Uruguay Becomes Player in Caucasus Equation

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians who have visited the country of Uruguay have an understanding of the status of the Armenian community in that country. Most of the settlers in that hospitable South American country were Genocide survivors with a bitter baggage of traumatic experiences and memories. Yet through their diligence, hard work and the appreciation of that host country’s hospitality and culture, they have integrated wisely into the fabric of the society, without assimilating.

Their contributions to the development of Uruguay have been well over what their numbers warrant. Consequently, their impact as well, is more profound than a community of that size would generate elsewhere.

A major thoroughfare in the capital city of Montevideo is called Armenian Boulevard and the main square is called Plaza Armenia. The prestige that the community enjoys in Uruguay has helped both the families and the larger Armenian society in their development. This mutually-beneficial relationship with Uruguay’s population has yielded dividends far beyond the country’s borders, as the government of Uruguay was the first nation to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Since Armenia’s emancipation from Soviet rule, the relationship has helped also the general Armenian cause, whereby becoming the diasporan extension of Armenia’s foreign policy.

In theory, any community in a particular country must strive to play that role by introducing the Armenian issues in that country’s foreign policy agenda. We have that opportunity in the US if we can harness our resources wisely and politicize large masses within the community.

Recent developments have demonstrated that Uruguay has come forth to play an essential political role in the Caucasus checkerboard of diplomacy.

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Indeed, through the influence of its petro-dollars, Azerbaijan has been striving to isolate Armenia and Karabagh. That influence is especially tangible through the Islamic Conference and Azerbaijan’s election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Armenia’s efforts to break the stronghold of political isolation have met with limited success for very obvious reasons, i.e., lack of economic resources. Therefore, Uruguay’s emergence on the Caucasus stage becomes a significant new political development.

Recently the largest and most populous province of Australia, New South Wales, passed a resolution in its parliament to recognize the right for self-determination of the people in Karabagh. That was a small step in breaking Karabagh’s isolation, especially in view of the fact that the entire country of Australia has yet to subscribe to that position.

On November 13, a delegation from Uruguay, headed by the Speaker of Parliament Jorge Orico, paid an official visit to the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh and held political discussions with the leadership of the enclave. Any foreign dignitary or political representative who visits Karabagh is immediately blacklisted in Baku. Therefore, the government of Uruguay undertook the visit in defiance of Azerbaijan’s threats.

Prior to that visit, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian had taken a tour of Latin American countries, which the Azeri official media characterized as “complete failure.” This visit discredits the Azeri claims. In fact, it goes even further to suggest that the possibility has arisen that Uruguay may become the first country to recognize Karabagh’s independence.

There are countries in Latin America that are not a party to the continuing low-intensity cold war between East and West. A case in point is the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Nicaragua and Venezuela after they broke away from Georgia. Uruguay’s policy is in line with that South American trend. The fact that an official parliamentary delegation has paid a visit to Karabagh is a groundbreaking initiative which has met Baku leadership’s ire.

Azerbaijan’s contention was that “no official government entity in the world can establish any relations with Karabagh.” Well, a precedent has been set and according to Ashod Ghoulian, the speaker of the Karabagh Parliament, “This visit may prove to be the beginning of new developments.”

Those developments may eventually lead to the recognition of Karabagh’s independence by Uruguay. Having been asked directly about such a possibility, Ruben Martinez Huelmo, chairman of Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has responded, “To be honest with you, theoretically that possibility exists. But this is a political process which has to take its course. Documents have to be compiled and studied. At this time, we are on a fact-finding mission. The collected facts have to be presented to the political powers.”

Beyond the existence of theoretical possibility, the delegation has been compiling facts about the issue. In the absence of political vigilance by Armenians, Uruguay may follow suit and erect Heydar Aliyev’s statue, as it was done in Mexico.

Last year, Uruguay’s Senate adopted a resolution to provide a budget to build a museum dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. The recognition of Karabagh’s independence will be a breakthrough in bringing out the mini state from its isolation.

While the Uruguayan parliamentary delegation was on its visit in Karabagh, a conference of Eurasian countries took place in Yerevan.

The Eurasian Integration Project is President Vladimir Putin’s brainchild to create a global economic counterweight to the European Union. The majority of former republics of the Soviet Union are involved in it. The conference included the major political parties of the countries participating in the project. The Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties represented Armenia. Putin’s United Russia Party represented Russia. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other countries were also represented. Karabagh was represented by the Azad Artsakh Party. The next conference will be held in St. Petersburg and along with Karabagh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will also be invited. This move will further contribute to Karabagh’s recognition by the other countries.

At this point, Uruguay’s decision will prove to be crucial. The parliamentary fact-finding may take a long time or it may turn out to be a smokescreen to conceal the true intentions of the Montevideo government. It may further become a bargaining chip for Uruguay to extract some business deals or vote buying at the United Nations at Armenia’s expense. Any development must be expected realistically in politics. That should not deter  Armenians in their determination to seek justice for the people of Karabagh. If indeed the government of Uruguay recognizes Karabagh’s independence, the Armenian community there must be credited in the first place and its role must be emulated in other countries with significant concentrations of Armenians.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have the wherewithal to peddle influence in many countries and they have been making inroads in the political fabric of countries where Armenian presence is sparse or nonexistent. In Mexico, Azeris have been successful in erecting Heydar Aliyev’s statue. Additionally, they have forced their way to have the Mexican Parliament pass a resolution condemning the so-called genocide of Khojalu supposedly perpetrated by Armenian forces. Whether Uruguay comes forth with recognition or not is immaterial.

The official visit of the parliamentary delegation has induced enough fear in Azerbaijan about losing their grip on the situation. Persistent, comprehensive and consistent policy will eventually bring the much-needed relief to Karabagh people, who will eventually be integrated in the world community.

Let’s not hold our breath and extend our gratitude to Uruguay for its initial contribution to Karabagh’s situation, hoping that it will take the next crucial step of recognition.

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