Commentary: The Price of Peace for Armenia


By Edmond Y. Azadian

As Armenia struggles to improve its sluggish economy, threats of war loom at its borders once again.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have joined forces to intensify the psychological warfare against Armenia. Azerbaijan has submitted a second resolution at the UN to be voted on at the forthcoming General Assembly. As did the previous resolution, it demands that Armenian forces evacuate seven Azeri regions and Karabagh itself and return the territories to Azeri jurisdiction. Most probably, Turkey will serve as a mediator with the Islamic conference countries, just as it happened last time. Although the document is not binding, it gives to Azerbaijan the advantage in terms of a propoganda tool. The vote also indicates how isolated Armenia is in its world diplomacy, while a new international document will favor Baku.

During the last vote on the resolution, our “brotherly” Christian Georgia voted in Azerbaijan’s favor. The same thing might happen this time around with impunity, because the Georgians are convinced that Armenia cannot retaliate in kind.

Another Christian nation, Ukraine, had also supported Azerbaijan under President Viktor Yushenko’s direction, but this time around we should expect more balanced behavior from Ukraine, since President Viktor Yanukovich is not reckless unlike his predecessor.

In the meantime, some symbolic actions in the region are intensifying the psychological warfare. One such action was President Ilham Aliyev’s ambitious project to fly the world’s largest flag over Baku. After spending 20 million euros, the flag, which was intended for the Guinness Book of Records, was torn apart by the gusting winds at the official ceremony, and the media observers believe that it became a candidate for the Guinness Book as the shortest existing flag in the world.

Symbolism aside, Aliyev’s threat was more alarming when he announced that he would raise the same flag in Karabagh.

Reinforcing Aliyev’s threat was Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who, under the pretext of campaigning for the new constitution to be approved at the referendum, visited the Armenian-Turkish border. His major theme was to support the Azeri position on the issue of the Karabagh conflict. He also crossed the border into the Nakhichevan exclave, a historic Armenian territory under Azeri occupation, and he harped on the same theme. He promised “peace, stability and tranquility” to the inhabitants of the borders. “If permanent peace is established, prosperity will come to the region…but peace cannot be achieved until Armenia returns captured territories to Azerbaijan.”

Although the protocols were signed with Armenia, they remain shelved in Turkey. The foreign minister who actually signed them now thumbs his nose at the world community by preconditioning the Karabagh settlement in favor of Azerbaijan.

Turkey seems to have found a new source of assurance to exercise such an independent and one-sided policy. One of the sources might be the cozying up to Russia to counter-balance the West, while the other source may be the clout of the Islamic world with its petro-dollars.

The protocols were Mrs. Clinton’s baby who, it seems, cannot convince the Ankara rulers to go along with her idea.

There is much tension on the diplomatic front. What is even more ominous is the repeated violations of the ceasefire at the contact points of Armenian-Azeri forces. And it is not a coincidence that Baku stages those ceasefire violations at the most strategic moments. The last time it took place right after signing the Meindorf agreement in Moscow to renounce use of force in resolving the Karabagh conflict. This time around, it coincided with the visit of Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, to Baku. Apparently, it was a commando raid across the border intended to capture a few Armenian soldiers and parade them in front of TV cameras during the presidential visit in order to portray Armenians as aggressors. Fortunately, the plot was thwarted and the bodies of the Azeri commandos were left behind the lines of the Armenian front.

The frustrating problem is that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiators, as well as other diplomats and statesmen, call for restraint on both sides, rather than pointing the finger at the aggressor. Aliyev threatens war, violates the ceasefire and then plays the victim. “The war is not over,” warned Aliyev on August 10. “We should be ready at any moment to liberate our lands…we have mobilized all financial resources to strengthen our military, and today Azerbaijan’s army can fulfill the task.”

Despite all the petro-dollars invested in armaments, military experts believe that the Azeri forces are not a match for the Armenian army.

But the big question remains what role the major powers and regional countries will play in case of a conflict; what configuration of forces will develop and what would the position of the US be? Will Turkey intervene, and above all, what will Moscow do?

Medvedev extended the military base treaty with Armenia, supposedly pledging to defend its territory. But that guarantee remains in question, in view of the fact that Moscow sold C-300 Missile Systems to Azerbaijan at the same time.

Medvedev’s current visit to Baku intends to wrest an agreement for unlimited access to Azeri gas supplies. Will Moscow trade Armenian blood for Azeri gas?

Our strategic ally seems to become less and less reliable as the issues evolve.

Although Medvedev reiterated in August that Armenia was Russia’s ally, his chief foreign policy aide, Sergey Prikhodkov, later has stressed that Russia was not guaranteeing to defend Armenia against Azerbaijan. Russia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and might stand back if military operations were not affecting Armenia proper or the Russian base there.

Thus, in view of all these developments and this strategic balance, or imbalance, Ankara is in a position to set the price of peace for Armenia.