The Curious Case of Kansas, Azerbaijan, and the Turkish Connection

15 02 2015

Not long ago I wrote a post that included a few paragraphs about the Armenian Genocide  of 1914-15 in which about 1.5 million Armenian Christians were slaughtered, along with 1 million Greek and 300K Syriac Christians, by Turkish and Ottoman Kurdish forces.  By 1923, most of the survivors had been displaced, running for their lives, or in deportation pogroms.

It was a true genocide,   perpetrated by Muslim Turks seeking to eliminate the Armenian and other Christian/ethnic  groups  in the region.

Turkish Ottoman Interior Minister Mehmet Talat Pasha is on record ordering, “Their [Armenians] existence must come to an end, however tragic the means may be; and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to conscientious scruples.”   Turkey’s government still refuses to recognize the holocaust perpetrated by its own early 20th century governments, initiating the bloodiest century in world history and has banned books discussing the matter and continues its denial.

Armenia has been relegated to a small sliver of mostly mountainous country less than 12,000 sq miles sandwiched between Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, with Georgia (now Russian) on the north in a region which was part of the old Soviet Union, and had been unstable for several years following USSR’s dissolution in the ‘80’s.

Modern Armenia, population 3 million, has good foreign relations with pretty much everyone other than its Turkic neighbors (Turkey and Azerbaijan) who have blockaded the Armenians for 20 years following a hot war, and has a security relationship with Russia for protection against its two hostile neighbors.  It continues an armed standoff in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)   a small province of Armenian enclave between Armenia proper and Azerbaijan.  In 1988 NK had voted to either merge with Armenia or declare independence from Azerbaijan.  They warred for 2 years, leaving Armenia in control of NK, and Azerbaijan unwilling to let it go.  Russia had brokered the cease fire, which thus far has held, and was also key in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh’s survival as sovereign states.

Armenia and NK had fielded a combined force of about 20,000 with support of materials and Russian troops against Azerbaijan’s combined allied forces of 64,000 including Chechen and Afghan Mujahideen (Islamic Holy Warriors), Turks, and a Turkic Nationalist terrorist group known as “The Grey Wolves” (responsible for the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul in 1981).  It was a deadly war with Azerbaijan’s allied force losing about 5 for every 1 Armenian lost.  While sniper fire is still felt along the lines, the Armenian populous of the defacto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic  is hoping to hold NK long enough for a new generation of Azeri to refuse to fight any longer, and they continue to develop as a free and independent state.

Oil and gas rich Azerbaijan is busy enjoying its developing wealth and may indeed one day, refuse to return to the fight, but as long as friend Turkey continues to remind them of those “evil” Armenians, the fires of hatred are not likely to burn out.

The Turkish Delegation have been busy since at least 2002 conducting public relations programs across the United States, working to win the “hearts and minds” of American civil servants at all levels, from local city councils and police and fire departments, to state Legislators, sheriff’s offices, and local FBI offices.  They extend an invitation to an awards dinner, then present the targeted individual or group with some award concerning community relations.  They normally operate through a local Turkish organization such as Raindrop Turkish House or other TCAE (Turquoise Council of American Eurasians) affiliates.  All these organizations are associated with Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish Imam who lives in Pennsylvania. They have a growing number of Turkish Charter Schools (146) around the USA, and continue to expand that movement, lobbying state legislators.  During the legislative session these groups will host a “Legislative Reception” or “breakfast” where elected officials are enticed with Turkish food, culture and entertainment.  They are then encouraged to join the hosts for a “trip of a lifetime” to their home country of Turkey, (or Azerbaijan) usually about 10 days, expenses paid of course.   These Turkish emissaries then continue to bring resolution after resolution into legislatures of many states which either praise Azerbaijan or subtly condemn Armenia, or seek to expand current relations with the Turkish government itself.  Check your state legislature and most likely you’ll find them there.

“To date, more than 6000 Americans have traveled to Turkey at the invitation of Hizmet institutes and have returned to support the activities of the Turkish immigrant circles.” – Sophia Pandya & Nancy Gallagher-The Gulen Hizmet Movement and Its Transnational Activities

The typical Gulenist trip is 9-10 days.  The costs reported run from $3400-$9,000.  If the average trip runs $5000, Turkish/Gulen organizations have already invested over $30 Million in American politicians from the local, to state, and national levels.  This doesn’t count campaign contributions from these organizations, or individuals within those, of over a million dollars.

Of late the Turks seem more interested in promoting Azerbaijan than Turkey, perhaps due to a lot of attention Turkey has been getting in the media, concerning not only the Islamization of the government, and it’s slow and tepid response against ISIS, but its own continued human rights violations that run smack in the face of the “Friendship Resolutions” that are peddled in state houses around the country.  It may also run parallel to the Fethullah Gulen’s fallout with the Turkish government recently, over accusations of “bugging” of government offices resulting in many of his followers in Turkey being arrested, interrogated or imprisoned along with any other journalists who had been criticizing the Erdogen government.  The interesting thing is that while the Turkish Delegation in America won’t criticize the Turkish government, they remain in full allegiance to Fethullah Gulen, who owns some 20 media outlets and thousands of schools inside Turkey.

Recently Kansas Legislators received an invitation from the Turquois Council of American Eurasians Kansas City affiliate, the Assembly of AFAZ InvitationFriends of Azerbaijan to attend a meeting in the Capital building on February the 25th, 2015, 11am-1pm, to “Remember the Khojaly Tragedy”.  Naturally, curiosity led to some historical research to ascertain why the Turks would be interested in “educating” our legislators with an hour and a half presentation about a battle between the Armenians and the Azer’s.

There are, of course, more than one side to any story, so the best approach is to find out what both sides say, then get some objective reporting on the matter and formulate an educated opinion based on facts available.

The Azer’s and the Turks are calling this Khojaly battle everything from a tragedy, to a massacre, to genocide.  The information surrounding this controversial event is wide and varied, depending on the source, and historical events surrounding the war itself are a bit confusing, as can be many wars.   Suffice to say that Turkey’s persecution and displacement of the Armenians in the early 20th century led to conflicts with the Azeri (also Turkic) which both came under control of the Soviet Union soon thereafter.  Indeed the tensions ran high between the two groups as the Azeri are Muslim (Shiite) and Armenians of course mostly Christian.  The boot of Communism precluded any infighting and promises were made to both Armenia and Azerbaijan that they would each indeed be awarded Nagorno-Kharabak for their cooperation with the Soviets.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union the old conflicts began to re-emerge until NK declared their independence from Azerbaijan in 1988.

The particular event in question, that of Khojaly in February of 1992 resulted in somewhere between 161 and 613 civilian deaths.  That’s quite a difference of account for the numbers used, and likewise the details vary as much.  The loss of civilian life in a war-zone is indeed a tragedy, no matter where, or who the victims are, but this hardly constitutes a “genocide”.  Especially, if the town of 6,000 had been warned the day before the attack, to evacuate, and a safe corridor was available for that purpose.  It should also be noted that Khojaly was home to the only airstrip in the region and was held by Azeri allied forces.

This excerpt from the Human Rights Watch 1993 Report posted on UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) website shows that the war had become a smash-mouth affair, with indiscriminate attacks from both sides leading up to Khojaly:

“Whichever side held the strategic advantage in Nagorno Karabakh at any given moment was the one that most egregiously violated the rules of war. While Azerbaijani forces held outposts in Shusha and Khojaly, they pounded the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, Stepanakert, and other Armenian towns and villages with shells and grenades. The indiscriminate shelling and sniper shooting killed or maimed hundreds of civilians, destroyed homes, hospitals and other objects that are not legitimate military targets, and generally terrorized the civilian population. During the winter of 1992, Armenian forces went on the offensive, forcing almost the entire Azerbaijani population of the enclave to flee, and committing unconscionable acts of violence against civilians as they fled. The most notorious of these attacks occurred on February 25 in the village of Khojaly. A large column of residents, accompanied by a few dozen retreating fighters, fled the city as it fell to Armenian forces. As they approached the border with Azerbaijan, they came across an Armenian military post and were cruelly fired upon. At least 161 civilians are known to have been murdered in this incident, although Azerbaijani officials estimate that about 800 perished. Armenian forces killed unarmed civilians and soldiers who were hors de combat, and looted and sometimes burned homes. In its counter offensive, launched in the summer, Azerbaijani forces indiscriminately bombarded Armenian towns and villages from SU-25 aircraft and ground-launched missiles. The Armenian government does not categorize civilian casualties according to the circumstances of their death or injury. Based on interviews conducted in November with more than 50 civilians who were witnesses to or casualties of indiscriminate air bombings, Helsinki Watch estimates that at least 56 civilians were killed as a result of these attacks in August and September alone.

Both sides in the conflict seized and exchanged civilian hostages, and also held corpses hostage, so frequently that the practice became an institution involving private individuals and military and government officials. Both sides held hostages, including women, in prisons or detention centers and distributed hostages as “insurance” among private families whose members were being held by the other side.”

According to British journalist Thomas De Waal the tragedy in Khojaly was a result of a spontaneous, rather than “deliberately planned” action by the Armenians.   Also, noted was that the forces were not acting on orders from the command.

Sadly enough, to coin a cliché, “War is hell”.  A tragedy, indeed.

But Azerbaijani websites such as azerbaijan.az serve as a propaganda tool to absolve Azerbaijan of any wrong doing, playing the victim, while placing all the blame for Khojaly at the feet of Armenia.  Did I mention there were somewhere between 1000-3000 Jihadi mercenaries from Afghanistan and Chechnya fighting with the Azeri’s during the war?  There was also a contingency of Russians fighting with Armenia (the 366th Motor Rifle Regiment) at Khojaly.

I did a bit of checking on the foundation who created the Azerbaijan.az  website, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Heydar Aliyev was the 3rd President of modern Azerbaijan and is known as the “Father of the Azeri Nation”, attaining a cult of personality on par with Kemal Attaturk of Turkey.  The president of Azerbaijan is head of state, while the PM is head of government.  He was successful in establishing an autocratic system which relies heavily on family, clan, oil/gas money and patronage.  After his death, his son was aptly elected to the office and will most likely be there for life, in light of the constitutional amendment that was passed after his re-election in 2008 that eliminated Presidential term limits.  (More in that vein to follow.)

Heydar Aliyev is seen as the name for a street in every town, some  60 museums and centers in the small country, and virtually every major facility in the country from the largest airport to oil refineries, to a major sports complex, and of course the Foundations large and elaborate Cultural Center, an architectural wonder, as are many of the ultra-modern buildings and skyscrapers in the large city of Baku, the pearl of the Caspian Sea.

Aliyev was responsible for developing the petroleum resources and building modern Azerbaijan from the ground up, into what some compare to Dubai.  So, basically, the name Heydar Aliyev is synonymous with Azerbaijan and its government.  The Heydar Aliyev Foundation is at the cutting edge of every aspect of Azeri life, social, economic, academic, and governmental, including worldwide promotion of the country.  The First Lady is in charge of the Foundation.

Her husband, the President of Azerbaijan and son of the late Heydar Aliyev, Ilhem Aliyev, was, prior to following his father’s footsteps into the Presidential mansion, appointed as Vice President of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), (yes, the state owned oil company), and became a key player in organizing the “Contract of the Century” which brought a dozen Western  and Asian oil developing companies into the country, solidifying its wealth for decades to come.  He was then appointed to the Olympic committee (AZ has bid on the 2020 summer Olympics), and became Prime Minister just a few months before his father stepped down for health reasons and then became President in 2003.

The government has managed to maintain a strictly secular environment, in spite of 85% of the population being Shiite Muslim, the same as their southern neighbor, Iran, with minority populations of Sunni Muslim, various Christian sects, Jewish, and several other minority religions.  Today only 21% of the population profess that religion plays and important role in their personal lives.  It is being touted as a perfect model of coexistence by many Westerners.  So was Turkey for many years.

However, there may be trouble in paradise.  For all its outward sparkle and shine, some of the natives are restless.   Azerbaijan’s human rights record has been called into question on numerous occasions.  Human Rights Watch published violations ranging from corrupt elections, politically motivated prosecutions, prosecution of journalists who favor opposition groups or those who are a little to “investigative”, torture and ill treatment, violation of freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly, forced evictions and demolition of property without fair compensation, and so on.  You can check out the HRW 2014 report on Azerbaijan here.

President Ilham Aliyev has been compared to a Mafia crime boss.  Consider the following referenced and footnoted excerpt from Wikipedia:

“In 2012 the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) named Ilham Aliyev Person of the Year (a title bestowed for figuring prominently in 2012 on stories on crime and corruption) after “well-documented evidence” revealed that “his family has secret ownership stakes in the country’s largest businesses including bank, construction companies, gold mines and phone companies”.[40] According to ICIJ latest report, Aliyev’s family has been a shareholder of big offshore companies.[41] As reported by The Washington Post and Mail Online, Aliyev’s two daughters share a property portfolio of about £50 million – across Dubai, Paris and London and Aliyev’s 11-year-old son in Dubai owns “nine waterfront mansions” with a total price of “about $44 million – or roughly 10,000 years’ worth of salary for the average citizen of Azerbaijan”.

And concerning Armenia:

“Aliyev has been cited as calling all Armenian people in the world as the enemies of Azerbaijan, and as regularly threatening to take over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the entire Armenian Republic through military force.”  [See full article here]

So let’s review what we have so far-

Azerbaijan is run by an autocratic family who controls just about everything including the banks, the oil, the government, education and the media propaganda machine.  The family run Foundation propagates a favorable narrative to perspective international partners and allies. Not only that but the family’s oil company, SOCAR, through the Turquois Council for American Eurasians (TCAE) a Fethullah Gulen organization, funded and hosted a large-scale lobbying event in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, organized by various other member organizations of the Gulen-affiliated Turkic American Alliance.  The event was billed as the “US-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for Future” and was held at, you guessed it, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center.

According to a Washington Diplomat article posted June of 2013:

“No doubt this was among the biggest concentrations of American political star power ever seen in the Caucasus — 317 delegates from 42 states, including 11 sitting members of Congress and 75 state representatives, not to mention the former governors of New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as three ex-Obama White House insiders: political strategist David Plouffe, former press secretary Robert Gibbs and ex-deputy chief of staff Jim Messina.

In fact, Plouffe, Messina and Gibbs were all called out in a Washington Post story that was published at the height of our trip. The article, “For Obama’s ex-aides, it’s time to cash in on experience,” said all three were given five-figure checks to speak at the forum as part of Azerbaijan’s charm offensive to woo Americans.”  [Washington Diplomat article here]

That same article went on to say that certain media were banned from covering the event.

C.A.S.I.L.I.P.S (Citizens Against Special Interest Lobbying In Public Schools) also reviews the Diplomat article and makes some startling connections between the players mentioned in the article and the Gulen School movement taking place in the United States.  The following excerpt from CASILIPS:

“The Washington Diplomat quoted organizer Kemal Oksuz as stating that “95 percent of [the attendees] received honorariums of $2,500 each. The remaining 5 percent — including Plouffe, Gibbs and Messina — were paid no more than $10,000 or $15,000.”  Luxner’s article then goes on to mention that each participant received “pricey gifts” “including a hand-woven Azeri carpet, an executive briefcase and a set of Czech-made tea glasses….”

“ Kemal Oksuz (a.k.a. “Kevin” Oksuz), the man who organized the convention, is a major player in the US Gulen Movement.  He is a former Executive Director of the Niagara Foundation, which has Fethullah Gulen as its honorary president.  As “Kevin” Oksuz, he was involved in applying for building permits for a complex at 501 Midway Dr in Mt Prospect, Illinois which now houses the Science Academy of Chicago, and is an address that has also been used by the Turkish American Federation of the Midwest, the Turkish American Society of Chicago, Niagara Educational Services, and United Strong Construction.  The latter firm was owed $72,000 by Concept Schools, according to its 2006 IRS Form 990.  Concept Schools manages 27 Gulen charter schools in the Midwest.  Memphis mayor Myron Lowery met “Turkish representatives” Kemal (a.k.a. Mark) Namver and Kemal Oksuz in 2009; Namver has ties to several Texas Gulen charter schools.  Other positions on Oksuz’s resume include Executive Director of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, CEO of the Gulen Institute, and Vice President of the PTO of Harmony School of Innovation, a Gulen charter school in Houston.  Oksuz is currently director of the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians and he also represents the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan.  Kemal Oksuz’s company TDM (Target Design Management) was the subject of a June 6, 2011 New York Times article on insider deals at Gulen charter schools in Texas.  Oksuz managed to give $13,500 in political contributions in 2012 alone.  In Jan 2011, Oksuz was interviewed along with another high-profile Gulen follower, Yuksel Alp Aslandogan, in a PBS piece on the Gulen Movement.  In July 2011, Today’s Zaman, known to be a media outlet of the Gulen Movement, ran a piece on the Turkey trips organized by Oksuz.”

The Diplomat article gives a quote of $1.5 million as the price tag for the conference.  This includes the aforementioned speaker fees, gifts, and all travel, room, and board for all the attendees.  CASILIPS again asks:

“Where did the $1.5 million come from?  The conference website shows the “organizers” as the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan.  Listed “sponsors” are SOCAR (the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic), Practical Solutions Group, British Petroleum, Caspian Drilling Company, McDermott, Kellogg Brown & Root,  M-I Swaco, Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and Azeri M-I Drilling Fluids Ltd.  It cannot be assumed with certainty that all these corporations provided funds, since the Gulen Movement is notorious for stretching the meaning of the word “sponsor” as it seeks to legitimize itself by putting the names or logos of as many respectable organizations as possible on its websites.”

CASILIPS goes on then to expose several ethics violations of elected officials accepting money or gifts from lobbying groups and shows post travel disclosure forms that have apparently been falsified by both the two Congressmen and Kemal Ozkuz, denying he is a lobbyist or a foreign agent of a sponsor of the trip.  [SEE CASILIPS page links and documentation here]

So what has all this to do with a presentation in the Kansas Capital building to Legislators about Khojaly?

To my friends in the Kansas Legislature I would caution this:

First, do not be misled.  Khojaly was not a genocide by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a trajedy, indeed, and could be easily called a massacre allegedly perpetrated by an out of control, emotionally charged contingent acting independently of its own command structure.   Keep the presentation in context with the historical information presented in this article.

Secondly, many of the photos that will probably be included have been shown to be falsified – Oh, they are real photographs; just that some were taken in other places, such as Kosovo in 1999 and attributed to the Khojaly trajedy, in the same manner that HAMAS has done.

Thirdly, do not fail to question why the Turks are so supportive of Azerbaijan, and what is their ultimate objective.  The Turks are in the education business.  They run 146 Charter Schools in the US and are seeking to establish in Kansas.  That is the objective.

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One response

14 04 2015
causingfitna

Reblogged this on causingfitna.

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