As in 2021, more than 100 countries are taking part in the summit. Again, of the South Caucasus countries, Georgia and Armenia were invited, but Azerbaijan was not. One wonders what motivates these priorities. The level of democracy and human rights? But if so, how did … no, not Zambia, but Armenia get on the invitation list?
Yes, in the wake of the “kebab revolution” of 2018, there could still be illusions that Nikol Pashinyan, the “people’s prime minister”, the “democratic leader”, would transform the country into a human rights paradise. But now, five years after the ochlocratic upheaval, it is no longer possible to live under the same illusions. Today, both Freedom House, which until recently, thanks to Vice President Annie Boyajian, considered Armenia almost a “sacred cow”, and the United States Department of State are forced to acknowledge that not all is well with democracy and human rights in Pashinyan’s Armenia. There is pressure on the courts, including the constitutional court, dispersal of rallies (many remember corpulent Yerevan police officers valiantly assaulting the parents of dead soldiers at the Yerablur military cemetery), restrictions on media activity, pressure on opposition members of parliament, and election “merry-go-rounds”.
Finally, and most importantly, Washington can hardly be unaware that Armenia, in defiance of international humanitarian law, refuses to discuss with Azerbaijan the return of Azerbaijanis who became victims of “ethnic cleansing”. During the last “wave” of it alone, more than 200,000 people were forcibly expelled from Armenia, and Yerevan continues to pretend as if there is nothing worthy of attention here. They also destroy the last remnants of historical buildings in Yerevan, which too convincingly testify to the Azerbaijani past of the present capital of Armenia. Still, Armenia was invited to the summit.
Moreover, the United States is now rolling out its mediation mission in the region. And it seems that there is some chance of success. But if Washington is so openly demonstrating a “pro-Armenian bias” in this situation, are they completely clueless as to why the French mediation failed and what put the EU’s mission in jeopardy?
The odd choices do not stop there. Georgia was invited as well, just like in 2021. But Tbilisi will be represented not by its Prime Minister, who has full authority, but by President Salome Zourabichvili. What are we to make of this? The West harshly criticized Georgia for dispersing protests against the foreign agents law. Georgia was still invited to the summit despite the street clashes between the protesters and the police. And the invitation was not for the Prime Minister but for Zourabichvili? Is this politics or a farce?
By this selection of summit participants, American diplomacy has essentially divided the South Caucasus. Along denominational “lines”, too. Was it a coincidence? Or is the United States forming something like the former “anti-Iraq coalition”?
But if so, if this is Washington’s way of choosing its allies, then … again, how did Armenia get on the list? Armenia, an outpost of Russia, a member of the EAEC and the CSTO, a close friend of Iran. It is then even more baffling why Hungary and Turkey, members of NATO and US allies even on paper, were not extended this honor.
Moreover, Turkey is rapidly gaining “weight” and influence in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. But Turkey was not invited to the summit. Why is that? Is Washington determined to “influence” the outcome of elections in Turkey? Do the people on the banks of the Potomac believe that the Turkish voters will be guided solely by Washington’s opinion? After everything the United States has done to support the Kurds in Syria and Iraq?
In short, the selection of summit participants, as in 2021, does not simply raise questions: the US is essentially “shooting itself in the foot” and undermining relations with the countries where particular sensitivity and caution are required. US officials mumble off the record that an invitation to the summit or a lack thereof does not necessarily mean an assessment of domestic policy. But then how were the participating countries selected in the first place? Did the organizers randomly point their fingers at the world map?
The reason is actually clear. The main organizer of the summit is USAID, led by Samantha Power, who makes no secret of her sympathies for Armenia. Another one is NED, National Endowment for Democracy, the foundation that is always trying to rock the situation in Azerbaijan, often acting against the very interests of the West. Both USAID and NED are closely linked with the US government and the Democratic Party. The fact that these structures were given too much leeway could be explained as “politicians having the right to make a mistake”, if it were not for the unfortunate experience of the 2021 Summit for Democracy.
When similar questions were asked in 2021, Washington similarly tried to deny accusations and claimed that an invitation to the summit or a lack thereof was not an assessment of democracy … If Washington failed to fix its mistakes in two years, if it failed to properly limit the influence of questionable NGOs and is repeating its past blunders … alas, this is not the “baggage” that would make it easy for the US to strengthen its position in the South Caucasus. This takes professional diplomacy, not amateur DIY hacks.