Armenia’s Destiny Is Up for Grabs Without Its Input

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The main topic of international politics is the development of the new world order, which is more intensely felt and fought in the Caucasus.

Recently, two major summits were held, the first in Tehran, with the participation of Presidents Ebrahim Raisi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, and the second in the resort city of Sochi, in Russia, with only Russia and Turkey. Syria, Armenia and Ukraine were not among the participants, yet their destinies were on the table. The major powers did not deem their participation necessary. Most of the negotiations and decisions regarded the war in Ukraine and its fallout in the region, where Armenia is located.

During the Tehran summit, Armenia received Iran’s strong support on the issue of the Zangezur Corridor, which threatens the former’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Indeed, the Supreme Spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ali Khamenei warned Putin and Erdogan against any change of borders between Armenia and Iran, as these “borders have a history of millennia.”

In a recent phone call between President Nikol Pashinyan and Raisi, the latter referred to the warning of Mr. Khamenei about Iran’s red lines.

During an interview with Armenpress, a scholar of Iranian studies, Emma Bigijanyan, stated, “This is how I understand the words of the Iranian president, that a change in borders, meaning the so-called ‘corridor,’ is a red line for them and that they will counter it at any cost. In the general picture, this means that Iran will not even rule out a military intervention.”

Furthermore, Begijanyan argued that now it is Turkish President Erdogan who needs the so-called “corridor” the most.

Yes, indeed, that is the nature of politics in the region: Ankara negotiates on behalf of Azerbaijan, Russia negotiates on behalf of Armenia, and most of the time, they don’t need the opinion of their partners, whose destinies are auctioned.

Thus far, Iran has come out most forcefully against the issue of the corridor, but it remains to be seen if indeed Tehran will use military force to support its position. In the case of Syria, Tehran had gone far enough to spell out its opposition to Ankara’s efforts to wrench 30 additional kilometers from that country’s lands and add it to its territory.

Tehran warned Mr. Erdogan that his new adventure in Syria, under the pretext of eliminating “threats by Kurdish forces,” may encounter Iranian forces. After receiving a warning from Washington and Moscow, in addition to Tehran, Mr. Erdogan has put his plans on hold, although Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu reiterated that “Turkey does not need anyone’s permission to act.”

There is more than one reason that Iran was excluded from the Sochi summit. In the first place, the positions of Moscow and Ankara are dovetailing on the issue of the Zangezur Corridor, contrary to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s firm statements  that there should not be any “equivocation” that Armenia will maintain its sovereignty over the eventual corridor. The second reason is that once relieved of the yoke of Western sanctions, Iran will become a serious competitor to Russia on the world energy market.

Following Iran’s firm stand on the issue of the corridor, Moscow has concocted a false-flag operation, saying terrorist bands had been infiltrating Armenia from Iran and thus Russia has posted five military stations in Syunik, near Armenia’s border with Iran. Further expanding its military bases in Syunik province, Russia has placed checkpoints for Armenian citizens moving from one town to another in their own country. And it is anyone’s guess if Russia has coordinated those moves with Armenian authorities in Yerevan.

Following Russia’s action, Tehran opened a consulate in Kapan, in the south, to better monitor the situation.

These actions would have been more reassuring had Russia carried out its peacekeeping mission in Karabakh with the same vigor it does in Syunik. Indeed, recent weeks have witnessed border clashes between Azerbaijani and Karabakh forces, leaving four dead and more than 20 wounded. When the Armenian side complained about the inaction of the Russian peacekeeping force, the latter revealed that they have no mandate to restrain Azerbaijan through military force. They can use force only in self-defense.

Although the aggression came from the Azerbaijani side, Mr. Çavusoglu has warned Armenians to stop the provocations! The besieged Armenian forces have certainly no motivation to create a provocation, given the fact that they are vastly outnumbered. Predictably and infuriatingly, Washington and the European Union have called on both parties to use restraint.

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov has called for the removal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territory. Helpfully, Armen Grigoryan, the chief of Armenia’s Security Council, has since announced that Armenian units have left Karabakh. The only forces remaining are members of the Karabakh defense forces, which Azerbaijan refuses to recognize. The mere fact of Azerbaijani provocations and murderous raids justify the retention of Karabakh defense forces to prevent a pogrom, similar to the ones carried out by the Azerbaijani army in Baku and Sumgait in 1990.

Azerbaijan refuses to abide by the November 9, 2020 ceasefire declaration which asks for the release of Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) but it blames the Armenian side for delinquency. On the other hand, Baku has already built an alternative route to Karabakh, to gain control over the Armenians reaching Karabakh, though that new road should have been planned within three years of the signing of the declaration and built only after the approval of all  three signatories. The use of that corridor leaves gas and power lines outside the control of the peacekeepers and thus the lives of the Karabakh people can be easily manipulated by the Azerbaijani overlords. This is not an abstract danger; Azerbaijan indeed cut off gas supplies to Karabakh twice in March, after particularly bad snowstorms.

While the military provocations against Armenia and Karabakh continue by the leadership in Baku, the latter’s rhetoric is no less threatening. Karabakh’s Foreign Minister David Babayan, responding to President Aliyev’s recent comments, said, “Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in his interview in Azerbaijan the Armenians living in Karabakh would have neither status nor independence, nor any special privileges. First of all I want to thank Mr. Aliyev for his sincerity. Indeed, neither Azerbaijan or its leadership have ever misled or deceived anyone on their plans for Artsakh. Secondly, indeed, Karabakh will not have anything as part of Azerbaijan because there will be no Karabakh at all. Moreover, for Artsakh itself, any status within Azerbaijan is unacceptable. How could Jews have any kind of administrative territorial status within Nazi Germany?”

Mr. Aliyev’s statement not only threatens Armenians in Karabakh, but it defies the international community. Indeed, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group still maintains that the Karabakh status has not yet determined through peaceful negotiations — the only way to arrive at a solution. Russia, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, refuses to cooperate with the other co-chairs, France and the US, thereby playing into Azerbaijani (and thereby Turkish) hands.

Time is running out for Turkey and Azerbaijan. Both want to seal historic deals with Armenia. Turkey wants to legitimize the Treaty of Kars of 1921, which is on shaky legal grounds, while Azerbaijan is after a slice of Armenian territory to link with Nakhichevan and compromise Armenia’s sovereignty in perpetuity. 

Armenia is going through hard times. Its enemies are many and friends are rare while lip service is in abundance.

 By Edmond Y. Azadian