“Setbacks by Shootings”

Am back home after a week of meeting and mingling with delegates from 90 nations of the world at the 6th Baku Humanitarian Conference. Being the naturally curious fellow that I am and long-time amateur expert on ethnicities and countries, I asked everyone I met where they were from. They were from everywhere.
In return, they all asked me where I am from. I didn’t answer the U.S.A. or U.S. or America once; I answered them all with California.
100 percent reaction: (Sigh) Ah–Cali—FOR—nia. And from many, another sigh when I said San Diego. World travelers, people of the world, diplomats and academics, they all know San Diego.
One of the people I met who knows California well is a Mexican Senator, Gabriela Cuevas Baron, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a woman who swept the conference off its feet with a profound speech about why we were there and why all should work together in the form of multi-lateralism. Coming from 90 nations — Christian, Muslim and Protestant nations and meeting in a 95% Muslim nation, her words sunk deep into the consciousness of the delegates.
After all, we in America are officially saddled with the unitary vision of President Donald Trump’ i.e. Make America Great Again.
One can subscribe to that posit if one believes the United States has fallen off a wagon of some sort or one can subscribe to the theory that – as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo believes, America has never been “that great,” or, as I believe, that America has always been “great” albeit with some social, racial and political blotches on its history.
But believing that the United States is “great” does not preclude improvement. During my lifetime I have watched, and in some cases, participated in a slow, grudging improvement for equality by American Blacks and for Asian Americans and my fellow Hispanics. Say what you will, there has been improvement.
There have been setbacks in that progress; the shooting in Pittsburg at a synagogue during services that killed 11, or the shootings and murders of nine Black churchgoers in in Charleston, South Carolina, or of 29 white churchgoers in Texas or, the one incident that moved the nation, the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1964 that killed four little Black girls.
I was 13 when the little girls were killed in Birmingham. I wept for them and for all American Blacks. I was in Baku on Saturday when news of the Pittsburgh shooting broke on CNN International. I didn’t weep this time. I was enraged.
Here I was at an international Humanitarian Conference and in my home country, a white anti-Semitic lunatic swept a Jewish service with an AR-15 rifle killing 11 people who have never done anything to harm anyone.
Ironically, that very day of the shooting I would be driven to a newly built “village” of a 150 families in Southwestern Azerbaijan, just meters from the Iranian border. The English name of the village is Chocug Merjanly. It is located 150 kilometers within Azerbaijan but had been taken by Armenian forces in 1992. The 450 Azerbaijani families that lived a pastoral life of farming and sheep and cattle herding were forced to flee for their lives.
Armenian forces blocked normal egress from the village forcing the hundreds of men, women, children and many of their sheep and cattle to flee on foot, mostly, the few hundred yards into Iran. People, sheep and cattle died crossing the border Araz River. Survivors became Internally Displaced People (IDPs) of the Republic of Azerbaijan; totally they numbered almost a million people says the United Nations. They have cost billions of dollars to Azerbaijan for their support and help since the cease fire with Armenian forces of 1994.
The cease fire maintained Armenian occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory to this day. All efforts to have Armenians leave, including four United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding withdrawal of Armenian forces have failed, failed for 24 years.
Two years ago, however, Azerbaijani forces attacked the Armenian forces in the hills overlooking Chocug Merjanly and soundly defeated them, chasing them away.

Once secure, the Azerbaijani government built 150 homes with each having some land, rebuilt a destroyed mosque, civic buildings and a school; recently it moved 150 of the original village families back into their village and will bring back the remaining 300 families soon. I was there to see the resurrected village and to talk to the people who had finally come home.
With the aura of the Humanitarian Conference around me, I asked many questions. At the end of the main street, there is a barrier. I asked what was on the other side. Armenians, I was told.
What, I asked, would happen if I went past the barrier waving my American passport yelling “American; American!”
The answer: “They would shoot you.”

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