The Caucasian Triangle Strangling Armenia

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In his heyday, Georgia’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, made a hostile statement impacting Armenia during an official visit to Baku, the Azeri capital. He said, “Azerbaijan’s enemy is Georgia’s enemy.”

No official retraction has ever been issued by any Georgian representative, at least, none publicly. And yet, that antagonism continues towards Armenia, if not in word, certainly in deed.

Rocky relations between Armenia and Georgia have continued throughout the independence years, mainly because of latent jealousy of Georgians towards Armenians, but also because of Georgian hostility towards Moscow, Armenia’s primary strategic ally.

After Armenia’s Velvet Revolution, Yerevan’s overtures towards Tbilisi yielded nothing but some cosmetic changes. In 2018, the ministers of defense of three countries — Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia — signed a military pact as a prelude for Georgia’s ambitions to join NATO. That pact has placed Georgia squarely in the enemy camp. Thus far, that military pact has been kept on the back burner. However, economic cooperation and treaties between the three countries in the Caucasus are equally threatening towards Armenia, as Ankara and Baku intend to isolate Armenia in the region.

Turkey has not abandoned yet its pan-Turanic ambitions, extending from Ankara to Central Asia. There are two Christian nations in that virtual empire’s path: Armenia and Georgia. The latter has willingly given up its historic mission in the region, leaving Armenia to bear the brunt of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fury. Aliyev’s recent outburst against Garegin Nzhdeh’s memory stems from the fact that the Armenian hero fought tooth and nail in 1921 to keep Zangezur as an integral part of Armenian territory, blocking the Turkic drive towards Central Asia. The same resentment was expressed by President Erdogan at a recent conference of Turkish-speaking nations in Baku.

Another milestone was marked in the economic cooperation between the three nations, when the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Tbilisi on December 23 to sign agreements on trade and transportation. The agreements have also a political component which concerns the settlement of outstanding disputes in the region.

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The main thrust of the agreements is economics, particularly in the integration of their respective power grids, as Azerbaijan plans to export more electricity to Europe. Transportation is also on the agenda, as initiatives have been taken to increase the use of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars highways and to integrate them into China’s transportation routes extending the country’s land reach to Europe.

The foreign ministers’ agreement calls for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Georgian terms. Conversely, the settlement of the Karabakh conflict is proposed to be on Azerbaijani’s terms of territorial integrity. No reference is made to the right of self-determination of Karabakh.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkiani signed the agreement without a second’s hesitation.

Therefore, it behooves Armenia to respond in kind by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But that move will not be deemed politically correct, because Georgia remains the last route for Armenia in relation with the outside world, as Iran, the other transit route, is suffering under US sanctions.

There are many flies in the ointment when it comes to this trio’s cooperation.  In the first place, the Turkification of the Georgian economy is viewed as a trap for many in Tbilisi. Specifically the region of Ajaria is integrated more with Turkey’s economy than Georgia’s. Another irony is that Georgia has been running away from Russia, while Ankara is getting close to Kremlin, creating an odd situation for political planners in Tbilisi.

On a different dimension, Azerbaijan is a thorn in Georgia’s side, because of an intractable territorial dispute between them regarding the David Gareja Monastic Compound, 80 percent of whose territory lies in Georgia, with the rest in Azerbaijan. Except, the latter fully claims the compound as part of its national heritage. Indeed, Azerbaijan has manufactured a fake history for all the Christian churches and monasteries built by Caucasian Albanians on its lands. That claim also affects Armenians, whereas historians know that Caucasian Albanians had no ethnic relations with Central Asian Tartars who settled in the Caucasus in the 10th century.

Georgian hatred of Russian may rise to unreasonable levels, causing some self-inflicted wounds.

Armenia’s relations with Georgia remain at arm’s length; Yerevan has to navigate these treacherous waters prudently and mind its own survival every minute of every day.

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