'Azerbaijan does not belong to east or west Eurasia;

Thu 14 Feb 2013 01:17 GMT | 05:17 Local Time

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News.Az interviews Dr. Frank Salter, a political and organizational anthropologist (Australia).

How did your perception on Azerbaijan changed after your visit to Baku in October last year to discuss multiculturalism problems during the International Humanitarian Forum?

I knew almost nothing about Azerbaijan before traveling there last October. I was greatly impressed by the city of Baku, by the way modern architecture was adapted to Azerian tradition. I was also impressed by the tour of Gabala in the north. Azerbaijan has a rich history and geography.

Azerbaijan is a close neighbor of Russia and Iran but selected pro-Western course as a priority of its foreign policy. Do you see Azerbaijan as a Western or Eastern country and may it succeed on its way towards the Western values? 

I don't agree with the simple dichotomy of "East and West". Azerbaijan is in the Caucasus region and reflects eastern and western influences. Its people are Caucasian culturally and ethnically. It does not belong to east or west Eurasia, but to itself and to its own history. I understand that the country's leaders see an advantage in having closer ties to the West. There is much to gain.

However, there is also much to lose by adopting unwise policies from the West. Azerbaijan has already suffered from one imported ideology, revolutionary Marxism, which caused much suffering for many decades. The equivalent today is Western multiculturalism. (See my Baku speech at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX_5J76h7N8). This is quite different to the fine values stated by President Aliyev at the Forum last October. Western multiculturalism is a coalition of political elites and minorities aimed at suppressing the legitimate ethnic interests of the majority. It is therefore fundamentally anti-democratic and destructive. I hope that Azerbaijan never makes that error and looks to the east more as a guide in protecting its national interests.

There is also much to lose in drifting apart from Russia. It should be possible to strengthen cultural and economic ties to the West within the framework of friendship with the Russian Federation. This is important because Russia and Azerbaijan share the same region and therefore share similar vital interests in regional stability and prosperity. Western goals tend to be compromised by the wish to project influence into the Russian sphere of interest, which is not in the region's interests.

Some people count as phenomena the fact that Jews and Christians may live in peace in Muslim country which is Azerbaijan. Is it really something strange for a modern world and what should be done to export this experience to the regions were different religions can’t co-exist?

Religious and ethnic tolerance is a fine thing. Azerbaijan's secular state and moderate Islamic codes bode well for the future, so long as the historical nation is protected. I am not an expert on Azerbaijan but I do know that the country was forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union. The people's traditions would have been subjected to the same atheistic suppression and indoctrination as was inflicted on Christian nations.

Azerbaijan's religious tolerance is much older than the 20th century. However, there is the risk that one cause of moderation is the seven decades of communist rule, in which case Islam in Azerbaijan might be too moderate for long term stability. Toleration does not mean surrender. The challenge in the modern world is finding ways to combine tolerance with self respect and protection of identity of the majority. That is what should be exported to other countries, not Western multiculturalism which focuses exclusively on the interests of minorities. 

Armenian leadership says that Armenians and Azerbaijanis by their nature can’t coexist at the same region. Anyway, how to make people overcome mutual hate before the conflict sides after more than two decades of war and conflict? What do you think about Karabakh problem?

When ethnic relations deteriorate and become poisoned it is best to establish mutually-agreed on borders. Strong borders make good neighbours. It is natural for a people to want their own nation state, so that policy reflects national interest. Because Western multiculturalism denies this basic truth and it be best to ignore American and European models for pacifying nationalism. There has been injustice in the border region of Azerbaijan and Armenia going back to the Soviet period. Armenian nationalism will moderate when the country's just borders are secured. Conversely, assertive nationalism is justified when national borders are infringed, as has occurred to Azerbaijan.

The solution I recommend to the Karabakh problem is an international conference sponsored by Western powers and the Russian Federation. The goal should be to agree on the placement of borders that respect the national aspirations of both countries, though it will be necessary for both to make compromises. Overlapping territorial claims are among the most difficult conflicts to reconcile.

Territorial overlap helped ignite the Second World War and reoccurred as recently as the 1990s with the break-up of Yugoslavia. Azerbaijan and Armenia are also suffering from the collapse of an empire, this time the Soviet one. At stake is national identity and cohesion. A sustainable agreement must encompass  principles of migration. A border is irrelevant to national identity if it does not regulate the flow of people. That is another reason why the contemporary Western doctrine of almost open borders is so destructive. It should be mutually agreed that both states give preferential right of immigration to their own majority ethnic groups.

By the way Australia’s New South Wales state adopted recently resolution recognition of right to self-determination of “Nagorno Karabakh people”. The MPs called Australian Government to recognize separatist regime of NK officially and strengthen Australia’s relationship with the Nagorno Karabakh. How can you explain this decision? Does it reflect position of Australian authorities and may it harm relations between Azerbaijan and Australia?
This resolution is typical of Western multiculturalism. The lady who introduced the legislation into the upper house of the New South Wales Parliament is Marie Ficarra, a long-time supporter of Armenian issues. Ficarra is a good person, originally a scientist of talent and later a hard-working politician. Part of that work has been to maintain good relations with various ethnic groups in Sydney. However, some ethnic groups are more influential than others.

Armenians have a long history of living as a Diaspora. In Australia, the United States and elsewhere they have established cultural and patriotic associations to represent their interests. This is aided by their relative success in business and the professions. The Armenian ethnic lobby promoted the resolution recognizing Nagorno Karabakh and praised Marie Ficarra for her support.

No politician can ignore powerful interest groups but they can safely ignore weak ones. There are about 50,000 Armenians living in Australia, mostly in Sydney where the resolution was passed and Marie Ficarra is situated. Australians of Armenian ancestry hold some influential positions in the media, business and politics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Australian). However there are few Azerbaijanis in Australia. I cannot even find statistics on that population group. The result is that politicians are made aware of the Armenian perspective on the Caucasus but not the Azerbaijani perspective. That is the result of Western multiculturalism which promotes the interests of influential minorities and downgrades the importance of national interests. Those who voted for the resolution had heard the accusation that Azerbaijan oppressed Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh but I am sure knew nothing of the many thousands of Azerbaijani refugees expelled from that province.

Australia's national interest is to pursue stability and prosperity in the region, and that means securing just borders.

What can Azerbaijan do? The strategy of adopting the rhetoric of Western multiculturalism is counterproductive, because it is precisely that ideology and political system that is drawing the West behind Armenia. A better approach would be to adopt the ideology of Eastern multiculturalism as a means of appealing to Western majorities, while mobilizing the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Australia and elsewhere to emulate Armenian pressure tactics.

However, the most powerful strategy would be devise a fair compromise solution which accounts for both sets of interests and promotes a multi-national political process for its attainment.




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