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09/22/2023

The United States “wants a bridgehead” in the Caucasus

The United States “wants a bridgehead” in the Caucasus

Interview and editing by Yunus Soner

Azerbaijan has pursued a fast anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region, resulting in the local Armenian militia laying down arms and starting negotiations with Baku.

Simultaneously, tensions between Armenia and Russia reached new levels, with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian questioning his country’s alliance with Moscow.

We spoke on the issues with ret. Lieutenant-General Ismail Hakkı Pekin.

How do you evaluate the Azerbaijani anti-terror operation in Karabakh?

Azerbaijan wants to secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity. For that purpose, it wants to avoid the existence of such an armed entity within its own territory.

It has the capacity and means for such an operation, and in addition, it has found an international setting favorable to it: The Russians are not speaking up against it, the French would like to, but have no force on the matter.

The operation will be concluded successfully. But whether this leads to a peace agreement is another matter, because for that, the sides need to sit at the negotiation table. And it seems that the Armenian side can only be pressured by force to take its seat at that table.

Besides, there is the issue of the famous Zangezur Corridor that would connect Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan, and thus, Türkiye with the Turkic world. That will be the next item on the agenda.

But this corridor affects besides Armenia also Iran. Iran will probably resist its establishment. As you know, there are 30 to 35 million Turks living in the north of Iran, and they do have nationalistic feelings. Hence, Iran is afraid that in case that corridor is established, this will mobilize the nationalist population within itself and strengthen separatist tendencies.

Long-term US plans

Where do you see the US in the equation?

It seems to me that the US has plans for the longer term. They seem to seek a bridgehead in the Caucasus to later reach out to Central Asia and encircle Russia from the east as well. The current incidents might be the first steps toward that.  

The United States might also well plan a conflict between Türkiye and Iran around the corridor issue I mentioned above.

Türkiye supports Azerbaijan with the slogan of “two states, one nation”. That means, in an Azerbaijani-Irani conflict, Ankara would side with Baku. Add to that the good relations Azerbaijan has with Israel. Iran frequently claims that Israeli radar stations have been established at its borders.

This all would lead to a regional conflict. To avoid that, Türkiye must include Iran into its dialogue with Azerbaijan.

US wants to gain hold of Armenia to further encircle Russia

How do you evaluate Armenia’s position?

Armenia committed a big mistake. They evaluated the situation wrongly, as they had done in the Second Karabakh war in 2020.

But I think that things are different from a French or US perspective, who also pushed Armenia to act. The US might see that the war in Ukraine is reaching its end, with a Ukrainian defeat, and now desires to establish a new point of pressure against Russia – this time from Armenia.

Dangers of wider armed conflict

What is the role of the radical Armenian nationalists in the recent conflict?

There are three families here fighting for power. They are not only radical in terms of nationalism, demanding to continue the struggle to the last drop of blood. They also do have certain economic interests in the region connected to the exploitation of minerals and gold.

Actually, they do not exploit these mines themselves. It’s the British and Germans who do the mining. These families are connected to them.

In addition, these families receive financial and political support from the diaspora in France and the United States. But those who support them financially and pressure them politically do not come to fight.

How is your expectation for the future of the region?

Azerbaijan wants to establish its territorial integrity and sovereignty. That is its full right and it will succeed in that.

On the other side, the US and the United Kingdom always look for a door to enter the region and establish influence. They see three doors: Türkiye, Russia and Iran. And we will see which door they will knock at.

Their intervention into the region might start a conflict beyond the borders of Nagorno Karabakh, that is why the countries of the Caucasus need to be very careful.

Ismail Hakkı Pekin

Retired Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakkı Pekin is the former Head of Türkiye’s General Staff Intelligence Agency between 2007-2011. He was born in 1951 in Iznik. He is married and is the father of two children.

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