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.