NATO and Azerbaijan: An Unbalanced Partnership


By Peter Kechichian and Gevorg Shahbazyan

AAANews Blog

July 18, 2014

Last week, Azerbaijan was again the focus of a U.S. foreign policy discussion. On July 1st, the Atlantic Council hosted a forum in Washington D.C. entitled, “NATO in the Caucasus: The Case of Azerbaijan.” Moderated by Mr. David Koranyi, the Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, the panel featured influential analysts who cover this strategic region. These included Ambassador Khazar Ibrahim, the head of the Azerbaijani mission to NATO, Mr. Eric Ruben, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, and Dr. Brenda Shaffer, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University. The forum was introduced by Frederick Kempe, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Kempe mentioned in his opening address that the Atlantic Council is a “strong supporter for independent Azerbaijan,” while Ambassador Ibrahim praised that Atlantic Council for “promoting the agenda of Azerbaijan.”

The forum represented a new chapter in the public discussion on Azerbaijan and the wider region. It focused on U.S foreign policy in the South Caucasus, possible NATO expansion in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, and European energy security in general. Although NATO has had a footprint in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the increased expansion by NATO in the area is almost unprecedented and will have a major impact on the geopolitics of the wider region. This has become increasingly relevant, particularly in light of major examples of Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008, and Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The Caucasus, due to its strategic location, has always fallen under the firm influence of larger powers, such as Russia, Iran and Turkey. Hence, the expansion of NATO in the region causes a direct challenge to Russian influence in the South Caucasus.

The forum represented a wide-ranging discussion touching on many differing aspects of NATO’s relationship with Azerbaijan, which developed as a NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) member since 1994. Chief among these was energy security, energy infrastructure protection, and ensuring future and reliable energy flow to European markets. Ambassador Ibrahim emphasized that Azerbaijan is an “energy provider to many NATO members,” highlighting its importance to NATO while painting Azerbaijan as a “very strong, active partner.” A common theme among the energy security discussion was about lowering Europe’s dependence on the Russian dominated gas supply system and diversifying Europe’s energy sources. Eric Ruben of the State Department was very clear about this, proclaiming that some countries “are dependent on Russian gas,” while Dr. Shaffer declared that energy security should not be thought of as separate to security in general. The Southern Gas Corridor is a major European energy project that will bring Caspian oil and gas into Europe via Turkey. It is a “highly strategic choice” and one that “we talk about… a lot in Washington, D.C.,” Dr. Shaffer said. Other areas mentioned include Azerbaijan’s relationship with Israel, its support in the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, and combating human trafficking, counter-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and land mine clearance.  

However, what the writers found interesting about the forum is what was not covered. There was very little mention of Azerbaijan’s bilateral relationship with Russia. Interestingly, there was absolutely no mention of Azerbaijan’s acquisition of $4 billion worth of modern weaponry from Russia, including some of the most technologically advanced offensive weapons. The influx of Russian weapons has resulted in a regional arms race which has further fueled instability in a region already rife with daily cross-border attacks that have left at least 18 soldiers dead on both sides of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, this year.  These actions run counter to Russia’s repeated claims of maintaining military parity and balance in the region towards both Azerbaijan and Armenia. This is in addition to the numerous trade and energy projects that Azerbaijan continues to enjoy with Russia. Just last month, high-level Russian officials traveled to Baku, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Economic Minister Alexei Ulyukaev, and Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, to name a few. The sheer size of the delegation and the number of trips taken highlight Moscow’s intention to deepen its relationship with Azerbaijan. “It is a very painful subject and our people are worried that our strategic ally sells weapons to Azerbaijan,” Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan told Argentina’s Clarin newspaper last week.  

An Armenian Embassy representative, Deputy Chief of Mission Andranik Hovhannisyan, was present at the forum and noted the extensive relationship that Armenia also enjoys with NATO. For example, Armenia, which has also developed relations with NATO since 1994 as a PfP member, continues to maintain a significant peace keeping mission in Kosovo, while Azerbaijan withdrew its peace keeping force from Kosovo in 2008, he said. Ibrahim referred to this withdrawal during the conference as a “political decision,” due to his government’s stance against the internationally recognized principle of self-determination. It is also worth noting that Armenia has contributed significantly to NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, most notably with the deployment of over one hundred combat soldiers. In addition, Armenia assisted the coalition’s combat operations during the Iraq war. 

While the discussion generally attempted to portray Azerbaijan as an indispensable partner to NATO, one could make the case that the NATO-Armenia relationship is as advanced, if not more so, than the level of partnership enjoyed with Baku. Furthermore, the Azerbaijan government’s pardon, promotion and glorification of an Azerbaijani soldier, Ramil Safarov, who was convicted in Hungary for the 2004 murder of an Armenian officer, Gurgen Margaryan, is unbecoming of a NATO aspirant. Margaryan was murdered in his sleep by an ax-wielding Safarov during a NATO PfP English language training course. One could also argue that this is not the type of behavior that should be rewarded, as it runs counter to the purpose of the NATO PfP which is to “increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between partner countries NATO.“

The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – June 26, 2014



By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

June 26, 2014

HOUSE: The House is in session this week with final votes scheduled for Thursday night. Congress will begin their 4th of July recess this Friday and will return on Tuesday, July 8th.

– HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE VOTE THIS MORNING: Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to markup H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, at 9 AM. There has been heavy opposition to this bill, according to sources close to the committee. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) issued a letter on Friday urging his colleagues to vote NO on this important international religious freedom legislation. Even with an amended bill – one that now praises the Turkish Government – Connolly continues to work against it. The Armenian Assembly of America has written to all the committee members in support of H.R.4347 and has weighed in directly as well. You can watch the hearing live, today at 9AM, here:

– HOUSE & SENATE APPROPRIATORS ADOPT U.S. FUNDING MEASURES TO ARMENIA & THE REGION: On Wednesday, the Assembly reported that both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee have passed their Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Azerbaijan. While the House version did not delineate specific funding to the South Caucasus, the Senate bill highlighted Nagorno Karabakh, stating: “The Committee recommends assistance for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict.”

After both measures pass their respective chambers, the next step in the legislative process involves the creation of an Appropriations conference committee, whose members will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before sending it to the President for him to sign into law.

SENATE: The Senate is in session this week with last votes expected on Friday. The Senate will be out next week in observance of Independence Day and will return on Monday, July 7th.

AMBASSADOR WATCH: As expected, President Obama nominated John R. Bass to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey on June 3rd.  

His nomination has been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), officially kick starting the confirmation process. Although nothing is currently listed on the SFRC website, the Assembly expects a hearing to be held on Bass’ nomination in July. On Monday, current U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, paid farewell visits to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu. Ricciardone will take over the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East in September.

– NO LOVE FOR ISRAEL: Turkey recently appointed 30 new ambassadors around the world. Interestingly, their post in Israel was left vacant.

– HAPPY IN ARMENIA: As previously reported, current U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, who recently appeared in an Armenian spoof of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song, is expected to return to Washington later this year as he concludes his 3-year tour. A successor hasn’t been named as of this writing, but here’s the link to the video, needless to say, it’ll leave you feeling, well, you know:

DC THINK-TANKED: Last week, two major conferences on Armenia related issues were held in Washington, DC. The Middle East Institute (MEI) held their 5th Annual Conference on Turkey at the National Press Club, while the pro-Turkey/pro-Azerbaijani Jamestown Foundation held a conference on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Repercussions for Moldova and the South Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Armenian Assembly summer interns Mariam Pashayan, Crystal Densmore and intern coordinator Lena Krikorian, raised Armenian American issues at the MEI conference, while intern Gevorg Shahbazyan was one of only three Armenians in the audience to counter the anti-Armenian statements made at the Jamestown conference. You can read Mariam, Crystal and Lena’s briefing here and Gevorg’s coverage here

– UPCOMING DC THINK-TANK EVENTS: On Friday, June 27th, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will discuss the 2014 Annual Report of the United States Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) with Robert P. George, USCIRF Chairman, and William A. Galston, NED Board Member and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. You can read the 2014 USCIRF report here

On Tuesday, July 1st, the Atlantic Council will host an event entitled “NATO in the Caucasus: The Case of Azerbaijan.”

2014 ELECTION UPDATE – MORE ON WHAT CANTOR LOSS MEANS FOR ARMENIAN AMERICANS: Last week, I wrote extensively on the shocking primary election defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the highest ranking supporter of Armenian Genocide affirmation in the U.S. House of Representatives today. Cantor was one of two pro-Armenian Congressman in the House Republican leadership, the other being Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL). Given the Cantor loss and the ensuing leadership shuffle, Roskam sought to move up the ladder to House Majority Whip, as Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sought the Majority Leader position. McCarthy handily won and is now the Majority Leader-elect. However, Roskam was not as successful, as he was defeated by Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-LA). The Deputy Whip position is appointed, not elected, and it is all but certain that Scalise will pick someone other than Roskam as his deputy. Hence, as of July 31, both Cantor and Roskam will no longer be serving in the Republican leadership. With Cantor’s primary loss, Armenian Americans have lost two of their most prominent voices in the House Republican leadership.

– ARMENIAN AMERICANS DON’T FARE SO WELL ON ELECTION DAY: On Tuesday, two Armenian Americans on the East Coast were on the ballot. New York Democrat Jeff Kurzon, a political newcomer, lost the primary for U.S. House District 7 to incumbent, and Armenian Caucus member, Nadia Valezquez (D-NY), with 18.3%. Meanwhile, Democrat Hrant Jamgochian lost an 8-way primary for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 16. Jamgochian came in 4th place, with 15.4%. Maryland has an unusual system where, in some districts, up to three people can earn a seat representing the same district in the House of Delegates. In this case, Jamgochian was about 2,000 votes shy of getting on the November ballot.

– NEXT RUNOFF & PRIMARY ELECTION: Votersin Alabama and North Carolina will head to the polls on Tuesday, July 15th to vote in runoff elections for U.S. House, while voters in Georgia will vote a week later, Tuesday, July 22nd, to vote in runoff elections for U.S. House and Senate. The next primary election will take place on August 5th, where voters in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington will cast their ballots to elect their respective party nominees for November.


LAST WEEK’S TRIVIA WINNER(S): Paul Sookiasian, the Assembly’s ARAMAC-PA Co-Chair, and Vartkes Mengouchian, of Long Island, NY, correctly answered minutes apart that the Senator who is retiring at the end of this year and who previously introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Senate is none other than Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Levin last introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution, S.Res.241, in the Senate during the 98th Congress (1983-84). For those of you who remember those days (I was only one year old!), S. Res. 241 was introduced on October 7, 1983. It would pass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 12, 1984 with amendments, but it was never scheduled for a full Senate vote. It would take almost 30 years for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass another Armenian Genocide resolution, as we all witnessed on April 10, 2014.

TODAY’S ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Paul has this week’s question: Who was the first Armenian American in the U.S. Congress? Bonus points if you can tell me what party and state he/she represented. The first person to correctly respond will get a shout out in the next edition of Assembly Agenda.

Send tips, suggestions, comments, complaints and corrections to If you don’t already, please follow me on Twitter @Taniel_Shant and follow the Armenian Assembly of America @ARAMAC_DC.

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