Azerbaijan, J-Lo and the Axe Murderer
October 17, 2012 -
The Washington Post on Monday ran a glowing page-one article on the energy-rich, Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is "coming to relish its role as the region’s anti-Iran, a secular, Western-leaning country that is working mightily to become everything that Iran is not." Iran is repressive, but Azerbaijan is "tolerant," embracing Western music and entertainers, Post readers were told.
Exhibit-A is a recent Jennifer Lopez concert, flocked to by Azeris. The article's sub-headline pronounces this "embrace of J-Lo symbolizes Muslim-majority nation’s ascent." More, we are told that the pop music is actually part of Baku’s foreign policy, as "every Western diva who arrives to croon and titillate" drives the mullahs in Iran crazy. The embrace of J-Lo, Rihanna and Shakira sure gives the reader a sense that this is a country moving in the right direction.
This all reminds me a bit of when the Economist pointed to an uptick of sushi restaurants as a sign of Syria’s moderation.
A different rock-star reception reveals another Azerbaijan. Last month, a convicted axe murderer who nearly decapitated an Armenian soldier in his sleep was given a hero’s welcome. Thousands of Azeris greeted the ex-soldier at the airport as he returned from Hungary, scene of his ghastly crime. Eight years ago, the Azeri murdered the Armenian while both were in Budapest for a "Partnership for Peace" English language course. The Azerbaijan-Armenia war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave killed 30,000 in the late 80s and 90s and the two remain bitter foes. But no one expected this brutality.
Sent home under an Azeri promise that he would serve his life sentence in Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev instead promptly pardoned, promoted and back paid the murderer. Local media was filled with stories of how the President saved their hero. I don’t care how many hits J-Lo cranked out, the outfit she wore, or how irritated the Iranian regime was. When axe murderers are national heroes, something is askew in Baku.
You don't see President Aliyev’s "so I pardoned an axe murderer" tale in this Post article. The lengthy piece gave just three sentences to the country’s ills, calling it "hardly the perfect role model." I’ll say.
The only thing this Post article tells me is that, next to the regime in Iran, anyone looks good.