Some big cities seem to set their own foreign policy. Miami comes to mind with the fierce anti-Castro bent of its residents. Boston favors all things Irish. Vancouver has a soft spot for mainland China.
Add Mexico City to the list. It’s high on Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan, you may have read, paid City Hall here around $5 million and in return got a huge statue of its founder, Heydar Aliyev, placed at the entrance to Chapultepec Park. Another momument went up at Plaza Tlaxcoaque. City Hall’s interest has generated some outcry, particularly among Armenian-Mexicans. Click here for the story I wrote earlier this week.
I never thought upon arriving in Mexico in 2010 that I’d have to research the tense relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, rivals in the South Caucasus region.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. As a young copyeditor at the newspaper in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the late 1970s, I remember the day the multi-volume complete encyclopedia of Armenia arrived in the newsroom – unsolicited – a sign of the strong Armenian lobby in the U.S.
Even now, one of my McClatchy colleagues, Michael Doyle, who focuses partly on our newspapers in California’s Central Valley, has Armenian issues on his plate constantly. That area is home to many Armenian-Americans.
I just got an email from a spokesman for the Azerbaijan foreign ministry (That’s a sentence I’ll probably never write again!). He was unhappy with my article.
“The so-called public protests you refer to are yet again provocative acts by the Armenian diaspora in Mexico that are sponsored by Mr Sarukhan, due to his Armenian ethnicity. It seems that Republic of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have launched a campaign against Azerbaijani monuments.”
I wasn’t at first sure of the reference to “Mr. Sarukhan,” but now assume it is a reference to Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to Washington. The Sarukhan family is prominent. Sarukhan’s father, Jose, a biologist, was rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the largest in Latin America.
It is important to bear in mind that the two monuments do not in any way cause discomfort to the wider public of Mexico City. They are located in places where ordinary people come and rest. The so-called protesters do not represent the wider general public of Mexico City but are a handful of Armenian diaspora based in Mexico. These people can't speak on behalf of Mexico City residents as they don't represent general public. I view this as an intentionally organized PR campaign aimed to damage the friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Mexico.I’m happy to offer the spokesman, Polad Mammadov, space here but I think he is mistaken about why this issue has generated interest. It isn’t because of the Azerbaijan-Armenia rivalry. Rather, in my view, it is that Mexico City exalts a Soviet-era leader who was a former KGB general, repressive of free speech and not much given to democracy. Indeed, in a move fitting of dynastic succession, his son is now Azerbaijan’s leader.