By Harut Sassounian,
The Azeri government does not seem to understand that you can’t always get what you want by bribing and paying politicians. There is a limit to what money can buy. Sometimes, the truth matters more.
This is an important lesson that Azeri leaders have not learned. They have wasted tens of millions of dollars in paying lobbying companies and corrupt politicians.
An example of such useless activity is the Azeri obsession with trying to exploit the controversial incident of the killing of a few hundred Azeris in the town of Khojalu during the 1992 Artsakh War. There are various versions of what exactly took place in Khojalu. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan has gone to great lengths to falsely convince the world that Armenians committed “genocide” in Khojalu!
The usual Azeri approach in the United States and around the world is to bribe politicians to issue proclamations to commemorate the anniversary of the Khojalu killings. Ayaz Mutalibov, the first president of Azerbaijan, told Czech journalist Dana Mazalova in a 1992 interview that his Azeri political opponents exploited this incident to topple him from power. He said that Armenian fighters had urged the Azeri populations of Khojalu to flee through a passage left open, but the Azerbaijani National Front obstructed their exodus.
Azerbaijan’s petrodollars have succeeded in getting 23 U.S. states to commemorate the deaths in Khojalu as a “massacre.” Despite Azerbaijan’s persistent lobbying efforts, none of these states accepted Azerbaijan’s alleged term of “genocide” to describe the deaths of a few hundred Azeris in Khojalu. Azerbaijan also used its deep pockets to obtain the recognition of these killings by the parliaments of eight countries: Azerbaijan (naturally), Peru, Panama, Honduras, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Djibouti and Paraguay. In addition, the Foreign Relations Committees of seven Parliaments: Turkey, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, Czech Republic, Sudan and Guatemala commemorated the Khojalu killings.
Azerbaijan used these commemorative resolutions to tarnish Armenia’s reputation and counter the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by over 30 countries and 49 U.S. states.
While sometimes money can get you what you want, it can at other times get you embarrassed when those who had earlier commemorated Khojalu, issue a retraction, apologize and cancel their recognition when they realize that they were duped.
The latest such embarrassing example is what took place in San Diego, the second largest city in California. The Azeri media and the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, Nasimi Aghayev, boastfully publicized on October 14 that San Diego Mayor Todd Garcia had issued a proclamation designating Oct. 18, 2021 as “Azerbaijan’s Restoration of Independence Day.”
The proclamation falsely claimed that “Azerbaijan is internationally regarded as a successful model for the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.” Consul General Aghayev reminded everyone that 2021 “marks the 10th anniversary of the Baku-San Diego partnership.” Aghayev also noted that “for the first time since 1991, the Azerbaijani people will celebrate this date as victorious people who restored the territorial integrity of their country.”
However, the Consul General’s excitement lasted just one day. On October 15, the Armenian National Committee – Western Region issued a press release urging the Mayor of San Diego to rescind his proclamation which “whitewashed Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses.” That same day, the Mayor of San Diego rescinded his earlier pro-Azerbaijan proclamation. The Mayor wrote: “It is with regret that I share this proclamation was issued as an oversight and should have been more thoroughly vetted by staff as it did not account for the relationship, history and current events between Azerbaijan and Armenia.” More importantly, he stated: “while the city of San Diego has issued proclamations for Azerbaijan Independence Day and similar occasions in previous administrations, my office will no longer be granting these requests. To that end, I am rescinding this proclamation and the City of San Diego will not recognize it on October 18. Please accept my deepest apologies for this oversight and I appreciate you bringing this issue to my attention.”
That is the end of “the Baku-San Diego partnership.” Not surprisingly, the Consul General of Azerbaijan has turned into a mouse since the Mayor rescinded his proclamation. He has not uttered a single word!
The chain of rescinded pro-Azerbaijan proclamations does not end with San Diego. On February 26, 2021, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued a proclamation to commemorate “Khojali Day.” However, on March 10, 2021, the Mayor reversed himself and wrote: “I would like to extend my apologies to the Armenian-American community…. Following conversations with leaders of the Armenian-American community, we realize that this proclamation has been hurtful to many of you…. I have decided to rescind this proclamation.” Mayor Walsh, now US Secretary of Labor, included high praise for the local Armenian community and made a reference to the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. What started as an Azeri propaganda effort, ended up as a great public relations victory for Armenia and Armenians.
The same scenario repeated itself in Portland, Maine. Mayor Kathleen Snyder initially issued a proclamation on February 17, 2021 to commemorate “Khojaly Remembrance Day.” However, on April 1, 2021, the Mayor wrote: “I have decided to rescind the Mayoral Proclamation.” She added: “I once again apologize for the pain and harm that the issuance of this proclamation has caused….”
Similarly, the city of Torrance, California, issued a proclamation on October 15, 2021 to celebrate “Azerbaijan Day.” It is a carbon copy of the proclamation issued by San Diego. Later that day, Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey stated that the city “issued a proclamation in error. On past occasions, the City has proclaimed Azerbaijan National Day in the City of Torrance on the effective date. In light of recent events in the associated region, the City has respectfully requested that the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles remove the proclamation from all media.” Nevertheless, the rescinded proclamations of San Diego and Torrance are still on Consul General Aghayev’s Facebook page.
This is yet another example of the failed propaganda efforts of the Consul General of Azerbaijan. Armenians in California are fortunate that Azerbaijan has sent such an incompetent Consul General to Los Angeles. No one should be surprised if he is recalled shortly back to Baku.
There are many other examples of failed Azeri propaganda attempts. On February 25, 2021, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a proclamation on “Azerbaijani Day,” but refused to include a reference to “Khojaly.” Nevertheless, the Azeri media falsely reported that the Governor had signed a proclamation to commemorate “the Khojaly Genocide.”
Rather than trying to undo the proclamations that are falsely issued at the urging of Azerbaijan’s lobbyists, the Armenian-American community should take preemptive steps so that false pro-Azerbaijan declarations never see the light of day in the first place.