BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
President Aliyev was celebrating last week his country’s historic victory at the United Nations. With an overwhelming number of votes, Azerbaijan was elected for the first time to the prestigious UN Security Council for a two-year term.
This column shall address three questions: 1) how did Azerbaijan manage to get elected to such an elite body? 2) what will Azerbaijan accomplish with its newly-acquired seat? 3) what actions did Armenians take to counter Azerbaijan’s candidacy?
Azerbaijan, Hungary and Slovenia were competing for a non-permanent seat reserved for the Eastern European region in the Security Council. Normally, Azerbaijan would have no chance of getting elected to such a distinguished body, since it is the least qualified of the three countries in fulfilling the requirements of the UN Charter, due to its failure to contribute to international peace and security, and lack of participation in the work of UN agencies.
According to knowledgeable sources, Azerbaijan made up for its deficiencies by offering tour packages and monetary incentives to UN delegates, and economic inducements to financially strapped nations in return for their votes at the UN General Assembly which elects the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council. By hook or by crook, Azerbaijan acquired the support of Islamic countries, the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, and CIS (former Soviet) countries, including Russia. Yet, despite these unusual lobbying tactics, it took Azerbaijan 17 rounds over a two-day period to garner the necessary votes, and only after Slovenia, its main rival, withdrew in protest from the race. Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar complained that his country “did not approve the way this campaign was held.” Although he did not elaborate, he was referring to Azerbaijan’s lavish gift-giving spree.
Naturally, gaining a seat on the powerful UN Security Council accords Azerbaijan international prestige and a new venue to pursue its incessant Armenophobic campaigns. Nevertheless, there is little chance that Azeri officials will be able to succeed in their announced objective of placing the Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict on the Council’s agenda. The Minsk Group co-Chairs — France, Russia and the United States — as three of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have made it amply clear that this matter will be handled by the Minsk Group, outside the UN framework. Hence, Azerbaijan’s leaders risk disillusioning their people, having reassured them that the Security Council will take up the Karabakh issue. Azerbaijan could also get entangled in precarious situations, being forced to take sides when voting on confrontational issues involving Iran, Israel, and Syria, among others.
While the Aliyev regime was turning the world upside down to come up with votes for its Security Council bid, what were Armenians doing to counter Azerbaijan’s efforts?
Opponents at home criticized the Armenian government for not declaring Armenia’s candidacy for the Security Council, arguing that this would have taken away votes from Azerbaijan. Such a strategy, however, may not have been in Yerevan’s best interest, because Armenia could not compete with Baku’s vote-buying spree, and would have drawn votes away from Slovenia, assuring a bigger victory margin for Azerbaijan.
In an earlier column, I had suggested that Armenian organizations and prominent individuals in the Diaspora, in consultation with Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, launch a global campaign to counter Azerbaijan’s candidacy. I had urged Armenians around the world to ask their respective governments not to support Azerbaijan’s Security Council bid.
Regrettably, neither the Armenian Foreign Ministry nor the Diaspora leadership initiated such a coordinated effort. Two months ago, when delegates from 50 countries gathered at a Pan-Armenian Conference in Yerevan, Foreign Ministry officials should have taken the opportunity to strategize with activists and heads of organizations on how to counter Azerbaijan’s candidacy. Ironically, one of the topics on the conference agenda was “mechanisms for the development of Armenia-Diaspora partnership.” Such discussions are only useful if they are followed up by concrete actions.
Fortunately, a mechanism for global Armenian coordination is in the works for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. For this purpose, a preliminary meeting was held in Yerevan several months ago. Turkey has already announced its UN Security Council candidacy for 2015, at a time when Armenians will be commemorating the centennial of the Genocide. The question is: Will Armenians be better prepared to counter Turkey’s candidacy in four years than they were Azerbaijan’s this year?