Richard Morningstar, departing U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, spoke at the National Museum of Art to the graduates of educational exchange programs.
In his farewell speech, Ambassador spoke of how much has changed since his fist visit to Azerbaijan 20 years ago. The country was going through deep economic crisis with a ceasefire agreement just signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since then the country has come far added Ambassador.
Ambassador Morningstar mentioned many of crucial for Azerbaijan decisions the country bravely made during its early years of independence. Starting from the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline, the country’s adherence to the Southern Gas Stream, and Azerbaijan’s decision to send troops to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. U.S. efforts in the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict were also mentioned as part of this on-going partnership.
But it was really Ambassador’s words on democracy and human rights and the state of these in the country that were the highlight of his speech.
“On all levels, we are in constant discussions with the officials on the subjects of democracy and human rights. These questions are important for the United States. They define our foreign policy. As President Barack Obama stated last month in Brussels before the European youth ‘we believe in democracy […], an independent judiciary, opposition parties, civil society and the freedom of information, so that people can choose. We believe in this. And it makes us strong”.
“But apparently we and Azerbaijan relate to these issues differently. That being said, it is important with each partner to have a consistent dialogue. Even if we have different opinions, the dialogue must continue. We must try to understand the positions and interests of each other”, said Morningstar.
“While Azerbaijan is trying to protect and preserve its sovereignty and independence, we must stand by. We understand the government’s topmost task is to maintain stability.”
“[…]we strongly believe that if people are given more freedom, then Azerbaijani will have greater stability. We believe this is in the interests of Azerbaijan.”
“Open, active civil society can become a very powerful and positive force in many ways.”
Ambassador Morningstar spoke of the hard work of activists and the non-governmental organizations and how impressed both him and his wife, Faith were. “Together with my wife we are proud of the work of some many women in the country. Activists love their country and want to make it better. We do not see these people and organizations as destructive forces”, said Morningstar.
Having said this, Ambassador clearly underlined the interests of the U.S., which are in no way about instability and disorder in the country.
In his last remarks, Ambassador Morningstar, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to reconsider the case of a prominent and well-respected man, Hasan Huseynli and clarify for itself that people like Huseynli are not an obstacle to stability.
“We understand, Azerbaijan chose its own direction and we strongly support the country’s independence and will continue searching for ways to deepen our relations. However for this, we have to resolve some of the unpleasant questions, which remain as obstacles in achieving objectives, that meet our common interests”, concluded Ambassador Morningstar.
The morale: while United States is always by Azerbaijan’s side as a long time partner and a foe it will not tolerate at any rate the on-going crackdown on dissent and will continue pushing for developments in that dark tunnel. But will the Azerbaijani authorities see this as another attempt to get involved in internal politics of the country as the experience shows or will it really reconsider some of the recently raised cases against many of its activists, civil society heads and advocates? This the time will show.