Afternoon with the Azerbaijani
HADITHA DAM, IRAQ: When I first arrived at the Haditha Dam, troops in U.S. Army patterned desert camouflage were marching in formation to dinner. It was odd, as it was the first time I witnessed troops marching in Iraq. Upon closer inspection, the soldiers were carrying folding stock AK-47, and it dawned upon me that these are the Azerbaijani soldiers assigned to guard the dam.
Azerbaijan is a country of about eight million located on the Caspian Sea. Its population is predominantly Muslim, and its primary industries are oil and tourism. There are about 80,000 soldiers in the Army, and service is mandatory at age 18. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan was the first republic to adopt democracy.
The Marines at Haditha Dam describe the Azerbaijanis as tough, disciplined and fearless. Major Sam Carrasco, the Operations Officer at the 3/1 states, “We are very happy with the Azerbaijani troops. They are very competent, very professional. We are happy to have them as a Coalition partner.” Chief Warrant Officer Pitchard operates closely with the Azerbaijanis on a daily basis, and communicates with Captain Rashad Gararev, who serves as the liaison between the units and speaks impeccable English.
The company of 150 Azerbaijani troops provide perimeter security, escort duties and other security functions at Haditha Dam. They are commanded by Major Ramiz Eyubov, who wishes to expand their mission; “We have requested to go on patrol and missions” outside the confines of the dam, but “only at the government level can we expand our mission.”
Major Eyubov explains their role in Iraq; “We have a strong relationship with the Iraqis and they know we are doing our job. We are here to help the Iraqi people. We have to do our job for the Iraqi people to have democracy.” He also has hope for the Iraqi people, “The future will be good for Iraq. Accepting the constitution and democracy, and the December 15th Election will be great for this country.”
The close ties between the Marines and the Azerbaijanis are visible, and the respect is mutual. “We have a very strong, a good relationship with the Marines. It is a nice feeling to see how Marines operate and how they serve”, says Major Eyubov.
I had the pleasure to sit down with Major Eyubov, Captain Javadov Rimini, the company’s Executive Officer, and Captain Gararev. We drank tea, had a conversation about our homes, and families, and Captain Gararev showed me photographs of the beautiful countryside outside of his home city of Baku. We took photographs and exchanged handshakes, and Major Eyubov kindly gave me a gift of Azerbaijani champaign, which will be a fine treat for New Years Eve celebrations.
War is an ugly business, but it is also a place where men and nations forge bonds where they may not have done so.
Azerbaijani Unit Crest.
Captain Javadov Rimini, Major Ramiz Eyubov, Bill Roggio and Captain Rashad Gararev.