Commentary: Hannibal at the Gates

By Edmond Y. Azadian

The Latin expression, “Hannibal ante portas” (Hannibal at the Gates), was a warning to each citizen of the Roman Republic, from child to senator, inducing fear and anxiety. Hannibal was a Carthaginian general (247-182/3 BC) who waged the second Punic War against Rome, occupied many of its territories and remained a constant threat to the Romans for many decades, as his armies closed in the city of Rome itself, although never able to destroy it. As his armies camped on Roman territories, the Romans were under constant fear of a final assault, and they expressed their fear to each other by warning that “Hannibal [is] at the Gates.” He was one of the greatest generals and strategists of the ancient world to be ranked with Alexander the Great and Julius Cesar. (Incidentally, he was at one point in Armenia advising one of Artaxias kings).
Hannibal’s comparison with Armenia’s archenemy, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, is not very adequate but the fear induced by the latter into the lives of Armenia’s citizens is very much in synch. It is incumbent upon Armenia’s citizens to sound the alarm at every waking hour that Hannibal is at the gates, that Azeris are before the gates, arming themselves at an alarming rate.
Indeed, the Stockholm-based International Peace Institute (SIPRI) reports that “Azerbaijan’s imports of major conventional weapons increased by 164 percent between 2002-6 and 2007-11, making it the 38th largest importer of weapons.” Azerbaijan’s military budget in 2012 is $1.77 billion, 15 percent more than last year.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan is investing its wealth in armaments, leaving 700,000 internal refugees in squalid quarters to beg for international charity.
Azerbaijan was beaten once in Karabagh by the Armenians, but the military equation is changing in the region.
The Azeri government — and Aliyev himself — has not been making any secret that the arms build-up has targeted Armenia. Even if the major powers do not tolerate another war in the Caucasus, the arms race, in the long run, may squeeze Armenia out of existence.
Azeri belligerence is boosted by neighboring Turkey, which besides armaments, is providing technical know-how to the Azeri army.
In recent years, the situation has been further complicated with the strategic interjection of Israel in the complex relationship of the regional nations.
Certainly the Israeli government does not harbor any hostile intensions against Armenia, nor does it have any reason to, but its alliance with Azerbaijan and the arms procurement may eventually translate into the loss of Armenian lives.
Azerbaijan uses Israel to settle scores with Armenia and Israel uses Azerbaijan to neutralize “Iran as a major, even existential security threat.” Israel buys 30 percent of the Azeri oil, contributing to the latter’s war chest. According to President Aliyev, his country’s relationship with Israel is “nine-tenths…below the surface.”
Whatever is “above the surface” is enough to threaten Armenia. Thus, in 2008, Azerbaijan signed an agreement worth hundreds of millions of dollars with three Israeli companies to buy mortars, ammunitions, rocket artillery and radio equipment. The cooperation will also help the Baku government to upgrade Soviet SU-25 Scorpion aircraft. To top it all, Israel will help Azerbaijan to manufacture 60 drones, in addition to the supply of weapons to the tune of $1.6 billion.
To reciprocate this massive assistance of weapons, the Baku government has offered its military airfields to Israel to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Of course, the Azeri army is no match for Iran, therefore, its military might is directed toward Armenia.
One wonders at Tehran’s neutral stand on the Karabagh issue and its insistence on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, when the latter is threatening its own territorial integrity.
No one has proven yet that Iran has produced — or intends to produce —nuclear weapons. Also no one pays any attention to Iran’s counter proposal that the entire region of the Middle East needs to be converted into a nuclear free zone, hinting at Israel’s 200-300 nuclear warheads.
Israeli meddling in the Caucasus region poses two major threats to Armenia: if Iran is attacked, one of Armenia’s lifelines with the outside world will be disrupted for a long period, with tremendous economic loss, since Iran has become a major trading partner for Armenia. The second threat will come from a fully-armed Azerbaijan.
Russia is the major power in the region, but its intentions are not clear if and when Israel attacks Iran. It seems that Moscow will be satisfied with some harsh rhetoric as long as its vital interests in the region are not touched.
Although Russia has a base agreement with Armenia, a nation that Russian leaders call a “strategic ally,” but it is one of the arms suppliers to Azerbaijan, also. We have learned a long time ago that concepts of morality and justice have nothing in common with the political interests of major countries.
The recently-published book by David Phillips, Unsilencing the Past, quotes a very ominous statement by President Aliyev. He says that Azerbaijan’s economy is booming, and its population is growing. Armenia, on the other hand, is losing its population and pretty soon will be reduced down to 1 million, and then we will take over. Like the French saying goes, nothing hurts more than the truth. It is an honest, albeit painful prediction from a determined enemy “at the gates.”
There is very little that the diaspora can do to reverse the trend. The government and the opposition in Armenia have to take this threat very seriously and make a priority to retain and increase Armenia’s population. Oligarchs may tame their opulent and arrogant lifestyle and the opposition may soften its stand to a more realistic level to save the most essential prize; Armenia’s population.
All the diaspora can do is to warn Armenia that “Aliyev [is] at the gates.”