By Edmond Y. Azadian
The recent escalation in violence and continued breaches of the ceasefire in the stalemated Nagorno Karabagh conflict are not isolated instances; they have to be viewed and analyzed within the context of the power struggles in the region and in the remote areas of the globe.
On August 4, Azerbaijan announced that the Armenian side had violated the ceasefire and its forces were repulsed by Azeri soldiers, leaving four victims on the Armenian side. The Nagorno Karabagh Ministry of Defense, however, dismissed the report and announced that the Azeri side had lost four men, instead, as well as incurred injuries to 15 others.
Next to the firepower, there is a war of words on a parallel course. Yet, it is true that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s clan, under pressure from the international community for its human rights violations and rising discontent among the masses, is trying to deflect world attention and quell domestic exasperation.
The government is using two-pronged tactics: escalating border violence and buying positive coverage and analysis in western news media to improve its tarnished image.
A crude article in the August 22 edition of the American Thinker is a good illustration of this planting stories in the media. Although this kind of misinformed media campaign full of cliché statements and unfounded generalizations can only backfire. The author, Maxim Gauin, is presented as a French expert in international relations, based in Ankara, of all places. Here is the advice that writer dispenses: “Common sense should derive from a simple map: as a poor, landlocked country, among Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, without any boundaries with Russia, the only rational choice for Armenia is to reconcile with Ankara and Baku and turn to the EU and the US. Not seeing the obvious fact and acting upon it undermine Armenia’s self-interest, not to mention the strategy of Western powers in the region.”
Azerbaijan, which was banking on its oil and strategic position as a hedge against Armenia, suddenly realized that both of its assumptions have been on shaky ground: first, energy prices took a spectacular nosedive on international markets and second, Iran’s probable nuclear deal negates the importance of Azeri territory as a launching pad for Israeli or US attacks on Iran.
Iran, in its turn, is ready for its regional role. The recent statement by the Iranian ambassador in Baku, Mohsen Pakayin, is significant. He said, “The prevailing situation in Karabagh is not acceptable and we want a fair solution to the dispute.” Iran is not interested in a military conflict on its border, nor is it interested in the possible deployment of NATO peacekeeping forces in the region.
Baku can still pin its hopes on the rising Cold War winds to keep it afloat.
Indeed, Stratfor predicts that the rivalry between the West and Russia may shift to the Caucasus. In order for that to happen, the West has to begin pressing the hot buttons of all the frozen conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabagh.
We read in the August 20, 2015 issue of Stratfor, “With the escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, the conflict between Russia and the West is also increasing. The center of the dispute may be moved from Ukraine to the Caucasus — Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan according to American private intelligence analysts.”
Russia’s “military presence in Armenia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as cooperation on security with Azerbaijan puts Russia in a position of dominant external power in the region. Nevertheless, the West wants to prevent the extension of Russian influence within the former Soviet periphery.”
Within this scenario, Armenia’s strategic planners should wonder if the Russian base on their territory is a mixed blessing or even a liability, especially considering some equivocal comments from Russian military that in case of an attack, Russia is not fully committed to defending Armenia.
While Armenia was ready to breathe a sigh of relief with the removal of the threat of an imminent attack on Iran, this new shift in the Cold War fortunes will dash their hopes.
One temporary relief which Armenia may enjoy is on its border with Turkey, given the raging civil war between the government and the Kurdish forces in the southern portions of the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set his country on fire with the political miscalculation that he may consolidate his power during next November’s parliamentary elections. Instead, he has begun losing domestic support as a result of the rising casualties in the fight against Kurdish forces and international support for his bogus policy against IS. There is even talk that the US has been using backchannels talking to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), valuing the latter’s effective war against Islamic extremism.
Although the US denies any contacts with the PKK and continues using the worn-out cliché that “Turkey has the right to defend itself,” on the other side Washington is removing Patriot missiles from Turkish territory, signaling its displeasure on Erdogan’s self-centered policy, ignoring the Alliance’s priorities.
Germany has removed its own Patriot missiles, vocally criticizing Ankara’s war against the Kurds.
Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan in Yerevan believes that a Pandora’s box may be opened with the revival of the Treaty of Sevres of 1920, which had promised independence to Kurds as it had given a larger territory to Armenia. All along the Treaty of Sevres has been a nightmare for the Turkish leadership. Even if the standoff with the Kurdish forces does not lead to the revival of the treaty, Turkey will have its hands full in its campaign to fight Genocide recognition and especially it will avoid encouraging Baku from getting into dangerous adventures.
At this point, the escalation of the Cold war may not seem to pose a threat to the Caucasus, given the fact that President Obama’s policy is not trigger-happy like that of his predecessor. On the contrary, his administration is more inclined to solve intractable issues through negotiations — Iran, Cuba, South America, South Sudan and other conflicts. Even North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, which seemed ready to pose a threat to the region a year ago, has been put on the backburner.
But bellicose rhetoric in both parties in the US presidential election does not give any assurance that the US may continue its peace-oriented foreign policy allowing frozen conflicts to remain in the deep freeze.