By Edmond Y. Azadian
As the consequences of the recent flare-up on the contact line are revealed to the world, the two sides in the conflict are left licking their wounds and counting their casualties. Once again, the awareness sinks in the mind of global leaders that the phrase “frozen conflict” for Karabagh (Artsakh) is a misnomer. Furthermore, the dispute over the enclave is not confined between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but lies right on the fault line of the East-West confrontation and a conflagration may trigger an even broader conflict that the immediate stakeholders can either predict or control
Whatever the reason behind the aborted blitzkrieg by Azerbaijan, the problem is fraught with dangerous implications.
An editorial in London’s Guardian cites a number of reason for the recent outbreak: “All sorts of local factors could pile extra fuel on the immediate fire: nationalist sentiment and warmongering slogans on both sides and indeed, revelations from the Panama papers which pile extra pressure on Azerbaijan’s presidency, which could make incendiary talk of reconquering lost territories seem like a welcome diversion.”
War mongering is not in Armenia’s interest, but the foreign press always needs to look un-biased by citing some falsehoods in the guise of presenting both sides of the issue. In addition to the above reasons, Turkey’s intentions and inclinations to incite Moscow must not be discounted. Although President Barack Obama snubbed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Washington’s Nuclear Summit for his self-serving NATO activities, he would certainly welcome the latter’s role as the point man in NATO’s aggressive moves in the region.
During the brief war, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Ankara would “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Azerbaijan in the face of Armenian aggression and occupation until the end of time.” And he added, “until all Azeri territory is recovered, including Nagorno Karabagh.”
Turkey is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and therefore is supposed to remain impartial. In fact, it was the only country that expressed any sort of enthusiasm for the scary flare-up.
The premature congratulations sent to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev “for his victory” by Turkish President Erdogan and the dispatch of ISIS fighters from Raqqa via Turkey to Azerbaijan demonstrated amply that Turkey was the main instigator of the recent conflict.
Armenia did not receive from any quarter the kind of support that Ankara offered Azerbaijan, not even from its strategic ally, Russia, which at best plays the role of mediator to restore ceasefire. Even bombing the civilian population in Armenia’s Tavoush region did not trigger any clause of collective security treaty with Russia. Instead, adding insult to injury, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, after visiting Yerevan and Baku, announced that Russia will continue to sell arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan to maintain military parity.
It turns out that even that absurd policy of parity was not sustainable because Armenia was fighting Azeri forces with weaponry from the 1990s. Armenia scarcely has the resources that the oil-rich Azerbaijan does. That is to say, until recently, when the price of oil globally took a huge hit, sinking with it the Azeri manat.
It is a confirmed fact that 85 percent of Azerbaijan’s arms are supplied by Russia and the rest by Israel and the US. Recent arms contracts with Russia amount to $4.5 billion and with Israel to $1.6 billion.
It is ironic that an Israeli Knesset delegation visited Armenia and placed a wreath at the Genocide Memorial while Israeli Defense Forces were manning Kamikaze drones on behalf of Azerbaijan, creating new Armenian martyrs during this solemn month.
A paper published by Frederik Wesslau, the director of the Wider Europe Program, states that “none of the co-chairs of the [OSCE] Minsk Group — Russia, US and France — have demonstrated the sort of political will necessary to find a solution to the conflict. Of the three, Russia has the most leverage over Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also the least interest in seeing an actual resolution to the conflict. The unresolved conflict makes both countries dependent on Moscow and severely limits their options for geopolitical alignment. Russia is able to play the sides against each other, giving it substantial influence over the entire South Caucasus region.”
Moscow’s policy has been duplicitous; while Prime Minister Medvedev points his finger at Turkey, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov apologetically states that “we are not blaming Turkey for the recent war.”
Incidentally, Lavrov is an ethnic Armenian and his contribution to Armenia is no different than Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan before him and several Byzantine emperors of Armenian origin. Indeed, in their zeal to demonstrate their allegiance to Byzantium, they destroyed historic Armenia.
Lavrov has announced that all the elements of a final solution are in place and may be implemented soon. That does not auger well for Armenia, which, at this time, is bracing for the worst.
Last November, during the Russian-Turkish standoff, there were voices heard at the Russian Duma seeking to abrogate the Kars Treaty of 1921, which gave rise to speculations by pundits that a correction of the Armenian-Turkish border was around the corner and that some Turkish-occupied territories may be ceded to Armenia. In addition, the raging civil war in Turkey gave more credence to those speculations.
But Turkey is about to solve its internal conflict the way the Sultans, Ittihadists and the Kemalists have done before now: by massive slaughter of the restive Kurds with the collusion of the West.
Now, the political tides are turning and a sense of isolation has descended upon Armenia.
The elements of a settlement to which Lavrov has been referring could not be anything other than the Madrid Principles, which call for territorial concessions by Armenians against some relief to Karabagh for self-rule, projecting a referendum for an as-yet-undetermined date to shape its political future. Russia has always sought to introduce its own peacekeeping forces between the warring factions in order to expand its presence in the Caucasus.
At this point, the sobering facts are falling into place to assess the course of events realistically.
War-weary citizens of Armenia sometimes grumble that their miseries stem from the Karabagh conflict.
However, now everyone realizes that an aggression against Armenia by Baku is a necessary element of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy. If there was no Karabagh problem, Aliyev still would claim the territory of Armenia proper itself, based on a manufactured history that Armenians have been recent settlers in “historic Azeri” lands. That claim also jibes well with Ankara’s Ottomanist ambitions to wipe out Armenia from the map of the region, as Armenia has been a tough nut to crack while Georgia is more amenable to major Turkic designs. Christianity does not seem to amount to a political factor for Georgia as they have been coordinating their policies with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Also, prevalent Russophobia in Georgia has proven to be conducive to the internal Turkification of that country.
For the Turkic world, Armenia remains Russophile, deserving a different treatment and different fate. But historically that Russophilia has not always yielded political dividends.
The sudden sense of isolation has sobered up Armenians in the homeland and around the world.
A dramatic initiative was taken by the former President Levon Ter-Petrosian to call on Serge Sargisian for consultation over the grave prospects of Karabagh situation. There is no full report on their discussions but Ter-Petrosian has stated that this is not the time to criticize the government’s mistakes, which is also a positive signal for all the naysayers around the world. Up until recently, Ter-Petrosian was calling to dismantle or “deconstruct the kleptocracy of Serge Sargisian,” while the latter called his predecessor an “unprincipled politician.” Levon Zurabian, Armenian National Congress Party’s front man in the National Assembly had announced earlier that any territory evacuated by Armenian forces must be filled by peacekeepers, causing some criticism. Now the events seem to veer that way.
The two presidents’ meeting certainly focused on the situation in Karabagh. Despite bravura on the Armenian side, some strategic positions remain in Azeri hands, boosting their morale.
There has been a plethora of spontaneous rallies of Armenians around the world. Volunteer groups are moving to the frontline and a worldwide protest movement has been triggered from Los Angeles to Moscow and from Paris to Buenos Aires. The Supreme Patriarchate of the Armenian Church has arrived in Karabagh, accompanied by Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia. There is a patriotic fever reminiscent of the Sardarapat war in 1918.
It is hoped that this worldwide solidarity results in permanent unity throughout the current crisis and beyond.
There is talk that the two presidents’ meeting will impact the domestic political realignment in Armenia shaping the upcoming elections in 2017.
It is a common adage that peacetime disperses Armenians and crises rallies them around, while survival and victory demand national unity at all times.