By Simon Ostrovsky
(AFP) - Venom dripping from its fangs onto a Swastika, only the efforts of powerful arms grasping metal pincers restrain a black serpent and its desire for global domination, in a drawing displayed at a Baku gallery recently.
This could be the description a World War II-era Soviet propaganda poster depicting the concerted effort of the allies as they hold back the menace of Nazi Germany and the Axis forces. But this poster -- and others like it, recently on display in the Artists' Union in former Soviet Azerbaijan -- are the recent works of an Azerbaijani scientist-turned cartoonist.
You may not have heard of it, but the author Kerim Kerimov is on a mission to blow the whistle on "Armenian hegemony." Slithering across a watercolor globe towards Azerbaijan, the serpent is Kerimov's metaphor for Armenia and its "Greater Armenia" policy while the six arms grasping the pincers represent Azerbaijan's Turkic brethren from Turkey to Turkmenistan.
The president of Azerbaijan's National Geophysicists Committee, Kerimov is better known in oil circles for his role in the signing of the so-called "contract of the century." The mid-1990s Caspian Sea oil deal marked the launch of development -- with Western participation -- of Azerbaijan's sizable oil reserves, which Kerimov assessed on behalf of the Azerbaijani state. Few know of his prolific political drawings however, which have appeared in Soviet and later Azerbaijani newspapers for nearly 50 years. Much of his work targets Armenia, against which Azerbaijan fought a bloody war, and in large parts complements the government's official information campaign against the Caucasus nation.
Anyone in Baku will tell you that Azerbaijan has many enemies: Armenia with its Russian backing, Armenia's wealthy Diaspora, Azerbaijan's own opposition forces and perhaps a few loose clerics from Iran. Kerimov goes further and puts the enemies into pictures, with horned and bewarted horrific caricatures of Armenians clawing at the map of Azerbaijan or driving a wedge between the country and its ally Turkey with a giant bomb.
Schooled in the style of Socialist Realism in the days when both Azerbaijan and Armenia were constituent republics of the Soviet Union, the 72-year-old Kerimov is a self described disciple of Russian WWII-era cartoonist Boris Yefimov. But if Yefimov is remembered for his drawings of a contorted Hitler in the pages of Soviet propaganda sheets, Kerimov has set his sights on tackling Azerbaijan's modern-day foe.
"I don't want Armenians to see an enemy in me," he said however, claiming he has received death threats from Armenians and other "enemies" of Azerbaijan. "I want them to see that the policies they are carrying out are wrong; then life will be better for both peoples."
But his stated peaceable intentions might prove to be a tough sell to Armenians, who in his drawings are alternately depicted as big-nosed hairy demons or sometimes white hooded Ku Klux Klan members. In the Caucasus, Armenia's neighbors often implicate Armenians in a conspiracy to expand their territory through military conquest and migration that has been in action since World War I when they were expelled from Ottoman Turkey. It is a charge that Armenians deny and attribute to biases which have evolved since that war.
More recently, Azerbaijan and Armenia fell out over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in the twilight days of the Soviet Union, when Moscow's centuries-long rule over the Caucasus began to crumble. After the fall of communism, the newly independent republics launched into a full scale war over the mountainous region, which ended in a tense ceasefire in 1994 with ethnic-Armenian forces in control of Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani regions.