March 16 was like any other day at the United Nations, when the representatives of Armenia and Tuvalu signed a joint declaration establishing diplomatic relations. Tuvalu is a tiny state in the South Pacific, much smaller than Manhattan, with a population barely over 10,000. Who would have thought that such a routine announcement would alarm Turkey and Azerbaijan?
This news item would have been ignored by the world media were it not for the “acute” eyes of Ugur Ergan, the “astute” reporter of the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper. He brought Tuvalu out of its obscurity for a short while, making it the most talked about country in Turkish and Azerbaijani circles. Ergan quoted unnamed Ankara officials as stating that Armenia had established diplomatic relations and offered tons of money to Tuvalu so that it would be the first country to recognize Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) as an independent state
Ergan further disclosed that Ankara is “disturbed” by Tuvalu’s possible recognition of Artsakh, suspecting that Armenia would do what Turkish officials have done for decades—buy political favors in return for lucrative gifts. They attribute to others what they routinely practice themselves. As the Holy Bible states, they see the splinter in someone else’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in their own eye!
Even more alarmed were Azerbaijan’s officials who assumed that Tuvalu would shortly recognize Artsakh. Aydin Mirzazade, a parliamentarian from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, in an interview with reporter I. Isabalayeva, ridiculed Tuvalu’s readiness “to recognize any state, even a non-existent country, for a small amount of money.” Mirzazade understands well the practice of buying favors. It has been widely reported that Azerbaijan’s foreign minister put his country’s immense petrodollars to “good use” last year by providing generous financial inducements to poor countries in exchange for their votes for a UN Security Council seat.
Azerbaijan was following its elder brother’s, Turkey’s, footsteps at vote-buying at the UN. Gareth Jenkins reported in the Eurasian Daily Monitor that the Turkish government had enticed to Istanbul the leaders of Tuvalu, Tonga, Nauru, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Fiji, Micronesia, and Samoa to secure their votes for Turkey’s membership in the Security Council. Those who have never heard of these Pacific islands should not feel embarrassed. Turkey’s former Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Shener had the honesty to confess, “I had never heard of the names of some of them before, but they all have a vote at the UN.” Turkey’s scheme succeeded. It gained a seat on the UN Security Council in 2008 by offering tens of millions of dollars to dozens of little-known countries in far-flung corners of the world.
Yilmaz Ozdil, a more forthright commentator for Hurriyet, boldly countered Ergan’s report, confirming that Turkey was the first to offer “bribes” to Tuvalu and many others. Ozdil disclosed that to obtain a seat on the Security Council, Turkey had provided as kickbacks:
- medicines to Angola, Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan, and the Comoros;
- a trade center to Zimbabwe;
- stables to Mauritania;
- a drinking water network to Niger;
- water wells to Ethiopia;
- school kits to Ghana;
- a field hospital to Sudan;
- cattle-breeding technology to Mozambique and Mauritania;
- an electric grid to Benin;
- a smelting house to Gambia;
- training schools to Eritrea, Togo, Lesotho, and Uganda;
- a police training to Guinea;
- vaccines to Mali;
- humanitarian assistance to Tanzania and Chad;
- a school to Congo;
- a sewer system to Liberia and Sierra Leone;
- a VIP minibus to Palau;
- computers to Antigua;
- soccer balls and pumps to Tuvalu;
and had wined and dined the visiting prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stuffed his pocket with gifts, and placed a private jet at his disposal to fly to Izmir.
Another Turkish commentator, Deniz Zeyrek, wrote a hilarious column in the newspaper Radikal, headlined: “Tuvalu: Give our soccer balls back.” To buy votes at the UN, Zeyrek reported that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had asked the visiting Tuvalu prime minister if his country needed anything. Tuvalu officials made a surprising request, saying that their children liked to play soccer, but had no balls. Turkey immediately dispatched to Tuvalu hundreds of soccer balls along with pumps. Tuvalu then complied with Turkey’s demand, supporting its bid to join the UN Security Council.
Zeyrek concluded his article with the following sarcastic question: “Will Turkey now ask for its balls back, if Tuvalu recognizes Karabagh’s independence?”