After a period of estrangement, Baku has laid out its terms for getting back on friendly terms with Washington. The suggestions may have come in the form of commentaries from local news outlets, but the medium is the message in Azerbaijan, where most mainstream media is under the government's thumb.
Ultimately, Baku's demands boil down to being accepted for what it is; an increasingly authoritarian regime, by estimates of any international human rights watchdog, and that the US should quit trying to change it.
Granted, it’s made that point before. But now Azerbaijan has particular incentive to lay it on strong. The July 14 Iranian nuclear deal and Azerbaijan’s offers for Tehran to sign onto its Europe-bound pipeline projects potentially could give Baku new bargaining chips with the West.
APA, for instance, in a July 14 piece, construed a meeting between the Azerbaijani armed forces’ Chief of Staff Colonel General Nejmeddin Sadikov and the unnamed US embassy defense attaché as a mutual attempt to mend fences — despite what other outlets, in a copy-and-paste brief, termed the allegedly “destructive” policies of the State Department.
“Azerbaijani Defense Ministry restores ties with Pentagon” read APA’s headline; a bit of a surprise to those not aware that they had ever been severed.
Two days later, in a long and laborious review of US-Azerbaijan relations, Azernews.az announced that "Azerbaijan says yes to the USA`s peace gesture, but . . ."
And what was the peace gesture? Apparently, a July 11 statement by the State Department's Special Envoy and Coordinator for Energy and International Affairs Amos Hochstein that the US "will continue working" with its "strategic partner," Azerbaijan, on gas supplies to Europe.
But the Azernews writer has a few terms -- for one, that Washington drop the supposedly imperialist attitude he claims is contained in American criticism of Baku’s democracy record.
Particularly irksome to this outlet is the bashing Azerbaijan got during the European Games from many international rights activists and media for its spending and treatment of dissidents.
Basically, Baku seems to find the US hard to read. The fact that the criticism followed US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland’s promises of expanded partnership just doesn’t add up for the government-friendly media outlets.
Baku has refused to consider that civil society groups and media may have their own views that do not necessarily coincide with that of the host country’s government; perhaps because that is not how things work in Azerbaijan.
In fact, rights activists found disappointing US and Western governments' response to Azerbaijan’s jail record of civil society representatives. But Baku viewed the criticism as a reputation assassination campaign carefully choreographed in the power corridors of DC.
The Azernews watchdogs also posit that the US should stop implying that Baku plans to run off with Moscow. They style Azerbaijan’s revived flirtation with Russia as a continuation of its balanced foreign policy — or “multi-vector,” to use the preferred post-Soviet term.
Journalists and wonks, rather than Washington, have been the ones to express concern about Baku embracing Moscow, but, according to the Azerbaijani government, those players cannot act independently from the White House.
"We can be enemies, but who will suffer?" President Ilham Aliyev was quoted as asking rhetorically in various outlets’ reprints of the review of US-Azerbaijani ties.
Not Azerbaijan, the thinking seems to go.