Michael Rubin

If Azerbaijan Wants Peace, It Should Share COP29

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On December 9, 2023, the co-chairs of Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change announced that Azerbaijan would host its 29th annual meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The venue for the world’s most prominent climate change event rotates according to UN regional groups. This year, it was the turn of United Nation’s Eastern European group to host the forthcoming session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 29) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It is the Olympics for environmentalists and allows the host both to showcase itself and to earn a windfall as it hosts thousands. The desire of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to host the event created a deadlock. Armenia wanted to showcase its alternative energy, a sector that accounts for 30 percent of its electricity generation. Azerbaijan has little alternative energy to highlight; 90 percent of its electricity comes from natural gas. Instead, Azerbaijan seeks to host the COP29 to create a false facade of moderation.

Such a claim is patently false. Moderate countries do not use Al Qaeda-linked mercenaries as Baku did during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, nor do religious minorities flee moderation. Azerbaijani officials may trot out minority representatives to engage gullible visitors or corrupt think tankers, but the reality is that Azerbaijan’s Jewish community hemorrhaged under the Aliyev family’s rule. As Armenia’s Jewish community grows, Azerbaijan casts aspersions rather than address its own lack of freedom; it now appears that an arson attack on a Yerevan synagogue was the work not of Armenian anti-Semites, but of Azerbaijan itself.

The façade is also economic. While Baku – or at least those areas around its historic center and the Caspian Sea corniche – are beautiful, polished, and reflect great affluence, the capital’s slums and villages reflect a different reality, with ramshackle, corrugated metal houses and mudbrick huts devoid of electricity. International organizations reflect this with dry financial statistics. According to International Monetary Fund, oil-rich Azerbaijan will again in 2024 have a lower per-capita income than Armenia, a country with few natural resources and under a decades-long double blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The only explanation for such discrepancy is corruption, as Aliyev and his cronies siphon off billions of dollars.

Foreign relations also show the falsity of Azerbaijan’s public relations. Azerbaijan is a proxy of Turkey and an ally of Russia, the world’s two most-irredentist countries. Its trade with Iran is a choice, not a necessity.

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If Armenia is a better candidate, why did it drop its bid? The Armenian government saw the move as necessary to win the release of 32 Armenians kidnapped or held illegally as prisoners of war. Rumors also abound that Washington pressured Yerevan to concede in the naïve belief that Aliyev matches rather than exploits good faith.

Azerbaijan’s victory may be Pyrrhic: Caviar diplomacy and PR-firm messaging may sway the naïve, ignorant, or easily bought, but a light will also shine on the country’s rentierism, corruption, and abuses. After Qatar bribed Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) officials to host the 2022 World Cup, the spotlight on the country’s bribery and treatment of migrant labor undermined the reputational benefit Doha expected to receive.

Armenia may benefit in other ways: While Azerbaijan continues its military build-up, it is unlikely to (further) invade Armenia ahead of the environmental summit. Armenia would be wise to use the time to prepare its defenses and demand the international community restrain Azerbaijan.

Armenians should now go on the diplomatic offensive to demand Aliyev demonstrate his sincerity and not only talk the talk of peace but also walk the walk. Specifically, Yerevan should challenge Baku to share the prize. If South Korea could propose a joint bid with North Korea across the DMZ to host the 2032 Olympics, there is no reason why Azerbaijan should not be able to extend a hand across the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. That North Korean doping scuttled that bid is immaterial and might even enhance prestige should Azerbaijan allow delegates to transit freely between Azerbaijan and Armenia during COP29.

Azerbaijan may have won the nomination, but it is time for the international community to demand magnanimity. Should Aliyev demur, this would cast caviar aside and allow delegates and diplomats a true window into the Azerbaijani leader’s soul.

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