By Edmond Y. Azadian
The Syrian crisis has devolved into a global disaster fanning the flames of a new cold war. Armenians are affected by this crisis wherever they live, as citizens of the world. But moreover, the war has impacted the Armenians as a collective group; first it has uprooted one of the strongest Armenian communities in the Middle East, staunchly attached to its language and culture.
Secondly, the fallout of the war has touched Armenian lives as families scramble to seek safe haven in Armenia, Lebanon, Canada and elsewhere and their resettlement problem becomes a community concern as well.
But the most dangerous outcome of the war so far is rising tensions between Russia and Turkey, their confrontation line running through the border between Armenia and Turkey. Although the command of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the eastern counterpart to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), reassures everyone that none of its divisions will participate in a potential conflict between the two fronts, the recent concentration of Russian forces in Armenia does not seem very comforting.
To understand every facet of the Syrian war and its many actors within and without its borders with their specific conflicting interests is a daunting task for any analyst or journalist. There exists one layer of participants in the conflict overseeing their proxies on another level; Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US represent one coalition — one front — in the war, while there are internal conflicts within their goals and political interests.
The most conspicuous conflict is between the US and Turkey, both NATO allies, yet the first supports the Syrian Kurdish fighters of Kurdish YPG militant group, while the latter bombs their position in Northern Syria to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish enclave on the Syrian side of the border, which may encourage the PKK which is fighting a war of liberation within Turkey. A full circle, which seems to contain an awful lot of back and forth.
Turkey also openly supports ISIS and Al-Nusra Front, paying only lip service to its coalition partners fighting these very same terrorists. Turkey’s behavior and intent run contrary to the US goals, yet Washington looks the other way. President Obama offered the most disingenuous statement when he said that Turkey has its right to defend itself, after the latter, in a gesture of grand bravado and provocation, in November shot down a Russian warplane across the border in Turkey, which alarmed many other NATO allies.
Now this fragmented coalition is facing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which is supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah forces from Lebanon.
More than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria and 7 million have been displaced, flooding the European shores and creating tensions within the European Union.
Russia’s direct involvement in the conflict and its air campaign have turned the tide of the war and the fortunes of the embattled Assad government.
What the Russian air campaign did was to destroy Turkey’s plans to create a no-fly zone inhabited by Syria’s Turkmen citizens armed and trained by Turkey, to create a mini separatist state on the ground like Northern Cyprus. At this writing, the dreams of the Turkmen tribes have dissipated and the complete recapture of Aleppo is within the grasp of the government.
At the annual Munich Security Conference on February 13, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that an agreement to send humanitarian relief supplies to the besieged Syrian cities and a “cessation of hostilities” has been reached while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sarcastically stated that there is a 49-percent chance of success.
Within other angry exchanges, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that “the world has slipped into a new era of Cold War.”
All the warring factions have not yet signed the agreement and Russia and the US coalition will be allowed to continue bombing the terrorist positions. Since Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been supporting ISIS forces, the agreement, at best, seems to be very tenuous. However, encouraged by the agreement, the United Nations mediator for Syria Steffan de Mistura is working diligently to resume the Geneva talks, by the end of February. That will be another forum in which opposing forces will clash especially when it comes to determining which parties will participate; Turkey is dead set against the participation of Syrian Kurds, which Russia supports.
Another issue which is undermining the Geneva talks is the reality on the battleground. The US and its coalition members are objecting to the power engendered by the recent advances of Russia for the Assad government.
But most ominously, in view of the battleground successes of the Syrian government, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have threatened to invade Syria with their ground forces and Saudi Arabia has already moved some of its assets to the Incirlik base in Turkey.
While Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz has announced on the state-run Andalou Agency that Ankara was not considering sending troops to Syria, his Saudi counterpart, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, has clarified his government’s stance, noting that their plan is to fight ISIS and their intent is to topple President Assad. Two contradictory and incoherent goals which can only be uttered by a medieval potentate.
Should this latter plan be implemented, Turkish and Saudi governments will face off against Russia in Syria.
Commenting on this plan in the February 13 edition of Ha’aretz in Israel, Svi Barel writes: “Saudi intervention in a war without any guaranteed military or diplomatic gains for the kingdom — without a clear exit strategy — may be a dangerous gamble.”
Turkey, an ally of Saudi, is itching to confront Russia, although thus far it has bombed Syrian positions from the Turkish territory and only set its fighters within the ranks of terrorists which continue to infiltrate Syria from the Turkish border.
Come to see that shooting down the Russian warplane was only the tip of the iceberg of Turkey’s strategic plans, which run deeper. As far as Turkey’s Ottoman ambitions are concerned, Ankara is matching its words to the facts on the ground. Wayne Madsen reports the following on an online journal, Strategic Culture Foundation: “The plans by Adolf Hitler praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to build military bases in Qatar, Somalia, the Republic of Georgia and Azerbaijan are in keeping with Turkey’s more aggressive and neo-Ottoman foreign and military policies. Turkey is also building its first aircraft carrier that will extend Turkey’s naval presence into the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.”
But what is more dangerous is Turkey’s plan to undermine Russia’s influence in the Caucasus, with its nefarious fallout landing on Armenia. It is well-known that by now, Turkey has been inciting Tartars in Crimea against Moscow. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced that “we will stand by our Tartar brothers in Crimea.”
But Turkey’s initiatives in the Caucasus will impact Armenia more immediately. Thus, continuing to write in Strategic Culture Foundation, Madsen reports: “The plans for a Turkish military base in Georgia and potential future Turkish base in Azerbaijan, perhaps in the Nakhichevan exclave, between Armenia and Turkey, has prompted the mainly Armenian population of the Georgian regions of Javakhk and Tsolka to contemplate secession from Georgia and incorporation with Armenia. Armenians throughout the region have long memories about the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian people in the early part of the 20th century.”
Turkish plans to destabilize Russia’s underbelly has alarmed the Russian legislators who recently came up in the Duma with proposals to abrogate the Kars Treaty of 1921, whose signatories also include Russia and Armenia. The treaty not only finalized the border between Armenia and Turkey, which is still in dispute, but also defined the status of Nakhichevan. If the abrogation is realized, Turkey’s legal leg, as a defender of Nakhichevan’s status, will be amputated, so to speak.
The other repercussion of the Turkish plan was the recent visit of Georgia’s Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli to Armenia. Every time Armenians are agitated in Javakhk, Georgia’s government appeals to Yerevan to calm down the situation. And because of Armenia’s fragile relations with Georgia (the only major transit land with the rest of the world) the Armenian government has no choice but to keep the lid of the aspirations of the Javakhk Armenians.
As we can see in the interconnected web of world politics, many seemingly unrelated issues have strategic links.
The conflict in Syria and its global repercussions impact Armenia on many levels and many ways. We may not be able to cope with some of those impacts but being aware of those dangers, we can at least be armed.