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Conflicts With Soviet Roots

I RECENTLY had the honor of hosting the ambassador of Bosnia at the Azerbaijan Embassy, where we signed documents to establish diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Bosnia and Azerbaijan have much in common. We are both secular Muslim countries emerging out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, of course, is a former Soviet republic that gained independence when Soviet communism collapsed. Bosnia was a captive nation both within Eastern Europe and within former Yugoslavia. With the demise of the Soviet Union, each claimed its independence.

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We are also alike in our desire to establish democracy and free markets. We both have highly educated work forces that, given the chance, will doubtless rebuild our countries and demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity that was subdued but not destroyed by communism.

Bosnia and Azerbaijan are multiethnic societies and wish to remain so. Both are primarily Muslim, but religious tolerance is extended to all.

Unfortunately, we also share another common characteristic: We are both embroiled in wars of ethnic origins that threaten the very future, and certainly the independence, of our countries. Both conflicts have been shrewdly and erroneously portrayed in the West as conflicts between Muslims and Christians. The truth is that both are wars of aggression in which the aggressor seeks territorial expansion at the point of a gun. Both involve an internal ethnic group, armed and supported by an outside country, which seeks to expand its national homeland through conquest.

Just as Serbia armed and provoked the Bosnian Serbs, Armenia armed the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and provoked them to declare unilateral independence. This was followed by a series of offensives that, as in Bosnia, have resulted in huge numbers of refugees (more than 1 million) and large areas of territory under military occupation. Serbia and Armenia initially claimed to have no involvement, until the fiction of their protestations became impossible to defend.

The United Nations, and most knowledgeable diplomats, know these conflicts are wars of territorial expansion, yet the world has done very little to stop the aggression. We get nice United Nations resolutions, telling the aggressors to stop, but nothing seems to happen. We have an excess of sympathy and a shortage of effective support.

However, there is an ironic difference between Bosnia's and Azerbaijan's relationship with the United States government.

Bosnia receives very strong support in the US Congress but has had difficulty with the executive branch under Presidents Bush and Clinton.

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Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has asked the American government to be impartial and play the role of an honest broker. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations have faithfully sought to play that role, but it is Congress that has tilted US policy toward Armenia, in direct contradiction to the United Nations and US administrations.

I have thought a lot about the similarities between Bosnia and Azerbaijan, and about the manner in which our countries have been dealt with by Congress and American administrations.

I can only conclude that many Americans do not understand the importance of and danger to the small, emerging secular Muslim countries of the world.

This inability of Congress and the executive branch to agree on policy reduces American effectiveness, confuses America's friends, and encourages the prolongation of conflicts.

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