Azeris woo Argentina by playing oil card

Today’s visit here by Elmar Mammadyarov, the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan heading up a delegation of Azeri officials and businessmen, is part of a Latin American swing whose motive (in the words of his ministry) is to “‘initiate future economic and political co-operation” although this word order might well be reversed — surely the political intentions of this trip outweigh the economic.

Simple: kicking off in Colombia, the delegation arrives today in Argentina, continuing on through Uruguay and Peru to end the month in Paris, where Mammadyarov will put the icing on the cake by meeting with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius (an ex-premier).

For those unfamiliar with Azerbaijan, it is an oil-rich Islamic Caucasian country nestling on the Caspian Sea and run by the Aliyev dynasty, in power for the last 14 years (the president announced yesterday that he would be seeking a third term in 2013), a former Soviet Socialist Republic which is today allied to Turkey and at the same time pampered by Israel in the form of arms co-operation. But over and above its economic perspectives, Azerbaijan also faces a historic dispute with its neighbour Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

It just so happens that the Azeri foreign minister will be touching down today in Argentina with Latin America’s largest Armenian community and will end his trip in France with Europe’s largest. This raises the issues of the intentions of the Ilham Aliyev government — to dislodge the strong influence of businessmen of Armenian origin by flaunting Azeri black gold and at the same time install the notion that Armenia is refusing to negotiate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, today subject to the pacification efforts under the umbrella of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, France and United States).

Toward this aim (presenting a counterweight to Armenia) the Aliyev government began its conquest of Latin America a couple of years ago . An embassy in Mexico City (the first in North America) was followed by one in Argentina (late 2010, the first in South America) and now in Brazil. To which should be added the trips officials and parliamentarians of Azerbaijan have made to Colombia and Argentina, as well as Mexico, where they have achieved as a result that parliamentary foreign affairs committees in Mexico and Colombia have made declarations in favour of the “territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”

Although the Azeri Foreign Ministry assures that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue will be “discussed separately” in the meeting with Fabius in Paris, don’t rule out its being raised in Buenos Aires, as it already has been in Mexico City and Bogotá.