Revelations: Wikileaks and The Caucasus

Dagestani couple posed outdoors for a portrait (1904)/ Creative Commons/ by 	  Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress)

Creative Commons/ by Lidia Ilona

Wikileaks, the international organization publishing confidential and unavailable documents from anonymous sources released more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables to  El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegal, Guardian and the New York Times news organization today and has so far released a miniscule 220 documents on their own site, with more on the way.

The documents have revealed a slew of information on how the U.S views the world.

“Never before in history has a superpower lost control of such vast amounts of such sensitive information — data that can help paint a picture of the foundation upon which US foreign policy is built,” the editorial staff of Der Spiegel wrote.  “Never before has the trust America’s partners have in the country been as badly shaken.”

What does this mean for the countries of the Caucasus? Here’s a summary:

  • Azerbaijan Leader in the Soup: “The Sword of Damocles” of the April 24 Armenian Remembrance Day is hanging over the NK (Nagorno-Kharabakh) process, said Azerbaijani President Illham Alliyev in a leaked diplomatic cable. He also outlined steps to persuade Armenia to agree to the Minsk Group Basic Principles and said that if the new proposals were not accepted, there should be economic consequences for Armenia.
  • In the same memo, detained youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade who were detained in July 2009 and released last week were also mentioned.  Although Aliyev made no firm commitment to release the duo, he responded, “I think this can be done. I had no intention to hurt anyone.”
  • US Fury at Armenia over arms transfers to Iran: In a letter to Armenian President Serzh Sargysyan, the U.S. outlines its dismay and concern about Armenia’s transfer of arms to Iran “which resulted in the death and injury of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.” The letter, signed by American diplomat John Negroponte, seeks a written agreement from Armenia “memorializing its intent to implement measure that will prevent it from becoming a source of weapons for Iran or other state groups involved in terrorism and/or weapons proliferation.”

Dagestani couple posed outdoors for a portrait (1904)/ Creative Commons/ by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress)

  • A Caucasus Wedding: A diplomatic cable from the Embassy in Moscow outlines the cultural peculiarities of a wedding in Dagestan, an ethnically diverse Republic in the North Caucasus that has been the scene in recent years of an Islamic insurgency. “The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, ethnicity, clan and alliance,” the cable said. According to the cable, Dagestani weddings are serious business with protocol divided among all involved. “Every so often someone would shower the dancers with money, there were some thousand ruble notes but the currency of choice was the U.S. hundred dollar bill. The floor was covered with them, young children would scoop the money up to distribute among the dancers.” Further reading of the memo continues to supply detailed cultural insight into the goings on about a tradition that seems to involve so much more than the bride and the groom, which the cable calls “show pieces.”
  • For a visual interpretation of a Dagestani Wedding, watch the below video, uploaded by photographer Mari Bastashevski which features Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is mentioned in the aforementioned cable. This wedding does not have any links to the wedding disclosed in the Wikileaks cable:

  • Erdogan Goes to Washington: In a cable classified by Eric Edelman, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan is described as “a natural politician” who has a “common touch and an ability to communicate his empathy for the plight and aspirations of the common citizen.” The most interesting part of the memo, at least where Armenians are concerned comes at the beginning however: “Erdogan has been primed to hear plainspoken expressions of U.S. interest in Turkish action…to open the border with Armenia.”
  • Turkey-Iran Relations – Motivations, Limitations: From the Istanbul Consulate, a cable outlines Turkey’s wants to pursue closer relations with Iran out of desire for regional stability and conflict avoidance. “However, Turkey’s influence over Iranian decision-making [is] limited,” the cable said. Iran is happy to reciprocate Turkey’s interest in closer ties because it sees Turkey’s value in the following areas, according to Turkish and Iranian contacts: Economic, Diplomatic, Political (“Turkey’s refusal to publicly criticize the regime over the conduct of June [2009] election or its crackdown on peaceful protesters… helped bolster Iranian regime legitimacy at a critical period.”), Cultural (“A quarter of Iran’s population is ethnically Azeri and Turkish-speaking”) and Turkey’s strategic importance to the U.S.
  • The Truth Behind AKP’s “Secret Islamic Agenda”: Transmitted in 2007, this cable outlines the fact that some remain “convinced” that AKP, a Turkish political party that advocates Turkish membership in the European Union is “determined to impose Sharia Law in Turkey and undermine the country’s secular system once it gains control of the triple crown – the presidency, prime ministry and parliament.” The cable goes on to note “Erdogan’s support for greater freedom to express Islamic practices (such as wearing the headscarf)” and points to the “failure to allow Alevis, Kurds, Armenian and Greek Orthodox communities similar freedoms.”
  • Secretary Gates’ Turkey Bilateral Visit: “The signing of the Protocols to reestablish Turkish-Armenian relations and open the common border…was a landmark for the region,” this cable says. “However, neither Turkey nor Armenia have taken steps towards ratification; the GOT [Government of Turkey] argues that progress toward withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh is a pre-condition. (Note: This was not/not part of the agreement, and not a position the U.S. supports. End note.)” The cable goes on to clearly outline that any U.S. determination of the events of 1915 as “genocide” would set off a political firestorm in Turkey” and the effects on the political, military and commercial aspects of U.S./Turkey relations would be devastating.
  • GOAJ (Government of Azerbaijan) Increasingly Concerned About USG (U.S. Government) Policy: Transmitted in 2006, this cable from the Embassy of Baku, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov is said to feel that “Iran does not want Azerbaijan to make a move on the N-K [Nagorno-Kharabakh] resolution because the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territory will make Azerbaijan stronger in the region” and that the continuation of the conflict is in “Iran’s national interest.” It is also mentioned that poverty in ethnic Azeri provinces in the north of Iran is “like the middle ages.”

[This page will be updated as more information is made public]



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