By Bill Barton
During my 12 years of service in the Utah State Senate, we rarely discussed foreign policy, let alone rubber-stamped a foreign dictatorship’s propaganda whitewashing horrific human rights abuses.
Last week, my longtime friend, Sen. Gene Davis, put the interests of an oil-rich tyrant over persecuted victims — by praising Azerbaijan for “interfaith, harmony and tolerance” and yielding the Senate floor to the dictatorship’s visiting consul general to lecture Utah on inclusiveness.
This is an insult to those persecuted by the brutal dictatorship of Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan, which the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks as the world’s 5th most censored, even beyond China and Iran.
Rivaling even ISIS, the Azerbaijan regime has destroyed countless ancient Christian churches and monuments to erase the ancient history of Christian Armenians, whom despot Aliyev has declared the “enemy.”
Instead of absurdly praising Azerbaijan for respecting Christians, legislators should watch the video on www.djulfa.com/film, verified with satellite by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, showing how 100 soldiers of Azerbaijan razed the world’s largest collection of medieval Christian cross-stones at the sacred Djulfa cemetery in 2005.
Even if Davis were not aware of Djulfa’s wipeout, which the mainstream media ignored since the perpetrator is a “secular Muslim” country, he should have looked up reports by International Christian Concern, which calls Azerbaijan “notorious for religious persecution,” or that of the Pew Research Center, which ranks Azerbaijan among the most restrictive countries on religious practice.
Azerbaijan’s self-promotion of tolerance would strengthen Azerbaijan’s claim that the Christian country of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) would not suffer if Azerbaijan took over, which they would like to do.
Artsakh is an unrecognized country twice the size of Luxembourg that has been an Armenian region for millennia. In 1921, Joseph Stalin expropriated it to Azerbaijan as part of the divide-and-conquer strategy to Sovietize the Caucasus. Instead of showing tolerance, Soviet Azerbaijan closed down Armenian schools, ethnically cleansed another historic Armenian region and enabled pogroms against the large and industrial Armenian minority in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. This left Artsakh no choice but to seek independence in 1991, which Azerbaijan answered with a war it ultimately lost, causing thousands of deaths and creating even more refugees on both sides.
Twisting reality, Azerbaijan has accused Artsakh of demolishing mosques, and claims that Aliyev respects Christian heritage, pointing to capital Baku’s 19th-century Armenian church, now used as the Azerbaijan president’s library, while concealing the fact that all Armenians have been ethnically cleansed from Azerbaijan, followed by the total wipeout of the ancient Christian heritage they left behind.
Utah is home to thousands with Armenian heritage including myself, and many of whom, like my ancestors, survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turkish government in furtherance of the same pan-Turkic policies now shared with its Turkic brethren in Azerbaijan. Other Armenians here are more recent refugees from Azerbaijan. Any Utah lawmakers who took the free trip to Azerbaijan and fell for their caviar diplomacy should apologize to their constituents and set the record straight.
Praising a religious persecutor that has destroyed more Christian monuments than ISIS and is more censored than Iran is an insult to the people of Utah who have long upheld and promoted true interfaith tolerance and religious harmony. Those familiar with Aliyev’s cruel and crafty methods of eliminating opposition then spending millions to rewrite reality would not be surprised. Observers appropriately refer to Azerbaijan as “Absurdistan” — after the novel it helped inspire. Unfortunately, Davis has contributed to this propaganda.
Bill Barton, whose maternal family survived the Armenian Genocide of the early 1900s, is a native West Valley resident and served 12 years in the Utah Senate.