By Edmond Y. Azadian
While Armenia is caught in a self-flagellation frenzy domestically, tectonic geopolitical changes are taking place at a whirlwind speed and shaping the makeup of the region for many decades to come.
Iran, released from Western sanctions, and Turkey, on an impulsive course of antagonizing the West, are gravitating towards Moscow. President Vladimir Putin will not miss the opportunity to exploit this gravitational pull to make a mockery of Western sanctions against his country.
Through all these evolving changes and realignments, Armenia is being abandoned by its friends and strategic allies, while Azerbaijan is becoming a shining star in the political center stage.
The sequence of events is alarming; President Putin and President Ruhani of Iran are meeting with President Aliyev in Baku this week to negotiate and consolidate regional developments. Then, President Erdogan of Turkey arrives in Russia to mend fences with his northern neighbor and at the very end, President Serzh Sargsyan arrives in Moscow to face the unpalatable outcome of those political developments.
Historically, Russia, Iran and Ottoman Turkey have been enemies and have fought devastating wars for the control of the Caucasus. Their rivalries still exist underneath the political niceties, but overpowering common interests are pulling them together, for the moment.
While NATO pushes closer to the Russian borders, placing strategic military assets in Poland, Moscow is taking advantage of NATO’s loosened embrace of Turkey.
Turkey’s failed coup was a “godsend,” as Erdogan characterized it, giving him the opportunity and the means to purge his enemies and disloyal officials from the military, judicial and educational system, and for punishment, he is attempting to bring back the death penalty, which in effect is the death knell of Ankara’s hopes to join the European Union.
On the other hand, Erdogan and the entire Turkish press are accusing the US of being behind the coup. The only proof of that accusation thus far has been Fetullah Gulen’s residence in the US. Erdogan has pointed his finger at Washington, saying, “The putschist [Gulen] is already in your country, you are looking after him. This is a known fact. You can never deceive my people. My people know who is involved in this plot and who the mastermind is.”
Although Turkey still has differences with Russia over several issues, Moscow’s sanctions against Turkey have hurt the latter’s economy badly, following the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft over Turkish lands. Turkey is at loggerheads with Russia over the future of President Assad of Syria. It has also sided with the West in condemning Moscow’s taking over of Crimea and has been fomenting and arming local Tartars against Russia.
Ankara is also at odds with Moscow over the Karabagh issue. But alarmed by its collapsing economy, Turkey has moved towards Russia, reviving Moscow’s plan to provide gas to Europe through TurkStream, bypassing Western plans against Russian energy flow to Europe.
Commenting on the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, Burak Bekdil writes on Gateston Institute’s website: “Normalization, unfortunately, will not come at the price of Turkish “regrets” alone. For full normalization, Turkey will have to digest the Russian-Iranian-Syrian line in Syria’s civil war — a pact which Turkey has loudly detested ever since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011. This will be another foreign policy failure for Erdogan and an embarrassing U-turn. But the more Ankara feels distant to Washington, the more it will want to feel closer to Moscow.”
Although President Erdogan is undoing Ataturk’s reforms at home, he is continuing to emulate his foreign policy philosophy. After World War I, when Western powers were planning to partition Turkey’s lands, Ataturk reached out to Lenin, head of the then-new Soviet state, feigning to lead a progressive liberation movement, the Milli Party, to receive arms, food and gold. Of course, he used those gains to decimate the Armenians in Cilicia and the Greeks in Smyrna. President Putin, certainly well-read in history, will thus certainly be measured in his embrace of Erdogan.
Although the tripartite Baku meeting claims to have only economic issues on its agenda, it will certainly address also the Karabagh conflict. An agreement has already been reached to build the North-South rail system, bypassing Armenia.
The agitation and turmoil in Armenia has been triggered by a lack of transparency on developments and negotiations over Karabagh. In the absence of concrete information, people have to conjecture and manufacture their own news, and develop theories based on those assumptions and faulty facts. At this time, theories abound that Karabagh will be forced to surrender five or even seven regions, under their control for strategic reasons and Azeris will come and settle in those areas and like most Muslim populations, will multiply at a high rate and eventually will take over Karabagh. And at the same time, the enclave would not be allowed to hold a referendum on its status. Then the Azeris will also encroach on the territory of Armenia proper, which is losing its population at an alarming rate.
Another theory is that the Russians have placed in their military base in Armenia the most advanced and state-of-the-art weaponry but that all the military hardware is under Russian control and will not be used if Armenia is attacked, as demonstrated during the April war. Therefore, in light of those unfounded theories, the government has to be more open with the people, no matter how bitter the truth may be.
President Putin made a statement before his departure to Baku, that Armenia and Azerbaijan have to make compromises and in the final settlement, there will be no victors and no losers, so that future generations in both countries can live in peace. These are very realistic political statements about peace, which has eluded the two sides for 25 years.
Armenians have to find scapegoats for their problems. That is why they are vilifying the president and his government. No one can deny the rampant corruption but is this the time to weaken the hands of the president when he is on his way to Moscow to learn about the tough dictates of Russia emerging from the recent meetings with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran?
Anti-Russian sentiments are at a fever pitch in Armenia. Does that generate good will or more antipathy in Russia?
Recently, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the founder of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, said, “The hell with the Armenians,” although last year on the occasion of the Genocide centennial he was encouraging Armenians to invade Turkey and retake their historic homeland.
Granted, Zhirinovsky is the clown prince of Russian politics, but in essence, he was expressing the genuine sentiments of the Russians regarding Armenians.
Armenia is isolated externally and divided internally. There are factors beyond Armenia’s control that impact the course of its history. But internal unity is within our reach. If we can unify Armenia, maybe we can also break the noose of isolation. This could be our last chance to have an independent homeland.