Baku, November 1, AZERTAC
Jason Katz, the principal of the U.S.-based Tool Shed Group, a consultancy that advises foreign governments, including the government of Azerbaijan, has hailed the parliamentary elections in the country as “very transparent”. “I think that the elections were extremely well organized,” Mr Katz, who is also the former head of Public Affairs for the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles, told AZERTAC in an exclusive interview as he is visiting Azerbaijan as a member of an election observation mission. “I had the opportunity this morning to visit four separate polling places as part of the larger delegation of observers. I was impressed. I think that the process was very open, extremely organized. And I think there were some aspects of your election process that we in America can also learn from. Particularly the spraying of the hand to prevent multiple voting. I thought that was brilliant.” He hailed the preparedness of workers at polling stations. “I think that the poll workers were extremely well trained, better than most of our poll workers in America, in fact. They knew exactly how the process worked. Any questions that the actual voters had, they readily answered, they answered all of my questions, and those of my colleagues. I think that there were very transparent elections. There was no question that I posed to the election workers or the election commission representatives that was not answered in an honest and forthright manner.”
Mr Katz applauded Azerbaijan`s role in ensuring energy security of Europe. “It is in the U.S. interests to see energy diversity and energy security in Europe, and Azerbaijan is the linchpin to that. The Shahdeniz gas deposits coming from Caspian through Baku terminating in Turkey and then spurs of pipelines into Europe itself is absolutely within the foreign policy agenda of the United States.”
He also hailed Baku`s contribution to the U.S.-led international anti-terror war and peacekeeping operations. “Azerbaijani soldiers have served shoulder to shoulder with Americans in Bosnia, in Iraq. The only reason why there aren’t any Azerbaijani troops in Iraq is because the United States pulled out of Iraq. In Afghanistan, Azerbaijan has had troops for years. And I think that’s indicative of the relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan. The fact that our soldiers fight together and our peacekeeping missions are together shows camaraderie and closeness between the two nations.”
Mr Katz praised tolerance in Azerbaijan. “I think Azerbaijan is an extremely tolerant society to all ethnicities, religions. There are Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Shia, all living together in Azerbaijan. No one fights. There is no revolution amongst the ethnic groups, religious groups and it’s been like that for centuries. Strictly in terms of Jews, the Jews of Guba can trace their lineage back 2500 years, to the Babylonian exile. That’s a very very long time. And they are the first to tell you that they’ve lived there for 2500 years with no traces of anti-Semitism, no strife with their Muslim neighbors. It’s also very interesting to talk to the Ashkenazi Jews, the more European Jews that are living in Baku.”
He also commented on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “I think that’s the biggest threat that Armenian troops are actually in Nagorno-Karabakh and they’re firing across the border to Azerbaijani troops. And the Azerbaijani troops have no choice but to respond. That’s a scary scenario. I think that if Armenia pulls back their troops from Nagorno-Karabakh, it will do a lot for the prospects of peace. In terms of settling Nagorno-Karabakh, clearly, every international organization from the UN to the Council of Europe to OSCE recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part and parcel of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It’s not an independent nation recognized by anybody. It’s not part of Armenian territory. It is Azerbaijan. At some point it’s going to need to be given back. The problem is that Nagorno-Karabakh is more seen as a geo-political issue, and the human aspect of this issue is lost. There are a million people who were ethnically cleansed from Nagorno-Karabakh, they were either murdered, or were forcibly removed from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven regions around it and they have lived as an internally displaced people inside Azerbaijan. The people want to go home, and I don’t blame them.” “Armenia has maintained for many years that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent republic. But it’s not recognized by anybody as an independent republic, not even Armenia.”
Mr Katz also shared his views about Azerbaijan`s accomplishments. “The development of Azerbaijan has been amazing. On the business side of it, Azerbaijan has deep ties to both America and the European countries. But just in terms of the development of society, the government has done quite superlative job building the civil structures necessary for a stable nation and emerging democracy.”
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