It has been a Caucasian weekend for the Clooney couple. The Hollywood-star husband went to Armenia for an anti-genocide forum, while the human-rights-lawyer-star wife went to Washington to rally support for her Azerbaijani client, jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
George Clooney, who deems it “ridiculous” to deny that Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against ethnic Armenians, joined Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Yerevan on April 24 for a commemorative ceremony of the massacre, and then presented a peace award to Burundi humanitarian Marguerite Barankitse in commemoration of the survivors of the 1915 slaughter.
Clooney said that his wife, Amal, could not join him in Yerevan because she was making a case in Washington for her client, Khadija Ismayilova.* “She is visiting the White House today and then will meet with Senator [John] McCain and others,” the actor elaborated in an interview with Armenian TV stations, local outlets reported. “She’s there trying to find ways to gets this incredible, brilliant reporter free.”
He quipped that because of his wife taking up cases like Ismayilova’s, they are “starting to run out of places we can go.”
Azerbaijan is certainly shaping up as one such place.
Baku now has three reasons to be wary of the Clooneys: Amal Clooney represented Armenia last year before the European Court of Human Rights in a failed attempt to squash the right to genocide denial, and this year took up the case of the jailed journalist who had cried foul about the business practices of President Ilham Aliyev’s family. Now, George Clooney has thrown his weight behind the cause for Armenian genocide recognition.
Locked in a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia, Azerbaijan tends to regard Armenia’s friends – bar Russia and sometimes Iran -- as its enemies. Just weeks before Clooney’s visit to Yerevan, Azerbaijani forces clashed with soldiers from Armenia and Armenian-backed, breakaway Nagorno Karabakh in the bloodiest fighting in more than 20 years.
Azerbaijan also ardently supports the position of Turkey, its strategic ally, that the killings of ethnic Armenians were not genocide.
Arguably, a chance exists that the Azerbaijani government could use the Clooneys’ genocide advocacy for Armenia as a domestic PR tool against Ismayilova, if the need should arise.
When Amal Clooney said that she was representing Ismayilova, Azerbaijan’s pro-government media also described the lawyer as an Armenian; the worst thing that can happen to anyone, according to Azerbaijani state propaganda, and a common slur against government critics.
Clooney shrugged off the charge. “The fact I represent Armenia does not make me Armenian, any more than my representation of Cambodia before the International Court of Justice made me Cambodian, or my advice to the Greek government made me Greek,” she said.
Perhaps because of the international media response to its anti-Clooney invective, this time around Baku let the Clooneys’ Armenian moves slide. At least for now.
*Khadija Ismayilova worked as a freelance reporter for EurasiaNet.org.