A funny thing happened to the consul general of Azerbaijan last week on his way to make an audio-visual presentation at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
Nasimi Aghayev stepped up to the podium, turned on his fancy laptop, and proudly urged the audience to watch scenes of Azerbaijan on a large screen on the wall. To his horror, nothing but a frozen partial image appeared on the overhanging screen. The consul’s aides and the World Affairs Council’s president rushed to the stage and began pushing all sorts of buttons on the laptop, as the guests waited impatiently. Yet, not only was Aghayev unable to showcase his native land, he wasn’t even able to present his speech, because the text was locked up in his uncooperative laptop.
In desperation, the Azeri diplomat began speaking off the cuff, after pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, on which he had scribbled some notes. This was the inauspicious start of an evening that was intended to show off Azerbaijan’s impressive advances and dazzle the audience with high-tech gadgets.
The consul general appeared agitated throughout the lecture. Perhaps he was unaccustomed to speaking before such an august gathering, or perhaps he was nervous because there were “representatives of the Armenian Diaspora in this room,” including myself and a handful of Armenians.
Aghayev talked at length about Armenia “occupying” a part of his country’s territory, a reference to the liberation of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh). Calling this conflict “Azerbaijan’s top problem,” he expressed his chagrin that “1 million Azeris today are refugees.” However, he failed to explain why a government with billions of dollars in oil revenue would allow such a large number of its citizens to live in abject poverty for over 20 years.
Imitating the Turkish regime, the consul general made a serious gaffe by referring to the Armenian Genocide as a “so-called genocide.” Is it wise for Azeri officials to insult Armenians by denying the genocide, at a time when they have their hands full with the Artsakh conflict? Why would Azerbaijan’s leaders want to complicate matters by associating themselves with Turkey’s denialism and further antagonize Armenians, making them less likely to sit with them at the peace table?
Aghayev’s remarks completely ignored the massive violation of the human rights of Azeri citizens, including those of ethnic minorities, as he falsely described Azerbaijan as a land of “religious and ethnic tolerance.” He went on to engage in gross historical revisionism by forgetting the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait and Baku, and claiming that Armenians enjoyed their full freedom in Soviet Azerbaijan. He also described Muslim Azerbaijan as “one of the earliest nations to accept Christianity, in 313 AD!”
After several pre-arranged questions from some in the audience on how “tolerant” Azerbaijan is to “Mountain Jews” and the great relationship it enjoys with Israel, the World Affairs Council president cautiously avoided giving me the chance to pose a question. Fortunately, two other Armenians, Aroutin Hartounian, the president of Unified Young Armenians, and Garo Ghazarian, the chairman of the Armenian Bar Association, were granted the opportunity to ask questions. The two Armenians raised the issue of Ramil Safarov, an axe-wielding Azeri soldier who killed a sleeping Armenian officer during a NATO training course in Hungary. After the Hungarian government released Safarov from prison prematurely and extradited him to Azerbaijan this year, Aliyev pardoned and glorified the axe-murderer. Foolishly contradicting his president, the Azeri consul general stated that Azerbaijan “does not condone” Safarov’s crime.
Aghayev’s appearance before the World Affairs Council raises some troubling questions: Why did the Council take the unusual step of inviting a lowly consul general to offer “a competing view” to the one presented by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian at the same venue, on Sept. 24? One wonders what inducement Azerbaijan offered to the World Affairs Council to secure a presentation by a junior diplomat, possibly undermining the reputation of this prestigious organization.
Days later, when Aghayev’s lecture was posted on the Azeri Consulate’s website, the laptop glitches were carefully eliminated from the heavily edited video; the 48-minute speech and question and answer period were reduced to just 15 minutes.
The incident with the consul general’s laptop is symptomatic of a much larger problem for Azerbaijan: The country’s leaders have spent billions of dollars to acquire a massive amount of advanced military hardware. But, if they don’t know which button to push, the sophisticated weaponry will be as useless as Aghayev’s laptop!
Rather than labeling the Armenian Diaspora as Azerbaijan’s “main enemy,” President Aliyev should be more worried about his diplomats who cannot use a laptop. Incompetent officials are more of a liability for Azerbaijan than the Armenian “enemy”!