Azerbaijan is an important American ally for a number of reasons. Unlike Turkey, it remains true to its secular principles. Unlike neighboring Armenia—a country which continues to occupy one-third of Azerbaijan—it remains firmly oriented to the West and does not readily do Russia’s and Iran’s bidding. And unlike Iran to its south, its majority Shi’ite Muslim population realizes that empty religious rhetoric is no panacea.
Azerbaijan does have its flaws, however. Chief among them is its leadership’s reticence to reform and failure to make much if any progress in the Azeri peoples’ demands to move toward democracy. Freedom House ranks Azerbaijan firmly in the “Not Free” camp. Reporters Without Frontiers ranks Azerbaijani press freedom even below that of Turkey and Russia, a depth which censors and security forces must go out of their way to achieve.
How unfortunate, then, that Richard Morningstar, the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, has according to the Azeri press recently praised the “democracy” which has taken root in Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan province. More from the Azeri Report. Morningstar last came to notice last spring when, upon first traveling to Azerbaijan as ambassador, he apparently bowed before the statue of modern Azerbaijan’s less-than-democratic former leader.
It diminishes the achievement of democracies to pretend that democratic systems exist where they clearly don’t, and it undercuts the reputation of the United States among broad swaths of the Azerbaijani electorate when our professional Foreign Service officers offer such empty and demonstrably false platitudes.