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08/03/2020

Azerbaijan-Armenia border clashes and the Karabakh problem

Azerbaijan-Armenia border clashes and the Karabakh problem

Armenia’s recent aggressions towards Azerbaijan and the following border conflicts, have once again shown that the stability and peace cannot be achieved in the South Caucasus Region until the Karabakh problem is solved properly. The occupation, which still persists in Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 other regions, encourages Yerevan to resort to any means.

The Minsk Group:  A Dead End

Is there any chance for the Minsk Group, which holds the responsibility to solve this problem, to accomplish this seemingly impossible task? Previous years have made it clear that the Minsk process will not yield any results. There was no doubt about this among those who have observed the process closely. Therefore, ensuring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and sustaining peace and stability in the South Caucasus can no longer be left to the provision of the Minsk Group.

The Astana Model for the Karabakh Problem

This of course means that some other mechanism will be required to facilitate this process. The success of Syria in the Astana process is an example especially of a solution for the conflicts in the region, and the Karabakh Problem. Turkey, Russia, and Iran are much more concerned with the Karabakh Problem than it is in the Western countries in terms of geography, geopolitics, and history. Regional problems can be solved much more comfortably and justly when western states are held back and the countries of the region take the leadership.

It would be more useful to talk about the answer to the question of whether or not there is a solid basis for the Astana process to take action in the Nagorno-Karabakh Problem and other issues in the South Caucasus.

The Geopolitics of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Axis shift in Armenia

The Largest US embassy in Europe is located in Armenia. As a result of this, a serious network of American agents and their influences have taken over the country. They have also gained a serious ground within the state and various NGOs. The activities of the Soros Foundations are also to be reckoned with.

This network has played a large role to make Nikol Pashinyan come to power. Pashinyan showed his loyalty to the powers that be as well, which brought him to power. His political alliance advocated Armenia’s resignation from the customs union and the military alliance with Russia. Of course, it would not be right to speak of the pro-Western actions in Armenia, only with Pashinyan. The Pashinyan government was just a leap forward in the process to the next level. Everyone has now begun to accept that Armenia’s “axis” has shifted.

In parallel with this, there has been a recent process in Armenian state and political spheres wherein supporters of a cooperation with Russia (such as Robert Kocharyan) were arrested and deposed. This “purge” was also reflected in the business world. Russia has clearly expressed its discomfort in this regard.

Honoring the fascist collaborators

Actions of glorifying and honoring the Nazi collaborators in World War II, among the former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, has also come from Yerevan. A statue of the Dashnak leader Garegin Nzhdeh, who openly worked for the fascist Germany, was erected in the center of the capital, and many high-ranking state officials have attended the opening.

Such actions are among the most typical signs of standing against Russia and entering the Atlantic front among the former Soviet republics. For this reason, it is not seen just as a simple historical attribution, but also considered a strategic choice, as such activities symbolize “liberation from Russian hegemony” and put the public’s mind in an anti-Russian position.

Genocide allegations against Moscow

It is possible to see similar actions when evaluating the incidents that took place between 1915-23. Soviet Russia has also been alleged to be among the co-partners and cooperators of the so-called “Armenian Genocide” in many pro-West groups in Armenia, many of which is led by figures such as Pashinyan. According to these groups, the pro-Turkey Bolshevik Moscow partitioned the territory of Armenia with Ankara, and played a large role in the “genocide” by cooperating.

Yerevan’s Tovuz plans

Armenia naturally became more isolated in the region while standing by the Atlantic front and shifting away from Russia. It would be impossible for Yerevan to be not disturbed in this isolation, alongside the economic and political crises throughout the country.

The setup of Yerevan in the Tovuz region, which is located on the border with Azerbaijan, could also have a meaning in this respect. The attack did not come from the occupied territory, but from a natural border with Azerbaijan.

Let us just quickly remind our readers here that Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Any conflict in the occupation zone will not be counted as the joint defense of the CSTO, but an external attack on its core territory will let the Organization grant its full support.

This is one of the plans of the now isolated Yerevan. It will strengthen its place in the Western camp on one hand, and will have the support of Russia and the CSTO countries against Azerbaijan on the other side.

Covering up the internal problems

The economic problems and the political tensions inside the country will also be covered up this way. The government’s complete failure with the fight against the Coronavirus has remained as an important topic of the country’s public agenda, but has been overshadowed by the conflict.

Turkey is also a target

This conflict, which was provoked by Armenia, will also let the Turkish Army, which had implicitly gone against the Atlantic bloc in Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Libya, to open up a new front and thin out the Turkish military power. It is clear that Azerbaijan is not the only target, and that Armenia is not the only perpetrator.

Moreover, this maneuver is not just an action to provoke Moscow against Azerbaijan. This will also pave the way for the Turkish-Russian conflict, which has been the most crucial mission of the West in the region throughout history.

These conflicts can cause Baku to look weak, and get embroiled in turmoil, and the orange movements in Azerbaijan, which the West has failed to strengthen previously, could put the Aliyev government in a tough situation.

No support for Armenia from the CSTO

But this plan was impossible to go well. First of all, Armenia was not the defender in this conflict, but the aggressor. Turkish-Russian and Azerbaijani-Russian relations have made it possible for Moscow to target Baku and Ankara. And the other members of the CSTO, would not take an aggressive action against Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia has also come up with the lies that some Ukrainian mercenaries and jihadists from Syria are fighting on the Azerbaijani side just to provoke Russia, but they could not find any support with these allegations.

Harsh reaction from Moscow to Yerevan

In addition to all of this, Yerevan has faced some unexpected reactions. Even Margarita Simonian, an Armenian-Russian who is in charge of the Russia Today and Sputnik media groups and does not favor Turkey, has responded harshly to Yerevan asking for help. According to Simonian, the Armenian government has acted aggressively against Russia repeatedly and has basically slapped Russia in the face.

The Russian public has now started to argue that it is Armenia who needs a military base in Gyumri, and not Russia. The US military biological laboratories in Armenia have resulted in a serious sense of threat in Russia.

The beginning of the border clashes, being three days after Pashinyan’s son’s discharge from the military service, was also criticized in the Russian media.

The excuse of their shift towards the West

A plan “B” is also ready for Yerevan, which was unable to get the results it wanted. This time, they would be able to provoke their own people against Russia by saying “we have been isolated” as an excuse, to take an active role in the Western plans in the region. The goal is to discredit Russia in the eyes of the Armenian people. The Russian televisions would be banned in the country, as it was working against their interests throughout this process.

Disturbances that can be created within China

Another point to note is that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway way passes near the Tovuz region. Armenia’s aggressive stances not only pose a danger for Turkey and Azerbaijan, but also to the security of energy and transportation of the region, especially the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway being a part of the “Belt and Road” which is proposed by China. The initiative and the agreement of cooperation on this railway between Ankara-Moscow-Baku began in 2019, strengthening the potential for an alliance.

Meanwhile, let us just note that Armenia has recently joined the International Religious Freedom Alliance, which was founded in 2020 under the provision of the United States and has drawn attention for its anti-Chinese activities.

The period of keeping the status quo is now over

Therefore, Russia is deeply concerned by the pro-Western policies of the Pashinyan government. This situation offers great opportunities in favor of Turkey and Azerbaijan in redistributing the balances of power, and reshaping the alliances in the South Caucasus. It is possible to see the signs for it from the Kremlin.

Moscow has favored the protection of the status quo as it did before in the Karabakh Conflict. The concern that a conflict reaching beyond its relations with Yerevan could lead to a Western intervention in the region has played an important role in this attitude. The possibility of the Western powers deploying in the region, with the excuse of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, has been the decisive point in the policy of keeping the status quo.

However, a process started in  which these policies have begun to change. As we mentioned above, the increase in the Armenian pro-Western axis, was among the leading reasons for the Moscow-Baku relations to strengthen on the political and economic areas. On such solid ground, relations with Baku were getting more important for Moscow than relations with Yerevan. Yet, on the other hand, it still had some responsibilities with regards to Yerevan under the CSTO.

The Lavrov Plan is in effect

In addition, the Azerbaijani Army has gathered a lot of power in the last 10 years, and has moved to a more advantageous position compared to the Armenian Army (this advantage has proven itself the April War in 2016). Five years ago, relying on this advantageous situation, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told the Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Karabakh Conflict must be resolved, even by force if necessary. Then, Putin promised his Azerbaijani counterpart that the issue would be resolved peacefully.

Russia began to work on a new plan, after this promise. According to this plan, which would later be referred to as the Lavrov Plan, it was provisioned that the immediate evacuation of five occupied rayons would take place first, and then be returned to Azerbaijan. This plan was put in front of the former Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. In the end, both parties agreed upon the Plan.

The Pashinyan obstacle

However, after the overthrow of Sargsyan with the orange revolution movements, Pashinyan came and declared that he would reject the Lavrov Plan. As a result, this step toward a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after many years was blocked.

Moscow-Yerevan relations have faced another major crisis as a result. While Putin’s promises to Aliyev remain valid, Azerbaijan’s strict response to the provocations in Tovuz could also be evaluated as a reminder of the Russian promises in some ways.

All these cases indicate that a new mechanism with more possibilities must be initiated.

Military cooperation must be strengthened

Of course, the strengthening of the military relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, such as conducting military exercises and developing the recent cooperation in the field of defense industries, is important. It is important that Turkish UAVs are put on the screen and that measures for retaliation were discussed at the meeting of the Armenian Ministry of Defense.

An image from the meeting of the Armenian Ministry of Defense. The Turkish UAV Bayraktar TB2, is seen on the screen.

It has been solved before, and can be solved again

The efforts of the Ankara-Moscow-Tehran triangle (also known as the Astana process) acting on the Karabakh issue is vital to bear positive results.

In history, this mechanism has put an end to the “Armenian Issue”. The Dashnak government, a British collaboration government whom Mustafa Kemal called the Caucasus Barrier during the War of Independence, was destroyed by Turkish-Soviet military cooperation, and the peace and stability was provided in the South Caucasus. The imperialist-backed occupied territories were also liberated.

The Holistic strategy of the Ankara government has not only paved the way for the South Caucasus, but also saved Izmir. The same thing is needed today. The Astana mechanism, which would be in effect for the South Caucasus, will also be a key to overcome the important problems such as Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya.

Competition in natural gas projects is not essential

It is necessary to say that although there seems to be a competition between TANAP which delivers the Azerbaijani gas to Europe and the Russian gas projects with the same goals, at the first glance, all these projects do not affect each other in general. Europe’s gas demands are large enough to meet both of these projects. In addition, TurkStream was designed later on, and has taken TANAP into account as well.

TANAP is not considered as a competitor among the Russian public.

In fact, TANAP, TurkStream and NordStream projects share the common interests against the EastMed project of the Atlantic front in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Things to Avoid

On the other hand, it is important to maintain the advantageous position supported by the UN resolutions and the full justification of the international law. It is important to avoid actions such as claiming territories from Iran before even Karabakh is liberated and the term “Yerevan government in exile”, which has been declared by some certain initiatives. The liberation of the occupied lands should be the focus. All our attention, energy and power should be directed at this.

Any speeches that might lead to the loss of our potential allies, and the difficult attempts, albeit civilian attempts, or which could discredit us in the international plans, will also disrupt our Nagorno-Karabakh cause and should be avoided.

The key to peace in the South Caucasus and West Asia

From the point of view of Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, have started to take their places alongside Eurasia with their military, economic and strategic power on one side, while Armenia, which has significantly weakened, has fallen under the influence of the West on the other side. It is clear who the ideal partners are.

As a result, Turkish-Azerbaijani union and Turkish-Russian-Iranian cooperation will disrupt US plans and bring peace in the region, just as they did in history, as we mentioned above, in the South Caucasus. Of course, this is not just in the South Caucasus, but all over West Asia.

 
Mehmet Perinçek
Historian and political scientist (Turkey)

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