Pan-Turkism on the March


Turkey was the beneficiary of pre-Soviet-era turmoil in the Caucasus, signing the Treaty of Kars of 1923; it continues to benefit also during the realignment of powers in the post-Soviet period. Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Ankara rushed into Central Asia, where Enver Pasha had unsuccessfully attempted to create a Turkic empire and revive the caliphate and tried to play the religion card. Different ethnic minorities, which had been educated under an atheistic regime, did not take the bait, however, despite the fact that Turkey invested millions in building mosques and religious madrasas.

Ever since, Turkey has found a more effective means to create a zone of influence in the region, and that is the common language; “Six States and One Nation” is the motto at this time.

Some historians and pundits had been dismissive of concerns that Turkey may indeed pursue such a plan. But a recent conference in Baku, bringing all Central Asian nations together, bound linguistically, is the proof of that plan.

Very little, if anything, was heard from China, which is at odds with Turkey over the former’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority population in its Xinjiang Province. It turns out that the revival of the Turkic dream not only affects China, but also Armenia, among other nations.

Fresh from his incursion into the Syrian territory, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rushed to Baku last week to take part in the Conference of the Turkic Nations. What happened during the deliberations of that conference cannot be underestimated by Armenia and Armenians around the world; in his speech at that conference, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev raised a fundamental issue, blaming Armenia for interrupting the contiguous territory of the Turkic nations by having Zangezur or Syunik, Armenia’s southern-most province.

Some analysts took note of this dangerous development, while Armenia, with its political and legal establishment are engaged in score-settling with the representatives of the former regime.

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Aliyev’s speech is the sequel of a policy which he has been pursuing deliberately; that policy has to be analyzed within the context of Turkey’s territorial ambitions.

With the head of the most powerful nation in the globe “generously” donating the Golan Heights to Israel and another chunk of Syria to Turkey as a security zone, the game has become too dangerous to ignore.

When Baku and Ankara have set their eyes on Central Asian lands, President Erdogan’s attempts to revise the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 becomes a security threat to its neighbors. As we know, Lausanne had dismembered the Ottoman territory to carve out the modern Republic of Turkey. The Turkish leaders, deep down, have never come to terms with the deal. Once upon a time, it was former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who had claimed for Turkey “the lost territories” in Iraq and elsewhere; today, Mr. Erdogan is trumpeting the same idea.

In the first place, Mr. Erdogan is very uncomfortable with the fact that the Aegean Islands on Turkey’s littoral were ceded to Greece. These have led to numerous military skirmishes over those islands, between the Turkish and Greek air forces, who both are fellow NATO members.

During the 1974 aggression titled “Operation Attila,” led by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Turkey occupied 38 percent of Cyprus, which had been an Ottoman holding until 1878 when British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli brought it under his rule in exchange for fending off Russian forces from the warm waters of the Straits.

Turkey has also stationed its forces on Iraqi territory, using a number of excuses and it is anyone’s guess if Ankara will move out its forces.

Today, a security zone has been carved out on the southeastern region of Syria, from where the indigenous Kurdish people are being ousted and where President Donald Trump has decided to keep token US forces to guard the oil wells, no one knows at whose expense.

To support his political and territorial ambitions, President Erdogan is clamoring to acquire nuclear weapons, to become a major menace in the region.

The New York Times, in a dispatch from Washington, says, “Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than control over a wide swatch of Syria, along his country’s border. He says he wants the Bomb. With Turkey now in open confrontation with NATO allies, having gambled and won a bet that it could conduct a military incursion into Syria and get away with it, Erdogan’s threat takes a new meaning. If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing the Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?”

Reading further down in the dispatch, one can realize that Turkey technically and virtually has a nuclear arsenal at its disposal. “There is another element to this ambiguous atomic mix: The presence of roughly 50 American nuclear weapons, stored on Turkish soil. The United States had never openly acknowledged their existence, until Wednesday, when Mr. Trump did exactly that.”

Answering a question about how safe the control of those weapons are, the writer responds: “But not everyone is so confident, because the air base belongs to the Turkish government. If relations with Turkey deteriorated, the American access to that base is not assured.”

Turkey has already carved a security zone 444 kilometers long and 20 kilometers deep in Syria. The original plan was 500 kilometers with 30 kilometers deep. If history is any proof, no power can dislodge Turkey from that area.

Turkey already occupies an entire province, formerly Alexandretta, which was ceded by the French colonial rule to Turkey in 1939 and has renamed it as Hatay.

If Turkey has bullied Syria, Iraq, Greece and Cyprus, snatching territories from them, certainly Armenia is no match for it. Analyst Karen Kareyan writers in “Today the prevailing opinion is that it is important for our borders with Turkey to be protected by Russian forces and the Russian base on our territory. That is justified and serves Armenia’s interests. Turkey has been ignoring condemnations and world public opinion when committing military aggressions against its neighbors. What guarantees do we have that the same could not happen to Armenia, when Turkey expresses its willingness to cooperate with Azerbaijan and liberate Artsakh?”

Then he writes about Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s political conversion, stating, “We have not forgotten Pashinyan’s boasting that he does not bow to Moscow. But fortunately, he visited Moscow and he became more Catholic than the Pope.”

Indeed, even if Moscow one day fails to defend Armenia, its military base in Gyumri continues to serve as a deterrent against Turkish aggression.

The Kremlin has built its military base out of self-interest, and not based on Armenian-Russian historic friendship or charity. Russia is projecting its power from that base into the region and well beyond, in the Middle East.

President Aliyev had made the thrust of his speech of Turkic nations in Baku the case of Zangezur, complaining that “Zangezur cuts up the Turkic world.”

Commenting about Aliyev’s pitch about the region, Hakob Patalyan, a political analyst, said, “It is not the first time that Aliyev has expressed his ambitions for Zangezur. Even if Aliyev kept silent, Armenia and Armenians need to worry that Zangezur and Armenia itself will continue to remain a target for the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem.”

The issue of Zangezur was raised by Aliyev even before this conference; in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, for a recent conference of former Soviet republics. At that meeting, Aliyev blamed the Armenian government for honoring Garegin Njdeh, by erecting his monument in Yerevan. He characterized Njdeh as “a Nazi collaborator” but in fact, Njdeh is historically known as the defender of Zangezur.

Indeed, during the attack of the combined forces of the Bolsheviks and the Turks, in 1920, when the legitimate government lost control of its territory, it was Garegin Njdeh, with his battalion of fedayees who defended Zangezur, eventually integrating it into Armenia. Njdeh remains as the liberator of Zangezur in Armenian history.

But there is also truth to Njdeh’s collaboration with the Nazis and that is corroborated by Maria Zakharova, spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Every time Armenian-Russian relations deteriorate, independent from Aliyev’s blame, Ms. Zakharova has asked for the removal of Njdeh’s monument outside the Armavir Armenian Church in Russia.

Armenia is surrounded by hostile nations and it is not in the interest of the government to give in to partisan zeal and allow Njdeh’s controversial monument to create political problems with the neighbors.

Unfortunately, Njdeh and General Dro, the hero of the Battle of Kara Kelisa in May 1918, both collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and we cannot justify nor explain those away.

The French Marshall Philippe Petain, the victor of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, was no less a hero than Njdeh or Dro. But he spoiled his reputation when Germans occupied France during World War II and put him at the head of the Vichy Government. After the war, he received a death sentence as a traitor.

History should be the judge of Petain, Njdeh and Dro, not political expediency.

When Aliyev accused Armenia in Ashgabat for honoring a Nazi collaborator, Prime Minister Pashinyan gave a valiant rebuke which made Armenians proud. He argued that Njdeh was fighting the Turks and that the Armenians fought heroically during the war and sacrificed 300,000 young men and women.

However, the true answer should have been that the Germans formed “national battalions” recruiting the captured Soviet POWs. They formed Russian, Azeri, Belorussian and other “national battalions” tasking them with the responsibility of “liberating” their respective homelands from the Soviet rule.

Thus, technically, all the POWs became Nazi collaborators.

Zangezur is an important strategic territory for Armenia and Azerbaijan. That is why all Armenians were up in arms when Robert Kocharyan almost gave the region of Meghri, on the southern tip of Zangezur at the Key West summit to Heydar Aliyev, the current Azeri president’s father, in exchange for Artsakh.

Turkey’s power is gaining momentum every day and Azerbaijan is deriving its intransigence from Turkey’s aggressive posture.

The Alliance of Turkic Nations not only threatens Armenia but also Russia and China, and that is where all the national interests converge.

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