Azerbaijan Tags Armenia, Georgia in Journalist Kidnapping
It only took so much time before Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for the scandalous abduction of an Azerbaijani journalist from Georgia, even though a senior Azerbaijani parliament member had just said that it was the Georgian and Azerbaijani special forces who did the kidnapping.
Reporter Afgan Mukhtarli vanished from a downtown Tbilisi street on May 29 and reappeared in a Baku prison the following day as the result of “joint work by the Azerbaijani and Georgian special forces,” Elman Nasirov, an MP from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, said in a June 9 interview with the Azeri-language service of RFE/RL.
Faced with public outrage over Mukhtarli’s disappearance, Georgian officials have fervently denied any involvement in his abduction. The State Security Service did the same for Nasirov’s claims, noting that a criminal investigation into his kidnapping had been opened.
Georgian and international media advocacy groups have dismissed as canards Azerbaijani prosecutors’ claims that Mukhtarli, who fled persecution in Azerbaijan, returned to his homeland -- incidentally, without a passport -- and carrying just enough cash to qualify for smuggling charges.
But Baku has its own take on that one. Ruling party MP Nasirov alleged to RFE/RL that Georgia has become the launching pad for Armenian attacks against Azerbaijan, and Mukhtarli was part of it.
The same point was made earlier this week by the state-run 1news.az. In a long and winding opus (“The Traces of Armenia in the Case of Afgan Mukhtarli” ) the site laid out how Armenia, with whom Azerbaijan has an ongoing territorial conflict, is supposedly conspiring to sow discord between Georgia and Azerbaijan, close strategic allies.
Without bothering with evidence, the article claims that Armenia “and the Armenian lobby” finance a Georgia-based network of Azerbaijani dissidents to stir up trouble against Azerbaijan’s state interests.
Georgia “has become a playground” for such operators. opines political analyst Tofik Abbasov, an advisor for the Baku International Center of Multiculturalism, a body founded by President Ilham Aliyev.
The story alleges that Mukhtarli was arrested while trying to carry Armenian cash across the Georgian-Azerbaijani border for Azerbaijan’s political opposition.
“But, owing to joint efforts by the Georgian and Azerbaijani authorities, this anti-Azerbaijan network and the circles that support it have been exposed and measures have been taken to stop their subversive work,” Abbasov concludes.
Drawing Armenia into the mix might seem a puzzler at first glance, but Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has an ongoing bitter territorial dispute that has cost it large swathes of territory and displaced thousands of its citizens, has long been an explanation among Azerbaijan’s political elite for any event that casts aspersions on their own actions.
The blame-Armenia game is matched by Azerbaijan-bashing in Armenia that also offers ammunition for Baku’s attacks against homegrown criticism. “How come Armenian news sites and intellectuals are defending Afgan Mukhtarli?” wondered Nasirov.
But the Azerbaijani government’s public-service announcements about Armenia are not meant just for domestic consumption. Everyone in the Caucasus has irredentist claims against each other, and separatism-torn Georgia is no exception.
Home to a sizeable ethnic Armenian community and an ethnic-Armenian-dominated region, Georgia contains a muffled distrust toward Armenia, a longtime cultural rival. This often offers fertile ground for anti-Armenian propaganda.
But this latest attempt from Baku did not seem to catch on. Many Georgians view Mukhtarli case’s first and foremost as a Georgian problem and hold the Georgian government responsible for it.
Baku has yet to come up with a story for that one.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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