October 8, 2008

The Forgotten War

Immediately following Russia's invasion of Georgia and its de-facto annexation of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the phrase

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2008 1:28 AM
Comments
A few comments.
The answer re the election observers is a standard one. It is also fairly standard procedure to have that many foreign observers around, which are usually coordinated by OSCE/ODIHR missions. The presence of these international observers leaves plenty of room to meddle in the voting process, both at the polls and during the vote count. Also, keep in mind the Azeri opposition is boycotting the elections, which I'd say doesn't add to any legitimacy of the elections.
"Armenia wanted Karabakh back." Kharabagh was not part of Armenia before it was handed to Azerbaijan by Stalin, in fact it has never been part of any Armenian state at all in recent history.
As for Ismailzade's comment at the end about the UN being supposed to end the Armenian occupation of Kharabagh, the UN is not (and as far as I know has not or has hardly been) involved in this peace process. Azerbaijan has been trying to get the UN involved because it thinks it can get more support for its position in the UN than in the OSCE because there are (obviously) more Islamic states member of the UN than of the OSCE. Azerbaijan, correctly or not, perceives the OSCE to be pro-Armenian.
I hope you'll take the time to inform yourself (if you haven't already done so) on the Armenian POV on the conflict. Not because that is any less biased (it obviously is), but because it emphasizes other aspects of the conflict which are at least as real and as valid as some of the Azeri claims.
There is an excellent, objective book on the conflict written by Thomas de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War.
Otherwise, thanks very much for your informative post, Michael. I had been looking forward to reading about your experiences in Azerbaijan. Do you have any more posts planned about your visit?
Posted by: Myrthe Korf at October 8, 2008 4:41 am
Azerbaijan has so far refused to recognize Kosovo for fear of legitimizing Nagorno Karabagh.
Posted by: Eliot at October 8, 2008 6:27 am
Myrthe: the Azeri opposition is boycotting the elections
Where did you read that? I can hardly find any current information about Azerbaijan at all. Almost no one covers it.
"Armenia wanted Karabakh back." Kharabagh was not part of Armenia before it was handed to Azerbaijan by Stalin, in fact it has never been part of any Armenian state at all in recent history.
Yes, I know. It was part of "historic" Armenia. I'll change that to "ancient" Armenia to make it more clear.
Do you have any more posts planned about your visit?
Interest in Azerbaijan is low, so this is the only one I will write.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2008 10:56 am
Fascinating post, Michael - thanks.
I don't know if it would fit your schedule or interests (or readership!) but I'd love to see what you'd come up with if you took the same kind of look at the U.S.
We have elections coming up, in which suspicions of fraud are prevalent: each major party can cite dirty tricks played by the other in recent elections, and many of the recent losers believe the last two Presidential elections were stolen.
Also, we have religious fundamentalists that play a significant role in the electoral process, as well as influencing our educational system.
And we have a culture clash - arguably more than one.
We don't have a shooting war - though we have had significant acts of domestic terrorism and lethal government crackdown.
Free speech is limited, especially in connection with major political events.
About half of our population abstains from voting, and of the rest, a politically significant percentage (sometimes even a swing percentage) protests by voting for candidates that can't possibly win.
And our upcoming election will certainly have global impacts and repercussions.
Perhaps, as an American, you can't apply the same dispassion and skepticism to the American electoral process. But if you can, the result would be well worth reading.
Posted by: Chris Phoenix at October 8, 2008 3:06 pm
One more for the list:
According to Amy Goodman, 50 journalists including an AP photographer (and including herself) were arrested at the Republican National Convention. (Various links - search google and youtube.)
Not directly on the elections, but possible signs of tension:
The 3rd Infantry's 1st BCT is deploying for a year on American soil, to assist in disasters and crowd control; domestic use of brigades is likely to be rotating but permanent.
http://www.armytimes.com/news/2008/09/army_homeland_090708w/
Rep. Brad Sherman told Congress that several Representatives were told that there would be martial law in America if they didn't pass the bailout bill.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaG9d_4zij8
Chris
Posted by: Chris Phoenix at October 8, 2008 4:04 pm
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 10/09/2008 A short recon of what
Posted by: David M at October 9, 2008 7:57 am
Nice..!!
I recommend a book I'm just finishing to read
about an Azeri Jew, son of a rich oil tycoon ( born in 1905 ), who converts to Islam just before WW2. The book gives you a glance about pre Soviet Azerbaijan.
The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss.
http://www.amazon.com/Orientalist-Solving-Mystery-Strange-Dangerous/dp/0812972767/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223594240&sr=1-1
Posted by: Amir in Tel Aviv at October 9, 2008 4:49 pm
I was genuinely impressed by this dispatch. A lot of research, and fairly comprehensive.
I'm not really worried about an Armenia-Azerbaijan war personally, though, because both countries are so totally dependent on larger economic powers and diasporas. As long as the great powers above them aren't proxy fighting through them, said great powers have a very large amount of ability to pressure both states into keeping organized, government-supported violence down.
However, very interesting stuff about the vehement hostility on the streets. That's what happens when government policy is set by international requirements, as often happens in small countries.
Also,
Interest in Azerbaijan is low, so this is the only one I will write.
It's too bad you have to be a businessman. (Not that I'm blaming you, families need food). I learned/remembered more from this post than I did about more widely discussed topics. The pressure of popular audience is a constant pressure to be stupid and inflammatory, sad but true.
Posted by: glasnost at October 9, 2008 5:31 pm
"Interest in Azerbaijan is low, so this is the only one I will write."
"It's too bad you have to be a businessman."
"The pressure of popular audience is a constant pressure to be stupid and inflammatory, sad but true."
Not necessarily bad. Business rules may dictate what theme to pick. However, it is not necessary for business rules to dictate how to express an opinion.
Posted by: leo at October 9, 2008 9:05 pm
Hmmph! Scheming and plotting and maneuvering to win the Best ME/African Blog Award again in 2008, I see!
;)
Oh, btw, it would be nice to have that map link to a blow-up. The text in the legend is microscopically small.
Posted by: Brian H at October 9, 2008 11:36 pm
Glasnost: I was genuinely impressed by this dispatch. A lot of research, and fairly comprehensive.
Thanks. That's nice to hear from a critic.
It's too bad you have to be a businessman.
Well, it sort of is and sort of isn't. If I wrote a bunch of articles that nobody wanted to read, I wouldn't be a very good writer. That's true whether money has anything to do with it or not. Writing is a communication tool, and it's useless without an audience.
The pressure of popular audience is a constant pressure to be stupid and inflammatory
For some writers -- writers who have a large but stupid audience. I could name names, but I don't have to. You know who I'm talking about. I'd rather have a large and smart audience. Or a medium-sized and smart audience. Stupid and inflammatory writing isn't required to build a large audience. It's only required for writers who want to build a large but stupid audience. Yes, the National Enquirer has a larger audience than the Atlantic, but the Atlantic has a larger audience than Counterpunch or Human Events. And Schindler's List grossed more money in ticket sales than Jackass.
One of my best writing teachers told me to always assume my audience is smarter than I am. Some portion of my audience is always smarter than I am. I am not going to insult them by deliberately writing stupid and inflammatory crap.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 10, 2008 12:07 am
I take issue with one thing you write, "I heard far more complaints about the Armenian occupation of Karabakh than I have ever heard about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory while visiting Arabic countries.".
Referring to WB and Gaza as "the Palestinian territories" is acceptable, but I take issue with referring to the territory as Palestinian. It is not somehow collectively Palestinian, when the word "Palestinian" refers to modern Palestinians.
------------------
I have been reading you for a couple of months, and I think your dispatches are really great. I gain new insights into conflicts that are underreported in the major newspapers with every post of yours.
(And in case you were wondering, I have no issue with any of your other comparison to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, in fact I found them helpful.)
Posted by: AMR at October 10, 2008 11:00 am
Michael,
that's a strange group the foreign ministry decided to invite. Was there any particular reason for them to invite a group that appears to be all or nearly all journalists that write from a hawkish-idealistic perspective? Or were you simply the only guys who were interested in making the trip? I respect a variety of folks who I would put under the neoconservative umbrella, including you, though I've moved far from these views in recent years after a brief '02-'04 flirtation. But Kirchuk, oh mi god, he just drives me up the wall. He and Max Blumenthal ought to get together, they are two peas in a pod, IMO.
In any case, a very fascinating and interesting article. And informative: I had no idea that Christian Armenia was aligned with Russia while Muslim Azerbaijan was aligned with USA.
A really fascinating trip would be to visit the various "autonomous" ethnic republics of Russia. I just saw a map of them for the first time. There are a bunch just north of Georgia.
Posted by: markus at October 10, 2008 5:20 pm
Markus,
Not everyone on the trip was a "neocon." Adam Kushner and Gregory Rodriguez are lefties.
The organizer tried to get a slightly more balanced crowd, but it didn't work out for whatever reason. I don't think it matters much, though. There aren't "left-wing" and "right-wing" American views of Azerbaijan. As near as I can tell, all eight of us came away from Azerbaijan with the same basic view of the place. We didn't argue about what this or that meant in partisan terms. We agreed on just about everything aside from a few minor points. Kushner and Kirchik seemed to enjoy arguing with each other about politics in general for entertainment and sport, but I never heard them argue about Azerbaijan or Russia's invasion of Georgia.
The eight of us had great group chemistry. The trip was educational, fun, and I'd do it again with all of them.
Foreign correspondents tend to be much less partisan than domestic journalists as long as they aren't covering lightning-rod countries like Israel and Iraq. Partisan differences seem to dissolve completely in countries like Azerbaijan. I didn't detect any "left" or "right" thinking among journalists in Georgia, either. Almost all of us who were actually there seemed to be on the same page regardless of national origin or political affiliation. Obviously I didn't meet all of them, but I didn't meet anyone whose view of events clashed with mine.
But I have met lots of journalists in Israel and Iraq whose views clash with mine. It's much more important to be concerned about ideological balance in coverage of those countries.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 10, 2008 5:59 pm
If I wrote a bunch of articles that nobody wanted to read, I wouldn't be a very good writer.
The list of ultimately famous authors and artists who spent enormous portions and/or all of their lives totally ignored is a very large one. I hear this argument from a variety of sources across the ideological spectrum, and I just don't buy it.
It's kind of like how brilliant mathematics and brilliant physics equations become popular in a manner that in no way correlates to their inherent complexity, utility or theoretical elegance (a definable quality).
We don't understand yet exactly why some content creators become famous, but from what I understand, social networking studies suggest that the strength of the distribution network you happen to hook up with plays a big part, which is in turn based on highly idiosyncratic and coincidental factors. What I'm saying here, is, no, you could be a fantastic writer and still write things that few people read, or wanted to read.
There's some kind of myth that writing talent is defined by the ability to make huge numbers of people like your work, or make something everyone can relate to out of something else. I think that's only one kind of talent. But money talks.
Posted by: glasnost at October 10, 2008 6:28 pm
Glasnost: What I'm saying here, is, no, you could be a fantastic writer and still write things that few people read, or wanted to read.
Oh, no doubt, that's true. What I'm saying is that a good writer doesn't deliberately write things that few people want to read. Good story tellers don't think oh well if their audience is bored, and good foreign correspondents don't write about places where not much interesting happens. How many foreign correspondents work in the Bahamas, for instance? Or in Uruguay?
Good writers know how to cut out the boring parts. Bad writers don't.
A good writer respects his or her audience regardless of money. If I win 100 million dollars in the lottery and never need to think about money again, I won't decide to write a long series of dispatches from Azerbaijan that only a tiny handful of people want to read. One is enough. If Russia invades or Karabakh explodes, I'll go back and write more.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 10, 2008 7:02 pm
A good writer respects his or her audience regardless of money.
Bah. Rubbish.
Ok, maybe good writers do.
Great writers, on the other hand, flagrantly ignore their audience to focus on the relentless sharpening of their own individualist vision! Yarrrrgh!
Ironically - since her policy agenda was insane - Ayn Rand captured this human truth better than any writer I've ever met.
Posted by: glasnost at October 11, 2008 1:22 pm
Thoroughly appreciated this report. Learned some interesting information.
Great reporting.
Posted by: AkivaM at October 11, 2008 1:54 pm
Glasnost: Great writers, on the other hand, flagrantly ignore their audience to focus on the relentless sharpening of their own individualist vision!
That's what they say in English Departments. I know, I was in one for four years.
That's also what most of my fellow students in writing classes said. Every single one of my fellow students who believed that were terrible writers who could not possibly publish professionally. They wrote the kinds of stories that editors reject after reading only one or two sentences. (The overwhelming majority of manuscript submissions are rejected by editors who read only one sentence. Writers who don't know how to get an editor to read the second sentence are doomed.)
English Departments are staffed with readers, not writers. None of my professors made a living from writing and wouldn't be able to do it if they tried. My best writing teachers, the ones who actually taught me how to write, are real professionals who work outside academia and had to deprogram me before they could teach me. (They taught me fiction, by the way, not journalism. I never studied journalism in school, and I'm glad I didn't. Journalism schools teach terrible habits and might even be worse than English Departments.)
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 11, 2008 2:06 pm
Michael,
Storytelling with rich physical and emotional description draws me in, like song lyrics done well. As important as fact is, I think a good storyteller uses it the way a wise chef uses seasoning. A little book I've kept on my shelf for decades is "Notes Toward A New Rhetoric" by Francis Christensen; he got me to appreciate the power of the modifier.
Best wishes,
Paul S.
Posted by: Paul S. at October 11, 2008 2:50 pm
Very interesting to hear about this little known enclave of moderate Muslims. That's the thing about the end of the Cold War: Russia is half as big, but the Middle East is now twice as large.
Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at October 11, 2008 5:47 pm
A really fascinating trip would be to visit the various "autonomous" ethnic republics of Russia. I just saw a map of them for the first time. There are a bunch just north of Georgia.
I have a feeling he isn't ready to call it a day just yet. Those places are the kidnapping capital of the world.
The mutilated remains have been found of three Britons and a New Zealander who were kidnapped by gunmen in Chechnya two months ago.
Eyewitnesses say their severed heads were found on a highway together with personal documents, close to the border with the Russian region of Ingushetia.
The men were seized from their home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in October in a spectacular attack mounted just a few hundred metres from Chechnya's special anti-hostage task force.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/230215.stm
Posted by: nameless-fool at October 12, 2008 8:06 pm
Dear Michael Totten,
I enjoyed reading your article
Posted by: fariz at October 22, 2008 3:56 am
So far, Azerbaijan has made us proud with its government. It managed to keep itself out of Russian-American dispute.
I am from Ardahan, Turkey. My hometown is just next to Azerbaijan and Armenia. So, I share the same culture with Azeris. Even our Turkish dialect is just like Azeris'. For a long time, Azeris and Turkish government tried not to tell us about Azeri sufferings in Karabagh. Otherwise it would make the headlines and rage the Turkish society. this would eventually lead to a more hostile attitude towards Armenians, and make the relation between Armenia and Azerbaijan worse.
But recently both countries realized that Armenian dispute will not just go away. Armenians refuse to cooperate with Azerbaijan about Karabagh. Talks have been going on and on fruitlessly.
Recent Georgia war might encourage Russia to impose whatever it deems suitable over Azerbaijan. Also, reports say that Azerbaijan came to the conclusion that Turkey would not help Azeris if they have a conflict with Russia.
We need to answer this threat. Threat, because if Russians also come to this conclusion, situation may get worse. Under no circumstances, Turks would back off while Russia tries to harm Azerbaijan. We have strong relations with Russia, but if it comes to a dispute between Azerbaijan and Russia, people in Turkey will not sit and watch. Government might try to keep away, but nation will not. Eventually thousands of Turks will pour down to Azerbaijan to help against Russia if a war breaks out with Armenia. We should prevent such a misfortune, because neither Russia not Turkey and Azerbaijan will benefit from this.
I am a masters student in USA right now, but i will not hesitate to go to Azerbaijan if they need us. Hundreds of thousands of Turks, if not millions, feel like this.
USA, Russia and Azerbaijan should try to keep calm about Karabagh, and try to ease this problem. I, like all other Turks, do not want to die at war. But if it should happen, we are with Azerbaijan. Our government should say this clearly to everyone. Russia should know what will happen in Turkey if Russia goes too far.
Posted by: Cuneyt Gurcan at December 13, 2008 12:05 am
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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