Clash of Imperial Ambitions

By Edmond Y. Azadian

The 20th century witnessed the process of decolonization; many colonial powers gradually allowed their subject nations to determine their own ways of development and sovereignty, which were often achieved through the shedding of tremendous amounts of blood and tears, from the Indian subcontinent to Africa.

But the 21st century came to witness the reversal of that process; it looks like colonialism is returning with a vengeance, albeit under a different guise. France is back in Mali and the Central African Republic. The US, during the Bush-Cheney administration, boasted of imperial aspirations, destroying sovereign nations and bringing forth “regime change,” a priority in their political agenda. When a neocon from the Bush-Cheney cabal was asked why the US should destroy Iraq and target Iran, his cynical answer was: “Because we can.”

President Obama rose to tame that arrogance, advocating that the US is not the world’s policeman, to the chagrin of Cold War relics like Sen. John McCain. The latter has been visiting all the hotspots of the world and offering his simplistic solutions to the complex problems of the world — that the US has to solve all those problems at the butt of a gun. Fortunately, there aren’t too many takers in the war-weary public that responds to that kind of rhetoric. Even the most hawkish presidential candidates are treading cautiously, though they may blame President Obama for being too soft. For any demagogue, it is easy to blur the line between softness and diplomacy.

Today, the focus is on President Putin and Russia. The annexation of Crimea to Russia is being portrayed as imperial arrogance; Putin is being blamed for trying to rebuild the collapsed Soviet Union, neglecting to mention that Crimea was part of Russia until 1954 and is populated by majority Russians.

During their long phone conversation, when President Obama accused President Putin of violating international law, the latter pointed to the case of Kosovo. Indeed, the US and the European Union bombed the former Yugoslavia into submission and its constituent republics were forcibly “liberated” and Kosovo, a country on lands usurped from Serbia, had installed as its leaders former thugs and gun-runners overnight who became statesmen, standing with the help of NATO forces.

The blame game will continue between the major powers for some time to come.

Another rising imperial power is China with a population of 1.5 billion. Beijing has been flexing its muscles in Southeast Asia to intimidate Japan, India and Vietnam. Incidentally, there is no love lost between the two communist nations of China and Vietnam, who at one time resorted to war and the ironic outcome of that conflict was that Communist Vietnam offered its deep sea ports to the US navy.

The most dangerous imperial ambition is the one harbored by Turkey. At one point, Prime Minister Erdogan’s ambition was believed to be perennial megalomania, until Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s emergence as an advocate of Ottomanism. Davutoglu is a scholar diplomat, who knows his history well. He came to add an ideological veneer to Erdogan’s grandiose dreams to regain his nation’s former imperial glory.

Davutoglu is not embarrassed to state in sophisticated circles that in the Ottoman period, all subject nations lived in “brotherly love” and that he longed to bring those idyllic times back.

Davutoglu was successful to a certain extent in bringing back Ottoman influence to the Balkans, with the help of NATO.

All the nations in the Balkans had suffered for four centuries under the bloody rule of the sultans, until they revolted and liberated their countries from under Turkish tyranny. But today, the West is using Turkey as a watchdog in solving any problems in the Balkans.

One casualty of Turkish presence in that region is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Bulgaria, which suffered under the Turkish yoke, like the Armenians. But a powerful Turkish presence in Bulgaria and its parliament thus far has hampered Genocide recognition.

Emboldened by NATO support, Ankara has been extending its imperial ambitions all the way to Central Asia. The last time there were clashes in the Uyghur region of China between the Muslim Uyghurs with ethnic Chinese, Erdogan blamed Beijing for perpetrating a genocide against the Uyghur minority. However, later, to spite his NATO partners, Erdogan did not hesitate to strike an arms deal with “genocidal” China.

Turkey does not miss any opportunity to remind the world of its past glory days as an empire and is trying to revive that notion whenever there is a whiff of hope.

During the virtual partitioning of Iraq into three identifiable administrative regions, Ankara tried to capture the oil-rich Kurdish Kirkuk region, capitalizing on the presence of the Turkomans there and even threatened to intervene militarily to “protect” the Turkomans who were not in any danger. But the Kurds pre-empted and they prevailed, establishing their own administration. Today, the safest region for Armenians is the Kurdish region, where they even have two representatives in the local parliament.

Ankara tried to extend the same kind of “protection” to the Tatars during the recent Crimean crisis. Russia and Turkey have waged two wars over Crimea and the Tatar population is left over from those wars.

Ankara resents the Crimea takeover by Russia for two reasons: Ukraine is more friendly with Turkey than Russia. During the Karabagh War, Ukraine helped Azerbaijan militarily and the current unelected government is cut from the same Turkophile cloth.

The other reason is that the Black Sea was becoming an unchallenged waterway for the Turkish fleet, which will be overshadowed by the Russian fleet after the recent events.

Ankara and Baku claim to be one nation with two governments and Turkey effectively supports Azerbaijan’s territorial ambitions by trying to debilitate Armenia under their joint blockade.

Ankara’s Ottomanist designs fuel Azerbaijan’s war rhetoric. During the recent celebration of Nowruz, President Aliyev once again unleashed an angry tirade against Armenia stating, “Armenia is a fascist state created on historic Azerbaijani lands, which will eventually be won back by Azerbaijan — not only Nagorno-Karabagh but also substantial parts of modern Armenia is ancient Azerbaijani territory.”

This hallucinatory statement is tantamount to a declaration of war and yet, every time there is a flare up on the border, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representatives, who seem to have traded diplomacy with hypocrisy, call on both sides to restrain themselves. This is a case where it seems simplistic even-handedness covers up blatant warmongering.

The globe is plagued with many conflicts that result from the clash of the ambitions of imperial powers that act in the same manner as their colonial predecessors, only under more modern images and slogans.

Armenia is trapped in the Russian zone of influence. That is its curse as well as its blessing.