Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov alluded to 9/11 conspiracy theories and warned that Internet trolls may be trying to “push Armenian propaganda under Jewish names” in an appeal to a pro-Israel group on Thursday.
Suleymanov had been invited to speak via video conference to the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, a right-wing think tank dedicated to strengthening the US-Israeli relationship, about his country’s ongoing war with Armenia on October 8.
Azerbaijan is trying to leverage its economic and military ties with Israel to gain American support. Suleymanov, the Azerbaijani envoy to the United States, referred to common geopolitical interests and unsubstantiated claims in his appeal to pro-Israel advocates in Washington.
There was no Armenian representative present. JINSA told Asia Times that audience questions made in writing were worked into the format by the moderators.
“Azerbaijan is not necessarily that different from the United States or Israel,” Suleymanov said. “If you look at the region, Azerbaijan is very clearly aligned with the Christian countries, and with the State of Israel, and with others, while Armenia is behaving in a totally different way.”
He claimed that Russia sent supplies to Armenia during current hostilities via Iran, a claim which Tehran has denied. Iran served as a lifeline to Armenia during the 1990s war, but has more recently expressed support for Azerbaijan.
Suleymanov emphasized that Azerbaijan has a thriving Jewish community.
The ambassador accused Armenia — without providing evidence — of allying with Kurdish militants and Lebanese radicals. Lebanese-Armenians, who commonly possess dual nationality, have joined the fight to defend Karabakh in limited numbers, but there is no evidence to date of non-Armenians entering the battle on the side of Armenia.
Suleymanov also alluded to Syria’s ties with the Armenian Secret Army, a militant group that has been defunct since the 1980s.
The ambassador meanwhile denied reports, backed by mounting video evidence, that Azerbaijan was deploying Syrian mercenaries against Armenian forces.
“These kinds of allegation are similar to the allegations that Americans committed 9/11 against themselves,” he said. “And, by the way, there’s more videos, more evidence, and more serious [sic] about that than about what happens in Azerbaijan.”
Asia Times has independently confirmed the Turkish-organized deployment of Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan. The recruitment in northern Syria began at least one month before the start of the offensive.
By peace or war
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been in conflict since both countries broke off from the Soviet Union. The Armenian-majority province of Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan in 1991, sparking a war that ended with a shaky ceasefire in 1994.
Armenian forces currently control Karabakh, as well as several adjacent Azerbaijani provinces.
The conflict saw an unprecedented development in July, as Azerbaijani troops attempted an incursion into Armenia proper rather than the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh.
The latest, large-scale offensive ends years of relative calm along the line of contact.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has vowed to conquer all of Karabakh “either via peace or by war.” A temporary ceasefire brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin lasted just hours before fighting resumed on Saturday.
Suleymanov portrayed Armenia as the aggressor.
“When Armenians bomb Azerbaijani side of the line of contact, there’s a densely populated area. When Azerbaijan responds against military targets, they’re basically military targets. There are no people living along the line of contact,” he said.
“It’s an empty land. It’s a desert. It’s nothing. All military installations.”
Nagorno Karabakh is a lush mountainous territory.
The same day as Suleymanov’s speech, Azerbaijani artillery punctured a historic Armenian cathedral in Karabakh twice within hours. Arayik Harutyunyan, the Armenian leader of Karabakh, called the bombardment “an attack on people and their fundamental rights.”
Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to the Azerbaijani president, on October 6 accused Armenian forces of targeting the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline with banned cluster munitions, adding that there had been no damage to the oil infrastructure. Baku has also alleged that Armenian forces used Russian-made Smerch multiple rocket launching systems in attacks on the city of Ganja.
Amnesty International a day earlier warned that Azerbaijani forces appeared to be using cluster munitions to target civilian areas in Armenian-held Karabakh, in what would be a violation of international law. The rights group said it identified Israeli-made M095 DPICM cluster munitions that landed in Stepanakert.
‘Middle Eastern terrorists’
Suleymanov on Thursday praised his country’s use of precision weapons, which include Israeli-made Harp “suicide drones.”
Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan sparked Armenia to withdraw its ambassador from Israel — who had arrived at Armenia’s debut embassy in Israel just months prior — last week.
“Armenians don’t have precision weapons. If you see the way they shoot, it’s either 1940s Soviet military, or 1960s Middle Eastern terrorists,” Suleymanov said. “They just shoot in the direction of civilians hoping that there will be a response, pretty much the same tactic that is used against Israel.”
The ambassador added that Armenia was using the same Soviet-style propaganda that has been used against Israel.
And he ended with a ethnically-charged tirade, alleging that Armenians were attending the call in secret.
“I know that some of the users here that are kindly listening to me are Armenians registered under fake Jewish names just to create a misperception that Jews [are] somehow upset about Azerbaijan,” Suleymanov said.
“This is Soviet propaganda. Welcome, my friends. This is not new. Just read the comments. You see why people [are] here: not to ask questions, just to push Armenian propaganda — under Jewish names.”
There was no evidence to this claim. The day of Suleymanov’s speech, Facebook shut down a massive network of fake accounts connected to the Azerbaijani government.
Suleymanov’s speech seemed well-received by the pro-Israel think tank.
JINSA senior fellow Svante Cornell said that nations like Azerbaijan and Bahrain show “just because you are a Shia majority country does not mean that you have to be like Iran.”
“Whatever it’s worth, at JINSA, we believe that America has stronger strategic ties with Azerbaijan,” JINSA president Michael Makovsky said.
This article, which originally stated that JINSA did not take audience questions, has been updated. JINSA noted in an email that it requested questions in writing, which were worked into the format by the moderators.