Armenians is due to the alleged Khojaly massacre.
When a student questioned De Waal and asked him to illuminate on what he meant by “occupied” since Nagorno-Karabakh has been inhabited by Armenians for thousands of years as the Ancient Armenian Kingdom of Artsakh, and to describe how exactly does an Armenian soldier die in his sleep due to an Azerbaijani axe murderer transcend into mere theatrics, de Waal retracted his original statement and stated…
“I don’t call Nagorno-Karabakh itself occupied, I believe a lot of Armenians were born there and resided there. What I regard as occupied are regions outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, such as Agdam, where there was zero Armenian population before the war…perhaps there were hundreds of years ago, but basically, the people that lived there aren’t there anymore, and these are empty lands. When I say that it is theatrical I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t have real implications. The aggression is far more in the public sphere than it is outside of it.”
In closing remarks, the organizer of the event, James Coyle mentioned that both Turkey and Azerbaijan are suffering as a result of this conflict. Coyle claimed that it is unfair that Azerbaijan is an ally in the war in Afghanistan, yet due to section 907, the United States requires an annually signed waiver to provide financial aid to Azerbaijan, while Armenia does not have this precondition. Coyle further claimed that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict impacts Turkey’s prospective to join the European Union because the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict “keeps 1915 as a contemporary phenomenon and not something that took place 100 years ago.”
In response to these preposterous claims, a student in the audience pointed out that Azerbaijan’s military spending in 2012 surpassed the entire GDP of Armenia as a country. Coyle’s answer to this statement was the following…
“I guess I should have said that the U.S. could have provided Azerbaijan financial assistance in the early years of 1900’s, when it needed U.S.’s help. In 2005 they started to become financially very independent because of a pipeline but Pre-1991 they were the poorest of the socialist republics of the USSR. Even today when the president signed the waiver to give Azerbaijani defense forces an economic boost, Azerbaijan said okay, we are going to use it for our navy in the Caspian sea; from the U.S. perspective that money would’ve best spent on the Iranian border. U.S. interests are being hurt, because we have a border we aren’t utilizing and we could be squeezing Iran through Azerbaijan and we aren’t doing it.”
An Armenian student also questioned the political motives of keeping these refugees instead of reintegrating them into society considering the enormous amount of wealth the Azerbaijani government has and the financial aid from the U.S. To this question de Waal asserted that the refugees have been reintegrated as far as they could have. However, in more recent accusations of Azerbaijani suffering, these refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are often cited.
Considering the remarks of the organizer of this event, it becomes all too apparent that this so-called unbiased conference was another Azerbaijani sympathizing propaganda tactic to take away from the real problems facing generations of Armenians and Azerbaijani’s that cannot possibly conceive of peaceful coexistence. Not only did Coyle compare two incredibly distinct economies, he completely attributed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as keeping the Armenian Genocide a modern phenomenon – as if the denialist policy of Turkey was not enough of a reason to keep the Armenian Genocide as a modern discourse. Conceivably Coyle also requires a brief lesson in the Copenhagen Criteria, which determines what countries are eligible to join the European Union. Considering Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus, human rights records, and having the most jailed journalists in the world, the idea that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict somehow hampers Turkey’s potential to join the European union is asinine and doesn’t take into consideration grimmer explanations.
And finally, when one embarks on a conference to shed light on sensitive topics concerning human suffering and the right to self-determination, it is best to portray unprejudiced and unfalsified information to the audience. This audience is not merely the audience on March 8th, but the international audience, including the lives of individuals who have been severely impacted as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As individuals we must utilize our intellectual capabilities and ask ourselves how falsified and one-sided information has ideological implications on our perceptions. The road to peace and understanding is not through discussing conflicts in air-conditioned rooms with business suits, spiting hateful rhetoric about neighboring countries, nor assessing conflicts through the lens of one view point. Any talks of understanding that bear these characteristics will only allow for more misapprehensions and futile discussions. The road to understanding between Armenians and Azerbaijanis will come to light once the veil of ignorance and prejudice is unmasked and relationships based on understanding and the commitment to ultimate truth manifest.
Ani Aslanian is a senior at University of California Irvine, triple majoring in Philosophy, European Studies, and Humanities and Law.