A Sobering Reality
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Azerbaijani-American relations, particularly here in Azerbaijan. We’ve seen how things have been falling apart without an ambassador, Azerbaijani officials become angry when the Washington Post writes about their real estate schemes in Dubai, and resentment at the US’s insistence on working on Turkish-Armenian relations. Recently, there have been signs of improvements, with Barack finally nominating an ambassador choice, Matthew Bryza, and even a bold statement by an Azerbaijani MP.
Thomas Goltz, however, smashes most of the sunny rays we were looking for in recent developments, including a heralded visit to Baku by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It brings us back to the diplomatic reality that America and Azerbaijan do not see eye to eye when it comes to who needs whom:
The trickle of oil- and gas-related wealth of the 1990s had started to turn into a river of cash (GDP was growing more than 36 percent a year as of 2006), and the little Caspian country of 8 million had started to attract so many flatterers that my Azerbaijani friends — at least the ones with a sense of perspective — have started to worry about a growing arrogance in Baku, one summed up by a sense that America needs Azerbaijan more than Azerbaijan needs America.
This puts things in perspective a little, in that it probably is the case that Azerbaijanis believe they are a bit bigger than they really are. Azerbaijan certainly holds some important diplomatic chips (oil, military bases, a secular and moderate muslim population, and more), but it sounds like the folks I talk with here in Lənkəran may have a little better perspective than those in Bakı. Most people I talk to understand that Azerbaijan is a country most Americans have never heard of.
Possibly the saddest part of Goltz’s article, however, comes with this gem from an American official:
“I am here to set up the Gates visit tomorrow. We finally decided to give the Azerbaijanis something before this thing deteriorates any further.” Then he sort of smirked while saying the following: “We frankly don’t care about human rights or democracy-building, or Israel and Turkey, or peace in Karabakh or Georgia, or even Azerbaijani energy. There is only one thing we really care about right now, and that is Afghanistan.”
If that’s how they think they’ll get what they want out of this region, then it is obvious that not only is the general US populace ignorant of Azerbaijan, but so are the people who’s job it is to conduct affairs here. It gives a Peace Corps Volunteer here a distinct sense of loneliness when the government that sends it’s citizens abroad in good faith barely supports the activities they are here for. I’m a naturally cynical person, and it’s not a surprise that Afghanistan holds such priority right now, but I don’t like it much when my cynicism is so strongly reinforced.