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Football diplomacy

          Who ever thought that news from Azerbaijan would be of interest? Well grab your thinking caps, kids, and start thinking about not just Baku, but Dushanbe, Tashkent, Astana and Bishkek, because that’s where the action is about to be, if you ask me, which, once again, no one has. Sigh. Anyway, Baku got as friendly a visit as it is possible to get from our grumpy friend Dick Cheney the other day. One can only guess that it left the Azeris feeling a bit like toothpaste, about to be shot out of the tube. Dick is squeezing the tube in his typical gorilla grip while Russia’s Putin – oops! I meant Medvedev – is trying to roll the tube up methodically from the bottom by signing yet another deal with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to pipe gas to Russia; a pipeline which would make the Nabucco pipeline, favored not only by Baku, but by Dick and the rest of the Western Imperialists, obsolete. Given all this high-level attention after decades – nay, centuries – of benign neglect, I sure am glad I’m not Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.

          Even so, he has earned a fair share of eyebrow-raised respect from observers, and hair-raising ire from Cheney and Putin. First, Cheney is reported to have been as miffed as only a plutocrat can be by the fact that neither Aliyev nor Prime Minister Artur Rasizade came to the airport to greet him. Then, just to rub it in, the Azeris refused to sign a commitment to send energy to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline, saying, in effect; well… maybe. But then, that’s also what was told to Moscow, when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of course you’ve never heard of it, but don’t worry, you will hear more.) failed to approve Russia’s invasion of Georgia. At this Putin – I mean Medvedev – was aristocratically miffed, but perhaps not miffed enough to take his toys and go home. After all, there is gas to be piped, and like it or not, members of the SCO have every right and the leverage to say “maybe” to whomever they please.

          Now comes the test. Match the aforementioned capitol cities to these SCO member countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Throw in Russia and China (hence the Shanghai part of the SCO), and you have the Central Asian version of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Club Med. Both are Blocs in the Making for the new world order. Like Club Med’s stated goals (see Belles of the Ball here: of general bonhomie and good deeds, the SCO’s goals are eliminating the “Three Evils” (do three evils an axis make? Just wondering.):  terrorism, separatism and extremism (thank goodness the separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia don’t belong to the SCO, even though their Russian sponsor does…) are anemic at best.  More robust have been the unstated goals of resisting democratization and Westernization while generally fostering Russian foreign policy goals. China, of course, is just in it for the money. Their embrace of capitalism is nothing if not focused.

          So Azerbaijan is being squeezed by both Moscow and Washington, and in the meantime, with all eyes on the Caucasus, there’s that little matter of Nagorno Karabakh to be settled. Of course you remember that in 1918 Joseph Stalin was in charge of the Sovietization of Transcaucasia, including his home in Georgia, which resulted in a bunch of arbitrary statelets which mish-mashed enemies with friends and ignored ethnicities and language preferences all around. In 1991, as the ex-Soviet statelets were trying to sort themselves out and become States with a Capital S, well, pretty much all hell broke loose, and why not? Jo-Jo was no longer around to inflict “peace” on anybody; not in Yugoslavia, not in Central Asia, and certainly not in Nagorno Karabakh, home of the mixed Armenian and Azerbaijani nuts. Surrounded by Azerbaijan, NK is claimed by Armenia, except if you ask the Azeris who became refugees in the 1991 war, or (here it comes, get ready…) the Turks.

          This past week Turkish President Abdullah Gül went to a football match between Armenia and Turkey, much to the consternation of the majority of Turks. Armenia, you will certainly remember (not more history?! Surely our heads are all full! Quit it with the facts now!) suffered what they, Nancy Pelosi and the Armenian Diaspora call a genocide by the Turks (and lets not forget that the Diaspora got that way somehow, be it by “genocide” or not), and the Turks disagree, blaming all the woe and intrigue of Armenian dispersal and, well, being killed on a major scale on the ickiness of war in general; not “genocide”. And they’ve closed their land border with Armenia to protest the G-word, and sided decidedly with their “Azeri brothers” in the whole Nagorna Karabakh thing, not only because the Azeris are Turkic and Muslim, but because they are not Armenian. So that’s the stage upon which Gül entered to watch a football match, without the support of 60-70% of your average Turk.

          That majority, however, presumably doesn’t follow international diplomacy as closely as they do football, so what do they know? They’ve heard that Turkish trucks now idle at the Russian-controlled Georgian border for 20 hours at a stretch when it used to take 20 minutes to get through customs, but the average Turkish Mehmet hasn’t noticed that the delayed customs inspections are in fact a message from Moscow to Ankara: “We, as a matter of fact, are the ones who control the flow of energy through the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and don’t you forget it.”  And since Turkey gets a whole lot of its energy from Russia, its only choice is to make nice. The thing is, this NATO member now has to make nice to not only Russia, but Armenia, Azerbaijan, the EU (if it still hopes – beyond hope – to join) and the US, just to name a few of its “partners” in this and that. Its all such a muddle, who could be expected to understand it? Oh, and Turkey won the match 2-0.


One response to “Football diplomacy

  1. Nice site. Theres some good information on here. Ill be checking back regularly.

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