Michael Rubin

By Michael Rubin

Just five days after Yuri Kim, the acting assistant secretary of state, told a Senate committee that the United States would not tolerate any military action against the Christian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s dictator ordered his army to attack. Thus ended one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, as Azerbaijani forces pushed the region’s 120,000 men, women, and children into flight.

Certainly, dictators from Beijing to Baku interpret President Joe Biden’s weakness and confusion as a green light for aggression. Diplomacy has no credibility when red lines are ephemeral. While the State Department may believe in the power of dialogue, viewing conflict only through the lens of honest disagreement often leads to failure. Ideology matters. There is ample evidence that racism colors Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s attitude toward Armenians. Now, it appears greed does as well.

Here, the case of Gubad Ibadoghlu, an Azerbaijani academic, is instructive. Arrested on Aliyev’s orders last summer, Ibadoghlu languishes in prison, denied basic medical care to treat both his diabetes and heart condition. Ibadoghlu was no gadfly oppositionist; rather, he was a careful researcher whose writings hint at why Aliyev has been desperate to silence him.

Ibadoghlu runs the Economic Research Center, a think tank he established to study macroeconomic policy and good governance. Ibadoghlu’s reports document how Aliyev seized prime agricultural land in Nagonro-Karabakh for personal benefit. While Aliyev complains about mines for propaganda purposes, this is cynical. He has forced the U.S.-funded HALO Trust to cease its own mine-clearing operations and instead demands donors channel all demining money through him. He has then directed his own deminers to clear only land his interests would farm, leaving ordinary Azerbaijanis unaided.

His goal is monopoly. Ibadoghlu documents how the Azerbaijani government does not allow other farmers to work in Karabakh. As he reveals, “All the companies that rent land in Karabakh either belong to the President’s family … or to high-ranking officials.” Aliyev’s propaganda that he liberated Karabakh for ordinary Azerbaijanis is simply false.

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Personal enrichment also guides construction. As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did in Turkey, Aliyev profits double, first by channeling billions of dollars into his own construction companies and then by forcing those seeking to win Azerbaijani contracts to pay exorbitant rent. Aliyev and his propagandists may repeat, “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” as a mantra, but Azerbaijan has never before fully controlled the region. This historical reality is the reason why the Azerbaijani leader has such difficulty getting Azerbaijanis to live in Karabakh.

While Azerbaijan and its proxies sponsor lavish trips to show reconstruction to gullible Westerners, the reconstruction Azerbaijan shows off, contracts awarded to Turkish and Azerbaijani companies with close ties to the ruling regimes of both countries, represent corruption as they build empty shells to launder money.

Corruption comes in many forms. Many dictators are not satisfied with $100 million or $1 billion but want more. They might address Nagorno-Karabakh in terms of sovereignty, but the devil is in the details. A desire to profit colored the decision to go to war and drive the oldest Christian populations on Earth off their land. This just makes Washington’s silence more shameful.

One day, Armenians will return, and Turks and Azerbaijanis will reclaim the money their rulers have stolen. Until that time, the shame is on those who facilitate such schemes, not only in Ankara and Baku but also in WashingtonLondon, and Jerusalem.

(Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This article first appeared in the Washington Examiner.)

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