By Edmond Y. Azadian
The escalation of violence along Armenia’s borders continues. The incursions began on May 12 by Azerbaijani forces in the Syunik region, where around 1,000 soldiers surrounded Sev Lake and they still remain there in violation of Armenia’s sovereignty. Protests from the Armenian side did not help the situation; on the contrary, they even encouraged Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev to commit further violations by resorting to violent clashes in the Gegharkunik region.
More recently, hostilities have moved closer to Yerevan, to Yeraskh, resulting in Armenian casualties and the shooting down of an Azerbaijani drone.
Behind the scenes of this military confrontation, a political tug-of-war is taking place between Azerbaijan and the international community; the latter is represented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. The Minsk Group still maintains that there is unfinished business in Karabakh, meaning the final settlement of Karabakh’s political and legal status, countering Aliyev’s claim that he has settled the conflict by force and that no questions remain regarding the status.
President Aliyev’s demand from Armenia to sign a lopsided peace treaty, whereby Armenia is requested to renounce any claim on Karabakh, intends to preempt the OSCE’s efforts to settle the conflict on the basis of the principles it has advanced all along. Once Armenia gives in to Aliyev’s demands, the OSCE’s contention of arriving at a peaceful solution will be undermined.
The Minsk Group co-chairs had issued a statement on April 13 calling for the parties to resume negotiations but no action was taken. They issued another call for action on July 29, which was welcomed by Armenia’s Foreign Ministry. The statement this time calls on the parties to deescalate the situation and refrain from incendiary rhetoric and actions and fully comply with their obligations under the November 9 ceasefire agreement.
If negotiations are resumed, this time around, the OSCE will have to entertain an entire slew of new agenda items which the Azerbaijani side has accumulated through its actions. Indeed, the issue of Karabakh will come at the very end of that agenda, because Baku has aggravated the situation by refusing to release Armenian prisoners of war, staging sham trials of those prisoners, killing almost 60 Armenian soldiers since the beginning of the ceasefire and laying claim to the sovereign territory of Armenia.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently invited Nikol Pashinyan for urgent consultations, asking him to make “painful compromises.”
One would wonder where the limits of those compromises end for the Armenian side after the loss of 5,000 young people and the wounding of an additional 10,000 soldiers, as well as the loss of 75 percent of the territory of Karabakh. It seems the issue is the Zangezur corridor, which Pashinyan insists is not up for discussion, yet Aliyev is pursuing in almost all his statements.
Incidentally, President Putin talked to President Aliyev after his meeting with Armenian prime minister and thanked Aliyev for “finding solutions or compromises.”
This political hypocrisy is driven by the fact that Aliyev has not yet signed the mandate for stationing Russian peacekeeping forces on Azerbaijan’s territory. Therefore, the presence of those forces is on tenuous legal ground and Aliyev can disinvite them any time he wishes to without waiting another four years for their term to expire.
Pashinyan asked for Russian military monitors to be stationed on Armenia’s borders as part of the defense agreement by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) but he was turned down; adding insult to injury, he received a reprimand from Leonid Kalashnikov, chairman of the Committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Affairs in Russian’s parliament, who declared, “Such security matters are most often resolved in silence. Statements in the presence of the press are made when you need to score political points to establish yourself in the government or elsewhere.”
However, Pashinyan’s plea did not fall on deaf ears and France responded. The French ambassador in Yerevan, Jonathan Lacote, in an interview with Azatutyun Radio, offered his country’s military assistance to guard Armenia’s borders. This statement became a topic of serious discussions in the media and raised hopes. But all the political analysts and commentators neglected the conditions attached to the offer: Armenia and France are in different alliances, and thus in order for Armenia to get that help, it has to quit CSTO. In addition, the French military presence can only happen after a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, which is hard to come by.
The topic of the 44-day war was shot down from the UN agenda by a veto from Russia or China, though it is not yet clear which one, therefore it is hard to imagine that subsequent issues arising from that catastrophe would make it to the agenda.
Therefore, Armenia and Armenians can thank France for its theoretical generosity.
The reason negotiations have not moved forward is that they are hampered by a stalemate in international relations. Any initiative by the OSCE, France or the UN is considered a threat to the hasty arrangements made between Russia and Turkey.
Armenia’s appeals to the West have become instruments of scare tactics for Baku, with the latter warning Russia that Armenia is becoming a conduit for Western influence in the region.
Commenting on this situation, analyst Pavel Dallakyan writes: “Moscow is threating Baku with Yerevan and Baku also, in its turn, is threatening Moscow with Yerevan and all Yerevan needs is not to fear itself.”
Russia’s failure to fulfill its part of the November 9 ceasefire declaration and its inability to meet its treaty obligations through the CSTO and its military base in Armenia alone cannot explain what is taking place on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. There are broader global developments that pose existential threats to Russia, namely the emergence of the Turanic-Muslim empire planned by Turkey and encouraged by the West.
Turkey had no business in joining a monitoring center with Russia in Azerbaijan, but Moscow acquiesced to the demand to have a greenlight for its peacekeeping forces. Next, Turkey did not seek the Kremlin’s permission to move its military contingent to Nakhichevan, whereas Moscow has a say on the status of that exclave as a signatory of the Treaty of Kars in 1921. Russia’s silence after Turkey’s aggressive posture in the region and Azerbaijan’s belligerent activities is an ominous sign of its weakness. In this context, Rep. Adam Schiff’s statement offers a hopeful window for Armenia. He stated that Armenian is dependent on Russia. “Therefore, I want to strengthen Armenian-American relations so that Armenia becomes more independent both from an economic point of view and from a security point of view.”
However, time is racing faster than such developments can be achieved as Turkey is creating realities on the ground which do not seem to be reversible.
First, Erdogan visited Shushi, where he signed a declaration along with President Aliyev that has more dangerous content than apparent at first.
The Shusha Declaration lay the foundations of a federal state under the slogan of “one people, two states.” For all practical purposes, Aliyev is allowing his country to be swallowed up by Turkey, with its oil wells and economic potential.
Erdogan’s visit was followed by that of Mustafa Sentop, chairman of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. He announced that Azerbaijan and Turkey have been planning to create a Turkic army, in addition to the Turkish military base that was announced earlier by President Erdogan.
The plan for a Turkic army must be viewed through the context of frequent visits by Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to Central Asian countries, which are buying Turkish military hardware with their petrodollars and are being trained by Turkish officers. If anyone still has any doubts about the prospects of a pan-Turanic empire, it has to take into account those activities and draw appropriate conclusions.
These actions, of course, are in preparation of challenging Russia throughout its zones of influence, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the Russian Federation. In addition to building a Turkic belt around the southern underbelly of Russia, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief of staff, has already threatened to blow up Russia from within, by militarizing the 25 million Muslims in Russia. Countries like Armenia have proven to be the first casualties, as collateral damage during such global conflagrations.
It seems that Russia is powerlessly watching these developments on its borders as evidenced by a statement from the Kremlin. Indeed, on June 18, Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the Russian president, said that the Kremlin is closely monitoring information about the possible creation of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan. According to him, Russia is cooperating with Turkey “in the matter of stabilizing the situation in the Transcaucasia.”
If the potential conflict between Russia and the future Turanic empire seems remote, Azerbaijan and Pakistan have brought the threat to Armenia’s borders. Indeed, the presidents of the national assemblies of Turkey and Azerbaijan were joined by their Pakistani counterpart, Asad Qaiser, who had also signed the Baku declaration. On this occasion, Sahiba Gafarova, chair of the Azerbaijani national assembly, announced, “The Zangezur corridor will become a new corridor from fraternal Pakistan to Turkey and Azerbaijan.”
Thus, Zangezur is offered as war booty not only for Turkey and Azerbaijan, but also for Pakistan, which had participated in the 44-day war with its jihadist freelancers as well as regular air force. As the two Turkic nations plan to share Zangezur with Pakistan, the latter will bring its nuclear bombs to the triumvirate.
The Baku declaration blamed Armenia for withdrawing the minefield maps from Azerbaijan and congratulated the latter for having liberated its own territories from “Armenia’s occupation.”
It is visible to the naked eye that behind Azerbaijan’s border incursions there is an immense geostrategic buildup to support Aliyev’s arrogance.
When Armenia applied to the CSTO to contain Azerbaijani aggression, the appeal was dismissed and the incursions were minimized as “simple border incidents.”
Armenia’s last hope is pinned on the OSCE initiative. Recently, France, joined by the US State Department, called on the parties to resume negotiations under the OSCE Minsk Group auspices. Aliyev has been dragging his feet for the reasons outlined above. The OSCE position is still to find a negotiated settlement of the Karabakh issue and define its legal status, a claim that Aliyev dismisses out of hand. Armenia must also insist on Baku’s accountability for violating one of the OSCE principles: use of force.
In theory, Armenia still maintains hope to recover Karabakh but in view of the gathering of storm clouds in the region, that theoretical hope can hardly be an achievable goal.